Welcome to Never Never Land by Parker4131970

1. Chapter 1 by Parker4131970

2. Chapter 2 Enquirer by Parker4131970

3. Chapter 3 Still No Take Off by Parker4131970

4. Chapter 4 Cheryl Helms by Parker4131970

5. Chapter 5 by Parker4131970

6. Chapter 6 Dinner with Olga by Parker4131970

7. Chapter 7 NNL Centre Connection by Parker4131970

8. Chapter 8 Miss P's Grand Entrance by Parker4131970

9. Chapter 9 Two Parkers by Parker4131970

10. Chapter 10 The Sharks Circle by Parker4131970

11. Chapter 11 Sister Projects by Parker4131970

12. Chapter 12 In the Beginning by Parker4131970

13. Chapter 13 In the Past by Parker4131970

14. Chapter 14 Prep for Back Step by Parker4131970

15. Chapter 15 Flashback-And Baby Makes Three by Parker4131970

16. Chapter 16 Flashback-The Hole in the Wall Gang by Parker4131970

17. Chapter 17 End Game by Parker4131970

Chapter 1 by Parker4131970

Chicago, February 2

Drafts of cold air blew freely through the window sill cracks of the open, flat apartment. Bleak sunshine tried in vain to warm Chicago. Snow flakes floated in the air like they'd never reach the ground. Wind gusts created eddies in the sea of individualized flakes beyond the apartment windows as Jarod looked out the window while munching on a slice of deep dish pizza and trying to decide where his next pretend would take place. The possibilities were endless. He could bust the illegal, organized drug operation in the Appalachian mountains. Miss Parker would love that. She mixed with rural people like oil mixed with water. There were too many missing children, corrupt politicians, and injustices to be reversed for the genius to stay idle for long.

What few belongings Jarod owned lay in his duffel bag on the folding cot nearby. He sighed as he bit into the stuffed, cheesy crust of his pepperoni and sausage pizza. It was time to be on the move again. The lone Pretender turned back to his laptop computer. A flashing icon caught Jarod's attention just as he started to close the lid; an incoming email. The man-child genius looked forward to his emails. Angelo was always likely to turn up information about Jarod's family or the Parkers. The Pretender grabbed another piece of pizza before opening his email. After decrypting it and deciphering, Jarod read:

Weather Balloon or Alien UFO?

By: David Barber March 3, 1965

Sunday afternoon, at proximately five o'clock, eyewitnesses reported seeing a blue sphere in the sky. One eyewitness, Cheryl Helms, of Las Vegas, reports that this unidentified object appeared out of nowhere just south of the now infamous Area 51. Military officials refuse to comment, except to say that they regularly release weather balloons to assist local weather bureaus. This is yet more evidence that Washington is stonewalling the public.

Along with the article was a picture attachment. Three figures took center stage in the black and white snap shot. The most significant one was a very young Mr. Parker. Beside him stood another man about the same age. The third figure; that of a humanoid creature, lay on display. Its limbs were spindly and the creature had an oversized head with large, dark eyes. Beneath the picture a caption read-Dr. Isaac Mentnor and Mr. Parker. Jarod enhanced the photo trying to pull more information about the location. Carefully, he examined every pixel of the old image. From the landscape Jarod determined it was taken in the American dessert. Suddenly a familiar figure appeared between the doctor and Mr. Parker. The face and stance reminded Jarod of his brother, Kyle.

“Major Charles!” Jarod exclaimed to the empty flat. “Dad, why where you in Nevada?” Quickly, he saved the enhanced photo and sent it to Angleo with a caption of his own and a warm thank-you. Now there was so much to be done; research, a new identity, travel arrangements, etc.. Jarod's hope as well as his curiosity were reignited.

Scene Break

NNL 1200 hrs February 5

“Hey, Olga, I get time off for good behavior Tuesday, want to see a movie or something, dinner maybe?” Frank swaggered into the lab. The red headed Russian didn't even look up from her microscope to say 'no'.

“Wow, Now I know how Lucy always felt when Ricky turned her down, only the accent's wrong.” Frank turned to walk out.

“The reason I am turning you down, Mr. Parker, is that I must be here to welcome a visiting doctor. Dr. Seaborg is set to arrive Tuesday evening, I'm surprised Ramsey hasn't told you already.” Olga adjusted her wire frame glasses, her expression as usual, set to exasperated.

“Great, just what this place needs, another Einstein.” Frank groused. He didn't care if they packed them in like sardines, Frank just wanted some of the lovely doctor's time.

“Einstein couldn't hold a candle for Dr. Jarod Seaborg to go by. You're just jealous.” Olga set Frank straight.

“Yeah, well I bet this Seaborg doesn't know how to win at beer-pong.” Frank bragged- before thinking.

“Probably not, thankfully.” The good doctor put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. Frank let out a bottled sigh. Olga heard him muttering,

“Save a girl's life multiple times and she won't even go to the movies. Who needs and IQ of 240?” Olga shook her head as Frank left. The former CIA operative had been chasing her for two and a half years. He'd come close a time or two to catching her.

Frank walked back to the cafeteria. Unfortunately, he met Chief of Security, Nathan Ramsey, in the elevator. The unhappy security chief sized up the chrononaut. In a fair fight Ramsey could expect to have his ass handed to him. He knew he could only push the undisciplined army officer so far before he could expect retaliation.

“What are you doing roaming loose, Parker?” Ramsey's dark eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“You forgot to check my padlock last night, Ramsey.” Frank answered. Sometimes he just wanted to shove the little man into a prairie dog hole somewhere.

“This place would run a lot smoother if I could lock you up.” Ramsey started his usual rhetoric. Frank was glad to leave him on the elevator.

“Have fun, McCarthey.” Frank left Ramsey dumbfounded on the elevator. Gladly, the chrononaut ran into Craig Donovan, his best friend. The tall, good-looking, black, captain always had a smile on his face.

“What's got you glum, Frank?” Donovan asked as he chose his lunch from the buffet.

“Ah, Olga's got to babysit some scientist Tuesday.” Frank snatched a curly fry from Donovan's tray.

“That means me and you can knock back a few beers and catch the game at my place.” Typical Donovan, he saw the bright side.

“Yeah, I guess, but I'd rather be cuddled up to Olga during a horror movie than to look at your ugly mug.” The mischievous chrononaut stole another curly fry, but Donovan slapped his hand and told him to eat off his own tray.

“When are you going to give up on Olga, she's never going to give in.” Donovan asked as he pulled onions off of his burger.

“Probably never.” Frank grinned devilishly. His old friend just shook his head.

Scene Break 

Chapter 2 Enquirer by Parker4131970

The Centre Blue Cove, Delaware February 3

Mr. Broots turned down the radio as he pulled his Volkswagen up to the guarded gate. The twin uniforms checked his parking permit, key card, and ID badge, as well as the under carriage for explosives or contraband. It was easier to get across the border with illegal immigrants than to get into the Centre. Getting inside took forever, especially when the weather wasn't cooperating.

Eventually, the gate guards let Broots through. He was looking forward to getting indoors, out of the near blizzard conditions surrounding the Centre. After parking in the underground parking structure, Broots made his way to his tiny office in the bowels of the Centre. A calendar with the Dilbert comic hung above his monitor. Other than that, the place wasn't very personalized. It was encouraged at the Centre.

“Hey, Broots, been waiting for you to get here.” A short, blond fellow, Benny, interrupted Broots' second cup of hot chocolate. The chubby guy looked like one half of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

“What's going on, Benny, your eye's twitching.” Broots asked as he logged on to the Centre main frame.

“Another email was sent from a terminal that's yet to be accounted for.” Benny smoothed his twitching eye, trying to get it to quit. It did that when he became overly excited. Broots skimmed over the file he'd been handed. The picture nearly made him laugh- until he realized who and what was in it.

“I also tracked down the reply that Jarod sent back.” Benny stifled a nervous laugh as he handed Broots an email and photograph. A rather blurry figure stood in the distance between Mr. Parker and Dr. Mentnor. Below was a caption: Major Charles. Broots' eyes became as big as saucers.

“I know the Centre has always been involved in some freaky stuff, but this is over the top.” Sydney and Miss Parker had to be told, but Broots wanted a little more info before telling them. “Thanks, Benny,” He looked at his anxious friend, “Does anyone else know about this?” Even the most absurd discovery was important.

“No, I just found it an hour ago. I brought it to you first.” Benny looked proud of himself as he pulled at the hem of his brown and black stripped shirt.

“Good job, Benny, keep this to yourself, okay. Can you track down the people in the article and the author for me?” Broots asked, his mind spinning in a million directions.

“I already did.” The eager Benny pointed to a print out behind the article. He grinned even bigger, his eye twitching overtime.

“You're the man, Benny.” Broots patted him on the back briefly before rushing off to Sydney's office.

Scene Break

The Centre 1000 hrs February 3

Miss Parker, the Ice Princess herself, strutted into Sydney's office. From the sole of her knee high, dress boots, to her perfectly curled, flip hairstyle, Miss Parker was a cool, aloof figure. She kept every one at arm's length, even the people who worked closest to her. If anyone at the Centre knew what made her tick, it was Sydney.

“Good morning, Syd, Broots, I received your message.” She sat down on the corner of Sydney's desk.

“We thought this would be of interest to you, Miss Parker.” Sydney's rolling accent dragged out the a in Parker. For over thirty years the Belgian doctor had been a fixture at the Centre and in Miss Parker's life.

“Yeah, Miss Parker, I've never seen anything like it.” Broots handed her the manilla file folder. Her blue eyes examined the photo as her shoulders began to quake in laughter.

“Where did you find this, the Enquirer? Boots, really.” Sydney rose from his desk. With arms crossed and chin down, the Belgian psychiatrist came around to join his colleagues.

“I've met Dr. Isaac Mentnor.” Broots and Miss Parker both looked at Sydney as if he'd sprouted wings.

“Did you see the aliens, Sydney?” Broots asked, wrapped in morbid curiosity.

“No, I did not.” The old gentleman smiled, amused at Broots. “I met Dr. Mentnor in the late 1960's, when Jarod was working on reverse engineering a craft I was told was Russian space technology. We had worked on other such top secret, government projects before.” Sydney opened up the file folder again, as if to refresh his memory.

“You never cease to amaze me, Sydney.” Miss Parker sighed.

“It gets better, this email was sent to Jarod, who sent one back, with an enhanced image of the background of the original photo.” Parker snatched the picture from Broots' hand. What she saw made her blood boil.

“Major Charles” The hatred in her voice made Sydney's office feel colder.

“I want to know where this was taken and where Isaac Mentnor is right now. Have the Centre jet ready in an hour.” Miss Parker demanded. “Wherever Major Charles is or has been, Jarod is bound to follow.” A defiant fire burned in Parker's eyes as she began to strut across the small office. Sydney had seen the set of her chin and the way Miss Parker steeled her spine many times over the years; every time she determined to do something. With hurried grace, Parker slammed out of Sydney's office and down the hall.

“That went better than I thought it would.” Broots relaxed, both men did. Miss Parker could be a force of nature at times.

“Come on, Broots, I think there are still bear claws left in accounting. That should settle your nerves.” Sydney walked out into the busy hub of the Centre with the high strung computer ace.

A Few Hours Later

Sydney sat at his desk reading his file about the supposed Russian reverse engineering project when the phone rang. He let it ring a second time, intuition telling him it was Jarod.

“This is Sydney.” He answered with his usual, bland tone.

“Have you seen the lights, Sydney?” A hint of Jarod's dark, wry humor sounded in his deep voice.

“Jarod, I was beginning to think you had been abducted.” The old Freud played along, just glad to hear the younger man's voice.

“The aliens and I agreed that the Centre had poked and probed me enough.” Sydney winced inwardly at the old jab.

“I take it this is about the email Broots intercepted.” Syd cut to the chase. He kept an eye on the door in case Miss Parker decided to quit tormenting Broots and take a crack at him.

“Ah, Sydney, you are perceptive, I'm just wondering what my father was doing in the background of a picture with Mr. Parker, a top secret, government scientist and dead aliens?” It was enough to bewilder even the most open minded person.

“I honestly have no idea, Jarod. My part in the project came here, at the Centre.” He thought back to that project and the wonder on young Jarod's face as he examined every piece of technology brought to him.

“Was Mr. Parker up to his usual nefarious plans or was it just a business arrangement?” Jarod asked, assuming the worst before Sydney answered.

“Again, Jarod, I have no idea. As I recall, Mr. Parker was particularly hands on with this project. We were rushed through the reverse engineering process and all my files were confiscated, officially.” Jarod knew his mentor well enough to know he had an 'unofficial' file of everything. Sydney was as capable of pretending as Jarod at times. He'd survived the Centre too long not to be.

“Watch for crop circles, Sydney, live long and prosper.” Jarod heard the Belgian chuckle as he abruptly hung up. The Pretender sat back in his chair, a Pez between his thumb and forefinger. Turning from the phone to the DSA player, he started the memory disk rolling. Black and white images of a small, fragile Jarod took over the seventeen inch screen. He and Sydney both wore anti-contamination suits with breathing equipment. Microphones inside their masks captured every word. The first thing young Jarod had to do was crack the language used to label everything on the vessel.

“What is the most commonly used letter of the English language, Jarod?” Sydney asked, his voice sounding virtually unchanged in thirty-odd years.

“E, is the most used letter, Sydney. So it stands to reason that among all these characters there is one used more often than others, and if I find it, I can break the code.” Jarod heard the need for praise in his young voice and the excitement of solving a puzzle.

“Very good, Jarod.” Just the words the boy had hoped to hear.

“Sydney, you have a message here.” A technician's voice came over the intercom of the lab housing the strange vessel.

“Continue working, Jarod, I will be back in a moment.” Sydney lumbered out of the cordoned off area. Anxious to please, the boy turned back to the vessel's controls. The voice over the intercom ceased, but the conversation didn't. Older, wiser Jarod turned up the volume and zoomed in on the booth above the work area.

“I want the guard doubled, Raines, he very nearly succeeded. The Triumvirate wouldn't like it if Major Charles used me as barter for his sons.” Jarod couldn't believe his ears. His father had tried to kidnap Mr. Parker to get him and Kyle back.

“Major Charles hasn't been see in the last three days, Mr. Parker, his attempt has ran it's course. That bullet the MP's put in him will end any further plans on the major's part.” Raines assured the other man. Mr. Parker eyed him with contempt momentarily before Sydney's voice drowned the conversation out. Jarod sat back, his lightning quick mind processing the new information. The Pretender made a copy of the audio and sent it to Angelo. To his credit, the emotional sponge had a habit of finding the most unusual and interesting nuggets.

Scene Break 

Chapter 3 Still No Take Off by Parker4131970

NNL 1800 hrs. February 5

Olga peered through the microscope at a routine blood sample. The Russian scientist had been nervous and impatient all day waiting. She looked forward to meeting Dr. Jarod Seaborg. His dossier read like a scientist's dream book. It didn't hurt that his photograph showed a man with dark, intelligent eyes and a warm smile to go along with his hawkish good looks.

Beep!! Beep!! Beep!! The Russian scientist jumped as her beeper went off, Dr. Seaborg had arrived. Olga pulled off her lab coat, checked her appearance in the stainless steel paper towel dispenser and made her way to Director Bradley Talmadge's office. She saw Dr. Ballard rolling in from the hangar.

“Hello, don't you look lovely.” Ballard complimented Olga as she opened the door for him.

“Thank you, Dr. Ballard.” She blushed slightly. Olga smoothed the navy blue skirt and pale blue twinset she wore. It wasn't every day she met such an esteemed man of science.

“Oh, Dr. Seaborg, this is Dr. Olga Vukavitch and Dr. John Ballard.” The tall doctor shook hands with each of them in turn. Upon hearing Olga's accent, Jarod greeted her in fluent Russian. She saw Frank's face turn red. It wouldn't have surprised her to see smoke coming out of his ears.

