Aftermath by jacci
RetiredSummary: This is the sequel to Entropy. I strongly suggest you do not read unless you have read Entropy as none of this will make any sense otherwise.

Poor Jarod is in a bad way now and there seems to be no hope for him. Will Sydney and Parker finally pull through and help him, or will Lyle really win this time?
Categories: Post IOTH Characters: All the characters
Genres: Angst
Warnings: Warning: Violence
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 9 Completed: No Word count: 47658 Read: 50932 Published: 13/05/05 Updated: 10/04/06

1. 1 by jacci

2. 2 by jacci

3. 3 by jacci

4. 4 by jacci

5. 5 by jacci

6. 6 by jacci

7. 7 by jacci

8. 8 by jacci

9. 9 by jacci

1 by jacci

Chapter 1

A month had passed since Parker and Sydney had been allowed to see Jarod. Parker had been reassigned to Corporate, but much of her work required the assistance of their resident Pretender. No-one could manipulate money quite as well as Jarod. But she was not permitted to see him. She was told that he had refused to work with either her or Sydney. Frankly, Parker did not believe this, she assumed it was Lyle's way of keeping control. Even so, the work was ferried back and forth between various sweepers and go-betweens. It was not very efficient, but Raines didn’t care. Now that Jarod was back where he belonged, the money was rolling in, and Raines’ position as Chairman had never looked so secure. Raines and Lyle had him working 14 hours a day now. He seemed to require little sleep, and had actually requested the extra workload. The Centre’s power-base was stronger than ever and even the Triumvirate seemed satisfied for the moment. There had been no mention of the missing scrolls and business was back to normal.

Sydney had refused to believe that Jarod didn’t want to see him. He had pestered Raines and Lyle long enough for them to finally show him the DSA of Jarod refusing to work with Sydney. Lyle had no intention of ever letting Sydney see Jarod again. Sydney had the potential to undermine what had taken him half a year to accomplish, and besides, it was killing the old man. Lyle just loved the perks that his new position offered him.

It had hurt Sydney terribly to watch as Jarod had reluctantly whispered his name. And Sydney believed that for the first time he truly understood how Jarod must have felt each time that he had tried to reach out to Sydney, only to receive nothing in return. Sydney had returned to his office with a heavy heart only to find Angelo sitting at his desk. Upon Sydney's entrance, Angelo looked up and gave Sydney a sad smile.

“Sydney sad.”

“Yes Angelo, Sydney is sad. I don’t think Sydney will ever be happy again.”

The empath reached out and put a gentle hand on Sydney's shoulder and they both tried to take comfort in each other’s presence.


Sydney's House

Sydney arrived home, poured himself a drink and sat in the dark. It was a habit he had developed recently. He was tormented day and night by guilt. He wanted so very badly to make it right for Jarod. He sighed and poured himself another drink. He did not notice the other man sitting in the dark, watching him.

The man turned on the lamp next to him, and placed his gun within easy reach.

When the light turned on, Sydney hardly even blinked. He did not recognize the man at first. His eyes saw the gun, and he knew that finally someone from The Centre had been sent to kill him. His only regret was that he would never be able to make things right with Jarod.


Comprehension was dawning in Sydney's overwrought brain as he recognized his would-be assassin. He was certain that he was going to die now. But the man just sat there, obviously waiting for Sydney to respond.

Sydney actually smiled. Yes, he would die tonight, at this man’s hands, and this would perhaps balance things. Jarod would be avenged and perhaps Sydney's soul would have some chance at peace.

“Please, just do it.” Sydney carefully placed his glass down and prepared himself as best he could before he was sent to meet his maker.

“Do what?” The man was clearly perplexed.

Sydney's gaze lowered to the gun. “You are here to kill me.” It was not a question.

“No, I'm here because I need your help.”

“What?” Sydney could not quite understand what was going on. The conversation was almost too surreal to be anything other than a fantasy.

“I don’t want to kill you, but I don’t know where else to turn.”

“You’re taking a huge risk coming here.” Sydney was starting to recover his wits. But it suddenly dawned on him that the man had not known what had happened.

“You don’t have to explain to me about risks.” He was on his feet now, pacing. He placed his gun back in it's holster. “I have spent my whole life living with those risks. Now I don’t want to argue about the past with you. I need your help.”

Sydney felt his stomach sinking. How could he possibly tell him what had happened, what he had done?

“I haven’t heard from Jarod in over 7 months. I know he trusts you, I was hoping that maybe you had heard from him, that there is nothing wrong. I know he keeps in contact with you.” This was a hard admission for the Major.

After their initial reunion, they had both been so happy to finally find each other, but then they had lost contact for nearly a year. And after the Major had finally found his son again, things had been good for a little while. Jarod had been so excited and the Major was desperately hoping to form a real father-son relationship with him. He had missed nearly his entire life and he did not want to waste one second more. But Jarod had not spent very much time with them. He claimed that it was very dangerous for them to be together in one place for very long. Jarod did not want to place them in any more danger and he knew that The Centre would never stop searching for him. And although the Major knew that this was true, he also felt that this Jarod was using it as an excuse. And Jarod was more determined than ever to find his mother. Both he and Emily had set off to pursue their own avenues of research. Emily checked in on a regular basis and was developing a warm relationship with her new brother. Jarod however had distanced himself from all of them. It was not uncommon for him to go months without any contact. The Major believed it was because Jarod felt uncomfortable with his ‘brother’. He was afraid that the developing relationship between himself and Gem was threatening to Jarod. And he hated The Centre even more for planting such insecurity in Jarod. He also knew that Jarod felt very guilty about this, and was becoming quite depressed. He had refused to talk about it. It was almost ironic. Jarod usually had such clear insight into people and their problems. But Jarod was so emotionally unprepared to cope with this situation, having had no real experience dealing with the everyday reality of family. He couldn’t pretend his way out of it or around it, and it was eating away at him.

And then Jarod called to say he was on his way to Scotland, that he had some leads. But once he was back from Scotland, he was even more close-mouthed than before. He had called once to say that he briefly caught a glimpse of his mother and that he needed some time to think. The Major was concerned about the pain that he heard in his son’s voice and desperately wanted to talk to him. He wanted so badly to form a real connection with Jarod. But then there had been nothing but silence. Jarod had asked for some time, and the Major had acquiesced, he knew that Jarod needed time and space to work out his feelings. But the Major understood so little about Jarod the man, and although he knew all about Jarod the Pretender, he was beginning to think that allowing Jarod to isolate himself had been a momentous mistake. It had been so long now since he had heard from Jarod and he was very worried. He knew how risky it was coming to Sydney like this, but he was the only person he could turn to. He just hoped that Sydney was the man that Jarod seemed to think he was.

“Major, please sit down. I have to tell you something.” Sydney took a steadying breath and related the events of the last six months to the Major. Sydney did not try to justify his actions, he just told the sad tale in a flat, unemotional voice, it was almost a confession.

Sydney watched emotions run through the Major. First there was shock, then rage and finally despair. When the major had the worst of his emotions under control he spoke, Sydney was expecting recriminations and anger.

“What have they been doing to him, what kind of shape is he in?” The Major did not want to waste time with blame and reproach. Those bastards had had his son for just over six months now, and god only knew what they had been doing to him. He shuddered at the thought of it. And then finally, “How do we get him out?”

Sydney and the Major talked long into the night. Sydney told the Major everything that he could, but he had not seen Jarod for more than a month now, and so knew very little about what had been going on recently.
The Major could see the burden of guilt that Sydney carried, but at the moment he could not be concerned about Sydney. He had to focus all of his attention on planning to get Jarod out, and if what Sydney had said about the security was true, that was not going to be easy. Although the Major had realised this almost immediately. The very fact that they had been able to hold Jarod as long as they had was testimony enough.

Sydney was loath to bring up the subject, but he felt that it could no longer be avoided.

“I don’t know how much help I can offer. I will do everything within my power of course, but the people you really need to talk to are Broots and Miss Parker.”

The Major’s reaction was immediate.

“I don’t want that woman anywhere near my son. You don’t really expect me to trust her, do you? Not after what she has done.” The Major could not believe what Sydney was asking of him. It was Miss Parker that Jarod had sacrificed himself for the first time they caught him. He had watched helplessly from the plane as Jarod had given up his chance at escape to save her life. And now he had just been informed that it had been the very same woman that had shot and captured Jarod.

“No! I can imagine there would be nothing she would like more than to drag me and my son back to The Centre.” The Major got up to leave. He was thinking how appalled Catherine would be to know what kind of person her daughter had turned into. And now that he knew where Jarod was, he could figure the rest out for himself. He silently cursed himself, he should have known something was wrong long before now. Jarod had been imprisoned in that hell-hole for over half a year! The Major was not going to waste another moment. He knew Jarod trusted Sydney, but he was still a long way from that trust. And he could not afford to endanger himself or Gem, for then they would never have any chance of getting Jarod out.

For a brief moment Sydney was confused. Then he realised that the Major must be referring to the boy Gemini.

“Please Major. Please. For Jarod's sake. Give her a chance. I know you have no reason to trust her. But please meet with her, listen to what she has to say. Then, walk away, if that’s what you want. But you won't be able to get Jarod out on your own.”

“And how do I know that she won't bring an army of sweepers?”

“Major, you said your son trusts me, if you want to help him, you will have to trust me too.” Sydney sighed inwardly. He hated himself, although it was not exactly a lie, but he knew that he no longer had Jarod's trust, and it was likely that he would never regain that trust again.

When the Major left, Sydney felt the smallest ray of hope, something he had not felt in a long, long time. Tomorrow he would talk to Parker and Broots. He slept soundly through what was left of the night, the first time he had done that since he had learned of Jarod's capture.

The Next Day
The Hybrid Biotracts

Parker and Broots were meeting with Sydney in the nature walks. It was the only place they could talk at The Centre and not be overheard. Sydney had relayed the previous nights meeting to the two of them.

“I want to meet with him Syd.” Parker was adamant. Finally they might be able to do something. These past months had been very extremely difficult for her. Parker was not used to sitting idly by. She was a woman of action. She had clawed her way to the top of Corporate and was now a force to be reckoned with. And yet, it had still been terribly frustrating. After all the indecision, a lifetime of being lied to, she had finally made up her mind to take a stand, but there was nothing she could do.

“He doesn’t trust you Parker.”

She grabbed Sydney's arm “Well then, make him trust me.”

Sydney's phone rang. He shrugged off Parker’s grip and answered the phone.

“Hello this is Sydney.” His eyebrows shot up as the Major responded. But before he continued, Parker had snatched the phone out of his hand.

“Major Charles?”

There was a brief pause on the other end.

“Miss Parker.” The voice was terse, there had been no effort to hide the animosity.

“Major Charles. I know what you must think of me, but my only concern right now is Jarod. We need to get him out, and to do this, we need to put aside our personal issues. Once Jarod is safe, then, but only then, will I answer to you.” Parker knew that a day of reckoning would come, and she was prepared to face the consequences, but not today, not until Jarod was safe.

It was finally decided that the four of them would meet that night as Sydney's house. But if anyone suspected that they were being monitored in any way, they would have to abort. It had been so long now, and Parker did not think that they were being watched, but this was The Centre after all and you could never be too careful.

Parker ordered Broots to get every piece of information available on the Jarod Project and SL-27. Although technically Broots did not work for Miss Parker anymore, that didn’t stop her. She wasn’t sure what the Major could do that they hadn’t already thought of, but it felt damn good to at least be trying.

Broots scurried along, he had much to do before tonight, and he would have to be careful. But since Jarod's capture, nobody had paid much attention to the techie, and he had been allowed unrivalled access into the mainframe. As much as he hated to admit it, life had been much easier for him since Jarod had been caught. He felt guilty for feeling like this, knowing what must be going on with Jarod. He knew that the Pretender was back working full-time now, and he shuddered to think of what it took to get Jarod to cooperate. He had not asked Sydney or Miss Parker about what had happened, he really didn’t want to know. And neither of them had been forthcoming. Broots had thought that it was best left alone. But guilt had nagged at him. He owed Jarod, for Debbie, and he felt partially responsible for Jarod's capture. Yes, he would do everything that he could to help them, just as long as it didn’t put his daughter at risk.

Sydney's House
Later That Night

The tension in the air at Sydney's house was almost thick enough to cut. Parker was pacing and craving desperately for a cigarette. Sydney was sitting calmly, but was churning on the inside. The Major did not trust Parker, and in all honesty, Sydney could not blame him. And Sydney was very afraid that Parker would not be able to control her temper, and scare the Major away. Sydney was prepared to move heaven and earth in order to save Jarod, and if that meant making sure Parker behaved herself, then he was damned sure that she would.

Broots was fiddling with files on his lap-top. He kept glancing nervously between Sydney, Miss Parker and his watch. The Major was now two hours overdue. Broots wished that he could be anywhere but here. He finally looked up and said what they were all thinking.

“Maybe, maybe he’s not going to come.” He waited for a response, and when there was none, he continued. “I don’t understand, what do you expect the Major to be able to do. I mean, I know he’s Jarod's father and all, but he’s not a Pretender.”

“I am though.”

Three heads swung simultaneously to the source of the voice.

It had been more than three years since Parker or Sydney had seen Gemini. He had grown and was looking more like ‘their’ Jarod. Parker brought her hand up to her lips and fought back the tears. She was unprepared for the onslaught of emotions that coursed through her as she looked at him. He was Jarod, and he wasn’t. He was so young, and she was remembering Jarod at that age. But this boy had a healthy colour about him that Jarod never had. He had that same look in his eyes that she remembered so fondly and it was breaking her heart to think that Jarod may never have that look again.

Gem was followed into the house by his father. He was distinctly uncomfortable under the scrutiny. He knew that when they were looking at him they were seeing Jarod, and he fought the urge to tell them that he wasn’t Jarod, that he was his own person. He sometimes caught his father looking at him that same way, as if he were searching for his ‘real’ son and would be forever disappointed that he only got the ‘copy’. He often wondered if he would ever feel like a real individual, not just a duplicate, the shadow of another man.

As Gem moved into the room, Sydney could not tear his eyes from him. He finally rose from the chair and approached the Major.

“I was worried that you weren’t coming.”

“Just being careful Sydney. Didn’t want to walk into a trap.” He cast a glance at Parker.

Parker clearly wanted to respond, but a sharp look from Sydney silenced her.

Gem could feel the tension between his father and Miss Parker, it was practically vibrating between them, but he did not understand it. His father had not told him the circumstances of Jarod's capture, only that he was now in The Centre and that they were going to try and get him out. The Major was hoping that Gem’s abilities as a Pretender could help them. Gem moved over towards Miss Parker. She was the first person in his life that had ever shown him any kindness, and he felt a very strong connection to her. He wanted to get to know her. He knew so little about her, just that she worked for The Centre, and that Jarod had given up his freedom once to save her life.

“You must be Mr Broots.” The Major tried to dispel some of the tension.

Broots got up clumsily and shook the Major’s outstretched hand.

“Pleased to meet you sir. Umm….. I just want to say, that umm,…..” Broots sat back down and turned back to his computer, when he noticed that the Major was no longer paying him any attention. Gem was making his way towards Miss Parker. The Major grabbed Gem’s arm before he could get too close to Parker. He didn’t like the idea of his son, any one of his son’s, having anything to do with her.

“This is Gem, my son.” There was no mistaking the pride and protectiveness in his voice.

Parker got up, ignoring the Major’s cold stare, and shook the young man’s hand.

“I am very pleased to meet you properly Gem.” There was a warmth and tenderness in her voice that surprised all three men. Sydney looked up sharply. He knew that Parker was seeing the same thing that he was seeing, and the same thing that he imagined the Major saw. A second chance in this boy, perhaps a way to make up for all the things that they could not change.

Gem and Parker settled into an easy conversation. It felt natural to Gem, he had remembered her kindness and how gentle she had been with him, and he wanted so very badly for her to like him. But a silence grew between them. She took his hand and held it in her lap and stared down at it. Gem was hoping that she was thinking about him, thinking about when they had met at Donoterase, but when a tear splashed on his hand, he knew that she was thinking about Jarod. He wanted to pull his hand away in disappointment, but she shook herself and let him go. She looked up into his eyes and smiled at him.

“I won't look the other way ever again.” She promised him. Then she got up and joined the men at Broots’ computer.

