Nothing Means Something by Manoline, admin
Story Notes:

(This is just me ranting a littlebit, feel free to skip to the Chapter Notes)

A little over a year ago I (aka Manoline) posted a news article right here on Missing Pieces, asking if anyone wanted to join me over at the PretenderSIM forum to cowrite a RPG (basically means you write exclusively for one or two characters, and have no say as to what the others might do).

In the end, five people replied. Some were seasoned fanfic writers, some were new to the game. But regardless of experience level, this type of writing was something different for all of us and I don't think anyone had expected what was to take place in the following year. After the initial confusion over this new and strange way of writing faded, we found ourselves writing a story. Maybe not a perfect one, but a story none the less.

It was exiting, nervewracking, strange, unexpected and a bunch of other adjectives, but most of all it was fun. And with a little luck you'll enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.

Jacci, Katie, Tina, Tiffany, Sue - We did it!

(And yes I know the title sucks, my fault)

1. Chapter 1 by Manoline

2. Chapter 2 by Manoline

3. Chapter 3 by Manoline

4. Chapter 4 by Manoline

5. Chapter 5 by Manoline

6. Chapter 6 by Manoline

7. Chapter 7 by Manoline

8. Chapter 8 by Manoline

9. Chapter 9 by Manoline

10. Chapter 10 by Manoline

11. Chapter 11 by Manoline

12. Chapter 12 by Manoline

13. Chapter 13 by Manoline

14. Chapter 14 by Manoline

15. Chapter 15 by Manoline

16. Chapter 16 by Manoline

17. Chapter 17 by Manoline

18. Chapter 18 by Manoline

19. Chapter 19 by Manoline

20. Chapter 20 by Manoline

21. Chapter 21 by Manoline

22. Chapter 22 by Manoline

23. Chapter 23 by Manoline

24. Chapter 24 by Manoline

25. Chapter 25 by Manoline

26. Chapter 26 by Manoline

27. Chapter 27 by Manoline

28. Chapter 28 by Manoline

29. Chapter 29 by Manoline

Chapter 1 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second, but that's later in the story), so to keep it all straight for the reader, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci revealed in chapter 6

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - revealed in chapter 2

As you can see there are a lot of font colors involved, so this is most definitively best viewed in dark skins.

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

 

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a review, we'd love to hear what you think.

Broots adjusted himself on the black leather seat of the towncar. Leather may be stylish but he didn't find it particularly comfortable. Also, it tended to make embarrassing sounds whenever he moved. It never made sounds when Miss Parker moved though, or Sydney for that matter. He spent a couple of minutes pondering why that was, and finally concluded that it was probably some Centre secret he hadn't been privy to.

After all, it wasn't that long ago he was simply a tech in SL 5 with 9-5 workdays, with deadlines that didn't get shorter everytime he talked to his boss. Back then the worst thing that could happen in a day was loosing a game of solitaire. Needless to say, things changed after he started working for Miss Parker.

He suddenly remembered where he was and started fidgeting again. He always got nervous when following up on a lead. No matter if it was one day old or one week old, the possibility of running into Jarod got his heart rate up.

He could feel Miss Parker glaring at him, which only added to his anxiousness.

---

Jarod paced around his living room. He knew They were coming, but he just didn't care. He wanted, no, needed to talk to Sydney; he knew that. But Sydney wanted him back at the Centre, so would he really help him? Parker was coming too and that was both good and bad. Good because he missed his childhood best friend and bad because he could see her turning into what her father wanted more every day. Could she, would she really take him back to the Centre knowing what she now knew? Would Sydney even try to stop her from capturing him? The more these thoughts spun through Jarod's mind, the faster he paced around the living room.

They were coming. He had to leave, but his body was exhausted. He knew he hadn't slept in over a week and his mind was turning into mush. They were coming his mind screamed to his body. Time to leave, NOW!

Jarod grabbed his leather jacket, duffle bag and DSA case and left the apartment.

---

Sydney reluctantly stepped out of the car, surveying their surroundings. Another abandoned shack of a place that Jarod had called home for a short while. To Sydney, The Centre was still Jarod's home. It was at least where he came from, but every day, Sydney grew less confident that it was where Jarod belonged. Science had always been his first priority, his true passion. Meeting Jarod fueled that passion, but ignited another one. Sydney had grown very protective of his young pretender and to this day, nothing was more important than Jarod's well being, in or out of The Centre.

Which is why Jarod's lack of phonecalls recently had Sydney so disturbed. While Miss Parker was infuriated by every call Jarod made her, Sydney took each as a sign that he was still okay. Protective certainly, parental perhaps, but Sydney sensed that Jarod needed him right now. Or was that just desperate hope?

Miss Parker, armed and ready, had already charged through the door to the latest lair, with Broots scurrying behind, so Sydney stuck his hands in his pockets and ambled along after them, knowing like always, that Jarod wouldn't be there.

Upon entering, Sydney looked around for the usual clues, toys, jokes, leftover uniforms, whatever Jarod felt like leaving this time. Like Broots often hinted, it was exacting to anticipate what new puzzle Jarod had in store for them. The psychiatrist loved to see his prodigee shine. However, there was nothing here.

"Are we sure this is the right place?" Sydney questioned.

Broots peaked up from behind Miss Parker. He looked around in disbelieve.
The place was completely empty. There was no furniture, no decorations, nothing to indicate there had ever been anyone living here, least of all Jarod.

"Well, yeah. This apartment was rented by a Jarod Meyers a month ago. He paid in cash for 6 months rental. I ran an image recognition program I developed on the security footage of all the local ATM's in the area. And surely enough the same day he signed the contract, he was spotted making a sizable redraw. And again at the same ATM a week later. It's rare to get such a clear lead regarding Jarod." He said excited.


"Clear, my ass." Miss Parker muttered as she lowered her gun in frustration, giving the bridge of her nose a tired rub as she felt the pent up adrenaline drain from her body. She had long ago given up hope that they would actually succeed in dragging Jarod out from one of his lairs, but everytime a door was kicked in, she felt that flutter of hope that maybe, just maybe it would be the end.

Reholstering her weapon, Parker turned around and faced her pursuit team, her eyes catching Sam's briefly. She didn't know why she continually requested Sam's presence on the hunt, the hired muscle was a waste of time as they ran the wheel in Jarod's hamster cage.

"I think your boy has really outdone himself Sydney," she exclaimed tiredly. "As always we blustered in here conveniently too late to catch the man of the hour and now must submit ourselves to running his little maze to prove some god damn point about our twisted lives. What is it this time Syd, the empty room is a metaphor for the emptiness he feels inside? A room full of nothing which is exactly what i have to show the boys in the Tower when we return - empty-handed again?"


Miss Parker, please!" Sydney chastised paternally, "Something is wrong here. We haven't heard from Jarod in weeks and now the first lead we have on him in ages takes us here, to nothing. It means something. With Jarod, it always does. Frankly, I'm worried."

He ignored Miss Parker's scoff and roll of the eyes. Sydney crossed his arms, pondering the possibilities of the situation. The ringing of his cell phone broke the group from their blank stupor and all eyes were on him as he lifted the phone to his ear with the habitual "This is Sydney." Upon hearing Jarod's reply, Sydney turned and quickly walked out of the door, not willing to let Miss Parker or anyone else ruin his chance of connecting with Jarod.

He stood outside, shifting his eyes to make sure nobody else was around him. "Jarod, thank God. It's been so long since you've called, I've been worried. What's wrong?"

Parker frowned as Sydney hastily disappeared from sight. She sent Broots a warning glare as she crept towards the doorway, her suspicions confirmed as she heard the shrink quietly greet the pretender. If Jarod was calling to taunt them on their recent failure, he would have called her. If he was calling Sydney it meant he needed something, paternal counselling or a well buried Centre secret. She leaned discretly against the doorframe, tempted to rip the phone out of the pyschiatrist's hand and trade a few words of her own with the errant pretender. For this moment in time however, there was more to be gained from eavesdropping.

Jarod was lost. He was in the middle of a large city, but he didn't know which city it was. His duffle bag was gone and he was lucky that he was wearing his jacket or he might have lost that too. The DSA case, however, was firmly gripped in his right hand. So firmly gripped that the knuckles were white and his arm muscles were trembling with exhaustion.

His mind cleared briefly as his stomach rumbled. He looked up to see a small diner and could almost taste the mouthwatering aroma of freshly cooked hamburger. Deciding that he had nothing better to do, he entered the diner.

As Jarod munched on the huge double cheeseburger and fries, he thought about the last month. Not that he could remember much, for some reason his mind was a blank. He was pretty sure that the Centre wasn't playing mind games with him again, but he wasn't sure. He could remember leaving Santa Fe after finishing the Pretend with the antique store owner. He could remember climbing on the bus, but he didn't know when or where he got off the bus.

His cellphone seemed to magically appear next to his ear. He could hear the ringing on the other end and then the much needed voice saying "This is Sydney".

"Refuge."

Chapter End Notes:

Stay tuned, many more chapters to come.

Next will be posted Monday(-ish)

Chapter 2 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

 

Thanks for all your wonderful comments, it is very much appreciated.

So yeah, new chapter is up. Enjoy

--- 

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second, but that's later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - (yet to be revealed)

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

Lyle slipped behind a news stand, his eyes focused solely on the lone man seated in a booth by the window. A small smile settled briefly, his eyes glinting in satisfaction. Wonder boy didn’t look so good. A small beep interrupted his thoughts and without breaking turning his eyes away with the man across the street, he opened his phone and pressed 2.

“You were right. He’s even more confused than before.”He listened to the receiving answer, his eyes darkening slightly at the commanding tone of the voice on the other side.

“How long will we continue with this farce. Why not take him now?”

He held the phone away from his ear, grimacing at the loud voice that filled the air around him. The phone did little to distort the deep, angry growls that emanated from it. When it had finally died down and static filled the air did he bring it back to his ear.

“I know that for now, we are working together on this but if you ever talk to me like that again, I will kill you. Do you understand me?”

Silence greeted his statement. He smiled briefly at an Asian girl that walked past. She dropped her gaze and hurried away. His eyes followed her body before returning it to Jarod’s across the street.

“I give you one week more. If Jarod is not in our control entirely by then, I will move in and take him.”

He closed the phone; not waiting for a reply he knew wouldn’t be given.

He returned all his attention back to his nemesis on the other side.

---

"Jarod, thank God. It's been so long since you've called, I've been worried. What's wrong?"

"Jarod, are you there........Jarod, answer me!
"

Jarod heard Sydney's voice but couldn't respond to it. Without thinking about it, he was snapping the cellphone shut.

Suddenly, images of needles and silhoutes of men were filling his mind and churning his stomach. And to make matters worse, he was getting the feeling of being watched, the same feeling that told him the Centre was getting to close. He sometimes thought it was the same feeling the mouse must feel knowing the cat was creeping up and getting ready to pounce.

Jarod pulled a $20 bill out of his pocket without being obvious about it. He didn't want anyone watching to know what he was doing. He wanted the watchers to think he was still in the diner when he was actually leaving through the back door. The Centre's goons were usually not smart enough to watch the back. Maybe they thought he wasn't smart enough to think of the back door.

Thirty minutes later, Jarod was checking into an upscale hotel. A quick scan proved the pursuit team wasn't staying here and so one Jarod Parker rented the penthouse suite for a week. A quick smirk at the thought that Parker would never ever look for him here graced Jarod's face. But the blankness of the last month had that smirk vanishing as quickly as it appeared.

---

Parker moved to the doorway as she heard Sydney hushed cries into the phone, eventually closing his phone with a frustrated sigh.

"Broots..." She commanded authoritatively, continuing when she had the tech's attention. "I want you to scan local hospitals, hotels, airports, car rental agencies, bus stations, whatever. Whether this room of nothing was done on purpose or not, one thing is clear, if boy-wonder isn't thumbing his nose at me, it means he's not pulling the strings. He is somewhere in this city, and he has only two options, hide or flee. If i know Jarod as well as I think I do, he'll be banking on us leaving with exactly what we came with - nothing. Not this time, it's time for a little hide and seek - my way."

Her orders made she turned back towards the psychiatrist. "You want to tell me what that was all about?"

"Damn it," Sydney cursed the dial tone ringing in his ear, flipping the phone shut. Now he knew Jarod was in trouble. According to Broots, he had paid for six months worth of rent. Maybe he was still nearby. This was torture. Before he had suspected something was wrong. With Jarod's less than cryptic phone call, now he knew.

The current debate was whether or not to tell Miss Parker what had just happened. Sydney wanted, needed to find Jarod and he was certain that if anyone could find him, it was Miss Parker. The question arose then, what would she do if they found him?

The battle was still raging in Sydney's head as he turned to go back in the building, only to be met face to face with the woman in question, "You want to tell me what that was all about?" Sydney sighed and relented to what he hoped was the right decision.

"It was Jarod. He needs our help. I know you only want to return him to the Centre, but something's different this time. We must find him and fix this before it's too late," He watched her unemotional expression and continued, "I'm afraid, Miss Parker. It's not often Jarod asks for our help."

Parker looked away from the worry that was so blatantly portrayed in Sydney's eyes. Whatever had transpired in that short phone call that Sydney had exchanged with his protege had obviously sent the alarm bells firing in the psychiatrist's head.

'"What he asked for your help and then bailed? Sounds like a whole load of nothing, which is exactly what were are standing in, exactly what Jarod left us with - nothing." She reminded her pursuit team, studying Sydney intently before continuing "to much nothing is adding up to something."

It wasn't really an answer to Sydney's fruitless begging. What did he expect, that she would toss aside her gun and chase after Jarod in some good-will hand holding gesture?

It just wasn't how the game was played. Strip searches, messages delivered from talking monsters, headless wax figurines, he hadn't played fair and neither would see. Their roles were clear, the huntress and the hunted. The weak ones always got caught first.

But as she glanced into Sydney's desperate eyes, Parker felt a small twinge in her stomach.

Was it concern? Or just the beginning of the hunt, the surge of adrenaline, the feeling of hope, that perhaps this time Jarod's luck had run out?

---

After two hour on the phone, three on the computer, and one quick call to make sure Debbie was alright, Broots came to a conclusion, Jarod was still in the city. He had to be. There was nothing to be found indicating he had left, and Broots had checked everything.
He guessed after the sweepers had finished questioning the neighbours and asking around the local stores and businesses they would have more information, which would be the part he would focus on when handing the news to Miss Parker.

The cleaners had just arrived and were working vigorously to find what they hadn't been able to with the naked eye. Fingerprints, hair...blood, if there was anything to be found they would find it.

But they didn't like interuptions. Which was why he was on his was to meet Sydney and Miss Parker for dinner.

---

The penthouse suite was a luxury Jarod rarely enjoyed. He could almost get used to this, he thought to himself. But the dingy places he usually stayed in gave him a feeling of home. A comfort in a strange world. But, still, the huge bed, the big screen TV, the outstanding view out of the window were all needed right now. He had the odd feeling that if he stayed in his usually type lairs, he would be "enjoying" the comforts the Centre had to offer quite quickly.

Four hours later, Jarod shot up in bed with a shout. Forget nightmares, this was a thousand times worse. Faceless figures and disturbing images flashed through his dreams, making it impossible for him to sleep.

A quick shopping trip last night gave him both a wardrobe that Parker would envy and a top of the line laptop. It was to this laptop that Jarod walked to now. A quick check on the Centre and the pursuit teams would help him relax, hopefully, he thought.

Jarod leaned back in frustration after forty-five minutes of digging in the Centre's computer system. He read Parker's initial report, saw that the cleaner's were doing they did. Sydney and Broots were with Parker and all three had checked into a very nice hotel on the other side of the city. But no matter how hard he looked, he couldn't find out what Lyle was up to. That was never a good sign.

An hour later, Jarod was sure that Lyle was up to something and that something was part of this month of blankness. What exactly was going on was the question, though. There was no sign of Lyle in the Centre, he hadn't used the Centre's jet, helicopters, or Towncars. So where was Lyle?

---

Sydney pinched the bridge of his nose, releasing a frustrated sigh as Broots left his hotel room after having informed him there were still no further leads on Jarod and nothing found in his latest lair. He could hear Jarod's voice in his head, that one word echoing over and over again.

The phone was sitting on the table and had been for the past hour. He brushed a hand over the keys and resigned himself to waiting for a call that might never come.

But it did come, and Sydney nearly didn't believe the phone was actually ringing. Yet something inside him connected those mental wires that alerted him to the reality of his chirping phone and he put it to his ear, praying it was his lost pretender.

Parker grabbed Broots arm as soon as they exited Sydney's hotel room. "Did you get it done?" she asked, "Jarod WILL call him again, it's only a matter of time."

Sydney couldn't be trusted to disclose any information about Jarod or his potential whereabouts. Face it - he never could. While Sydney was lost playing the parent, she and Broots would be doing the next best thing - eavesdrooping on Freud.

Despite the concern she couldn't ignore for Jarod, she wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to run in with her prey. The damn game had to come to an end - one way or another.

Broots released a breath he didn't know he was holding and tried to calm down. These were the kind of things that made him really hate his job. His pulse was racing a mile a minute and his heart was hammering in his chest like a jackhammer.

When talking to Sydney he was so nervous he was sure he would see something was going on and catch him. But by some miracle he didn't. He thought he was going to freeze, or trip, or drop something. But when Miss Parker distracted Sydney he was acting as if on a instinct; Regular Syd's cell out of the bag, bugged identical copy in to the bag.

"Yes", and he hated himself for it.

Chapter End Notes:

Next chapter will be posted approximately Friday 30th

Chapter 3 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

 

Thanks for all your wonderful comments, it is very much appreciated.

So yeah, new chapter is up. Enjoy

--- 

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second, but that's later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - (yet to be revealed)

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Mystery person

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

Jarod looked up at the clock and realized he had blanked out again. He was still sitting at the desk with the laptop, but it was four and half hours had passed. His mind was a scramble again. A quick look at the phone book cover told him he was in Philadelphia and looking at the calendar on the computer told him the date. But for the life of him, he couldn't figure out where Philadelphia was and didn't really care about the date.

He stumbled over to the window and threw open the heavy drapes. Weak sunlight filtered into the room from the barely risen sun. Was it too early to call Sydney, he wondered. But he didn't call Sydney. Something was telling him not to. A voice in the back of his head, the same one that warned him when the team was getting too close. Instead, he picked up his cell and dialed another number.

"What!" demanded a sleepy voice.

"Where's Lyle?" Jarod asked Parker.

Parker groaned as she gave the clock at her beside a bleary glance. It was barely six am, but several hours later than any taunting phone call she had ever received from the pretender.

"What's wrong Jarod, decided to spare me the late night roll call?" She asked sarcastically, habitually reaching to the bedside table, forgetting for a few blissful moments that she hadn't quit smoking. The pretender remained silent, only his breathing indicating that the connection was still open.

Parker frowned, "Do I look like his baby-sitter? But I'll tell you what Jarod, because I'm feeling generous this morning, likely because that for once in my life was able to enjoy a full night's sleep, I'll make you a trade - your location for Lyle's."

Jarod slammed the phone down. Usually calling Parker helped relieve some of his anxiety, but for some reason her final remark increased his tension. Not that what she said was different from what she always said, it just affected him differently this time.

Suddenly, an image flashed through his brain. Then another. And another. Seemingly random, he couldn't place them from any time at the Centre that he could remember. But the last time this happened is when he remember the cryrogenics experiment of Raines'. But the quickly fled as more and more agonizing images assaulted him.

With a cry, Jarod found himself curled up in a corner, rocking back and forth and hugging his knees. The blankness was leaving, but the new images made no sense. Even more terrifying, the images brought forth pain. Pain that shot through his head like a bullet, pain that brought such nausea that he thought he would be sick right where he lay.

He knew he needed help. But would that much needed calm accented voice help him heal or help him back to the Centre? At this point, Jarod didn't really care. He crawled to the table and picked up his cell phone.

"Refuge. Please, refuge. Refuge. Refuge."

"Jarod!" Sydney straightened in his chair instantly, "Don't hang up. Please let me help you. I know something's wrong." Hearing nothing but sporadic breaths, Sydney continued in hopes of persuading his young pretender. "Tell me where you are, Jarod. I'll come to you and we'll sort whatever this is out and nobody has to know."

He felt as if he would always be begging and re-begging Jarod for his trust again, and he wondered if he would ever gain it. For now though, his only concern was helping him. It would be a start in the right direction at least.

"Jarod?" he prompted in a strained whisper.

The sound of Sydney's anxious voice finally roused Jarod from his stupor.

"Refuge, Sydney. Please, help me. Make it stop, please. Make it stop."

"Tell me where you are," came the response.

"I don't know where I am. But make it stop. Oh God, please make it stop."

Images and pain once again shot through Jarod and he helplessly dropped the phone. Gravity did the rest and the phone snapped shut on its own.

---

Lyle opened the door, his eyes taking in the luxury of the penthouse room. He stepped over the crumbled form in the middle of the room, picking up the phone and scanning through the last numbers called. He smiled slightly when he saw his sister’s number.

So, wonder boy still believes in her ‘goodness’.

One of the sweepers with him closed the door while another started to meticulously gather all of the pretender’s things. Weighing the phone in his hand, he stepped over to the table and the still open laptop. He didn’t touch it, instead browsed through the blue notebook that had lain next to it.

I’m nothing. I’m worthless. I’m not in control.

This filled the book from cover to cover, written repeatedly. He didn’t turn when the door opened again behind him.

“I’m impressed.”

The man behind him stepped towards the laptop, inserting a stick and started to type away. He didn’t look up when he replied, “It worked with me, why shouldn’t it work with him.”

Lyle turned sideways, eyeing the bent over man. “I don’t want him to end up a psychopath. I want him manageable and under my full control.”

The man smiled evilly as he glanced up from his work. “I know all about your methods, Mr Lyle. I should know. You were my handler back in Africa.”

Lyle’s eyes darkened and he took a threatening step forward. “Be careful, Alex. I’m in a good mood. You don’t want to spoil it.”

Alex glared back, saying nothing. Satisfied, Lyle moved to Jarod, flipping his body over with one of his feet. Taking a covered case from his jacket, he crouched down before removing a syringe. Jarod groaned; sweat already starting to form on his forehead. His eyelids fluttered briefly and then opened as Lyle jabbed the instrument into a vein.

Surprise briefly showed. Lyle smiled, patting his arm reassuringly, waiting until the confused brown orbs closed again.

“We have to move. My sister and her escort might already be on the way.”


Alex grabbed the laptop while Jarod was dumped into a laundry trolley. Lyle couldn’t help the smile when he closed the door on the room, leaving nothing behind.
Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter posted around Tuesday (June 3.)
Chapter 4 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Thanks again for all the nice comments. Just stay with us, many more chapters to go.

Also, if you're interested in trying this strange (but oh so fun) kind of writing, you can either join one of the existing stories on the forum (link to forum on the top of every page. The stories are located in the "Catch me if you can"-board if you want a look) or make your own as described here

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second, but that's later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - (yet to be revealed)

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

"Miss Parker!" Broots yelled into the speaker without thinking. It was 7am and he had just woken Miss Parker by yelling at her. He stuttered something meant as an apology between her angry sneers before he continued, "Jarod just called Sydney, we know where he is."

On his way down the elevator to meet Sydney and Miss Parker in the towncar, Jarod's desperate plea to his mentor played over and over again in his head like a broker record.

This was more than the usual sleep deprivation, something was very wrong.

Miss Parker glared at Broots as he jumped awkwardly into the town car beside her, a quick glance into the empty back seat.

She silenced his question before he could spit it out.

"Freud is staying behind on this one," she muttered as she pulled the car out onto the street, enjoying the squeal of tires and Broots' bugged-out eyes as they flew around the corner.

"Directions, Broots." She commanded flying around another corner. "Jarod is only a few city blocks away, nothing is standing in my way, not this time."


After the third "Miss Parker, don't you think you should slow down a bit" resulting in her hitting the throttle a little harder he finally saw the connection. So with his hands firmly wrapped around a tourist map he found in the glove compartment, he managed yell out directions to guide her from the giant hamburger to the red H without dropping dead from an aneurysm.


Parker ignored the dirty looks from the concierge as she pulled the car right up the entrance, racing through the main doors and onto the elevator without a second glance back at the tech she knew she would be behind her.

"What room?" she barked, thrusting a small 9 mm into Broots' unsuspecting hands, hitting the button for the top floor as the tech nervously instructed her to. The rat had to be staying in the penthouse suite didn't he, probably on her tab.

She couldn't help but smirk at a little at Broots' forlorn expression. "Relax, just pretend it's a game of Cops and Robbers."

She cocked her gun, standing ready as the elevator pinged open.

"Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh" Broots muttered again and again, and did his best not to unintentionally fire the weapon.

The elevator came to a sudden stop, "Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh", Miss Parker sent him a look that was less than pleasant and he stopped. The elevator door opened and he quickly hid the gun in his jacket and scurried behind Miss Parker.

What would he do if Jarod was there? What would he do if someone else was there? He reasoned that he probably didn't have to do anything, that Miss Parker would take care of everything...but what if Miss Parker got shot?

"Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh"

---

Jarod opened his eyes and immediately closed them. Bright lights were flashing in the otherwise pitch black room. Voices were assaulting him from all sides. He was strapped upright in a chair and couldn't move. His mouth was dry and foul-tasting. Sedative, his mind to him. And other drugs.

Jarod knew that something bad was happening. He retreated into the far corner of his mind. Into the area he found when he was a boy and Sydney would be gone. Into the area that wouldn't allow pain to register or anything else to affect him. His muscles relaxed and his pain-filled face sagged. To anyone watching, he now looked catatonic.

---

Another cryptic, agonized phonecall from Jarod and Sydney was that much more frazzled. He went out into the hallway, knocking at Miss Parker and then Broots' doors. No answer. Frustrated, he turned to go back to his room and was met face to face with one of their latest sweepers, Jim or John or something.

"Where have Miss Parker and Broots gone?" he asked him urgently.

The sweeper looked around distractedly, "I thought they had a lead on the pretender."

Sydney groaned "Where did they go?"

"Not sure. Somewhere close I think."

Sydney turned in a huff, storming into his room. How dare she leave without telling him. He knew Broots wasn't behind this; only Miss Parker could be so defiant. She must really mean business and doubted his loyalties. The thought only fed his growing frustration. Logging into his computer, searching for something to keep him too busy for further festering. Checking his e-mail, he was surprised to find he actually had one from an anonymous sender. There was nothing in the subject, and upon opening it, simply an address. Without thinking twice, Sydney copied it down and grabbed his coat.

---

Parker kept her gun steady as she stepped out of the elevator, not daring to risk hushing Broots and his pathetic rambling as she crept her way to the bedroom.

With a mean kick she opened the door to what appeared the master bedroom, the bed was rumbled, the covers tossed carelessly aside but there was most definitely not one broken pretender.

she muttered several choice words as she turned around glaring at Broots who was cowering behind the breakfast bar.

"Even when Jarod is begging for help, he's two damn steps ahead of us," she snarled as she inspected the room.

It was normal in every way except for one, in all of her years of torture chasing the errant pretender around, he had never once missed an opportunity to torment her.

All this room held, was a whole lot of nothing, the second time in as many days.

Something was clearly very wrong.

"Get Sydney and the cleaner team here," she ordered moving back into the bedroom. Parker paused at the doorway to turn back and face the tech with his gaping mouth. "Now!" She added, turning away so Broots wouldn't see her small smirk.

At least some things were still the same.

---

Lyle stepped towards the chair, aware of the pretender’s gaze on him. Undoing the straps, he smiled as he helped him to stand, keeping a steady hand on Jarod’s arm.

“There’s something I want you to do for me, Jarod.”

The pretender nodded and followed him tentatively to a table that had been set up against the far wall. Alex slid a laptop in front of Jarod as he sat down, the screen blank except for a blinking cursor.

“I want you to transfer funds from the Centre into Sydney’s using Broots’ access codes.”

Jarod looked up and for a moment it seemed that he might resist before he returned to the screen and started typing. Thirty minutes later Alex called him.

“Did he do it?”

Alex smiled. “To the last cent. I told you he was ready.”

“We’ll see.” Lyle tucked at his leather glove, a gesture he had come to hate. It reminded him too often the reason why he had a missing thumb. “Get him ready for the next drop point. I don’t want my sister to get suspicious just yet. Let her waste energy trying to proof that Sydney and Broots are innocent when they’re called to a T-Board for stealing of Centre funds.”

Lyle pushed his thumbless hand into a pocket, reminding himself that very soon Jarod would do anything he wanted. He started whistling softly, suddenly feeling calmer. The image of Jarod’s face when he realised that there’s nothing he can do to prevent himself from doing his will was definitively something to look forward too.

Chapter End Notes:
Next posted approx Friday (soon, huh?)
Chapter 5 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey guys, sorry this one is a bit late, got somewhat distracted. I'd promise to never do it again if I didn't know that was a flat out lie. (For those who don't know, I'm a bit of a ditz). But if this helps, the chapter is a bit longer than usual.

Aaanywho, thanks a heap for the lovely reviews, it really makes this fun.

--- 

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second, but that's later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - (yet to be revealed)

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

About an hour after Miss Parker kicked the hotel door open, the room was crawling with Centre personnel. In between all the people in dark suits was Broots, desperately looking for any clues Jarod might have intentionally left behind. But after searching for what seemed like forever he finally concluded there were none.

Miss Parker looked more annoyed than in months so he was using Sydney as almost a human shield, ducking behind him every time the hissing dragon walked in his direction.

"At least he left the furniture this time. That's something" Broots said, trying to get her to look at the bright side...it didn't work.

Parker motioned to Broots and Sydney as she went into the bedroom, barking an authoritative, "Out!", at the cleaner team finishing up in the room. Not a man hesitated, and within seconds she was alone with Freud and Ripvanwinkle.

For the most part she ignored Broots, the tech was so pathetically jumpy that she was almost afraid that if she glared at him, he would die of heart failure on the spot.

Making an effort to soften her tone, Parker looked into Sydney's apprehensive eyes, "Something is up with your boy Sydney, something terrible. I need you on this one, no more secrets, no more lies."

The psychiatrist only looked at her impassively, and she knew she had to offer him more, extend the proverbial olive branch if you will.

She walked over the window, staring down in the busy street and crossing her arms, "Jarod called me this morning, about two hours too late for it to be his usual tormenting phone call. He hung up on me, but not very rather bluntly questioning me about Lyle's whereabouts. I can't help to assume that my brother is somehow involved in this mess."

---

Jarod reluctantly opened his eyes. There was a foul tasting in his mouth again and he knew he had been drugged AGAIN. For a few seconds he looked around blankly, then his surroundings registered. This was not the penthouse suite he had reserved, that's for sure. The lumpy mattress and bright orange bedspread pointed that out.

Jarod crawled off the bed and stretched fully upright. A series of cracks sounded as his back popped back into alignment. A look down showed that he was fully dressed, even to the shoes and leather jacket. Nothing was making any sense. How did he get here? Where was here? What was going on?

He stumbled into the bathroom and splashed water on his face. The water helped wake him up, but did little else towards clearing the confusion racing through his brain. He wanted Sydney. Sydney could help clear things up for him. Sydney would protect him. He had to.

He blanked out again, but only for seconds this time. When he looked around again, his cellphone was in his hand. A hand that quickly dialed a familiar number.

"Sydney, refuge. Please. Help me. I'm losing my mind. Help please find me...."

"Parker, he needs our help. No good will come of returning him if he isn't healthy, physically or mentally. Will you consider that if we do find him?" Sydney said.

Miss Parker arched her eyebrows and gave a slight nod, which was about the best Sydney could expect.

Sighing, he told her everything he knew. Nobody could find Jarod better than Miss Parker could. "I've gotten three phonecalls from Jarod in the past 24 hours, all very disturbing and begging for my help. He doesn't sound right; he's not himself. He told me he was losing his mind in the last one and then he hung up again. He never says where he is, so I doubt he even knows. Just a while ago, I received an e-mail with nothing but an address. I don't know what it's for or who sent it. I had assumed it was from you and would lead me here, but clearly I was wrong. I suggest we go to this address and see what we find there. It's not far." He turned to his other colleague. "Broots, do what you have to to try and find out where Lyle is. Miss Parker and Jarod are right; this has his name all over it."

Sydney watched as the wheels turned in her head and he knew she would agree even before she said it. What else did they have to go on? Miss Parker led the way out the door, Broots scrambling along at her heels.

---

Jarod stumbled into the bathroom and collapsed to his knees in front of the commode. Dry heaves wracked his body as he had had nothing to eat since that burger at the dinner. Heaven only knew how long ago that was, because he didn't. Shivers shook his body uncontrollably and Jarod was starting to feel light-headed. Whatever he had been injected with was playing havoc with his system, and he knew it was an injection because of the bruise forming inside his elbow.

A sudden vision of a laptop covered in numbers filled his mind. A groan sounded.

"Please, no more. Stop. Please."

He didn't know who he was talking to, perhaps no one. But maybe Sydney was there. Sydney would help him. He had called Sydney, hadn't he?

Then all thought slipped away as he collapsed by the toilet.

---

"What have you found on Lyle, Broots?" Parker questioned harshly. They had elected to stay in their hotel in lieu of returning to the Centre. Parker didn't suspect that Jarod would have the stamina to make it very far in his current condition. The tech gave a garbled reply implying a few more minutes, could he work any damn slower?

Parker walked onto the small balcony of the executive suite where Sydney was leaning against the railing, his features riddled with concern.

"We'll find him, Sydney," she offered as a lame attempt at comfort, or something. The shrink remained silent.

She wouldn't admit it to the psychiatrist, but her concern for the missing labrat was increasingly becoming more desperate. Jarod's trail had more or less dried up, and hence Broots was focusing his efforts entirely on Lyle. It was only a hunch, but she couldn't shake the feeling that Lyle and the pretender's mysterious behavior weren't somehow linked.

She couldn't help but remember what had transpired in Dry River. Lyle's meddling had given her one of her best opportunities of catching Jarod. If that idiot sheriff hadn't intervened, the outcome would have been dramatically different. Perhaps this time she would be just as lucky, or better yet get even closer.

Then what?

The trio was silent as Broots clicked away at his keyboard searching for a scrap of something to help them. Idle chit chat wasn't really their style so Sydney dove right in.

"I notice you haven't contacted your father regarding your brother's whereabouts," he commented. "Maybe you should."

Her glare implied her reservations toward her family loyalties. "I know he's less than trustworthy, but I'd like to believe your father wouldn't approve of whatever is going on here and would do something within his power to help us find Jarod. That is the goal here."

"Use your brain Sydney!" Parker exclaimed tersely. "Either he knows what Lyle is up to, and he'll lead us down a garden path, or he's just in the dark of the rest of us. I know what I want to believe, but either way it's up to Ripvanwinkle over here to track my brother down." She turned away from the computer, regretting quitting smoking.

"Does this hotel room have a damn mini bar?"

---

Broots had stayed up all night searching for any lead he could find regarding Mr. Lyle. Finding an electronic trail of a man that hated computers was far from easy. But if there was anything to find he would find it, or so he kept telling himself.

And after three pots of cold coffee, that's exactly what he did. He was going through the Centre's travel log, more in depth now than the past 6 times when he found what he had been looking for. Five weeks ago Mr. Lyle unexpectedly ordered a private jet to Africa.

He thought about waking up Miss Parker to tell her, but quickly realized that if was going to get any sleep in the next days it would dissapear the second she knew he had something. Besides, the sun had already began to rise and she would wake him up in less than an hour anyway.

---

Lyle tucked at his tie before smoothing his hair. Eyeing his reflection once more he turned back to watch the climbing numbers. He was surrounded by five men, all serious and all dressed immaculately in suits that screamed power. The soft ding announced their destination. Taking a deep breath, he stepped out and turned to the right, following the numbers till he got to the door he wanted. Making sure the men was right behind him, he knocked, hoping that it would be Parker that will open the door and see his surprise.

He couldn’t wait to see her reaction.


Parker stared at her immaculate reflexion in the mirror one last time before moving into the main room of her stylish executive suite.

With almost timed precision the knock sounded on the door. With a stone-face she opened the door ready to spit out some sarcastic greeting to the two members of her pursuit team.