“What brings you here, Dr. Seaborg?” Dr. Ballard asked point blank. He hoped he wouldn't have to play second fiddle to anyone.

“Dr. Seaborg has a proposal that may extend the number of days we can back step without using additional fuel.” Talmadge answered for Jarod.

“Hopefully we can allow more time to pull information to send back with your chrononaut.” Jarod saw the narrow, suspicious gaze Frank held on him.

“Wow! That is an exciting prospect.” Olga marveled. It launched a very technical conversation about Project Backstep. Everyone except Frank, Donovan, and Ramsey were active talkers.

“Come on, Donovan, let's go catch the rest of the game, I've got a twenty riding on the Bulls.” Frank spoke low so as not to draw attention.

“If you'll excuse me everyone, I'll show Dr. Seaborg to the visitor's quarters, I'm sure he's tired after a long flight.” Talmadge spoke to let the poor fellow breathe. Jarod waved goodbye as he followed Bradley Talmadge out of the office. Director Talmadge led Jarod down the cement walled corridor to the guest quarters. Workers, both military and civilian, moved along the narrow confines. They were several levels below ground by the dry, filtered quality of the air Jarod inhaled. The scent was all too familiar from Jarod's Centre days.

“This base was more difficult to get into than Fort Knox.” Jarod commented, trying to make conversation.

“Ah, yes, we have the latest, most sophisticated security, Nathan Ramsey sees to that.” Talmadge answered as he came to a door at the end of one of the dozen or so corridors at that level. “We'll have a meeting in the morning, eight, sharp.” Bradley left the scientist to settle himself in. Jarod was glad to be alone for the time being. He wanted to review all the information about NNL, Backstep and those who worked there.

Scene Break

The Centre Blue Cove, Delaware February 3

“Broots, are we any closer to taking off?” Miss Parker demanded to know. She paced Sydney's office like a tiger in a cage. Broots swallowed hard before answering.

“No, Miss Parker, they say it will be another six hours.” He braced for impact.

“You moron, can't we drive out? There has to be a way out of Blue Cove.” Miss Parker's voice rose.

“There's a second front just coming in from the north, I haven't even been home to see Debbie.” The mention of Broots' little girl made Parker calm down- just a little. She continued to pace the office, her manicured hands balled into fists. “On the positive side, I have managed to identify the place the photo was taken, Nevada, near an Air Force base.” Broots informed her.

“What in the world is the Centre doing playing with aliens?” Parker pondered.

“Jarod must have reverse engineered some of the alien technology found near the crash.” Broots offered.

“I knew those characters weren't any kind of Russian I had ever seen.” Sydney chimed in. Miss Parker just shook her head. It was par for the course at the Centre. Frustrated, Parker left the room without saying a word. Both men breathed a little easier in her absence.

Scene Break

Chapter 4 Cheryl Helms by Parker4131970

NNL 0800 hrs. February 6

Jarod went over his presentation as the Backstep team arrived. The first to show was Dr. Ballard.

“Good morning, Dr. Ballard.” Jarod shook hands with the permanently seated genius.

“Morning, Dr. Seaborg, I'm excited to hear what you've got for us.” Ballard buzzed up to the conference table, his motorized wheel chair moving smartly over the gray carpet.

“Please, call me Jarod.” The Pretender knew from Ballard's file how eclectic he could be. Just in time to save Jarod from a dull conversation about quantum physics, Frank and Donovan walked in.

“So, Dr. Seaborg, how many more days can you squeeze out for us?” Frank asked as he took a seat. Easily, he put his feet up on the chair beside him and yawned lazily. Jarod studied Lt. Frank Parker before answering.

“Three days, maybe more.” Jarod responded, not quite sure he trusted Frank. He would have to keep an eye on the chrononaut. Frank was smarter than he acted.

“Good morning everyone.” Dir. Talmadge strolled in, followed by the rest of the Backstep team. Olga sat across from Frank, Ramsey seated beside her. For the next two hours everyone was all ears, except for Frank. The chrononaut let the technical stuff slide over him like water from a shower head. As long as the ride didn't get any rougher he didn't care about time phase or streamlining fuel cycles. It all bored him to death.

Jarod took questions and explained concepts. Most of the questions came from Ballard. The man had an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

“Now, if there are no further questions, I believe Dr. Seaborg should see the sphere hangar.” Talmadge ended the meeting. The team dispersed quickly, leaving only Dr. Ballard, Talmadge and Jarod.

“Jarod, if you'll follow me, I'll show you to the hangar.” Ballard waved him toward the door.

Scene Break

The Centre Blue Cove, Delaware February ?

“Miss Parker, the jet is finally ready to take off.” Broots rushed in to Sydney's office. They'd been stuck at the Centre for nearly thirty-six hours. Broots lamented to himself how much babysitting money he was going to owe the sitter.

“Finally, those flyboys are such pansies. Sitting here with you two, I've never been so bored.” Miss Parker moved swiftly, leaving Sydney and Broots running to catch up.

Scene Break

Las Vegas, Nevada February 5

Nevada was calm and warm, especially compared to ice covered Delaware. The Centre team shed their coats aboard the plane.

“Where do we start, Miss Parker?” Broots asked, “the clearances to get onto the Air Force base haven't come through yet.”

“Then we start with the people in the newspaper article, use your process of elimination.” Parker's ice blue eyes narrowed as she hissed near his ear. The trio took out across the boiling tarmac of the Las Vegas air strip. All three felt relieved to be warm again. The storm in Delaware had dumped four feet of snow on the ground in twenty-four hours and caused electrical outages across the northeast.

“Who's the nearest, Broots; David Barber or Cheryl Helms?” Sydney asked as they walked toward a black, Lincoln town car.

“Um, Cheryl Helms, she lives in a subdivision not far from here.” Broots searched the file he carried as he walked.

“Great, single story, stucco, ranch houses, here we come.” Miss Parker groused.

Thirty minutes later...

Indeed, Cheryl Helms lived in a single story, stucco ranch with a red, Spanish tile roof. The whole place looked prickly. A palm tree loomed from behind the house and cacti lined the cement drive way as well as beneath the windows along the front of the house. Miss Parker stepped out first. Her leather dress boots stomped across the weathered walk quickly. She had left her navy blue blazer in the car. A faint breeze made Parker's ice blue, silk blouse flutter around her as she took long, graceful strides. The impatient brunette waited for her knock's answer when Sydney and Broots caught up.

“Ms. Helms, may we have a moment of your time?” Miss Parker asked, a thin veneer of charm added to her appearance. A short, chubby lady peeped out from behind an arched door. A door chain kept the older lady hidden. After looking the three strangers over suspiciously, she allowed them in.

“Ms. Helms, we're here to speak to you about an article you were quoted in, March of 1970.” Miss Parker opened as they walked into Ms. Helms' living room. An ancient, floor model television played the History Chanel. An overly serious sounding announcer rambled on about UFO's during Biblical times.

“Oh, dear, that's been some time ago.” She laid a chubby, sausage link hand on her cheek.

“We would appreciate anything you can tell us, Ms. Helms.” Sydney looked at her over his round sunglasses. The older woman blushed as Syd spoke to her in his charming, old-world accent. Broots hid a snicker. Parker rolled her eyes as she fiddled with her aviators.

“Oh, please, sit down.” Ms. Helms showed them to a worn, but clean, brown sofa; complete with throw pillows. “A nice, young man was here the other day asking about this same thing. He drank a quart of ice tea and a whole batch of my sugar cookies. Where did you say you were from again?” The three guests looked at each other, knowing who Ms. Helms' visitor had been.

“A newspaper in Delaware.” Miss Parker answered before either of her cohorts could botch it. Shuffling into the kitchen, Ms. Helms began pouring iced tea for her guests. They heard the rattle of glasses and the slam of cabinet doors.

“I talked to so many reporters after I saw that UFO. They asked me some of the craziest questions.” A tinkling laugh echoed through the small house. “What are you three here about after so many years?” Ms. Helms presented them with a tray of iced tea glasses and vanilla wafers. Syd and Broots helped themselves.

“My colleges and I are working on a national article on the history of UFO's.” Sydney took the lead.

“Have you ever seen a UFO, Mr..?” She sat back in her arm chair with a heavy bottomed thud, the lace doilies fluttering.

“Call me Sydney, Ms. Helms,” Sydney smiled indulgently, “No, I haven't.”

“Ms. Helms, tell us about the UFO.” Miss Parker redirected the conversation, growing impatient with Sydney's flirty tack.

“I was out in the desert with some friends, near the Air Force Base. Bobby Daniels and I were sitting on the tailgate of his daddy's pick-up. We had snuck off from the others, to be alone.” She blushed, looking at Sydney. “I remember how clear the sky was that night, me and Bobby were listening to an old Elvis song on the radio and passing a beer back and forth. We thought we were something else back then.” Miss Parker could see the sadness in the older woman's eyes. “Anyway, I thought I saw a shooting star, but no star is shaped like what I saw. Whatever it was, it landed a few hundred yards away. It was so clear Bobby and I could make out the sides of it. Then, as we were walking towards it, military police showed up. There were all kinds of lights and they brought equipment in from the base I guess. Two of the MP's took us into custody. We were kept for three days at the base, being asked questions, three days that I know of. My mamma swore to her dying day that I was missing for over a week.” A faraway look took over Ms. Helms' face. Her chubby hands toyed with the fabric of her pink house dress.

“Do you remember any of the MP's, Ms. Helms, do you remember any of their names or faces?” Miss Parker snapped her fingers at Broots to pull out the pictures. Choking on a vanilla wafer, the tech ace pulled the folded pictures out of his button down shirt's pocket.

“No, not any of their names, but I do remember a few faces.” Miss Parker handed her the photographs. She lied, “he was one of the soldiers. He asked me questions when the others were gone. Charles gave Bobby and me candy bars that first night. I was so scared.” A happy, excited tone filled the woman's voice as she traced Major Charles' face.

“Do you recognize the other two men?” Parker gritted her teeth to ask. Ms. Helms studied the photograph of Mr. Parker and Dr. Mentnor.

“Hmm, I saw this one on the last day I can remember.” She pointed to the picture of Mentnor before handing it back.

“What happened to Bobby Daniels, do you know where we can find him?” Broots finally spoke, knowing Miss Parker was giving him a death threat stare.

“Vietnam happened to Bobby, you can find him in Arlington, young man.” Ms. Helms wiped a tear out of her eye before it could slip down her round, granny cheek.

“Oh, I'm sorry.” The tech guy mumbled. Miss Parker gave Syd and Broots the signal to leave.

“Thank you, Ms. Helms.” Sydney shook the lady's soft hand, a coy expression on her round face.

“I'll be right here if you have any more questions, Sydney.” Miss Parker rolled her eyes at the gushy sound of Sydney's name as she escorted the three strangers to the door. Turning back, Broots saw Cheryl Helms standing in the doorway waving at Sydney.

“Way to go, Dr. Love.” Parker commented dryly after they'd pulled away from the house.

“Yeah, Sydney, she seemed very interested in you.” Broots added from the back seat.

“I just thought she would be more forth coming talking to someone of her own generation, Parker.” Sydney defended himself logically. Miss Parker gave him a skeptical look in the rear view mirror.

Scene Break


Chapter 5 by Parker4131970

NNL February 5

“Dr. Vukovitch, I was hoping to talk to you.” Jarod pulled away from Ballard in the hall outside her lab and popped his head in the door. Olga pulled her glasses off to look at considerably taller Jarod. “When will you be free?” Jarod's voice sounded hopeful. Olga moved away from the table of specimen tubes she'd been working on.

“For dinner?” The Russian scientist kicked herself for being so forward.

“Dinner, yes.” Jarod beamed. Ballard came cruising back to his new colleague, a red sucker rolling between his skinny fingers. He sat quietly eavesdropping on their conversation.

“I'll be free at six.” Neither of them paid attention to the spectacled scientist looking up at them.

“Six is great, meet you here at the lab?” Jarod grinned. Olga agreed.

“Frank is going to give Seaborg a rough way to go when he hears this.” Ballard thought to himself. “I can't wait to tell him.” The eclectic genius popped his sucker into his mouth, avoiding laughing out loud.

Twenty minutes later....

“Hey, Olga, are you babysitting Einstein or do you want to go to a movie tonight?” Frank tapped on the door frame. A baseball went up and down, landing in one hand then the other.

“Sorry, Parker, Dr. Seaborg and I are having dinner tonight, I'm sure Donovan will go to the movies with you.” Olga didn't even look up from the microscope. Frank dropped the baseball.

“That sounds like loads of fun, NOT!” The chrononaut scoffed, stooping to pick up the baseball at Olga's feet.

“Hey, you're wearing the perfume I like, you only wear that when you go out.” Frank's fingers curled around the baseball until his joints turned white.

“Nonsense, Parker, I wear it to work quite often.” Olga turned from the microscope to look at the petulant chrononaut. Talmadge stepped in just as Frank opened his mouth to contest.

“Dr. Vukavitch, we have a meeting at eight o'clock tomorrow morning, Dr. Ballard and Dr. Seaborg will be outlining the necessary modifications. Frank, you and Donovan will be working on the interior read outs in the sphere after the meeting.” Talmadge handed Frank a file folder and left the lab.

“Excuse me, Mr. Parker, I have to freshen up before dinner, Dr. Seaborg will be here in ten minutes.” Olga's eyes lit up as she studied her slim, gold-faced watch.

“You and Einstein have fun talking about quantum physics or whatever.” Frank slouched out. Olga could hear him muttering something about alien babies as he left.

Scene Break

Las Vegas, Nevada February 5

David Barber sat at his desk, a red pen in one hand and a bologna sandwich in the other. Too many years of working from daylight to dark had left him alone and weather beaten. His first wife had left after ten years of neglect; the second after five years of the same. Barber figured he was better off married to his work anyway. Work was cheaper.

“Mr. Barber, there are people to see you, a Miss Parker and two others, from back east.” A twenty-something stringer in jeans and a t-shirt leaned his head in the editor's office. With a heavy sigh he had the boy send them in after hiding his sandwich in a drawer.

“Mr. Barber, thank you for meeting us at such a late hour.” Miss Parker sat down in the straight backed chair opposite Barber. In Las Vegas, over the years, he'd seen some beautiful, brassy women, but he hadn't seen Miss Parker. She was an eye full, with her long legs and fragile figure.

“What can I help you with, Miss Parker?” Barber eyed her fully before moving on to her companions. Barber's instincts told him something was definitely fishy. Parker's boots alone cost a year's grocery money for the old bachelor. The younger of the others had the nervous expression born of snapping to attention too often. A dark, perceptive glint to the older gentleman's eyes spoke of a survivor. His surface was calm, but Barber sensed the torrent beneath.

“I'm here about an article you wrote in March, 1970, 'UFO or Weather Balloon'.” Parker pulled out a Xeroxed copy of the article from her blazer pocket. Barber leaned back, article in hand. His hefty paunch spread his shirt buttons to their limit.

“Where did you say you were from, Miss?” Pale, grayish eyes, didn't let a single detail escape. Barber's thick, wooly eye brows pulled down to make him seem more fierce. His mind raced to recall the warning he had received all those years ago.

“Someday, someone will come asking questions. Whatever you tell them, don't tell them about what really happened.” Barber reread the article. He'd forgotten how clearly he saw things back then. The world was different; black and white. Now the old news hound lived in shades of gray.

“I didn't say, Mr. Barber.” Parker's voice dipped seductively as she leaned forward.

“I was a cub reporter back then, my editor sent me out to investigate. I asked a lot of nosy questions and got very few answers. Then I heard about Cheryl Helms from an anonymous tip left on my desk. The rest is history. Took me five years to live that story down before I got another shot at a serious piece.” It was the bare minimum and Parker knew it. Barber didn't trust her.