Gem was left sitting there on his own. He didn’t really understand what she was talking about, but he understood only too clearly who she was talking to. He fought down the bitter stab of jealousy, and made his way over to the group as well. They were all here for Jarod. They were here to try and save Jarod. He hated himself for such unworthy emotions. He owed Jarod for everything that was now good in his life. Jarod had risked himself to save him and he had given unstintingly of himself that first night. It had been so very difficult for Gem to accept the truth that Jarod had told him. To come to terms about what he was, who he was. Gem had secretly hoped that Jarod would become a father to him, he had been so warm and loving, so concerned and Gem could feel the sincerity behind his words. He also recognized the loneliness underneath the voice. The need to be loved and wanted as a person, not just valued because of what you could do. He shared more than just Jarod’s DNA, he felt that they were kindred spirits. Gem loved his father of course, but he had been very disappointed that Jarod was not more involved in his life.

Gem sat down next to Broots and cracked his knuckles. He was fully focused now, having shaken off the emotions of a moment ago. It was time to show these people what a Pretender could do, and when Gem set his mind to something, he usually finished what he started. Raines was not one that took failure lightly, and Gem had learnt his lessons well.

Broots liked this young man almost instantly. He was affable and quite easy-going, but Broots could feel his awkwardness under the showy exterior of confidence. Broots had never known the real Jarod at this age, but from watching so many of the DSA’s he felt that he had. And this boy was definitely Jarod. There was no denying his skill with the computer either. Gem managed to crack one of Broots’ firewalls in less than half an hour. Broots chuckled to himself, he had set it up as a test, to see if the kid was any good, and he had figured that it would take him at least an hour.

Broots started explaining to Gem about the security system that Raines and Lyle had set up. He gave him a detailed rundown on what he had been doing thus far and the problems he had encountered. For the first time in a long time, Broots began to believe that perhaps they might be able to find a way around the system after all. As the two of them got deeper into the computer tech stuff, neither of them noticed as Miss Parker, Sydney and Major Charles moved away.

Both Sydney and Miss Parker found it extremely difficult to take their eyes from Gem. They moved into Sydney's kitchen so as not to disturb the duo at the computer. If there was a way to get Jarod out, it was Broots and Gem that were going to have to find it.

Sydney gestured for them to sit down at the table as he prepared coffee for them. Major Charles eyed Miss Parker of warily, he was still obviously uncomfortable with her presence here. He clearly remembered the last time that he saw her, and her gun was aimed straight at his heart. As he looked at her, he could not help comparing her to Catherine, they were identical, and yet as different as night and day. He sat down opposite her.

“Ok, I am here, and I am willing to listen. But make no mistake. I will not allow you, not under any circumstances, to touch my son. I will do anything to protect him from you people.” He looked over his shoulder at Gem hunched at the computer in the other room. He silently added “Not like how I failed to protect you, Jarod.”

Miss Parker bit back the caustic remark that was about to jump out of her mouth. She knew that the Major had good reason to hate The Centre, and good reason not to trust her. But oh, it was so difficult, and she had to remind herself that they were here to help Jarod. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize Jarod, alive and healthy and free. Happy. But she could not shake the memory of the last time that she had seen him. How utterly bereft he had been, hanging limply, chained to the wall, his look of relief when Lyle had finally saved him.

“We are all here for the same reason.” Sydney placed the steaming mugs of coffee in front of them. He hoped that he did not have to play peacemaker for much longer. His nerves were already stretched to breaking point, and although he knew that Parker’s heart was in the right place, he wasn’t sure that he could cope with very much more of her attitude. He chastised himself silently. He knew it was just her coping mechanism and that she wanted Jarod out just as much as he did, perhaps even more.

As the evening wore on, the three in the kitchen had come to an understanding, and hopefully they would be able to work together. The Major saw that although Sydney and Miss Parker had a seemingly adversarial relationship, they had that easy camaraderie that came from a long association. It was becoming very obvious to him that these two people cared at least as much as he did about his son. The Major had learned the complete story behind Jarod's capture, and he grudgingly admitted that perhaps he had judged Parker too quickly. He could clearly see her anguish over what she had been forced to do. But he also knew that the two of them were holding things back from him, and these things might prove vital. He was determined to have the whole story, but maybe not tonight. A fragile alliance had been formed tonight and he didn’t want to jeopardize that. Until they could break into the security system, there was nothing more he could really do here. He knew that he needed them to get in, but he didn’t need them to get out. He had no intentions of sharing his plans with them for what he intended to do after they got Jarod out. He would take Jarod and Gem far away from the clutches of The Centre.

Finally, the discussion about Jarod over, Parker asked a question that she had been wanting to ask all night.

“Have you heard from Ethan?”

A dark cloud passed across the Major’s face. He looked at Parker and found that he sympathised with her. Here at least, they were on common ground.

“No. I am afraid that I have not heard from nor seen Ethan in over 18 months. He was having a terrible time trying to adjust to life, and one day he was just gone. No note, nothing.”

Sydney sympathised immediately with him. It seemed that this man was destined to spend the rest of his life trying to patch his fractured family back together.

Parker leaned back in disappointment. She had been hoping very much for some news on her brother. She had not heard from him since he had left abruptly. They were all very tired. Although it had been exciting to finally be doing something, it had also been a very emotionally draining night. Nothing more could be accomplished until Broots and Gem found a crack in the security. And there was no telling when that would happen.

The Major went out to the other room to collect his son. A weary smile came to his face as he saw Gem and Broots hunched over the computer. It appeared that they had become friends already and the Major was glad for his son. The realities of their life made it very difficult for Gem to develop any kind of real friendships. And as warped and twisted as this group was, he was grateful for that at least.

It was agreed that it was far too dangerous for them to meet like this again and so a schedule would have to be worked out. Sydney, Parker and Broots would go back to work and try to behave normally. Any information that they could glean on Jarod or what was going on with him would be passed on to the major via an email account similar to the Refuge account that Jarod and Sydney had used. Gem now had access to most of what he needed and Broots would be contacted when necessary. Now they all hoped, it was just a matter of time, but the waiting would be extremely difficult.
2 by jacci
Aftermath Pt 2

A Safe House
Half An Hour From Blue Cove

The Major had set up a house half an hour away from The Centre. He was always very nervous when he was anywhere in the state of Delaware, and to be this close to Blue Cove felt like suicide. But he had to be close to Jarod. They may have to move at a moment’s notice, but more than that, the Major felt the emotional need to be close to Jarod. The Major sighed heavily as he thought of Jarod, and his eyes inevitably sought out Gem. It still was extremely difficult not to see Jarod in Gem. Not to want Gem to be Jarod. He got up from the table and walked over and put his hand on his son’s shoulder. Gem looked up and offered his father a sad, crooked grin.


The boy looked tired beyond his years. Although the Major and Jarod had saved him from a life of slavery and abuse, the boy had already suffered far too much. The Major hated having to put such a heavy responsibility on the young man’s shoulders, but he could see no other way. The Major could see the fatigue in his eyes, the weariness in his slumped shoulders. Gem had been at the computer non-stop for over a week now. But he was trying to break into a system that had been designed to outwit even Jarod. Broots and he had formed an unlikely friendship and made a formidable team, but as yet, they had not been able to find the crack in the armour. Gem knew he was close, knew it was simple, but so far he had failed to see it. And he knew that each day he failed to come up with a solution, was another day he was condemning Jarod to hell.

“You will find it son.” The Major squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. “Maybe you should take a break. You won't do anyone any good if you work yourself to death.”

Gem looked up at this father and his protest was stifled by a yawn. He rubbed his eyes and stretched his body.

“Maybe you’re right dad. I could use a break. I know it's simple. The hardest things usually are. But I just can't see it.” His forehead crinkled in frustration and he turned back to his computer.

“No. It's time to get out of here.” He reached down and grabbed Gem’s arm. “We are going to get you outside for a little while.”

“Where? What are we going to do?” tired as he was, Gem could not fail to suppress his enthusiasm or curiosity.

“How does the beach sound? It’s hot outside and you haven’t left the house in over a week. And no, you can't bring the computer.” The Major chuckled at the boy’s crestfallen look.

As they prepared for the impromptu beach trip, the Major paused to look at his son. Even now, he never failed to be amazed at how much pleasure Gem took in even the simplest things. For the Major, it was like learning how to be young again, learning how to look at the world and see all the beautiful and wondrous things that it had to offer. For far too long, the Major had seen nothing but misery and loss, and he was grateful beyond his ability to express for this astonishing gift that he had been given to him in the form of his son.

They were soon on their way to the beach, the trip taking longer than it should have, for the Major took a longer route, not wanting to drive in the shadow of The Centre. Gem was happily taking in the countryside, and seemed to be relaxing. An easy smile was on his face and at least for the moment, he appeared to be exactly what he was supposed to be, a young man with barely a care weighing on his mind.

As they pulled up at the crowded beach, they both quickly divested themselves of their clothes and raced each other to the water. Gem squealed with delight as his father tried to pick him up and throw him in the water. To any casual observer, they looked like any normal grandfather and grandson having a wonderful time. No-one would have given them a second glance, there seemed nothing exceptional about them at all.

Struggling for breath, the Major clambered his way up the beach and flopped down on the towel. He was breathless from laughing and needed to take a breather. He allowed himself to relax, feeling only slightly guilty at the pleasure of the sun on his body and he drifted off into a light sleep, dreaming pleasant dreams about his family.

Gem was having a wonderful time. He loved the beach. His father had shown him many wonderful things in the last three years, but nothing compared to the beach. Gem had known of beaches before of course, in fact he could probably recite more knowledge about beaches than your average marine biologist. But nothing had prepared him for the experience of the beach. It was a veritable assault on his senses. And he always came away, happily exhausted, eagerly anticipating his next visit. Just as he was thinking about his very first visit to the beach, a monster wave caught him daydreaming and punished him royally for his lapse.

The Major awoke with a terrifying start. His heart was pounding and he was already halfway on his feet before he even remembered where he was.

“Dad! Dad! Hurry!”

The Major could hear his son screaming at him, but he couldn’t see him in the crowd. He looked frantically around for any signs of sweepers, but he found none. Then Gem emerged through the crowd, yelling. The people surrounding him, pulling back to allow the mad kid to pass by, but otherwise not paying much attention to him.

“Dad! We gotta go. Right now!”

The Major looked around again, his heart was in his throat and he was trying to find any evidence of sweepers pursuing his son. When Gem got to his side, heaving from his run up the beach, the Major grabbed him by the shoulders.

“Son, for god’s sake, what's wrong?” He looked around again, and started pulling Gem back towards the car.

“Dad! I got it! I got it!” He was slowly getting his breathing back to normal. “I know how we can get Jarod out.”

A huge smile spread across the boy’s face. The Major froze in place. Gem heaved in one more breath.

“I did it. I figured it out. Now c’mon. I gotta get back. I gotta get back right now.” Gem was dancing on the hot sand, fighting to control his excitement.

Gem was now pulling on his father’s hand, dragging him back towards the car. Just after the wave had dumped him, the solution had come to him in a blinding flash. As he struggled to come up out of the water, he nearly choked on his excitement. Now all he wanted to do was get back to his computer and see if he truly had it. But he was sure, and if this didn’t get him in, he knew he was only one step away now.

As the Major was driving home, he kept glancing over at his son. He knew that Gem was running all kinds of sims through his head. He kept quiet, so as not to disturb the boy, but he could not help but be amazed at the talent and ability that both his sons had. It was both their gift and their curse. He often wondered what life would have been like for all of them if Jarod had been a normal child, if The Centre had never gotten their hands on him, and then he looked back again at Gem. If Jarod had been normal, then this boy never would have existed. The Major sighed inwardly. He didn’t think he would ever be able to make sense of his confused emotions.

Gem was totally immersed in his internal world now. He did not notice the increase in speed as the Major passed near The Centre. And when the car finally came to a halt, he had to be dragged back to reality by his father. As Gem settled himself in front of his notebook, the Major sent off an email to Sydney, informing him that they might have had a break through and that they should meet tonight if possible. The Major felt the first fluttering of hope in a long time. He decided to leave Gem alone and go for a walk. He hated feeling this useless, but he knew he would only be a distraction to his son.

Sydney's Office

Sydney's head popped up expectantly when he heard the notification for incoming email. He still hoped sometimes to see an email from Jarod. Sydney knew how foolish that hope was, but he couldn’t seem to shake it. This last week had been very long and nerve-wracking for Sydney. He had been simultaneously excited and afraid. This was perhaps Jarod's only chance, and if they couldn’t pull it off, Jarod would surely die down in the sublevels.
As Sydney opened the mail, his heart started beating faster when he saw who it was from. He closed his eyes and offered a silent prayer. When he opened his eyes and read the mail he let out the breath he had been holding. He reread the contents a number of times, still not quite able to believe what they had said.

Angelo could feel the hope radiating from Sydney, it was coming off him in waves. He scampered through air vents, making his way to Daughter’s office. Angelo knew that Daughter had been sad since Jarod went away. Angelo had tried to get down to see his friend Jarod, but the path had been blocked. Nobody knew the vents like Angelo did, but even he had been unable to get down to the sublevel. Angelo had never wanted to go to SL-27 ever again. He knew bad things used to go on down there. And now bad things were going on again down there, but he had also wanted to see Jarod. Jarod was in a lot of pain and Angelo wanted to help. Jarod had always been a good friend to Angelo, but Jarod was far away now, like Timmy, and Angelo did not know if he would ever find his way back.

Parker’s Office

Angelo quietly slipped out of the air vent and waited in office. Daughter was very busy these days, but Angelo was happy to wait here. Angelo hid in a dark corner as he heard voices coming. Daughter was there, and so was her brother. Her brother was a bad man and Angelo was afraid of him. The bad man was doing bad things to Jarod. The bad man was hurting Jarod. The bad man was tricking Jarod.

“Dammit Lyle. I want to see him. This is inefficient and it's making my department look bad.”

There were not many who could stand up to Parker and live to tell. But Lyle appeared to be living a charmed life now. As long as his Pretender was working, it seemed that Lyle could do no wrong.

“I thought you didn’t want to see him.” Lyle drawled. “And after what happened the last time, can't say I really blame you.”

Parker was furious with Lyle. He was playing with her and she hated him for it. But she needed to be very careful now. If she had any chance of getting down to see Jarod, she would have to play her hand just right. It was killing her, having to wheedle with her brother like this. What she really wanted to do was to kill him. It had now been nearly two months since she had seen Jarod, and they desperately needed recent information on his condition. His mental condition was in little doubt. He was producing a prodigious amount of work and so it was safely assumed that his Pretender skills were in fine working form. But what remained in question was both his emotional and physical condition. And there was also a big question about what was going on with the current security personnel. Parker had no idea how well guarded Jarod was. Was his failure to escape due to the high security, or had he simply lost the will?

“I don’t want to see him.” She snapped back. “But I will not let your pet destroy my efficiency rating. I want access to him, now. He is one of our most valuable resources and you are hamstringing me. If he has issues with me, then make him deal with it.” She looked at Lyle with a frosty smile. “Who is running things down there? You or the rat?”

Lyle didn’t like his authority over the Pretender being questioned. It was common knowledge that he owned Jarod now, and he knew that Parker was only pushing his buttons. He smiled at her. He would not allow her to manipulate him this way. He didn’t know what her real intentions were, but he seriously doubted that it was purely business and he had a sneaking suspicion that Sydney was behind the request.

“I will see what I can do. But in the mean time, the status quo remains. Jarod will do what is required of him, and there is no real need for you to be down there.”

He turned and left Parker in her office fuming. Lyle was certainly on top of the world these days. As he made he way back to Raines office he couldn’t help but smile to himself. He and Jarod had indeed exceeded all expectations, and Lyle believed that Jarod was the tool with which he was paving his path all the way to the Chairman’s office. It had taken Lyle a long time to claw his way back in after his fall from grace, and each day he was one step closer, and he had Jarod to thank for that. He wasn’t sure what Parker was up to, but it didn’t really matter. Jarod was his, and that was that.

When Parker sat down, she reached for a drink. This had been a very trying week for her. The inactivity was eating away at her, and certainly not doing her ulcer any good. She had really wanted to spend more time with Gem, but Major Charles had made his feelings perfectly clear on that subject. She jumped slightly when Angelo finally made his presence known.

“Sydney. Go see Sydney.”

“What Angelo? What about Sydney?”

Angelo got up and clumsily took her hand. She looked at him with wistfulness. If only it had been Angelo that was her brother, and not Lyle. She laughed to herself. How bad must things truly be if she was wishing that Mush-head was her brother?

“Now. Sydney. Now.” Angelo continued to pull on her hand. Finally she got up and started to make a move towards the door. Just as she did so, the door opened to admit Sydney. Parker saw a sparkle in Sydney's eyes that had not been there for a very long time. She knew instantly that there was some news about Jarod. Angelo let go of her hand and sank back into his corner.