Instead she found herself glaring into Lyle’s dangerous blue eyes. She took a step back in surprise taking in the five men who were surrounding him.

“Little too early to be trolling with the welcome wagon, Lyle,” she stated evenly, matching his deadly stare.


“Hello Sis. Miss me?”

He looked around her, noticing for the first time that the suite was empty. Pushing her out of the way, he entered the room, sending a sweeper to look behind one of the closed doors. When the sweeper shook his head he took out his gun, while another sweeper gripped Miss Parker’s wrist.

“Where are they?” he growled softly, body tense as he waited for an answer.


Parker tore her wrist from the sweeper's tight grasp giving him an ice cold glare of warning, smiling slightly as he stood down. "Where are who?" she questioned sharply approaching her brother. "Haven’t we had a chat about playing these sort of games Lyle? There better be a damn good reason for this."

Lyle tightened his grip on the gun, aware of the dangerous glint in his sister’s eyes.

Damn, she really is beautiful when she’s angry.

“You and your,” he paused, tilting his head slightly before continuing, “research team or whatever the hell you want to call that excuse for a tech and momma bear, are called to appear before a T-Board. Dad asked me to bring you in.”


Parker swallowed down the feeling of disgust as Lyle's hungry eyes preyed into her. "Like hell he did," she spat back, trying her best to ignore the familiar feeling of apprehension to begin to claw at her stomach. "Now is not the time to play politics. Jarod's closer than he's ever been, so you and your musketeers can go tuck your tails between your legs and get the hell out of my way."

Lyle allowed an arrogant grin to emerge. “Sorry Sis, but Dad reassigned me to the chase. You can hand over all your notes. I will take over from here. You are going nowhere except back to the Centre, with your stooges.”

Taking a step closer, he dared to lift his tumbless hand, touching her face briefly, long enough so that she couldn’t bite. “Now be a good little girl and call your stooges over here so that I can start my search for wonder boy.


“I can’t help but think that you’re behind this sordid little scheme. Always chasing the glory, in the form of our beloved lab rat. Let me give you a reality check Lyle. No matter how bleak the outcome is for Jarod, he has never failed in making you look like an idiot. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for your sorry ass this time.” Parker growled back, grabbing Lyle’s mutated hand and giving his stump a cruel squeeze.

Lyle couldn’t help the grimace as he leaned downwards before managed to snatch his hand out of her grip.

His nostrils flared as anger replaced pain, turning his voice gravely when he spat, “Bitch,” and for a brief moment he thought about hitting her with his gun.


Parker raised her eyebrow in satisfaction as she heard Lyle's disparaging remark. It was not often he lost his cool exterior. “Happy hunting,” She exclaimed as she turned to exit the room. “Oh and Lyle, just so you know there is no hard feelings. I’m going to leave you with exactly what Jarod has left us in the past week. Good luck interpreting without my momma-bear and chairman of Nerds R Us.”

Lyle watched with satisfaction as his sister was brought up short by two men who stepped in her way. He dangled a pair of handcuffs from his forefinger, ignoring the throbbing from her squeeze. “Not without these, Sis.” Pointing the gun at the phone, he continued, “And you’re forgetting something. Syd and the tech, here, five minutes.” Pointing the gun at her midriff, he smiled, “And just so you know, warn them in any way and you’ll be executed on the spot.” He winked before pouting, “Sorry Sis, nothing personal. Tower orders. I’m sure you’ll understand.”

"What is this Lyle, a witch hunt?" Parker snapped as she pulled out her cell. "Get your ass down here." She ordered firmly, glaring dangerously at her brother. "Put those things away Lyle. You're much too old to be playing cops and robbers."

Lyle smirked, shaking his head. “I know you, Sis. I won’t underestimate you. Besides, I’m only following orders.”

Parker took a calming breath, suppressing the urge to throttle her brother. What the hell was going on? Someone had obviously gone to great lengths to put her, Sydney’s and Broots’ asses in a sling. It didn’t take a genius to figure out whom that special somebody was.

A fallen pretender, a MIA brother who showed up at the most inconvenient of times, and now minutes away from being escorted back home with the kind of disgrace that only Jarod deserved.

Lyle clearly wanted her out of the way. What was this, Dry River: the newer and less incompetent version?

“I will figure out what you are up to Lyle.” She warned. “And when I do, nothing you can do or say will save your sorry ass. I can only hope that Jarod will have the balls to do it himself this time, because I promise you what I have in mind will make everything that has happened before look like hugs and puppies.”


“Aww, should I be scared, Parker? I’m not the one about to appear before a T-Board.” Passing the handcuffs on to one of the suits, he watched as they cuffed her hands behind her back. Stepping into her comfort zone, he leaned in and whispered, “I can be your friend. If you let me.” Leaning slightly back, he waited for her answer, seeing the conflict of emotions ranging across her eyes.

"I'm not buying that crap Lyle, not for one minute." Parker sneered back, straightening her posture. "I can take care myself. Always have, always will. You’d be a fool to forget that."

Lyle’s reply was interrupted by the hallway door opening. A stunned Broots stood in shock while Sydney showed his usual calm demeanour. Turning back to his sister, he replied, “I won’t forget, Sis. I promise.” Stepping away from her, he indicated to the sweepers to cuff the duo, “And now that everyone is here, I’ll say adieu. Have fun now.” With that he watched as a very pissed off Parker was dragged off behind the other two, closing the door and leaving him alone in her room.

All was going as plan.

 

 

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: I wanna say Tuesday, but add an 'approx' just in case.
Chapter 6 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

 

Hey all. Look *points to callender* I has improved. Although still, I want to put out sort of a general warning; I am more or less on summer vacation now (no more classes, although one more exam to go) so I can't really guarantee that I'll remember to put up a chapter on exactly the day I say, but I will try my best.

Thanks again for all the wonderful reviews. The response has been above any of our imagination I think. 

---  

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second, but that's later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

Broots froze when saw Mr. Lyle standing in front of him. As the man walked passed him out the door his expensive cologne intruded into his nostrils and made him nauseous, though he didn't really know why.

As soon as the man was outside he felt as if a giant weight just lifted off his shoulders... Then he saw the sweepers.
His instinct told him to run, flee, grab Syd and head for the nearest exit. But, as usual, he froze.

A second later he saw the handcuffs and the look in Miss Parker's eyes. Something was wrong, very wrong.

They had been right. Mr Lyle was behind all of this madness. The moment Sydney saw his smiling face, his heart had fallen.

Now in the car headed to Blue Cove, Sydney fingered the chains around his wrists, knowing for once how Jarod must feel constantly, de-humanized. It was something he'd fathomed, and something he barely recollected from his days with the Nazis but desperately tried to block away.

Miss Parker was clearly furious, breathing long and deeply. Broots was in a panic, asking questions that neither Miss Parker nor Sydney felt the urge to answer. All Sydney could think about now was Jarod. If this was their treatment, he knew their pretender's was far worse.

And once again, he had failed him.

---

Alex broke the small glass ampoule of smelling salts just under Jarod’s nose. He sat back, watching as the pretender jerked back before confused eyes settled briefly on him. He smiled and then slipped a hand underneath one arm as he helped the taller man onto his feet. As they made their way towards the bedroom he heard something that sounded in the line of, ‘Your dead.’

“This is just a dream, Jarod,” he replied. “You took something for a cold and it effected you aversely. When you wake up you’ll feel a lot better.”

Jarod shook his head slightly, frowning as he tried to push Alex’s hand away. “No,” he mumbled, “Y…you’re real.”

Alex sighed and effortlessly tucked the pretender in. “This is just a dream, Jarod. Remember. You had a cold and you took something that you didn’t know your sensitive too. When you wake up you’ll feel a lot better.”

Jarod closed his eyes wearily, his protest on his lips but not escaping any further. Alex smiled as he watched the breaths deepen towards sleep. Just before Jarod fully slipped away, he leaned in again and whispered into his ear, “When you wake up you must remember to write in your blue notebook. It’s very important.”

Alex watched as the pretender mumbled his words, fast asleep. Moving away from the bed, he scattered tissues and placed some flu medicine besides the bed, readying the room for when the pretender will wake.

Only when everything was in order, did he leave, knowing that Jarod was almost ready.

---

Mr Cox put the phone down carefully, allowing a small smile to creep onto his face. He diligently finished off the minor adjustment he was working on with his latest acquisition and carefully cleaned and placed his tools away. It was time to get to work, and Mr Cox was a man who loved his job.

The sweeper team were on their way with what was going to prove to be most interesting and enjoyable. When the directive had been issued he had calmly waited, having no interest in the actual pursuit at all.

To have Miss Parker in his power, before a T-board, was more than he could ever want. The debriefing would be soon and he could barely wait. The anticipation was delightful. He could imagine her reaction, and that of course was going to make it even more fun.

--

The long, thin body on the bed tossed back and forth. Nightmare images of Alex and Lyle flashed through the tortured brain. Sheets tangled around the legs giving the impression of restraints. Keyboards, needles and blue notebooks chased after his fleeing dream-self, ready to inflict unimaginable harm. A jerk and a shout brought the dreamer awake to a room filled with the odor of sweat and fear.

Jarod's eyes darted all over the room, making sure his dream hadn't followed him awake. He was in bed, but didn't remember how he got there. A bottle of cold medicine and some crumpled tissues caught his eye. He could hear a voice telling him that he had had a reaction to some medicine, but that didn't make any sense. He wasn't sick. Tired, confused, covered in sweat, yes. Sick, no. A shower would help clear his mind, he decided. Getting cleaned up would get the sour taste of Alex and Lyle out of his skin and allow him to feel like a human being not a labrat running in their maze.

Fifteen minutes later, he was letting the ultra-hot water beat down on his head. The hot water in a shower was right up on the list next to PEZ and ice cream as a benefit of freedom from the Centre. A person could put up with a lot of abuse if provided with enought hot water. His musing on hot water were cut short when his softly-lathered washcloth hit a painful bruise inside his left elbow. A quick rinse and close inspection of the bruise proved his theory: this was an injection-site bruise. The remains of four other sites were soon found. Then a suspicious lump on his right shoulder blade.

Jarod quickly jumped out of the shower and headed back into the bedroom. A search of his black jeans pockets produced his knife and then back into the bathroom. A little digging, some blood and a lot of pain later, he had his proof; a Centre-issued tracking device had been implanted in his back.

Jarod knew he had to leave the room he was in. Lyle knew where he was. And he could hear a voice telling him he HAD to write in his blue notebook. But he didn't use blue, he thought to himself. Kyle used blue. A look at the desk twisted his reality again. There was a blue notebook in the middle of the desk.

Jarod didn't stop to think. He quickly got dressed and grabbed his DSA case and left the room, leaving everything else behind.

---

Cox approached the cell door with a serene smile on his face. He had had her isolated from the other two, not wanting their time interrupted by the snivelling of the computer nerd or clever insights by the shrink. He wanted the focus to be on her. Waiting patiently for the sweeper to open the door, he straightened his tie and smoothed down his jacket as the door was unlocked.

"I thought your taxidermist ass was back in Africa," Parker snarled as Cox's cocky form entered the small cell. She sat up straight, trying to ignore the indignity of being restrained like a common labrat.

A smile twitched on his features, but he didn’t allow it to form fully. "Lovely as ever Miss Parker, and such cutting wit too." He drawled. he entered the room only enough to allow the door to be closed. "I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long." He told her, watching her calmly. he had had to restrain himself from rushing down here, he was that eager to start the debriefing. it was more prudent though to let her wait for a little bit.

"And to what do I owe the pleasure? I can only assume this isn't another performance review for my team's hunting abilities," Parker replied tersely.

"Or lack thereof," he quipped. "Assumptions are dangerous Miss Parker, I would have thought by now you would understand that simple principle." He taunted her a little.

"It's not an assumption. Only something big would drag us out of the field when we were following our best series of leads in quite some time. I'm just happy to sit back and watch Lyle screw this one up," Parker replied smartly. "I just can't wait to sit back and watch Lyle screw this one up, and may I add, the goon squad left quite a lasting impression with their welcome wagon routine."


"Yes, they do don't they?" He agreed easily. he had expected her temper to be a little more volatile by now. He leant forward a little, as if they might be overheard by the microphones they both knew was there. "I think that is the whole idea."

Parker took a steadying breath, aware that her temper was dangerously close to erupting. She wasn't going to give Cox and his African possy the satisfaction of seeing her crack. She met Cox's gleaming eyes with a strong stare, full of resolve.
"Keep talking and I'll begin to believe that you are involved in Lyle's sordid little scheme. It's too coincidental to be anything but related. Jarod is
seconds away from the nuthouse, Lyle reppears out of thin air and now this pointless charade."

She paused briefly, giving Cox a taunting wink. "Let the games begin."


"Pointless to you perhaps Miss Parker, but as you may be shocked to find out, the world does not actually revolve around you and your problems. The Triumvirate is concerned about your fitness to lead this chase, and I can assure you, this is not a game." He said seriously, amused by her bravado. too many times in the past he had smiled and remained silent as she ranted and disparaged him, not this time though. this time he had the upper hand and he was going to enjoy this. She simply had no clue about what went on here, how things really worked. even with Jarod rubbing her nose in it, she was too stubborn to open her eyes and actaully see.

Parker sat back as Cox was called over to the door by a nameless sweeper. She allowed the façade to fall from her features, her mind instantly turning into concern for Broots and Sydney.

This T-Board wasn’t intended to be a casual slap on the wrist, this was something big. The more she contemplated the situation, the more convinced she became of Lyle’s involvement.

Question was, who was his accomplice? Her twin was too dim-witted and cocky to have invented this sordid scheme on his own.

She pushed away the concern for Jarod, the fear for Broots and Sydney’s safety, the anger and resentment towards her twisted family tree. Today was only about one thing – survival.

By the gleam in Cox’s eye, she would need to bring her A game to the table. It wasn’t just her life she was fighting for.

---


“He found the chip.”

“So, he’s trying to run again?”

“According to his mind, he has escaped.”

“Did he?”

“No. He still needs to complete his notebook. He’ll do it soon. He has no choice.”

“For you sake, I hope so. I don’t want you to screw this up, Alex.”

“Oh, Jarod owes me just as much as you. I won’t underestimate him this time.”

“Just get it done. With my sister out of the way temporarily, I want us to use this time productively. I want him under my full control by the end of the week.”

“And so you have told me more than once this week. I’m not an idiot.”

“I never said you were. I’m fully aware what you are capable off. I trained you.”

……

“Give wonder boy his freedom for the rest of the day. I want to be there when we bring him in and this time I want him to be aware.”

“I advise against it.”

“Noted. Remember who’s in charge.”

……

“Don’t lose him, Alex. Let me know the location an hour before.”

Chapter End Notes:

Next update: Thursday

(yes I know, so soon. Will be a drought for a few days after that though, exam coming up)

Chapter 7 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey all. New chapter as promised, enjoy.

--

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

Jarod paced down sidewalk, headed towards the local mall. He needed a new laptop in the worse way. And that is what he was: in a worse way than earlier. He had developed a tremedous headache in the ninety minutes since he had left the motel. A voice was getting louder in his brain demanding that he write in his blue notebook. A blue notebook that wasn't his and that he didn't have. A blue notebook that he had no intention of writing in.

A top-of-the-line laptop and printer purchase later, Jarod was checking in a mid-range hotel. He asked for an upper floor room with no balcony or adjoining room. That would prevent Lyle from entering through a neighboring door or through the window. The up-graded security latch was accompanied by the dresser being pushed in front of the door. The room was now as secure as Jarod could make it.

Jarod quickly logged online and into a larger hospital's employee records. He needed a decent sized labratory to check his blood; he knew Lyle was drugging him. Now it was time to find out with what and how both recover from and and to innoculate against it. A quick note to Angelo would help in that regard, too.

Jarod knew he needed to rest, too. The last drugged sleep he had was not very restful and his body was demanding some real sleep. Hopefully he could get a couple hours of good hard sleep before the ever occuring dreams brought him back awake. Hopefully.

--

Sitting at the long end of the T-shaped table, Sydney clasped his hands together. Patience had always been one of his strongpoints and now he was testing his skills. As long as they could wait, so could he. All he had to do to dull the boredom was to think of Miss Parker and Broots together in the detainment room and the riveting conversations they must be having in his absence.

Sydney began humming. Nonsense notes at first. After time it turned into a familiar tune. Hm ha hm hm, hm ha hm hm. Low high low low, low high low low. There were 32 slats in the long portion of the table, 98 all together. The psychiatrist smiled kindly as assorted people walked by every so often, handing pieces of paper to and from various occupants of the room. It was silly to put Sydney through a T-board. As one of the leading Centre psychiatrists, he'd designed the psychological strategies to be implemented during the process. Jarod had helped perfect them.

He took a sip of water and stretched his arms out. Patience was the key and patience he had. Jarod however, needed his help and this was stalling him. An interrogation would be next. Depending on what they wanted. He could only assume a rapid fire of questions would be sent his way to "overwhelm" him. They could try. Until then he would just have to wait. One can't rush his interrogators.

Cox was not at all pleased about being pulled prematurely out of his discussion with the lovely Miss Parker. He did not let his displeasure show though, it would not have been professional, and Cox prided himself on his consumate professionalism.

It would worry Parker that he had left before even starting and perhaps that was a good thing. Let her worry about what her friends were going to let slip or what lies they might fabricate to extricate themselves from any wrongdoing.

Smiling as he saw the old man there, he paused for a moment watching him. Sydney would not be easy to crack, he was old and wise, as well as wily, having managed to survive for a very long time when all the others had perished. Sydney was not to be underestimated.

After observing him for a few moments, he finally allowed his presence to be known, walking across to take his place, sitting down directly opposite the old man. Putting his papers in order he finally looked up at his colleagues, and then at Sydney.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," he said politely. "Shall we begin Doctor?"

Sydney smiled just as politely. He could play the phony charm game just as well. He had been doing it all his life here after all. "Oh I'm certain you are sorry, Mr Cox. We can begin if it suits you. What shall we discuss first? Our failure to return Jarod? Whether I think Miss Parker and Broots are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities? Or maybe something entirely different? I'm on the edge of my seat!"

With that, Sydney patted the seat beside him and then properly refolded his arms on the edge of the table. He stared at Cox with the security and confidence of a man who has nothing left to lose, and nowhere else to be.

Cox had to smile at the insincerity of the doctor's words. "It does suit me, thank you Doctor." He shuffled his papers, no hurry to move this along. Broots would be sweating bullets by now and Miss Parker would be about to perforate her ulcer. It had been a wise decision to keep them separated.

"Well, of course your dismal failure to return the Pretender, despite numerous opportunities, is a major concern to us." He looked up at him and smiled. "Please sit back doctor, if you fall from your seat you may injure yourself, and we can't have that. Do you think we should restrain you to prevent you from hurting yourself?"

Sydney was confident, and Cox could see he thought he was well in control of this situation.

"Injuries to myself should be of your least concern," Sydney stated simply. He could tell that Cox was enjoying himself and his newfound position of power. A thousand psychological theories flew through his mind as he considered the implications of that. It was usually the most insecure, validation-seeking type who enjoyed control the most. Then, he supposed, some people were just evil.

"I am not concerned, but it might impede this investigation," Cox countered smoothly. "Why don't you tell us why we are here then?" There was only one way this battle of wills was going to end, and the sooner the shrink figured that out, the sooner they could get down to business.

"I'm here because you and whomever higher up authorized this, deemed it more important to run through this charade again instead of letting Miss Parker, Broots, and myself do our jobs." Sydney explained as if he were speaking to a child, crossing his arms. "Now who do you expect to find Jarod?"

"Certainly not you." Cox scoffed. "How many years has it been Doctor? Surely you cannot expect me to believe that today was the day?"

"And you believe your odds are better without three of your most capable workers?” Sydney laughed bitterly, before addressing Cox’s implication. “Jarod contacted me several times today and yesterday. Something was different this time. I don't expect you to understand. I only expect that as an employee of The Centre for more than thirty years, you would trust my judgment, especially regarding Jarod."

"Our three most capable workers are seemingly incompetent fools. And we are well aware that Jarod has contacted you doctor, what is more disturbing is the fact that you have not shared that with us until now."

"Which would have resulted in what? Only shattering the trust I've worked so hard to build with Jarod. When Jarod needs someone to trust, you can be sure I'm the first one he'll go to. Maybe you believe that's hindering the pursuit, but I can assure you that without it, he would have vanished long ago. He's too smart to do otherwise. Why anyone ever believed it would be easy to return him is beyond me."

"I would have assumed you would have refrained from telling Jarod you were just doing your job." Cox said calmly. This was going to get them nowhere but running around in circles. "Let us move on to something else then shall we. Something of more immediate concern."

--

Parker watched apprehensively as Sydney and Cox squared off at the T-board. For all his blundering and air of ignorance, she had to hand it to the shrink for his nonchalant demeanor. Few men could retain that kind of class. She could almost imagine the sweat-riddle, trembling disaster that would be Broots.

She wished she could overhear the conversation but then again, that was the point. Intimidation and defeat was the goal of any T-board. Her team had barely made it through the last one. Ironically it was Jarod's truant ways that had saved them. Few could have screwed up the golden egg that Bridgette had been given, but somehow the queen of platinum blond had managed.

While she didn't doubt that this T-board had been assembled as a stall-tactic by her thumbless brother, the Tower didn't go to such trivial lengths over nothing. Parker could tell by the look on Coxes' face that he was about to inform Sydney of the purpose of this little gathering.

Parker turned away from the window briefly, allowing herself a deep cleansing breath. She pushed away the fear, the anxiety, the questions and focused on the interaction between Sydney and the resident Taxidermist. In the game of Life, nothing was trivial. The psychiatrists body language in the next few minutes would tell her everything she needed to know about the purpose of this T-board. Was it really about their failure to return Jarod back to his cage, or was it as she suspected some neverland scheme to land their asses in the sling? A stiffened back, an incredulous look backwards or a guilty man fighting instinct in order to remain still and relaxed. How many rules had been bent in the Jarod pursuit? How many missed oppourtunities, forbidden phone calls, exchanges of information? Stack these incidences up and heads could roll - literally.

Lyle's arrogant expression flooded her mind as Cox glanced briefly in her direction. She winked at him, imagining exactly what she might do to her little bro when this was all said and done.

This time he really had gone to far.

Parker forced her mind back to Sydney as she watched Cox pose the question they had all been waiting for.

She prayed for a twitch, a glance, a sign that Sydney was shocked by the allegations.

In this case, nothing would mean something, something terrible, for all three of them.

---

Jarod slowly opened his eyes. A strange feeling of heaviness filled his body. A heaviness that he finally attributed to something he very rarely experienced: a good, solid sleep with no nightmares. A sleep that most people took for granted. A sleep that did not involved sedatives, injections or even blows to the head. A sleep that he would love to have again.

He remembered the day before as his mind started working again. He remembered waking up in that cheap motel and finding the tracking device in his back. He remembered testing his blood at the hospital an hour away and finding out the results.

A glance to the bedside table showed the prescription bottles that housed the antidote he created from common antibiotics. His mind was clearer than it had been for a while. He didn't know how long Alex and Lyle had been messing with him, but it was time for it to end. Time for both men to find out just how wrong it was to mess with him. And now that he could think, he could do some research into what Lyle was up to.

---

In the small cell viewing the T-Board he watched Sydney as closely as he could through the small glass slot in the worn down metal door. He tried not to think about all the people who had made it so worn down, but after being in here for what he could only guess was hours, he was having a hard time not to. Most of them were probably dead, he didn't allow thoughts of the others to enter his mind. Being in a T-Board twice, that was like like taking a second spin in Russian roulette.

He didn't like being alone in any room of the Centre, much less when he was facing a T-Board. There was nothing to do but think. Thinking leads to more thinking, which leads to panic and involuntary Freudian slips,and that was why they kept them separated this time, he thought as he tried to convince himself that the red-ish stain just under the 'window' was rust.

He knew Miss Parker was here as well, he saw the sweepers bring, well more like shove, her into the room next to him. Somehow that made him feel a bit better, though he didn't really know why. It only meant that she wouldn't wonder where they were and that she wasn't able to pull any strings to get them out.

After staring at what was beginning to look like teeth marks, in the lower right corner of the door for far too long, Broots saw movement outside the door out of the corner of his eye. And it was more than the regular 'my leg fell asleep'-shifting that had been going on for the past hour or so. He looked up and saw Sydney being escorted away from the table by a sweeper. He couldn't see his face, so he had no idea what the doctor was feeling. Not that he could read much into it if he could.

His mind started racing as Sydney got closer to his door. Who would they interrogate next? Miss Parker, or him? Where were they taking Sydney? What was this T-Board all about anyway? Why was Mr Cox administering the board? And was he the one who was really behind it, or was he just a puppit?

He finally concluded that he would try something new, staying positive. If he tried to look on the bright side of everything then things couldn't look that bad...he hoped.

Step one: the stain was definitively rust.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Wednesday next week (got an exam on Tuesday, wish me good luck. I may need it.)
Chapter 8 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey all. Thanks again for wonderful reviews and well-wishes. Exam went absolutely fab and I am now completely done with school until fall. Yay!

Hope you like the new chapter

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

There was no doubt whatsoever in Cox's mind that the doctor was lying to cover up for his friend. Loyalty that was given freely was so much more impressive than bought loyalty, no matter how displaced it was. When Mr Broots finally cracked and admitted not only to the embezzling, but to also helping the Pretender, then that alone would also be enough to implicate the doctor.

Mr Broots would be watching and wondering, so easy to break it was hardly any fun at all.

All of a sudden, light pouring into the small cell. Broots looked up only to be faced with a rather unpleasant looking sweeper. He wasn't ugly, well in that case moderately so, it was more the fact that Broots knew that whatever he was up to would not be pleasant.

"Up" the sweeper growled and grabbed his arm.

At least he got one of his questions answered. He would be the next to make an appearance at the T-Board, not Miss Parker. He decided to think that was a good thing. He would have to think of the reason later though.

--

Jarod leaned back from the laptop, stunned. Miss Parker, Sydney and Mr. Broots were back at the Centre and in going through a T-Board session for embezzlement. Cox was leading the interrogations, but Jarod could see Lyle's hand working behind the scenes. But where was Lyle? He hadn't been seen around the Centre for almost three weeks and not even Raines' files hinted on where he was or what he was up to.

Jarod turned back to the computer. "What kind of evidence did they have," he wondered to himself. The Centre was whacked, but even they wouldn't put a Parker through a T-Board without some kinda proof. The repercussions were too great to do that.

---

Broots tried his best to sit calmly in the uncomfortable chair. Cox had not said a word since he sat down, neither had any of the other people he assumed was in the room, just out of sight. But wasn't going to loose it, not this time.

He had done nothing wrong, he knew that for a fact. For the last couple of months there had been no 'special projects' for Miss Parker, no favors for Sydney. He was safe. This was all just a game to scare him into admitting something they never knew he'd done before he told them. At least that's what he imagined Miss Parker would tell him, and Miss Parker was usually right about these things.

They would use every trick in the book to scare him and he would just have to do his best not to let them know they were being successful.

Five minutes later Mr. Cox was still leafing through a thick folder of papers, and not paying any attention to him.

"W--what do you want?" Broots finally managed to say, not as confidently as he hoped, but anything was better than just sitting here, waiting for the bullet to strike.

Cox smiled broadly at him, taking note of the time. He would be collecting on that bet. Mr Broots could not stand the pressure and Cox had known the longer he made him wait, the more he would sweat.

"Let me ask you a question Mr Broots." He finally looked up at him, pulling at the sleeves of his jacket, which had ridden up slightly. "What do you want?"

Never in all his years working for the Centre had anyone asked him what he wanted, not even in his coffee. So needless to say the already nervous tech was thrown a bit off guard. He ended up staring at Cox for several minutes, not really managing to come up with an answer.

"Please Mr Broots, you must want something?" Cox said after the silence dragged. "Do you really expect me to believe you are perfectly content in your work here, no grievances at all?" He asked, raising his eyebrow in imitation of Miss Parker.

"Well, regular hours and a pay raise would be nice." He said jokingly. Mr Cox did not look amused.

"We don't pay you enough Mr Broots?" Cox asked calmly. "You feel your work is undervalued?" He sat back, casting a glance off to the side before looking back at the nervous tech who looked like he was about to faint.

"N-no!" He knew it was a trap, he just knew it."That's not what I meant I'm only saying-" what was he saying? "I'm only saying..." he looked around the room, desperately searching for an answer that wouldn't result in him laying dead in a ditch somewhere. "I'm only saying it would be nice to have a weekend off every once in a while."

"It would seem to me Mr Broots that you are not entirely sure what you are saying at all." Cox smiled at him. "You can relax Mr Broots, this is not the Spanish Inquisition after all. It is not like we are going to pull out the thumbscrews."

Broots let out a nervous laugh, then felt a bit stupid when he realized a few minutes later he was the only one laughing. He cleared his throat. "Cox, I mean Mr. Cox . Sir." He wiped his forehead and let out a sigh. "Could you please just tell me why I'm here, why we're all here? In the middle of checking out one of Jarod's lairs, the second in the same city? We were so close. Why now?"

That took him by surprise a little, although he didn't let it show. "Ours is not to reason why Mr Broots, we are all cogs in the same machine." He looked up as he was approached by a sweeper with a note. Reading it for a moment, he folded it precisely and put it on the table in front of him, watching at Broots' eyes were drawn to it. "Yes, the same city and yet another near miss it would seem. Are you helping Jarod Mr Broots?" He asked him plainly. He didn't think he was though, it made no sense as Jarod would be able to pay him handsomely from all of his stolen funds and Cox didn't think Broots had the criminal mastermind to commit embezzlement as a cover for more sinister activities.

He wasn't really surprised. Since he was first assigned to the Jarod pursuit he had been faced with the same question again and again. "I have a daughter. I know what the Centre is capable of." Faces who had made that clear flashed in his mind, both victims and the lost souls doing the unimaginable deeds. "I do my best to bring Jarod back to you, to this place. It's my job."

"Yes it is. So Sydney then? Or perhaps Miss Parker?" Cox queried nonchalantly. He was curious to see just how quickly he might roll over on his friends when push came to shove.

"No, of course not!" Broots sighed heavily. The more he said the more words they had to twist. "We work our ass of day and night. Miss Parker even has an ulcer because of all of this. Do you think we would do that if we were helping Jarod?"

"Perhaps.... if you wanted to appear as if you were catching Jarod." He countered with a sly smile. He was clearly very defensive about just how much time he worked and how hard he worked.

"I want to know what's on the note." Broots said agitated.

"You are in no position to ask," He snapped, as if angry and nodded to the sweeper to escort Broots back to his room. As he was leaving he paused the sweeper for a moment and handed Broots the note, which had nothing more than a confirmation of his lunch order, which would be ready momentarily.

Broots was once again sitting in his cell with no other company than the rust stain. As he was escorted back he caught a quick glance of Miss Parker in an adjacent cell, but still there was no sign of Sydney.

Where was he?

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Um...friday I think would be good
Chapter 9 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey again. I'm getting pretty good with the "on time"-thing, ain't I? *grins*

This chapter is a little longer than usual, hope you like.

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

 

Alex was waiting beside the elevator with two sweepers, his body language shouting his unhappiness with Lyle’s choice. They had briefly debated the issue again when he had phoned the other man to give the location and had lost.

He hated losing.

He squeezed in last, feeling the closeness of the walls and the sweepers bodies. He hated Lyle and what had been done to him by the thumbless man and the triumvirate. But he hated Jarod even more and Lyle knew that and exploited it.

He breathed a sigh of relief when the door finally opened on their designated floor. He turned to Lyle, “He’s barricaded the door. No outside entrance.”


Lyle scowled in irritation, clearly not happy with Alex’s statement. “So what do you propose, Alex?”

The sociopath allowed a smirk before turning to one of the doors closest to where they were standing. He knocked once and the door opened on a pretty girl no older than eighteen.

“Lyle, meet our damsel in distress.”


Lyle chuckled, his eyes appraising her body. “That’s funny. I should let you organize these types of things more often.” Indicating the hallway, he bowed slightly, “After you, my dear.”

They moved with her and as she came to a stop in front of the door to Jarod’s room, they flattened against the wall, making sure that they were out of viewpoint. The girl knocked, waiting until they clearly heard Jarod’s voice asking who it was. Lyle grinned in appreciation when the girl’s voice indicated her fear and sorrow when she said, “I…I’m sorry to disturb. I…I saw you earlier a…and I…need help.”

Hell, Lyle though, if it was him behind that door, he would open it. Silence met the request until the girl gave an audible sigh and turned as if to move away. He could hear Jarod asking her to wait and then the sound of something heavy being moved. As the door started to open, he pushed the girl out of the way, slamming it further open with his body into a very surprised pretender’s face. He could see the small sliver of blood starting just above one eyebrow where the door had cut and as the last sweeper entered and closed the door, he waited for Jarod’s next move.

Jarod looked at Lyle, ignoring both the blood dripping down his forehead and the sweepers who were surrounding him.

"You would pull an innocent into this, Lyle. Or did Alex think it up for you?"


Alex moved past Lyle and the pretender, heading straight for the side table where an assortment of bottles stood. After the third bottle he knew what Jarod had done. He had tried to make an antidote to the drugs that they had been administering and from his lucidness, had been fairly successful. Eying the rest of the room and failing to see the blue notebook, he moved towards the pretender, his eyes darkened by his hatred of the man.

“You’ve been a busy little bee, haven’t you Jarod?”


Jarod glared at Alex, but refused to answer him. He knew that Alex's weakness was his inferiority complex and Jarod hoped to play on that by ignoring him.

"Tell my, Lyle, how did you get Cox to run a T-Board on Miss Parker, Sydney and Mr. Broots. Did you promise to find him something dead to play with?"


Lyle froze for a second, and then the grin returned. “I didn’t do anything, Jarod. All I did was following orders to bring her and her stooges in.” Lyle sank down into one of the chairs arrayed in the small sitting area, indicating with his gun to Jarod to seat himself in the one across from him.

Jarod looked around the room. He had to get away or he knew he would be in serious trouble. The problem was there were too many of them and he didn't have to save just himself, but the girl too. There was no way he could leave her with those two sociopaths.

He commanded Alex to check the laptop before pulling a blue notebook out of his jacket and tossing it at the pretender.

“You left something at your last place.”


The voices in Jarod's head started screaming. He knew he had to resist, but the pull to write in the notebook was almost overwhelming. The last piece of resistance he could muster went into tearing the notebook in half. Then he fell to his knees and grabbed his head, all the while rocking back and forth.

"Kyle's notebook, not mine," he told himself. "I use red, not blue. Not mine, don't use it. Not mine."


“You’re wrong, Jarod. You use blue. Here, let me show you.”

Alex made sure he had a good hold on Jarod’s neck before thrusting one of the pretender’s previous written ones into his face. Jarod balked but he was ready, forcing him to look at the handwriting and the words.

“You use blue and you need to complete your next one.” He leaned even closer, his whispered words only meant for the trembling man beside him.

“If you don’t, I get to play with the girl. Do you want her on your conscience because she surely would not be on mine?”


Jarod swallowed. He knew Alex meant every word he said. But he also knew that the girl was as good as dead anyway. There was no way Lyle and Alex would leave her alive for her to tell anyone of what happened or to I.D. them. His mind raced for a solution that would save both of them.

The hand on the back of his neck tightened and he knew that he had to look at the notebook. The more Alex wanted him to look at it, the greater the danger from it. He finally unfocused his eyes and looked at the notebook. The writing was nothing but blurred scribbled. Blurred scribbles that made no sense. He was safe for the minute.


“He needs his dosage, Lyle. He can’t focus until he’s under.”

Lyle leaned back and looked at them with dead eyes. Jarod’s head was bent, his whole body screaming defeat and defiance at the same time. Alex wasn’t gentle on his hold; he could see the bruises already emerging where the sociopath’s hands gripped into the pretender’s neck.

He wanted his revenge and if he had to wait a little while longer, he’ll do that. He extracted the case, taking out the prepared syringe. Making sure that Alex had a good hold, he jabbed it into Jarod’s arm, not caring if he left a bruise or not. The pretender struggled briefly until the fluid had drained away and then went limp.