“Did anyone come asking questions, about the crash, either of these men perhaps?” Parker showed a picture of a young Major Charles and one of Jarod.

“I've never seen him before.” Barber handed back Jarod's picture. “This one didn't ask any questions about the crash, but I did see him at the base, he was one of the MP's who 'escorted' me off base.” The reporter tossed the black and white picture back at Miss Parker. She looked at the old editor's stony face. Both of them knew it was over.

“Thank you, Mr. Barber, have a good night.” Parker's icy voice crept up his spine like a spider. He watched them leave, waiting until they'd left the floor to turn on the crank dial radio he kept on the window sill of his modest office. A loud, gung-ho commentator called a basketball game. With sufficient cover noise, the experienced reporter grabbed the phone, and with a chubby finger, punched in a number he'd kept handy since late March, 1970.

“They showed up, just like you told me they would.” Barber listened for a moment to the voice on the other end. In the thirty or so years since that article, David Barber had been waiting to make this call. Back then, a stranger looking for his son had saved his life. Eager MP's had been ready to shoot the nosy, cub reporter. More recently, a young stranger had solved the murder of a local casino dancer left in a coma.

“Yes, I'll keep you in the loop, Major Charles, take care of yourself.” After a goodbye from the other end, Barber hung up. He found his bologna sandwich and returned to the story a young stringer had written,'Think Tank Exposed as Government Conspiracy'.

Scene Break

Chapter 6 Dinner with Olga by Parker4131970

NNL February 6

Donovan watched the big screen TV intently, trying to follow the basketball game. In his jeans and ragged t-shirt, the army officer looked like any other sports fan on a Tuesday night.

“Seriously, what's this Seaborg got that I don't?” Frank crushed a beer can between his knees and burped loudly. Donovan looked over at Frank, one dark eye brow raised, disbelief evident in his expression.

“Manners, college degrees, a higher security clearance, money.” Donovan answered his sulky friend. Frank let out a particularly odoriferous burp as he stole Donovan's pop corn from the bowl in his lap. The reek of onions, green peppers, pepperoni and pickled eggs permeated the room. For his trouble Frank got a rib jab.

“This guy is too smart, Donovan, what could Olga see in him?” The drunk chrononaut whined.

“He's probably just a passing fancy, Frank, don't worry, Olga will be back to ignoring you in a week.” Two years and the tune hadn't changed, Olga this and Olga that. It was just as bad listening to her.

“You're probably right, I save the world every week it seems like, avert nuclear disasters, prevent assassination attempts. What's better than that, I'm a hero.” Frank put his feet up on Donovan's coffee table with a self-satisfied grin. Donovan just agreed.

“What I should do is go find Olga and tell her what I think of this new Einstein she's so infatuated with. I should bust him in the nose, an upper cut maybe or a jab to the ribs.” Frank stood up and began to punch an imaginary opponent, dancing as if he were in the ring with Jarod.

“What you better do is sit down before you land on your ass, Frank.” The mostly sober Donovan set his pop corn on the coffee table. Still fighting his imaginary friend, Frank led with a right hook, his weight on his right foot. Gravity and beer conspired to be his undoing. Off balance, the chrononaut tripped over the coffee table and landed in the middle of it. The pop corn went everywhere like a layer of fluffy snow. Beer and pizza landed on the carpet.

“Frank, now you've done it, and I just had this carpet cleaned last week.” Craig Donovan helped his inebriated buddy off the broken coffee table.

“Guess I didn't anticipate that low blow.” Frank rolled over, laughing as he brushed half a pizza off his t-shirt.

“No, but you'd better anticipate a cleaning bill come payday, Frank, or I'll take it out of your hide.” Donovan grumbled.

Scene Break

Outside Las Vegas, Nevada February 7

“That is the funniest thing I have heard in a very long time, Dr. Seaborg.” Olga leaned back against the wrought iron chair. Other guests sat around them on the Spanish style veranda, eating and drinking wine. Waiters in black pants and white shirts moved gracefully among the small, outdoor tables.

“And if that wasn't bad enough, no one could tell him who the man in the yellow hat was.” Jarod laughed. A bowl of vanilla ice cream sat half eaten in front of the congenial genius. Olga hadn't laughed so hard in months. She'd been too busy trying to reform Frank. He wanted to please her, but went about it all wrong. “You've barely told me anything about yourself. How long have you worked on Project Backstep?” Jarod tried to steer the conversation back to the team, back to Mentnor.

“I've been working on it my whole career basically, forever practically.” Olga toyed with her watch as she looked into Jarod's hazel eyes.

“Not very long then.” Jarod joked easily.

“A few minutes perhaps.” The lady waved it off and rolled her eyes.

“Have you known Dr. Mentnor and the rest of the team long?” Jarod persisted.

“Isaac, he's the eldest one on the team, he began working on Backstep in the mid-1960's. I am actually one of the most recent additions to the American project, Frank Parker and myself.” She smiled and gave an exasperated growl.

“Lt. Frank Parker, the chrononaut?” The most interesting dossier to read Jarod remembered. His file read like an old west, dime novel, full of daring escapes and foiled plots.

“Yes, the chrononaut, the hinge on which Project Backstep hangs.” She sighed, he could be both noble and annoying at the same time. Jarod recalled why Frank was such a crucial part of the team; his exceptionally high pain tolerance. The Pretender knew something of the worth of pain tolerance.

“I sense that the two of you have a history.” Jarod sat back and watched Olga's reaction. She blushed a bit and looked away.

“Yes, Frank and I have a unique history, sort of like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner; Frank chases and I run.” The Russian scientist shook her head, leaning it over on her hand.

“So I should watch my back then?” Jarod asked with a bright smile.

“Most definitely, Jarod, Frank is quite protective.” Olga wasn't telling him the half of it. With a sigh she sat up straight and gathered her slender, navy handbag. “I have a million things to do tomorrow, as I'm sure you do too, we should go.” Olga called for the waiter to bring the check before getting up. Jarod hadn't learned anything he didn't already know, but an evening out with a beautiful woman wasn't a waste of time.

NNL lay dormant by the time Jarod and Olga checked in at the base. They said good-bye and went their separate ways. No one suspected the good doctor Seaborg to be a fraud. They also didn't suspect Jarod of being the real genius behind the technology powering Backstep. If anyone did it was Mentnor. He knew far more than anyone could ever guess.

Scene Break  

Chapter 7 NNL Centre Connection by Parker4131970

Las Vegas, Nevada February 6

“Broots, have the clearances came through yet?” Miss Parker asked, her voice sounding tired. A very determined lady, she'd been sitting in the luxury jet since six o'clock LasVegas time. Sydney and Broots had brought back Chinese take-out, very little of which Parker ate.

“No, but I have been on the phone with Benny, he dug up more info on one of the men in the photograph, Dr. Isaac Mentnor.” Broots stopped, happy with himself.

“And?” Miss Parker demanded, snapping her fingers rapidly.

“Well, he, uh, Mentnor's file was ultra top secret, so secret even the president doesn't have high enough clearance.” Broots' eyes shone with child-like excitement as he spoke. Miss Parker sat in her tan, leather captain's chair, unamused. “Anyway, Benny hacked in to the NSA database using an old binary glitch, which is really...”

“Broots!!” Sydney and Miss Parker both called him back to earth in unison.

“Sorry, Benny found that Mentnor is still working at Never Never Land, NNL, Benny found an entire file on the place.” A file an inch thick hit the fixed table between Sydney and Miss Parker.

“Why haven't the security clearances been authorized. If we miss Jarod because of your incompetence I am going to nail you to my wall by your Achilles tendon, do you hear me, Broots?” He could only nod as Parker threatened him through gritted teeth.

“You should try to rest, Miss Parker.” Concern in Sydney's voice irked her. Miss Parker gave him a narrow eyed stare.

“I'll rest when Jarod is back at the Centre and Major Charles is dead.”

Scene Break

NNL 0800 hrs February 6

“I don't want civilians on this base, Sir.” Nathan Ramsey paced across Talmadge's office, his blue jacket tail pulled away from his small paunch as he stalked across the dark area rug.

“The NSA panel is pressing me on this, Nathan, my hands are tied.” Talmadge's slate gray eyes had a hardness about them Ramsey knew better than to challenge.

“Alright, but I still say it's an unnecessary breach of security.” The head of NNL security grumbled as he came to a halt in front of the boss' desk.

“Do the paperwork, Nathan.” Talmadge growled. Grumbling in disgust, Ramsey stalked out of the office, the door thumping behind him. Jarod heard the acerbic Nathan Ramsey coming before he saw him.

“Mr. Ramsey, I was just looking for Dr. Vulkivitch.” Jarod searched for a reason to be outside Talmadge's office.

“Two left turns that way.” Ramsey pointed down the hall Jarod had just walked down.

“Is everything alright, Mr. Ramsey, you seem distressed.” A concerned frown crossed Jarod's hawkishly handsome face.

“Some smart ass outfit from back east wants access to the base, researching the aliens and all the old files, for some nutty reason.” Ramsey's personality profile had spoken of his opinionated attitude and severe patriotism, but he was something else to witness in person. “It's bad enough that I have to put up with that psycho they call a chrononaut, Parker.” Jarod's eyes took on a bemused expression as he stood listening to Nathan Ramsey's tirade. A pang of fear also beat in the Pretender's heart. He could only think of one smart ass outfit from back east that would have any reason to investigate NNL.

“Next thing you know they'll be telling us how to salute the flag.” Jarod played along with Ramsey's fervor.

“Exactly, Jarod, that's what I'm talking about, you know, at first I couldn't get a good read on you, but you're all-American after all.” Ramsey gave Jarod a slap on the back.

“America for the Americans, right.” Jarod forced a smile.

Down the Hall...

“You did what?!” Parker's voice carried down the cement hall toward Ramsey and Jarod. The chrononaut sounded angry.

“Keep your voice down, Mr. Parker, the reason I wasn't here last night is none of your concern.” Olga's voice sounded reproachful, sharp even. When she saw Jarod and Ramsey the Russian stopped short. She touched her short, red hair nervously. “Dr. Seaborg, Mr. Ramsey, good morning.” Olga pulled away from a sulky Frank Parker.

“Dr. Vulkovitch, hello, are you ready to begin modifications?” Jarod asked, his notes under one arm. The four of them walked to the conference room together. Jarod could feel Frank glaring at the back of his head. The Backstep team gathered for a final briefing before modifications began on the sphere. Jarod felt the cold, menacing glare Parker fixed him with. It reminded him of someone else.

By ten o'clock Talmadge sent the team off to the hangar to work. Jarod spent half his time thinking of ways to keep Miss Parker out of NNL and the other half up-grading the sphere. Dr. Ballard had a million questions.

“When we have to use the sphere, heaven forbid, it should allow up to three days longer to find a solution. Although Frank does most of the problem solving really.” Ballard sighed as he adjusted a computer panel.

“Does Dr. Mentnor still help with the problem solving?” Jarod began fishing for info. The owlish scientist gave a dozen instances of Mentnor's skills.

“From what I read in the old files, Mentnor single handedly broke the technology down for human use.” Ballard jabbered as they checked the sphere's gauges.

“Old records?” Jarod's eyes gleamed as the wheels began to turn. “I'd love to see these old records sometime.” The Pretender reeled the information fish in a little. Ballard shrugged as he wrote on a clip board.

“All the old files were sent to a place in Delaware a few years ago to be digitized. The hard copies were probably destroyed.” Jarod was simultaneously crestfallen and inspired. But first he would have to delay Miss Parker. His sources told the geniuses she was already in Vegas. All Miss Parker needed was security clearances from Nathan Ramsey.

Scene Break


Chapter 8 Miss P's Grand Entrance by Parker4131970

Las Vegas, Nevada February 6 2330 hrs.

A bright, white light blinded Miss Parker until she raised a shielding hand. She found herself in an impossibly white room. The room didn't have any seams; no corners or meeting places. From somewhere nearby Parker heard the sound of a saw buzzing. Looking down, she noticed solid, white restraints on her ankles and across her waist. Struggling, she saw white robed figures coming toward where she pulled at the heavy restraints at her waist.

“Miss Parker, lie still, this won't hurt a bit.” Looking down at her, Parker saw Broots' face above the high robe collar. Stuffy, rubber fumes moved in as the figures surrounded the young woman.

“What are you doing, where am I? Broots stop!” Strong hands forced her shoulders back against the hard surface beneath her. Fear and anger churned inside Parker.

“She has always been stubborn.” Sydney's voice pulled Parker's attention to the side.

“Oh, come on, Miss Parker, let us see if we can find a heart in there.” Jarod's menacing voice spoke from the other side. An evil gleam in his dark eyes frightened Parker. The man she'd been trying to capture for three years lifted a medical saw and gunned the motor.

“Jarod, no, I have a heart, really I do.” A restraint band slid firmly over Parker's neck, cutting off any words she might have used to persuade him.

“Cut deep, this Earth specimen has a particularly thick skin.” Tears spilled when Miss Parker saw her father lean over her. Long, gray fingers waved good-bye as Jarod began to lower the medical saw.

“Daddy, NO!!” Miss Parker tried to scream. Everything in the white room disappeared.

“Miss Parker, wake up.” Broots shook his boss' shoulder. Sydney stood behind him, examining her reaction. Again, Broots gently shook Miss Parker. Suddenly, she snapped awake. Defensive, she pushed the crouching man over backwards. The tech guy hit the floor harmlessly.

“Broots, what were you thinking?” Miss Parker growled. The tech guy picked himself up off the dark brown carpet grumbling about being nice to people.

“You were having a nightmare, Miss Parker.” Sydney sat down across from the woman he'd known all her life. With swift grace she stood and crossed to the small refrigerator looking for something alcoholic. Having an alien probe for a nightmare left her shaken, momentarily.

“Have the security clearances come through yet, Broots?” Miss Parker asked, looking out the jet window at the city lights beyond the air port.

“No, uh, no, Miss Parker, they haven't.” Broots answered hesitantly. He always felt like a rabbit around her, as if Parker were a hound on his trail. She swore to herself.

“I'm more likely to see a UFO than to catch Jarod.” The lament was silently shared by Sydney and Broots as well.

Scene Break

NNL 2330 hrs February 6

Jarod slid a sour Pez from the green alien head dispenser as he hacked into the base's main frame. Ramsey's office lay quiet all around the genius imposter. A large, American flag hung behind the wooden desk. Frustrated, Jarod swore softly, tightening the grip he had on one of the little, red notebooks he always kept handy.

“Ramsey sent those security clearances out already.” Only a momentary hiccup, the Pretender dug deeper into the main frame. If he couldn't stop Miss Parker, he could at least delay her for as long as possible. The Ice Princess going head to head with armed MP's with permission to shoot sounded like just the tactic Jarod needed.

“Enjoy the hospitality, Miss Parker.” Jarod smiled slyly, his face barely visible in the light of the computer screen.

Scene Break

NNL 1000 hrs February 7

“You can use the john when we get through security, Broots, you should have taken care of it before we left.” Miss Parker admonished him. Her ice blue eyes peered at him in the rear view mirror as she drove. Sydney kept silent in the passenger seat, mildly amused at the juvenile argument between the two.

“I did, right before we left the jet.” Broots stated, a hint of a whine to his grumbling voice.

“You and your pea size bladder.” Parker sighed, pushing her sunglasses up again. Miles and miles of desert lay along Highway 375 near the Air Force Base outside Las Vegas. Coyotes in the distance watched the dark Lincoln Town car speed by as if watching television and the show was just for them. Cacti and Joshua trees broke the sight of the rock strewn terrain. Eventually, warning signs in English and repeated in Spanish began to dot the route.

“We should be at the base security gates very soon.” Sydney observed as the red and white signs began to appear more frequently.

“I hope so.” Broots squirmed in his seat uncomfortably.