Keeping her voice casual, Parker asked Sydney “What do you want Sydney?”

“I was thinking, it's such a lovely day, would you join me for a picnic lunch?” Sydney was keeping his voice casual too, this was The Centre after all. Both Sydney and Miss Parker worked on the assumption that they were constantly being monitored. They wandered in the biotracts for the better part of an hour, barely able to suppress their excitement. The time to get Jarod out was almost here. Parker told Sydney that she had been thus far unsuccessful in her attempts to get down and see Jarod and Sydney knew that Lyle would never allow him down there. So they would have to work on the assumption that Jarod was at least in reasonable health and that he was probably well guarded. Pushing any harder might arouse Lyle's suspicions and jeopardize any slim chance that they had.

That Night
Sydney's House

Gem could barely contain his excitement. He had found a way into the security system and now all they had to do was come up with a feasible plan. Once again Broots and Gem were hunched over the computers and Parker, Major Charles and Sydney found themselves drinking too much coffee in Sydney's kitchen.

“You can't get down to see him?” The Major stood and started pacing. “How do we even know he is still there? He could be anywhere. How do we know that they haven’t shipped him off to Africa?” This waiting was killing him, and now that they thought that they were close to a solution, it was becoming even harder.

“We don’t know.” Parker snapped back. It had not been an easy week for her either. She closed her eyes and started again. “We don’t know anything for sure. Work is still being produced, so I think it is safe to assume that Jarod is still here and in reasonable working order.”

Sydney cringed at her choice of words and the Major gave her a dark look. But Parker didn’t notice. She was glancing from her coffee cup to Gem. It was still a shock to her, every time she looked at him, emotions that she had thought were long dead were stirring again. Emotions and feelings that were pure, as yet untouched by Centre lies and manipulations. Feelings long-since forgotten. Feelings for Jarod. From the first moment she looked at Gem, it was as if a firewall had crumbled. This last week she had dreamed constantly of Jarod as a boy, and had been thinking about Jarod the man. Her mind flew back time and time again to the one place she had forbidden it to go. Ocee’s. Parker had been fighting those memories for over a year, and now they would not let her go. She was plagued by what if’s. She turned her attention back to her coffee.

The three of them sat there in silence, each lost in their own thoughts, each waiting anxiously for some sign from the next room. Time was dragging on and they were all becoming afraid that Gem had perhaps been premature in his excitement. When Broots arrived at the doorway, nobody noticed him. It was Sydney who looked up. One look at the crooked grin and the raised eyebrows told Sydney that Broots thought they had it.

“We, I, that is Gem and I. Well I think we ….I……”

Parker was on her feet and shaking the poor guy.

“English Broots, English.”

But Broots was saved by Gem.

“We’re in! We know how to do it.” His voice was low and was vibrating with barely suppressed emotion.

He looked up at his father and held his gaze for a moment, nodded his head slowly and finally whispered “We can save him.”

Sydney wanted desperately to go and hug the boy, to reach out to him. But he stopped in mid-step as the Major rushed forward and embraced his son. Sydney stood there, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets. He knew that he had no place in this boy’s life, that he meant nothing to Gem, he had no right to expect anything from this boy. He was not Jarod. But it was so hard for him. He turned to look at Parker. She had finally let Broots go and he scurried back to the relative safety near the computer.

Broots settled himself down and started tapping furiously on the keyboard. Gem sat next to him and started doing the same. When no-one spoke for a moment, Parker broke the silence.

“Are we going to have to read your minds. Spit it out.”

Broots looked at Gem, but he was running another simulation already. Broots cleared his throat nervously and started.

“It's a good news, bad news thing.” He paused briefly at Parker's withering look and decided it was best if he focused on Sydney and the Major.

“We have cracked the encryption codes….I tell you…….they were…..Anyway, we can get into the surveillance. We can even get into the elevator shaft. You can get in through the air vents, the same way Jarod got out, oh yeah….and Angelo too……and I can set the cameras up to rotate so that you can get down to SL-26 without being detected. The problem is…..”

“The problem is SL-27.” Gem finished for him. “We can bypass the alarm on the elevator doors and the motion detectors in the shaft, but we have no idea about the personnel on the floor. But given that we can overcome them, our three big problems remain. The first is the elevator itself. If anyone rides down in it while we are in the shaft…..” He did not need to finish the thought. “The second problem is the timing. There is only one time each month when we can get into the security cameras down there. At 3am on the fifteenth of each month, the system runs a diagnostic cycle. This only gives us a small window of opportunity. It takes seventeen minutes to run through that cycle, and in those seventeen minutes the surveillance is blind.”

“Well then, what's the big problem? Seventeen minutes is plenty of time to get in and get out.” Parker’s need to actually do something was growing in her by the second. But she groaned at the knowledge that it would be another week and a half before they could make their move.

Gem looked at her and he could see how worried she was. He still did not understand why his father didn’t trust her. It was obvious that she cared about Jarod, and she was risking herself just being here. He knew that The Centre would dearly love to get him back, and he imagined his father too. She could have easily turned them in at any time. He had tried to talk to his father about this, but the Major had stubbornly refused to discuss it. When Gem didn’t continue, Broots picked up where he had left off.

“Miss Parker, it's the timing. 3am. It is almost certain that Jarod will be in his cell. And that’s our biggest problem. We are working on the assumption that Jarod can't get out through the air vents down there.” Broots looked around nervously, waiting to see if anyone was going to contradict him. But he felt the need to justify himself anyway. “I mean, if he could have got out, he would have before now….wouldn’t he. Well, assuming the only way out of the cell is through the door…..

“Today Broots, sometime today.” Parker was going crazy. She got up and started pacing. She had never wanted a cigarette so much in her entire life as she did right now. “Sydney, I need a drink, a large one.”

Sydney got up and poured her a generous scotch and offered the others a drink. They all declined. Parker looked at Sydney and snatched the glass from his hand.

Broots ducked his head and looked at Gem, who continued for him.

“The surveillance on Jarod's cell is set up differently. We have to do it at 3am, there is no way around that. That is good on the one hand because we should only have a single sweeper to deal with. From the time sheets, it looks like only one sweeper is stationed down there when Jarod is locked down during the night. And he has to run the diagnostic. That makes him blind on every camera for those seventeen minutes, every one, except the ones in Jarod's cell. But the kicker is, if we shut the cameras down on his cell, the locking mechanism on the door freezes. They are linked and there is no way around it. And if we cut the power, same thing. So there is no way we can disable the cameras without deadlocking the door…..”

“But”, the smile on Broots face told them all that they had indeed found a way around it. “If I hack into the system the minute the diagnostic starts, I can stream digital footage, previously recorded of Jarod sleeping, into the current feed, and if I do it slow enough, they cameras won't be able to tell straight away. And the door can still be keyed opened. But it only gives us a four-minute window, and the timing is absolutely critical. The system will know that it has been tampered with after 4 minutes and the door will deadlock. I can't do any better than that I'm afraid. But it will be two hours before the loop in the cameras is detected and the alarm is sounded. That leaves another five minutes to get back to the elevator shaft and onto SL-26. Then it's just a matter of avoiding the regular surveillance, which has been taken care of. That gives you just under two hours to get out. One second more and the whole place will know Jarod is gone. Once the alarm is raised, everything will be shut down.”

Broots and Gem looked at each other, basking in the success of finally cracking a seemingly impossible puzzle. The Major was on his feet, pacing. Sydney was sitting back in a chair gazing thoughtfully at Gem. Parker got up and poured herself another drink.

“Assuming we can do all this, then the only question remaining is Jarod. He is going to have to climb through over a mile of ladders and vents in less than two hours. He has been in that hell-hole for over seven months now, god only knows what kind of shape he is in, what if he is too weak….”

The Major didn’t want to finish the thought. Sydney got up and put an arm around his shoulder.

“I have never seen Jarod fail at anything he has set his mind to.” They both turned to look at Gem.

They wrapped up after running late into the night. It was agreed that Broots was going to start staying later each night so that when the day came, it would not look too suspicious if he was still at work at three in the morning. He would have to be very careful, if he was to mess with the system without being detected. A mistake here could be very costly, for many people. Broots looked at the crowd in Sydney's living room, and thought about Jarod, suffering 27 floors below the world, and then he thought about Debbie. He offered a silent prayer that they could pull this off and not get caught. Because in his heart, he knew that he would have to sacrifice all of them if it came down to a choice.

They had ten days to get all the details sorted out, and it was going to be a very long ten days indeed. As Sydney bade them goodnight, he was thinking about Jarod. He wished he had some way of getting a message to him, to let him know that it was almost over. Let him know that he had not been forgotten or abandoned by those that loved him. Sydney closed the door and realised that it was the first time that he had openly admitted to himself that he loved Jarod. Ad now that he had, he wondered at why he had fought it for so long. Jarod had always been in his heart, he was just too afraid to admit it. But he vowed to himself, that if he ever saw Jarod again, he would set things straight with him. If he ever saw Jarod again. Sydney knew that there was a good chance that, even if they did get Jarod safely out, he would never see him again. Sydney may be many things, but he was not a complete fool. He knew that the Major was planning to take Jarod as far away from The Centre as possible, and it was very likely that Jarod would disappear for good this time. There was nothing left for him here anymore. Nothing but misery and bitterness.

As Parker drove home, a thrill of hope ran through her. This nightmare might finally be coming to a close. If they somehow all survived this, she imagined that she would be placed back on the hunt for Jarod. But after the last seven months, she would happily go back to that old life. She sighed as she pulled into the driveway. The Parker curse. She would never be free of it. But even that was preferable to this. She would go to work tomorrow, as if it was any other day, and somehow she would get through the next week and a half. She would not stop pushing to get access to Jarod, for that would only serve to raise suspicions, but she doubted she had any real chance of seeing him. The one thing she was most looking forward to however, was the look on that bastard, Lyle’s face when he had to tell Raines that Jarod was gone.

As the Major and Gem drove home, they were both caught up in their own thoughts. Gem was thinking about the first time he had laid eyes on Jarod, how afraid he had been. And when Jarod had taken him, Gem had never been more fearful in his life. Even Raines had not held that kind of fear for him. But by the end of his first night of freedom, Gem knew that he could trust Jarod. Every taste of ice cream brought a picture of Jarod's face floating in his mind. And now Gem was going to rescue Jarod. He was hoping that it would prove to Jarod just how much Gem loved him. Gem was hoping that maybe, just maybe, Jarod would come to love him as well.

The Major looked over at his son. He would make sure he got some sleep tonight. He had been working himself beyond his limits recently and he was worried about him. He was also worried about how he was going to break the news to him that he would not be coming with him into The Centre. The Major knew that Gem expected that he would be part of it, but the Major had absolutely no intention of allowing another one of his son’s in that cursed place ever again. Once Jarod was safely home, they would leave and never return.
3 by jacci
a/n: All my thanks to Onisius who has been nothing short of a lifesaver for me on this story, all my thanks.

Aftermath Pt 3

Mr Raines Office
Friday, 13th July

Mr Lyle and Mr Cox were both sitting in Mr Raines’ office for the monthly update on Project Jarod. Things had been progressing splendidly and the Triumvirate was very please with how things had been handled thus far. Jarod had been continuing to perform beyond expectations, and there had been very little resistance from him. There was only one thing that Raines was not happy about.

“Gemini……... Have you got the location of Gemini from him…… yet?” Raines’ eyes bored into the two men.

Mr Cox looked at Mr Lyle and smoothed down his suit before he looked back up at Raines. He cleared his throat before answering.

“No. We have as yet been unable to ascertain the location of the Gemini project. We know that he is with Major Charles, but that is all we know at the moment.” Cox looked over at Lyle again and shifted slightly in his seat.

“Perhaps you are not trying ………hard enough.”

“He doesn’t know where they are.” Lyle surprised even himself with his adamant defence of his Pretender. Lyle and Cox had agreed to disagree with respect to this particular topic. Lyle was certain that Jarod had told him the truth, but Cox was not so readily convinced.

Raines did not fail to notice the looks between the two men. “Does he know where he is or not?”

“He doesn’t know.” Lyle stated again. “He has given us all the details of the last known locations of Major Charles and Gemini, they are calling the clone Gem. He even gave us the encryption codes for the email addresses. We sent sweeper teams, but they were long gone.” Lyle smiled. “Hell, I think he even wants Gemini caught.”

“But perhaps we shall try one more time to extract that information.” Mr Cox was already thinking about new ways to play with Jarod. He didn’t really need an excuse of course, but he did so enjoy a sense of purpose. Although he had finally admitted to himself that perhaps Lyle was right, but Mr Cox was nothing if not thorough. He did not like to leave any stones unturned and he would eventually satisfy himself that Jarod was not lying to him.

After the meeting broke up, Lyle and Cox descended to their playground, leaving Raines gloating in his office over the profit statements that Jarod had just produced. Since Raines had taken over, The Centre had never been so smoothly run.


As Cox and Lyle were riding the elevator down to what had become their second home, they were discussing what was to be done with the Pretender over the weekend. Lyle wanted to go up to the woods for the weekend, as much fun as playing with his toy was, he felt the need to get out into nature, recharge his batteries, so to speak.

Lyle was also becoming worried about the growing attachment he was feeling towards the Brain Trust. He was beginning to become uncomfortable with the way the relationship was turning out. Originally Lyle had intended to develop a friendship as a means of controlling the Pretender, and of course because somewhere deep down, it must be killing Jarod. He found however, that the more he got to know Jarod, the more he felt a real admiration and friendship growing. He could not help but be impressed with the rat’s talents and abilities. Since that night when he had divulged his innermost feelings to Jarod, he had felt a twisted kinship with him. He had found himself making excuses in order to talk to his pet. He told himself that Jarod meant no more to him than a pet that could perform pleasing tricks to entertain his master. In order to reinforce this, Lyle had set up with Cox a random pattern of abuse to be inflicted upon Jarod. This served a number of purposes. It kept Jarod in line, never allowing him to forget his position in the scheme of things. He was fearful of Cox and more dependent on Lyle everyday. It also gave Mr Cox and Mr Lyle no end of pleasure, but most of all, it reminded Lyle of just who was in control. The more threatened Lyle felt by their growing friendship, the more he took it out on Jarod, proving to himself that he hadn’t gone soft.

Lyle sighed heavily. His mind already thinking about the weekends activities. As much as he loved playing with Jarod, sometimes it was just really good to take a break from the routine. “I don’t really care what you do with him. There are no more sims scheduled until Monday morning, just don’t damage him too much.”

Cox nodded and Lyle knew by the smile on his face that he had already devised something fun for the genius. Lyle ordinarily liked to watch Cox play, but he felt the need to get out. Jarod wasn’t going anywhere, and there was always next week. With that decided, both men made their way to prepare for their respective weekends.

Miss Parker’s Office
Sat Night

Miss Parker was preparing to go home. She had never been so nervous in her entire life. She had decided to come into the office today, on the lookout for any potential problems. The last nine days had weighed heavily on her and she was glad it was finally here. Her ulcer had been playing up unmercifully, and she had gotten almost no sleep. In just a few short hours she would know if their plan had failed or succeeded. It had taken a supreme effort of will to stay away from Sydney and Broots, but she did not want to bring any attention to herself or them. When Lyle had announced he was going away for the weekend, she almost cried in relief. That was at least one possible complication they would not have to worry about. She turned the lights out and made her way home, resisting the urge to check in on Broots.

Tech Room
Sat Night

Broots was now a common fixture late at night in the tech room. Nobody even noticed him anymore. He was always the last one to leave. Tonight was the night and he was silently praying that it would be over. He was not designed to take this kind of pressure. He had been expecting visits from Miss Parker and Sydney, but neither had shown their faces. He imagined that they were home now, and he wished that he was at home too. It would not be too long now, and he only hoped that he could do this without being detected. Broots could not actually see the footage that he would be streaming ever so slowly into the camera feed, so there was no way for him to tell if this was going to work or not. He knew that a million things could go wrong, he just hoped that luck was running their way for once. He started his programme, hoping that it was as untraceable as he and the kid thought it was. It was time to go home now, he would know soon enough whether or not they succeeded. The security cameras on SL-26, where the Major would exit the vents, had been looped, and once the alarm had been sounded, the loop would erase itself. The programme for Jarod’s cell would complete itself in two hours, and by five am, there would be no evidence that it had ever been tampered with. He chuckled to himself as he thought of the shock on the sweeper’s face when he looked up on the monitor at the cell that was now suddenly empty.