Alex waited a few seconds before once again placing a book in front of Jarod, stating that he needed to finish the notebook.

Jarod could feel the fluid burning through his veins as it headed towards his brain. He had to resist. He had to. His freedom and the girl's life depended on him remaining alert. Then he heard Sydney's voice echoing from the past about how to disengage himself from his surroundings.

He struggled to remember how to do so, the injection and the notebook pulling his attention in other directions. He was finally able to recall the procedure Sydney had taught him. He opened the door into the hidden room in his mind and walked in.

Jarod's body went totally limp and unresponsive. He was safe for now. He had bought the time he needed to figure things out.

--

Lunch was over and they were back at it, and now it was time for some serious fun. Cox watched as they brought Parker out, still cuffed and waited until she was seated before giving the command to take the cuffs from her. She was big on the threats to maim and kill and various other things, but he doubted she had the balls, so to speak. Still, it was a fun excuse to leave her restrained, knowing how much she would hate it. And it gave him a pleasant image to think about during the tedious hours of this interminable T-board.

"The circus freak show finally gets its grand finale." Parker remarked snarkily, her ice-cold glare focused on Cox.

"You seem to think very highly of yourself," Cox drawled. "What makes you think you are the main event in this little circus?

"You saved the best for last." Parker stated evenly. She had watched Cox toy with Sydney and Broots, and by the gleam in his eyes she could tell he was enjoying this more than he should be. She casually looked at her watch. "How was lunch?"

"Fine thanks," he said, amazed at her vanity and sense of importance. "It is time to get back to work though. Sooner we start, sooner we can all get back to what we do."

"It's your show." Parker stated, sitting back and feigning boredom.

"Yes it is," he agreed, sitting back as well. She was a cool one, that was certain. "You don't like me do you Miss Parker?"

"I don't trust you." Parker answered slyly. "Tell you what Cox, let's cut the idle chitchat. We aren't here to discuss your warm fuzzies. Why don't we get on with this futile charade? Last time I checked I had a pretender to catch."


"You don't trust anybody do you Miss Parker?" he asked, ignoring her completely.


"What's this really about?" Parker demanded cattily, ignoring his question. It was taking ever ounce of restraint to maintain her cool exterior. She was sick of Cox's mind games.

"Do you trust Mr Broots?" He asked her slowly, as if she was dense. "I know you do not like him."

Parker leaned into the table, her eyes narrowing. "Broots is likely the only male specimen in this building who is worth trusting. He's more transparent than Raines' oxygen tubing."

"So he couldn't fool you then?"

"He doesn't need to." Parker snapped back.

"Yet he managed to keep his divorce and custody battle from you AND he lied to the Centre about his marriage status. Would seem to me Mr Broots is quite the dark horse, or are you just naive and easily fooled by him?" He leant forward, folding his hands carefully on the desk, his eyes intent on hers.

Parker huffed slightly. "What trouble has the spineless tech got himself into now?"

"So you do trust him, despite his deception and your clear dislike?" He asked, clearly amused by that concept. "Perhaps if I lie to you, your trust in me will increase?"

Parker shook her head. Cox was a moron, his brainless assumptions clearly demonstrating this. "The key word is transparent Cox. Broots may have hidden some trivial matters in the past, but we always knew something was up. If I were you, I would end this pointless freak show and point the finger at whoever dubbed you into believing Broots was behind anything. He's more loyal than a golden retriever.

"Would have thought you were more a bunny person than a dog person Miss Parker," he shot at her. So she was defending Broots as well. It would seem either the good doctor and Daddy's Angel were both in on this little scheme, or both much more stupid than even Cox already thought they were.

"At least I like them alive."

Oh she was so clever with the barbs. He raised his eyebrows in amusement and unclasped his hands. "I guess that is it for now then."

"I'm glad to see we have accomplished a whole lot of nothing. It appears to be the Centre theme of the week." Parker remarked dryly standing up as the sweepers approached her. They had been trailing Jarod on a trail of nothingness, and now this pathetic excuse of a T-board. "I assume you have enough brain cells to recognize the futileness of all of this, and call off your hound-dogs. There is nothing to be found here but an arrogant lab rat."

"Oh, you are mistaken Miss Parker, there is much to be found, and much has already been revealed, it has been far from futile. Jarod will be found, rest assured on that, although that is not our primary concern right now."

Parker pulled her arm away from the sweeper. "Jarod is vulnerable right now. You screw this up and your road kill collection will be getting a new addition."

"I am not the one that screws it up on every occasion Miss Parker." He quipped. Her lack of success was not looked favourably upon by his superiors.

"I think Jarod managed to make you look like an ass on more than one occasion, and that's saying something for the King of Roadkill. I'll be waiting with my silver-lined I told you so. Make sure you pass that along to my idiot twin brother. I know he's behind this." Parker remarked as she was led away.

As he watched the sweeper escort her back to the cell, he drummed his nails on the table for a moment, thinking about the best way to get one of them to crack. All of their nerves would be frayed by now, and people that are short tempered are usually a bit more honest with their reactions. The decision made, Cox stood up, wondering if Lyle was having any success, and hoped he was. He wasn't sure how long he could reasonably drag this out without drawing undue attention to himself.

"Put them all in the same cell." He ordered the nearest sweeper.

"Which cell?" The sweeper asked.

Cox gave him a withering look. "I don't care." He said before sauntering off.

Chapter End Notes:
New chapter: Wednsday the 25th
Chapter 10 by Manoline
Author's Notes:
Hey all. Thanks again for lovely reviews. Enjoy new chapter

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

 

It had been hours. It was hard to tell how many, but what did it matter really? Sydney thumbed the edge of the metal slab he was sitting on. It felt metal anyway.

He could only assume Cox had thrown him in the dark to remind him of his blind stint after the bomb in SL-27. It wasn't as though he really minded it though. He knew whatever they were accusing them of, that Broots wasn't doing anything wrong to get caught doing and that if Miss Parker was sneaking where one shouldn't sneak, she would be able to keep her guard up. Watching them would only encourage his anxiety. Perhaps sitting in the complete black was a bit of blessing in disguise.

Sydney shielded his eyes though, when the door flung open to a stream of bright light and the bustle of two bodies thrown into his already small room. It shut just as quickly as it opened, but he was relieved to feel the two new presences in his cell.

"Nothing to fear. It's just darkness," he assured his colleagues, who were clearly in distress over this new situation. Different types of distress of course, anger versus panic, but distress all the same. The amusement in his tone was evident and he could feel Miss Parker's wrath from his seat. He suspected that she'd been saving it away for Cox anyway.

---

Jarod paced around the small room deep inside his mind. He glanced at the monitors situated along the far wall. The wall-hung screens showed a variety of lines, squiggles and images. Heartrate, visual images, and audio playback for the outside world were all available for his immediate viewing.

Jarod had first created this room back when he was still a child. Sydney had told him how to disengage from this and this was the result. Jarod wasn't even sure if Sydney knew about the room. It had never been used when Sydney had helped him run a SIM because Sydney always honored the 'refuge' signal. The room got a lot of use when Raines, and later Lyle, were in charge of things. Nothing that happened to his body could hurt or influence him here. But he could control his body from in here.

A glance at the visual monitor showed male legs pacing back and forth in front of his limp body. Turning up the volume allowed him to hear the argument between Lyle and Alex. Neither one knew what had happened to him and each was blaming the other for looked like his total collapse. The inside Jarod gave a smirk at that and he briefly wondered if the two would actually break out into a fistfight.

But more important issues confronted him and he knew he had to find a way to stop them. This injection they had shot him with seemed to be the same as the ones earlier. That was okay, because the antidote he had created was time released. He could feel it stopping the drugs even now. The notebook, however, was truly frightening.

A search of his memory files showed what had been happening to him. Lyle and Alex had done a good job of blocking this from his conscience mind, but nothing was hidden from him in here. The phrases 'Lyle knows best', 'I am nothing' and 'I belong to Lyle' filled long pages in the notebook. SIMs he didn't remember running were detailed in here. Even the last SIM, the one where he moved Centre money into Sydney's account was in here.

So, now he knew what the T-Board was about. Now he just had to clear their names and rescue himself and the girl from Lyle and Alex. A little reprogramming on Lyle's programming and then all was ready. Everytime he saw the notebook and the things Lyle him to write, he would automatically translate those word into words with much greater meaning. Words that went far back into his past;


Kre Kaw Toads Foot, Geese Walk Barefoot.

---

Parker rolled her eyes at Sydney's pathetic attempt at comfort. "I'm not the one afraid of the dark," she spat out, giving Broots a rough pat on the back in mock comfort.

"Wow, it's dark in here" Broots said genuinely surprised.

"Mhm," Sydney agreed with Broots, as if only to verify that it was indeed dark. "Have you both been through the board?"

Broots nodded, then remembered that no one could actually see him and said a quiet yes.

"Only slightly more painful than one of your psychobabble sessions Syd," Parker stated sarcastically. "Does anyone know what the hell is going on."

"Isn't it obvious? They're distracting us. Jarod needs my help and they've locked us up because we would only get in the way of their plan. Clearly, they have a plan, and Jarod is the one who will suffer," He paused, shifting his tone. "For instance, has anyone seen Lyle lately?"

Parker sighed in frustration. "Tell us something we don't know Sydney. Even Broots' dwarf mute friend could have figured that one out. They obviously have something on us. I want to know where it came from, who is behind it and why Cox seems to be more obsessed with Broots than his decaying furry friends."

"And why on earth anyone would order mayo with french fries," Broots said quietly, still not able to get Cox's disgusting lunch order out of his mind.

"I'll just call you Captain Ketchup." Parker muttered under her breath.

Sydney ignored the two, more concerned with theirs and Jarod's well being than Cox's lunch, "Cox didn't mention Broots when he was investigating me. Maybe he's questioning aimlessly to stall us, to confuse us."

Parker paced the small room, it's inner layout obvious even in the dark as it was the same unimaginative design as every other in the Centre. "We know my thumbless brother is behind this, the question is if he is working with Cox, or stringing him along for the ride."

"Either way, someone else being involved would explain why there is no real pattern in their questioning" Broots said, eerily close to the voice the analysts on SL17 used when presenting new information. "Maybe he was just stalling while we wait for the real interrogator to arrive". He shivered at the thought. He didn't think he could stand another session like the one he had with Cox.

"Don't worry, Broots. It's exactly what they would want," Sydney reassured him. "You might be onto something with the new interrogator idea. If Cox is really done with us, then why hasn't he let us go?"

"He hasn't let us go because he hasn't found what he is looking for. Whether that is a guilty omission or just buying some time, is anyone's guess." Parker replied, turning out and peering out the small window in the dark cell.

"What do you think he wants us to admit to?" Broots said, while trying to find a comfortable corner in the cell

"Whatever they think we are guilty of, and this time Broots I think you have a starring role." Parker answered.

"W-what do you mean?" His attempt to sound confident failed miserably.

"If you're innocent, there's nothing they can convict you of," Sydney attempted to convince his friend. "Without sabotage anyway. And The Centre, well..." He drifted off.

"Oh don't wet your pants Broots. Only a guilty man would have something to fear." Parker interrupted.

"Not at the Centre" He mumbled then was hit by a ray of light as the door suddenly opened. A sweeper stepped in, and for a second Broots thought about making a break for it, but then the gun flashed from under the man's suit jacket and all jail breaking ideas escaped as reality hit him, hard.

The sweeper looked up, "Miss Parker, you are free to go"

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Hmm.... lemme see here. Saturday I think. aka 28th
Chapter 11 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey all. Thanks again for awesome reviews. Enjoy

--- 

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive. 

“This is not my fault,” Alex retorted. There was a long silence, during which Lyle’s attention drifted between the comatose Pretender and Alex. Aware that he had the sociopath’s full attention, he pulled out his cell and dialled a number.

“It’s me. I want you to bring the girl here.”

Alex crouched down beside Jarod, once again slapping his cheeks, none too gently. Jarod didn’t even flinch, his eyes staring straight ahead.


“You should have anticipated this,” Lyle said, “Sydney has obviously taught him more than just refuge.”

Alex shot a quick look at Lyle, his eyes darkened with anger. “If he’s retreated willingly, he could jeopardise our programming.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that. With Jarod you have to anticipate. And I’ve made contingency plans.” Lyle’s smile was thin and cold. “Get him on the chair, facing the door,” he ordered.

Alex pressed his lips together, not happy to be commanded like a second rate sweeper. Turning his back, he lifted the heavy body and dumped it into the chair Lyle had sat in not so long ago. He wound cord around Jarod’s chest, forcing him upright and into position.

“How do you plan on reaching him in this state?”


Ignoring Alex, Lyle leaned in and softly stroked Jarod’s hair. No muscle twitched, nothing indicated that the pretender was aware of Lyle’s unwelcome touch.

“You will do as you’re told. I promise,” he said, “Unless you don’t care about family anymore.”

Jarod’s breath quickened visibly, the only indication that he had heard Lyle’s words.


“Oh, this is classic. Who did you find?”

“You’ll know in less than ten minutes. I have a call to make to Cox. Keep an eye on Jarod. I don’t want him trying something desperate like getting himself killed.”

Alex nodded and Lyle moved to stand by the window. He punched in the third number programmed in his speed dial list and waited for the call to be answered.

---

"Cox," Cox answered the phone, seeing Lyle's number displayed. He had better be ringing to confirm they were on schedule. He had already had to give the order to let Miss Parker go, despite his better judgment, but hopefully she would be busy trying to track down just what they thought they had on Broots and Sydney.

Applying more pressure to Broots had been a sensible strategy.


“I’ve found the pretender,” Lyle said by way of greeting, “and he’s not cooperating. I was under the impression that your drugs had been tested.”

Cox took a moment so he wouldn't lose his composure and then stated calmly, "The drugs have been tested, and proven. I warned you that Jarod was different, that success could not be guaranteed with the same degree of certainty."

“Right. And you also promised me the chair. I don’t see that happening,” Lyle stated. “Jarod had managed to be counterproductive; he’s gone and made himself an antidote.”

Cox knew Lyle was not smart enough to have pulled this off. It had been going so well, he should have known sooner or later it would turn sour. "I assume you have the situation under control? How hard can it be Mr. Lyle?”

“Don’t treat me like one of your lackeys, Cox. I’ve worked with Jarod before and I’ve gotten him to cooperate,” he dared, “He’s never gone this deep into himself before.”

What Lyle called cooperation and what the average person called cooperation were worlds apart. "Then you need to get him out, don't you?"

Lyle would never understand that fear and pain was a powerful weapon, but needed to be used with care and precision, especially on a mind as powerful and valuable as Jarod's.


“I’m working on that but it will mean that you need to keep my sister busy for a little while longer.”

"How much longer?" He asked, already having let Parker go. She would be busy with other things right now, and had no idea where to look for Lyle, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Having argued strenuously against her release, knowing it would jeopardize things, he had been overruled, and now they had to hope that she didn’t screw things up anymore than her twin already had. There seemed to be a strong genetic predisposition in the Parkers of being screw-up’s. It really was a surprise that Africa had tolerated this for as long as they had.

“An hour, no more,” Lyle replied, looking back at the pretender and Alex. He smiled, knowing that Jarod was not prepared for his little surprise. “I’ll get back to you when I have results.”

"See that you do," Cox said, tired of all the setbacks. It was well past time that they brought Jarod back. This could have been just as easily done back here, safely, in a controlled environment.

“Very impressive,” Alex grinned, seating himself on the arm of Jarod’s chair. “So Cox still has no idea I’m involved.”

Lyle’s smiled faded. “Don’t underestimate him” he warned. “Cox has managed to survive Africa’s politics.”

Closing his phone, Cox let out a long and cleansing breath. This was not what he had signed up for and he knew Lyle was holding something back from him. As long as he was here though, stuck with this ridiculous T-board, there was nothing much he could do about it.

Since he was stuck, and they had countermanded him with regards to the other problematic twin, he was taking the precaution of having her followed. Perhaps she could do his detective work for him while he played childish games with the headshrinker and the techie.

As interesting a diversion they were, he felt that he was being left out in the cold somehow, not trusting Lyle for one second.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Tuesday 1st
Chapter 12 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Thanks again for awesome comments.

There's a bit of a twist involved in this chapter (as you can see from the "cast"), hope you like. 

-- 

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Mystery person

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

Jarod paced in his room. Lyle was up to something. The monitors caught his remarks about not caring about family any more and about bringing the girl. Jarod interpretted that as Lyle had kidnapped either Emily or possibly Zoe. That made at least two others he would have to rescue when he got away from Lyle and Alex.

Jarod was going over different escape plans when he noticed all the monitors growing dark. He hurried over to the main keyboard and typed in a refresh command. Nothing happened. Jarod tried different commands, but soon nothing worked at all. Jarod didn't know what was going on, but he decided that it was maybe time to leave this room and to take his chances with Lyle.

The escape command didn't work. He was trapped in his little mind room. He continued typing in commands at the keyboard and was finally rewarded with a command history. What he found truly shocked him: his subconscious self-preservation instinct finally kicked in and took control.

Jarod dropped to his knees and started rocking back and forth. For once in his life he had no idea of what to do next.

“Something’s changed.”

Lyle frowned at Alex’s statement. “What do you mean?”

“I think Jarod’s unconscious.”

Lyle raised one eyebrow. Stepping beside Alex, he looked directly at Jarod. The only visible difference from his previous state was that the pretender’s eyes were closed. Wrapping his hand into Jarod’s hair, he viciously pulled the man’s head back. The pretender’s muscles were slack and his head moved without any resistance.

“Fine, then we can get him conscious again.”


Alex grinned. He reached into a bag he had brought with and pulled out a small canister of smelling salts. Breaking it just under Jarod’s nose, they watched as the pretender jerked before his eyes slowly slid open and focused on Lyle.

Jarod was rocking back and forth hugging his knees in a corner of his little mind room. Then a sudden jerk grabbed him and pulled him away. He opened his eyes to the totally unwelcome image of Lyle staring back at him. He closed his eyes again, trying to stop the dizziness that assaulted him.


Lyle stepped towards the door when the knock sounded; satisfied that Jarod was once again with them. He was aware of the pretender’s gaze as he pulled his little surprise package inside.

“Jarod, say hello to your long lost sister,” he said with flourish as he dragged Emily to stand in front of his captive.


"Get your filthy hands off me!" Emily hissed. She looked up only to find herself standing face to face with her long lost brother. She wasn't really sure how to react to that, but cosidering the fact that they were currently being held by what she could only assume was the Centre, she decided the celebration would have to wait. With dilated pupils and a pale, almost bluish tint to his skin he looked far from the healthy man she'd seen in a few selected pictures. His eyes were darting aimlessly from side to side, and he looked so out of it she couldn't be entirely sure he even knew she was there. She had no idea what was going on, but they were obviously willing to drug her brother to get it, and that did not bode well.

Jarod tried to jump out of the chair, but the ropes he hadn't noticed before stopped him. "Let her go, Lyle," he demanded angrily. "She isn't part of this. It's between you and me."

“Uh uh, Jarod. You brought her into this when you failed to follow directions. What happens to her from here on out is up to you,” Lyle grinned, “Do you want me to hurt her?”

Jarod knew he had to do something to stop Lyle. But what, he didn't know. His head was spinning and he couldn't get his eyes to focus. And he knew Alex was in the room somewhere and that was another threat he had to keep track of.

"What do you want, Lyle?" Jarod asked, trying to buy a little time. "Whatever it is, it must not be Centre sanctioned or we wouldn't be here."


“I want you to do as you’re told.” Lyle hissed. Reaching out he captured Emily’s chin and forced her to look at him. “I’m sure Alex has plans for her.” Returning his gaze to Jarod, he watched as Alex dropped the blue notebook and a pen in his captive’s lap. “You always have a choice, Jarod. Now choose.”

Jarod grabbed the notebook to keep it from falling to the floor. He knew Lyle would interpret that as an act of defiance. He could only hope that his internal programming held and that the notebook held nothing for him to fear. He closed his eyes tight, but quickly opened them again. Looking down, his hopes were rewarded, just not in the way he expected.

The words were too blurry for him to read.


“You’re supposed to start writing, Jarod,” Lyle commanded, His hand tightened around Emily’s arm. He was visibly hurting her as a way of controlling Jarod. The pretender growled and then picked up the pen as he turned to the page where he had previously stopped writing.

Emily could feel Lyle's breathe against her skin and it took a great deal of self control not to reach back and claw her skin off. He disgusted her to the core, and his little friend in the corner didn't seem much better.

Jarod grabbed the pen even though he couldn't make out any of the words on the pages. His hands started shaking, but he couldn't tell if it was from anger, fear for Emily, or an after-effect from the drugs coursing through his body. No matter what it was, though, he knew he had to write something. Something that wouldn't get Emily hurt. He gave a shudder and dropped both the pen and notebook.

He hoped that would buy him a little time, but didn't count on it. His only hope for the minute was to get Alex and Lyle fighting.


Lyle flung Emily at Alex, his face darkening with anger. Pressing his hands onto the chair’s armrests, he leaned over the pretender.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”


Jarod started convulsing. He didn't know if it was a Pretend or real, and he didn't really care. He just couldn't stop.

"Jarod!?" Emily screamed desperatly. He didn't answer, just continue to shake. "Jarod!?" The shaking got more violent, then the chair fell to the ground.

How in the world were they going to get out of this?

Alex moved towards the pretender and with a glance at Lyle, pulled out a knife and cut the rope. Laying him out on the floor, he quickly assessed his condition.

“He’s having a reaction to the drug.”


“He’s never done that before?”

Ignoring Emily as she knelt across him, Alex replied, “He’s been playing around with his own concoctions, remember. We need to stabilize him.”

“Fine, do it. I’m going to phone Cox to update him.”

---

Broots walked across the small cell one more time. He had been doing this for the better part of an hour, but he still managed to bang his knee on the horizontal pole each time. Sydney, who was using the pole for it's intended seating purposes, clearly moaned each time the flesh connected with the metal perfectly in sync with the distinctive 'ping' indicating it was an hollow object.
But Broots just kept walking, he needed to think and he couldn't do that sitting down.

After 23 'pings' Broots came to the conclusion that Cox was probably working for Lyle. After all, he was the one who had brought them here, and Cox was clearly not calling the shots. After 47, he concluded that whatever reasons they gave the Tower which allowed them to have this little T-Board, that was not why Cox and/or Lyle wanted them here. Cox's questions so far had been nonspecific at best. So either they were working their way up to the grand finally, or they had nothing and were just stalling. Either way, even after 78 pings and what would turn into an exceptional bruise on his left knee, Broots still couldn't figure out why they wanted them out of the way so badly.

---

Lyle turned, watching Alex work on Jarod as he waited for Cox to pick up. After the third ring, he heard the familiar greeting.

“There’s a problem.”


"Of course there is," Cox said tightly, controlling his breathing, having no intention of losing his temper with this buffoon. "What now Mr. Lyle? You lost your other thumb?"

His knuckles turned white and he had to take a deep breath to control his anger. Alex was giving Jarod a sedative and it seemed to be working.

“Your drugs are not working. Jarod has gone into seizure and I had to sedate him.”


"What?" Cox said, leaning forward. "What did you do Lyle? These drugs would not cause a seizure." He said, knowing that they weren’t going to cause any physical damage to Jarod. He never should have trusted Lyle with this.

“Yes well, they did. I think he’s been trying to find a counteragent. He’s been taking his own mix.” Lyle picked up one of the bottles and threw it against the wall. “You should’ve anticipated this.”

"Get him in here now!" Cox demanded, shaking his head. "You were supposed to be watching him." Cox had never been happy with this plan from the get go. It needed to be done in a controlled environment. There were just too many variables that could not be accounted for. Lyle had lobbied hard though and won the day, and now Cox had to clean up the mess.


“Where are you going to keep him, Cox? With him back at the Centre, we increase the chance of my sister sniffing him out. You do remember the agreement you signed to keep this off the radar.”

"27 sublevels Mr. Lyle, hundreds of empty rooms and corridors, I am sure we can manage. I need no reminder of our agreement and I am sure between any false leads you will be sure to leave and the current woes of the majority of the pursuit team, Miss Parker will have much to occupy her time and attention. Just get him in here before this goes any further awry." He instructed, struggling to maintain a civil tone.

“Fine, but keep my sister under surveillance. You shouldn’t underestimate her abilities.”

"You worry about your sister, and leave Jarod to me," Cox told him, knowing that Lyle wasn’t going to let go that easily. "Just make sure she has something to sniff out and send her on her way. Inform me when you arrive with the pretender, take him to Renewal for now and we will assess the medical situation before deciding how to proceed. Bring anything he might have used."

“I’ll do my part.”

Lyle hung up, not caring if he upset Cox further. Things were not going according to his plans and that was never good.

“I have to take him back to the Center.”

Alex clearly wasn’t happy. Lyle didn’t care about that either. There was nothing they could do to prevent Jarod from going back.


“Fine. He won’t wake up until your back at the Centre. His vitals are good, so there shouldn’t be a problem.” Alex stood and moved over to Lyle. “So, tell me. How are you going to prevent Jarod from telling Cox a tale about me?”

“Jarod will do anything to keep his sister safe and knowing that she was in your capable hands, will keep him compliant.”

Alex grinned and turned his head to look at Emily. “And if he doesn’t behave?”

Lyle returned his grin. “I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to make her pay for his indiscretion.”

--

 

Sydney had long ago given up on telling Broots to calm down. He felt like he told him at least once a day. So instead, he sat on the bench contemplating all the possible implications of their current situation. As he ran through the hypotheses he and Broots had already put together, he pinched the bridge of his nose, annoyed with how redundant it was. Honestly, none of this made sense and they weren't going to figure anything out as long as they were trapped in here. The pieces weren't fitting together and Sydney couldn't help but wonder if this was on purpose or simply a great mishmash of mistakes made by the uppers in control.

He could only hope that with Miss Parker mysteriously freed, she would be able to accomplish something and find the answers they needed. Even more hopefully and less likely, she would be able to figure out where Jarod was so that she or Sydney could find a way to help him. The odds of Miss Parker aiding Jarod were slim to none though, but Sydney always held out hope.

He cleared his throat and told Broots again, not to panic.

---

Her nostrils were invaded by the smell of cheap cologne and old sweat as two arms gripped tightly around her waist, dragging her limp body into a standing position. By the time she realized what was going on they already had her walking. The burling men surrounded her on every angle, leaving no room for escape, or breathing for that matter. So this were the 'Sweepers' her father used to talk about.

For as long as she could remember she had both hated and feared the Centre, without being entirely sure why or even what it was. When one of their employees many years later decided to throw her of a building she concluded that had been a good thing.

Disgust filled her as one of the men leaned against her ear, whispering softly, almost seductively so, "Make one wrong more, and you will be shot."

The Centre, despite its iron grip on her life, it had always just been just a vague concept. Until now. Although it took a while before she figured out the details, she had always known the broad strokes. 'The Centre' was the reason her mother cried herself to sleep every night. It was the reason she had always hated town cars, and never dated a man who wore dark suits. And in the end it was the reason she spent every minute of her life running. Maybe she wasn't changing location all the time, but she was always running. Right now that was probably the only thing keeping her sane. After all, this wasn't so far from normality.

As she watched the unconscious form of her brother being dragged out the back door of the hotel, the only thing she could think of to give her some form of comfort was knowing that these people, whatever their motivation for drugging him may be, they clearly viewed Jarod as an asset. And that meant they would use any means necessary to keep him alive.

Panic was slowly beginig to creep up on her as the reality of the situation began to hit. Instead of letting it get the better of her she tried to analyze the situation. She needed to get away, and it had to be soon, once they were inside the walls of the Centre she could never do it on their own. But how on earth would she manage to bring Jarod with her in his current condition?


No, for now it seemed the best measure would be sticking to soothing breaths and compliance. If an opportunity presented it self she would be ready to take it.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Saturday
Chapter 13 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Loooong chapter this time. Hope you like

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

Jarod was tossed onto the back seat of the towncar, his muscles still twitching as badly as they did when Lyle had played with the jumper cables back in the Centre. He didn't know what Alex had injected him with but he was only unconscious for a short period of time. Maybe less than 15 minutes, because the car was still at the hotel.

He opened his eyes barely enought to see through his lashes. No Lyle yet. No Alex or Emily. Just a couple of sweepers that weren't paying any attention to him at all. He experimental moved the hand that was away from the sweepers, not wanting to attract their attention. He still didn't have the muscular control he needed to get away. He would have to wait.

He thought back to what had happened upstairs in his room. He had fallen to the ground with siezures after Alex had injected him with something. It was obviously not the same concoction as before, because the convulsions were a completely new side effect. Alex's soft comment to him proved who was responsible.


We can't let Lyle have all the fun with you, now can we?

Alex had roughly grabbed his left arm and bared it for another shot.

This little gift should only put you out for a couple of minutes. Then it's up to you to get away. But don't worry, I'm not helping you. We just don't need to involved Lyle in our game. Remember, get away from Lyle and come and find me. Or your family will pay the price and we don't want that, now do we?


Jarod's thoughts were abruptly ended by the shifting of the car as someone sat on the seat next to him. His body slumped towards this person and it wasn't until he was pushed back upright with a curse that he realized it was Lyle next to him. The sweepers got into the front and the car left the hotel grounds.

Emily was forcefully showed into the towncar. The doors were locked with a simultaneous click as soon as they closed. Her heart stopped for a moment. She was locked in. Her breath quickened and her eyes searched frantically for something to focus on. She had been seated in the mid back seat, tightly closed in by two armed men, ready to pounce the second she did anything to make them suspicious. Since both side windows were blackened out she eventually focused here gaze on the front window, trying to memorize as much as she could, though she didn't really know why.

The man they called 'Alex' was riding shotgun. He whispered something to soft for her to hear, then the driver pushed a button and the small opening between the back and front- seat, the only thing allowing her to see where they were and perhaps even a glimpse of where they were going, began to close.

The small limousine like window finally reached its final destination. Almost imidiatly after a hand grabbed grabbed her mouth and another her waist. Before her mind could catch up to what was happenign, she was blindfolded and gagged.

"Welcome to the Centre" One of the men mumbled as he slapped on a pair of cuffs.

---

Broots looked around for a bit in the dark room. Usually when entering a seemingly pitch black room, after a few minutes it begins to brighten somehow, and you can at least see something. In the Centre cell that wasn't the case, he still couldn't see a thing. For a moment he thought maybe he'd gone blind, but before he had time to think too much about it the door opened and light flooded the room.
A sweeper stepped in, "Mr Broots, you are to come with me."


Cox was waiting patiently for him, tired of this ridiculous charade, and worried just how much more that idiot Lyle could screw things up on him. It made him short-tempered, he did not like to worry. As he saw Broots coming, he smiled pleasantly. "I hope you have had a relaxing time Mr Broots."

Broots couldn't help but huff at that comment. Relaxing? He thought. Relaxing! I've been kidnapped by my employers, nterrogated, locked in a tiny dark room, I have no idea where Miss Parker is, and that's just in a few hours! Then he composed himself and answered Mr Cox with a silent nod.

Cox could see the outrage he tried to cover up and that made him smile even more. "please, sit down Mr Broots, is there anything I can get for you? A soda perhaps?"

He might be thirsty, but there was no way he was drinking anything given to him in a T-Board. He'd rather die of dehydration. No, he thought, continuing the internal debate, if he was dying of dehydration he would definitively say yes. It wouldn't save his life, but it would remove the thirst. "N-no, no thank you" He whispered.

"As you wish Mr Broots," Cox said, not at all surprised. "You like Sydney very much don't you?"

"Yeah, I like Sydney." Broots suddenly realized something "I mean, not 'like him'-like him, but as a friend" Was that why he was here? Did they think he was having an inappropriate relationship with Sydney? "Well um...not really a friend, more like a colleague" Oh, how he wished he hadn't said no to that soda. "Which we are. We work together, which makes us colleagues."

"Yes it does," Cox agreed with a barely concealed smirk.

Broots steadily continued down the path of destruction "I suppose you could say Sydney and I are friends, in the 'our relationship is strictly work related'-sense. Not that we have a relationship!"

"Of course you don't," Cox said, no longer bothering to hid his amusement. "We are colleagues as well Mr Broots," he said, unable to help himself from throwing that in, seeing just where the implications would take Broots' twisted little mind.

Broots merely nodded, not really sure what to think about that.

Well, that was a disappointing reaction. Still, he was here to play out this charade, not entertain himself. "Mr Broots, is that or is that not your Centre access code?" he slide a folder over to him, watching him intently. He had deliberately told the sweepers to hover near Broots, putting a little more pressure on him.

Broots slowly opened the folder, careful not to make any sudden moves with armed sweepers in such a close proximity. Was it his imagination or were they even closer than usual?

He shook his head and tried to focus on the password in front of him.
D3XWQ//!O
Yes, that was his code. But the fact that it was part of a T-Board scared him. They had something on him, but he didn't know what.


"And you don't share that with anybody? Any of your close colleagues?"

"Of course not!" He said louder than he had intended. "I've never even written it down anywhere. I haven't even said it out loud. Do you know how long it took me to memorize that code in silence?"

"So then any activity on it could only be possibly attributed to you? You are soley responsible for any such activities?"

"YES!" He practically shouted, without thinking about the possible ramifications

"I thought as much." Cox said with a satisfied grin. poor Mr Broots just had no clue at all how to play this game.

Suddenly everything clicked into place for Broots. They weren't trying to make him confess to sharing his access code, this was about him incriminating himself. And so far they were doing a great job.

"And I suppose you know nothing about the transfer of Centre funds then?" Cox asked slowly. "An unauthorized transfer."

This was getting to be a bit much for the poor tech, who after realizing what he had basically admitted to, was left staring into blank space, a look of ultimate despair painted across his face. Much like a zombie waiting for dinner.

"I see, then perhaps it was Sydney who stole your code and helped himself to the funds, leaving you to hold the proverbial bag." Cox tried to bait him.

At the mention of Sydney's name Broots finally managed to snap back into reality. "Wha-? No! Sydney would never do anything like that to me." He almost felt like crying but managed to hold his emotions in check and make a more appropriate response, "Everyone knows what happens if you steal from the Centre. Why would he do something like that? Why would I?"

"I cannot pretend to understand your motivation Mr Broots, but if Sydney is holding something over you, we can and will protect you." He offered him helpfully. "I want you to think seriously about your future Mr Broots. You tell us Sydney put you up to this and we will see what can be done for you, it would be most unfortunate for your daughter, what is her name?" He smiled at his reaction. "To be left without anybody to support her, wouldn't it?"

Broots stood up from his seat, and he felt the grip of sweepers on his shoulders, pushing him back down"You leave my daughter alone you hear me!"

"Let's hope your decision to cooperate can avoid any ugliness in that direction," Cox said absently as he stood up, gesturing for the sweepers to take him. "Think upon this matter carefully Mr Broots. Where do your loyalties lie? The outcome of this T-Board will depend heavily on what you choose to say at our next meeting, after the appropriate time to reflect."

He had left instructions with the sweepers to turn the lights back on now, wanting to watch the interplay between the two of them, see how quickly Broots turned on his good friend and colleague, the one he wasn't having any kind of inappropriate relationship with.

---

Jarod was in trouble. He still had no control over his muscles, his mind kept turning into mush, and now, to top off the whole miserable day, he was getting car sick. Not the mild inner-ear disturbance that could be controlled, this was the full-on better-stop-the-car-now-or-I-might-hurle type. And, thanks to the shot Alex had given him, he couldn't even swallow and now he was drooling like an idiot. Too bad he couldn't fall over towards Lyle, a big old drool mark would really make him feel better. Jarod mentally closed his eyes as the physical ones were already closed. Then the darkness swept him away again.

Some time later, Jarod woke up again. Same situation as before, he realized. Only this time the naseau was worse.

"Boss, I think he's gonna be sick," Jarod heard a voice say from the seat next to him.

Jarod heard Lyle's voice to his right and, in a short moment of clear-headedness, leaned that way. Then nature, and the motion sickness, took control. He heard Lyle's yell of disgust and felt the fist that punched him into leaning the other way. He couldn't control his stomach's voilent eruptions, but was able to take some perverse pleasure in the effects going on around him. And for some strange reason that he couldn't understand, his mind actually started clearing a little and he gained a little control over his muscles.