A matched pair of camo clad guards carrying M4's stood in front of the gates. Their gaze was obscured by darkly tinted aviator sunglasses. Miss Parker pulled up to the gate and shifted the car into park.

“Broots, the security clearances.” she demanded, snapping her fingers nearly in his face. After a moment fumbling in his pocket, the tech genius produced the security clearances.

“Purpose for being here, ma'am and picture ID please.” One guard bent down to look into the car, his fingers laid along the trigger guard of his M4. Cooper, M.L were stitched across the left side of his tan, desert fatigues.

“Talmadge is expecting us.” Parker handed all three clearances to the guard. Dogs sniffed around the car as they used mirrors to inspect the under carriage. Cooper took the passes back to the guard house for further inspection. A few moments went by as the guard read the computer screen. Broots began to feel apprehensive, well, more so than usual.

“I think we're in trouble, Miss Parker, the guards are eying us.” A million thoughts cluttered the timorous man's mind as he watched two guards double time to meet five more pouring from the guard house.

“You'll need to step out of the car, ma'am.” Cooper's gruff voice brooked no argument, but Miss Parker did anyway. Guards opened the doors and forced Sydney and Broots to step out. Miss Parker had to see the business end of an M4 before she'd get out.

“This is ridiculous, I'll have your head on a platter when I speak to your superior officer.” Roughly, the Centre operatives were frisked. Cooper took care of Miss Parker himself. He had her stand with her hands on the piping hot roof of the Lincoln, her feet set widely apart. The ranking officer liked the fighting spirit he saw in the slim, silk clad woman cursing and quarreling every breath. Shouldering his weapon, Cooper began at her shoulders, Miss Parker's dark hair felt soft against his calloused hands. It didn't take long to find the holster in the small of her back holding her .9mm handgun. After checking the safety, Cooper slid the gun into his waist band. His subordinates watched with passive interest as he drew the search out, just to piss off the obviously high maintenance woman even further. His hands grazed her hips and slid gently down the outside of her thighs, down to the high boot tops.

“Ma'am, I'll have to take these off.” His southern accent drawling as he looked up at her from a squatted position.

“You must be joking,” Miss Parker stated, not really believing that the uniformed military man was going to remove her dress boots. When Cooper began to unzip the knee high footwear he nearly received a backward mule kick.

“I wouldn't do that if I were you, Ma'am, assault charges will be brought.” Cooper's left hand squeezed her kneed cap with vice like grip. Miss Parker gritted her teeth and didn't let on. Down to her thin, cotton boot socks, Parker stood tip toe on the boiling pavement.

“Well, look what I found.” Cooper held up a butterfly knife he'd found in the hollowed out block of a thing she called a boot heel, fastened in place with a magnetic strip. The guard grinned as he pocketed the weapon. He'd begun to admire the classily dressed, young woman. Sydney and Broots looked at each other, knowing they were pretty much up the creek without a paddle. Miss Parker pounded a balled fist on the hood of the car.

“Jarod is behind this.” Miss Parker realized as the guard hand cuffed her wrists behind her. An amused smile spread across Sydney's face. The Pretender had always had a sneaky, mischievous sense of humor. Being free for three years had only added to his bag of tricks. It didn't help that Miss Parker was such an easy target. Jarod knew just how to get under her skin.

A Humvee came barreling toward the guard house, dust flying up behind it in a choking cloud. More MP's filed out with M4's at the ready. Still fuming, Miss Parker and the others were escorted toward the tank like vehicle. Seemingly out of nowhere, a large shadow blotted out the sun overhead. Everyone froze in their tracks, staring at two, huge Huey helicopters. What looked like two, large car speakers lowered from beneath the hovering craft. The size of military foot lockers, the speakers began to produce a pulsating wave of sound. A voice came over the speakers, the sound wave still pulsating.

“Do not think yourselves safe, the wave of sound you hear is being heard over every military base in north and south America as well as ruling seats of government. No one is coming to your rescue. You will submit to our plan of action willingly or face the consequences.” A third speaker descended from the helicopter. No one knew its purpose until the guard dogs slumped to the ground, dead.

“The frequency used has also been modified to destroy human life.” The male voice went on to give a list of demands. Everyone below stood in shock at the bold demands. All guards looked to Cooper for instructions. When the Huey began to pull away the guards closed ranks, sweeping Miss Parker, Sydney and Broots into the Humvee.

“Do you think the people behind the helicopter will do what they're threatening?” Broots asked in general.

“Is it even possible to kill someone with sound waves?” Miss Parker added, strongly suspecting it was possible. The emphatic nod Sydney gave his colleagues confirmed her fears.

“Jarod hypothesized that if a sound wave could be both amplified and compressed enough at the same time, then it would, in theory, interrupt the electronic impulses within the body. It was rumored to have been tested on death row inmates.” Broots looked fascinated. Miss Parker shook her head.

“Wonderful, another one escapes from the Island of Dr. Moreau. How many more of Jarod's theories are we going to meet before total annihilation?” She had a way of stabbing and turning the knife.

“A theory is only a tool, Miss Parker, it is how that theory is used that is either good or evil. Besides, when Jarod sees this he will automatically recognize its origin.” The old doctor left the rest unsaid. They all knew Jarod would be outraged, and with good reason.

Scene Break

Chapter 9 Two Parkers by Parker4131970

NNL 1000 hrs February 8

Jarod felt the suspicious, downright malignant stares directed at him every time Frank could pull his eyes away from the Sphere's controls. Donovan chided him at every turn. Dr. Ballard watched with glee at the sparks flying from Frank's narrowed eyes. Olga avoided the chrononaut when possible. As long as Jarod was on base the chrononaut would be petulant and childish.

“I see you've found yourself in a triangle, Dr. Seaborg.” Dr. Mentnor commented as he came to help calibrate the Sphere's electronic systems.

“Ah, yes.” Jarod smiled, uneasy with the situation brewing between him, Frank and Olga.

“Being in a love triangle is akin to being lost in the Bermuda Triangle.” The old doctor laughed for a moment before he realized Jarod hadn't gotten the simile. Mentnor started to explain, his mouth half open when Director Talmadge's voice interrupted all work in the hangar.

“Will the Backstep Team and Dr. Seaborg report to the conference room immediately.” Like ants to a hive, they pulled themselves together and marched to the conference room. Jarod saw apprehension on every member's face as they clustered. Nathan Ramsey stood in front of a large, plasma screen TV watching the United States president on ZNN.

“Moments ago, a group called Dark Moon, infiltrated every military base in every country in north and south America with a list of demands for each government.” The grim faced official went on to give a reassuring speech while saying very little of real relevance or giving information. Talmadge muted the television. Frown lines around the aging director's eyes deepened as he sat down at the head of the large table. It was easy to see the weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders.

“What's the real scoop on this one, Sir?” Ramsey paced, his hands on his hips and blood in his eye. With a silencing look from Talmadge, the true blue patriot sat down.

“The NSA and FBI have sent over all the information they have on this group, which isn't a whole hell of a lot.” He handed two files to Ramsey and gave a brief summary of their contents to the team.

“Now, what the Panel has isn't enough to authorize a Backstep, but they foresee one soon if these demands aren't met, which they won't be.” Ramsey barely kept himself from letting out a war hoop. Jarod watched, his mind examining every scenario.

“Dr. Seaborg, how many more days does your modifications afford us?” Olga asked the next, most obvious question.

“By my calculations, the modifications should bring an additional seventy-two hours.” Everyone around the table looked at the quiet genius. From seven to ten days in one sentence.

“Wonderful, I'll inform the NSA panel, until we are cleared for a Backstep, double check all systems.” Talmadge dismissed the team, remaining behind to discuss the prisoners with Ramsey.

“Sir, I have three detainees caught this morning.” Ramsey explained as Jarod moved slowly from the conference room. He left with a wide, self-satisfied grin on his face.

Scene Break

NNL Holding Cell 1200 hrs February 8

Miss Parker shook the bars of the holding cell she had to herself. She'd been pacing for the last hour and a half like a caged cat. Sydney sat placidly on the bottom bunk bed while Broots lay comfortably on the top bunk.

“If they aren't going to LET US GO, then they can at least FEED US!” Parker shouted down the long row of empty cells. Canned air and battleship gray walls were wearing on her nearly non-existent nerves.

“Calm down, Miss Parker, yelling won't make them respond any faster.” Sydney's calm demeanor made the wound up, young woman want to fly apart at the seams. An ominous thud at the end of the cement cell block drew all three detainees' attention at once. Two guards and a shorter, older, more average looking fellow appeared. Full of confidence and bravado, the one in the suit and tie swaggered up to Miss Parker's cell.

“I'm Nathan Ramsey, head of security, my MP's tell me you tried to pass yourselves off as the three officials from Delaware we've been expecting.” Ramsey's narrow, beady eyes looked the unlikely trio up and down. An air of pompous superiority oozed from the man. An untamed spark lit Miss Parker's ice blue eyes as she pulled herself to her full height; a full three inches taller than Ramsey in her bare feet.

“We are the three officials from Delaware you've been expecting, Mr. Ramsey.” Broots and Sydney sat on the edge of their bunks watching. Miss Parker's voice purred like a black panther before it pounced gracefully yet powerfully onto helpless prey. Ramsey tried to straighten his back and measure up as he watched the every movement of the seductive woman on the other side of the battleship gray bars. “I'm sure by now you've run our fingerprints and faces through the FBI database, out ID's and drivers licenses through the DMV as well as our flight plan.” Her voice dropped to a barely audible tone the longer she spoke. Ramsey didn't even know he'd moved to within arm's length of the bars. All he saw was a pair of iceberg blue eyes in a porcelain doll face.

“Yes, all that's been done, but we still can't tell if you are who you say your are or if you're part of the Dark Moon Group.” The slight southern drawl in Ramsey's voice made him wince. Miss Parker's fist grabbed the man's tie in a lightning fast snatch.

“I am not part of some radical, anti-government group, you MORON, I will have you ass in a sling with one phone call.” Parker pulled Ramsey against the bars, rattling them. Her shouting voice echoed in his ears as he tried to peel himself out of her clutches. Ramsey began shouting for the guards. After a moment, two burly, camo clad soldiers marched to his rescue. Miss Parker turned loose of the squirming head of security before the guards arrived.

“What in the hell is wrong with you, lady? Are you completely nuts or something? I went from having one psychopath Parker on this base to having two, just my luck.” Ramsey spouted from the other side of the hall between holding cells. Miss Parker sat on the lower bunk bed with a shifty expression on her face.

“I thought there were only Miss Parker and Mr. Lyle, do you think they have another brother?” Broots whispered to Sydney.

“Who's to say, Broots, especially in the Centre.” Sydney answered enigmatically. The tech whiz shook his head in agreement.

Scene Break

Chapter 10 The Sharks Circle by Parker4131970
Author's Notes:

Author's Note * S1, Ep: “Flyer” Deanne Bray later went on to portray Sue Thomas; F.B. Eye

Author's Note * S1, Ep: “Flyer” Deanne Bray later went on to portray Sue Thomas; F.B. Eye

NNL Sphere Hangar 1300 hrs

“Parker, what are your chronometer readings?” Ballard asked, shouting up to the Sphere's open door. The boyish chrononaut poked his head out the opening. From his high roost, Parker could see the tower where Ramsey and Talmadge were talking heatedly. He quickly wrote down the information and walked it down to Ballard.

“What are Ramsey and Talmadge arguing about?” Frank asked a confused expression on his chiseled features.

“The prisoners they detained this morning.” Jarod spoke from behind Parker.

“What prisoners?” Parker sounded irritated at having to talk to the good doctor. Jarod's dark, hawkish eyes stared at the two figures overhead.

“If I'm reading their lips correctly, they're talking about a crazy woman and two men. Ramsey says something about having two crazy Parkers on base.” Frank stared up too, but couldn't make heads nor tails of the conversation.

“Ah, Dr. Seaborg, you read lips?” Ballard's eyes shone with curiosity, “I bet that comes in handy.”

“It has its uses, yes.” Jarod answered, still focused on the two men overhead.

“Where did you learn to lip read, Jarod?” Ramsey walked away, fuming, so the Pretender came back down to earth.

“Oh, I learned from a deaf, FBI agent while test piloting for a private aerospace company, excuse me, gentlemen.” Jarod took off toward the tower. (*)Ballard and Frank looked at each other, both extremely confused.

“What's his malfunction?” Frank wondered aloud, one eyebrow lifted. Ballard just shrugged.

Scene Break

The Centre February 8

Angelo sat on the cold, cement floor of the sub level only a few yards above hell. His light eyes didn't mind the lack of light as he searched the dry, stale, document boxes. A pen light gripped between his teeth provided the only light to see by. Angelo had already read most of the sixty boxes of files about Project Backstep. Most of the documents were things like requisitions for materials, weather reports or other useless information. The emoto-sponge didn't know what he sought, but he knew it would be in Backstep files. With his usual, disjointed fashion, Angelo thew aside all the unnecessary file folders. He dug in the bottom of the box, his hands covered in spider webs and decades old dust, the empath heard a baby's cry. Fear and confusion hung in the air like dust motes. Angelo pulled the file from the bottom of the box of hanging files. Someone had tried to hide the file. The Centre, in metallic leaf still glittered in the weak beam of Angelo's pen light. Rocking back and forth, the empath flipped through medical records until he came to a birth certificate. Touching the tiny foot print on the proof of live birth, blue lines of electricity and feelings of disorienting weightlessness over took Angelo. Flashing images of natural disasters, mass destruction and violence threatened to short circuit him.

“Major Charles, Conundrum,” Angelo repeated the words in turn as he let go of the file, scattering the contents. Breathing heavily and still charged by the adrenaline rush, he rocked furiously.

Scene Break

NNL February 8

“Jarod, hello, I've been...” Olga stopped herself from finishing the sentence. Instead she smiled brightly and pulled her glasses off.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Vulkovitch.” The genius smiled, feeling awkward around the beautiful, Russian scientist.

“With all that's happened I haven't been able to tell you I had a wonderful time last night.” Olga fiddled with her wire framed glasses as she talked. Their voices sounded hollow in the seemingly endless, cement halls. Even in fluorescent lighting, Jarod noticed how lovely the lady scientist looked. He easily saw why Frank misinterpreted him as a rival. On the surface the scientist and chrononaut were complete opposites.

“Last night was great.” The bashful Pretender agreed. Inside he squirmed to get away. He had other things to do, but he didn't want to brush her off.

“Dr. Seaborg, there you are, Talmadge is calling a meeting, right now in the conference room.” Craig Donovan turned the corner, Frank on his heels.

“I thought perhaps you would like to have dinner again sometime.” Olga began, speaking very quietly as she led the way towards the required meeting. Jarod could feel Franks' cold, dark eyes boring into the back of his head.

“Olga, you still owe me a movie date from Tuesday, remember?” Frank interrupted, jogging a few steps to catch up. Daggers nearly shot out of the scientist's light blue eyes. Donovan hung back, taking it all in with a weary sigh. Frank could be persistent and sometimes obnoxious.

“We can discuss that later, Mr. Parker.” She spoke through gritted teeth. By the time Olga turned around Jarod had disappeared into the conference room. The chrononaut saw him moving fast toward the door.

“Looks like Einstein just gave you the slip.” Frank would have rubbed it in or died trying. Even Donovan had to hide a smirk.

Jarod breathed a sigh of relief as he closed the door behind him. The rest of the BS team had already assembled around the oval table.

“Are you still treading water in the Bermuda Triangle, my boy?” Mentnor asked as Jarod took a seat beside him.

“Barely, Sir, I feel as if the sharks are circling.” Jarod spoke in a conspiratorial tone. Both men shook their heads.

“Alright everyone, I have more bad news.” Talmadge took control of the meeting immediately. “Reports have arrived from DC, a school was hit with sound waves, all teachers and students are reported dead.” Ramsey played the news cast on mute.