Sydney’s House
Sat Night

Sydney had been too nervous to go in to work today. He had roamed around the house aimlessly all day. He had called Nicholas, only to get the answering machine. He must have checked his emails a hundred times already. He kept reminding himself that no news was good news. He had brought his locked box full of momentos of Jarod home with him. He lifted the items out, one at a time, with reverence. The memories were bittersweet. If they failed, Sydney would know soon enough. If they succeeded, he imagined that he would never see Jarod again. He offered a silent prayer for the Major and wished Jarod the good life that he deserved.

The Major’s House
Sat Night

Major Charles and Gem were having the biggest fight that they had ever had.

“We’ve been through this before. You are not coming. That is final.” The Major was adamant. But the boy was not backing down.

Gem had never openly defied his father before. He had been brought up to obey, and it was a lesson that had been painfully learnt. But he still could not believe that his father could do this to him.

“But dad, please, I have to do this. I need to do this.” He pleaded. “What if you need help? What if Jarod needs help? There is so much that could go wrong. You will need me there.”

“No. You can't come. I need to know you are safe. I cannot risk both of my sons. I will not let them touch you. Never again. If I fail, you know what to do.” He took Gem by the shoulders and gently sat him down.

“Please son, I can't do this unless I know you are safe. Please try to understand. I cannot lose another son. I just can't.” The Major was unable to keep the fear out of his voice.

Gem sat back and looked at his father. He was concerned at the weariness in his eyes. As much as Gem wanted to go, it was not in his nature to be defiant. He finally nodded his head and looked up at his father as tears slipped from his eyes.

“Please dad, bring him home.” Gem begged.

The Major pulled Gem into a tight embrace, afraid to let go. Finally, he released him and got up. There was no more time. All the things that had needed to be said had been. Now, either they would succeed and he would bring Jarod home, or they would fail.

As he watched he father drive away, he thought back to his experiences with The Centre. If it had not been for Jarod, he would still be there now. He never would have had the life that he lived now. He knew that it was a long way from what was considered normal, and he was desperately lonely sometimes. Living on the run precluded the possibility of friendships and so many other experiences that he would have loved to have been a part of. But he also knew how fortunate he was. He had his father now, and hopefully soon, they would have Jarod back. Gem knew that his father would never really be complete until Jarod was safely returned and they found Margaret. It was hard for Gem to think of her as his mother, but he longed to meet her and he understood Jarod's burning desire, what drove him so mercilessly.

The Major left Gem standing forlornly on the front porch as he drove off into the night. During the drive he was pulled with conflicting emotions. If things went well, then he would have his two sons home. But if they had miscalculated even slightly, he would never see Gem again. It things went badly, it was likely that he would never see either of his sons again. He had placed his trust in Centre personnel and he had no time now to wonder if he had made a monumental mistake.

He pulled up and parked in the woods not too far from where he would enter the maze that was the air-conditioning system. He took one last looked around him, shifted the pack on his back and entered the darkness. He crawled for what seemed like an eternity, but after checking his watch, knew that it had been just under 90 minutes. His muscles were beginning to ache and he began to wonder if perhaps he had taken a wrong turn somewhere. But finally he reached his destination and gratefully slid out of the vents onto the floor of SL-26. He took a moment to get his breath and was nearly startled into a heart attack when a man approached him.

“Jarod. Save Jarod.”

Sydney had told the Major about Angelo, but the Major had not expected to run in to him. He looked into those earnest blue eyes that were as big as saucers. Angelo had been here his entire life and the Major briefly wondered if he had a family that had been searching for him.

“Save Jarod. Jarod is lost.” Angelo pulled on the Major’s arm. “Jarod lost.”

The Major pulled up sharply. “What do you mean Jarod is lost?” But he got no answer from the empath, Angelo had already disappeared into the air vents. He shook his head at the retreating figure, wishing that there was something he could do for him. He looked down at his watch, he still had 8 minutes before the diagnostic cycle began. He pulled out the keycard and the palm computer that Gem and Broots had programmed all the encryption codes into. He flipped the device over, marvelling that such a small thing could hold the key to Jarod's freedom. He counted the minutes off, getting more anxious by the second. He was deadly afraid that something would go wrong, and he was afraid of the condition that he might find Jarod in. The Major did not care if they caught him, he would gladly give his life for Jarod's, just as long as Jarod got away.

The small alarm on his watch alerted him that it was time to get moving. He slid the card through the slot in the elevator, and the doors quietly slid open. He held his breath, waiting for the alarm to go off. When it didn’t, he turned on his tiny flashlight and check to see if there was any movement in the elevator shaft. The first hurdle over, he slid silently into the elevator shaft and climbed to the floor. He pulled his gun out and screwed on the silencer. He hoped that he didn’t have to kill anyone, but he was more than ready to kill anyone that stood in his way if it became necessary.

He keyed the doors and prepared himself as they slid open. No one was there to greet him. He crept down the corridors, his heart hammering in his chest, expecting at any moment for the alarm to be raised. But all was quiet as he made his way to the end of the seemingly endless hallways. He sank down beside the door to Jarod's cell and caught his breath. He still had two minutes before Broots disabled the cameras inside. He wanted so very badly to pound on the door, to let Jarod know that he was there, instead, he rested his cheek against it and tried to regulate his breathing. He glanced down the hall, but still, nobody was there.

“Please Broots, please make this work.” He whispered a small prayer.

As the alarm let out a tiny beep on his watch, the Major jumped. He had four minutes. Four minutes until the system had figured out that it had been tampered with and deadlocked the door, and then there was no chance. He keyed open the door and pulled it open, wincing at the loud sound the lock made as it disengaged. He looked down to see the shocked face of his son.

Jarod was sitting cross-legged on the floor in his cell. His right wrist was cuffed to his left ankle and his left wrist to his right ankle. As he heard the lock disengaging, he shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t think Mr Cox would be down this late and he hoped that it wasn’t the sweeper coming in to relieve his boredom again by tormenting him. He hoped that it was Lyle. Lyle had developed a habit of coming down to visit him in the small hours of the morning, sometimes bringing tiny gifts of pez or some morsel of food, and other times, just to talk. Jarod was always grateful for these visits. Lyle had told him that he was going away for the weekend. Jarod had begged Lyle not to go, not to leave him with Mr Cox. Things were always worse when Lyle was not there.

Jarod looked up uncomprehendingly to see the face of his father floating before him. For a brief moment he wondered if they had started drugging him again. It looked so real. Before Jarod had decided whether he was hallucinating and this really was his father, the Major had dropped to his knees, his gun laying unforgotten at his side.

“Jarod! Oh thank god you're alright.” The Major embraced Jarod awkwardly. “Thank god.”

“Dad?” It was slowly dawning on Jarod that it was his father that was here. His father was going to save him.

The Major wasted no time. He retrieved a lock pick from his wallet of tools. He started working on the cuffs.

“Jarod, we have only got three minutes left to get out of the cell, and another five to get back to SL-26.”

“What are you doing here dad?” Jarod was absently rubbing his freed wrist, trying to restore some of the circulation. “You shouldn’t be here.” He frowned, not yet entirely understanding what was going on. He looked up at the cameras nervously “Mr Cox won't like it that you are here.”

The Major grabbed Jarod and shook him gently trying to get him to focus. Freed from the cuffs, Jarod swayed like a rag-doll.

“Jarod, Jarod. Please Jarod we have to go. You have to get up. We have to go, now.”

The Major stood up and tried to haul Jarod to his feet. But Jarod yelped in pain when his legs began to unfold. The Major sunk back down next to Jarod. He was beginning to panic. He glanced at his watch. Another precious minute had gone past.

“Jarod, how long have you been like this?” The Major was afraid of the answer.

“I don’t know. Friday maybe. Lyle was going away for the weekend and he left me with Mr Cox. I don’t like it when Lyle goes away.” Jarod was only now starting to get his wits about him. “What day is it now?” He had started massaging his legs. The reality of his father being here was only slowly sinking in. Jarod shook himself like a man waking from a dream that he could not quite escape from.

“Oh my god, dad, is it really you?” He clumsily threw his arms around his father, ignoring the scream of protest from his shoulders and back.

“Jarod, can you walk?” the Major hated being this short, but there was no time for pleasantries now. “We only have two more minutes to get you out of this cell.”

The Major looked from Jarod to his watch. Panic was starting to set in. Jarod could not even stand up, and there was no way that he was going to be able to climb the elevator shaft and then crawl through over a mile of air vents. They needed more time. They needed a few hours, that’s all, just a little more time. The Major closed his eyes, trying to think if he would be able to carry him. Nausea was forming in the pit of his stomach as he fought the realisation that had started to sink in. But even with all the weight that Jarod had lost, he knew that he was not going to be able to do it. They had less than five minutes to get back to SL-26 and even with the Major carrying Jarod, there was no way. They needed more time. He was going to have to leave him here, or they would lose any chance at another attempt.

Jarod was starting to try and unfold his legs. He closed his eyes against the pain as he grabbed his ankle and tried to move it. But both of his legs were completely dead. He looked at his father’s face with a slow-dawning horror. He tried frantically to stand, using his father’s body to claw his way up. But his legs, after more than two days of being trapped in that position, simply refused to function.

“No dad. No! I’ll crawl out of here if I have to!” Jarod started pounding on his useless legs with both his fists. “I’ll be alright, all I need is a minute.”

The Major grabbed Jarod’s shoulders and looked into his eyes, willing him to understand. He watched as hope was turning to despair.

“We don’t have a minute Jarod. You need to listen to me. I love you Jarod, I know you are here now, and I am doing everything I can to get you out. Understand that. Everything. Next month, the same time next month Jarod, you have to hang on until then. Do whatever you have to do to stay alive, stay strong.”

Jarod starting shaking his head in denial. He gripped weakly at his father. This could not be happening.

“Dad, you can't mean it. No. You can't just leave me here. No, you can't. Please dad. Please, how can you do this? No.” Jarod was breathing heavily, his chest rising up and down in rapid movements as the panic took control of him. Jarod saw the gun lying on the floor next to his father. For a brief moment he thought that he would use it if necessary. He would not be left here, he would kill them all for what they had done.

“Jarod” the Major reached over and picked up the gun when he noticed Jarod looking at it. He tucked in into his pants, nestling against the small of his back and then reached over and picked up both pairs of handcuffs. “Oh Jarod, I am so sorry, but if I don’t do this, it will jeopardise everything. I promise, I will get you out. Stay strong. A month. Know that we are working, doing everything we can.”

He reluctantly took one of Jarod's ankles and snapped a cuff around it, cringing at the sound it made as it locked into place. He then reached out for Jarod's wrist, but Jarod recoiled in shock as he realised what his father was doing. The Major choked back his tears. If they came in and found Jarod out of the cuffs, well, he just couldn’t put Jarod at any more risk than he already was. They couldn’t afford any change in the security routine, there must be nothing to alert them, to make them more wary. There must be no evidence that he had ever been here. If Jarod said anything, they would just think he was dreaming, or ranting, there would be no physical evidence of his intrusion.

“Please Jarod, don’t make this any harder than it has to be. You must understand, this is the only way.”

Jarod started to fight in earnest now, but in his weakened state, he was no match for his father, who, with brutal determination, re-cuffed Jarod the same as he was before.

“Ohhh god Jarod.” The Major cupped Jarod's face in both his hands and kissed his forehead, wiping away the tears that were streaming down Jarod's face. “Please Jarod, just hang on. A month. It's just a month. I will be back, I promise, all you’ve gotta do is hang in there. A month. I will be back, and we WILL get you out of here.”

It was the hardest thing the Major had ever done in his life. He gathered his things and stood up, looking at Jarod's ashen face and started to back out of the cell. He turned around and tried to close his ears against Jarod’s pleading. As the door slammed shut with a finality that sent a foreboding through the Major’s heart, he violently wiped away his tears and headed for the elevator. He opened the doors and climbed up to SL-26. Once he exited the elevator shaft, he sunk down to his knees and sobbed. A month, it's only a month, he kept reminding himself, as if somehow that would make it alright. As if that month wasn’t going to be an eternity for Jarod.

Jarod stared in disbelief as the door slammed shut. He pulled against the cuffs, yanking at them violently, knowing it was futile, but trying anyway.

“You can't just leave me here again. Dad please. Not again.” His voice had dropped to a whisper.

He rested his head against the wall and tried to control himself. Bitter disappointment coursed through him, consuming him. He stared at the door, as if he could make his father reappear through sheer force of will. The only single thought that was running through the Pretender's head was “Don’t leave me here.”

When the sweepers came in much later that morning, that was how they found him, rocking slightly back and forth chanting in a whisper over and over “Don’t leave me here.”

“Don’t worry sunshine, we won't forget you’re down here. Shower time.”

Jarod was brought back sharply to reality when the two sweepers reached down, uncuffed him and hauled him roughly to his feet. He screamed in pain as his legs swung below him as they dragged him to the showers. He had convinced himself that it had only been a dream, his father never would leave him here. Never. But the faint lingering smell of the aftershave that clung to Jarod's skin, whispered to him that it was not a dream at all. His father had indeed abandoned him here. And why not? He had left him here for thirty years after all. Jarod should not really have been all that surprised. He had never come to save him before, why would now be any different?

They threw him on the floor in the shower block and he curled miserably as the stinging cold water pelted down on him, washing away the last vestiges of that scent.
4 by jacci
a/n: Thanks to Onisius who has been relentless in her pursuit of making this better.

Aftermath Pt 4

Sun Morning
Major Charles’ House

Gem had been unable to get any sleep at all and now his father was more than an hour overdue. He knew that a million things could have gone wrong and he was quickly losing hope. He paced frantically to-and-fro on the front porch, watching the daylight slowly seeping in. He was acutely aware of every second passing by and he knew that it was becoming less and less likely that they had succeeded. He made his way back inside the house, and with a heavy heart started to gather his meagre possessions together. In the event that they failed and the Major didn’t return, Gem was to find his sister and try to make a new life for himself, far away from Delaware. But Gem did not think that he was going to be able to do that. He would find a way to get both his father and Jarod out. If they’re still alive, his mind stubbornly insisted.

“Dad!” He screamed

He ran out into the driveway when he heard the van pulling up. His heart was trip-hammering in his chest and he threw himself into his father’s arms. He was so relieved to see his father that he had not even registered the fact that Jarod was not there.

“Dad. I was so worried. I didn’t think you were coming back”. Gem burrowed even further into his father’s body.

The Major enveloped his son and started to sob.

“Jarod I am so sorry.”

Gem froze in his grasp and tried to extricate himself.

“Dad, what happened? Where’s Jarod?”

The Major dragged his weary body up to the house and collapsed in defeat. He would never be able to tell anybody what had happened. He would never be able to relate what he had done, not to anyone.

“We will have to try again. But son, he’s alive. I saw him. He knows we are going to try again. Next month son. Next month. We are going in again. Next month.”

Gem did not like the way that his father sounded. He was rambling and he wanted desperately to know what had happened. Why didn’t he bring Jarod? If he had been able to talk to him, why wouldn’t he bring him home, what had gone wrong? His father was clearly exhausted and an emotional wreck.

“Dad, you go and have a shower, I will make you something to eat and then you can get some sleep. We can talk after.”

The Major pulled Gem down onto the couch and held his face in his hands, the same way he had just held Jarod's. He pulled Gem towards him and kissed him on the forehead.

“Just hang on Jarod, I am coming to get you.”

Gem stiffened in his grip. He wanted to tell his father that he wasn’t Jarod, that it was him, Gem, but the words died on his lips when he saw his father’s face.

“Dad, please tell me, what happened?” How could he have seen him, talked to him, and not brought him? What had happened? But the Major was in shock and had curled on the couch and had fallen into an uneasy sleep. Gem gently placed a blanket of him and went into the kitchen to prepare some food. He would let his father get some rest and then they would talk. As Gem prepared some scrambled eggs for himself, his mind wandered to Jarod. It seemed that Jarod was never far from his thoughts. He had constant nightmares about the things he imagined that they were doing to him. He had asked his father if he could talk to Sydney or Miss Parker, in the hopes that if he found out what was actually happening, he might be able to get control of his rampaging imagination. Generally, Gem found his abilities were a positive thing, but sometimes he wished he could just turn his mind off.

10am Sun Morning
Miss Parkers House

By now, Miss Parker had finally accepted that the rescue attempt had failed. She would have heard by now if the Pretender had gone missing. There would have been a full-scale manhunt in operation. She had known that it was not a sure thing, but she had hoped that this would be an end to this nightmare. She picked up the phone the dialled the number that the Major had given her.

“Hello” a hesitant voice on the end of the line.