He still hadn't opened his eyes, so he felt the car turning. He didn't know if they were stopping at a gas station or a restaurant, but he didn't really care. He felt Lyle getting out of the car and the sweeper next to him shaking him to see if he was awake. He allowed his body to shake like the rag doll he had seen in a dog's mouth before. This seemed to convince everyone that he was still under the influence of whatever Alex had used on him. Now he cracked his eyes open a slit. There was no one else in the car with him. Lyle and two sweepers were headed into the building to his right and the third sweepers looked to be filling the gas tank. Perfect.

Jarod gave a loud groan and bent over, clutching his stomach. It took another two groans to get the sweeper's attention, but as soon as he leaned into the car over Jarod, Jarod bolted upright. The back of Jarod's head caught the unsuspecting sweeper under the chin and his teeth met with an audible crunch. He didn't even have time to moan before crumpling onto the seat next to Jarod. Jarod did jumped out of the car as quickly and quietly as he could and headed toward the woods at the far end of the parking lot. He just hoped he could make it there before Lyle and his boys saw him.


Emily felt the car come to a sudden stop, but the darn blindfold made the details as to why hard to come by until one of the cardoors opened and she could hear several sweepers bikering like little girls over who had to stay in the car with Jarod. Apparently he'd gotten sick all over the car, many of the sweepers included.

Suddenly the mood shifted. They went from sounding like schoolgirls to headless chickens. According to the desperate shouts in their now rather loud conversation, it seemed Jarod was no longer in the car. She couldn't help but attempt a smile as she pictured them fumbling around, looking for her doped up brother. Even in his state, and so obviously outnumbered, he still tried to escape.

At that very moment the rest of the doors opened and she could hear all but one of the Centre employees stepped out. This was the window she had been looking for, she thought, this was her chance to be free.

---

Isolation was easy enough for him to deal with. Sydney had been sifting through his memories and he had plenty of those. Not always good ones, but plenty anyway. Broots had been gone for a long time and he was starting to get worried about the poor tech. Sydney was relieved when the door opened with a creak and Broots stepped in without a word. He was fumbling with his own hands, not particularly looking in Sydney's direction.

"Are you all right, Broots?" he asked curiously.


"Yeah," He said instinctively, although that was not the case at all. He felt like he had a fever, like he was floating on a cloud and not really connecting much to the world around him as he desperatly tried to process what Cox had told him. "I-I'm fine"

Sydney nodded, though he was certain his friend was lying. "They certainly kept you long enough. I hope they weren't too hard on you. They didn't want to know anything specific?"

He didn't know what to do. He wanted to tell Sydney everything that happened. Just spill his guts and have the doctor fix it, like he always did. What would happen if he did? He sighed deeply and tried to make a convincing expression, "No, nothing specific."

Broots was obviously uncomfortable, so Sydney changed the subject, hoping the conversation would cycle back to whatever was upsetting him. "Sounds like they're really just wasting our time then. I still just can't figure out why they let Miss Parker go and not us."

"Because she's not a suspect" Broots muttered under his breath.

"Hm?" Sydney looked up at Broots' even more unusually pale face.

He readjusted himself on the poll, now making eyecontact with the old doctor. Whatever they would do to him, it couldn't be much worse than the feeling of betraying a friend. Could it?

"Sydney, will you promise me something?"

The intense seriousness of Broots' tone alerted Sydney that this was serious. "What's wrong, Broots? I'm your friend. You can tell me."

"Promise me that when you get out of here you'll take care of Debbie?" He couldn't believe he was actually doing this. But he couldn't turn Sydney in, he knew in his heart neither of them had anything to do with this.

"No, Broots. I refuse to promise you that when you will be fully capable of doing so yourself," Sydney said firmly, standing up and putting a hand on Broots' shoulder. "Listen to me. Whatever they're trying to hold over your head, just remember that Miss Parker and I are here for you and are on your side no matter what. Everything will be fine. They're just killing time here. Nothing's going to happen to you or your daughter."


"Promise me!" He shouted, not bothering to contain his emotions anymore.

Sydney took a step back, releasing his grip on Broots' arm. "I will always look out for you and Debbie. That, I promise."

Broots exhaled deeply, for the first time in a long time, he didn't feel scared. He knew Sydney would take care of Debbie, just like he promised. That was one of the many reasons he just couldn't betray him. Unlike most people working for this godforsaken organization he was a decent person. Broots knew whoever was watching would catch on and that they would be seperated in a matter of seconds.

"Money was transfered from the Centre funds using my access code" He could swear he heard them running down the hallway as he contined. "The code is D3XWQ//!O" He took a deep breath and continued as the door was unlocked. "Someone wants us out of the way, figure out who." Then two sweepers stepped in and grabbed him by the arms.

As he was dragged down he hallway he couldn't help but smile. For the first time in his life he had been brave.


It all happened so fast. It was eerie to see Broots being so deathly serious about something and Sydney absorbed the information he had told him as best he could. D3XWQ//!O. He repeated the code over and over again in his mind. Whether it would be useful to him or not, he didn't know. It was better to be safe than sorry, especially in the Centre where sorries were so often lost between rehabilitation and reeducation. Money though? This was all about money? There had to be more. This wasn't petty business politics. It was a set up orchestrated by someone within the Centre. Someone who wanted to get rid of Broots. Broots had no exceptional position within the Centre, except with his role in the Jarod pursuit. Jarod. This was connected to Jarod. It always was somehow.

The door opened again and Sydney knew it was his turn this time.

Chapter 14 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

And here we are again. Wow this story is long. Well, hang on, more chapters to go.

Enjoy 

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

It was wonderful to be under estimated.

Parker had flown under the radar ever since being released from the T-board circus freak show that Cox was the ringmaster of. She had holed up in her office, working impossibly long hours.

They had assumed she was down and out without Broots the magnificent at her side.

They were wrong.

Angelo had found her, and despite his brain, scrambled and fried like yesterday’s omelette, the empath had proven to be a much needed ally.

Parker had been tempted to pull herself away from the Jarod pursuit, and devote her sole efforts to finding a way to free Syd and Broots, but her instinct warned that Lyle was the key to ending this charade.

Find Lyle, find Jarod and maybe then she would launch into a few hostile negotiations of her own to free Sydney and Broots. Hopefully the tech had managed to survive Cox’s scrutiny without wetting his pants.

Angelo somehow been able to stumble upon a transport order for some ‘precious’ cargo, valuable enough that a small entourage of sweepers had been ordered to oversee it.

Whoever had put the order in had made no effort to disguise it, again it was wonderful to be under estimated.

She had reached the start point as the transport just as the town cars had been pulling out, and have been following them stealth style as they slowly made their way back to the great state of Delaware.

She was more convinced than ever that her brother truly was a moron. It had been almost comical watching Jarod, who was obviously under the influence of a high-quality cocktail given the way he was stumbling around like an idiot, her brother and his team of minions chasing after the errant pretender. Lyle had underestimated Jarod, just like he underestimated her.

Parker had made a run for the treeline the second Jarod had appeared from the town car. A rural gas station, there was only one place he could go to disappear.

And now her prey was in her grasp.

Pulling out her Smith and Weston, Parker engaged the clip, casually gripping the shoulder of the pretender, who was heaving heavily from his suicide dash across the empty field.

“Hello Jarod.” She announced succinctly, pulling him into the tree cover.

Things were about the change.

--

And so the charade was going to continue. As amusing as playing with these two was, it was getting tiresome. Cox was worried Lyle was screwing things up with Jarod and here he was playing 20 questions with these two nobodies. It looked like it was Sydney's turn now and he had to admit the old shrink was standing up much better than he had expected. So now it was time to put some pressure of a different type on him.

Waiting patiently, he thought about the approach that would be most beneficial and he knew he had two opportunities to worry the old man. Even if he didn't show it, Cox knew that he would be fretting about this for a while to come. Hopefully by then this ridiculous charade would be over and everyone would be back where they belonged, doing what they were supposed to be doing.

--

“Sir?” It was the way the sweeper said it that made him look up from where he was hunched over a map, trying to implement contingency plans to capture Jarod and finally notice the silence. And then he swore. Emerging from the woods just south of the parking lot was someone he had not calculated for and in her grasp was his missing pretender. Indicating to the sweeper who stood next to him, he whispered, “Get Alex and the girl out of here.”

Then he smiled, tugged his tie into place and walked over towards his sister.


Parker couldn’t suppress a grunt as more of Jarod’s weight sagged against her.

“Hell of an escape plan you had Jarod, collapsing only steps away from your guard dogs,” she muttered.

The pretender remained silent as he leaned into her further. In all the scenarios she had played out in her mind to drag Jarod back to the Centre, the handcuffs and her Smith and Weston had been a constant in all of them. Yet here she was, helping the staggering pretender along.

Parker knew they should have stayed under the tree cover, but Jarod’s idiotic break for freedom had depleted whatever reserves he had. Her brother was busy directing the sweepers to sweep the area, so she had made a calculated risk to make her way back to her car.

Twenty steps and there wouldn’t be a man alive who could catch her.

Growing up driving Daddy’s Porsche had served her well.


Lyle stopped just short of her, aware that she had her gun out and pointing in his general direction.

“You shouldn’t be here, Sis.”


"Back off Lyle, you lost the prize," Parker snapped, continuing on her pathway towards the car, her gun carefully trained on her brother.

“I don’t think so,” Lyle said, his voice smooth and confident. He wrapped a hand around Jarod’s arm, ensuring that the pretender and Miss Parker were brought to a halt. “I’m under orders to bring Jarod back.”

“Cox will not be happy, Parker. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re surrounded by sweepers,” Lyle growled menacingly.


"My responsibilities are not to Cox and your agenda, they are to the Centre. Last time I checked you lost your prey. I'm just the rational 3rd party stepping in, to ensure the prize makes it back home. Why don't you and your band of merry man just head back home before this gets ugly?"

“You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, Parker,” Lyle hissed. “Jarod is not well and you have no idea how to treat him. I do, so the wise thing for you to do would be to give him to me and to go home and forget you ever saw him. You might even manage to save the lives of your tech and shrink in that process.”

"Do you and Cox actually think you are fooling anyone besides the screen actor's guild? Another few hours and you'll hit the longest T-board in Centre history. Only Broots is fool enough to believe that it is real," Parker asked, folding her arms in front of her as she slammed the car door on a nearly catatonic Jarod.

“If I was you, I’d be careful who I made my bed with. You don’t want me as your enemy, Parker.”

And what a valuable ally you make Lyle," Parker hissed back, glaring at her brother. "I'll tell you what, in the spirit of family, I'll make you a deal. Boy-wonder stays with me, in my car, under my control, but you can send one of your watchdogs back with us. And don't worry, I'll be sure to sing your praises and recount second by second how your idiotic intervention helped return Jarod back to his favorite Centre sublevel."

Lyle returned her glare, folding his arms in protest. He never liked losing and giving way to his sister, felt exactly like that. His gaze shifted towards the pretender passed out on the backseat and then his thoughts gathered on Alex and Emily. He still had Jarod in his control, even if his sister wanted to baby-sit him. Fine. Let her. And if she looses Jarod, she’ll be the one taking the responsibility for it.

“Agreed.”

He smirked at her surprised expression and turned to indicate to one of the sweepers to join her. “We’ll be right behind you, Parker, so don’t get any ideas about letting Jarod escape.”


"You seem to be doing that well enough for the both of us Lyle." Parker replied, climbing into the car. If Lyle had half a brain on his head, he would have insisted on accompanying her, but it appeared that all the genetic potential in that department had been bestowed to her. She had bought herself some time, she had Jarod, and now all she needed was a plan.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Sunday
Chapter 15 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Thanks again for lovely comments. Lots of Jarod and Miss P in this chapter, mad  props to Tinanaz and KatieQ (ok, lets pause for a moment... I just said "mad props", I never say that. I don't think I have used that term once in my rather sheltered life. Huh. Suppose it's because this is such an awesome chapter then).

Enjoy

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive.

Jarod heard more than felt his body collapse on the seat. Whatever Alex had injected him with was playing havoc on his system. A simple 50 yard sprint to the trees at the end of the parking lot should not have taken every bit of strength he had. Now his head was spinning, his muscles were trembling and these strange black spots kept appearing before his closed eyes. Only his ears seemed to work properly and he could hear Parker and Lyle arguing right outside his door. Then the two front doors opened, closed and the car picked up speed.

The humming of the tires lulled him to sleep. He knew he needed to sleep off whatever was in his system, but he hated missing anything Parker said to the sweeper that he could possible use to get away. But that humming was louder than anything she might possibly be saying.......

Nightmare images filled his sleep. Emily trapped with Alex. Alex holding a giant needle and advancing on Jarod. The Centre hovering over him ready to crush him at a moments notice. Lyle holding jumper cables out to both him and Emily. Kyle drifting around a dead Emily, telling Jarod that he was a horrible big brother, that he was suppose to protect his siblings, not let them be killed.

The car hit a dip in the road at a nice clip of speed and his unprepared body bounced from seatbelt to carseat and back to the seatbelt. Thank goodness someone had belted him in, was one of the first things he thought as he woke up. His head was still bobbing loosely and his eyes were closed and he must have still looked unconscious to the sweeper because he heard him say that to Parker. He had a hard time supressing his grin at her growl about him sleeping while she did all the work. He had a harder time when the sweeper dared to ask if they were ever going to stop for something to eat. That just might be the break he was looking for.

Parker glared at the sweeper with unimpressed annoyance. She looked in her rear view mirror, noticing the head lights of Lyle’s car was an appreciable distance behind them.

“Hold on boys,” she commanded, slamming on the breaks causing the car to fish tail as a side country road came into view. As the car came to a stop she wasted no time in drawing her gun, and pointing it at the moron beside her.

“Out.” She sneered.

“But…” the sweeper protested, but silenced as she sent him yet another deadly look.

“3…2….” Parker started counting as she pointed her weapon with poise. The sweeper gave one hesitant glance in the backseat before scurrying out of the vehicle. Without so much as a look backwards Parker completed the turn, slamming on the accelerator as the car spun to life.

If only she had her Boxter, it would make what was to come next that much easier.

Jarod felt his jaw drop in astonishment even as he felt his hopes rise. Was Parker really going to help him? But she didn't know about Emily, so he was probably still going to have to escape. Or was this just her plan to turn him into the Centre and get the credit for herself? He was just going to wait and see.

“Welcome back to the living Jarod.” Parker remarked dryly. Keeping a steady hand on the wheel so reached in the glove compartment and yanked out a map and a small pen light. She tossed them into the back seat. “Make yourself useful.” She commanded, her foot pressing hard on the accelerator as she noticed the lights in her rear view mirror growing closer.

Ok, he thought as he sat upright, faking sleep is not going to work right now.


"If the goal is to elude Lyle and his pet sweepers, take the next right and then a hard left immediately after that. A small access road is partially hidden by a bush. But we will need some distance between us or he will see us turn."



"A dead end? Nice plan Jarod, you're about as moronic as Broots." Parker sneered back at the pretender.

"I said access road, not dead end. It lead to the highway. I came through here a couple of months ago and found it. It's not on any map, so Lyle shouldn't know about it. And, anyway, if you don't want to listen to my directions, then just let me out here and I will find my own way."

"In your dreams genius boy." Without so much as a backwards glance, Parker slammed hard on the breaks, smiling at the grunt of pain that sounded from the backseat as she spun around the two turns. "How long until we hit the highway?"

Jarod rubbed his tender stomach, the seatbelt tightening almost unbearably thanks to Parker's driving skill, or lack of. "I figure the next big city is 100 miles to the south of us, so we should head the same distance north-west. But it's not just Lyle behind us, you know. He's working with Alex and someone else in the Centre."


"Gee you think?" Parker replied sarcastically. "The other car in your transport crew was sent ahead, and Lyle is becoming a distant concern. Right now, it's just me and you. I'm going to end this the way it was always meant to be finished. How much farther from here to Blue Cove?" she asked pointedly.

"Lyle set that up." Jarod told her, not wanting to admit that Lyle had used him. It felt like he had betrayed the man who raised him, even though he knew Sydney didn't really care for him in an emotional way. "He used Broots' access numbers to have the money transferred into Sydney's account. I think Alex helped set things up for him."

"You think Alex helped him?" Parker asked, not failing to notice the hesitant tone Jarod's voice took on. "I don't suppose your genius brain can conjure a way to clear your surrogate Daddy? I think it's in both our interests if he's in the clear by the time your sorry ass walks in the lobby at the Centre."

"I know Alex is helping him. Alex is the one who came up with whatever it is they keep injecting me with. And Alex has my sister." Jarod pointly ignored the part about walking into the Centre. She wanted him back so bad, she could drag him, but there was no way he was going to voluntarily walk back into the particular hell.


"Emily? Where the hell did she come from?" Parker asked. As much as her hunter instinct wouldn't shut off around Jarod, she couldn't help but feel remorse whenever one of his family members was involved.


"I, um, they found me in a hotel about an hour from here. When I wouldn't cooperate, Lyle had a sweeper bring Emily in, threatened her. I don't remember much after that. Just Alex coming at me with a syringe, again. We have to get her away from Alex, Parker, we have to!"

"The way I see it, all paths lead back to Blue Cove." Parker informed the slightly panicked pretender. "Fortunately for you, you've caught yourself a one way ride."


"No, I can't go back there. They'll kill me, you know they will." The thought of being trapped back in the Centre with Raines and Lyle was almost enough to start a full-fledge panic attack. He undid his seatbelt and reached forward to grab Parker.


"Jarod!" Parker yelled in warning, she glanced into her rear view mirror and satisfied that their tail was gone, slammed on the breaks, causing Jarod to fly into the seat in front of him with a rough grunt. "What do you want me to do Jarod? Drop you off at the next Corn Stacks R Us? This whole mess with Sydney and Broots, with your sister was created because your ass isn't where it's suppose to be. I see only one way out of this for everyone involved, and it requires your ass to be back on SL-whatever where it belongs.”

Seeing that Jarod was still winding from his nasty hit, she pulled out the pair of handcuffs she had thought she would never get the chance to us. Without giving Jarod a moment to resist she grabbed his right wrist and secured the other end of the bracelet around the head rest of the passenger side seat beside her.


Jarod caught his breath and pulled angrily on the handcuff. "I don't belong there!" he yelled. "No one belongs there. Let me go and I'll help you get Sydney and Broots out of there. I promise. Please, Miss Parker, don't do this to me." He kept tugging and pulling on the handcuffs, even knowing that it was futile and starting to cut into his wrists. But being helpless brought back too many bad memories for him to control his actions.

Surprised by Jarod's rare loss of control, Parker did the only thing she could, she sent a hard slap flying into the stunned pretender. "Jarod calm down." She ordered authoritatively.

Jarod sat back as far as he could, glaring at the back of Parker's head. He knew she was right, it was getting late and if they went much further they might not find anywhere to stay. He did not relish sleeping in the car. "There should be a motel about 10 miles away." he grudgingly told her.


Parker huffed in amusement. Shacking up with the lab rat, wouldn’t that be the day.

‘Dream on Jarod, dream on.’ She whispered to herself, enjoying the silence that had finally fallen in on the car.

1000 miles south of hell, here we come.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Wednesday the 16th (-ish)
Chapter 16 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Yet another chapter here guys, enjoy 

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive

Alex closed his phone, wondering once again how Lyle had managed to get to the position he currently held in the Centre. The man had allowed Miss Parker to take Jarod and had managed in the process to loose her. He was sure that the thumbless man would try and threaten her if she didn’t return the pretender to the Centre. But he knew better. Jarod knew full well what he needed to do in order to save his sister’s life. Speaking of which, she was currently glaring at him. He leaned over, returning her glare until she looked away. Deciding that he could have some fun, he removed her gag and leaned back, wondering amusingly what her first words would be.

She coughed for a bit, the feel of cotton still present in her dry mouth, before looking up.
"Thank you," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, again staring into his eyes, trying to determine if she should feel more or less secure with Jarod's drug administrator than with Lyle, the man who threw her off a building.


Alex gave her his most charming smile. “Ever been on drugs?”

Less, she concluded, definitively less.

"Not unless caffeine counts," she retorted, struggeling to keep calm despite the fear of being put on whatever mixture he had cooked up for Jarod.

“Any medical history, allergies…that sort of thing?”

"Pistachios," she said quietly. "I'm allergic to pistachios."

Alex tilted his head slightly. “I believe Jarod’s allergic to them also. Did you know that?”

She carefully shook her head. What did he want from her? She really doubted the only reason he had her alone and handcuffed in a car was so he could have someone to talk to.

Leaning menacingly closer, Alex asked, “So what exactly do you know about big brother?”

She had to swallow to keep the bile down as he leaned closer to her, but quickly composed herself. "I know that he was kidnapped by the people you work for and held prisoner for decades. Any other little crumb I might have picked up along the way is really none of your concern Mr...whatever your name is."

“Alex,” he answered. He slid his hand lightly along her jaw line while he scrutinised her reaction. “I’d like to know what these….’crumbs’ are. No titbit is unimportant where your brother is concerned.” Grabbing her jaw, he held her tight as he leaned even closer, “And don’t make the mistake of withholding that information. I will know it….sooner or later.”

She quickly decided this was not the right time to establish her resistance against the Centre, and started sharing. "I know that he is highly intelligent, so intelligent in fact that to this very day his capturers still underestimates his abilities. I know that despite your employer's best efforts he still cares for the world around him, and does what he can to help. That he loves candy and toys and in many ways is still a child. And I know that he's been looking for his family from the day he escaped, but every time we get close to finding each other, people like you see to it that it will never happen." She sighed, "What do you want with me Alex?"

“Not yet,” Alex said. “Have you never wondered why the Centre is keeping your family apart?”

"It's The Centre, they don't need a reason," She said sharply, no longer in the mood to answer his, rather intrusive questions. But the look he sent her told her it wasn't good enough. She shook her head, "By the time I was born Jarod and Kyle were kidnapped, I've grown up running. Sometimes you can't help but wonder..." She looked away, "Wonder why things are the way they are."

Alex grinned. “What if I told you that I know why your brother will never be permitted to meet with his mother? That he will never be free of the Centre or have a normal family life.”

She cocked an eyebrow, he obviously wanted her to feel like he knew more than her. Whether that was true or not was a whole other issue. "We all know 'normal' isn't an option at this point, you don't just forget 30 years of pain over night." she said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Question is, are you telling me this to see what I'll do in return for this supposed information, or to observe my reaction once you give me the answer?"

Alex chuckled in amusement. “Getting brave, aren’t we? I wonder, what will you be prepared to do in return for knowing these big secrets that not even your so-called genius of brother had figured out yet. The reason why the Centre had been chasing him all these years."

She scowled, deciding the best answer was no answer at all. Besides she thought this was already settled: Jarod was a genius, they had spent decades training him, molding his gift into what they wanted it to be. Wasn't that reason enough to want him back?

Not at all fazed by her silence, Alex took out a black pouch. Keeping an eye on her reaction, he took out a syringe and selected a bottle. He drew the liquid quickly and expertly, making sure that no air bubbles remained in the syringe. He shifted closer, trapping her body against the seat. He enjoyed the fear that he saw in her eyes as he prepared to inject her.

“Maybe when you come out of this, you’ll ask me again.” Injecting the liquid, he leaned in when he was done, and just before her eyes closed he whispered, “And just maybe…I’ll answer your question.”

--

Cox seemed bored. It had been only one hour and he seemed more fidgety than Sydney was. Something had changed. They had gone through the same rigmarole as before, less passionate with more charades. With both Miss Parker and Broots gone, Sydney knew he had to exhibit complete control over himself. It was easy to kill time, mentally chanting the code Broots had risked his life in giving to him. 'D3XWQ//!O' over and over again. Poor Broots. He hoped the tech was faring all right on his own.

Sydney tapped his fingers on the edge of the table. He could be a very patient person but wasting time was always annoying. Jarod needed him. Sydney had as much necessary faith in Miss Parker as he could, but her loyalties were to her family and the Centre. She had proven this time and again. It was exactly why Sydney needed to do his own investigating for Jarod. Hopefully, Miss Parker would come through and do her best to clear Broots and himself as quickly as she could. And if anyone could do that, she was the one. That, he knew he could trust in.

--

The silence in the car was deafening. Jarod continued to glare at the back of Miss Parker's head, hoping that she was feeling the heat in his eyes. He couldn't believe that she had actually hit him. He was used to being treated that way by Lyle, but never from his best friend. 'Or make that former best friend,' he thought to himself. He yanked the headrest in front of him angrily.

"Stop that," she ordered.

He yanked again and again and then for good measure started hitting the back of the seat with his free hand.

"Let me out of this," he demanded. "My arm is starting to hurt being held like this. And for what, so you can feel good about keeping me locked up? To think I thought you were my best friend. But no, you're just like your brother!"

And with that, he sat back as far as he could, started kicking at the back of both seats and glared some more at the back of Parker's head.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: (oh yes, still plenty more of them) Saturday
Chapter 17 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

More chapters, oh the joy.

--

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive

Lyle stabbed the numbers angrily, his mouth set in a tight line. His sister was playing a dangerous game and he was not about to participate. When the very familiar greeting sounded in his ears, he growled, “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing, Sis?”


"My job," she replied smoothly, looking into the rearview mirror at the sulking pretender. "You clearly gave him something, because Jarod is most definitely out of his mind, and that's saying something considering his usual habits. I'm simply protecting what belongs to the Centre.”

“Tell me where you are or I make a phone call and your stooges meet with an accident.”

"Don't waste your breath with an empty threat Lyle. It doesn't suit you," Parker stated uncaringly.

“Oh, it’s not empty, Parker. Say goodbye to Syd.”

"Only an idiot would do away with one of our best trump cards to gain Jarod's cooperation. Do away with his surrogate daddy and you'll kiss any dreams of his cooperation away, Emily or not." Parker spoke strongly, but in reality she was gravely concerned about exactly what her brother was capable of.

“Have no idea what you’re talking about, Sis. Now be a good little girl and tell me where you are or the psychiatrist gets it. And this will be your last warning.”

"I'll tell you where I am, in the middle of Hicksville. I'll be happy to meet you at the Centre in two hours, with one lab rat, signed, sealed and delivered." She countered, ignoring the angry tug Jarod gave on the handcuff that kept him tethered to the seat in front of him.


Lyle swore vehemently. “Are you close to a motel, Parker?”

"That would be the second proposition I received this evening. I'll see you in two hours Lyle, and if anything happens to Syd or Broots, I'll be forced to share your little side activities, more importantly your little sordid scheme with Alex with the big boys in the Tower. I'm sure they will be pleased."

“You don’t want to go there, Parker. There should be a motel less than a mile from your current position. Be there.”

"Where do I not want to go? Last time I checked returning Jarod back to his cage was the Centre's priority, and yet here you are stalling."

“What are you planning, Parker?”

"I'm planning on putting Jarod back where he belongs and ending this, once and for all."

“And you have no feelings about putting your boyhood friend back where he belongs?”

"What do you think I've been doing for the last few years Lyle? My childhood was a lifetime ago, you of all people should know that Bobby." Parker lashed out.

“Don’t ever call me that again, Parker,” Lyle hissed angrily, “Fine, you win. I’ll meet you at the Centre but if you fail in any way I’ll personally sign for your elimination.”

Parker threw down her phone in frustration. What the hell type of game was Lyle playing? She gave an almost concerned look back towards the angry pretender in her back seat as her mind raced to find a solution. Truth was she was severely handicapped without Broots at her side. With sudden resolve she picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number.

"Sam," she commanded, "I'll be at the Dover Court Motel in thirty minutes, meet me there."

Jarod listened to Miss Parker's side of the call with Lyle in disbelief. She really did sound like she was gonna drag him back to the Centre. And it almost sounded like Lyle was threatening Sydney and Broots to keep Miss Parker from taking him back to the Centre. Things were not making sense anymore and Jarod wasn't sure if it was the drugs running through his system or if the situation really was that crazy.

He gave another punch to the headrest he was handcuffed to and then froze. He thought he felt something give in the headrest. Another punch confirmed it, the headrest really was loosening. A plan was forming even as he punched and kicked both seats to keep Parker from getting suspicious.

The next thirty minutes were spent in absolute silence except for the sound of fists and feet hitting the front seats. And if some of the hits were against the rapidly loosening headrest in front of him, then so much the better. Eventually it reached the point where one more hit would remove it from its seat and that's when Jarod stopped hitting it. He started mumbling to himself to give the impression that he was once again falling under the influence of Alex's injection.

"Not gonna go back. No. Not to the Centre. Can't make me. Please, no."

The car left the highway and approached the entrance to the motel. Miss Parker slowed the car to make the turn and that's when Jarod made his move. He gave one last powerful punch to the headrest, which promptly gave way, slid the handcuff up over the remain bar with one hand and opened the back door with the other. Two seconds later he jumped out of the car and took off running.
Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Lets say tuesday
Chapter 18 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

In hopes of finishing sometime before I turn 70, I am (at least in the nearest future) doubling chapter size. Enjoy.

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive

Jarod had played her for a fool. Parker slammed on the breaks and with one smooth motion grabbed her cell phone and her gun, sprinting off the pretender, who was stumbling badly in his mad flight. With whatever lovely concoction Lyle had given him, how far did Jarod seriously think he was going to get.

She pressed redial on her cell, grateful as Sam answered immediately. “Sam, he’s making a break for it a hundred yards from the east entrance.”

She slammed her phone shut refocusing on Jarod’s form which was still easily in her sights.

“Jarod – stop!” she commanded as she cocked her gun. “Unless you want a bullet in your ass for when I drag you through the Centre doors…” she left the threat hanging in the air as she continued after pretender, easily gaining ground.

Looking to her left she saw Sam running towards them quickly, so she resisted the temptation to fire a warning shot in Jarod’s direction. The less noise, the less any morons in the area would notice.

She continued the chase, until Sam overtook her and gained the remaining few yards on Jarod, tackling the pretender to the ground. Parker smiled as the two men landed with a heavy thud, the sweeper not wasting time to pin Jarod’s arm’s behind his back with the pair of handcuffs that were already half on.

“I hope it’s the designer drug in your system that is making you this stupid Jarod.” Parker remarked as she assisted Sam in holstering the angry pretender to his feet. She jabbed her gun into the base of his neck and was rewarded with a grimace. “Not one damn word Jarod,” she warned, surprised when the pretender actually remained silent.

“Did you get us a room?” Parker asked Sam, giving him a nod of appreciation as he handed her the oversized motel keychain. Together they each grabbed one of Jarod’s arms and began dragging him back towards the motel.

Five minutes later one very fuming pretender was sitting under heavy restraint on one sinfully uncomfortable motel chair. Parker caught Jarod’s eye as Sam finished securing his left leg to the chair leg, stepping back to admire his handiwork.

“Are we done with the temper tantrums for the evening now Jarod?” she asked pointedly, jabbing her gun into his chin.

Angry eyes met her stare and she just raised her eyebrow. “I see we’ve moved onto the silent treatment, real mature.”

Parker took a step back and began circling her catch of the day. “I’m going to tell you how it’s going to be. In about eighty-five minutes Lyle is going to be outside the Centre, ready to drag you back to wherever he so desires, and if you are not there, heads will roll, specifically that of your surrogate Daddy. So I propose that you use those remaining eighty-five minutes to reverse whatever damage you did that got Sydney and Broots into trouble in the first damn place. Understood?”

Jarod was trapped. Between Miss Parker, Sam and these stupid handcuffs, he was definately trapped in this room with them. And Parker was right, Lyle's mystery shots were playing havoc with his thought processes. And Sydney and Mr. Broots were in serious trouble. And Emily was in danger of Alex. These thoughts kept swirling through his head and then the images started appearing. Images of Sydney and Mr. Broots in coffins and Parker yelling that this was his fault. Images of Emily down on the ground dead and Alex laughing. Images of Lyle and giant needles, cattle prods and metal cages. He groaned and started thumping his head on the table next to him.

"End SIM, please. Refuge, Sydney. Please."

Even with his head hitting the desk every other second, he could feel the other two standing over him. One figure disappeared and quickly reappeared. His head was held upright by the hair and water was thrown into his face. He blinked his eyes rapidly and shook his head. The flying water drops captured his attention for a second and then his mind seemed to clear. He looked up to see Miss Parker standing next to him with an empty water glass.

He took a deep breath and again shook his head to finish clearing it. He had to think. He knew there was no way he could leave Sydney and Broots in danger, not even at the risk of his own freedom. And, besides, he knew he needed Sydney's help and, if he could free Sydney and Broots, then maybe Miss Parker could help free Emily. Maybe.

"I need a computer."

--

Bravery was highly overrated, Broots concluded as he readjusted himself on the uncomfortable concrete floor. Apparently pure and utter exhaustion wasn't enough to make his body calm down enough to sleep. Finally he just gave up and pushed himself into a sitting position in the tiny cell. As he gave his face a tired rub he wondered what was happening with Sydney. His session with Cox had to be over by now, it had been hours since Broots was dragged off by Cox' sweepers and left here to rot.

Broots sighed deeply as he thought about what had transpired since he had arrived to the small cell. Convinced that they were seconds away from executing either him or Debbie, he had run around in his cell, screaming in the most threatening way he knew that if his daughter went missing, there would be people looking for him, vicious people, people that'll stick your eyes out and eat them...raw. But as time progressed Broots quickly discovered that the only reaction he was getting was laughter.

So, after stubbing his toe on the door, he decided to go for the emotional approach. He leaned up against a small opening in the lower corner of the door and started talking to the sweeper guarding the door. And after a while of listening to the crazy guy in the cell talking to himself Frank, the newly hired nightshift sweeper, was getting bored and decided to answer him. For a while they were just talking back and forth about nothing really. But desperate to make the sweeper sympathize with him, Broots somehow managed to lead the conversation into more emotional areas.
Apparently in all his years of working with Sydney something had rubbed off, because after a couple of hours with his face pushed up against the metal door, Frank was reduced to a weeping boy as he realized his father's cross dressing was the reason he didn't feel comfortable showing emotions in front of other men.

But at that very moment Frank's shift ended. And when the new guard arrived and found Frank buried in Kleenex, he was slightly stunned to say the least. Things did not improve when Frank, in his new found appreciation for emotions, decided to greet the sweeper by giving him a big hug and whispering softly into his ear, It's ok, big boys cry too.

Broots had a feeling Frank wouldn't be coming back to the Centre any time soon.

So for now he was just sitting quietly in his cell, trying to decide how many days it would be before he was dumped in a ditch somewhere for betraying the Centre. Sighing deeply he laid down on the floor again and pushed his face up to the corner of the door, "Hi, my name is Broots. What's your name?"

--

Parker paced impatiently behind Jarod as Sam finished setting up the laptop he had commodered from the poor motel clerk. Seeing he was done she leaned over, handcuff key in hand. "You going to behave, Jarod?"

Jarod had been fighting with himself for the last 20 minutes. If he cooperated with Parker, he was on a one-way trip back to the Centre. But Sydney and Broots needed his help and he had to work with Parker to give that. Besides, if they freed him even a little, he might be able to work out something.

When Miss Parker's question penetrated his thoughts, he looked up, gave a deep sigh and nodded his consent.


"So what's your glorious plan genius-boy?" Parker questioned as she released Jarod's hands, standing back. She looked at Sam, "he tries anything shoot him in the ass."

"Any idea who is Lyle's contact back in the Centre? I simmed it with both Cox and Raines, but am leaning towards Cox."

"Score one for the labrat. The King of Roadkill has his grubby hands all over this one."

Jarod gave her his imfamous smirk.

"I just learned a couple of new saying while I've been out. 'Payback's a bitch' and 'What goes around comes around.' Either one would work."


"The plan, Jarod." Parker repeated impatiently.

"God, you're impatient. We do to them what they did to Sydney and Mr. Broots. Use Lyle's access code to put lots and lots of money into Cox's account."

"May i remind you that if our asses are not on the Centre doorsteps in forty minutes, Sydney's welcome mat won't be the only yanked..."