“The terrorists have threatened the White House next if their demands aren't met.” Lumps formed in the team's throats as Talmadge finished the report for Ramsey.

“What school was it, Bradley?” Frank asked, concern in his eyes, his voice taking on an edge.

“It wasn't your son's school, Frank.” Talmadge answered matter of factly. The chrononaut breathed a guilty sigh of relief. His son, Jimmy, was alright, but other innocent children hadn't been so lucky. Jarod stared at the television screen but didn't really see it. He could fix this, he would fix this.

“Has the Panel given us clearance to Backstep, Sir?” Frank asked, leaned forward on the table.

“Not yet, Frank, they're still gathering information on the Dark Moon Group, be ready at a moment's notice.” Talmadge finished the briefing with the latest information gathered on the terrorists. Jarod slipped away from the others as soon as he could.

Scene Break

Chapter 11 Sister Projects by Parker4131970

Las Vegas, Nevada February 8

David Barber sat in the bus depot reading the previous day's newspaper. He wondered what to expect to see after thirty plus years. In 1970 Major Charles had been a young man with a full head of hair and a lean, athletic build. For the thousandth time the newspaper man repositioned himself on the thin slatted bench beneath a spring sun.

“Hello, Barber.” The voice came from behind the newspaper hound.

“Been here nearly an hour waiting on you.” Barber took a sidelong glance at the man seated beside him. Major Charles wore khakis and a button down beneath an aged, but still handsome face. Aviator sunglasses hung from his shirt pocket.

“I had to make sure no one was here to greet me.” A wary glance around the street reassured him.

“Did you ever find your sons?” Barber turned to the comics lazily.

“Still looking.” It had been a rough road to get as close as he was. Major Charles seemed to always be a day or two behind Jarod. He did get to see all the good his eldest son was doing along the way. In that he could take pride.

“What happened to the package we slipped out of the base?” Barber asked, watching the other man for a response.

“Miss Helms and I took it safely to Philadelphia, an old friend there took care of it for us.” The major smiled slyly, remembering his friend's expression.

“Good, those three I told you about from Delaware are in the stockade on the base as we speak.” Major Charles listened to Barber's weary voice. The reporter had a lot of water under the bridge. Thirty years and change had taken their toll. “I think the lid is about to come off this can of worms, Major.” Barber sighed heavily, one beefy hand thumbing through the obituary column.

“Yes, I believe it is, I'll be out there by this time tomorrow, take care of yourself.” Neither man said anything, they just went in separate directions.

Scene Break

NNL 0200 hrs February 9

Jarod lay on the twin bed, his eyes closed, but he wasn't asleep. The Pretender hadn't puled down the bed linens or kicked off his shoes yet. Dry, warm air filled the guest quarters where he camped out. Even with a stylish, marble bathroom, southwestern motif paintings and a door he could choose to walk out of, Jarod felt cramped in the subterranean living space. It was too much like the Centre.

“You have mail.” Broke Jarod out of his dozing mode, bringing him to life. One new message had appeared on Jarod's email account. A large attachment and two words comprised the message: Major Charles, Conundrum.

Thank you, Angelo.” Jarod whispered aloud in the dark. Scanning the attachment after decoding and reverse encryption, Jarod found a Centre file with a birth certificate and medical files for a mother, son and father. Included were IQ tests, physicals, blood work and results of genetic tests. Phrases like, 'Subject shows extreme pain tolerance' or 'Evidence of photographic memory evident at an early age.', filed every report on all three patients. Jarod read, both horrified and not one bit surprised. The Centre and Project Backstep were more connected than Jarod had known. At the end of the attachment was a letter from Dr. Mentnor, formally complaining about the direction Project BS was taking. Project Backstep should be manned by volunteers only, he argued. Jarod skipped back to the birth certificate. 'Frank B. Parker', typed in neat, block letter crossed the name portion of the official document. The stolen genius swore under his breath. There wasn't anything the Centre wouldn't stoop to.

“I see the Pretender project wasn't the only pie you had your finger in.” Jarod gritted his teeth, his indignation flaring more than usual. The Pretender printed the file off and set out to the stockade.

Dressed as a medic orderly, Jarod rolled a cart toward the two guards posted outside the holding cell. The higher ranking of the two looked him up and down.

“You're new on base, aren't you.” Jarod heard the gruff, southern drawl in the soldier's voice.

“Yeah, that's why I got down here late, took forever to find the holding cells.” Jarod lied easily.

“Good luck in there, don't get too close to the female, she nearly strangled Ramsey earlier today. She's a wildcat's kitten.” The sergeant shook his head.

“I'll remember that, thanks.” Jarod laughed. These three didn't know the half of it. Parker was as deadly as she was seductive. The guard buzzed him into the cell block. He hummed softly as he pushed the stainless steel cart down the block walled enclosure. One wheel squeaked and rattled as it rolled along.

“Pick that up and carry it, you imbecile.” Miss Parker bellowed, sitting up on her bunk.

“Ah, Miss Parker, I chose this cart especially for you.” Sydney and Broots both sat bolt upright. Miss Parker rushed to the bars.

“Jarod.” She hissed venomously.

“Why, Miss Parker, it's good to see you too.” He slid a meal of toasted wheat bread and peanut butter through the tray slot. “I thought you might be hungry and I know your stomach hurts when it's empty.” Somewhere down deep he hoped Miss Parker wouldn't throw it in his face.

“What are you doing here, Jarod?” Sydney asked, wiping sleep from one eye.

“Finding the truth.” He pulled the file from beneath his uniform and passed it through the bars to Sydney. The doctor flipped through the file, speed reading the high lights.

“The Centre was involved with Project BS from the beginning, they planned to steal a child, a prodigy, to use as a chrononaut.” The ire in Jarod's voice rose. The force of his anger vibrated up and down the cement cells.

“I had no idea.” Sydney studied the letter at the end of the file as he spoke.

“What does that have to do with why we're locked in here?” Miss Parker demanded. Jarod turned his cold expression on her.

“My father must have found out about Project BS when he followed Mr. Parker to NNL to kidnap him.” Three pair of eyes looked at the Pretender like he'd become a gray alien all of a sudden.

“My father was never in any danger of being kidnapped.” Miss Parker openly scoffed.

“Are you so sure, had the Centre informed you of everything, Miss Parker?” Jarod countered, his jaw clenched and dark eyes narrowed. He had her dead to rights. The Centre only disseminated information for the purpose of manipulation. Miss Parker's expression turned cat-like, never a good sign. If she had them, Parker would have kneaded her claws to use them on the master of disguise standing before her.

“Eat your toast, Miss Parker, you'll have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.” Jarod took the file from Sydney and rolled his cart out the door. Once outside, the genius stopped to be checked out. The ranking guard looked him up and down again.

“You don't look any worse for wear, is she as gorgeous as they say?” The lean built guard asked, a grin on his mischievous face.

“She's quite attractive.” Jarod agreed, not sure how he felt about other men ogling Miss Parker. He'd known her most of his life and for better or worse, she was the most constant female in his solitary existence.

Scene Break

Knott County, KY February 8

Chase Harper sat in the building he owned in downtown Hindman. Across the room a small, color TV played live coverage of the president's announcement. A dark scowl controlled the features of the Dark Moon Group's leader. His emerald green eyes bore holes into the news broadcast. None of the countries targeted had capitulated. Three men, average men, stood in the simple, second floor office.

“AJ, send a message to the contacts of each capitol, have them go ahead with the assassinations and clear out our operatives.” Harper's southern drawl pulled the sentences together tightly. The southeastern Kentucky businessman had began to see a need for change in America as a young man growing up during the Vietnam War. Using the family money gleaned from dealing with huge energy companies stripping the Appalachian mountains of coal and natural gas he'd set about to make those changes. Ten generations of Harper's family had been neck deep in the business.

“Yes, Sir, Mr. Harper, we'll have this done before sunset.” AJ Slone moved swiftly out of the worn office. Operatives all over the continent were set to use the deadly sound wave technology. America had to change, by force if necessary.

Scene Break

Chapter 12 In the Beginning by Parker4131970

NNL February 9, 0800 hrs Nathan Ramsey's office.

“Your computer records are wrong, Mr. Ramsey, the photos you sent match out three executives perfectly.” Mr. Lyle's voice took on an air of authority. Ramsey knew when he was talking to the boss.

“How I know is, the female you're holding is my sister. Do we understand one another?” Lyle hung up before Ramsey had time to say a word.

“Snotty, little jerk!” Ramsey fumed, slamming down the phone. After a turn around his office, the head of security picked up the phone again and dialed an extension.

“Yeah, Cooper, bring the prisoners to my office immediately.” Ramsey ordered, his voice barely under control. Fifteen minutes later, Miss Parker, Sydney and Broots were escorted to Ramsey's office.

“I see you've finally come to your senses, Mr. Ramsey.” Miss Parker purred. He didn't know why, but Nathan Ramsey felt threatened.

“We are very sorry, Miss Parker, the security of this base is of the utmost importance.” Ramsey breathed deeply, trying to stand as tall as his frame would allow.

“Now, can we get back to the business we came to attend to?” Miss Parker leaned forward, in a very predatory stance. She pulled out the picture of Jarod she kept handy. Ramsey knew who it was at a distance. He started to demand an explanation when the office door flew open, sending the blinds into a clatter.

“Ramsey, Talmadge says we..” The speaker never finished his sentence. Grousing, the head of security stalked around his desk.

“Parker, were you born in a barn or something? Can't you see I'm busy just now?” The blue coverall clad chrononaut stood with one hand on the door knob and his mouth agape.

“Hello, I'm Lt. Frank B. Parker, and you are?” He finally found his voice. A pair of ice blue eyes looked up at him from beneath long, dark lashes.

“They call me Miss Parker.” Her voice carried a clipped, eastern accent and a hit of amusement.

“Frank, did you hear me?” Ramsey waved his hand in front of the chrononaut's face.

“Shut up, Ramsey, or I'll shove your nose into your brain.” Frank turned from the lovely, dark lady to his nemesis. Behind Ramsey the lovely lady smirked, looking at Sydney. She liked what she saw, and what she heard. This man was bold, a characteristic Miss Parker could relate to.

“Tell Talmadge I'll be there in a second.” Ramsey shoved Frank out the door and closed it behind him.

Scene Break

NNL Dr. Isaac Mentnor's Office 0800 hrs February 9

Jarod strolled into Dr. Mentnor's office at seven o'clock and made himself at home in an arm chair. Sitting in the dark, the Pretender could smell the scent of old, musty books, Old Spice aftershave, and dry, filtered air. It all reminded him of Sydney's office at the Centre. When the lights were flipped on, Jarod roused out of his reverie, red notebook in hand.

“Good morning, Dr. Mentnor.” The older man was taken aback by his sudden appearance.

“Jarod, what are you doing here so early?” Mentnor crossed the office to his desk and sat down. He shuffled around, dressed in dark gray slacks and a black sweater over a white dress shirt and complimentary bow tie.

“I came to talk to you about this.” Jarod handed him the file he'd been carrying around all night. Isaac knew exactly what Jarod had come to him for.

“So, you're Jarod, the child prodigy, the real genius behind Project Backstep.” Mentnor sank back into his leather office chair with a wistful sigh.

“Yes, Sir, one and the same.” A dark, mysterious look glinted in Jarod's hawkish eyes.

“Have you found your parents yet, Jarod?” The question took him by surprise.

“Almost.” He looked pained for a moment. “What really happened when Mr. Parker came to NNL, Dr. Mentnor?” Jarod's voice sounded like hot steel when it hits water. The old man before him took a deep breath before speaking.

“I found a man on the brink, Jarod.” Dr. Mentnor's eyes took on a faraway, sad reflection. “Major Charles insinuated himself into base security over a month before the Centre sent Mr. Parker. He was well liked by all the men on base. Major Charles and I helped send Frank to Philadelphia, to the orphanage where he grew up.” Mentnor smiled, remembering the daring he once had. “ Father Kelley, an old friend of your father's from the military, took it from there, Frank's parents were dead, but at least he was free to grow up, which you weren't I take it.”

“No, I didn't.” Jarod sighed. “Do yo know why my father was here?” The Pretender already knew but wanted to know more.

“Major Charles planned to abduct Mr. Parker, he had to make a choice between saving Frank and bargaining for his sons.” Mentnor could only imagine how torn the major must have been.

“Save two sons who were already at the Centre or save someone else's child from the same fate.” Jarod's heart fell in his chest. He wished his father had rescued him and Kyle, but on the other hand, Jarod wouldn't wish a lab rat's existence on anyone. As the truth sank in, Dr. Mentnor's phone rang.

“Thank you, we'll be right there.” Dr. Mentnor hung up the phone. “We have a meeting to attend, it seems there are three officials from Delaware to meet you.” Mentnor's rheumy eyes took on a devilish expression.

“Thank you, Dr. Mentnor.” Jarod walked out of the office with the good doctor.

Scene Break


Chapter 13 In the Past by Parker4131970

NNL Conference Room #1 0830 hrs February 9

Olga walked into the conference room and took her usual seat across from Frank and Donovan. What she saw beside him made her unreasonably angry. A long legged brunette sat beside Frank. She was cool and aloof, wearing designer clothes and perfectly coiffed, shoulder length hair. Dr. Ballard zoomed into the room, his wheel chair stopping with a jerk.

“Ooh, company.” The eclectic scientist marveled, removing the red lollipop from his mouth. Ballard took a long look at the lovely visitor studying her surroundings.

“Hey, Ballard, this is Miss Parker.” A huge grin nearly split the scientist's face when Frank introduced the visitor.

“Have you been to Vegas lately, Frank?” A laugh died on his lips when he saw how unamused Frank and the lady both were.

“No relation, I'm of the Delaware Parkers.” Her thick, cultured voice; husky and breathy, made Ballard feel tingles in places he hadn't felt in ages. Olga rolled her eyes, coughing to cover a mock gag. Frank kicked her beneath the table.

“The other guests are Sydney and Broots.” Miss Parker interrupted, quelling the coming argument.

“Where is Dr. Seaborg?” Ramsey demanded of no one in particular.

“I saw Jarod earlier this morning.” Mentnor answered nonchalantly. Talmadge bustled in, a cross expression darkening his features.

“There are two reasons I called this meeting. First, the Dark Moon Group has carried out an attack on the US President, the Canadian Prime Minister, and a number of leaders in South America. The Panel has authorized a back step immediately. Second, the man we know as Dr. Seaborg is actually an imposter.” Talmadge hit play on the projector remote. Various pictures of Jarod appeared on screen; an FBI badge, race car driver, Army Ranger, and surgeon, to list a few.

“He has bluffed his way through all this?” Donovan remarked, amazed.

“Bet he's a hell of a poker player.” Frank added, raising his eyebrows and grinning.

“Jarod has the unique ability to become whom ever he needs to become. He processes and applies information in such a way that he truly is a doctor or lawyer.” Sydney explained as he'd done countless times over the years.

“Nice slide show, but you forgot rodeo clown and the time I painted murals in San Pedro.” All eyes turned to the door. Leaning against the door jam, his arms crossed over his chest, stood Jarod. Miss Parker jumped to her feet, as did Ramsey and Talmadge.

“Well, I'll be, if that ain't bold as brass.” Ramsey declared, punching in the number for security into the phone on the table.

“Trapped like a rat, Jarod?” Miss Parker couldn't contain the triumph in her voice. She knew as well as anyone he showed up by choice. Their gaze locked across the room.

“There are none so trapped as those who will not move.” He paraphrased an old adage. Miss Parker caught Jarod's double meaning and felt it like a knife.

“Alright you, MP's are on their way.” Ramsey rounded the conference table to stand beside Miss Parker.

“Jarod is my prisoner, you bureaucratic piss ant.” Miss Parker came toe-to-toe with the bantam director of security.