“Gem, it's Miss Parker” She imagined the way his eyes would light up when he knew it was her. He was so very much like Jarod, even in his mannerisms. “Gem, please put your father on.”

“Miss Parker, I'm sorry, but he is asleep.”

She could hear the disappointment in his voice and she wanted to reach out to him.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know!” Gem wailed. He had managed to control his emotions all morning, but he couldn’t hold it in for much longer. “He came back and said that Jarod was alive and we would try again next month. But Miss Parker, I am scared, dad is……funny…..”

“Gem, I am coming over. Tell me where you are.” Parker was already making herself ready to leave.

Gem froze. His father had been very clear in his wishes that neither Sydney or Miss Parker was to know where they were staying. Gem knew that his father still did not trust her completely, but Gem wanted so badly to talk to her. He knew that his father was in shock, and suffering from emotional exhaustion, but the knowing didn’t make dealing with it any easier. Gem knew that he was smart, a genius even, but he was still a child when it came to dealing with his emotions. His entire life he had been forced to suppress his emotions and he was only just beginning to learn how to cope with them. Most of the time they were a good thing to have, but Gem found that they were also very powerful, and at times like this, not easy to control. He envied other people who seemed to have such easy control over themselves.

“Gem? Gem are you still there?” She was gentle with him. She could hear the uncertainty in his voice and she was trying very hard not to push him.

“I’m here. I don’t know what to do.” The pleading in his voice was plain.

“Tell me where you are. Gem, please. I can help.” She closed her eyes and held her breath. She wanted to scream at him to give her the address.

Finally he told her. She knew what a difficult decision it must have been for him. She was already out of the front door, tossing the phone carelessly on the couch. She drove at breakneck speed and was at the front door in under ten minutes.

As she climbed out of her car, Gem was waiting at the front porch. He stood stock-still as she approached. As she made her way up the stairs, she could see the unshed tears sparkling in his eyes. And without even thinking, she folded him into a warm embrace. She guided him over to the bench on the veranda and they sat down. She rocked him back and forwards hushing him with nonsense words. She breathed in deeply of his scent, reminding her vividly of a different boy, one from a different life. She stroked his hair as he clung to her desperately and she waited patiently for his emotions to subside.

When he looked up at her, tear stains had tracked down his cheeks, that were flushed red with emotion. Her heart jumped in her chest and all thoughts of her Jarod were driven from her mind. She kissed his forehead and asked the question that had been burning in her since early this morning.

“What happened? Gem, please, what went wrong?”

Gem wiped angrily at the tears on his face and looked up at her.

“I don’t know Miss Parker, honestly I don’t.” He ducked his head as if he expected a rebuke, or punishment for dishonesty. “Dad came home without Jarod and he just kept saying sorry to me. I think he thinks I'm Jarod. He said he talked to him. Said he was alive and okay, but that’s all, and now it's like he’s asleep, but it's not……”

“Shhh……it will be alright. Jarod is fine, I am sure of it. We would have heard by now if anything was wrong. Sydney would let me know….”

“Jarod is as far from fine as he can get!” Major Charles made his presence known as he stood in the doorway. “What the hell are you doing here?” He growled, he would not allow Parker get her hands on Gem as well.

Gem froze for a moment at the sound of his father’s voice. He turned around and saw fury like he had never seen before blazing from his father’s eyes.

“Son, move away from that woman!” He had locked his eyes on Parker and did not even give Gem a glance.

Parker stiffened as she felt Gem slowly rise and move away from her. She had not taken her eyes from The Major's. She rose regally, her eyes boring into him.

“Who the hell do you think you are talking to?” How dare he, after all that she had done, all that she had been through. “Where have you been for the last seven months while I have been killing myself trying to save Jarod? You can take that self-righteous crap……”

“Dad! Please! She’s only trying to help.” Gem stood between his father and Miss Parker. He looked from Miss Parker to his father, begging him to stop this.

But the Major only had one thing on his mind. The picture of Jarod's face as had forced himself to re-cuff him was the only thing he could see, the sound of his voice begging him not to leave, still ringing in his ears. That would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Well Miss Parker it seems you have an advocate here.” Still not taking his eyes from her.

“Dad, what's going on? What happened with Jarod? Please why won't you tell me?” Gem pleaded.

“Yes Miss Parker, why don’t we tell him exactly what happened?” His voice was ice-cold, his eyes never leaving hers. A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth, but there was no warmth in it. He gently pushed Gem out of his way as he approached Miss Parker. “Well, what are you waiting for?”

Miss Parker took a step forward, reaching behind her reflexively, but realising that she had left her gun at her house in her rush over here. Instead, she planted her hands firmly on her hips. Her heart was beating fast and she was no longer aware of the boy’s presence.

Gem took a hesitant step backwards in shock. He had never seen his father lose his temper like this before and he was horrified by what his father might be implying. And Miss Parker’s anger was so intense, it reminded him of Mr Raines. Gem shrank back from that memory and watched in horror as Miss Parker approached his father. She looked like a predator.

“What do the hell do you want me to say?” She took another step forward.

“Do you want me to say how he has ruined my life? How I hunted him? How that just before I shot him in the back, he begged me to let him go? How I stood by and watched while they dragged his sorry rat-arse back to where it belongs, and put him back in his cage? How for the last six months I have watched while they broke him in half, even helped them to do it? Well it's all true!”

“No” It was barely a whisper. Both Miss Parker and Major Charles, shocked at the sound, turned to look at Gem, who had stood silently by, forgotten in the heat of the moment. His mouth formed a perfect O, his eyes wide as he started to shake his head back and forth in denial.

“I won't let you touch him. You people will never get your hands on him.” The Major was looking at Miss Parker as if she was about to grab Gem and drag him back to The Centre. The Major was imagining Gem sitting in the cell next to Jarod and the two of them being used against each other as a tool of coercion. He took a step towards his son and flinched as Gem took a step back, bumping into the hand-rail on the veranda.

His eyes went from his enraged father back to the horrified Miss Parker.

“No it can't be your fault.” As he was trying desperately to deny it, he could tell by the look on her face that it was the truth. “How could you?” He started hitching in breaths, fighting back the tears. “I thought you were my friend! And the whole time you were lying.” He choked back a sob and pushed blindly past his father, running back into the house.

“Gem!” Miss Parker called out after him. She made a move to chase him but was pulled up sharply by an iron grip on her arm.

“Don’t!” The tone of his voice was enough to stop even the Ice-Queen. Then he continued in a softer tone. “The last thing he needs now is to think you are chasing him.”

The Major took in a huge breath, let go of Miss Parker’s arm and sat down heavily on the bench. He put his head in his hands and his body shook with giant sobs.

Parker looked from the door back to Major Charles and decided to sit down next to him. She had to find out what had happened with Jarod.

“Major, please tell me what happened with Jarod.” Her voice was flat and emotionless. All the fury of a moment ago was gone.

The Major looked up at her and related the tale, leaving out the part where he had been forced to re-cuff Jarod.

“So you just left him there?” She was incredulous. She got up and started pacing.

“We are pushing the envelope on the time already, even fit and healthy, it's a big ask to cover that amount of distance in that time, and Jarod couldn’t even stand. Even with two people, there is no way we could have even dragged him out of there. Not in that amount of time. We need to buy another hour. You should have warned me that he might be in that bad a shape.” He had known that Parker and Sydney had held things back from him, and his body shook with the thought of how much worse things must have been for Jarod when he wasn’t cooperating.

Parker sighed and looked at the Major. Her voice was barely a whisper and she was fighting hard to hold back the tears. She had imagined that now he was working that things would have been easier on him. It was the only comfort that she had had.

“I didn’t know. I had hoped that………”

“Once you had made him compliant that he would no longer be tortured.” Gem finished for her. He was standing in the door, in the exact same pose that his father had held not ten minutes ago.

The three of them got up and moved into the kitchen at Major Charles’ urging. It was clear the Major was exhausted and the heavy tension in the air was not helping matters. They sat, no-one wanting to break the silence. Parker was looking at Gem who was stubbornly standing with his back to her, making the coffee. When the coffee was prepared and Gem could find no further excuse, he sat, still refusing to look at her. Parker reached out to take his hand, but he withdrew it violently.

“Did you really send Jarod back? Is it really your fault?” It was clear that he was hoping that it had all been some horrible misunderstanding.

Parker and the Major spoke with Gem long into the morning, trying to explain the complicated situation that they were in. But by the end of it, Gem had some kind of understanding of what had happened, but he knew that he could never look at her through the same eyes again.

Sydney's House.

By mid-morning, Sydney had given up any hope that Jarod had escaped. He was praying now that Jarod was still alive and that Major Charles had not been caught. Something must have gone wrong and he needed to speak with Broots. He decided against the call, not wanting to draw any unwanted attention to himself on the small hope that perhaps Jarod got out after all and no-one had thought to tell him.

But he could not stay one minute longer in this house. It was not all that unusual for Sydney to be lurking around The Centre halls on a weekend, completing some project or other. So he made his way to The Centre and made for his bonsai in the greenhouse. He had been greeted at the door by security and all seemed business as usual. He knew that his presence her would be reported to Raines and that if anything was awry in the Pretender Project, there was no doubt Raines would be down in short order. But no-one summonsed him or bothered him and he spent most of the day working on his tiny plants, trying to calm himself. He would wait until Major Charles contacted him, and they would just have to go from there.

Sun Morning

Jarod had been shaved by the sweepers and was dragged, still dripping with the icy-cold water, to be presented to Mr Cox. He still could not stand and the cold water was only serving to intensify the muscle cramping in his legs and shoulders. As they dumped him in a plastic chair in Cox’s office, he tried to immerse himself in a mini-pretend. It was a technique that usually served him well. But lately, it had been more and more difficult for him to escape the brutal reality of his situation. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine the feel of hot water against his body. Water so hot that it stung. But it had been so long, that he no longer had any memory of the sensation of warmth at all. He was jolted back to reality as a sweeper delivered a sharp blow to the back of his head, knocking him forward, out of the chair, banging his head on the front of Cox’s desk, falling onto his hands and knees.

“Pay attention rat!” The nameless sweeper almost dislocated Jarod's shoulder as he hauled him back into his seat.

Mr Cox walked in imperiously and looked at the wet and shivering Pretender, a trickle of blood seeping from his forehead.

“Good morning Jarod.” He seated himself comfortably in the plush leather chair behind his big oak desk. It was not often that Cox conducted his sessions in his own office, but he was feeling in a strange mood today. He wanted to be surrounded by the things that made him feel the most comfortable. He resented that Lyle had taken the weekend off and he had been stuck here. He picked up his favourite piece, a handsome squirrel, and started patting it absently.

“Have you been enjoying the weekend so far? It must be nice to have a break from all the sims, get some rest and relaxation in.”

Jarod grunted a reply and looked at the squirrel with mild interest. He had to admit that it was a fine specimen, and expertly preserved. He envied the simplicity of it's existence. It no longer experienced any pain or suffering. Jarod wished that it could be over for him as well.

Cox noticed the look and smiled at Jarod.

“It's fine work isn’t it? Although I would love to find a way in which we could preserve the eyes. The eyes are after all are, the windows to the soul.” He placed the squirrel down carefully and he looked back at Jarod.

“Jarod, perhaps you could help me out. I do have the smartest man on the planet here and I am sure the tower wouldn’t mind me using you for a little personal project, on the side so to speak.”

Jarod shifted in his seat, his muscles beginning to cramp again and he frowned as he heard the sweeper behind him move forward. He looked up at Cox and took a deep breath before he answered.

“I don’t think it can be done.” He hung his head and clenched his body, waiting for the blow that he imagined would be coming.

But instead, Mr Cox busied himself with some papers, ignoring Jarod completely.

“Ohh well, it was worth a try.” He turned his smile back on Jarod and sat and stared at him for a period of time.

Jarod lowered his head and tried to ignore the penetrating gaze. He thought he caught the scent of his father’s aftershave again. Jarod's head snapped up and he tried to shake the dream off. He had convinced himself that the whole thing had been nothing more than a vivid dream, but some small part of him refused to believe that. He looked at Cox who was mildly amused at his reaction.

“Jarod, we are going to try this again today. Now I want you to tell me everything you know about the location of the Gemini Project. You may have fooled that idiot Lyle, but we both know better don’t we?”

Jarod shifted in his seat again. Lyle was not an idiot and he wanted to tell Cox to shove it, but the looming bulk of the ever-present sweeper hovering on the edge of Jarod's vision made him think twice. Jarod had learnt quickly that it was best to keep his observations to himself. Sweepers had no sense of humour at all.

“Is there anything you would like to share with the class Jarod?”

Jarod was tempted to wipe the smile off that smug bastard’s face, but he stopped as the meaty weight of the sweeper’s hand clamped down on his shoulder, reminding him of his place in the scheme of things.

Jarod looked back down to the floor. He was shivering, caused by the combination of the wet clothes that hung loosely on him and fear. He had told them everything, but they never believed him. He had even made some things up, in the hopes that they might think he was trying at least. But when nothing turned up, he was only punished more severely.

“I think you are trying to avoid the answering me Jarod. Tell me what you know about the location of the Gemini Project.”

“I don’t know anything else Mr Cox.” He finally mumbled.

“That’s just too bad Jarod.” Cox smiled and picked up two pairs of handcuffs and threw them at one of the sweepers who deftly caught them.

“You know what to do. And Jarod, let me know when you change your mind.”

Cox watched apathetically as the sweepers hauled Jarod out of the room. He waited until they were almost at the door.

“Wait, I almost forgot.” Cox walked forward, smiling, holding a syringe in plain sight. Jarod cringed and tried to struggle, but the two sweepers had a firm grip.

“What's in that?” He was eying the syringe warily. Jarod had had more than enough experiences with Cox’s drugs, and was not eager for any more.

“Nothing dangerous, I assure you. Just a little stimulant to help keep you awake. I would hate to think that you wasted your first weekend off sleeping, this should keep you alert until Monday.” He jabbed the syringe into Jarod's arm and gave it a satisfying pat as he finished.

He sat back down as the sweepers proceeded to drag a soon to be very alert Jarod back to his cell. He had reluctantly come to the conclusion that perhaps Lyle had been right, Jarod knew nothing about how to find the Gemini Project. But it had really been just another excuse to play. Cox had other things to attend to today and so he was content to let Jarod stew in his cell for the rest of the day.

By the time they were approaching the cell, Jarod could feel the stimulant kicking in. All of a sudden, he seemed to have an enormous amount of energy. His leg muscles seemed to be functioning again. He twisted in the grips of his captors and managed to get his arms free. He delivered a punishing blow to one of them and spun around and hammered the other across the back. He made a mad dash up the hallway, heading for the elevator, although what he expected to do there was anybodies guess, for he had no way of gaining access to it. He pounded furiously on the button and spun around as he heard the sweepers behind him. He backed up against the elevator doors and snarled like a trapped animal. The drug was now coursing through his system and he was powerless to stop himself, he was completely wired and felt like he wanted to jump out of his skin.

The two sweepers advanced on him warily, one was slapping a baton he had retrieved into his open palm.

“Come on Rat, time to put you back in your cage.” He took another step forward.

The two sweepers easily outweighed Jarod, but they were being very careful. The Pretender was crazed and whatever Cox had given him had turned him into a madman. Jarod hunkered down into a crouch and prepared to launch himself at them. The first sweeper narrowed his eyes and waited for the attack. The second sweeper turned, his side facing Jarod and waited for the coiled Pretender to leap. Had Jarod been able to think clearly, he never would have fallen for such an obvious ploy, but he launched himself and took the full force of the baton in his stomach. His breath whooshed out of him as he crumpled to the ground. The sweeper that had just belted him with the baton now used it to grab Jarod around the neck. The thick shaft cutting off Jarod's supply of oxygen. The other sweeper grabbed both of Jarod's legs and they proceeded to carry a madly thrashing Jarod back to his cell.

After tossing him in the cell, the two breathless sweepers delivered some kicks to subdue the manic Pretender. And after five minutes of more blows and struggles, they finally managed to get his hands cuffed back to his ankles and left a screaming Jarod tugging frantically at the cuffs.

Jarod finally managed to get some control of himself but he felt like he was climbing out of his skin. His entire body was twitching and he had never wanted to be able to move so much in his entire life. He rocked backwards and forward trying to ease his frustration. Every nerve in his body was screaming and he felt that if he couldn’t get up and move he would go insane. He could feel the strong stimulant running through his body and his mind was trying to tell him that it would pass, breathe, it couldn’t possibly last forever. Jarod closed his eyes and made a conscious effort of monumental will to calm himself. He started meditating, trying to take himself very far away from this place. He managed to achieve some sense of control and it became slightly easier as the hours dragged by ever so slowly, but it was the hardest thing he thought that he had ever had to endure.