Jarod leaned back in his chair, deep in thought. After a couple of minutes, he looked up.

"You've been in charge of SIS. What would it take for the sweepers to ignore Lyle and Cox and release Sydney and Mr. Broots?"


"Direct triumvirate order, and ignore the sweepers, let the cleaners handle it. They have an aura of finality few can ignore."

Jarod looked at the purloined laptop.

"If I got into the mainframe, I can create some release orders, supposedly from the Triumvirate. That would supercede any authority Lyle and Cox claim."


Parker nodded curtly, giving an impatient look at her watch.

"Do it."


Jarod moved his chair closer to the table with the laptop, watching Sam closely as he did so. Now was not the time for the sweeper to pull an attitude. He moved the computer so Parker couldn't see the screen and started typing.

Parker rolled her eyes at Jarod's pathetic attempt to remain coy. She reached out and grabbed a wadful of Jarod's hair keeping the tension just enough to grab his attention.

"No secrets Jarod." She warned.


Jarod pulled his head away from her grip, loosing a few hairs in the process. He gave a mental shrug, figuring his access the mainframe was no secret. But then another distraction grabbed his attention.

"I need something to drink. Some Dr. Pepper will be fine. Maybe a PEZ refill, too."


"Sam, get Jarod a water." Parker ordered smoothly. "This is not the Ritz, Jarod, just get it done so we can get the hell out of here.

Jarod snorted. Like leaving this lovely establishment to head for the Centre was some treat to look forward to. But his fingers never stopped their typing, not even when Sam about threw the water glass at him.

Parker had to admit it was impressive to watch Jarod work. She strode over and gave the order a quick glance.

"Thank you Jarod." she admitted sincerely.


"I didn't do it for you," he answered. "Sydney may be trying to get me back to the Centre, but that doesn't mean I want him hurt. And Mr. Broots has a daughter who needs him."

Parker exchanged an intense look with Jarod before dumping the handcuffs back on the table.

"Get him ready, Sam."

--

Sydney was surprised to see the door to his "containment room" open.

"You're free to go" were the words from the unidentifiable sweeper. No, Sydney more carefully examined the demeanor of the suited man who had opened the door, noting the briefcase he carried as well. He was definitely of cleaner breed.

The doctor didn't need telling twice and shot up from his seat, curtly nodding at the man as he brushed past him. Sydney had worked here long enough to know that mystery blessings were not to be questioned in the Centre. Stepping out of the room, he noticed Cox glaring at him from a few yards away, clearly in a heated argument with some of the other cleaners. Cox whipped his cell phone out of his pocket and Sydney barely saw his mouth start ranting before he was in the elevator and on his way to a single digit sub level to make sure Broots hadn't gone into shock or seizure. Who knew how much time they had?


"So...you think you could let me out?" Broots said hopefully, after keeping up a one-way conversation with the guard for quite some time. Unfortunate it hadn't gone as well as with the previous guard. Even after telling the sweeper all about Debbie, his ex-wife, and most of his extended family, the only reaction he had managed to get so far was a "shut-up" somewhere in between great-aunt Hilda with the clump foot and cousin George who he hadn't seen since he was taking in for tests by some local scientists.

He could hear muffled arguing outside the door, but he couldn't make it out. Then someone walked towards him.

Suddenly he found himself lying on the floor, as what he was leaning on, the door, was suddenly gone and he was surrounded by light.

"Mr Broots" A deep voice said, for a moment he thought it might be God. But quickly decided it wasn't, by rationalising that God probably wouldn't call him 'Mr'.

Despite being blinded by the bright light, he somehow managed to get himself off the floor, and into a somewhat standing position.

The voice continued, "You are free to go."

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Thursday would be good for me
Chapter 19 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Ah, the story continues. Thanks for wonderful reviews, it is very much appreciated.  

-- 

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive

Jarod took a deep breath as he watched Sam accept the handcuffs Parker held out. He knew that Sydney's life was still in danger from Lyle, but he truly didn't know if he could handle going back to the Centre. With what Lyle and Alex had already put him through, he knew that escape or even just survival there would be almost impossible. But what would his life be like if he let both Sydney and Broots die because of him? Would he be able to handle the guilt associated with that? He didn't know. But he had just over thirty minutes to find out.

"Wait," he told Sam. "I need to use the bathroom first."

He saw the look that Parker shot at him and couldn't help his grimace.

"Come on. During the last twelve hours, I've been drugged, had Lyle and Alex messing with my head, vomited even though that wasn't too bad considering it landed on Lyle, and been chained to this stupid and uncomfortable chair for the last half hour. Surely a trip to the bathroom isn't an unreasonable request, especially since this room is on the third floor and the bathroom doesn't even have a window."

Even Parker wouldn't be that cruel, he thought to himself. One last bit of freedom, maybe a chance to dunk his head under the sink, hopefully clear his brain so he could figure a way to save both himself and his friends caught in the Centre.

--

Waking slowly and painfully, Emily began opening her eyes. Everything was foggy and the single bulb in the, rather large, concreate room - basement - didn't really do much to illuminate the room. Though somehow she had still managed to be blinded by it.

'It's just not your day today, is it?' She thought, while avoiding the true gravity behind her words.

She closed her eyes to releave some of the pain as she began arranging herself into a seating position on the warn down leather sofa. One step at a time, all separated by a much needed deep breath, she eventually managed to sit up. Pushing back a wave of nausea she began straightening her hair and clothes in an attempt to undo some of the damage caused by the drugs. Though the only 'damage' she could really undo was the visable, she still felt like complete crap. But it was a pride thing; If they couldn't tell she was ill, it would be one less triumph on their part. And though she doubted very much she could make herself look healthy, she could at least look a little less found-in-a-ditch-like.

Satisfied that her hair wasn't going to get any better without a brush, she made a second attempt at opening her eyes. Letting the anger of her current situation fill her once again.

"And I repeat:" She said sternly to the person she knew must be listening. Pausing between every word she continued, rage underlining her every word "What do you want from me?"

--

Jarod barely waited for Sam to unchain his ankles from the chair before bolting for the bathroom. He heard Miss Parker's chuckle at his haste, but she didn't realize then that it wasn't nature's call he was answering so quickly. He slammed the door shut and then smirked. The door had a lock, which he very quietly turned. Surveying the room proved to be disappointing, but he knew he had to make something work. He measured off the distance between the door and the sink and then the length of the shower door.

'Perfect', he thought. 'Just enough room.'

Jarod took some of the bath towels, rolled them into tight tubes and shoved them against the bottom of the bathroom door. This would help muffle any of the sounds he was making and make it harder for Sam to open the door from the outside. He absently answered Miss Parker's demand that he hurry up in there and a couple of seconds later both flushed the unused toilet and started running the water in the sink, which further masked the sounds of the shower door being removed. He braced the shower door between the bathroom door and the sink, turned off the water, grabbed a seat on the toilet cover, and waited for the explosions to begin.

--

Sydney threw open the door to his home office. He had been unable to locate Broots and was hoping his friend had been released as well. Broots was a smart man. He would know he could find Sydney here if he needed him. The only problem was that everyone else knew that, too. The Centre was a dangerous place to be right now, whether Sydney knew why or not. In one respect, he wanted to retreat to somewhere safer. However in another, he realized that if Jarod and Miss Parker did indeed need his help, he would be the most useful to them if he remained on the inside.

With a deep breath, Sydney shuffled some papers around on his desk and sunk into his leather chair. How many nights had he spent in this chair worrying about Jarod or Miss Parker? He didn't even want to know the number of hours dedicated to his fretting. It wasn't healthy and it wasn't doing anyone any good, yet here he was doing it again. Only this time, he wasn't going to run and hide, protect himself when the boy he raised- well, the man- was out baring the brunt of Sydney's own mistakes. No, this time he would be ready to do whatever it took to protect the ones he cared about, regardless of the consequences.

Picking up his phone, Sydney dialed a very familiar number. After a moment of listening to unrequited ringing, he hung up. Miss Parker was busy. Probably accomplishing a lot more than he was right now. At least that's what he liked to assume. To think that she wasn't answering her phone because something had gone wrong and perhaps she was being held captive somewhere else in the Centre made Sydney ill. No, Parker could take care of herself. She needed a little help sometimes, but he was always willing to give her that. He only hoped that she would ask for it when the time came.

Sydney pulled open his drawer and opened a metal box within it, taking out the faded father's day card he'd received from another man's son. He really hoped Jarod was okay. His hands were itching to pull out the phone and call his young pupil up, but this psychiatrist wasn't one to be trusted so Jarod had never given him his telephone number. He probably never would.

Where were they? Returning the card and the metal box to their places, Sydney opened another drawer, extracting a smaller wooden box this time. Opening it hesitantly, he gazed upon the lone object within the foam mold. The metal was glistening, and though he'd only used it once, he was well aware how detrimental its effects had been, especially for Raines. Sydney hoped he wouldn't have to use it again. Still, he had the feeling it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep it ready for the protection of those few who did deserve it.

After all, it was just precautionary.

---

Broots let the car come to a full stop at the red light. Taking a few deep breaths he leaned back in the worn down seat of his previously owned Chevrolet and let the events of the last few hours of freedom play in his head.

As soon as he was released from the Centre he headed for home. Not really feeling like trusting the Centre to having kept their fingers off his cellphone, he had stopped at a phone-booth and called Debbie. Luckily for him, he had arranged to have her stay with distant relatives before he went to check out Jarod's oh-so-empty lair.

He knew he was getting a taste of the luck he desperately needed, and deserved after that awful T-Board, when the first thing his daughter asked him wasn't where he'd been for the past few days, but if she could stay a few more weeks. He agreed immediately, after all it wasn't safe to have her anywhere near the Centre.

But as he was sitting in the dark, waiting for the light to turn, he was beginning to wonder exactly why she wanted to stay longer. Had he not been a good enough father perhaps? Or maybe she'd meat a boy and figured it would be easier to get away with if she was away from him. Or maybe she was embarrassed about her father meeting him. Or maybe---

Before he could complete his next 'maybe' he was rudely ripped from his thoughts by horn-honking and foul words directed at him and his beloved Chevy. Apparently the light had turned green while he was thinking.

He made a left at the intersection and pulled up at a small cottage-looking house. He took a second glance at the suitcases in the backseat, just to make sure they were there, before he stepped out of the car and slowly walked on down the pavement leading up to the house.

He rung the bell once...then twice, and waited.
"Sydney, are you in there?!"

--

"OK, rat, time to come out."

Sam knocked on the bathroom door. Jarod had practically run into the room almost 10 minutes ago and that is more than enough time for anyone, even a mental case like Jarod. When there was no answer to his demand, he reached out and grabbed the doorknob. Locked. Sam gritted his teeth in frustration, why did the labrat always have to make things so difficult. Didn't he realize how he was making the situation worse?

Sam looked over at Miss Parker when the rat's "I'm not coming out" answer sounded throught the door. He was already moving he heard her order him to break down the down. He rammed the door with his shoulder and felt it give slightly. A couple more serious thumps and he felt the lock give way. He grinned over at Miss Parker and gave a final run at the door. He hoped the rat was out of the way cause he was coming in.

Sam looked up at Miss Parker then down at the floor. He was sitting on the floor. How did he get there? He looked back at the door and heard an almost muffled snickering coming from behind the shattered threshold. The door was open, but less than an inch. Not even enough to get his fingers through to remove whatever was blocking the door. As soon as his head stopped spinning, he jumped to his feet and grabbed his gun. No escaped lab experiment was gonna make him look like a fool in front of Miss Parker.


Parker turned away from her toppled sweeper, biting her tongue to avoid lashing out at him and the arrogant genius still barricaded in the bathroom. The verbal whipping would come later, but for now she needed a plan.

Jarod was a moron, and his childish pranks were making what was a terrible evening into a total nightmare.

Parker glanced at her cell which had rung several moments earlier in the peak of Jarod’s theatrics. Her watch indicated they still had ten minutes to make the twenty minute drive back to meet Lyle, had he called just to confirm their prized possession was still enroute as planned?

Apparently something in this god damn awful night was finally going right as she reached down and grabbed her cell, recognizing Sydney’s private line at the Centre as her missed caller.

She didn’t hesitate to return to the call, praying Sydney would answer. The safety of Broots and the psychiatrist was the only clout Lyle had in ensuring Jarod’s prompt return into his psychotic hands.

As long as Sydney answered, things would be looking up.

She glanced at the bathroom door, her temper flaring.

When she was done with him, Jarod would be wishing he was back in Lyle’s hands.

Jarod pressed his hand tighter against his mouth, barely muffling the laughter. He had heard the double thud of Sam first hitting the door and then, he imagined, the floor. His ever active imagination pictured the burly sweeper sitting on the floor with cartoon stars and birdies circling his head and, even though it could mean some serious trouble for him in the future, his giggles threatened to escape again. Even the sound of Parker's cell phone had done little to stop his amusement. The little voice in the back of his head, the one that sounded remarkably like Sydney, was urging him to get control of himself before his control was snatched away from him again. He decided to listen to the voice for now.

"Parker, is that Sydney? Did the cleaner's get him and Mr Broots released ok? Ask him to come here, OK? We can stop Lyle and save my sister from Alex from here if Sydney and Mr Broots join us here. Parker, are you there? Parker? Hey, Sam did Miss Parker hit the door instead of you?"

The thought of Miss Parker and Sam sitting on the floor with the cartoon characters caused Jarod to lose what little control over his emotions and once again he was giggling almost hysterically. The little Sydney voice was faintly heard through his amusement wondering if the drugs he had been repeatedly injected with recently was responsible for his lose of control.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Sunday-ish
Chapter 20 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Thanks again for the reviews guys.

Enjoy

--

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive

Alex watched her wake and smiled to himself when he noticed her attempt at gaining some control by combing her hair out and straightening her clothes. He waited and wasn’t in the least disappointed when she finally asked what he wanted. Taking a water bottle from the fridge, he made his way downstairs and opened the door leading to her current quarters. She glared at him and he threw her the bottle. She looked at it with distrust and he gave her a comforting smile, knowing that it would unbalance her even more. Folding his arms, he said, “Drink, it will help you feel better.”

She couldn't remember her mouth being this dry since...well, ever actually. Though a few bad celebratory hangovers did come in a close second.
She could feel him smiling in the corner of her eye, but didn't allow it to throw her off as much as it probably should. After simply staring at the sealed bottle cap for a while, she decided to open it. As much as she hated to admit it, if he wanted to drug her, he would have no problem simply jabbing a needle in her arm.


Alex grabbed a chair and after maneuvering it in front of the couch, sat down. Leaning back so that he was comfortable while still able to prevent her from making a dash for the door, he asked, “How much are you willing to give up for a brother you’ve met only once?”

She watched him carefully removing all possible ways of escape, and figured her brother had obviously made quite an impression on Alex. After taking another sip of the now half empty bottle, she put the cap back on. She ignored the throbbing headache, as she maneuvered herself into a more comfortable position, her hands still firmly wrapped around the bottle.

"Could you be more specific?" She said calmly, not allowing the panic to grab her just yet.

“It’s not a difficult question. How much are you willing to give up?” He wanted her to really think about the answer, he didn’t want to lead her or give her any indication of his own plans. Let her work this out for herself.

She looked up and meet his gaze, "Whatever it takes." she said with a steady voice. Clearing her throat she continued, "Now the real question is, why do you want to know?"

Alex shrugged, as if her question was of no consequence. He could see her anger starting to shimmer in her eyes. Good. He wanted her off balance and angry. It made her actions that more predictable. He shifted, taking out a prepared syringe and rested it on his leg. Her eyes widened and he smelled her fear. It invigorated his senses as he continued to watch her, letting the silence stretch. He was contemplating whether he wanted to tell her why her brother was so important to his plans and why he needed her. Playing with the syringe, he finally broke the silence.

“Will you be so willing to give what is most precious to you for a brother who has killed?”


She pushed the syringe out of her mind and focused her attention on Alex, the lesser of the two evils. "Even if he did..." not willing to say the actual word she simply continued, "I'm sure it was justified. An eye for an eye, remember?" Her voice was much shakier than she would have liked, and she was having problems controlling her breathing, which was turning into hyperventilation.

“You’re brother is a genius, right?” She nodded tentatively and he allowed a brief glimmer of his hatred for Jarod to show. “Jarod keeps on explaining to the world how he’s been manipulated into doing simulations that killed so many innocent people. Well, if he’s that good a pretender, why didn’t he pick up on that manipulation? He could’ve escaped when he was a child and yet he stayed. And when he finally did decide to escape the Centre’ clutches, he not only phones Sydney, who’s exploited him and manipulated him all these years, but he fails to disappear off their radar. Why is that, do you think?”

Sydney, she repeated it internally a few times until she was sure she wouldn't forget. If she got out of her, no, when she got out of here, she would look into it. Maybe it would bring her one step closer to learning what happened to her brother.

"It's not really my place to say." She said while carefully monitoring his reaction.


Alex growled and rose swiftly, watching with satisfaction when she retreated slightly. He slid down next to her and leaned in, his face inches away from hers. In a deceptively calm voice, slightly deepened by his simmering anger, he commanded, “I want you to.”

She grabbed the water bottle more tightly. She could feel his breath on her cheek and moved slightly in the opposite direction on the sofa, "I..." she sighed, trying to come up with a response, "I don't know." She screwed the lid on more tightly and continued, "He probably had his reasons."

Though she doubted very much Alex was even telling the truth. Besides, even if what he was saying was factually accurate, considering how much hatred Alex so obviously had for her brother, it wasn't unlikely that Jarod's version would be slightly different. But for now, she would play along.


Alex searched her eyes, gauging her reaction as he tried to determine whether she was lying or not. He smoothed her hair away from her face and growled a warning when she raised a hand in protest. When he had her full attention, he gave her an empty smile and said, “So, has mommy never told you her deepest, darkest secret regarding your brother?”

Somewhere in between the enormous amounts of disgust by having him touch her hair and the deep fear of what he would eventully do with the syringe a memory erupted, or at least she thought it was a memory, of her mother combing her hair and humming. How safe it had made her feel. In the debts of her mind she could still hear her mother humming the only nursery rhyme over and over again.

Suddenly the song stopped, and she was left sitting on a warn-down leather sofa, with some creep touching her hair. "No," she answered, "no, she never told me anything."


“I think you’re lying.”

"Well if she did I don't remember anything" Emily said agitated.

He clamped a hand on her wrist and pulled her arm out. She resisted briefly and he tightened his hand, knowing that he was hurting her. She met his gaze and then her shoulders slumped in defeat. She allowed him to manipulate her arm and he paused when he had the needle posed over a vein. He watched her take a breath and then hold it, her hand clenching involuntarily in anticipation of what he was about to do. He winked at her and then slowly slid the needle in, watching her wince in response.

“This is all your brother’s fault. Remember that,” he whispered into her ear as his thumb slid over the plunger. She stiffened and he pushed down on the plunger, sending his own little cocktail streaming into her bloodstream. All he expected Jarod to do when he finally arrived was to watch her die.

--

Sydney was snapped out of his daze when his phone burst into a shrill ring, a sound all too unfamiliar lately. Outside he could hear Broots hollering as well. He'd been waiting and wishing to reconnect with the only few people in the world he had left to care about and suddenly they all wanted his attention at once.

He picked up his phone with a quick "This is Sydney" while he rushed to the door. Opening it, Broots looked like he was about to start talking but he quickly silenced him with a finger pointed to his lips and the phone. Broots nodded in understanding, and Sydney ushered him inside.

"Parker? I'm so glad you've called. What's going on? Do you know if Jarod's okay?" He could hardly contain all the questions that had been building up inside of him for so long.

Sydney led Broots into the kitchen, nodding to the fridge while Miss Parker rattled off just how much was currently going on.

--

Jarod's giggles ended as abruptly as they appeared. He leaned back against the toilet tank and gave a huge, jaw-cracking yawn. He was now so exhausted he could hardly keep his eyes open. He could he Sam pounding against the door, he could hear (but not understand) Parker talking to someone (Sydney, he hoped), but all he wanted to do was to lay down and sleep. His eyes wandered the small room he was in aimlessly, but then almost sharpened. There were more towels on the shelves. Soft, fluffy towels. Lots and lots (at least to his now burning-with-exhaustion eyes) of soft, fluffy towels that would make a wonderful bed. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and headed over to the shelving. He grabbed all the towels and made a bed close to the door. His slower-than-normal thought process told him that his body would also make a wonderful barricade against Sam. He laid down in his newly made nest, used some of the hand towels for a pillow, and drifted off to sleep, muttering to himself as he did so: "Refuge, please, Sydney, refuge".

--

Parker stepped away from the bathroom as she heard Jarod's pathetic whining from behind the door. She turned to Sam, "I don't care how you do it, just get him out of there," giving the sweeper a apathetic look as he looked at her helplessly.

"Your boy is loosing his mind Syd," she stated unnecessarily into the phone.


Sydney groaned and glanced over at Broots' wide-eyed expression. "I'm afraid you're going to have to be more specific, Parker."

Parker watched as Sam pounded angrily on the door, muttering a veiled threat to the bathroom's occupant. "I don't even know where to begin Syd. He's been acting irrational and childish all evening, more so than usual anyways. If i didn't know any better I would say Lyle carved up his brain like a thanksgiving turkey."

Sydney forsaw Miss Parker and the normally rational, now irrational pretender as a good mix for disaster. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration, wishing he could do more. Always wishing he could do more. "Lyle deciding to play God wouldn't be a stretch anyway. The few times Jarod has been in contact with me, he's seemed very fragile. You need to be very careful to not push him over the edge. Do you understand me?"

"I think Jarod's teetered and fallen Sydney. Between Lyle's house and horrors and Emily's capture, I think your boy has lost what i have always said was a fragile grasp on reality."

"Emily's capture?" he repeated. Even under normal circumstances that would tear Jarod apart. "Please be patient with him and do the best that you can. Tell me where you are and I can help you if you just stall for some time away from anyone else at the Centre. They can't be trusted anymore concerning Jarod. Well I suppose they never could be, but something even more unusual than normal is happening and I won't allow Jarod to suffer because of it."

Parker looked at her watch. "The deal was Jarod in exchange for you and Broots. Lyle's going to clue in pretty quickly that his deal of the day has backfired. You and Broots need to get somewhere safe - now. I'll meet you there if boy wonder can regain control of his well endowed faculties," she allowed her voice to raise knowing Jarod would hear her, lucid or not.

"White Cloud then. I'm sure you remember the way." Sydney nodded, knowing she couldn't see him but recalling Jacob's last days all the same. Broots looked surprised but the psychiatrist ignored him momentarily. "Broots and I will meet you there. Please be careful, Miss Parker."

Parker shut her phone and met Sam's helpless glance before the sweeper went back to pounding on the door. She pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. All they had to do now was get the world's biggest man child out from behind Fort Knox. Easier said than done.

--

Jarod grumpily rolled over. There was an annoying thumping sounds coming from behind him and it was really starting to disturb his sleep. He had trouble getting a sound sleep in the best of times and, now that he was finally falling into a good sleep, this idiot was banging on the wall. He opened his eyes and was shocked to see a bathroom. Why was he sleeping on the floor? On a bed of towels?

It took Miss Parker's voice coming through the door to revive his memory of the last week or so. She was speaking a bit louder than normal so he was able to hear (barely) something about control of well endowed faculities. Was she conspiring with Lyle now?

He sat up, leaned back against the door and started thinking. He had water here and could feasibly stay inside the room for up to a week. But staying here wouldn't help Emily.

'Oh my God, I forgot about Emily!' he thought to himself as he started panicking, wondering how long he had been in the bathroom. 'And Sydney and Broots were trapped in the Centre by Lyle and Cox.'

His thoughts were spinning uncontrollably. The small, very faint Sydney-voice deep inside his head was urging him to gain control, to try to overcome the influence of the drugs still coursing through his body, but he was having a hard time doing so. Finally, out of pure frustration, he started banging the back of his head against the bathroom door in countering beats from Sam's body hitting the same door.

--


When Broots had headed over to Sydney's house earlier the same evening his plan had been to use every trick in the book to convince the old man they needed to dissapear until they knew more of what was going on, he had fully expected the old man to simply laugh it off as another one of Broots' irrational ideas based on a moments hysteria. So when Sydney not only did not find the idea ridiculous, but had the same one, it didn't exactly calm his nerves.

The ride up to White Cloud was longer than he had expected. But after several years of working on the pursuit, he'd been on enough car-rides to know that bringing plenty of snacks was essential to ones sanity. So by focusing on his chewing and looking out the window he somehow managed to avoid the eminent panic slowly simmering inside him.


He didn't really know what he had expected to happen once Jarod was caught, but this was definitively not it. Not only had Jarod been drugged, but somehow his ever illusive sister had been tracked down and captured as well. Something big was going on, and for the time being Broots enjoyed not knowing what it was.

Sometime halfway through his second funions bag Sydney took a left and stopped on a residential driveway. Broots didn't hear any of the seatbelt unbuckling sounds he expected after such a long ride and looked up from his snackbag. The old psychiatrist was looking older than usual as he sat completely frozen in the driver's seat. Broots followed his gaze and nearly chocked on a funion.

He really, really hoped Miss Parker had been extremely lucky with the traffic because a little further down the driveway was another car.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Lets make it Tuesday
Chapter 21 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

More chapters, hope you like. And yay for lovely reviews.

 Oh and I just thought of something, I never disclaimed  this thing did I? Well, consider this it (only took me 20 chapters or so...ups).

--

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive

Parker stood back with a grimace of frustration as she heard the rhythmic banging of what she could assume was Jarod's head against the bathroom door. Another ten minutes of this and she would be checking herself into the pysch ward right behind the pretender. She pulled at her cell, pressing redial for umpteenth time, tossing it aside as Sydney's line went straight to voicemail.

"Any luck with Broots, Sam?" She asked, receiving a helpless shrug from the sweeper. Something was going terribly wrong, and the longer Jarod was without his faculties the less chance they all had of getting out of this alive.

With a deep collective breath, Parker turned to the door with new determination, her unrelenting desire for survival being kicked into overdrive. They would get through this, they always did. She kicked the door lightly, enjoying the sharp bang that even caused Sam to startle slightly.

"Enough is enough Jarod. Every second you spend moping in your soggy pile of towels is another moment that Alex has his sociopathic grip on your sister. For a man who has been battling an international cooperation, your mental unraveling from a few nights of designer smack is rather disappointing."


“Parker? Is that you? Where are we and where’s Sydney? I really want to talk to Sydney. Please? Can you get Sydney for me?”

Jarod’s voice was wavering as his emotions threatened to overwhelm him. He had never been taught to deal how to handle his emotions; in fact, the Centre had spent a considerable amount of time and energy teaching him to suppress all his emotions. Now, thanks to the injections provided by Lyle and Alex, his emotions were spinning out of control and Jarod was on the verge of turning catatonic.


"Would we all..." Parker muttered her breath. "We are in what I can only describe as the Bates Hotel, with if you can believe it, worst furniture, and everyone's favorite shrink has fled the Centre and is on his way to White Cloud, which is where your sorry ass is suppose to be if you feel up to mastering the art of turning the doorknob."

“You’re not going to take me back to the Centre? Promise? I really don’t want to go back to the Centre.”

Jarod sniffed and started pounding his head on the door again. This time, though, he stopped on his own after just a couple of knocks.

“Can I talk to Sydney, Parker? Does he have his phone on him? I don’t want to come out until I talk to Sydney”

The Sydney-voice started talking to Jarod again, telling him that Miss Parker was telling him the truth, that he, Sydney, was waiting for Jarod to get to White Cloud. All he had to do was open the door.


"Just open the damn door Jarod and I'll take you to see Sydney. Although may I recommend some therapy, this umbilical attachment is getting a little old."

“Tell Sam to stay away from me. He’s gonna hurt me, I know he is! Please don’t let him hurt me. I’ll be good, I promise.”

Jarod got up from his now not-so-comfortable nest and started moving the towels away from the door.


"The only person you have to deal with is me, Jarod." Parker said with an eye-roll. It was like dealing with a toddler. Debbie would probably have better luck reasoning with the pretender in this state. "All you have to do is come out of the room and sit on the bed. Sam will be standing by the door, but I promise as long as you behave he won't lay a hand on you." Parker said at an agonizingly slow pace, watching as Sam moved away from the bathroom door, instead standing guard at the room entrance.

“Uhhmm, OK. But we’re gonna go see Sydney, right? And then, save my sister? Right?”

Jarod finished moving the towels out of the way. The shower door still kept him safe from his pursuers but the little room was starting to remind him of some of the spaces he had been kept in at the Centre. With a deep breath, he moved the shower door out of the way.


"For the next few hours Jarod you and I are on the same-side. When Alex is out of the picture and I'm sure that Lyle isn't interfering with Syd and Broots, then we'll have to renegotiate."

For a second, Jarod’s mind was clear. Parker’s word was always trustworthy, so his hand slowly turned the doorknob. He peeked out into the main room to see Sam on the opposite side of the room. He gave a quick, somewhat shy, somewhat embarrassed grin and looked at Parker.

“Am I gonna get a ten-minute warning before the negotiations start?”


Parker couldn't help but smirk as she heard the almost cocky tone in Jarod's voice. Could it be that boy-wonder had finally crawled out from his stoned-out hazed?

"I'll close my eyes and count to ten." she said sarcastically standing back so Jarod would not feel threatened should he choose to come out from his little man-made barricade


Jarod looked around the room again, but didn't see anything threatening. Sam was still over by the front door and Parker was over by the window. No one else was in the room. He shook his head as the drugs once again tried to overtake his mind, but he was able to control it a little more this time. He finally, hesitantly, took two steps out from his refuge and tried smirk over at Parker.

"I don't suppose we could forget about the handcuff for a while, could we?"

--

Emily sighed deeply and looked around the area she was currently occupying. She had slowly began to wake up from yet another druginduced sleep, only to find that once again had her surroundings changed drastically while she was knocked out cold.

She was no longer in a basement, but somewhere above ground. On the other side of the room there was even a window...which she would walk over to...as soon as the room stopped spinning. For now she was happy just to be sitting upright in the bed. One step at a time.

She looked around the room, doing her best to catch any clue that might give away her location. The place was very...frilly. With floral patterns covering everything from the walls to the curtains, this wasn't exactly the kind of place she'd imagine Alex decorating. Although decorating probably wasn't the top ten past times of heartless psychopaths, regardless of patterchoice.

That lead her to one of two possible conclutions, either Alex had broken an entry, or one of Alex' frilly-loving friends had invited him and an unconscious girl to spend the night. For the first time in her life, she really hoped she had been an accessory to a crime.

From where she was sitting she could see parts of the view, and apparently they were surrounded by trees. Forrest. So continuing down the line of never ending luck, there was little to no chance anyone could hear her scream. Though considering she was cuffed and had once again woken up gagged, that wouldn't really pose much of a problem anyway.

Probably sooner rather than later Alex would realize it was about time for her drugs to wear off, so if she was going to have any chance of knowing where she was, she had to act quickly. She
rose wobbily from her seated position on the bed and steadied herself on the surrounding furniture, to the degree one can with their hands cuffed to their back, and slowly approached the window.

She leaned against the glass while doing her best not to make any sounds that might awaken Alex' suspicion. She wasn't on the first floor, that's for sure. So unfortunately breaking the glass with the weight of her body and jumping out would not only result in cuts, but her eminent death as well.

But perhaps there was still a way she could get out of this. On the ground were two men who in no way looked like friends of Alex. One had grey hair and the other was balding. Her face formed a smile for the first time in days, if she could just get their attention she would be saved.

They seemed to be talking amongst themselves and she leaned closer to hear.

"Sydney, what should we do?"

The smile was wiped away as Alex' words from the previous day played in her mind,

He not only phones Sydney, who's exploited him and manipulated him all these years, but he fails to disappear off their radar.

Sydney, who exploited him

Sydney


She wasn't saved. She leaned against the glass. She was just one step deeper in the neverending downwards spiral.

--

Sam watched as the Pretender entered the main room. His hands itched to grab the little pain in the butt, but he knew that Miss Parker would not authorize anything against the lab-rat. At least not just yet. Maybe the idiot would do something stupid and he wouldn’t have to wait.

Sam watched Jarod closely, grinning when he saw Jarod glance his way. The boy-wonder kept edging closer and closer to Miss Parker every time he looked Sam’s way. He gave a grin that had Jarod swallowing. At least the drugged out genius knew he was in trouble for his earlier stunts.

‘Just wait until we’re back in the Centre, Sweet Prince, then we will see who is hitting the floor and who is laughing,’ Sam thought to himself.

--

Sydney stared at the car in the driveway to his cabin. It didn't look like Miss Parker's car, but perhaps she was renting. He looked over at Broots who shook his head timidly. Leave it to Broots to fear the worst. Now was the time to take chances though. Jarod needed him and he and Miss Parker were probably waiting for him inside.

"Come on, Broots," he said, shifting the car into park and pulling the key from the ignition. "Miss Parker's always had a bit of a lead foot, she must have beat us here."


If there was one thing Broots really didn't like it was surprises. There was no such thing as a good surprise, if someone had good news they would pick up the phone and share it, people like sharing happy news. Unless of course it was a surprise party or some other rare occation where half the fun was keeping your mouth shut. He continued to stare at the car, this was certainly not one of those times.

"Do you know how many laws she would have to break to get here this fast?" Broots said, his voice an octave higher than usual, while wishing desperately he hadn't eaten that last bag of snacks.


"Since when has Miss Parker given a damn about traffic laws?" Sydney hesitated. "Or laws of any sort for that matter." His eyes were focused on the vehicle, and then he shifted his gaze to the cabin. The living room light was on. Maybe Broots was right. It is better to be safe than sorry.

"Could you open the glove compartment for me and hand me the black case inside?"


"Oh no, nononono" Broots shook his head repeatedly. If there was one thing Sydney wasn't, it was a sharpshooter. Which meant the gun wouldn't hurt whoever he was aiming at, but the person five feet to the right. And with the kind of luck he'd been having lately, that person would be him.

"Would you rather we march in there unprotected?" Sydney asked him calmly.

Broots thought about it for a moment. If there was someone there who wasn't Miss Parker, the person would have a gun and probably be very willing to fire if it was deemed productive. But if they were armed... He sighed deeply and muttered something along the lines of "Ok" before opening the glove compartment. He pulled down his sleeve so it covered his fingers and grabbed the handle of the glove compartment by his index finger.

He held his breath as he carefully slid it out and held it out to Sydney.


Sydney pat Broots on the shoulder, "Don't worry. I'm sure we won't need it. It's just precautionary."

Sydney opened the case and put the pieces together confidently, loading it like a pro. The clicks sounded together impressively and he slid the small pistol into his pocket. "Alright. Ready?" He felt like they were soldiers preparing for battle. It could be Miss Parker inside, angry that they weren't there already, but for some reason it just didn't feel like it was.

"N-no!" He regained his composure and continued, "But that hasn't stopped me this far, has it?" He unbuckled his seatbelt and waited for Sydney to make the first move.

Sydney reached for the door and flung it open, springing out of the car with a hop that did not match his age. Adrenaline pumped through his veins. They were entering an unknown situation and normally Miss Parker would be taking the reins. This time though, it was dependent on him. Broots was nervous as always, and understandably so. Unlike Miss Parker and Sydney, he did have a lot to lose. Sydney understood that. That's why he was always willing to coax Broots along gently when Miss Parker wanted to barrel into danger guns blazed.

He looked back to make sure his counterpart was coming up the driveway with him.


Broots carefully followed his armed counterpart, silently thanking him for insisting on the gun. Every step on the gravel send chills up his spine as he tried to move as stealth like as possible. But he wasn't build for stealth and he knew it. Loud, gravel-crunching entrances, yes. But stealth...not so much.

The internal rambling suddenly stopped as he looked up and froze. Through a window of the cabbin he could see the figure of a man walking towards the stairs. He remained immobile on the overly loud driveway as he spoke, "Sydney, what should we do?"

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Um....Friday I believe
Chapter 22 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

This chapter takes a turn or two...or three. Enjoy

--

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive

She was still leaning against the glass when she heard thumping sounds coming from outside the door. Alex, or his frilly-loving friend, was moving up the stairs, which meant it was time for her to return to the bed she had been left in. She steadied herself against the wall and walked as quickly and quietly as she could back to the bed. She sat down as the door opened.