“You must really be something, Jarod, I thought Ramsey only turned that color red when he yelled at me.” Frank chuckled. The Pretender only shrugged.

“See, the thing is, without me there is no back step, I broke the code in 1970 and I now have the rest of the modifications to the Sphere.” Jarod laid it out. Sydney hid a smile. Broots swallowed hard to keep from showing his giddy excitement.

“I thought Dr. Mentnor and his team reverse engineered the alien technology in the late 1940's and early 50's.” Donovan wondered aloud.

“But you didn't, did you, Dr. Mentnor?” Jarod's dark eyes shone with secrets. “The Panel used the Centre for it's own gain, and tried to do to an innocent child what they did to me and my brother.” Ramsey pulled his revolver when Jarod reached behind him to pull out the file hidden against his back. Miss Parker felt for her waist holster, only to come up empty.

“You're quite right, Jarod reverse engineered all of it for us. Without him Project BS would still be a dream.” Isaac blinked, his rheumy eyes taking on a distant gaze. The Pretender handed the file folder over to Frank. “Over thirty years ago, when Project BS began to show signs of practical application in our lifetime, bureaucrats in Washington decided to take a radical course of action, they isolated a family whose DNA indicated tenancies toward incredible pain tolerance and eidetic memory, also known as photographic memory. A child was abducted, his parents unknown or dead, but the child was brought to NNL. For his own protection, the child, you Frank, was spirited away by Jarod's father, Major Charles, to Philadelphia.” All eyes turned from Dr. Mentnor to Frank. The chrononaut held his birth certificate up from the file, his eyes as big as everyone else's. The old doctor sat down, his half of the tale told.

“This certainly explains why I grew up an orphan, like something out of a comic book.” Frank held up a picture of himself as an infant. It was Sydney's turn to speak.

“As Dr. Mentnor has said, the project began to progress with help from the Centre. Jarod and I were assigned to reverse engineer the alien space craft, which we were told was of Russian origin.” Sydney spoke with no emotion. He'd long ago quit trying to explain away his part in the Centre's affairs.

“My father gave Frank what he couldn't give his sons; freedom.” Jarod's jaw worked as he looked at the room full of people.

“Right now we have to finish the modifications on the sphere. The Dark Moon Group's attack has to be prevented.” Donovan brought everyone back to the business at hand.

“We can't allow him access to the Sphere, it's a major breach of security.” Ramsey bellowed.

“Calm down, Nathan, we have the tightest security of any installation known to man.” Talmadge laid a beefy hand on his second-in-command's shoulder.

“He's never been to the Centre.” Broots commented before he thought, a snicker freezing in his throat. He got an understanding nod from Sydney.

“Can you complete the modifications alone, Dr. Ballard?” The director of operations asked. With a worried expression the scientist began to sputter an answer.

“No, Sir, Jarod's modifications aren't on any of the blue prints, I was going to tell you.” He looked up at Talmadge with his magnified, blue eyes begging for mercy.

“Wonderful, the leader of the US is dead because of some anarchist group and the Sphere is out of commission because you've been out smarted, Ballard.” Ramsey groused loudly.

“I wouldn't talk about being out smarted if I were you, Sparky.” With her usual air of annoyance and superiority, she leaned against the table. The entire group agreed with Miss Parker. Ramsey was playing with an Uno deck in a poker world.

“Modifications to the Sphere can be completed in a few hours.” Jarod informed them confidently. Talmadge growled low, his mind full of options and responsibilities. MP's stood at the ready in the hall behind Jarod.

“We have to back step as soon as possible, Jarod will remain at NNL until a back step is possible, under close supervision.” He heard a protest from both Miss Parker and Nathan Ramsey. “Sydney, since you have prior experience with alien technology, perhaps you and Dr. Mentnor can collaborate. The director began to tick off a mental check list to meet his responsibilities. “Mr. Broots, your dossier says you have a doctorate in computer information systems, computer aided drafting, computer simulation science and a minor in robotics, Dr. Ballard could use your help I'm sure.”

“My word, Broots, I had no idea.” Sydney remarked with new respect. The balding, younger man nearly blushed. Even Miss Parker seemed a tad bit surprised.

“I'll keep Miss Parker company until it's time to back step.” Frank offered, his chest puffing up a bit and a devilish expression in his eye. Jarod felt a funny tightening cringe at the thought of Miss Parker alone with Frank. Logically he knew the tough as nails woman could handle herself just fine, but how Jarod felt wasn't logical. He saw the same hint of jealous concern in Olga's pursed lips and mean eyed, cat stare.

“You have other assignments, Frank.” Bradley lined the Romeo out.

“Damn it, and I thought we might play spin the bottle and be kissing cousins.” Frank swore, snapping his fingers. Miss Parker smiled slowly, a long, hot look in her pale eyes. “Maybe some other time, eh?” The chrononaut grinned as he let his gaze take in all of her long, graceful figure.

“Alright everyone, time to get to work, Miss Parker, follow Dr. Ballard and Jarod to the hangar please.” Talmadge interrupted Frank's train of thought. Escorted by MP's Jarod and Miss Parker left for the hangar.

Scene Break

NNL Frank's Quarters 1000 hrs February 9

Frank went through his usual pre-flight routine. He laid out the good-bye letter to his little boy, Jimmy, and one to Olga. Everyone knew about the letter to Jimmy. Only Donovan knew about the letter to Olga. Written in Frank's bold hand, the letter explained all the feelings he couldn't express aloud to the Russian scientist. As much as it seemed like the chrononaut wore his feelings on his cuff, he kept them close to the vest. As imperfect and crude as he was, Frank Parker cared deeply for Olga.

Packing his bag, the chrononaut laid in the usual gear; hand gun, change of clothes, identification, first aid kit, etc. Sitting on the bed, Frank flipped through the file Jarod had given him earlier. There were medical records on his father and mother as well as himself. Frank's father had served in peace time after the Korean War. A military picture of what could have been his brother lay neatly paper clipped to his file. A graduation photo of a beautiful, young woman smiling came next. Her dark eyes and hair reminded Frank of himself. The woman's school transcript listed her as fifteen on her graduation day. She had been valedictorian of her class and gone on to work at the Library of Congress. The file said very little about the pair as people, their likes, dislikes and personalities. It also left a gaping hole as to where they went after Frank was born. The chrononaut realized he could still have living parents, maybe even brothers and sisters. After this back step, Frank decided to do some snooping into his past. He laid the file between the layers of clothing and zipped up his bag.

Scene Break

Rachel, Nevada UFO Bar and Grill February 9

Major Charles had been camped out on the bar stool for three hours waiting on his contact inside NNL. He'd been nursing a half warm beer for over an hour. If the contact didn't show up soon, Major Charles knew he'd have to find another way to get on base, not to mention his feet were in danger of going to sleep permanently if he didn't walk around.

“How was Philadelphia?” The sound of her sweet voice took the major back thirty years.

“Miss Helms, I was beginning to wonder about you.” Major Charles stood up at the bar and took the lady's plump hand in both of his.

“Oh please, call me Cheryl.” She giggled nervously. With a hand on Major Charles' arm, Cheryl Helms let him escort her to a table. Neon lights glowed around them, somethings flickering as an Elvis impersonator crooned “Love Me Tender” for the dozen or so patrons scattered around the old bar.

“You're just as pretty as you were back then.” Major Charles complimented the short, plump lady.

“If you keep talking like that your nose will grow, Pinocchio.” Ms. Helms chided him, secretly pleased. A young, leggy waitress took their drink order with bland eyes and little hope of a tip. “Tell me, Major Charles, did you ever find your boys?” She saw the sad answer in his eyes before he could answer.

“I'm still searching for Jarod, I lost all track of Kyle.” The former military man's voice almost cracked as he spoke.

“Oh, Major Charles, I'm very sorry.” Cheryl patted his hand briefly. The waitress brought him a fresh beer and Cheryl's Dr. Pepper. The major paid the tab and gave a modest tip.

“Has your nephew contacted you about the ID and clearances?” It was time to get to the point, dispelling the gloom his companion's question had brought.

“Yes, he has, Mark has them at my house right now, what do you plan to do when you get on base, Major?” Her eyes twinkled with excitement. It had been so long since anything juicy had happened in the older woman's life, she'd long ago lost the feeling of being part of something.

“I'll do whatever it takes to help my son.” Determination in his expression told Cheryl he would stop at nothing.

“What happened to the baby we took to Philadelphia all those years ago?” The past middle aged woman cocked her head and took on an almost Gidget voice. The major took a long sip of his beer and looked at the poster of Elvis on the wall behind Ms. Helms.

Scene Break

Chapter 14 Prep for Back Step by Parker4131970

Flashback NNL 2100 hrs November 11, 1970

“Sir, we have the subject.” The unmemorable NSA agent opened Isaac Mentnor's office door without knocking. A female agent walked in with a sleeping, three month old infant. Blue satin trimmed the pale yellow blanket wrapped around the child. He lay peacefully against the agent's arm arm and chest.

“It isn't a subject, it's a baby.” Mentnor shot up from his roller chair, angry and amazed. The Panel had discussed isolating a chrononaut as an infant, but Isaac hadn't thought they'd actually go through with it. The concerned doctor had written several letters of complaint to the Panel.

“Just doing as the Panel told us, Sir.” The nondescript agent shrugged, swallowing nervously. Mentnor escorted the female agent to the comfortable, arm chair in the corner of his office.

“What am I supposed to do with an infant?” Isaac thought to himself. There had to be a way to do the right thing; to give the child a normal life.

“Here are the director's instructions, Dr. Mentnor.” The male agent handed him a manilla envelope. Isaac tore it open, his eyes racing over the neatly typed pages. What he read made him sick. The child was to be raised in a sterile environment, free of other children, distractions and popular culture. As soon as Mentnor read the instructions he knew their source-the Centre. Isaac had observed the Centre team reverse engineering crash debris. The young boy called Jarod had made short work of the ship's control panel. His intelligence was amazing, but Isaac wondered how happy he was living at the Centre. Jarod's big, dark eyes had kept Sydney, his mentor, in sight at all times. Everything about the Centre had disturbed Dr. Mentnor. He had gone along with the Panel's decision to allow the Centre and Mr. Parker's team to consult, for the good of the project. Taking a child from it's biological parents, whether by fair means or foul, was entirely too much. Disgusted and overwhelmed, Dr. Mentnor left his office. He had to get away, somewhere quiet.

Around the clock, NNL crawled with people working on Project Backstep. Welders, electrical engineers, and workers of all kinds moved about the complex. Mentnor worked his way up, towards fresh air. The number of employees thinned out as Isaac walked out into the parking lot. Lights overhead created pools of garish, yellow light, circles of shadow banishing iridescence. Stars twinkled overhead as Isaac leaned against his Chevy Impala.

“Dr. Mentnor.” The voice came out of a deep pool of shadow. Isaac jumped at the sound. He'd been a million miles away, thinking about the child. “Oh, doctor, my apologies, I didn't intend to startle you.” A worn pair of brown eyes and a half smile showed beneath the other man's military hat. Mentnor chuckled dryly.

“It's quite alright, Major.” He wondered why the military officer was walking through the civilian parking structure.

“I'm looking for Mr. Parker, I had a message for him.” The major looked off towards the desert before looking at Isaac. The scientist narrowed his gaze, measuring the man standing before him. Something gnawed at him, wearing the very marrow of his bones to a frazzle.

“Major, you don't have a message for Mr. Parker any more than I have purple polka dots, why are you actually looking for him?” Mentnor gambled that the major wouldn't shoot him right there in the parking lot.

“This is why I'm looking for the SOB.” With one, quick motion the major pulled a photo from his shirt pocket and handed it to Dr. Mentnor. Two young boys sat together on a wooden porch swing. The oldest smiled, his front tooth missing.

“The little one is Kyle and the older one is Jarod. The Centre took Jarod six years ago and Kyle five.” Tears formed in the major's eyes. “When I found out Mr. Parker and the Centre were involved with Project Backstep, I saw an opportunity to get my boys back.” Major Charles wiped away the tears and pulled himself together. Mentnor could only imagine the pain this man felt. He had a family and knew the need to protect them-at all costs.

“I saw Mr. Parker a few hours ago.” Mentnor handed back the photograph.

“If I could get my hands on Mr. Parker I could use him as a hostage, to get my boys back.” The major clenched his fist until the knuckles turned white.

“I doubt that would work, Major, his organization would most likely dispose of the both of you without a second thought.” The doctor understood how fragile those in authority actually were. They were replaceable, like tires or a fan belt on a Ford.

“I have to try, Dr. Mentnor.” Major Charles shrugged. Both men went quiet for a while; full of their own thoughts.

“Would you like the opportunity to help someone else, Major, to save a child from living a life devoid of feeling or normalcy?” Isaac spoke, a plan forming from the back of his mind as he did.

“If my sons are beyond my reach, yes, the Centre has done enough damage.” Major Charles perked up, willing to tell them where to stick his indignation.

Mentnor drove Major Charles to a small bar where they could talk. He filled him in on the situation with the child the Panel had abducted. Base regulars frequented the metal, hangar shaped liquor barn. Neon lights overhead advertised two or three of the most popular beers around. Baskets of peanuts sat on all the tables. Mentnor could see the haunting guilt on the major's face as they sat down at a table. As the man of the house he was supposed to protect his children, to take care of them and guide them. Major Charles looked out into the smokey haze around him, instead seeing his boys playing in the yard, flying a kite together.

“What do we do about this boy the panel has abducted, does he have parents looking for him?” Major Charles roused out of his guilty haze.

“The Panel will search for you if you choose to help me, Major, are you certain you want another pursuer?” For his answer Mentnor got a steady gaze and a 'bring it on' smile. “There has to be a distraction in order to rescue the child, in a few days there will be a weather balloon launch, base security will patrol the perimeter extensively. The weather balloon is actually a cover for a Backstep test. It may be the only opportunity available to us to save the child.” For over two hours the pair devised a plan for Major Charles to escape the base with the baby boy. Eventually the bar tender asked them to leave so he could close up.

Scene Break

NNL Hangar 1300 Hrs February 9

Two MP's followed Jarod and Mentnor around as the younger man worked on the Sphere's fuel system. Miss Parker stayed as close on his heels as she could manage. The hunter wasn't about to let her prey escape again. Jarod could see the frustration in her face; having him so close but not being able to lock him up. What would Miss Parker have done with him if she had been able to box Jarod up and drag him to the Centre? His quest for his parents and Miss Parker's hunt for him were the sole motivation in her life.

“I take it you've known Jarod a long time, Miss Parker.” Dr. Mentnor asked. His grandfatherly demeanor put her in mind of Sydney.

“Yes, since we were children.” She answered, her lips pursed in mild annoyance. The old doctor wondered how she would categorize the relationship she and Jarod shared; perhaps a mix between a brother and a lover? Miss Parker would never tell, Mentnor knew.

“Has he always been so passionate in his hatred for the Centre?” From the corner of his eye, Mentnor saw Sydney edging toward where he and the lady stood.

“Until the last few years Jarod didn't know any other environment but the Centre. Since he found out that his simulations were sold and used against civilians he's been nothing but passionate and my life has been a living hell ever since.” Her frustration crackled like static.

“You don't share Jarod's moral conviction, Miss Parker?” Mentnor adjusted one of the controls, watching the young lady in his peripheral vision.

“No, Jarod is alone in his Superman syndrome.” A smirk pulled one side of Miss Parker's cinnamon lips.

“If he's Superman, then what is his Kryptonite?” Sydney took a turn asking a question. Miss Parker shot him a hateful look. She couldn't answer. Jarod hadn't encountered anything that brought him completely to his knees or stopped him in his tracks. Even after his brother's death, Jarod only mustered his resolve and kept going.