Monday 8am

Lyle rode the elevators down to the sub-level in a better mood than he had been in a long time. His weekend had been incredibly satisfying. He had not realised just how depressing it was being stuck down here for such long periods of time. It was just exhilarating to get back out into the sunlight and take in all the pleasures that nature had to offer. He straightened his tie and smiled as the elevators came to a halt. But now it was time for work, and Mr Lyle was a man who enjoyed his work.

He stopped in briefly at the surveillance room, but Cox was nowhere in sight. He briefly considered waiting for Cox to get back, he wanted to know what he and his Pretender had been up to all weekend. But he just couldn’t wait. He was almost skipping up the hall on his way to Jarod's cell. He keyed in the code and was vaguely excited by the fact that he did not know what to expect.

He looked down at Jarod sitting cross-legged on the floor. It was clear that he received a beating sometime during the weekend, and by the looks of him, he had had little or no sleep at all.

“Lyle?” It was little more than a hoarse whisper.

Lyle knelt down beside Jarod and suppressed the smile as he saw how the Brain Trust had been restrained. Had Cox left him like this all weekend? Jarod’s eyes also had a glazed look about them, and he seemed to be having trouble focusing.

“Jarod, let me help you. That bastard Cox is going to pay for this.” His voice held just the right touch of anger he thought. He pulled a handcuff key out of his pocket and unlocked the cuffs. Jarod sighed in relief as he watched Lyle throw the detested things in the corner. Lyle picked up one of Jarod's lifeless hands and gently started massaging it.

“Jarod, I'm sorry. I never should have gone away and left you for so long.

“They all leave me here. Dad left me here. He doesn’t care.” Jarod tried to focus on Lyle's face, and he smiled weakly. “But you never do. You always come back.” He looked back down at his hands and shifted slightly. As the drug had slowly worn off, Jarod had come to a decision. The dream had convinced Jarod that he would never get out of here, that this was his life now and that he should try and make the best of it. He swallowed his fear and told Lyle what had taken him all night to decide.

“I……I…..want…..would like……. more than this.” Jarod's voice dropped to a whisper as he looked around the cell, his eyes finally coming to rest uncertainly on Lyle's.

Lyle smiled, reached out and ran his gloved hand along Jarod's jaw. Jarod pulled back, afraid that Lyle might deliver a blow. He knew that Lyle wouldn’t hurt him, but it had become such a natural reaction that he couldn’t help himself. He instantly regretted it when he saw the look of surprised hurt on Lyle's face.

“Jarod, you know I wouldn’t hurt you don’t you? I know how hard it's been for you, but it's been hard on me too. Having to watch what goes on, not being able to do anything. I have tried to protect you the best I can….” Lyle stood and started to leave. “….but there is only so much I can do. I know it's not enough.” He shook his head.

“I know that you have tried Lyle.” Lyle was the only friend that Jarod had. He was the only one that hadn’t betrayed him, left him here to die. He was the only one that was doing anything to help. He cast his eyes back down to the floor. “I’m sorry.”

“What are you willing to do Jarod? What more are you willing to give up to get more than…….. this?” Lyle swept his hand around the room. “They already have what they need.”

Jarod thought about that for a moment and then looked up at Lyle.
5 by jacci
A/n: In case anyone still doesn’t know this by now, all my thanks go out to Onisius, without whom, I don’t think this would have ever seen the light of day.

Aftermath Pt 5

Major Charles’ House
Sun 14th August

The month had dragged by, agonizingly slowly for all of them, but not as slowly as they imagined it had for Jarod. Gem and Broots had used that time to try and buy themselves more time before the computers figured out that they had been tampered with. But they had come up with nothing. Broots had become extremely proficient at manipulating the normal surveillance, but nothing could be done about SL-27. The Major had pushed Gem so hard that Parker had been forced to defend him. The boy had a big enough responsibility without his father making it worse. Sydney had stood by, reluctant to interfere in matters that he had been told in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome.

While they waited for the month to pass Broots and Gem had become very good friends and although Gem was hoping desperately that they would get Jarod out this time, he was also regretting that it meant that he would lose this friendship that he had developed. Although they made an unlikely pair, Broots was the first real friend, the only friend, that Gem had ever made. But Gem had already made the decision to keep in touch with Broots. He knew that his father would not approve, but he figured ‘what dad doesn’t know can't hurt him’.

Miss Parker and Major Charles had also developed and unlikely bond. She and the Major often talked long into the night about Catherine and Miss Parker saw a whole other side of her mother. There was so much more texture than what she could glean from the DSA’s or files, and while Ben had provided a wealth of memories, none of them had anything to do with her life at The Centre. The Major was a good storyteller and she found that she could listen to him for hours. Gem often dragged himself away from Broots to listen as well, sitting by Parker's side. The Major at first had been disturbed at the way Gem had gravitated back to Miss Parker, but he had decided to leave it alone. After tomorrow, they would never have to see these people again.

Sydney watched with interest the dynamic that had formed within the little family, but he had distanced himself from it. It hurt him to think of Jarod as a boy Gem’s age, trapped underground in the walls of The Centre, and knowing the man was still trapped there. It hurt him to think of his complicity in it all, and he felt that he should be doing more. Sydney knew that the Major was doing everything that could be done, but he also knew the Major was planning to take Jarod away from him.

Broots was the first to leave. He had to get back to The Centre and work his magic on the surveillance systems. He stood and awkwardly shook hands with the Major. But the Major pulled him into a crushing embrace, pounding him on the back. Broots let out a sigh of relief when the Major finally released him.

“I don’t know how I am ever going to repay you for all that you have done. None of this would be possible without you. Mr Broots, whatever happens tonight, I want you to know that you will always have my eternal gratitude.”

Broots ducked his head in embarrassment. He shuffled his feet and looked down at them. When the Major chuckled, he looked up at him and smiled. He had just been doing his job, and he was not used to this kind of display of gratitude. More often than not, his efforts went unnoticed. Miss Parker and Sydney never truly appreciated some of the things that he had did for them, the risks he had taken. As he was shaking Major Charles’ hand, his chest swelled with pride.

Gem stood awkwardly and made his way over to his new friend. He knew that if things went well tonight, it would be unlikely that he would ever see Broots again. And for the briefest of seconds….. He was acutely aware of the audience watching them. And he found that all of a sudden he couldn’t find the words that he wanted to say.

Both Broots and Gem stood facing each other, both of their faces were red and Parker had to bring her hand up to cover the smile. Sometimes, not very often, she realised just how dear Broots had become to her. The nervous computer geek had somehow wormed his way past her formidable defences into her heart. She didn’t really know how or when it had happened, but somehow he had managed to do it. Watching him now, she found that she almost envied his role in helping Jarod, his easy friendship with Gem.

After some five minutes, they had finally managed to stumble through a goodbye and Broots was on his way to set the plan in motion. As he drove back to The Centre, he was flushed with pleasure at the knowledge that he was playing such an important role, and with pride at the Major’s gratitude. When Debbie asked him “How was work today daddy?” He would be able to answer her honestly. “Daddy had a great day at work sweetheart. He did a good thing today.”

The time was almost here and there was an unspoken accord that it was time to go. Goodbyes were said and many things remained unspoken. They had all been here before and they were all thinking the same thing. Miss Parker embraced Gem, leaving everything still unsaid. After they had all left, the Major went to lie down to try and get some rest. He knew he would not sleep, he was way too wired for that, but he needed to relax and try to find his focus. He was in the best physical condition he had been in for many years and he would return with Jarod this time. He did not want to admit the possibility that he might not succeed. He did not think that he could survive having to leave Jarod again.
There again had been fights with Gem, and the boy had reluctantly acquiesced to his father’s wishes, but only after he had threatened to send him to stay with his sister Emily. It was an empty threat however. The Major had not risked getting in contact with his daughter. This close to The Centre made him very nervous and he did not want to risk her. And he knew that he would tell her about Jarod, she had no idea, and he didn’t want to get her hopes up. The Major smiled ruefully, if Jarod was anywhere as stubborn as Gem, it was no wonder The Centre had so much trouble keeping him under control.


The month had also passed for Jarod, although unlike the others, he had not been counting the days. He had convinced himself that he had dreamt the entire thing and was now settling into his new routine. He still spent nearly the entire day in the lab working on sims. There was a never ending demand for his talents. But he now had access to the pool and he spent two hours there each night after the sims had been completed. When Lyle had granted him a request, he had thought long and hard for the entire night. He wanted out of that cell most of all, and a bed, something soft and warm to lie on. But his first request had been access to the pool. He needed to be realistic in his goals, and he did not imagine that even Lyle had the power to transfer him the out of the cell. He loved to swim and he could almost believe that he was free when he was in the pool. All the pain, all the torment and suffering fell away. He was allowed some degree of privacy as well. No sweepers accompanied him, although the watchful eyes of the cameras were still there of course.

When he was doing laps, Jarod belonged to no-one but himself. Sometimes Lyle came down and they swam together. Jarod was slowly rebuilding his strength and stamina, but he was still no match against his friend. They often talked after swimming, Lyle would sometimes bring a book down and they would argue over ridiculous plot points, Jarod nearly always winning here at least. Cox very rarely touched Jarod anymore, partly because he fell under Lyle’s protection, but mostly because they had a far more powerful weapon now. Jarod did anything and everything they asked of him to ensure that his access to the pool was not withdrawn. Jarod also knew that the more he helped Lyle consolidate his position, the more things would trickle back down to Jarod in the form of privileges.

After his swim was over, he had a cold shower and submitted to a quick search by the burly sweepers before they escorted him back to his cell for the night. He hated the feel of their hands going over his body, but he endured it without complaint. It was all part of the trade-off, and well worth it in Jarod's opinion. Lyle had somehow managed to convince Mr Cox to grant him private shower time. Jarod smiled at the memory of it. The gift had been as welcome as it was unexpected. Lyle had come down during his swim with a huge grin on his face. In his hands he held a toiletry bag bursting with goodies. A toothbrush and toothpaste, real soap, and even a safety razor. When Lyle had told him he would be allowed private shower time, Jarod had jumped out of the pool and thrown his arms around Lyle, oblivious to the fact that the water was ruining Lyle’s immaculately pressed suit. He stood back in horror as he realised what he had done, but Lyle had been smiling and chided him gently.

He ran his tongue over his teeth, relishing the smooth clean surfaces, and the minty taste. He breathed deeply in satisfaction. The smell of the soap, fragrant in his nostrils. He wished for a mirror, but for the moment, just being able to shave himself was a treat. Getting the hot water turned on in the shower block was his next mission. He felt his confidence building and was debating on just what was the best way to broach the subject with Lyle. He looked up with a guilty start as the sound of the lock disengaged. Fear coursed through him, to be quickly replaced by astonishment. He shook his head trying to shake off the image.

The Major had crawled through the seemingly endless air ducts, and had made it to SL-27 without incident. He had stood outside Jarod's cell, palm resting flat against the door, offering prayers to anyone willing to listen. When the alarm on his watch went off, he keyed the lock and closed his eyes before he pushed the heavy door open, afraid of the condition he might find Jarod in. He had brought a mild stimulant with him this time, hoping that it would be enough.

“Dad!?” Jarod was on his feet, shaking his head.

“Jarod” The Major almost crushed Jarod in a massive bear-hug. “Oh Jarod, thank god. I have been so worried about you. Are you alright Jarod?” The Major held Jarod out at arms length, looking at him, trying to assess his condition. “Jarod, it's time to take you home.” The Major cast a quick glance around the tiny barren room, and then nervously up at the cameras.

“Dad? What's going on?” Jarod was more than a little suspicious. He was fairly sure he was awake, but that didn’t necessarily mean that this wasn’t one of Mr Cox’s tricks.

“Jarod, we are going to get out of here, now. We don’t have much time, you have to come, now.”

The Major grabbed his hand and tried to pull him towards the door, he could feel the time slipping away and still Jarod was not moving.

Some tiny part that Jarod had buried, kept hidden from Cox and even Lyle began to resurface. He looked at his father and he began to believe that perhaps this nightmare could finally be over.

“Dad, you came for me?” he asked in wonder.

“Yes Jarod, but we have to make a move now, we are running out of time. We can talk later, but right now we have to go.” He started pulling Jarod frantically towards the door.

Jarod finally seemed to pull himself together and the two of them headed for the door. Jarod turned around and took one final look around the tiny room that had been his home for what now seemed like his entire life. They then made their way up the corridors to the elevator. The Major had his gun drawn and Jarod was prepared to kill anyone who got in their way with his bare hands. As they approached the elevator doors, Jarod glanced around, expecting to be set upon by sweepers. The Major had keyed open the elevator doors and they both held their breath as they waited for the alarm to sound. After a second of hesitation the Major entered the shaft and proceeded to climb to SL-26. Jarod glanced around nervously, a certainty that they were going to be caught had settled upon him. He was almost sick with apprehension at the thought of what Mr Cox would do to him when he found out.

Jarod hesitated at the door, looking into the blackness. It had been a very long time since he had been in the dark and he was absurdly terrified. His heart was thudding in his chest, the sound of it loud in his ears. He seemed unable to move, as if by entering the darkness he would commit an act from which there was no coming back.

“Jarod, c’mon” The Major hissed down at Jarod. He had a small torch held between his teeth, lighting the way in the darkness of the elevator shaft.

But Jarod was thinking about the pool and what would happen if Mr Cox caught them. Jarod knew that things would be very bad for him, and Jarod was so very tired of doing things the hard way. Lyle would be so disappointed and Jarod would never be able to regain his trust. He would never get the hot water turned on in the showers. All his careful planning…..he shook himself at the sound of his father’s voice. He was gripped by indecision. It was not too late to go back. He peered up into the darkness, only just making out the figure of his father on the floor above. He steeled himself listening to that tiny voice buried deep within, swallowed his fear and started to climb. Within another five minutes they were both in the air vents crawling to freedom.

The Major kept his eyes on his watch, Jarod was beginning to lag behind and the Major was worried that they might not be able to make it in time. They still had a long way to go and the Major knew that they did not have time to stop for a rest. He feared that if Jarod stopped, he might not be able to get going again.

“Jarod, it's not that much further, you can do it.” he tried to encourage Jarod. He wished that there was more he could do to help him.

After an hour of crawling and climbing, Jarod's muscles had had enough. He was beginning to shake from fatigue and he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to make it. The darkness felt like a physical thing trying to crush him and he was constantly fighting his panic. He was sucking in short shallow breaths and the dust from the vents was making his throat a raw burning pain. But he was now well past the point of no return and the thoughts of what they would do to him if they caught him spurred him on. He pushed himself forward, following the shadowy figure of his father ahead of him in the dim crawlspace. There was only single thought that was now going through his head as crawled along the endless passageways, pushing his body far beyond it's limits. And that thought was “I am never going back.”

Finally, Jarod could feel warm air pushing past him and he knew that they must be close. He smiled as he realised that it must be summer. He had been shut away from the world for so long now that he had not given the seasons any thought. He pushed himself a little harder, forcing his weary body to obey.

The Major climbed out of the pipe and turned to wait for Jarod. There was still fourteen minutes until 5am, until the alarm was raised. He reached in and helped pull Jarod out of the pipe and eased him gently to the ground. The Major was horrified at how little he weighed. Jarod lay on the grass, gasping for breath too exhausted to move.

“Jarod, stay here, I will be back in two minutes with the car. Don’t move.” His hand gripped him on the shoulder before he ran to where the van lay hidden. They were down to the wire with time and he wanted to be well on his way before the alarms were sounded.

Jarod watched his father go and fear gripped him. He was leaving him there. It was just like before. He shuddered to think what would happen when they found him outside. How would he explain it to Lyle? He tried to pull himself up using the pipe, but there was nothing left in him to use, he fell back down limply, his face lying in the grass. He closed his eyes and breathed in the smell of it. The warm night air felt like velvet on his skin and he no longer cared if they caught him or not. It was all worth it all, just for the sensation of warmth and the smell of the grass. He grabbed handfuls of grass and dirt and brought them close to his nose, breathing in deeply. It was the smell of life, the smell of freedom. He rolled over on his back and gazed up at the fading stars, clutching the grass to his chest, and sobbed at the sheer beauty of the panorama of the night sky displayed before him.