Pocketing the key he had used to open her door, he watched her watch him. She was after all Jarod’s sister and even if she had only met her brother once – briefly – she was still blood. And that made her just as dangerous as Jarod. Even with the drugs running inside of her.

She could barely suppress a shiver as he stood beside the door. The last few days had been hell and it was all because of him. No wonder he and Jarod didn't get along. "Our first weekend get-away..." she began, venom penetrating her voice, "so where have you taken me, exactly?"

“White Cloud.” Not that he thought she’d know the place. But it didn’t matter anyway. In a few short hours Jarod would be here and she would be dead. A pity really. She was quite beautiful in her own way.

White Cloud, it sounded like somewhere you take your family on summer vacations. Somewhere you learn to fish and wim backstrokes. Not where you dispose of your latest kidnapping victim. She continued in the same annoyed tone, the drugs were giving her an enormous headache so it came more or less naturally, "And would you mind telling me why I am here?"

“You’ve already asked me that, Emily. I’m not going to repeat myself.” Distracted he took his phone from his pocket when a small alarm sounded. Someone was at the front door. Clicking on a link, he watched Sydney and Broots. Not who he had expected but they could only add to his plan and give more heartache for Jarod. He wondered briefly who Jarod would choose between the three to live and what that would do to the pretender to watch the other two die.

Personally she thought Alex repeated himself quite often and didn't really know why now should be any different. Besides, if he had said this before it was his fault she had to ask again, after all he was the one who drugged her. Not the other way around. But she knew better than to say that out loud and moved on to the next topic, "Fine. Then why are you here?"

Irritated by her intrusion into his thoughts about Jarod, he turned and growled at her, “I’m busy, sweetheart. Give me a few minutes and I’ll be right back.” Ignoring the annoyance he saw flash across her face, he opened her door, locked it and waited by the staircase for Sydney and Broots to make their appearance.

--

Jarod could feel the vibrations from a moving vehicle beneath him. Without opening his eyes, he explored his surroundings. He was stretched out flat on what appeared to be the back seat. He was alone on the seat and didn't seem to be restrained in any way. He could hear two voices from the front seat and seconds later he recognized them as Miss Parker and Sam's.

How did he get into their car? How far from the Centre were they? Did he have time to try to escape?

The questions swirled around his brain as he tried to remember how they found him. The last thing he remembered was Alex injecting him with some substance that cause fire to race through his blood. Oh my God,

"Emily!"

"Miss Parker, I think he's waking up," Jarod heard Sam say.

He kept his eyes closed and hoped that they would think he was talking in his sleep. Maybe they would keep talking and he would be able to figure what was going on. He heard rustling from the front seat and then Sam's voice again.

"Go back to sleep, Rat, we're still an hour from White Cloud."

White Cloud? They were going to White Cloud and not the Centre? Nothing was making any sense. Where was Lyle and Alex? Where was his sister? He fell back asleep while pondering those questions.

--

Jarod looked around at the bizarre images surrounding him. Alex kept jabbing him with needles and Emily and Lyle were making out on the seat next to him. Sydney and his dad were playing poker with Raines and Mr. Parker while his mom and Mrs. Parker roasting marshmellows in the fireplace. Parker and Sam were dancing together in front of him and every once in a while looking over at him and telling him to go back to sleep. Jarod went to jump up from his seat, but couldn't move his legs. He looked down and saw that he was strapped onto a gurney.

"NO!" he protested as he was loaded into the cryogenics tube. "NO, please, Mom, Dad, Sydney, help MEEEEE!"


Sam looked into the back seat at the sleeping pretender. 'Poor little prince, sounds like he's having a nightmare.' Sam thought to himself gleefully. 'Gee, isn't it too bad I can't help him.' Sam's fist closed as he thought about all the different ways he could "help" the pretender.

--

“What do you mean they were released?” Lyle listened in disbelief while the idiot on the other side stumbles his way through the Centre bureaucratic paper work. He breathes hard as he hears the rustle of papers being riffled through before the sweeper clears his throat and starts to read from the release form.

“… to be released on order by the Tower immediately…”

It had to be Jarod. Somehow his possession has decided to rebel and undo all the good work his done. And he knew exactly who had instigated the Pretender to releasing the psychiatrist and the inept tech.

He’s damn sister.

If only he had killed her.

Closing the connection to the still babbling fool, he stares at the surrounding area. He doubted seriously that his ambush was going to work. Somehow he doesn’t see Parker bringing the Pretender back to the Centre and more importantly, back to him.

It was time for some more drastic action and maybe the threat to wonder boy’s sister will be enough for the Pretender to shake his shackles to Miss Parker and kill her. One life for another.

His sister or Miss Parker.

His only wish would be to be able to see Jarod’s face as he finally realizes that he’d have no choice.

Time to make another call. He’d hope that Alex had done as he’d been told and taken Emily to the safe house.

--

Broots felt like he'd been walking behind Sydney for months now outside the small cottage. And the backache he was getting from crouching down to keep any bullets that may be fired from hitting him, supported that believe. According to Sydney the "walking around and around"-thing was called "surveying the area" and was something Sydney had learned from watching the many sweepers that were sent ahead of them on field assignments. Their jobs were basically the equivalent of ducks in a shooting range and unlike other sweepers you rarely saw them twice. If somehow, god forbid you wounded up in a conversation with one of them you were usually left wondering how exactly they managed to dress themselves in the morning.So Broots wasn't entirely sure if they were the best people to be learning survival skills from.

Sydney was walking slowly, pointing his gun at every leaf that rustled a little too loudly in a way that was almost reminding him of a James Bond movie. Not the one with the blond one, but one with the guy before that, or was it the one with the Scottish accent...or did they all have Scottish accents?

Either way, the usually calm Sydney waving a gun around with the safety off was scaring him more than he liked to admit. He still couldn't figure out why they hadn't just stayed in the car, more specifically why he hadn't stayed in the car. After all, he wasn't the one with the gun. All he had was a semi-charged cellphone with a signal that seemed to only work when he stood on the porch, and if bullets started flying that wasn't exactly where he'd imagine to be standing.

As they walked around the cabbin for the fourth time he found himself wishing, as he so often did, that he'd never started working at the Centre. Or at least worn different shoes.

--

Parked glanced back at Jarod as the car slid to a gentle halt on the loose gravel driveway. Sydney’s cabin was barely visible in the dark shadows, but all she could focus on were the two cars in the driveway.

Perhaps Whitecloud was not the best move strategically, it was nothing but predictable. She would play this cautiously, as if she had any other choice.

“Syd, please tell me you have a housekeeper.” She muttered under her breath. Parker pressed redial on her cell phone for the umpteenth time, only to be directed straight to Sydney’s voicemail. She tossed the phone onto the driver’s seat in frustration, quickly trading it for her gun, unlocked and loaded.

Now what? Sydney had clearly pulled in here, along with someone else. Should she risk even entering the cabin? The long gravel driveway did nothing to help one approach the property with any amount of stealth. If anyone was still on the property, they had long ago been alerted that Parker was now on the premise.

Parker turned to observe Jarod in the backseat of the car. The pretender was lethargically coming back to reality, after spending most of the ride up transitioning between nightmares and what she could only hope was a drug-induced childish state.

“Sam,” she commanded, “Get Jarod.” They were sitting ducks out here in the open.

Parker stood back as the sweeper made his away around the car, and reached in to pull out the restrained Pretender. The last few weeks had been quite a journey, although nothing Centre related was ever straightforward and forthcoming. Logically she knew she should look around, leaving Jarod under Sam’s careful guardianship. However bad things always happened the second she let Jarod out of her sight, she wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Parker met Jarod’s semi-lucid eyes as he was pulled upright by Sam, “Why do I feel like I’m back where I started. No Sydney, No Broots, no answers, just a whole lot of nothing. Its hell and a half step away from the barren apartment you led us too at the beginning of this little odessey. ”

Jarod’s eyes travelled down to his hands briefly, before surveying the area just as Parker had done a few minutes earlier. “Too much of nothing, always mean something.”

“You’re telling me,” Parked replied dryly. “If you think for one minute I’m buying that we are the only ones here…” Parker trailed off, letting the cocking of her gun finish the sentence for her.

“That won’t be necessary.” A smooth voice commanded from the treeline behind the trio.

Parker grabbed Jarod with her free hand, and spun around, unprepared for who she saw emerging from the dark shadows.

Sydney nearly fainted with relief when he saw Miss Parker, Sam, and most importantly, Jarod getting out of the car. Sydney hoped he'd been putting on a sufficient show for Broots so that maybe he believed they were in control of the situation, but this old man wasn't stupid enough to think he could charge in and overpower whoever was waiting inside the cabin. His only priority was to keep his friend calm, and that was challenging enough.

But Miss Parker had arrived now and she could take control of the situation. After all, it's what she did best. Ever since she was a little girl, she'd had the world in the palm of her hand and nobody knew it better than she did.

Sydney clicked the safety and slipped his gun into the waistband of his pants. He ushered Broots to follow him and they stepped out of their hiding place in the trees just as Miss Parker was aiming her gun in their direction. “That won’t be necessary.”

He rushed toward Jarod and brushed away the hand Sam had gripped on the pretender's bicep. "Thank God you're okay," Sydney breathed, wrapping his arms around his former pupil, followed with a swift pat on the back. He stepped back and examined Jarod's tired, frustrated eyes, "Well almost okay."

He changed his focus to Miss Parker, "Broots and I are relieved you're here, Miss Parker. We haven't gone inside, but someone's certainly there."

"Oh Miss Parker thank god!" Broots rushed towards her and without thinking he embraced her in a tight hug, before he came to his senses and retreated a few weird looks later. Shaking off the embarrassment he continued in the same overly excited tone, "I'm so glad you're OK!" then he looked over at the somewhat pale looking droopy eyed man standing behind them, "well...mostly OK."

He caught another glance of the unknown car in the driveway and as if struck by lightning, or an overly eager sweeper, all of a sudden he found himself sitting on the ground and sobbing like a scared tech.

"There's just been a lot to deal with lately," he managed to squeeze out, "Being dragged into a T-Board...and out of a T-Board. Then going to a cabin where it's supposed to be safe only to find a car without license plates. And finding lair after lair completely empty. What's that all about anyway?" he blindly accepted a handkerchief that someone had left hanging in front of his face "And I ate too many funions. And my daughter doesn't love me anymore. I didn't even get to ask if she could stay away a few more days before she accepted she was so eager to get away. That's right I said it, Debbie's a teenager. She'll probably get married soon, move far away and forget all about me. That is if Mr. Cox hasn't killed her first as punishment because he somehow got it in his head that I'm embezzling the Centre. I mean it's the Centre for the Towers' sake! You don't embezzle the Centre! I don't even take candy from the boll at the desk at the entrance I'm so scared they're going to use it against me."

He took a deep breath and leaned against a tree, or at least he hoped it was a tree. "OK, I'm OK. " He tried to return the now completely soaked handkerchief by no one seemed interested in taking it back.

"So," he said, looking up at the crowd for the first time, "what do we do now?"

--


Alex swore softly. He didn’t need to be a genius to know that due to Lyle’s incompetence, things were moving south at a rapidly expanding space. He needed to find a neutral place, somewhere preferable under Jarod’s and the Centre’s radar. And then when things have settled, he’ll contact the Pretender so that he can complete his own little side project. He smiled. Having Jarod under his control….now that would be something.

Speaking of which, he needs to secure his insurance package.

--

Since he’d left her room a little over an hour ago she’d had plenty of time to go through the bedroom. She had carefully opened and closed every drawer and closet, hoping to find something that might assist her in getting out of her current predicament. But there was nothing to be found.

Literally nothing. Every place intended for storage was empty and the only things she had to work with were those left out in plain sight. And in plain sight there was a framed picture of a horse outside a barn. A glass frame.

She had heard the car arriving, leaned up against the window as it came to a full stop. And suddenly she’d found herself staring at her brother.

Her instinct told her to do anything to get his attention, but she knew that was a bad idea. Anything that might alert Jarod certainly would make Alex a little curious as well.

So she removed the glass from the frame, put it inside a duvet and broke it in three lager pieces as quietly as she could. Then she hung the painting back on the wall. At the end of the largest splinter she wrapped a tablecloth that had been lying on the nightstand, enabling her to hold it tightly without cutting herself more than her victim. She doubted the people who had arrived would still be in the woods if they had purposely alerted Alex of them presence. So somehow during all the commotion she was sure Jarod’s arrival would cause, there would hopefully be a moment of unawareness on Alex' part, and when there was she would be prepared.

By the time she heard the creaking of the stairs, she was already back in the bed. The homemade weapon safely underneath the covers. She was ready.

Alex entered the room, suspicion immediately sending up flares when Emily gave him the - I'v done nothing - look. Annoyed, he scanned the room. He had made sure that it was empty of anything that could be used as a weapon, but still, she was Jarod's sister and as such, not to be underestimated.

"Come on, let's go. And unless you want me to gag you, be quiet."


Acting like she was still deep under the influence of the drugs she moved slowly out of the bed, giving herself enough time to hide the glass under her shirt. When she finally got to her feet, she pretended to be struggling with her balance, hoping it would buy her some time to think. Perhaps also make Alex underestimate her just a little bit, an advantage she was going to need if she was to ever get out of this alive.

"Stop acting. The sedative I gave you would've worked out of your system. Now let's go." Alex stated, grabbing her by the arm, and for good measure planting his gun firmly in her ribs. He steered her down the stairs and out the back door until they were out of sight of the house and more importantly, out of sight of the whole idiotic Centre clan.

With the piece of glass having made a small incision on her left side and the gun forming a bruise on her right side, she began to wonder what her torso would look like in the morning, if she ever made it that far. She quickly pushed the thought away as she focused on the task at hand. And in one quick motion she pulled the glass from under her shirt and pointed it at his neck.

“Move and I’ll slit your throat."

--

Jarod looked around Sydney and glared at the house. Something told him that Alex was in there with his sister, but he was stuck out in the woods, handcuffed, with Parker and her posse. Jarod knew he could convince Sydney help him and that he could scare Broots into letting him go, but Parker and her goon were another story. And, unfortunately, his brain was still battling whatever the hell Alex had concocted and he was having trouble keeping a logical train of thought going, though it wasnt as bad as he was making it seem.

He gave a small private smirk at the reactions he had provoked with his act during the trip. He loved to aggravate Parker and nothing worked better for him than childish behavior. And the icing on the cake, man he loved that metaphor, was that he was drugged into acting that way by her "beloved" brother and his pet sociopath. He started mumbling the toad's foot rhyme, just to see her reaction, but stopped when Sydney grabbed his shoulders in concern.

He shook his head, as if to clear it, and looked at his mentor.

"I'm OK, Sydney. But I do need to get out of these things. And we have to figure out who's in the house."

He shook the handcuffs in Parker's directions and looked at her, hoping she wasnt gonna prove to be stubborn.

Parker glared at the pretender, “I have more faith in a rabid Chihuahua cooperating than you. They stay on.” She turned away before Jarod could shoot her a disapproving scowl. It seemed as if the first early signs of dawn were starting to sneak up, hopefully signaling the end to one of the longest nights of her life.

Thankful that Jarod had managed to remain silent, she turned back to the group, only to find all of them looking back at her expectantly. If Jarod was at his full capacity she had no doubt he would be smugly suggesting some hell bent scheme, but for now he was as useless as Raines was old.

It was up to her. Cue inspirational words.

‘Someone has obviously gone to a lot of trouble to let us know that they are, or at least were here. That requires a level of arrogance the few possess.” Parker remarked pointedly with a noticeable glare in Jarod’s direction, before continuing. “Whoever it is, it’s over. It takes two people to play a game, and I refuse to play his.”

She turned her back to the crowd, delivering her last words with an authority few would dare to argue with, “Sam, help Jarod back into the car. We are going home.”

She took a deep breath, waiting for the protests to begin from Jarod – but the pretender was never given a chance.

“And miss all the fun?” A sarcastic voice sang from behind the group.

It was apparent that this damned game was very much still on.

 

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Hmm...monday?
Chapter 23 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

New chapter (well duh), enjoy

--

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

A new chapter will be posted approximately twice a week, check end notes for when the next is scheduled to arrive

“And miss all the fun?”

Jarod heard that damned voice coming from behind him and knew that his situation just got worse. Parker had been buying into his "drugged out of his mind state", but he just knew the owner of the voice was going to make that a true condition.

He tried to pull away from Sam's iron grip on his arm and, when that didn't work, looked over at Sydney for help. He knew that Sydney wouldn't help him against Miss Parker, but lifelong habits were hard to break. Maybe it was time to act up again. No, that was getting old and wouldnt work in his favor. Maybe he could try ... um, no that wouldn't work either.

A wave of dizziness swept through him and, for a brief second, he was glad the burly sweeper had such a tight grip on him. He shook his head in the hopes of clearing it and heard Sydney asking if he was OK. The approaching footsteps diverted his attention from Sydney, though, and fear swept through his body. He knew the owner of the footsteps didn't have his best interests at heart. In fact, the footsteps meant certain doom to him. Jarod knew that if he didn't get away very, very quickly, then he was facing the loss of his freedom and the joy of becoming nothing more that a labrat for the Centre, with no more rights that a bunsen burner. He was a human being, damn them all, and it was time that even Sydney saw that.

His eyes darted around quickly. Parker was at the front of the car, Sydney and Broots were coming out of the woods in front of Parker, and Sam was holding Jarod up against the rear passenger door. The dreaded footsteps were coming from the driver's side of the car and could be discounted for now. Jarod plotted out his escape and made his move. He leaned over against Sam, acting as if he was dizzy again, and, when Sam tried to readjust his grip, Jarod broke free and headed into the woods.

“And miss all the fun?”

Broots turned around and almost peed himself when he met the eyes of a very angry, and very armed Mr Lyle. Last time he had seen the single-thumbed man he had handcuffed both himself and Sydney, locked them down in SL-nobody-knows for the purpose of them answering questions to which their answer could either get them killed or keep them alive long enough to answer the next question. Strangely enough the experience had done very little to change his perception of Mr Lyle.

Broots' eyes flickered from person to person from where he stood a little out of sight in the woods, or so he liked to pretend it was. They all looked completely gobsmacked as they watched the new arrival. Broots found it slightly odd that Jarod, who hadn't looked at anything other than the mans shoes, seemed to know exactly who he was dealing with...but he supposed geniuses could do that. He decided to take a hint from the trained virtuoso and diverted his eyes down into the grass, no longer seeing a reason to establish eye contact with unstable individuals with guns.

Then, as if stung by a bee, Jarod started running. That is if you could call the drunken sailer's walk he was attempting to uphold while still keeping his eyesight firmly planted below everyone's knees 'running'.

Broots, who was staring intently at the forest ground while walking in small, square circles in an attempt to calm himself knew nothing of what was going on until he was interrupted by a lot of swearing, so he stopped. All of a sudden he heard, and felt, a loud thump and plummeted to the ground, something heavy and squirming landing on top. When he open his eyes seconds later the heavy 'something' had been yanked away and the loud swearing had turned into undecipherable muttering. So he brushed off his clothes and continued walking in slightly square circles in the dewy forest.

Parker just stood back with her hands on her hips as Sam pulled Jarod off of poor Broots. Her tech had fallen to pieces and Jarod was an easy week overdue from being checked into the nuthouse. Add her homicidal twin to the mix and things couldn’t get any better.

Jarod’s brown eyes flashed with anger as he was pulled over to her. “Now where is a leash when you need one?” Parker asked sarcastically. She could only imagine the look Sydney was giving her.

She turned to face her twin, “What’s this? Another scheme which has only lead you down the path of corporate suicide?”

--

“That’s not really a smart thing to do, Emily. Now be a good little girl and let go of that piece of glass before you cut yourself.” Alex stated calmly, glaring at her out of one eye while he tried surreptitiously to move his neck a few inches further away from the sharpened end that had drawn a thin line of blood.

“What did I just say!” She said with more force than she thought she had left and pushed the sharp object further into Alex’ arteries. In her head a twisted film of all the times he’d drugged her, all the times she’d had to run from the dark clad men, was playing, over and over. “You try that again and I will separate your head from your neck. Do think I’m kidding?” She whispered seductively into Alex’ ear. Her makeshift knife boring deeper into his skin. “Come on, test me.”

“In case you forgot, I can pull this trigger a lot quicker than it would take you to slash my throat. Are you really prepared for all that blood?” Alex asked, while pushing slightly with the gun that nestled snugly against Emily’s body.

She was after all, Jarod’s sister and as such, should be averse to shedding blood of another human being. A flaw but a predictable one none the less that could be exploited.

“Now unless you want me to kill you, I suggest you stop play acting and put the glass down.”


“Me slashing your throat is synonymous with dying, getting shot in the side isn’t.” She wasn’t entirely sure that was true, but at least she had something working in her favor; she was far more desperate than he was, threatening someone with parts of a broken frame should be proof enough. Not waiting for him to respond she moved on to the next topic,

“Now you are going to tell me who you were talking to on the phone, why you are drugging Jarod and what the hell I have to do with any of this.”


Desperation he could respect. And although he was faintly annoyed at her for the attempt to coerce him into talking, he was also admiring the fire and determination he could see in her eyes. And he was out of the house and far enough away from the Centre group, not to arouse their attention. He also had time, something that was rarely a given with Jarod’s family and although the makeshift knife was still drawing blood, he still had his gun against her side.

He gave her his best smile, raised an eyebrow in best Parker fashion and said, “You, my dear is insurance that your brother will do as he’s told. As for drugging him, you of all people should be able to figure it out, after all the pretender gene runs in your family.”


She should have known she was nothing other than a bargaining chip, and under normal circumstances she would have. But this was about as far from normal circumstances as she had ever been, the gun gradually bruising her side a constant reminder of that. Her mind was blank, she couldn’t think properly, and therefore acted solely on impulse, which was both good and bad, if she had any control of her own actions she would probably have surrendered long ago.

“Humor me, Alex. Tell me why you are doing this.”


Alex gave a low chuckle and when she glared at him, he gave a wink. The disgust on her face was priceless and he decided to be magnanimous. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t he in control, despite the precarious position of the instrument right next to his main artery.

“Because I’m a better pretender than Jarod, and despite that fact the Centre continued to search for their so called missing key. And your brother has no idea why they want him back. But I do; their so-called second rate pretender. You should have seen Jarod when I told him on the bridge that he’ll never get to see his mother. Priceless. The hurt and confusion on his face alone was worth the jump.”


Emily had no idea what her demented, and obviously suicidal, kidnapper was going on about, but he seemed to be in a sharing mood so she continued her line of questioning, hoping this time, if she played her cards right, they might actually provide some answers “So then why do they want him back?” As she waited for his response she carefully fished an object out from his pocked, the sociopathic pretender obviously too caught up in his own mind to notice her actions.

“Tut tut, not yet, Emily. You don’t get that luxury of knowing. I jumped of a bridge to stop your brother from finding out the truth. You are not as important as he is. So, when last did you see your mother?” Alex asked conversationally, giving her another leer just for good measure.

Without a second thought she jammed the object she found in his pocket into his torso and emptied its contents just beneath his skin. He fell to the ground instantly, the now empty syringe still attached to him. She bent down to grab his gun and whispered into his ear,

“Maybe I’ll tell you someday.”

--

Jarod glared at Parker as Sam dragged him back to the car. He was not going back to the Centre and Lyle was not gonna drug him again. He didn't care how about what he had to do to get away or how badly he might have to hurt someone, but he knew that his very life would be on the line back in the Centre. And Sydney would not be able to help him. Unfortunately, as his little jog proved, his eyes still weren't focusing properly and his muscles refused to cooperate.

He gave a soft grunt as Sam practically threw him into the back seat of the car. He looked out the window opposite him and saw a sight that turned his blood cold. Lyle was peering in at him with a wicked smile an his face. A grin that said 'what until you see what I have in store for you'. Then, without warning, Lyle's face split into two, blurred a bit, and then melted back into one. Jarod closed his eyes and shook his head, hoping that would make Lyle disappear. A quick peek over at the window proved that wrong.

A gentle hand on his right arm turned his attention away from the grinning face opposite him. Sydney was calling his name, over and over, and demanding that he look at him. Jarod started to look over at Sydney, but then decided that no, he didn't want to look at his mentor. He closed his eyes, leaned back in the seat, and tried to pretend that he was totally alone. No Parker taking him back to the Centre, no Lyle grinning in glee at him, no Sam to yank him around, and no Sydney to pretend to care about him. And no Broots, wherever he was; he could stay there where Jarod couldn't see him. Without knowing it, his lower lip started to protrude.


"Jarod! Jarod, open your eyes!" Sydney demanded, smashing a hand to the car window. "For God's sake, look at me, Jarod!"

There was no point hiding the desperation in his voice. Sydney was panicked by Jarod's obviously delusional state. His charge into the forest had been poorly calculated, something quite unlike his typical pretender's moves.

Sydney ignored the disapproving glance from Lyle and opened the car door to slide into the seat beside Jarod, whose eyes were closed. He appeared to be muttering to himself with slight shakes of his head. His face was pale, with drops of sweat beading on his forehead, and he was trembling slightly. Sydney hoped, longingly hoped, that these were the signs of withdrawal from the drugs he'd been on. But this wasn't his area of medical expertise. Jarod's expertise however...

"Jarod, please," Sydney whispered, leaning close to the younger man as if he had a secret to share. "I want to help. You can't possibly think I ever approved of what's been done to you. If I'd known..." He took a deep breath. "Well, I would have done something. Jarod, are you even listening to me? We don't have time to waste."

And they didn't. He could see through the window, Miss Parker and Lyle biting at one another like rabid wolves. Soon enough, one would storm off with a mission in mind. And it seemed Jarod was always pivotal in any plan that the Parker twins were engaged in.

"Come on, Jarod."

Sydney's persistant nagging voice was finally more than Jarod could bear to ignore and he reluctantly opened his eyes.

"I'm not going back to the Centre," he told his mentor in a monotone. "Please don't make me. Please? NO, don't answer, please, just don't say anything."

He knew his plea was for nothing. Sydney was powerless against the Centre and unwilling to go against Miss Parker's wishes. Jarod just wished that once, just once, Sydney would put Jarod's needs first.

He pushed those thoughts out of his head, something he had done millions of times in the past. Now was not the time for that. He suspected that Alex was in the house, possibly (probably) with Emily. He now knew what he had to do, but the mere thought made his stomach churn. He turned to Sydney, a hint of fear along with a dash of repugnace apparent in his eyes.

"I need your help, Sydney. I have to SIM Alex."

--

“I’m protecting you, Parker. Can’t you see that,” Lyle said, glaring at his sister. With the Pretender safely tucked away in the car with an obviously worried Sydney at his side, he could focus solely on his sister and getting the Pretender back under his full control.

Parker snorted. "Protecting me from what Lyle? Your orchestrated T-board? Your pyschotic partner in crime? That's a load of crap and you know it."

“You’ve got it all wrong, Sis,” Lyle said, barely keeping his anger in check. Putting on an air of innocence, he tucked at his glove, “There’s no partner in crime and I wasn’t the one who orchestrated the T-Board. It was some rogue agent from the Triumvirate and I assure you that he’s been taken care of. Now why don’t we settle this back at the Centre, preferably while Jarod is back in his nice cozy cell in SL-27?”

Parker finished making her away around the car, squeezing herself between Lyle and the car. Crossing her arms at her chest to give an air of strength she spoke dangerously, inches from Lyle's face, "Save me your denial Lyle. You leave your thumbless paw print over everything you touch. Leave Jarod to the professionals, and go find yourself a thumb to suck on."


“You’re on dangerous ground, Parker. You don’t want to antagonize the only person who can help you.” Lyle tilted his head, his eyes boring into hers, “Why did you decide on bringing Jarod White Cloud and not the Centre, Sis? That in itself is grounds for another T-Board.”

"Spare me the threats. The only T-board anyone of us will be going to is the one that will determine how genius boy in the car has regressed from a man-child of age 14 to one of age two in a matter of a few days. I swear he would drown himself in the bathtub if left unattended. Hardly a desirable trait for the Centre's prized pretender?"

"Jarod is being retrained under the supervision of the Triumvirate. There’s nothing more to add except that they’d take exception if Jarod doesn’t start his next treatment as soon as possible. They want him pliable and if you hadn’t interfered, he would’ve nearly been done with his first round of treatment.”

Taking a capped syringe from his jacket pocket, he started towards the Pretender. “Speaking of which…”


Parker didn't hesitate, grabbing Lyle's wrist with a fistful of anger, enjoying as he grimaced. "There is a hell of a difference between pliable and needing a wet nurse. My job is to retrieve and return Jarod to the Centre - safely. Until a crazy Zulu shows up and tells me otherwise, Jarod is staying under my control."

"Let go of me,” Lyle hissed, as he tried to jerk his arm out her grip. He was close enough to see the momentary fear in the Pretender’s eyes and he gave him a smirk before turning his full attention on his sister. “He needs this Parker. You don’t want him to go into withdrawal. He might end up a vegetable and that would be your fault.”

Parker let go of Lyle with a hard shove, sending him stumbling back a few feet before he was able to steady himself. "Nice try. Maybe you should save that for one of your Asian beauties. I hear you like them nice and...pliable."

“We gonna continue to trade insults, Parker or are you actually for once going to do your job and bring wonder boy back to the Centre?” Lyle said quietly. He was tired of fighting his sister and had decided that he’d take her for a visit to his mountain cabin as soon as this whole sordid business was completed.
“And before you say anything else, I’ll be riding in the back with Jarod just to make sure that you do deliver him back home where he belongs.”


Parker stuck her hand out just as Lyle reached for the car door, blocking his access. "Sam," she commanded, not breaking eye contact with her twin as the sweeper helped himself into the back seat, sandwiching Jarod between himself and an anxious Sydney.

Giving his sister his best glare, he slid into the front seat. Broots was standing beside the car looking as usual like a wet puppy about to be drowned. Lyle had no idea how the tech had managed to make it into the Centre, never mind on his sister’s team. Giving Miss Parker a raised eyebrow, he smiled and said, “Well, are we going?”

"If boy wonder needs his diaper changed, it's your responsibility," she sneered while gracefully entering the car.

"Whatever," Lyle said, waving his hand dismissively while giving the Pretender a wink when he caught his eyes in the rearview mirror. "Let's go."

Parker jerked her car into gear, enjoying the three audible grimaces that sounded in the car as heads thumbed against the leather seats - only Sam managed to stay silent. As they sped down the driveway Parker looked into the rear view mirror, watching as Broots' forlorn figure disappeared from sight.

Chapter End Notes:
New chapter: Hm.... Thursday I think
Chapter 24 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey all, thanks again for lovely reviews. Starting school again soon, so will probably cut down chapter frequency somewhat.

--

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

Check end notes for when the next chapter is scheduled to arrive

Dialing the number again Cox listened to the dial tone, waiting and refusing to pace. He had safeguards in place if this went as bad as it seemed to be going, and Lyle was going to pay, and pay heavily.

It had been a scramble though to keep his head above the tidal wave of trouble that was going to come his way soon. The T-board fiasco was not going to be easily forgotten and he had lost much standing because of it. He also guaranteed Miss Parker would be more wary towards him, which had not really been his intention at all. He needed to drive a wedge between her and her brother, divide and conquer might be an oldie, but it was still a goodie.

Now Parker would hate him even more, and he hadn't even had a chance to have any fun with her, which MIGHT have made it all worthwhile.

When the phone was finally answered he snapped into it. "Do you have him?"'

--

Alex blinked, trying to get rid of the haze that was starting to fill his mind. He knew exactly what was happening. The drug that was meant for Jarod was now flowing in his veins.

Damn Emily. If he ever laid his hands on her….

Grunting, he managed to push himself into a semi-seated position. His mind was steadily declining. He could feel his intelligence waving goodbye to him, as it disappeared over the hill. Shaking his head, he managed to make it to his feet where he wavered for a bit until the dizziness passed.

Get Emily back.

Squinting his eyes, he blearily looked around him. He could make out trees, trees and some more trees. The litany of – Get Emily back - sang in his mind on the beat of a defunct rock song he had heard long ago.

Sniffing, he took a deep breath and started in the general direction he hoped Emily had disappeared to.

--

“Yes. We’re on our way back. We should be there in two or three hours.”

"Back from where?" Cox asked, relaxing only slightly at that news. "With Jarod? Intact?" He didn't trust Lyle for one second and there was going to be hell to pay for screwing this up so badly. All of this could have been done in the Centre under controlled conditions, but no. Sometimes Cox had to wonder if they all wanted Jarod out, so that they could use the so-called pursuit to pad their expense accounts.

“How many pretenders do you think we’re chasing. He’s a bit worse for wear but otherwise should be ready for his next dose when we arrive.” Lyle said, mentally rolling his eyes at Cox’s idiotic question.


"We are chasing?" Cox asked slowly, wondering just who we might entail. He hadn't answered the question about where either, which meant he probably didn't want to tell him, which meant that something no doubt had gone wrong. "You know what is riding on this Lyle; do you need me to spell it out for you again?"

“I’m well aware of why we’re doing this, Cox. My sister is driving the car that we’re in and she’s giving me a death glare,” Lyle said, giving his sister a smirk. “Do you maybe want to explain to her why we’re doing this? I’m afraid she won’t believe me.”


"Parker is there?" Cox asked, leaning back. Seems he had underestimated her after all. "And her partners as well I assume?" Where Parker went, those two clowns were sure to follow. This could actually work in his favor as no doubt they would both be squabbling like 3 year olds over who got to take credit for this. He had no intention of telling her anything, and he doubted Lyle would want to share with her either, information was power after all and Lyle loved to think he had the power.

“We had to come to an agreement regarding wonder boy and his method of delivery back to the Centre. Sydney is currently fussing over wunderkind.” Lyle turned in his seat, giving Jarod a stare, enjoying the look of fear on his face. Sydney as usual gave him a warning glance that he ignored. Maybe things could work out in regards of getting rid of Jarod’s nursemaids when they’re back at the Centre.

"He is back, in a cell within 3 hours Lyle, or you and your posse are finished here for good. Understand?" he asked with exaggerated patience.

“Understood.” Lyle slammed the phone shut, suddenly not amused anymore. He could only hope that nothing more was going to go wrong before they made it back to the Centre.

--

After gaining control of the gun that was currently pointed at Alex, she had made a point out of removing all potentially harmful objects from the man's possession. From her limited experience with Centre goons had taught her that they could make even a paper cut turn lethal, so 'harmful objects' really meant 'all objects'. As she was giving the unconscious man one last thorough search she couldn't help but wonder exactly what he'd done to her in the same state, but quickly managed to push the thought aside.

There was no way she could predict how long he would be out, so using a piece of string she found in his right back pocket she'd tied his hands and feet to a nearby tree. There was no doubt in her mind that if Alex truly wanted to get out he would be able to untie her ridiculous knots in less than five minutes, that was if the drugs had left him so tired he couldn't just tear the weak string in half. So more than anything it was to give her a little peace of mind, perhaps a little false sense of security as well, something she desperately needed in able to keep what little sanity she had.

Earlier, when she had heard the car arriving, the loud debate, the voice of the man that threw her of a building ringing in her ears like a warning sign, it had hit her for the first time how truly dangerous these people were, how willing they were to do just about anything just to settle a score. The same people who she now deliberately pissed off. Soon after one of the three cars she knew was out there had sped of. She was too scared to see who was still standing there, if anyone, too scared to move at all. Even though she knew they would probably be coming back, she just couldn't seem to move.

So for now she was just sitting in the woods, a gun firmly planted in her hand, the same gun that had formed a large bruise on her side, watching her kidnapper sleeping. Was he even her kidnapper anymore? Maybe she was his now. She found herself unable to answer her own question, this wasn't exactly her field of expertise. At least it hadn't been until a few moments ago.

Not willing to spend too much time thinking about that particular topic she redirected her attention to the small pile of items that had formed of things she'd removed from Alex' possession. Among them were three casings of ammunition, two knifes; one Swiss army knife, and one which she had found tucked in his right boot, four vials of an unidentified substance, three syringes with matching needles, a money clip with 50 dollars, a button she could swear matched the one that was missing from her shirt, a roll of duck tape, keys, and a disposable cell phone with a missed call.