“Even Jarod has his weakness.” Miss Parker answered vaguely. She knew where her defenses were weak- her mother. Catherine Parker's past and even the time she spent with her daughter were a mystery to Miss Parker.

Scene Break  

Chapter 15 Flashback-And Baby Makes Three by Parker4131970

Flashback NNL November 13, 1970 2200 hrs

Two teenagers sat on the tailgate off an older, Chevy truck passing a beer back and forth. A million stars spread out before them over the Nevada desert. A pack of coyotes took to calling somewhere in the distant foot hills.

“When do you have to report, Bobby?” The girl's voice sounded sad as she sat on the tailgate beneath a Navajo blanket.

“After Thanksgiving.” The young man answered, sighing heavily and studying his cowboy boots. Thinking of going to southeast Asia scared the eighteen year old redhead out of his wits. He wiped away the tears threatening to gather in the corners of his blue eyes. Too many of the guys he'd graduated high school with had left and never come back. Others only managed to make it back in body; their minds forever shattered.

“Cheryl, Will you write to me, once in a while anyway.” A light breeze blew the girl's dark hair against his face, her cheek on his shoulder.

“I'll write as often as I can, you know that.” Playing, he pulled her into a head lock and messed up her hair. Squirming and laughing, Cheryl shoved Bobby away, leaning against his chest as soon as he quit tickling her.

“My brother says he knows a guy who can smuggle you into Canada, Bobby, we could go up there and get married.” Her arms wrapped around him, a warm life line in his sea of fear and doubt.

“I have to do this, Cheryl, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't. Who knows, maybe I'll luck out and be flat footed or something.” Bobby pressed a kiss to his girlfriend's forehead. They looked out at the desert for a while in silence.

“Hey, what's that?” Cheryl sat bolt upright. A fiery ball came from the horizon, arching up toward the full moon. For a moment it broke into the atmosphere then began to fall toward earth. As it fell the fire ball became bigger.

“It looks like a shooting star.” Bobby slid down off the truck tailgate, watching the mystery object speeding closer.

“I don't think so, Bobby, shooting stars usually don't have a shape like that in the middle.” Cheryl pointed to the red hot, metal orb in the center. The young couple stood together watching the fire enveloped ball land a quarter mile from where they stood. Whatever it was created an impact created big enough to swallow a Volkswagen bus.

“Let's go check it out.” Bobby and Cheryl climbed in the truck and sped toward the flames. Seemingly out of nowhere the wind of a helicopter blew dust and sand onto the windshield. Bobby stomped hard on the Chevy's brakes. Soldiers surrounded the rust bucket, jerking open the doors and demanding to know who they were. The pair was loaded into a troop truck under heavy guard. An MP drove Bobby's truck behind, the lights switched off. Fear gripped Cheryl's heart. She felt vulnerable and young. Tears welled up in her eyes as she clung to Bobby's arm.

“What are they gonna do with us, Bobby?” The young girl asked quietly.

“Don't worry, Miss, its just questioning.” A kind, male voice spoke out of the darkness. The sound of flapping, green canvas nearly drowned out his voice.

“How long before we get to go home?” Bobby demanded, his voice strained.

“Twenty-four hours or so.” The man moved toward the bench where the young couple huddled together.

“My mamma is going to kill me, I'm supposed to be home before eleven o'clock.” Cheryl whined.

“My name is Major Charles.” Bobby and Cheryl saw a pair of worn, hazel eyes and a weary smile when the major flipped on a flashlight. The fear around Cheryl's hear eased a fraction; seeing a real, live, human face.

Scene Break

FLASHBACK =NNL Hangar 2300 hrs November 11, 1970

Dr. Mentnor paced the floor of the control tower worrying over the Sphere. It had launched an hour before and hadn't been retrieved yet. Major Charles had been ordered to lead the retrieval group. Too much was happening. Isaac felt the knot in his stomach loosen when the hangar door rolled open and the big, blue sphere inched it's way forward. It was going to be a long night ahead; assessing the damage to the craft, analyzing all the data collected during the testing and writing reports on it all- in triplicate. Mentnor didn't see how he and Major Charles were going to liberate the baby everyone had begun to call 'Frank'.

“Dr. Mentnor, you have a call, line two.” a male voice announced over the loud speaker in the hangar. It took a few minutes, but Isaac took the call in his office.

“This is Isaac Mentnor,” He waited for a response from the other end.

“Dr. Mentnor, Maj. Charles here, I have an idea for the project, meet me first thing in the morning at the base PX.” The call ended abruptly. Isaac hung up the receiver on its base and stood behind his desk. He looked thoughtfully into the dimly lit office, pondering what move to make next.

Scene Break 

Chapter 16 Flashback-The Hole in the Wall Gang by Parker4131970

  “Hello,” Came a male voice to Miss Parker's left, “Have they started a mind-meld yet?” Frank asked, casually leaning against a work bench. Miss Parker let an amused smile pull at her lips as she looked at Frank from the corner of her eye.

“No, but I think they're discussing Captain Kirk in Klingon.” Frank chuckled, glad not to be the only one with a normal IQ, besides Ramsey.

“So, when I get back to the past, can I call you for dinner or something?” The chrononaut asked without preamble. Neither of them looked at the other.

“Mmm, Flyboy, I don't think so, I won't remember how charming you are, besides, I don't think a long distance relationship would work out between us.” It had been a long time since anyone had shown an interest in Miss Parker, she'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be flattered.

“Ah, but I am unforgettable, and you can always find me here when you're in town.” He tried again. Miss Parker turned to look Frank in the eye. He had a devilish smirk on his face and a hopeful glint in his dark eyes. The chrononaut was charming and attractive.

“Sounds inviting, too bad I won't remember any of it.” The Centre operative pointed out.

“I knew I should have made love to you sooner.” Frank teased.

“In your dreams, Flyboy.” Her laughter sounded like a bell, heard from far away.

“Oh, and what dreams too.” Frank added. It was Jarod's turn to feel over protective and jealous. He turned when he heard someone say his name, internalizing the unfamiliar emotions and saving them for later analysis.

“Jarod.” The voice came again, this time from somewhere closer. Turning, he saw a familiar face to go with the voice.

“Major!” Jarod stopped short of calling out his father's name. The major gave him a warning look, his heart beating a million miles an hour with fear and joy.

“Jarod, I believe you've met Major Chuck Greenfelt.” Nathan Ramsey introduced the older, military man to Jarod; irritable at having to follow NSA Panel orders about visitors.

“Yes, I believe we met on another project.” Jarod shook hands with his undercover father. Major Charles looked exactly like the age progression images he'd worked on, except for the fake mustache he wore.

“The NSA sent Major Greenfelt as kind of a watch dog on this launch.” Ramsey talked as if he didn't like the taste of his words.

“I'd like to speak to Jarod in private.” The major ordered. Before Ramsey could form a protest Jarod and the major walked back through the hangar towards the offices wing.

“It's been too long, Dad.” Jarod whispered.

“A lifetime, Son, a lifetime.” Major Charles lamented. Ramsey broke his neck trying to catch up to Jarod and the major. MP's kept up just fine, M4's at the ready.

“Feel free to use my office, Maj. Greenfelt.” Ramsey huffed and puffed just behind them.

“Thank you, Mr. Ramsey, much obliged.” Maj Greenfelt closed the door in Ramsey's face.

“Dad, how did you get in?” Jarod asked, knowing how difficult it had been for him to manage.

“I called in a few favors and pulled a few strings, it is good to see you.” The major wanted to sit and talk to his son. Circumstances robbed him of that luxury.

“It's good to see you too, Dad.” Jarod could barely contain his joy.

“I came to help you escape, Son.” Major Charles turned to the task at hand.

“No, Dad, I have to finish working on the Sphere, Frank Parker has to prevent the Dark Moon Group's attacks.” The Pretender felt conflicted. If he let Frank back step he'd never have gotten to see his father. Without a back step thousands of people died. Major Charles saw the dilemma in his son's eyes.

“Alright, but I'm staying until the last second.” The younger man only smiled. Jarod and his father stole a few more minutes away from the world.

Scene Break

FLASHBACK NNL Hangar November 14, 1970 0600 hrs

NNL's PX supplied the base with the ordinary supplies; meal, flour and rice to name a few. Dr. Mentnor sat outside the military staple in his Impala. His wife had frowned at him when he left after being home only six hours. Isaac looked into the lovely eyes he'd fallen in love with and wondered how much longer she could pay the price for his career. When she buried her face in his chest and wrapped her arms around him, Isaac knew it would be a while longer.

Coffee tasted bland, the workaholic had drank so much of it lately. Mentnor was glad to dash it when he saw Maj. Charles strolling across the parking lot in street clothes.

“Good morning, Dr. Mentnor, I trust you slept well a few hours this morning?” The Major slid into the late model Impala easily.

“A few hours, yes.” Isaac yawned as if on cue. “Your phone call was vague to say the least.” Major Charles smiled like Wonderland's Cheshire cat.

“The prisoners were questioned last night and they're scheduled for release later today. I have to escort them home. Call for Sgt. Malloy to pick up the child for whatever you can think of, he'll bring the child to me and the prisoners can keep it while Malloy and I report for my 'transfer', effective tomorrow.” Major Charles laid the plan out in a rapid fire fashion. He'd obviously thought about it all during the night. For Mentnor it was like a sudden gust of wind, peeling his tin roof back. He asked a dozen questions before feeling at all comfortable about the Major's strategy. Isaac couldn't improve on Maj. Charles' plan, so he decided to go along with it. Even armed with resolve, moral conviction and resignation to his purpose, he felt a knot in his stomach.

Dr. Mentnor wished Maj Charles the best of luck and both men headed in opposite directions. There were a lot of things to do before baby Frank could be taken off base. It had to be business as usual while the preparations were being made. The health and hope of a young life depended on them.

Scene Break

FLASHBACK NNL Holding Cell November 14, 1970 1400 hrs

“Bobby, what are you gonna tell your folks when we get out of here?” Cheryl asked from the other side of the partition separating their cells. Neither of the teenagers had slept much since the MP's had taken them into custody. They sat in battleship gray cells somewhere underground.

“I don't know yet, Cheryl, but I don't wanna go home, I'd rather face enemy Vietnamese than my mom and dad.” The young man tried to joke but his voice sounded flat and tired instead.

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Cheryl sighed. Her parents kept her on a short leash, afraid of losing her to the youth culture they couldn't understand. Nothing about Cheryl's generation reminded them of the conservative era they grew up in after World War Two.

Both young people rushed to the cell bars when they heard the key turn in the heavy, metal door at the end of the hall. Confidently the MP who had been so kind to them the night before, strolled in. He brought two Hershey bars and two cups of coffee with him.

“Good afternoon, I brought you both an afternoon snack before we release you.” Major Charles gave Cheryl her chocolate bar first, showing her a napkin with a message on it. Her eyes went wide in surprise. Long, brown braids framed her heart shaped face.

Play along, I have a favor to ask of the two of you. We can talk after we've left the base.

Cheryl nodded, amazed at the Major and wondering what unimaginable thing would happen next.

“Hey! Mister,” Bobby called out as the Major turned to go. Major Charles silenced him with a menacing glare. “Uh, how long til we get to go home?” The young man finished, thinking quickly.

“An hour or so, we have to fill out some paperwork.” Major Charles grinned and flashed a thumbs up.

Scene Break

Mentnor's Office November 14, 1970

The good doctor picked up his ringing phone on the second ring. Major Charles' cherry voice told told him to get the child ready. After hanging up, Isaac called for Sgt. Malloy to pick up the baby and bring him to his office. Twenty minutes later baby Frank arrived, his supplies stored in a military issue knapsack. Mentnor almost laughed at the sight of diapers and formula in the ugly, green canvas.

“God's speed, Frank, may you have the life you deserve.” Mentnor chuckled the small infant under the chin. A pair of dark, hopeful eyes met his, smiling. “Do you know where you're to meet the Major?” Isaac asked, examining the fair complected sergeant.

“Yes, Sir.” Malloy nodded his tow head. He had a steady, serious way about him. Mentnor knew he could be trusted.

Outside the Hangar

Major Charles drove the staff car as close to the block building as he could and still open the doors. An MP escorted Cheryl and Bobby out without a word. The Major distracted the MP while Malloy slipped the baby into the back seat with the teenagers. The sergeant ordered the green private out of Bobby's truck. The strange procession drove off base without a breath of suspicion.

“A baby!” Bobby exclaimed, uttering a few words an older child shouldn't hear. Cheryl shushed him, not wanting to frighten the three month old.

“I'm sure the Major will explain as soon as he can.” She pointed to the glass separating the driver from the rear passenger area. Neither teenager spoke, they watched the sleeping, baby boy.

“He sure is cute.” Bobby whispered after a long silence. Cheryl nodded, a hopeful smile making her eyes twinkle.

“Looks like we're pulling over.” Cheryl observed, trying to keep the baby balanced. The Nevada desert stretched out in all directions as Bobby stepped out of the dark colored staff car. Sunshine made everything warm to the touch. Dust scattered as the breeze disturbed an old, Chevron filling station sign. Two Model T's sat off to the side of the art deco station, long abandoned to tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes.

“Home away from home.” Major Charles grinned as he stretched his arms out.

“What is all this, man, where are we?” Bobby demanded, rounding the end of the car. Sgt. Malloy pulled the Chevy pickup in behind the major.

“You are at what used to be a Chevron station before the Air Force base bought it out.” He showed them the 'NO TRESSPASSING' sign on the diner's front window.

“Well, why are we here, and what's with this baby?” Cheryl reiterated her boyfriend's question.

“The US government is involved in covert projects that would make you sick to hear.” Major Charles pulled a well worn photo from his breast pocket and handed it to Bobby. “For one of these projects they took that little fella from his parents, and those two boys were stolen from me for another project. I'm asking you to help me give that baby boy my sons will never have- freedom. In Philadelphia, an old friend of mine runs an orphanage. Help me take him there.” A sad dullness crept into Major Charles' usually cheerful voice. Cheryl looked up into Bobby's face, nodding, determined to go through with it.

“This is crazy.” Bobby uttered. To him it didn't seem possible, probable or believable. It confounded all manner of logic.

“What we saw the other night is crazy too, Bobby.” Cheryl's soft voice echoed through all the clutter in his brain. He shrugged and began to laugh.

“Why not, my ole man's gonna blow his stack no matter how long I'm gone, might as well give him something real good to blow it over.”

Four Hours Later....

“Dr. Mentnor, good afternoon.” A cheerful, familiar voice startled the scientist as he walked into his office.

“My word, Major Charles, you nearly gave me a heart attack.” Isaac whirled around to see the slim, athletic, military man seated to the right of the door.

“My apologies, I just came to say my good-byes.” Mentnor flipped on the office lights.

“Ah, yes, you mentioned a transfer.” The whole matter was coming to a close, which relieved and scared Isaac. Now was not the time for something to go wrong. It must have shown in the man's pale eyes.

“Don't worry, none of this will lead back to you, Dr. Mentnor. You'll never hear from me again.” The major smiled enigmatically. He knew how to play his cards. Easily, the Major stood up to leave.

“Let me wish you the best of luck trying to find your sons, Major Charles.” Hope bloomed eternal, Mentnor could see it in his eyes.

“Thank you, Dr. Mentnor, I need all the luck I can get.” The Major shook hands with the scientist. It would be nearly thirty years before the two men would meet again.

Scene Break


Chapter 17 End Game by Parker4131970

NNL Hangar February 9, 12:30 hrs.

“Frank, here's the last of the intel on the Dark Moon Group, these SOB's have been planning this cock and bull revolution of theirs for close to ten years. The group has connections all over the world, in every social class.” Ramsey shrugged but didn't finish. The chrononaut sped read the file on DMG, including their manifesto outlining the re-districting of every country across the globe. Frank let a low, surprised whistle at some of the ideas put forth.