The Major wasted no time returning to Jarod. He got into the van and gunned the engine. It seemed ridiculously loud in the stillness of the pre-dawn. Light was only just beginning to creep over the eastern horizon, but he dared not risk turning on the headlights. Pulling up next to Jarod and looking at his watch, he saw that there was now only nine minutes before the alarm was raised. He quickly got out of the van and raced to where Jarod was lying. He reached down and as gently as he could, he picked him up and struggled with him to the back of the van. He laid him down on the mattress that was in the back and made his way back to the drivers seat. As he started making his way back to the house, he cast a glance over his shoulder, but it appeared that either Jarod was asleep, or passed out. He pulled out his phone and dialled Gem.

Gem was pacing on the front porch. He was still seething that his father had not allowed him to come. He looked at his watch for the hundredth time. It was almost 5 o'clock. If he knew that if he didn’t hear from his father in the next few minutes, he had failed. When the phone finally rang, Gem looked at it as if it was going to attack him. He slowly reached out picking it up, his heart in his throat.

“Gem! I got him son. We did it. We will be there in ten minutes. Grab everything and be ready to go.”

The Major had disconnected the call before Gem had even had a chance to respond. He put the phone down and let out the breath he had been holding. After a moment of stunned shock, a grin broke out on his face and he ran back inside the house to gather their few possessions. He disconnected his computer and packed that as well. He took a quick tour around the house, checking to make sure nothing was left behind. He then took the three bags and waited for his father.

It took all of Major Charles’ self control not to speed through the night. He constantly checked his rear view mirror. He could not afford to bring attention to themselves and a van at five in the morning speeding through this quite little town was something that was sure to be noticed. He concentrated on the road ahead of him and forced himself to stick to the speed limit. He pulled up to see Gem waiting in the driveway. Just as he opened the door to get out, the alarm on his watch informed him that it was 5am. They would know. The alarm would be raised and they would start their search. The Major just hoped that they had enough of a head start.

Gem’s head bobbed up as he heard the van. He jumped to his feet and ran to the car. His looked at his watch and saw that they were out of time. His father ran and picked up two of the bags, leaving Gem the third one.
“Get in the back son, see if you can help him.”

Within a minute they were heading west with the light of dawn chasing them.

Miss Parker’s House

Parker had gotten no sleep that night. She had stalked around the house trying desperately to find something to do to calm her nerves. She pulled on one of Tommy’s shirts and hugged herself. She always found that she was calmer in his shirts, as if she was somehow closer to him, as if he was somehow still here. But tonight she felt guilty. She was wearing his shirt, but she was thinking about another man. She shrugged out of it and put on her silk pyjamas, and crawled into bed. If they were successful, there might be a chance that sweepers might turn up at her house, and she needed the appearance of normal routine. As the numbers on her clock ticked over to read 500, she held her breath. Please let it work. The minutes dragged by ever so slowly. After ten minutes she thought that she might go insane.
When the call finally came, she was so startled that she did not know what to do. She looked at it as if she had never seen a phone before. She closed her eyes and tried to inject the right tone in her voice so that it would appear she had just been woken.

“What?” It was somewhere between a snarl and a yawn.

“Jarod is gone…….get here now.” It was Raines.

She thought she had never heard a more beautiful sound in her entire life. She ran to the shower and prepared herself for the day. Jarod was out, and now she imagined that she would be reassigned to hunt for him.

Broot’s House

Broots received the call a minute after the alarm had been sounded. His presence was demanded immediately. It seemed that somehow the surveillance on the Pretender had been doctored and he had somehow managed to escape. Broots’ expertise was required to find out what had happened. He hastily scribbled a note to Debbie and activated a virus he had left in the mainframe before he headed off to The Centre. He would have to be very careful now. He and Gem had devised a virus that would make it appear that the system had somehow been hacked from the outside. Broots hoped that it would be enough to deflect any suspicion that might be directed his way.

Sydney's House

Sydney got little or no sleep either that night. So many things were going through his mind. He was praying desperately that they would succeed, but a small part of him was grieving as well. If he was honest with himself, he would have admitted that he was jealous of the easy and loving relationship between Major Charles and Gem. He had wanted to get closer to the boy, but the Major had made his wishes with respects to that particular matter very clear. Sydney looked at this phone again, willing it to ring, but it as yet remained silent. He knew it was unlikely that anyone would call him in the event of Jarod’s escape. Raines would exclude him out of spite and both Miss Parker and Broots could not risk it. Since none of them were technically involved in the Jarod Project, it would only cause suspicion. So he waited and prepared himself for another day at The Centre. He would know soon enough after he arrived.

Lyle’s Apartment

Lyle was fast asleep when the call came in. He had a leg and an arm draped possessively over the tiny beauty that slept beside him. He fumbled for the phone and the girl stirred beside him.

“Don’t move.” He whispered into her ear, watching with pleasure the way she froze.

He leaned over her body, pressing his weight onto her, enjoying the way she squirmed in fear underneath him.

“This better be good.” He growled. “WHAT?!” He sat bolt upright in the bed, fully awake now. He flung the phone across the room and looked at the woman. He grabbed a handful of her hair and dragged her head roughly towards him, planting a bruising kiss on her mouth.

“Sorry sweetheart. Gotta go. Maybe you can join me for dinner sometime. I’ll call. Get dressed…” he picked up the jade green silk dress, balled it up and threw it at her surprised face. “….. and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” He threw her clothes at her and did not spare her another glance.

Lyle could not believe it. Jarod was gone? It had to be some kind of mistake. Jarod no longer had the will to make a break for it. Lyle had seen to that. And there was simply no way that Jarod could execute an escape from either his cell, or the sub-level by himself That left only one option. He must have had outside help. Lyle quickly ran through a list of possibilities. Major Charles topped that list, but there were also other organizations that would love to get their hands on the Pretender. The Centre was certainly not the only game in town. Lyle’s mind was ticking off the possibilities as he made himself ready to leave. He looked at the now empty bed with some disappointment. He had not had his chance to finish his game with Vi-Mai, and he had probably scared her off now. Oh well, there were plenty more where that came from.
He took a moment to admire himself in his floor-to-ceiling mirror, decked out resplendently in a charcoal grey Armani. He smiled at his reflection, put on his calf-skin glove and made his way down to Lyle 3. His pet had escaped, but this could work to his advantage. What the others didn’t realise, was just what a firm hold Lyle had on the rat’s leash. Jarod might be out, but he was not free. If Jarod was still alive, and not under the control of a rival group, he would be in contact soon, and Lyle knew who he would be calling. That thought made up for the lost opportunity with the girl.

As Lyle made his way to The Centre, all new kinds of possibilities were forming in his mind. If he could get his hands on Jarod without The Centre knowing, he could go straight to the Triumvirate in Africa, by-passing Raines altogether. He would be in a position to demand almost anything. But not straight away, he would have some private time with Jarod first. He had some special projects in mind, things that he had not risked while Jarod was at The Centre. It would not do to have daddy-dear find out about his plans, and Lyle had long-term plans indeed. Jarod might even be able to help him with some of his extra-curricular games. He increased his speed and was practically racing towards The Centre now. He would play the role of outraged handler, let Raines and the others bumble their way through searches and manhunts. Lyle would nod and smile and do what was demanded of him, and secretly he would make his preparations. He had much to do if he planned to keep Jarod himself for any length of time. But for now, he would wait, bide his time and let Jarod come to him.
6 by jacci
Aftermath Pt 6

Somewhere On The Road

They had been driving for five hours now and Jarod still had not woken. Gem had set up an IV, restoring Jarod’s dehydrated body with much needed fluids. His breathing was steady and regular, as was his pulse.

“No Dad, no change.” He replied before his father had even asked the question.

As they had moved away from the house, Gem had done a cursory medical examination of Jarod. He had picked up his limp wrist in order to take his pulse and prepare it for the IV feed, but he had dropped it in horror, gasping out loud.

The Major had swerved the van as he turned around to see what was wrong and had nearly driven them all into a tree.

“What's wrong?” The Major was torn between stopping and finding out what was wrong and putting as much distance as possible between them and Blue Cove. In the end, caution won out. He put the van into gear and waited with as much patience as he could muster for Gem to pull himself together.

Gem picked up Jarod's hand tenderly and turned it over. He traced the thick ropey scar that encircled his entire wrist. Silent tears ran down his face, and he didn’t need to look at the other hand to know that there would be a matching scar there as well.

“Son, for god’s sake, what's wrong.” The Major was almost frantic with worry now.

His eyes looked up and met his father’s in the rear view mirror.

“Dad……they did………..bad things to him.” His voice was barley a whisper, choked with emotion.

“Shhh son, I know. Right now you need to focus. We need to make sure he is ok. I know how hard this is for you but you have to think about Jarod.” The Major imagined they would never truly know just how bad things had been for Jarod.

Gem found the vein and gently inserted the IV, Jarod groaned and stirred but did not wake. Gem held his hand and looked closer at the scars. He had simmed some of the things that he had imagined had been forced upon Jarod, but he was totally unprepared for the reality of the ugly pink scars. He gently probed Jarod’s body, checking for obvious injuries. He then lifted his shirt up so that he could listen to Jarod’s breathing. His hands froze on the hem of the grey featureless shirt as he saw Jarod's abdomen and chest. Gem’s heart skipped a beat and he stopped breathing. He reached out with trembling hands to touch the lattice-work of scars, hoping that he was only imagining them. His fingers touched the raised and twisted welts, tracing over them with horror. Jarod flinched slightly under his touch and Gem withdrew his hand with a guilty start. He sat back against the side of the van gasping for breath, trying to deny what his eyes were seeing. As he struggled to regulate his breathing, he angrily brushed the tears out of eyes and took a firm grip of his stethoscope. He thought about Raines’ voice guiding him into a sim, and he allowed himself to slip into the role. When he was sufficiently focused, he moved over to Jarod and proceeded to give him the best medical examination that he could under the circumstances. He warmed the stethoscope before placing it against Jarod's pitifully thin chest. His breathing was steady, although there was a slight rattle that Gem didn’t like the sound of. When he was finished, he carefully pulled down Jarod's shirt and reported his findings to his father.

Jarod seemed to be in reasonable condition under the circumstances. He would have to do a more thorough examination later, but for the moment, he was satisfied that Jarod was in no imminent physical danger. Gem sat back and shook himself out of the sim. He always found it hard to shake off the residual feelings after a sim, especially one as difficult as this had been. His eyes kept flicking back to Jarod’s wrists, and to his torso, hidden under the shirt. He didn’t seem to be able to take his eyes off of them. Finally, without knowing what else to do, he moved over to Jarod and picked up one of his hands and just held it. He didn’t know whether it was to give comfort or to take it. It didn’t matter. He cradled Jarod's hand and they drove through the day in silence.

By midday, Jarod had began to stir, and the Major decided that it was time to stop. He had been driving for seven hours and was almost at the point of exhaustion. They had covered just over 400 miles, and they were as safe now as they were ever going to be. When the Major found a motel, he pulled the van over and rented a room.

Although Jarod was beginning to stir, he still had not woken. The Major backed the van up to the door of the room and the two of them carried Jarod into the room, placing him gently on the only bed. The room contained a tiny bathroom and a kitchenette. Gem moved to close all the blinds and curtains and turned on the air-conditioning to cool down the room, which was stifling hot. The Major left to get some supplies. They would stay here until tomorrow and then make their way to the nearest airfield. He had not risked using an airfield in Delaware, knowing that the airfields would be the first place they would think to look.

Gem got some towels from the bathroom and proceeded to try and wash some of the grime off of Jarod. He gently washed his face and hands, then moved to his bare feet. He was reluctant to do much more than that. He replaced the IV bag, which was now empty, and checked to make sure that the butterfly was still secured to the back of Jarod's hand.

Jarod slowly was fighting against the pull back towards consciousness. He had been having the most lovely dream about the stars. He was floating in the pool, but it was warm and he was surrounded by grass and the smells of summer. He wanted to stay there, but he was being pulled away and he groaned as the pain started to intrude upon him. His entire body was aching and this throat felt like it was on fire. A hand was moving, pressing something over his face and his eyes reluctantly fluttered open. He hoped that it wasn’t Sam, please let it not be Sam. He just wasn’t up for another round with Sam right now.

“Jarod?” Gem had jumped, removing the cloth from his brow when he saw Jarod's eyelids flutter.

“Lyle?” Jarod creased his brow in confusion. He could swear that he thought he was lying on something soft. He tried to sit up, but his muscles groaned in protest. A face floating in front of him came into focus.

“Ohh Jarod, I didn’t think you were ever going to wake up.” The look of worry was replaced with a beautiful smile.

“Gem?” He asked in a raspy voice. Jarod tried again to sit up and then the memories came flooding back. His father had come for him, the torturous crawl for a million years through the air vents. His father leaving him…….

Gem helped him to sit up, wincing when Jarod groaned. He carefully fluffed the pillows and placed them behind Jarod. Then he handed Jarod a glass of water.

Jarod gratefully took it and swallowed. It was like magic going down his sore throat. But he drank it too quickly and started to splutter. Gem took the glass from him and waited until the coughing fit was over. He ran to the fridge and got more cold water.

Gem watched happily as Jarod finished the second glass and sat back and smiled at him.

“Thankyou. What happened? Where’s dad?” His brain was trying to piece together what must have happened. Then he bolted upright in alarm. “The Centre?”

Gem was wriggling in his chair in excitement. He didn’t know where to begin.

“Dad rescued you! I wanted to come too, but he wouldn’t let me.” A small frown creased his brow, as he fought back the urge to sulk. “But that doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that you are here and we are safe. Dad will be back soon, he’s gone out to get some stuff. Oh, Jarod, I am so happy you are alright. Are you hungry? Hold on just one second…..ohh boy, you won't believe what I have got for you.” He said excitedly, rambling on as he ran over to the corner of the room and came back with his backpack.

He looked at Jarod and gave him a sheepish grin before he emptied the contents onto the bed.

“My secret stash.” Gem’s eyes were glittering. “Dad’s not supposed to know about it, but I know that he does.”

A wide variety of candies and snack foods rained down on the Pretender. Jarod could not suppress his smile at the boy’s enthusiasm. His eyes alighted on a number of pez refills and when he thought that Gem was not looking, his hand snaked down and grabbed them. He casually brought his hand back up and hid them under his pillow.

When Jarod had made no move to take one of the treats, Gem paused and wondered what was wrong. Jarod had a dark look on his face and he was scared that he might have done something to upset him.

“Jarod, what's wrong? I thought…… said that you liked……did I do something wrong?” Gem asked baffled.

But Jarod wasn’t listening to Gem, he was thinking about his pez treasure. It was safely hidden from prying eyes under his pillows and nobody was going to touch it.

Gem had watched through lowered eyes as Jarod hid the candies and he realised what must be happening. He cursed himself for being so stupid. He picked up a chocolate bar and offered it to Jarod.

“Here Jarod, have this, I’m sure you will like this one.”

Jarod reached out hesitantly to take the chocolate bar. He still couldn’t quite believe that this was real, not just some part of an elaborate game devised by Mr Cox to trick him into something. But finally, the temptation was too much for him and he took the proffered bar, watching Gem’s reactions closely. When a shy smile came to his face, Jarod felt his confidence build and eagerly tore the wrapper off. The first bite was beyond description. He let the chocolate sit on his tongue and melt. The flavour and the texture was heaven. He closed his eyes, relishing every moment. When it was gone, he wasted no time shoving the rest of it in his mouth.

The door swung open and Major Charles entered, his arms carrying overflowing bags. Jarod froze in fear when he saw the door open, his mouth crammed full of chocolate, and only relaxed marginally when he saw was that it wasn’t a sweeper or Mr Cox.

“Dad?” he mumbled, trying to swallow the chocolate. He tried to rise up off the bed, but Gem gently pushed him back down.

Jarod reacted violently to the presence of the gentle grip on his shoulder. He shoved himself forcefully from the bed and landed heavily on the ground, ripping the IV line from his hand. The pez and the other food landing around him. He snatched the packets of pez up, backed himself up against the wall and started sobbing, clutching his pez to his chest. He wished Lyle was here.

Gem stared in mute agony at Jarod, and then at his father. The Major slowly put down his shopping and gestured for Gem to back away. He slowly approached Jarod and knelt down in front of him.

“Jarod, do you know who I am? Nobody here is going to hurt you. You are safe. I am not going to let them touch you again. I promise.” The Major reached out slowly, trying to take Jarod's hand.

But Jarod whimpered in fear and tried to scramble past his father. He knew who he was and he remembered only too clearly what had happened last time he let his father take his hand. He wasn’t about to let that happen again. But Jarod was in no condition to take on his father, his body still ached and his strength was no where near what it used to be. The Major tried to fold him into his arms, but Jarod screamed.