"Shit!"

The distant voice snapped her from her musings. She ignored the effect it had on her pulse and glanced over at Alex' unconscious form, and whispered softly "Guess that settles it tiger, we're not the only people on this 'island'".

It was time to get a grip.

She gathered up all of Alex' things and stuffed them in various pockets, making sure she knew exactly where all the weapons went. She took a lesson from the master and stuck the knife in the side of her left shoe, where it would be easy to grab. Not that she would really know what to do once she had it.

She slowly rose to her feet, careful not to make any unnecessary noises.

"Get Emily back."

She turned to face an unconscious but muttering Alex, suddenly becoming more aware of the possibility that he might actually wake up. "Yeah", she muttered, "why don't you work on that while I go to see who else has the same idea."

--

Broots could hardly believe what had just happened. This was high school all over again, only this time he had less hair.

He was stuck in the middle of nowhere, the closest to civilization being a cabin with at least one unknown individual inside.

"Shit!", he said in hopes of releasing some frustration. He swore very rarely, but Miss Parker seemed to positively thrive from it. Unfortunately it turned out to be just another one of those things that Miss Parker liked that did nothing for him. Like scotch.

Most annoying part of the whole thing were the two locked cars in the driveway. Sydney, who had a ride, had the keys for one of them in his right pocket, and the presumably dangerous unknown person was most likely carrying the keys for the other one. The way he saw it he had three options: A) Knocking on a door that even Lyle had the brains to run away from. B) Walking home from a place that it took two hours to drive to. Or C) Rather than severing all bonds with his Uncle Stew ten years ago when he stole his car while visiting one weekend, go back in time and ask him to show him how to hotwire a car. All seemed equally doable right about now.


From the shadows Emily watched the little bald man muttering quietly to himself. He looked unarmed and, except for the muttering, didn't seem particularly scary. So after surveying the area she decided to make her move. She walked quietly towards him, slowly raising the gun. "Freeze, or I'll shoot" she said firmly, while quietly wishing she'd managed to come up with something better to say.

"O-ok," Broots managed to squeeze out, with his back against her. Her, it was a female voice. But the shadow in the house had been a man. So either they were more than one, or... maybe she was just a little butch. "D-don't shoot. Please!" He put his arms out in an attempt to seem nonthreatening. Though halfway in the process he realized he was defying her order to "freeze", so he just stood there, his arms looking truly freezed as they hung awkwardly midair.

She eyed the man up and down, he almost looked more uncomfortable than she felt. She really expected the Centre to have trained their people better than to loose it at the sight of a gun. If it wasn't for the fact that she'd seen him before with that Sydney-person, she would have thought he was just lost in the woods. But she had, besides he was far too pasty to be an outdoorsy person. "Turn around!"

"So just to be clear, the 'freeze' doesn't apply anymore?"


"Would you just turn around!" She said, probably a bit louder than she should in case the jittery guy had backup wandering around somewhere. The man was barely moving so she added with a sigh, "No, the freeze doesn't apply anymore. Just don't make any sudden moves. Ok?"

Broots nodded vigorously as he turned around slowly, but then realized that was probably exactly the kind of sudden moves she was talking about and stopped.


From the startled look in his eyes she figured she would have to do this slowly as to not send him into a state of shock, she could only deal with one unconscious man at a time. "Now, I'm going to ask you some questions and you are going to answer me, OK?" He gave her a nod so carefully that she began to wonder if he was going in slow motion, but figured it was just another one of his little quirks and continued, "Where did Lyle and the others take my brother?"

Broots eye's grew wide. Unless she was referring to Sydney, which he very much doubted, this was - "Are you...Jarod's sister?"

No wonder they dumped this guy in the woods "Just answer the question Mr..." She quickly shot a glance in the direction she came from, trying to see if Alex had woken up, but from where she was standing there was no way she could tell.

"- Broots" he said carefully, hoping it would not anger the girl with the gun. As he continued to look at her there was no doubt in his mind that she was related to Jarod. She had the same determination, same brown hair. And most of all she scared the crap out of him, but in a different way than anyone at the Centre. Just like Jarod.

She rubbed her forehead in frustration, "Could you please just answer the question? It would make my life a whole lot easier. " She turned her head again, she needed a glimpse of that psycho.

"Yeah, um...of course." Broots muttered trying desperately to remember what the question was so he could answer it. Luckily for him, his mind decided to work with him for once, "They were going to bring him back to the Centre...I think"


"Great" Emily sighed deeply. It took her genius brother more than 20 years to figure out how to get out of that place, now she had to do it in less than a day. And she didn't even have positive confirmation he was there. "Just...great." The only hope she had would be if she could get to him before he got inside the building. Even if you ignored the bit of him being surrounded by trained professionals the idea was a little sketchy. Not only would she have to drive in her current state of mind but -

"Excuse me, ms?" Broots said and looked slightly horrified down at her now brightly red shirt, effectively breaking her fragile train of thought, "You seem to be... bleeding..." Broots said and pointed carefully at her stomach.

"Tell me something I don't know," she muttered under her breath. As she reached into one of her pockets to pull out some more duck tape in hopes of stopping the worst of the bleeding, her fingers connected with Alex' keys and an idea formed in her head. "Mr Broots, do you know how to drive?"

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Thursday
Chapter 25 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Thanks for many, many (many!) lovely reviews

--

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

Check end notes for when the next chapter is scheduled to arrive

 

Jarod turned around and looked back up at the Sydney's cabin as the car sped down the driveway. He knew he was watching his freedom and very probably his very sense of self, thanks to those shots of Lyle's, disappear down that long dirt path. A flash of sunlight off a shiny object caught his attention, but before he could see what it was, Sam elbowed him in the ribs and told him to face forward. He glared at Sam in frustration, but did as he was told. But a possible escape scenario was forming in his brain.

He slouched down in his seat and softly started moaning, as if in pain. He closed his eyes, grabbed his stomach, and started swallowing non-stop. He hoped that anyone watching him would think that he was getting sick. He felt a hand on his shoulder and heard Sydney's soft whisper asking if he was all right. He groaned again and leaned forward.

“I’m gonna be sick,” he mumbled just barely loud enough for the other occupants to hear.

“Swallow it,” he heard from the driver’s seat.

“Parker, I think you better pull over. He got sick all over the backseat of my car earlier.”

Jarod was surprised that it was Lyle encouraging Parker to pull over, but he wasn’t about to stop him. He gave a couple of heaves just for the fun of it.

The car was barely stopped when Sydney was pulling him out and over to the side of the dirt road. He dropped to his knees, looking back the way they came to see if anyone was there. He could see the dust thrown up from a speeding car and pretended to heave some more, buying time for the approaching vehicle. He quickly looked down, hoping no one else notice what he had seen, and missed the fishtailing stop the other car made.

Parker glared into the rearview mirror as Jarod began to moan loudly, obviously caught in some cross between a hellish nightmare and a drug induced stupor.

"Syd, shut him up," she commanded smoothly and rolled her eyes as the shrink tried to gently coax the pretender back to reality. With a shake of her head, she slammed on the breaks, causing all the occupants of the car to lurch forwards.


“Where did you learn to drive, Parker?” Lyle snapped, grabbing the dashboard while his head slammed against the window with a loud crack. “We need to get there alive, if you don’t mind.”

"When it comes to you, I do mind," she snapped back before catching Jarod's eye in the rearview mirror. "Welcome back to the land of the living," she patronized, ignoring Sydney's chiding at her unnecessary remark. "While you were dancing with the sugarplum fairies, Lyle was writing you are one way ticket to Coxes' chamber of wonders."

“Speaking of which, I think that we should give Jarod his dose now and not wait till we’re at the Centre. If he deteriorates any further there might not be enough left to work with. You don’t want that, do you, Parker?” Lyle asked as he takes the syringe out of his pocket, an eyebrow raised in familiar Parker fashion.

Parker didn't miss a beat, slamming her foot against the brake and watching again as all occupants lurched forward. She glanced over with false enthusiasm, "Did you manage to stab yourself that time Dr. Jekyll?"

Lyle ignored his sister while he scrambled to get the syringe of the floor before it rolled under the seat. He snagged it just as she did another hairpin turn, spinning the car around a corner and narrowly missing the oncoming truck that filled the windscreen for a second. He couldn’t help the swear words that escaped as he glared at his sister while hoping that he hadn’t look too much like loosing his cool.

I wouldn’t do for Jarod and Sydney to see his sweaty palms. And he understood clearly why no-one at the Centre except her team wanted to be in a car with Parker.

She clearly was insane.

“Can you maybe slow down a bit, Sis? I don’t want Jarod to throw up in the car. It’s hell to get it cleaned up afterwards.”


Parker ignored him once again. "Tell me Lyle, what's in that syringe that is so damn precious? It's obviously turning Jarod into Sesame Streets target audience. You want him delivered to the Centre, we need answers, and by gauging how fast the miles on the odometer are flying by, you better start talking fast."

Lyle was silent for a moment as he contemplated how much to tell his sister, aware that hers wasn’t the only ears in the car. But as he briefly met the Pretender’s eyes in the rearview mirror, he decided that Jarod knowing wouldn’t change the outcome.

“It’s a drug devised by the Triumvirate to get that stubborn streak out of wonder boy and make him an ideal employee at the Centre. “


Parker snorted. "That's about as far fetched as you finding yourself with a new appendage."

“Fine, you don’t have to believe me, but I’ve seen the results and it works.”

Seeing that Lyle was being forthcoming she continued to press, "And who is running the show? Cox?"

“Amongst others. You don’t really want to get involved, Parker. It could get you a one way ticket booked to Africa if you’re not careful.”

"Save me the false concern Lyle. You only show it when you want me out of the way to continue with some idiot scheme to gain more corporate power. Have you ever considered that you are as much of a pawn in this as Jarod? That Cox is letting you know only what he wants and stringing you along?" Parker asked pointedly.

“I know what I’m doing, Parker. Do you?”

"Is that how you are controlling your madman Alex? This miracle concoction?"

“Alex? What makes you think Alex is involved?” Lyle asked innocently, his hand straying casually to his gun.

Jarod looked around. The dirt road he was on had disappeared and Lyle's grinning face was smirking at him from over the front passenger seat and heard his remark about becoming an ideal employee at the Centre.

"Not an employee, don't wanna go there. Don't, don't, don't." He started kicking at Lyle's seat in between Miss Parker's wild starts and stops.

"Don't like it there. Like the sun and ice cream and PEZ and going outside and " Sydney sucessfully hushed him at that point and Jarod bounced back in his seat and started pouting. Then the thrill of bouncing announced itself in his brain and he started bouncing back and forth in the seat.

"Boing, boing, boing. Bouncy, bounce bounce." Jarod started singing along with his bounces, much to the astonishment of his fellow passengers.

Then Jarod caught sight of the syringe Lyle was holding and he totally lost what little self-control he had left. He started fighting with Sam and Sydney, trying to get out of the moving vehicle; screaming the whole time about there being "no more Jarod".

The bouncing was frightening for so many reasons. Jarod was losing his grip on reality and it was all due to this mysterious drug, that same drug that Lyle was attempting to inject the pretender with now. Sydney couldn't bare the thought of seeing Jarod slip even further away from him. He grabbed one of Jarod's arms in an attempt to subdue his frantic scrambling for the door. Sam was doing a far better job physically, but verbally, Sydney was able to calm him back into a mumbling state of worry.

"Don't you dare touch him, Lyle," Sydney warned with a rough edge to his smooth voice, the kind that said this psychiatrist might just be ready to blow in crazy and unpredictable ways and nobody in this car wanted to witness that. "Whatever will be done can at least wait until we're at the Centre, which judging by Miss Parker's driving, shouldn't take very long."

Jarod continued mumbling obscure nonsense, but Sydney managed to stop the bouncing and the kicking which was definite progress. He was rubbing a circle into one of Jarod's shoulders in order to soothe him.

"It's all right, Jarod. I promise, nobody's going to hurt you. Everything's going to be fine."

He prayed he wasn't lying this time.

--

Emily shot a glance at the funny little bald man desperately trying to make the key hit the ignition, as he had been for the past four minutes or so. Of all the things she'd pictured when the word 'Centre employee' came to mind, this had not been one of them. Alex on the other hand... The moment the thought struck her she automatically became more aware of the things outside the car, doing her best to see if anything was moving in their direction. She had no idea how long the drugs took to wear of, for all she knew he could be waking up any minute now. Which was why she needed to get away.

She rubbed her wrist, it was getting sore from clutching the gun for so long, a feeling she hoped to never repeat after today, "So besides hunting down Jarod like a stray dog, what is it you do at the Centre, Mr Broots?"



"I'm a computer engineer" Broots said and tried once again to make the key hit the tiny little hole of the ignition. He did not do well under pressure, and having a gun pointed at him definitively qualified as pressure.


"Figures," Emily muttered under her breath, almost groaning in despair from his lack of of coordinative skills. She was afraid to think what might happen if he finally got this thing out on the road.

Broots chose to ignore that comment, seeing as she was holding a gun and all, and simply carried on trying to complete the seemingly uncomplicated task of getting object A into slot B.

She was staring at him rather intently so Broots decided to try and start up a conversation. After all he had gotten rather good at it after that little stint in the T-Board cell, "So how did you end up in the middle of all of this? At White Cloud of all places."


"I'm not sure," She said quietly, not willing to elaborate too much on that fact seeing as he was working for the same cooperation as her kidnapper did. Why couldn't he just get that damn car started? She wanted to get out of her now, while she still had a microscopic chance of locating and releasing her brother.

Broots' key-movments became more forceful as he closed one of his eyes, hoping it would help him with his aim. "What do you mean 'you're not sure'? Can't be that difficult to remember."

"It is when you are unconscious," Her eyes followed the direction of the keys, and it was making her dizzy, a feeling she'd had more than her fair share of in the past few days.

Finally she got tired of waiting and decided to take matters into her own hands. In one smooth motion she leaned forward, grabbed the keys from his hand and pushed them firmly into the ignition. A small smile graced her lips and she could hear a sigh of relief from the seat next to her.

She grabbed the key and tried to twist it, "Now all we've got to do is - " She stopped mid sentence, it wouldn't budge. She tried again - no luck. She tried a third time, and a fourth time, each time putting just a little more pressure on the delicate metal object.


"Eh...miss," Broots said cautiously as he watched her push the key harder and harder in an attempt to turn the ignition on, "Be careful so it doesn't -"

- snap -

"...break"


"Oh you've got to be kidding me!"

With half of the key sealed into the ignition and the other part in her hand, Emily felt like shooting something. And for once, 'it' wasn't Alex.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Tuesday
Chapter 26 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey boys and girls, mostly girls for some reason (always is in the pretender fandom. Not complaining, not at all. Just wondering). Aaanywho, new chapter.

Enjoy 

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

Check end notes for when the next chapter is scheduled to arrive

 

“W-where are you going?” Broots asked timidly as she stepped out of the car and started walking towards the woods, everything he had in his pockets now in hers.

“To find a spare key,”

After giving him clear instructions not to go anywhere, though she doubted the fear stricken guy could move even if he wanted to, Emily slowly began walking back into the woods.

There was nothing that could help her in the house, she knew that much, but she still couldn’t believe she was doing this. Then again she could say that about pretty much everything she’d been doing in the past couple of days.

Clicking off the safety she prepared herself for what was coming, and with a sugary sweet voice she greeted him, “Hello Alex.”


“Emily,” Alex said stoically. He was still hazy, his thoughts running at a thousand miles a second. He willed himself to control his pesky neurons, while Jarod’s sister fazed in and out of his vision. He frowned slightly when he thought he noticed Mr Broots’ cowardly shadow behind her. “Wh....” swallowing, he tried again and was a little bit more successful when he managed to say, “Why you still here?”

Following Alex’ gaze she spotted the little man hiding behind her. “Didn’t I tell you to wait by the car?” Apparently no one at the Centre bothered to teach him basic survival skills like not following the person threatening you with a gun.

She turned back to face the somewhat drugged up man, “Bashful over here broke the key. You feel like taking a ride Alex?”


Alex shrugged. “No.”

She tried to look Alex in the eyes, but they were flicking around so much that was next to impossible. “Ok, allow me to rephrase then. You and you,” she turned to face Mr Broots who has slowly started the process of creeping back to the car. “Are going to help me get Jarod away from whoever has him. You” she turned back to face Alex, will make one of the cars start and figure out who is holding him. Now if I need to drug you to make that happen, I will.”

Alex blinked, wondering if he had heard right. Managing to get Broots’ face into focus, he decided that it hadn’t been an illusion. Emily was clearly under the impression that he was going to help her.

“And you think….drugging is going….to help?” he asked incredulously, pleasantly surprised when his found he was less tongue tied than before. Ideas was starting a spark in his brain, letting him know that his intellect was slowly returning over the hill, back from wherever it had decided to go off to.


“Well, I don’t know, I’m not exactly the designated medication expert here.” She looked down at her gun, she knew it had been a crazy idea, but unfortunately crazy was the best she had. The wound on her stomach still hurt like hell and she couldn’t help but flinch a little by a sudden gust of pain that washed over her. "She looked up again, desperation evident in her voice, "Please?"

Alex stared at her for a long time, weighting his options that lay like an open book before him. He had so many choices and this was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Emily was obviously hurt – now that he could finally see better, he had noticed the blood on her shirt - and she had no idea what she was doing.

And he could get Jarod back under his control with the unintended help of his sister.

Now that would be classic.

He could use that fact to break Jarod down even further and to control his sister. He had no doubt that he’d be able to get the gun from her once he was completely rid of the last dregs of the drug she had given. Broots wouldn’t be a problem at all.

Smiling, and without any further adieu, he said, “Okay.”


She looked him in the eyes, trying to determine why exactly he was doing this. It had been a crazy plan, one she hadn’t expected him to agree to, at least not this easily.

A sudden movement in her pocket snapped her from her musings, his phone was ringing. She should know better than to agree to this, but she needed his help. And for now he seemed content sticking to her plan.

If those circumstances changed, she knew how to fire a gun; her father had made sure of that.

She picked the disposable cell out of her pocket and held it out for him, “Here, try to figure out where they’re taking him.” Like her mother always said, trust can kill you or set you free.

The moment he took it she raised her gun, “If I see anything suspicious I won’t hesitate to shoot.”

--

Jarod leaned into Sydney's hand as it continued to rub circles on his shoulder. The soothing motion helped divert his attention from the ominous needle in the front seat and the meanie holding it. He looked out the window next to Sydney, picking that window so he wouldn't have to look at Lyle, and watched all the cars they were passing. This pastime didn't last long before a deep grumbling growl had everyone looking at him.

"I'm hungry," he stated. "Can we stop for some ice cream?"

No one answered his question and Sydney just started rubbing his shoulder again.

"Hey, I'm hungry!"

Sydney hushed him and in frustration he started kicking the back of the front seats. Then he noticed the evil glares coming from the front of the car and they scared him into stopping. He bounced back in to his seat and crossed his arms, glaring staight out the front window and pouting at how mean they all were.

Then a new sensation made itself known and he started squirming in his seat. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore and he poked Sydney on the thigh to get his attention.

"Sydney, I have to go to the bathroom" he announced in a loud whisper.

"You have got to be kidding me..." Parker muttered under her breath as Jarod launched into another childish episode. What the hell Lyle and the idiots from Africa thought they could accomplish with this drug was beyond her. Another five minutes of this behavior and she might be tempted to start using bullets to give her mind a moment's peace. She somehow doubted that even Sydney with his eternal patience could stomach the thought of trying to get the latest Elmo fanatic into sim mode.

Parker's answer to Jarod's pathetic plea was to step even further on the gas.

"What, did Papa Syd forget to pack your pampers?" she asked, glaring at Lyle as she spoke.

There wasn't enough caffeine, nicotine or alcohol in the world to make this situation better.

--

Alex closed the phone and smiled at Emily. “Change of plans. Jarod is going to Africa tonight.”

Emily frowned, "Why would they - " The look in Alex’ eyes quickly made her conclude this was one Centre secret she was better off not knowing, for now. "Ok, they’re probably going by plane, that’s a fair assumption right?” She had never been very good at leaps of faith, so she felt she could with some certainty say that the pretender gift had skipped a sibling, “So…they’ll be going to an airport. Did your contact tell you were?”

Alex had to stop himself from rolling his eyes at her idiotic questions. He sighed and leaned back against the tree, lifting an eyebrow in expectation of her reaction to his next words.

“So, what exactly are you prepared to give up to save your brother from hell? Because I can promise you this, if he gets in the Africans hands, you’ll never see him again.”


"You of all people should know the answer to that question by now.” She said over confidently. If it came down to it, she had no idea what she might do, looking down at the gun in her hand only strengthened the uncertainty, but for now she would just have to keep believing whatever it was it would be the right thing. She turned her attention to the clearing further ahead, “I assume you can pretend your way into picking a lock Alex, because we’re going to need a car.”

Alex laughed. He found the whole situation amusing. If it wasn’t for the fact that Emily had the gun… speaking of which, “Give me the gun and we’ll see what I can and can’t do.” His eyes cold, the smile gone, he stretched his hand out and waited for her decision.

She instantly clicked off the safety and raised her hand, "I may not know a whole lot about hotwiring, but I’m pretty sure you don’t need bullets to start a car.” Her gaze switched intermittingly between Alex and the trigger, and she continued with a sharp but steady voice, “Now do as the person holding the gun is telling you to and move away. Don’t they teach you guys anything at the Centre?” She cast a quick glance over at Mr. Broots who was currently covering behind a couple of shrubs before looking back up at Alex,

“I will not hesitate to shoot you. If you don’t believe me, then please take a moment and think back to what measures I’ve resorted to since you met me. Then ask yourself, why wouldn’t I fire the gun?” This wasn’t her. Holding a gun, threatening people. She didn’t know what she was capable of anymore, and it scared her more than she liked to admit.


“Then pull the trigger, sweetheart. I’m not going anywhere until you give me the gun.” With that statement done, he tilted his head and gave her an empty smile.

“Get a grip Alex, gaping holes in your vital organs will be no good when you finally go to that airport, and I know you will.” Emily said more confidently than she felt. If he didn’t cooperate now, she would have to shoot, and honestly she would prefer not to.

“Tick tock, darling,” Alex said as he glanced down at his watch. “This is getting old and I think that you’d like to be at the airport before brother dearest boards the plane to the land of no return. If you don’t trust me with the gun then give it to Mr Broots. I’m sure we’ll both trust him not to know how to use it.”

Although she was somewhat weary of leaving her life in the hands of a certain tech, she was glad to rid herself of the gun and the cramp that came with it. It might not have been as good a solution as she’d hoped, but it was far better than what she’d feared. “Fine,” she walked towards Mr. Broots, not turning her back on either of them for a second, “Take it”

“Oh nononono,” Broots shook his hands vigorously, this was definitively not a good idea.

“I said ‘take it’!” She yelled into the little guys ear, closely emulating a drill sergeant. Obviously he was used to that kind of behavior, because he responded immediately, grabbing the gun by the barrel and holding it straight out behind him, as far away from both Emily, Alex and himself as Brootsly possible. And this was the man keeping her from certain death, great.

She returned her attention back to Alex, while still keeping a close eye on the man with the gun, “Now would you please go start a car? Any car, there are plenty to choose from out there.”


Alex rose smartly and smirked. “You ready?” When Emily nodded, he extended an arm and waited for her to lead the way. Broots scrambled past him awkwardly. A moment later he followed the duo.

All he had to do now was scare Mr Broots to death with one of his glares and he’d have the gun back. He could wait for was the moment when Jarod was back in his care before he did that.

Yup, things were definitely looking good.

--


Jarod's squirming in the back seat was getting worse and his stomach was growling louder than Miss Parker was. He was ignoring Sydney's alternating attempts at both game playing and at asking him to settle down.

"I want some ice cream," he mumbled only loud enough for Sydney and Sam to hear him. "Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream."

"OWWWW! You hit me! Meanie! Sydney, he hit me!" Jarod started sobbing, but looked at Sydney from the corner of his eye."

Jarod was going to get louder, but then he saw Miss Parker glare at him from the rear view mirror and Lyle turning towards him, syringe in hand.

He slouched down into his seat and folded his arms as best as he could in pure frustrated anger.

The car was absolutely silent for the next fifteen minutes, but then Jarod caught sight of something that truly terrified him. The car sped through a curve in the road and there straight in front of them loomed the Centre. The little bit of grown up still accessible in Jarod's mind started screaming and the two year old controlling his body followed along. His screams pierced the silence in the car and his attempts to get out of the moving vehicle made his earlier tries seem like a minor inconvience. Somehow, during his struggles, he was turned sideways on the seat and he used that to his advantage. He repeatedly kicked at Sam, trying to push him out of the way. His struggles were causing the handcuffs to cut into his wrists and the blood was spraying across the interior of the car. But all that Jarod could see was the beige fortress growing in front of him.

"NOOOOOOO!!"

--

Broots readjusted his seatbelt to keep it from sawing into his stomach while silently wowing to never complain about Miss Parker's driving ever again. Maybe she didn't slow down an awful lot before a turn, but unlike Alex, at least she didn't hit the throttle.

The carsickness Broots had heard Jarod had been suffering from obviously didn't run in the family because since the moment Emily discovered there was food in the glove compartment she'd been happily chewing away on his precious funions, it looked as if she hadn't eaten in days.

Broots was glad Alex had picked Sydney's car to hotwire. Ever since the Lyle's license plate had been returned in the mail Broots had been hearing rumors of some sort of voice recognizing based booby trap for cars that was being developed down in SL23, and he wasn't terribly eager to find out whether or not that rumor had been true. Besides, if they were going to drive for a long time it might get a little nippy, and then he could simply grab a jacket from his luggage in the back, he couldn't do that in Lyle's car.

He was a little insulted that no one at the Centre had bothered to as much as call to see that he was ok, they were after all well aware that they had dumped him in the woods while someone was inside Sydney's cabin. For all they knew it could have been a crazy axe murderer, actually that wasn't too far from the truth. But he supposed they did have a pretty good excuse, after all they weren't very used to actually catching Jarod, maybe they were having trouble figuring out where to put him.

So he decided not to think about that anymore and instead use his time more productively in coming up with an escape plan of his own, which he eventually did, one he was rather proud of actually. Sure, it might not be something Miss Parker would have done, but then again most things he was comfortable with wasn't. His plan was as following: For now he would do exactly what they told him to, then as soon as anyone from the Centre arrived and the inevitable showdown started he would simply slide onto the other side and hide behind Miss Parker, before the shooting started of course. Yes, with a little luck it could be that simple, and he was way overdue for a little luck.

And from what he could detect from the hushed arguing coming from the front seat it would be about half an hour before they reached their destination, a small Centre owned airport about a half an hour away from their current location.

He rubbed his wrist, he was starting to understand why Emily had been so cranky earlier, holding a gun was very stressful. He constantly had to make sure his finger wasn't on the trigger so that he didn't shoot anything without meaning to, and he had to keep pushing back in place the loose thing on the bottom so it didn't fall out completely, "the clip" Miss Parker used to call it, but like everything else on a gun he had no idea if it even served a purpose. Maybe it was a little gun-appendix.

On top of that he had to stay alert at all times so that no one, like Alex, tried to grab the gun from him and shoot him in the head with it. Or the knee. The knee would probably be just as bad except that Debbie would still have a father, that was if he didn't bleed to death.

Broots was snapped out of his train of depressive thoughts as Alex' wild driving reached new heights. While not letting go of the gas pedal for even a second he made what could only be described as a V-turn, leaving the car hovering ever so slightly in the brisk air. By the time it landed on the unpaved dirt road they just pulled into, Broots found himself sitting with the loose piece on the gun in one hand, and the rest of the weapon in the other.

Alex and Emily were in the middle of a heated discussion, so Broots didn't really dare putting the loose piece back in it's hole, afraid that if it made a sound it might infuse the situation further or make Alex to turn his current rage on him instead of Emily. So instead he put it in his right pant pocket before readjusting the belt one more time.

All he had to do was slide and hide, and this nightmare would be over once and for all.

Chapter End Notes:
New chapter: Saturday I believe
Chapter 27 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey again. Sorry about slight delay (in my defence, I was only a day off) enjoy new chap. 

 

---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

Check end notes for when the next chapter is scheduled to arrive

 

"I wish to be notifed the very second of their arrival," Cox informed the sweeper, "The very moment, understood?"

At the soft 'yes sir' Cox dismissed him and sighed heavily. This had been a most frustrating experience. He would be glad to be returning to Africa, they knew how to get things done over there. This place was like a circus and until certain individuals were removed, it would remain so.

He would be accompanying Jarod back to Africa, to ensure there was no repeat of last time and he would also ensure that the "Scooby Gang", as he had heard them called, was nowhere near his cargo.

Once they had arrived, he would see to the proper securing of Jarod and then they could be on their way. He would deal with Lyle's idiocy upon his return once Jarod was safely delivered, and the T-board fiasco as well.

--


Parker came to a not so gentle start in front of the ominous front doors of the Centre. She turned around and glared at two of the three occupants of the backseat, "Not one damn word," hoping to silence both Sydney's and Jarod's protests.

Cox put the phone down and looked at his watch. They had made his deadline, but only just. Now the fun was about to begin. He would see Jarod processed quickly and secured for transport, the plane already organized, and sweepers he trusted ready to move. Nobody was going to mess this up for him now, he was too close to this being over and finally getting his stalled career back on track.

Lyle smiled and got out of the car, watching Cox descend the stairs. They had been parked for less than a minute before the Triumvirate agent had showed up with a whole phalanx of sweepers. He could hear Jarod’s protest at his sister’s command and somewhere in between Sydney’s attempts to calm the pouting Pretender. Soon the sweepers that had come down with Cox had opened the back door and he watched as they dragged Jarod out.

“One Pretender, delivered as promised.”


Parker turned and frowned at the appearance of the triumvirate goons, she turned at look at Cox with a raised eyebrow, "Even for the Ronald McDonald worshipper, this is quite the welcome wagon."

"Intact I hope," he said with a smile. "Miss Parker, your job is now complete, and the Triumvirate thanks you for it. I will expect your preliminary report on my desk within the hour. We leave in 90 minutes."

Miss Parker jumped in before Sydney could be given a chance, "Just where exactly do you think you are going? Jarod belongs to the Centre and I did not just waste five years of my life being tormented by him just to see him be whisked away by a man who spends the better of his life obsessing over road kill."

"That is correct Miss Parker," he said smoothly. "He does indeed belong to the Centre, which in turn belongs to the Triumvirate and we must all answer to them, including myself." He looked at Lyle who was yet to say anything and knew that despite being an incompetent fool, he had brains enough to resist aggravating this situation. "I believe you know where and you have nobody to blame but yourself if you did not catch him sooner now hmmm?" he asked, the smile not slipping from his face, not reacting to her insult. Seemed the woman could barely open her mouth without being irritating and it gave him some sympathy for her hapless teammates, although it was only fleeting.

Needing a moment to absorb Coxes' words, Parker turned her venomous tongue towards Lyle. "You had Alex doing your dirty work, but in the end your no different than him, Gumbi had more spine than you do."

Lyle’s eyes darkened perceptively. “Alex had nothing to do with any of this, Parker. I know how boy wonder’s brains work. If it hadn’t been for me, you’d still be running after him on some godforsaken road to nowhere.”

"Ah, Alex" Cox said turned to Lyle, shaking his head in disapproval. "Surely you knew how unstable he is, you were a fool to involve him." He could see Sydney wanted to chip in his bit too but hopefully the old bastard would be too concerned with Jarod and follow him like a little lost puppy.

Parker clenched her jaw and took a step back from Lyle, "You never change Lyle. Every other word that spews out of your mind is a rotten lie. While I'll admit to a few failures on the road to capturing Jarod, I think no one has as pathetic a failure as you, loosing him weeks after his initial recapture."

"Enough," Cox said sharply, although he didn't raise his voice, in no mood for this childish bickering. "I believe there are reports to write up. I will be accompanying Jarod on the flight and upon my return there will be some restructuring."

Parker caught Sydney's eyes, and pleaded with him to stay silent. The last thing she wanted was to turn Jarod over to Africa like he was yesterday's news. She has seriously underestimated Cox's role and authority in this. "This isn't over Cox." Parker warned.

Lyle’s eyes narrowed as he stared at Cox, trying to figure out what the man meant by his words. If it hadn’t been for him, Cox wouldn’t have the Pretender back at the Centre. He'd still be in Who Ville saving the little guy and not back in the Centre, where he belonged. He silently shared Parker's sentiment.

This was as far from over as it can possibly be.


"Oh and Cox," Parker added, "Don't forget his Huggies."

Cox frowned at the reference, not understanding, but let it pass. "No it isn't," he agreed, deliberately misunderstanding them. "It will be very soon though, once the cargo is delivered safely. Tick tock children." he smiled at them both, feeling the hate coming from Miss Parker and the confusion from Lyle. He almost felt sorry for Lyle, so decided to throw him a bone. "The position for chair will need to be filled," he said as he turned around, wondering if they would rip each other apart over it, which would certainly be a good outcome, or if Miss Parker actually did want to go back to her boring and mundane existence in corporate.

--

Cox moved down to where he had told them to hold Jarod until he was prepped for transport, needing to ensure that there were no more screw ups. Parker and Lyle were no doubt off bickering about who took the credit and Sydney most likely would be already trying to appeal the current decisions. He walked into the room and stopped in surprise at what he saw. "What is this?" he asked calmly.

Jarod heard the new voice and increased the intensity of his screams. He knew the new person, he knew he did, he just couldn't pull the name out of his rapidly fading memory. The only things he knew for sure was that he was back in the hurting place and that he didn’t want to be there. “Wanna go outside! Don’t like it here! Outside, outside, WANT TO GO OUTSIDE!”

Cox blinked in surprise and let out a long slow breath. "What you want is of no consequence here Pretender," he said slowly, trying to determine if he was pretending, or this was some kind of side effect. They would have his balls if Jarod was damaged intellectually, and then he would make sure both Lyle and Alex paid, and paid dearly, for a sustained period of time.

Jarod threw himself down on the ground and started kicking and hitting the floor. “NO LIKE IT HERE, WANT OUTSIDE!” He saw the sweepers coming closer and scrambled to his feet and ran to a corner to hide. “NO, GO AWAY!”

"Restrain him," Cox said in disgust at the display of infantile behaviour. "Soft restraints, don't want him hurting himself," he added. "Draw some blood too, I need to see precisely what is in his system."

Jarod saw the sweeper with the needle coming his way and started fighting the black suited meanies holding him down. He felt a couple of solid kicks landing and he got one good bite in before someone hit him in the stomach. That stopped the tantrum but started a crying jag, sounding more and more like the exhausted and scared two year old he was regressing to. He was secured into a straight jacket with very little problem.

--

Emily continued to scarf down on whatever hideous snack she’d found hidden in the glove compartment, she hadn’t eaten in days so even this would have to do. But it wasn’t only the taste that was making it hard to keep down, Alex’ driving did its part as well. “Could you slow down a bit? Getting there two minutes earlier isn’t going to help much if Mr. Broots’ trigger finger gets a bit wobbly.”

“We’re on a deadline, sweetheart with the emphasis being on getting there on time to save Jarod from the big bad Africans. So just hold your mouth for a second while I concentrate on what I’m doing here.”

“And what exactly is that?” She did her best to remove some of the previously crunchy now gooey substance that was clinging to her teeth like cement. “Do you have anything figured out after getting before them to the airport?”

“Yeah.”

“And that would be..?” She’d long given up on removing the funions without a dentist present, or at least a toothbrush and now focused all her energy on Alex, hoping to gain some kind of insight to what was going on inside that head of his. “Alex I’m not trained like you guys. Believe it or not but I need time to think, and prepare. I don’t do improvisation, ok?”