“They've thought about this for a while.” All the top-secret agent could do was shake his head. People are crazy.

“The DMG's leader is a businessman, Chase Harper, from Knott County, Kentucky. His criminal record is as clear as a bell. Profiling tells us that he is intelligent, charming, single minded and very persuasive. He knows how to lead people.” Talmadge added. The three finished the briefing while Jarod and the team finished modifications to the Sphere. It was a challenge to work with Major Charles, Miss Parker and MP's hanging off his elbows. Ballard didn't mind it, he got to see Miss Parker up close.

By three o'clock the Sphere was up and running. Frank had packed his gear and said good-bye to his friends. Isaac Mentnor came to the control tower to see the launch. He knew Frank would reverse the DMG's damage but he hoped Frank knowing about his parents had made some amends for the wrong done him so long ago.

Suited up, hands poised on the joy stick, Frank finished his pre-flight checks and the tower began counting down to launch when he heard the Sphere door open and Jarod's face appear. Looking over, he saw the control tower in chaos. Major Charles and Dr. Mentnor were taking over. Isaac worked the controls while the Major held a gun on the team.

“We thought we'd arrange a going away present for you, Frank.” Mentnor's voice came through the communications system.

“You all are crazier than I am.” The chrononaut shook his head, still watching the read outs for launch. He didn't know if the Sphere would take off with Jarod's added mass. Frank crossed his fingers and said a silent prayer. With its usual head-splitting, nose-bleeding intensity the Sphere was off. Jarod desperately hung on, buckling himself into the spare seat. He didn't know how Frank did it. The chrononaut had been on over forty successful missions and after every one he came back, one week older, minus a layer of skin, bleeding from his eyes and frazzled. Jarod felt like he could barely keep from being pulled apart like a wish bone. Literally and metaphorically, both me saw stars as they shot toward the atmosphere. For a brief moment the Sphere hung just outside Earth. Everything stopped for Frank as he hung on to the joy stick. He saw a young Isaac Mentnor and a young Jarod. Scenes the chrononaut couldn't possibly have seen before snapped like camera flash bulbs in front of his eyes. Two boys played with a kite. A smiling red headed woman watched, joined by a man in an Air Force uniform. Then the scene changed to a gray, open area with cameras and an aura of oppression and fear. Behind him, Frank found Jarod passed out in the spare seat. An upward motion of the Sphere brought Lt. Parker back to the mission at hand. Gravity, G-force, centrifugal force or whatever took Frank and Jarod by the scruff of the neck, putting them down on a plateau of land left behind after mountain top removal. Frank unfastened himself and struggled to open the Sphere door. Frigid gusts blew across the chrononaut's face. The initial refreshment wore off quickly. Tall grasses covered the immediate area. Starkly barren trees covered the mountains as far as the eye could see in every direction. A ragged cough from the Sphere brought Frank's brain back on track. It took several minutes to get the Pretender to his feet. Like Frank, he came through battered and bleeding.

“You must be one hell of a man, Jarod, as far as I know I'm the only chrononaut to make it through in one piece.” Quickly, Frank slipped the oxygen mask over Jarod's face and fished out the First Aid kit. To the best of his ability, the military man tended his friend's cuts and scrapes.

“How far did we go back, do you know?” Jarod asked as soon as he became able. His watch had died in all the chaos.

“There's no way to tell until we get off this rock heap and back to what passes for civilization around here.” Eventually the pair picked themselves up and began walking along a gravel road meandering off the stripped mountain top. It took a quarter mile of walking before Jarod's head quit spinning like a washing machine with tennis shoes inside. Two teenage boys on four wheelers found Jarod and Frank walking. Both men were glad to see them. Within thirty minutes Frank and Jarod had pulled up outside a small pizzeria outside Hindman, Kentucky.

“I'm starving.” Frank announced as he pulled open the restaurant door. He flashed a charming smile at the middle aged lady behind the register of the Hurry Hut. Her worn, brown eyes flashed a little life when she saw the two, tall, dark, athletic, drool-worthy men walk up to the counter. She let out a sharp, urgent whistle to the girls working the kitchen behind her.

“Shouldn't we call in to NNL, Frank?” The Pretender wondered aloud.

“Ramsey would have a field day when I tried to explain you, Buddy.” The chrononaut ordered a large, meat topped pizza and a Pepsi. Just the smell of the restaurant made Jarod's stomach want to reverse course.

“How do you eat spicy, grease covered, high carbohydrate, food and a preservative laden, caffeine hyped, soft drink after what we went through?” The Pretender asked turning a little green around the gills. With a sly smile Frank shrugged.

“Cast iron stomach, years of bad, army food I guess.” A few locals came in to the Hurry Hut to buysandwiches and Pepsi products. They eyed Frank and Jarod suspiciously. Neither man looked like they fit in around Hindman. They weren't jean clad coal miners or Wal-Mart brand, local professionals. A 'foreigner' could be spotted a mile away in the Appalachian coal town.

“Can I get you fellers anything else?” The lady behind the register asked after delivering Frank's pizza. Jarod asked for a bottled water. With an extra wiggle to her walk, the waitress walked back to the kitchen area of the small pizzeria. All three, female workers stared at their guests. Frank kept one eye on the youngest waitress and one on the restaurant door.

“Where do you go from here?” The Pretender asked, nursing his water while watching Frank wolf down a slice of pizza.

“Little towns have big ears, Einstein.” The chrononaut shook his head. Jarod gave him a narrow eyed look of annoyance. Neither man spoke again until after they'd finished eating.

“Is there a pay phone nearby?” Frank winked at the tall, athletic, brunette waitress he'd been watching.

“Around the side of the building.” Her blue eyes hid behind high cheek bones. The chrononaut flashed a wickedly handsome smile and walked out.

“Our target will know we're in town in less than fifteen minutes.” Frank spoke almost imperceptibly as he walked around the pizzeria. Cars whizzed past the brick building from the late 60's. Less than ten feet separated the Hurry Hut patron's vehicles from oncoming traffic. Jarod spied the young waitress in a car window, on the phone.

“Less than that.” Jarod added. Frank dialed a very long distance number at the antiquated pay phone.

“Conundrum.” Jarod's head shot up at the puzzle synonym. How Angelo knew about conundrum was beyond the genius. The way Angelo knew before anyone else seemed nearly mystic to the Pretender.

Frank requested a black ops squad led by Donovan, to neutralize Chase Harper and his head quarters. The chrononaut filled Talmadge in on the global threat quickly, laying out only the bare bones. Donovan would be on a jet within fifteen minutes.

“Well, that gives us some time to find a place to put you.” The chrononaut smiled at Jarod, thinking about what Ramsey would say if he only knew what had really gone on in the previous time line.

Roaming the streets of Hindman, it's buildings clinging like vine to the mountain, the strangers found an incredibly tiny, coal town. Very little went on along the few, narrow streets as Frank and Jarod walked, trying to stay warm. February in Kentucky is colder and wetter than February in Nevada. The only green vegetation in sight were holly and pine trees among the barren, hardwood growth, balls of mistletoe dotting the highest branches.

“I bet it was great, seeing your father after so long.” Frank sighed, stopping on a cement bridge named after a local person of importance. A nostalgia drifted over his angular features as he stared at the antifreeze green water below.

“It was a dream come true, for so long I've ran from the Centre, searching for my parents, my brother, myself, to get to see my father made the journey worth it.” Jarod smiled.

“My parents could be out there, just like yours, maybe I have cousins or grandparents.” Frank turned, flashing a grin, which didn't quite reach his eyes.

“I hope you find them.” Jarod let a hopeful smile fill his features as he leaned against the cement railing along the bridge span.

Scene Break

February 2 Post Backstep Hindman, Kentucky Chase Harper's business.

Fat, wet snowflakes began to smack the window of the two story, brick building. Chase sat on the edge of his desk, a hot, Styrofoam cup of coffee in one hand.

“We must move forward with the plan, Omar, the sound wave technology is already in place for the attack.” Chase gripped the coffee tightly, threatening to crush the flimsy container.

“The plan must wait, Mr. Harper, now is not the right time, politically speaking.” Harper saw red right then. With a clenched fist, he sent the computer screen flying across his office. “To hell with politicians, that's what's wrong with the world today.” The Arab extremest on the other side of the world saw a blur of color and then nothing on his computer's plasma screen. He muttered something unflattering about Harper's mother in Arabic before turning off his web cam. The Arab knew the Kentuckian would proceed with the attack regardless of the consequence.

“Josh, get our operatives on the horn, tell 'em we're movin' on the plan.” The boss shouted across the storage space that housed a cache of weapons, explosives and assault gear. With a quick slap of computer keys, the glasses clad, white male pulled up a list of operatives' code names and contact information. One phone call and the Dark Moon Group's tech guy would start a call ring. One operative called another operative who alerted another and so on. Round, baby blue eyes flew up when the door beside him splintered and blew in. Men in army fatigues, carrying M4's filed in, filling the space. The tech guy didn't resist detainment. Chase Harper was caught trying to slide down a gutter pipe. Four, Kentucky-based operatives were captured and a list of others found. International intelligence agencies scooped up Dark Moon Group operatives all over the world. Jarod watched the whole she-bang from the laundromat across the street.

It could never be told how many people in Hindman knew about the Dark Moon Group. It was a close knit, clan-like community. Whatever bad blood went on among the locals was fine, but a foreigner had the whole place to fight if they bothered even the worst scum. Times may have changed, hemlines rose to dental floss lingerie, major interstates crisscrossed the mountains, but attitudes remained the same.

Scene Break

NNL February 3 Post Backstep

Ballard read the read out for the third time, the math still not adding up. With the modifications' specs by the amount of time the Sphere had traveled, none of it made sense.

“Frank, are you certain nothing went wrong, you should have gone back another one point five days.” The blurry eyed scientist asked, a red lollipop twirling between his fingers as he sat looking at the long rolls of the Sphere's blueprints laid on a work bench in the hangar where the team worked on the blue ball.

“As far as I could tell it was a smooth back step, John. Maybe Dr. Seaborg was just wrong or something.” Frank shrugged, leaning against an instrument panel. The scientist shook his head, not believing the chrononaut. From what John Ballard saw, Dr. Seaborg's work was meticulous- unerring.

“Look what was just delivered.” Olga walked up to her colleagues carrying a box. An alien head, Pez dispenser had a tag on it with Frank's name written in simple, bold, hand writing. It's yellow eyes stared at him, emotionless.

“Hmm, interesting.” Ballard's eyes beamed with shiny curiosity. The redheaded scientist pulled a yellow rose from the box and found the attached card written in perfect Russian. Translating, Olga read; A symbol of friendship. Until we meet for the first time, Jarod.

“This is lovely.” The lady scientist smelled the fresh rose, her eyes closed and a smile pulling at her cinnamon lips. The chrononaut watched her as she enjoyed the simple flower sent to her. Frank wished he knew how to make her smile so easily. He just didn't have the knack. Frank Parker let Olga have her moment, knowing no matter who came and went through their lives, he would do anything to protect her, love her.

“Parker, you have sunk to the bottom this time.” Ramsey's brassy voice filled the high ceilinged hangar as he came stomping across the cement floor, two guards in tow.

“What's going on, Frank?” Olga pursed her lips, looking at him like a reproachful teacher.

“My office is what.” The bantam chief of security led the science crew to his office. A wooden statue of a dime store Indian stood by the front door. Ramsey's chair had been replaced with an Egyptian throne, behind it hung the British Union Jack. Opening the door activated a recording of the Canadian National Anthem. Dozens of Chinese lanterns hung from the ceiling tiles. Not one United States flag could be seen in Ramsey's office. Every surface was covered with symbols of other countries. A life sized picture of Ramsey had been stood up in the back corner and dressed in a Mexican sombrero and draped with a poncho. In the Egyptian throne sat a case of fine, Russian Vodka.

“Looks like the damn United Nations moved into my office.” Ramsey pounded the desk with one fist. “I don't know how you did it, Parker, but I know you're behind this.” The patriotic chief of security was fit to be tied. Olga's hid her mouth, trying to stifle a laugh. Frank smiled confidently. The mischievous chrononaut wasn't behind it, Jarod had arranged the whole gag. He could just imagine the Pretender smiling devilishly, a Pez between his teeth.

“Ramsey, I see you've redecorated.” Bradley Talmadge stood in the doorway, his slate colored eyes shining in barely hidden mirth. “It's refreshing.” The glare Ramsey sent his boss would have stopped an eight day clock after just three seconds.

“One of these days, Parker, I'm gonna get you off this base and back to that asylum, where you belong.”

“And until then, Ramsey, keep dreaming.” Frank leaned against the door frame, arms crossed, smiling.

Scene Break

The Centre February 3

Broots carried the box he'd found in his passenger seat that morning to Sydney's office. How Jarod had gotten into his garage was still beyond the computer genius. He had it both manually locked, and electronically censored.

“Hey, Sydney, have you seen Miss Parker this morning?” Broots asked, sipping his hot chocolate.

“Broots!” That one, barked word might as well have jerked a knot in the man's tail. Two-thirds of his hot, hot chocolate splashed down his white sweater.

“Ouch! Miss Parker,” He threw the rest of the cup into Sydney's trash can.

“Need a bib there, Broots?” The Ice Princess strutted into the small office with a triumphant smile.

“No.” Broots pouted, annoyed at his tormentor. “I found this on my passenger seat this morning.” He pointed toward the heavy, ten gallon box sitting on Sydney's desk.

“A secret admirer,” Miss Parker smirked, “Get a life.”

“Again, no, it's from Jarod.” Sometimes he wondered how long he could keep taking the brunt of Miss Parker's razor sharp tongue. If a dirty job had to be done, Broots drew the short straw every time.

“Open it!” Miss Parker hissed, her hands on her narrow hips, navy dress jacket pushed back to show off her willowy, dancer's figure in ice blue silk. Using a letter opener, Broots sliced open the tape sealing the red box. It was level full of sand, pure, tan sand. A single string attached to the lid uncoiled as the tech guy slowly pulled at the lid.

“I wonder what Jarod's up to this time?” Sydney watched Broots pull the string. Out came a black and white picture of Mr. Parker, an alien and another man. As Broots pulled the string more items came out. Like charms on a bracelet, a picture, news paper articles and security clearances dangled from the six foot length of white twine. When the phone rang Sydney answered, instinctively knowing it would be Jarod.

“Hello, Sydney, reading anything interesting this morning?” Miss Parker and Broots took up positions on either side of the speaker phone.

“Broots brought in the box he found on his car's passenger seat. I see you found a picture of a young Mr. Parker.” As always, Sydney was in no hurry to delve into Jarod's reasoning.

“Where did you get this picture of my father and this Area 51 left over, Jarod?” Impatient, Miss Parker didn't let the Pretender answer his mentor.

“Now Miss Parker, that's top secret.” He baited her for an explosive response.

“Damn it, Jarod, why can't you ever just come out with it, why keep sending us these teasers?” She growled at him, wishing she could get he hands around his neck.

“And why do you keep a butterfly knife in the heel of those dress boots you're wearing today?” Miss Parker looked down at the very expensive, black boots she'd had custom made for carrying a concealed weapon in.

“How do you know what I'm wearing, Jarod?” The high tempered, Centre operative demanded, feeling unsettled at his intimate knowledge of her wardrobe.

“Say hello to Cooper for me when you get to NNL.” Jarod hung up as abruptly as ever, leaving the team hanging.

“Broots, find out what NNL is.” Miss Parker sent the tech guy off on the errand before turning to Sydney. As usual, they were on the wrong path to catching the genius. Jarod ran like a fox, leading them in circles as Miss Parker played the hound.

While Miss Parker and the team tracked down NNL, Isaac Mentnor and Project Back Step, Jarod moved on to his next Pretend and a meeting with his father they'd arranged in the previous time line. Father and son took all the time they wanted, getting reacquainted with each other.

The End 


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