“Now you’re the resident idiot? I don’t believe that for one second, Emily,” Alex sneered as he spun the car around a bend, narrowly missing a tree that sat flush against the side of the road. He bought the car to a screeching standstill, the dust swirling in the air around him. Turning to Emily, he said “I’ll explain everything once we’ve lost tech boy.” Switching his gaze from Emily to look pointedly at Broots, he said, “Well, Mr Broots, are you getting out or do you require some assistance?”

“W-what?” Broots practically jumped out of his thoughts and banged his head on the ceiling for good measure. They were letting him go? Just like that? “Could I get my bag first please? It’s in the trunk.” He plastered on what he hoped looked like a winning smile. They were letting him go!

“What do you think, Mr Broots?” Alex asked and gave the frightened tech his best smile, knowing the effect it would have on the idiot. "Oh and leave the gun." He watched as Broots nodded dejectedly and silently got out of the car. He barely gave the tech a chance to close the door before he slammed his foot down on the accelerator.

After Broots gets out of the car, he grinned sheepishly and drew a large breath of fresh air. He was free!

Back in the car Emily watched the tech disappear into a cloud of dust in the rearview mirror, relieved that Alex left him with the gun. Regardless of if it was forgetfulness or something more sinister, if there was one thing they didn't need if this strange collaboration was ever going to work, it was a lethal weapon. “Ok, Mr. Broots is gone, now what’s the plan?”

“It’s simple really. Drug the food, wait until everybody sleeps and then redirect the plane to our destination of choice. After that, who knows?” He grinned and gave her a wink. “So, sweetheart, you up for some flying?”

Ignoring the not so subtle remark she muttered, “Guess I don’t have much of a choice do I?” Then she turned towards the road and crossed her arms before saying, this time loud and clear, “What do you need me to do?”

--

Parker waited behind the large support beam in the lobby, her face hardening as Lyle came into view. Time for a little sibling confrontation. She revealed herself just as Lyle passed by the beam, enjoying his slight startle. "Well played, Lyle." She said sarcastically, giving him an exaggerated thumb up.

Lyle rolled his eyes. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with neither his sister nor some more verbal sparring. “Not now, Sis. I’m busy,” he said as he tried to brush past her on his way to the elevator.

Parker wasn't about to let him get away that easily. She back stepped, and stopped him with her outstretched hand. "Going back to lick your wounds? I warned you that this was not going to run out in your favor. Not only has Cox apparently decided he deserves a more supervisory role in running this wretched establishment, he's taking the one thing that truly does belong at the Centre.”

“Yeah, well. Things happen.” Lyle shrugged his shoulders, his eyes warning her to step away. He wasn’t about to include her in his plans. The chair rightfully belonged to him and didn’t need his sister’s interference in his plans again. Glancing at his watch, he looked at her pointedly and said, “Don’t you have a report to write?”

"Recounting your idiocy is going to take a hell of a lot longer than ninety minutes." Parker countered.

“I see your sense of humor is still intact, Parker. What do you want?” Lyle said. He desperately wanted to cut this conversation short. He needed to call Alex and find out what the man’s plans were. And if still could control the psychopath.

"I don't joke." Parker replied. "I want to know all about your little madman, and exactly what your intentions are with Jarod's sister. You've clearly done a number on wonder boy’s brain, and if one little hair is harmed on that redhead, I can't imagine the ramifications if he were to find out."

“In case you haven’t noticed, wunderkind’s brain is slightly left of the ozone at the moment. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Sis. And what makes you think that I know the whereabouts of Emily?”

"Drop the act Lyle. I'm pretty sure at least half the occupants of Renewal Wing could piece together these facts. I want answers, and I want them now."

“Get in line, Parker. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have things to do, people to see. I’m sure Mr Broots is still waiting for you at White Cloud. Maybe you should try and rescue him and stop wasting my time with your unproven accusations.”

Parker rolled her eyes, Lyle truly was a moron. "You listen to me Lyle, and listen carefully. Conspiring with Alex is like playing Russian roulette, you won't win. He has one, and only purpose to his sordid life and that is to destroy everyone and everything that ever had anything to do with the Centre. He may be your willing slave right now, but underneath it all he's just waiting to make his move. Jarod and his family may be his target of an hour, but guaranteed as his keeper over in Africa, you are on his short list."

“You done.” Lyle sneered. When Miss Parker didn’t reply, he brushed past her and made his way to the elevators. He was well aware how precarious his hold on Alex was. He didn’t need to hear it from Parker as well.

Parker shook her head as she watched Lyle's form disappear into the elevator. Things were going from bad to worse. Looking at her watch she pulled out her cell phone, slamming it shut as Broots’ cell cut straight to voicemail. What now? Opening her phone again she dialed Sydney's phone extension, knowing the shrink would be sulking in his office. "Syd, it's me. We need to get moving - and fast."

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Hmmm.... Thursday
Chapter 28 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

 Again, a day off, but oh well at least you get a new chap. Thanks again for reviews, it is much appreciated

 ---

Each character is written by a different author (well almost, some writers add on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character has a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

Check end notes for when the next chapter is scheduled to arrive

Cox had absolutely no desire to converse with Jarod, knowing he was not going to get anything useful out of him at this rate. He also had much to organise and now very little time to do it in.

Retiring to his office, watching the feed to Jarod's cell absently, he arranged his papers and made the calls he needed to. The reason for the urgency meant that it was less likely that anybody could organise any kind of rescue attempt.

When the preliminary bloodwork was handed to him, he threw it in his briefcase without even looking at it. There would be plenty of time during the flight to catch up on all the reports. The complete analysis could be emailed to him later.

It was finally time to go, and he was not sorry to see the back of this place with its incompetency, bickering and feuds, which of course, only assisted the Pretender.

--

Jarod sat in the hard wooden chair and glared at the sweeper in with him. The mean man had hit him earlier when Jarod had tried to get up from the chair. He stuck his tongue out at the man when he wasn't looking, but that didn't made him feel any better.

"Wanna go outside; don't like it here." He mumbled rebelliously. "Want the outside and the sun and some ice cream and no more mean mens."

"Shut up before I hit you again," the sweeper glared back at Jarod. "Some genius, can't even figure out when to keep your mouth shut."

"Want Sydney, you mean poopy-head. Don't like you, want Sydney."

"Yeah, well I don't like you either and shut up before I shut your mouth for you."

Jarod's attention was diverted from the sweeper by the cell door opening and Sam walking in with a couple of other sweepers.

"Time to go, Rat."

"NO! Don't want to go with you. Want Sydney! SYDNEY!!!!," he screamed through the open door.

Sam motioned to the sweepers with him and they grabbed Jarod by his straight-jacketed arms and pulled him to his feet.

"You can either walk or be dragged, doesn't matter to me." Sam told Jarod, almost gleefully. "Either way, you are going."

"NOOOOO!!! SYDNEY!!!!" Jarod started struggling but the sweepers had the advantage and they propelled Jarod out of the cell and down to the garage. Cox was waiting by the car and that scared Jarod almost as much as Lyle with his needles did.

--

Cox waited as the struggling and noisy Jarod was being hauled along and he knew that this was going to be a very long trip. He would have him sedated as soon as he knew it was safe to do so. "Get him in," he snapped the order at the phalanx of sweepers. He didn't trust Sam to do this job alone, or properly, hence there was a suitbable escort this time.

The adult, Centre-wary part of Jarod’s brain started screaming when he saw the open car door, the sweepers and Cox. The terror in the adult part transmitted itself to the child controlling the body and Jarod started fighting to get away as only a young child could. He almost broke free a couple of times, but was finally forced into the car.

"This is becoming rather tiresome Jarod, why don't you just relax?" Cox asked, slipping into the front seat of the car, satisfied as Jarod was sandwiched snugly between two sweepers. as they took off for the short drive to the airstrip, the first niggling of doubt about permanent damage struck.

Jarod’s response to Cox’s question was to kick the back of the other man’s seat. He knew that he was a bad man and bad man only liked to hurt him. He decided that he just wouldn’t talk to the man, maybe that would make him go away.

"Ah," Cox sighed with pleasure as he finally laspsed into silence. "That is much better," he announced to the occupants of the care in a satisfied tone, belying the unease he was beginning to feel. Too much about this was too easy. Where was Sydney crying and pleading for his project? Not to mention Parker. Lyle would have the good sense to lay low, but Parker never ever did.

Jarod glared at the back of Cox’s head for as long as he could before the silence got to be too much for him. “Want Sydney,” he told Cox. “Don’t wanna go bye-bye with you. Want Sydney. Or my mommy.” His lower lip started quivering as he tried to picture his mother’s face.

Cox threw a long sufferign look at the sweeper to shut him up. he needed to look at the bloodwork reports, and quickly so he could be safely sedated. 10 hours of this and Cox would kill Jarod himself.

Jarod gave a cry when the sweeper hit him in the ribs and told him to shut up. He was tired of the meanies telling him to be quiet and he was tired of getting hit all the time. Then his stomach growled and that took his attention away from the pain of being hit again.

Cox smiled in satisfaction as the silence descended and shook his head in disgust before turning his attentioin back to his mental checklest. everythign always was in the details, that was something someone like Lyle would never be able to understand.

Jarod started getting antsy in the backseat. The ride was taking forever and he was really getting hungry. Then something outside the side window caught his attention and he scooted forward to the edge of the seat. “Oh, look. An airplane.”

"Oh, you really are a genius," Cox scoffed as they entered the airfield, pleased to see nothing untoward.

“I wanna drive the airplane,” Jarod told Cox firmly. “Wanna go bye bye and not see you no more.”

"You will be going bye bye alright," Cox sneered, his patience at an end. It was just as bad as dealing with the terrible twins.

"You gotta stay here, you and the mean mens. Dont want you on my airplane."

"It is MY airplane Jarod, and as I have already explained to you, what you want is of absolutely no consequence any longer."

"NO! My airplane. You bad, you stay here. No bad mens on my airplane. Mine mine mine."

Cox got out without bothering to respond, leaving the sweepers to deal with the infantile pretender. He moved over to inspect the plane, that the right security precautions had been taken, that the pilot was the pilot he had chosen, and not some possilbe plant.

Jarod fought against the sweepers tight grips. He didn’t want to get on the shiny black plane with them or with the mean man who had been talking to him, but he couldn’t break free from the hands pulling him. He tried to sit down on the stairs leading into the plane, but he was facing the wrong way. He finally just started pushing backwards from the stairs, fighting the upward pull with all his might.

--

Broots stopped for a second to allow his blisters to rest in his efforts to get as far away from the direction Alex and his car had headed in as humanly possible. After walking for what he assumed to be an hour the clip in his pant pocket was long forgotten, along with the joy of being released. Instead he was angry. He had never been a big fan of walking, the events of the last few hours painfully reminding him why.

Standing didn't appear to make his blisters hurt any less than moving around, instead it only made him notice the pain more so he started to walk again. Getting dumped in the woods was getting old, real fast. It had gotten nippy too, and since he was no longer in the nice, warm car pointing a gun at two strangers, he couldn't simply get a jacket from the back.

Damn that Emily for taking his uncharged cellphone without a signal.

Just as the thought stroke his mind he spotted a phone booth in the distance. For a moment he thought it might be a mirage, but since he really didn't want to call anyone, he just knew he had to call Miss Parker if he wanted to stay alive and employed, he could rather confidently assume it was an actual phone and not just his mind playing tricks on him.

He stuck his hand in his left back pocket, and surely enough between old fuzz and what he could only assume to be a tick tack, he found a quarter. He didn't even want to think about who some of the previous users of the phone had been, but seeing as this was on the way to some sort of Centre-driven airport he didn't doubt for a second that was something there was a well organized list of, in case he'd ever want to look it up.

By the time he had dug through all the muck to reveal the shiny coin he was standing next to the rusty phone. Broots dialed the familiar number, mentally preparing himself for what was to come.


"What?"

“Hi” Broots said simply, twiddling the phone cord between his fingers before he let it go as he realized how unexplainable sticky his fingers have gotten.

"Broots, you moron! Where the hell are you?" Parker asked, successfully masking the relief in her voice.

“About an hour from the cabin. You know, where you left me for dead.” He said, pouting evident in his voice as he bent down to the ground in an attempt to brush off some of the sticky substance. Unfortunately for him there was no grass where he was standing, only dirt. So instead of removing the stickiness, he added a thick coat of filth, sort of like the “feather” part of “tare and feather”.

"Oh grow a set would you Broots. What did a big scary raccoon jump out of a tree and scare you?"

“If you replace the ‘raccoon’ with Alex, the not-so-dead pretender and Emily, Jarod’s very armed and down right scary sister, then yeah.”

"What?" Parker asked, not believing her ears. Only Broots could find himself in this kind of mess.

"Remember the extra car outside the cabin? Yeah, that belonged to Alex who had taken it upon himself to abduct Emily, Jarod’s sister, who in return knocked out, or drugged or strangled Alex, lord only knows what that girl will do if she puts her mind to it." As he was retelling the events of the last few days, as coherently as he could, he got closer to that long needed mental breakdown than he had been in a long time, "And after you dumped me in the woods she decided to kidnap me to catch up with Jarod, but then the key broke and we had to go back to get Alex, who she somehow got to cooperate because they both want Jarod. I tell you, she’s got one of those little genes floating around somewhere in there, because that’s just not normal. Then I was handed the gun and the clip fell out. What is that for anyway?" he continued, not even considering stopping for a response half-rant. "But then someone, I don’t know who, called Alex and told him Jarod is going to Africa, so then he hotwired Sydney’s car and started driving to the airport and then they kicked me out of the car, with the gun. And she ate all my funions.” Broots stopped, Partially because he couldn't think of anything else, partially because of lack of oxygen.

"Alex?" Parker asked for clarification, not even bothering to chide her tech for his useless rant.

“Yeah…” Broots said quietly while looking over his shoulder, just to make sure the man wasn't standing directly behind him.

"Relax Broots, middle of nowhere is saharan Africa. Just use one of those handy thumbs to get yourself a ride back to civility. So you are telling me that Jarod's idiot sister has joined forces with the world's most dangerous madman and they are racing to the airport that I myself only just find out was the desired destination for our prize catch of the day?"

“Yeah, or I think so. But I can’t hitchhike when there are no cars to get a ride with. And I’ve got blisters. Big blisters.”

"You are a big boy Broots, figure it out." Parker said as she terminated the call.

--

As if Sydney weren't already stressed enough, Miss Parker's phone call had confirmed the severity of Jarod's current situation. He hadn't known what to do to help Jarod without simply making things worse for him. So he'd gone to his office, knowing good and well there were no answers there. Knowing he was a coward.

Just as he was about to head for Miss Parker's office, Sydney heard a clattering behind him. He turned around and realized he wasn't completely alone here. Two childish blue eyes stared at him from behind the ventilation grate in the wall.

"Angelo," Sydney breathed in slight awe. The curious man had a way of appearing when least expected. "Is something wrong?"

"Jarod," he responded simply.

With a swift quick, the vent cover clattered to the ground and Angelo popped out like an eager chimpanzee. Sydney took a step back, mildly startled but remaining as stoic as possible. Angelo stepped close to him and gently pressed something into the psychiatrist's hands.

"For Jarod," Angelo reiterated.

Sydney looked at it and then to Angelo, completely astonished. "Oh Angelo, are you sure this is right?"

"Sydney must! For Jarod."

"Yes," Sydney repeated slowly. "For Jarod."

He knew Angelo was right, and soon Sydney was on the phone with Miss Parker to find out just where Jarod was.

--

Emily finished the final piece of the sandwich, thankful to finally have gotten rid of that disgusting funion taste. She threw the packaging in a garbage tin before picking up the small syringe again, looking to see if there was anything she might have missed. Alex had instructed her to add a few drops of the drug she'd pick-pocketed from him only hours earlier to anything the passengers might decide to put in their mouth. As a result she had to open every box, jar, bottle and packet in the entire pantry in a way that left it looking completely untouched. Luckily for Emily that was a skill she'd learned years earlier as a child rifling through the kitchen drawers in search of cookies and other tasteful treats. But by the looks of things she was finally done with the tedious work.

When he first explained the details behind the idea she had been a little skeptical. Remembering her own experiences with Alex' concoctions had made her worried that the passengers would fall asleep so quickly that the slow eaters next to them would get suspicious. First he had claimed everything would be just fine since the drugs weren't going directly into their bloodstream, unlike the process with the syringe. But after taking a second look at the limited amount they had to work with and the enormous amounts of food in the pantry, he agreed to water it down a bit. After all, overtaking trained marksmen would probably be easier if they were all equally groggy than if they ran out of drugs half way through the pantry leaving some sleeping and some wide awake...and armed.

She still had no idea what to do once Alex and herself were the only conscious people on the plane. She knew he would turn on her the second that happened, she just didn't know how to stop it. After all, having to go along with his plan because it was the only chance she had was not the same thing as actually believing he would stick to that plan. And from what she'd picket up from Alex' conversation with whoever a few minutes earlier Jarod would be in no condition to help her. She decided not to think too much about what they might have done to him, she would just have to deal with it as it happened. But at least she knew something, she was on her own. Which was why she had made sure to fill a syringe with the drug in its concentrated state and pilfer a sharp vegetable knife from the pantry when Alex wasn't looking. But she knew that wouldn't be enough. Even Alex wouldn't fall for the same trick twice in one day.

Emily took another look at herself in the aluminum tee container. A newly ironed navy blue stewardess uniform, complete with a silk scarf and pantyhose had replaced her ripped and bloody clothes. As she straightened the C emblem on her jacket the sense that something just wasn't right became that much stronger. From getting around the airport security to entering the plane and accessing the food and this little outfit; It had all been too easy. Which left her concluding with at least one of the following: Either someone high up in the Centre were pushing for a quick flight to the extent that it had weakened their security, or Alex' friend had done more than provide a location. Because an hour of planning and a pretender gene shouldn't be enough to find the weak links in their security chain.

She pushed the thought aside for now and began arranging the final pieces of her outfit. She straightened her hair and pulled it back in a tight bun before putting on a pair of dark rimmed glasses and a red wig, she didn't even want to think about where Alex got that from. After looking at herself once more in the conveniently placed tee container she could at least come to one conclusion: She looked absolutely ridiculous.

The sounds of someone approaching from outside snapped her from her musings. She had just enough time to scurry to a corner and cover herself in a blanket in hopes of whoever it was being at least partially blind or in the search of their contacts. Then the door opened, light pouring in to the windowless room.

--

Alex listened closely as Cox interrogated the pilot on estimated arrival times and the weather. He grinned to himself when he thought of what Cox would do when he woke up to find himself not in Africa but somewhere of the west coast of the states. A few minutes later Cox left and he moved silently out of his hiding place and made his way to the cockpit.

After having taken care of the pilot, he hid the body in storage place located in between the pilots’ chairs. It was a tight fit, but he managed to close the trap door. Wiping his hands, he checked the area just outside the cockpit before making his way quickly down the aisle to the storage room set aside just before the main cabin of the airplane.

A moment later he opened the door and smirked when he saw Emily trying to shrink away underneath a rug she had pulled over herself. He rolled his eyes, wondering again why he hadn’t already gotten rid of her permanently. He took a deep breath, reminding himself that he needed her for now to control Jarod.

“Oh, get out of there. Did you get everything ready, as I told you too?” he asked impatiently, watching as she struggled to extract herself from her self-cocooned wrap.


”Yeah” she began folding the blanket delicately, acting as if her pitiful attempt at a hiding hadn’t just happened. She never wanted to see his face again, but that didn’t keep her from being relieved it was only her psychopathic torturer that had walked through the door. She tugged on the tight fitting outfit then looked up, “Where were you?”

“Busy, darling. We should be in the air in less than 30 minutes, so I suggest you start by at least trying to play your part.”

“Which is?” She prodded, doing her best to untangle her fingers from the brightly colored wig.

“Oh, for crying out…” Alex threw his hands in the air as Emily retreated before him. In exasperation he said, “You are dressed as a stewardess, are you not? So that would imply that you’d be the one that serves the food and drink?”

“Well gee; I didn’t know I was supposed to be psychic as well. Believe it or not but you’re not the most predictable person I know Alex, and that says something. Now stewardess uniform can mean ‘serve people food and drink’ or it can mean ‘distract the pilot by doing a strip tease’, there’s just no way for me to know that is there?!” She was overreacting and she knew it, that didn’t mean he deserved it any less.

“You done ranting?” Alex asked quietly as he gave her one of his death stares. She averted her eyes and he allowed a small smirk, knowing that he was still in control. “I’ll be in the cockpit. You, start serving the sweepers.”

“Wait! If I just walk in there, they’ll recognize me. Or Jarod will. And with the state he’s in who knows what he might say and do,” all of a sudden she felt as if she was on the verge of a full blown panic attack. That damn Mr. Broots had infected her with his nervousness, she just knew it. “Or what if the real stewardess walks out?”

“You are the real stewardess, sweetheart. And Jarod has been sedated. He’s away in la-la land so you don’t have to worry one little hair of your pretty little head about him. He’s my responsibility now, in any case. I suggest you start to grow a backbone and do your part, or we can part ways now and you’ll never see your brother again?” Alex stated, crossing his arms and tilting his head, waiting for her answer he knew she’d give.

Her left hand fiddled with the sedation filled syringe hidden securely in her pocket, she would have done it if it wasn’t for the fact that she needed him. For now. Compliantly she picked up a tray before turning her head towards him, “Lets just hope your little plan works.”

She opened the door leading into rows of empty seats before reaching the blue curtain where they were all seated behind. Balancing the tray on her one arm she opened the curtain with the other in a very stewardess-like way, fake smile and all, before she bent down to the first passenger, “Coffee or tea?”

--

Broots was sitting on a little rock he'd found nearby the woods, moping. It was an unusually soft for a rock which was good because that was it, he wasn't walking one step further. He had more blisters than he had feet. And because of that his shoes no longer fit so he'd taken them off.

Even for the Centre this was unusually secluded. It was really amazing how isolated they managed to put things like an airport while still keeping it close enough to civilization's to be convenient. But then again it was their field of expertise. It didn't get much more secluded in an area as surrounded by major metropolitans as Delaware.

He was still angry at Miss Parker for just hanging up at him like that. Although it really wasn't that much out of the usual. Being dumped in the woods fifty meters away from a serial killer only to end up kidapped by said serial killer on the other hand. He kicked the dirt defiantly only to regret that decision seconds later when the pain set in.

But wait...that was more than blister-pain, he looked down.

"OH nononono!" He screamed as he discovered the hundreds of ants nibbling on his little toes. Instantly he began running further into the woods, away from the ants and the road, in nothing but his socks while brushing ferociously to try to get the thousands of ants off.

Five minutes of manic brushing later he was walking back to the road to get his shoes. As he got closer to the road he heard something. It sounded like a vehicle only angrier. Seconds later he saw Miss Parker's car whooshing by. He tried desperately to wave and what could only be described as 'squawk' to get her attention, but to no use.

She disappeared into the horizon and he was, once again, left alone in the woods. Well, not completely alone, he thought and flicked another ant off his sock.

Chapter End Notes:
Next chapter: Sunday
Chapter 29 by Manoline
Author's Notes:

Hey all. Well, there's no easy way to say this but this is as far as we got -  after this there are no more chapters.

I'm not going to lie, it ends on a bit of a cliff hanger (hey, if the real show can do it four...no, actually more since the movies, six times, we can do it once) so don't say you weren't warned.

If you had half the fun reading as we did writing, then yay us.

 

One last time now... enjoy 

 

-- 

Each character was written by a different author (well almost, some writers added on a second later in the story), so to help you readers keep it all straight, each character had a different color.

Writer / Character

Jacci - Mr Cox

KatieQ - Miss Parker

Manoline - Broots, Emily

Tinanaz - Jarod, Sam

TLM - Sydney

Whashaza - Lyle, Alex

If you check the End Notes you'll see there are no more chapters scheduled to arrive

Emily poured her third cup of hot beverage before moving on to the next seat. If they were that desperate for caffeine with any luck no one would even scuff and them falling asleep. And with this rate, they would all be sound asleep before they even got off the runway, which suited her very nicely. The wig itched like crazy, but she didn’t dare scratch it, afraid of doing anything that might make it move in a un-hair-like way. Obvious deficiencies aside, they were trained Centre employees and might notice things like their stewardess’ hair falling off.

But by the looks of it, they weren’t the only Centre employees in the room, she thought as the reflection of her uniform caught in one of the people’s sunglasses. Only idiots wore sunglasses inside. Idiots and sweepers. But as far as she was concerned, that was pretty much the same thing. She tugged once more in the corners of her mouth before saying in a falsely joyous tone, “Coffee or tea?"

Sam was deeply engrossed in the report he was preparing. It wasn’t until the voice repeated the question a second time that he even looked up from the laptop.

“Oh, coffee will be fine. Black, no sugar,” he specified.


“ Ok,” Emily said simply. As she started pouring, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. Jarod. He was here, on the plane. At this very moment, she was in the same room as her brother, breathing the same air.

“Shit!” she hissed as the burning liquid overflowed the edges of the small cup, making its way onto the tray and her hand. She was pretty sure stewardesses weren’t supposed to swear but right now that was the least of her worries.


The swearing caught Sam’s attention in a way that the question hadn’t. In all his times on the Centre’s private jet, he had yet to hear a stewardess cuss. They were too well trained and too fearful of Raines to do something that would draw attention to themselves. He glanced up, saw the server’s eyes flickering between himself, and down at the sleeping pretender, even as she shook her hand dry.

“Hey,” he growled at her, “do your job and stop gawking at the projects.”

He glanced up and saw her shake her hand dry of the coffee she had poured on herself. But, even as he watched, he saw her eyes flash down the aisle at the sleeping pretender.


“S-sorry,” she stuttered. Great, she hadn’t been a ‘Centre employee’ for more than five minutes and she had already found the time to break one of their cardinal rules. Cover up time. “Been a long day, guess I’m a bit out of it.” She said, not even having to lie while plastering on another great big smile and continued to wipe coffee as best she could.

‘Great’, Sam thought to himself, ‘another Broots.’

“No problem,” he assured her, as he took in the youthfulness apparent in her. “Just remember, when the bigwigs are around, you only see and hear what you absolutely need to see and hear. And never remember anything for longer than five minutes.” He flashed his most charming smile at her, thinking maybe he might have some companionship when the flight landed and the labrat passed on to those that wanted him.


She gave him a quick nod followed by a fake smile that would knock the socks of her previous one as she caught him looking at her. She knew that look. The guy was trying to get in her pants, or pencil skirt as it may be. She handed him the accident-proned cup as carefully as she could, “One coffee, no sugar, no cream. And with a bit of extra coffee on the outside as well. No extra charge.” she said in her best charming voice. If chatting up a so called ‘sweeper’ was what she had to do to get a little information, it was what she would do.

A puzzled looked crossed Sam’s face. She was so familiar, but he couldn’t place her. “Do I know you?”

The question threw her a bit and before she could give it a second thought a “Probably” had slipped from her mouth. Instantly being met by a prodding glare she did her best to rectify her mistake without going into suspiciously-defensive-mode, “I’ve been working here for a few months now, might have run into you a couple of times. Plus I grew up in Blue Cove. Despite it’s size, it’s a pretty small town, you know?” Without waiting for a response she leaned over to the man next to the talkative sweeper, “Coffee or tea?”

Sam glared up at the infuriating figure standing next to him. There was something so familiar about her and the not-knowing was driving him nuts. And the hair, there was something wrong about her hair. He waited until she gave the sweeper next to him his coffee and then put his hand on her arm. “Wait. Did you dye your hair or cut it or something? I know I know you, but the hair is throwing me off.”

The moment she could lay her hands on him she was going to strangle Alex. No one would recognize her, he said. Don’t worry, he said. And then there was the small fact of him kidnapping and drugging herself and her brother.

“I think you’re confusing me for someone else,” she said while resisting the urge to adopt a southern drawl in attempt to throw him off, “I mean, I dye my hair, but I have been since I was a kid. Now would you please let go of my arm?” Doing her best to spit a more friendly tone into their conversation, “You’re not the only man in need of refreshments you know.” She handed the requested cup of coffee to the man in the adjacent window seat. “My best guess, you’re thinking of another stewardess. Never good to bring up women of your past you know,” she said and gave him a light wink.

Sam reluctantly took his hand off her arm, but flashed her his most charming grin instead. “My name is Sam. I am usually assigned to Miss Parker, I only get reassigned for special cases.” He held his hand out to shake hers.

“Hello Sam, I’m - ” she carefully placed the tray in a way that left one hand free to be shook, effectively buying herself the time needed to read her own nametag in the sunglasses of the man next to Sam, “I’m Sophie.” Oh Alex was gonna pay. Was she a Labrador retriever? “I’ll be your stewardess for the duration of the flight. Let me know if you need anything.” She said sugary sweet before moving on to the next row of seats.

--

Emily took a quick glance across the small area they were occupying inside the plane. Not including her brother there were six people sitting in the seats of the plane waiting for take off. Out of those two looked to have fallen asleep, and a couple of others would be following them shortly. And out of the people she had severed Sam was the only one still awake. Figures, she muttered.

The person she was about to serve now was definitively not a sweeper though, his suit alone told her that. No, this was, as Sam would say, ‘a big wig’. So getting him nice and drugged as soon as possible would be crucial for the success of the plan…whatever that might be. She plastered on another winning smile, unaware that she never really managed to pry the last one of before stepping up to him, “Coffee or tea.”


Cox looked up at her in annoyance, reading thru the preliminary reports. Now Jarod was finally quiet, he was going to be able to concentrate. "No thank you," he said with strained politeness.

Emily just stood there gaping for a while, coffee in one hand, tray in the other. She hadn’t really prepared for that. With the sweepers throwing themselves over the caffeine like jackals she just assumed everyone would want some. She cleared her throat to once again gain his interest, while doing her best not to sound too pushy as it would clearly rouse his suspicion, “I’ve got water to…if you want.”

He looked up at her and noticed the terrible hair colour and thought that perhaps there should be some guidelines about what was acceptable for employees. He smiled insincerely and then calmly said. "No thank you," again.

Ignoring his response she said simply, “Ok sir, I’ll go get you some juice then. Orange was it?” before heading towards the small storage room on the other side of the curtain before he had a chance to correct her. He had to eat or drink something, it was that simple. And if she had to ram it down his throat to make it happen than that was what she would do.

Cox shook his head and got back to his reports, wondering if they were going to ever take off. If the plane wasn’t moving within the next few minutes, he would have to have a little chat with the pilot. In fact, his restructuring might start with all the personnel here.

Emily quickly poured a glass of extra drugged orange juice before returning to the stubborn man, “Here you are.” She handed it to him with a smile, making sure he took it instead of letting him put it down on the table, and in a tone that let him know she meant it she said “Now drink up.”

Cox looked at the glass in his had and marveled at the impertinence of the girl. Clearly the training even here was sadly neglected. He put the cup to the side and turned his attention back to Miss Parker's report.

--

Emily readjusted her fake glasses before walking through the curtain once again. Not only did she have lover boy, or ‘Sam’ as he liked to call himself, watching her every move and refusing to fall asleep. Now, one of the passengers had to refuse to let her drug them as well. Great, just great. She walked rapidly between empty seats before finally reaching the cockpit where she knew Alex would be.

Cox frowned as she left, feeling a tingle of 'wrongness' about her that extended far beyond her choice of hair color. He pushed it aside though, casting a glance over at Jarod and wondered just why they weren't in the air yet. He was impatient to be underway and they should have been prepared.


She put the tray down on an empty passenger seat and opened the door to the cockpit, “We have a problem”

Alex looked up from his preflight chart and glanced back at Emily. “What now?” he asked, not even bothering to mask his irritation at being interrupted.

“Well lets see… There’s the sweeper who finds me ‘vaguely familiar’, the same sweeper who, regardless of how much drug-filled coffee I give him refuses to fall asleep. Oh and then there’s the guy who refuses to eat or drink anything I try to serve him. Take your pick Alex! Either way, we’re pretty much doomed.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it. Sweepers are idiots and we’ll have no problem handling them. Any other doomsday news or can I continue with my flight plan?”

Obviously there was no help in him so instead she huffed loudly and opened the door. As soon as she did that she closed it again, a look of dread evident on her features, “Yes actually… you know the guy I was telling you about? He’s coming…now.”

“You idiot,” Alex hissed as he pulled her past him into the co-pilot’s seat. “I asked you to do one simple task and you failed even in that.” He twisted her arm, watching with satisfaction as her eyes went wide and then filled with tears. Slightly satisfied, he pushed her back and stood as the door to the cockpit opened and Cox’s surprised glare met his.

He had had enough of waiting and decided to check on the fool flying this tin can. He opened the door and the response died on his lips as he saw the tableaux in front of him. He was so stunned that for a long moment he had forgotten why he had come to the cockpit in the first place.

Alex moved quickly and grabbed the stunned man before he had a chance to blink. Pulling him into the restricted space of the cockpit, he delivered a punishing right into the other man’s solar plexus.

The blow that nearly knocked him off his feet also snapped him back to reality as he struggled for breath. He didn’t understand how Alex could be here and that voice that warned him about the girl had been right. "Alex," he wheezed out as he reached for his gun. It was going to be a double catch today. Alex wasn’t as valuable to them ad Jarod was, but this could also be the last nail in Lyle's coffin too. There was no doubt Lyle was behind this in some way, although what he would gain from Jarod escaping was unknown.

Alex couldn’t help the grin. Here was one of the royal idiots that had thought him inferior to Jarod. And he could have so much fun. Easily preventing the other man from reaching for his gun, he moved his other hand to Cox’s neck and added pressure.
“I can kill you now,” he whispered, feeling Cox’s lifeblood pumping under his hand.


Cox winced under the pressure, but didn’t look away. "You won’t do it," he said confidently. Although that was undermined by the raspy quality of his voice as he struggled still to get air into his lungs.

“Want to try me?” Alex replied, giving the man a casual wink. “My parents thought the same.”

"You weren’t raised by your parents Alex," Cox said evenly. "This is a no win situation for you Alex. There are five sweepers out there and I am useless to you as a hostage."

“You sure about that? If you’re useless to me as a hostage, what prevents me from killing you now?”

She could barely believe her eyes. Would he really do it? Kill the man in cold blood? Frozen by her own fears all she could do was watch the scene unfold and hope that any bloodshed would not be hers or her brother’s.

"Because if you do that, Alex, what do you think those five men are going to do to you?" he asked him confidently. "Now, I am sure there is something you want, and we can all get what we want today. Everyone always had a price.”

“The five men is away in la-la land. I’m not too worried about them. But I am worried about you. You see, I’m sitting with a dilemma. I can either kill you now and know that I’m rid of your idiotic scheming or I can leave you for the Triumvirate and you can explain to them why you failed again in securing your so-called Pretender. What I want is Jarod and no-one is going to prevent me from collecting on him.” Alex stated smoothly. “So, Mr. Cox, you have a choice. Is it gonna be door number one or two? Cause I’m easy on doing either.”

"Can't say either of those are very appealing." Cox said calmly. Alex was a hothead and thus unpredictable. "You don't really think you can keep Jarod?" he asked conversationally. He knew what it would mean for him if he lost Jarod.

Emily almost let an “I hope not” slip, but managed to prevent it. This was just absurd. They were talking about her brother, a living human being, as if he was nothing more than a commodity.

“Well, Jarod’s quite valuable on the open market. Or I might just decide to keep him all to myself. But that’s beside the point. I’m getting tired of this conversation and I think it’s time that you were removed from it.” Alex stated calmly watching a brief flicker of fear flirt across Cox’s eyes as he tightened his grip on the man’s neck. A moment later Cox’s eyes closed as unconsciousness finally claimed the man. Letting the man slide down, he glanced at Emily, making sure that she had not moved from her seat.

“The plane will be in the air in 15 minutes. Make sure everything is in order. I’ve closed the door and locked it. Don’t try and save your brother or you will be left behind. Am I understood?”


She looked down at the man sprawled on the floor, bitterness evident in her voice as she answered diligently, “Perfectly.” What kind of mess had she gotten herself into?

Chapter End Notes:

Next chapter: If life calms down long enough for six writers simultaneously, in between finishing long overdue challenges and catching up on fanfic, maybe we'll find the time to finish it.

Until then... Catch me if you can



This story archived at http://www.pretendercentre.com/missingpieces/viewstory.php?sid=5268