“Don’t touch me!” Jarod hated the feel of another’s hands on him.

The Major let him go and Jarod scrambled against the wall and sat, rocking him back and forth, staring at the ground. The Major backed up and sat down, slightly in front of Jarod.

“Jarod, you are in shock. Gem and I are here. Nobody is going to hurt you or make you do anything you don’t want to do. You don’t need to fear us. We won't hurt you. You are safe now. Is there anything you want, anything you need?”

After a moment of hesitation, Jarod lifted his head and worked up his courage. His body tensed nervously before he asked the question that he been wanting to ask for the longest time.

“C-Can I… I have a-a…. shower? A…… hot shower?” He closed his eyes and held his breath, and sighed in relief when no blow was struck.

“Of course you can Jarod” Major Charles could not stop the laugh that rumbled from his belly. “You can use all the hot water you want.”

Jarod slowly got up, every muscle in his body aching from the previous nights activities. He took a quick glance at Gem and then back to his father and then made his way slowly to the bathroom. Just before he got to the door he stopped and turned around.

“What month is it?”

“August” his father answered.

He closed his eyes as he did the quick calculation. Eight months. Almost another year of his life stolen from him. A muscle ticked in his jaw, the only reaction that revealed the violent emotions running through him. He stepped inside the bathroom and closed the door, away from prying eyes. He could detect no cameras, and he relaxed somewhat. He looked at his reflection in the mirror in shock. It was the first time he had seen himself in over eight months, and he barely recognized the ghost that stared back from the mirror.

“Dad, he’s so scared. He is scared of me. When I touched him, I didn’t mean……”

Jarod could hear them through the door.

“Son, his still in shock. He just needs some time to adjust. He has been brutalized and kept in isolation for eight months, it will take time, that’s all. We just have to be patient.”

Patience. Time. Jarod’s lip curled into a snarl. Patience and time would not change a damn thing. It would not give him his life back, would not take away the pain and the suffering. They could not hope to possibly ever understand. Jarod sighed and shrugged himself out of The Centre-issue clothes. When he caught the reflection of his bare chest, he turned away quickly, making a move towards the shower. His hand hovered over the hot water tap before he finally turned it on. He was surprised when the hot water came streaming out. He closed his eyes and sighed in pleasure. He adjusted the temperature to suit himself and stepped in. It was the most sinful pleasure that he could remember. No eyes or cameras were upon him, and the feel of the soap and the hot water was divine. The water helping to ease the ache in his muscles somewhat. He slid down the wall and sat in the middle of the tiny cubicle and stayed there until his stomach was gripped by painful cramps. He hauled himself over to the toilet and threw up the chocolate that he had just consumed. He lay there panting and cursing himself for his own stupidity.

When the door creaked open, a knot of fear formed in his chest. But he saw a hand deposit a pile of clothing and then withdraw. He got up, wrapped a fluffy towel around his waist and went back to the vanity and rinsed his mouth out, and then gratefully drank some more water. When he was steadier, he found some shaving gear and gave himself the best shave he had had in over eight months. He looked at his closely cropped hair with disgust and ran a towel roughly through it. They had starting shaving his head each week, and he closed his eyes as he was assaulted by the memories of being strapped into that chair, Sam and Willie threatening him that he had better stay still, the punishments when he didn’t, his finger tracing over the scars on his chest. Jarod swallowed the bitter hatred that swelled in his heart as he prepared himself to face these strangers that were his family. Patience and time, he was out of both.

He put on the clothes that were left for him, by his father he assumed. The khaki cotton cargo pants hung loosely around his hips and he felt absurdly exposed in the short-sleeved white cotton shirt. For so long now, he had worn the long-sleeved grey shirt and he felt very vulnerable. He took another look in the mirror, again surprised by the stranger that stared back. He jumped at the knock on the door.

“Jarod?……” the concerned voice of his father. Another gentle knock. “Is everything alright?”

Why wouldn’t they leave him alone? Couldn’t he have a moment of peace to himself? He closed his eyes and bit back the resentment that surged quickly to the surface. Forcing himself to sound calm he called back through the door.

“I’ll be out in a minute. Thankyou for the clothes.”

“It’s ok Jarod, you take as long as you need. I am cooking some lunch when you are ready.”

Even through the door, Jarod could hear the smile in his father’s voice. Food. The thought of real food made him almost giddy with excitement. Ice-cream. He was going to get himself some ice-cream. He had been dreaming about if for eight months.

He pushed the door open to find the expectant face of Gem swing up to meet his. The smile dying on his lips as his eyes flickered down to rest on Jarod's wrists. Jarod self-consciously crossed his arms, trying to hide the marks. Gem shifted uncomfortably on the bed and all of a sudden jumped up, exclaiming loudly,

“Dad’s cooking lunch. I bet you’re hungry. Sit down Jarod, here.” He patted the end of the bed that he had just vacated. Jarod did as he was told and sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, his muscles still very sore. He spotted a pair of sandals in the corner and gestured towards them with a raised eyebrow.

“I hope they fit.” Gem practically raced over to get them for Jarod. He knelt at his feet and started to put the sandals on.

Jarod flinched slightly at the boy’s touch, but held himself still and allowed him to fit the shoes on his feet. Jarod closed his eyes and allowed the sensation to wash over him. He had gone barefoot for so long now, and as Gem strapped the sandals on, he had a moment of pure panic as he felt the buckles close and imprison his feet. Jarod shook himself at his own stupidity, but the feeling of being trapped persisted. He roughly pushed Gem out of the way and without a word to either of them, headed out the front door. Leaving a startled Gem sitting on the floor and an equally startled Major, his spoon frozen, raised halfway to his mouth.

Gem remained sitting on the floor and threw the empty sandal box at the wall in frustration. He looked up at his father and screamed “He hates me. Everything I do is wrong.”

Major Charles sometimes forgot how emotionally young and fragile Gem really was. For all the boy’s intellect, he was still such a child and he had no experiences dealing with these kinds of emotions. He was torn between chasing after Jarod and comforting Gem. As he looked into Gem’s eyes, glittering with unshed tears, he made a move over to the bed and gathered his son up into his arms. He didn’t want Jarod to feel threatened, he would allow him his space.

“He doesn’t hate you son. You don’t have to try so hard. He is just going to have a hard time adjusting.” The Major was only just beginning to understand how profoundly affected Jarod had been. He had assumed that Jarod would just bounce back, he always had before. He decided as he cradled Gem, trying to offer him comfort, that it was time that he got the full story out of Sydney. He needed to know exactly what had happened, why was this time so different from the other times. This was something he should have done a long time ago.

Jarod stopped dead in his tracks as the sunlight and heat hit him. After the coolness inside the room, he was totally unprepared for the heat of an August sun. He blinked his eyes in the sudden brightness. Even though SL-27 had been brightly lit, there was nothing that compared to the glory that was sunlight. He slid down, resting his back against the door, he sank down to the ground, letting the heat wash through him. He could hear his father trying to comfort Gem and he wished that his father had followed him instead. As he listened to them talking, he knew that they had developed the kind of relationship that he had wanted his entire life. Envy tore through him as he realised that he would never have what Gem had, what was rightfully his. Gem had claimed that piece of his father’s heart, Gem had become his son in every sense of the word. Those years were gone now, the years they should have spent together, forming a real bond, and no matter what he did, he could never get them back.

Jarod had known that his father and Gem were growing closer, and he truly believed that he had not been jealous. But he had always had Sydney, and even though Jarod knew that Sydney did not feel the same for him, Jarod had loved Sydney like the father he always had wanted him to be. But now, he didn’t even have that. Bitter tears burned at the back of his eyes, he felt more alone at this moment than he had ever felt in his life. He hauled himself to his feet and started walking up the highway. He was alone, and he always would be. This simple fact defined his existence.

He had expected to feel exhilarated. He was free, but all he felt was empty. As he started to walk, he could feel his muscles beginning to loosen up. He allowed his mind to wander, just putting one foot in front of the other. He would own his own life from now on. He would never allow anybody to dictate how he lived ever again.

“You belong to The Centre”, the ghost of Raines voice chased him.

“They own you Jarod.” Lyle's voice followed.

Jarod started walking faster, trying to outrun the voices. He was free now, and this time would be different. This time they would not get him back. No more stupid games.

But his body was quickly overcome by heat and exhaustion. After only fifteen minutes, he sank down on the ground in the shade of a tree. His body was aching and his tender feet were blistering in their new shoes. He knew he was behaving irrationally, but he seemed completely helpless to be able to stop himself. He looked up apathetically when his father pulled up in the van, and a worried Gem hurried out the passenger door to help him back to the van. Jarod got in the front seat, Gem clambered in the back and they made the two-minute drive back to the hotel room in silence.

Jarod shivered as he entered the air-conditioned room and was assailed by the smell of something cooking. The Major gestured for Jarod and Gem to sit at the small table as he poured vegetable broth into three bowls. Jarod looked at the soup as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. His stomach was still a little queasy, but his nostrils were telling him something completely different. Jarod looked at the face of his father, noticing the lines of fatigue and concern for the first time. His father looked so much older than the last time that he had seen him.

“Take it slowly Jarod, give your system time to adjust. We are going to rest up here for a little while, then later tonight, I want to hit the road again. I plan to put as much distance between us and the…..and Delaware as I possibly can.”

“The Centre. That’s it's name. You can say it you know.” Jarod snapped, immediately feeling bad. He turned his attention away from the surprised looks and focused on his soup.

“Thankyou.” Jarod said, feeling embarrassed, as he spooned some broth into his mouth, relishing the rich taste. “Thankyou…..for……everything.” he whispered, unable to meet the anxious looks.

The Major smiled and moved over to place a hand on Jarod's shoulder, but stopped himself as he saw Jarod's body clench.

“You’re welcome. Now eat, we need to build up your strength, but right now this old man needs some rest. I’m not as young as I used to be.” He chuckled softly, not taking his eyes from Jarod's. “We will talk later.” He walked back around to Gem, grabbing him roughly on the shoulder.

“In the meantime, I am sure this young fella can keep you entertained.”

The Major made his way to the bed and sunk down wearily on it. He could not remember a time in his life when he had ever been more exhausted. He fought his need to talk with Jarod, to be on the move, and finally he succumbed to sleep.

Gem talked animatedly about a staggering volume of subjects. Jarod wondered wryly if this is what he sounded like when he discovered a new thing. After refreshing Jarod's bowl, and giving him some fresh bread and some orange juice, he sat down. He was carefully watching Jarod for any signs that his stomach would reject the food. He had been foolish before. He remembered only too clearly what Centre food had been like, and he imagined that nothing much would have changed. He should have known better than to give Jarod anything as rich as the chocolates.

Jarod listened distractedly to the boy’s ramblings, half amused and half saddened. He could remember a time when he took pleasures in such little things, but he wondered now if he could ever get that sense of pleasure back. He looked closely at Gem. He knew that he was his duplicate, but Jarod could hardly believe it. He had never been allowed to see his reflection as a child, except that one time Sydney brought a mirror in. Watching the boy now was like watching a DSA, it was almost surreal. Looking at him now, Jarod could not believe that he had ever been that young. His childhood and adolescence seemed to him no different than his adulthood, except that he had been shorter. It was almost as if he had gone from a four-year old to a thirty-five year old in the wink of an eye.

He could see that his continuing silence was making Gem uncomfortable, and the boy appeared to be skirting around some subject that he obviously wanted to talk about, but just as obviously didn’t want to bring up. Jarod sighed. Questions, it was always questions. When are you going to do the sim? Why won't you do this? How do you do that? Where is the boy? It was never ending. They were at him all day. Everyday. The only one that didn’t ask, didn’t push was Lyle. When Jarod couldn’t stand it any longer, he waited for Gem to catch a breath and asked, none too gently.

“What is it that you want to know? Ask your question.” But Jarod already knew what the boy wanted.

Gem froze and stared at Jarod hopelessly. He couldn’t bring himself to ask, but he couldn’t stand it any longer either. His eyes slipped from Jarod's, down to his wrists, and then back to his own hands which he held, twisting in his lap. He could hardly breathe, and he realised suddenly that he really didn’t want to know.

“You’ve been simming it haven’t you?” Jarod asked, with something akin to cruelty in his voice. He looked down at his own hands , feeling the shame for talking to the boy with such harshness, but he couldn’t stop the rolling tide of resentment that is washing through him.

Gem's head snapped up, tears beginning to fall from his eyes. He was caught by Jarod's stare. Jarod wouldn’t let him go. Ever since he had learned of Jarod's capture, he had been thinking about what had been happening to Jarod. Gem remembered only too clearly the cruelty of Raines’ punishments when he had failed to please him, the agony of the isolation and loneliness. He had thought he had prepared himself, was ready to be there to support Jarod the same way Jarod had been there for him that first night. After seeing those marks on his wrists, and then the nightmare on his chest and abdomen, Gem's brain had gone into overdrive. He was helpless to stop himself, he had simmed Jarod's initial resistance, and the slow crumbling of that resistance under the continuing pressure, his mind shying away from the word torture, and finally his submission. He had believed that the knowing would have been easier to bear than the guessing, but the hard look in Jarod's eyes told him that this was probably not so.

“Yes.” It was barely a whisper. He struggled to hold back the tears and finally broke from Jarod's stare. “I'm sorry.”

“What are you sorry for? A boy as intelligent as you should always be seeking knowledge.” There was a hard edge to Jarod's voice as he placed his hands on the table in front of Gem, offering up his scarred wrists, daring him to look at them. “Would you like to touch them?”


“Would you like me to give you the details, help you to fill in the blanks?”


“Do you know how long I held out before I finally gave in to them?”


“Did you ever sim how good it felt to give in to them?”


Gem's gasp betrayed his surprise. He had never imagined that Jarod wouldn’t be fighting them, even after he had given in. Some small part of him would always resist what he was being forced to do.

Something hard was glittering in the depths of Jarod's eyes. He was looking at Gem, but he was seeing Cox, that look of triumph in his eyes and the cold smile when he knew that Jarod had finally submitted to his will.

“But….I ….I thought……….” Gem spluttered, his face flushing deeply.

“You thought wrong!” He reached forward and grabbed Gem's wrists roughly. “Touch it! Feel it! You know you want to!” Jarod's voice had been rising, uncontrollable anger and self-loathing surging through him. He held on tighter to the boy’s wrists as the tried to squirm out of his grasp, a small whimper of pain escaped from Gem. “This is what they did to me, and this isn’t even the half of it….”

“Jarod! What the hell do you think you are doing?” The Major’s voice was low. He was horrified at the scene on display in front of him. “Let him go now.” His voice was quiet, but there was no mistaking the deadly undertone of command in it. The Major moved in behind Gem and took his sobbing son into a comforting embrace.

Jarod did as he was told, Jarod always did as he was told, he had been trained well. Suddenly he pushed himself up from the table and stormed off to the bathroom, slammed the door and sank to the floor, curling himself tightly into a ball as massive sobs racked through him. He didn’t understand what the hell he was doing. His emotions were swinging wildly out of control. He knew that Gem was only trying to help. He closed his eyes against his rampaging emotions and tried to slip into his calm place. But he was unable to find it, and when, ten minutes later, the door opened, he shrank himself into an even smaller ball in the corner waiting for the wrath of his father.

The Major took one look at Jarod cowering on the floor and all the anger he had felt vanished. He knelt down beside his terrified son and tried to take him into his arms. What the hell had they done to him? He closed his eyes and fought back his own feelings. At first Jarod resisted, flinching at his touch but when he realised that his father was not going away, Jarod slowly relaxed, surrendered and succumbed to the embrace. The Major rocked him backwards and forwards, rubbing soothing circles on his back until the trembling and sobbing stopped.

When the Major thought that Jarod was finally asleep, he gently tried to extricate himself, but Jarod turned his head up and with the accusation clear in his eyes whispered at his father, the question he had been wanting to ask his entire life.
“Why didn’t you come sooner? How could you leave me there for so long?”

Even though he had been waiting for that answer all of his life, he was afraid of it. And rather than face it he allowed exhaustion to overcome him and Jarod` was asleep before his father had a chance to respond.
7 by jacci
The Centre

By the time Miss Parker had arrived at The Centre, there was a bustle of activity. She had been expecting a meeting in the Tower, but when she was summonsed to the tech room, her heat skipped a beat. She hoped that Broots was up for this. She hoped that they had covered their tracks as well as they thought they had. She hoped Jarod was far away and safe.

As she made her way down to the tech room, she saw that a crowd had already assembled. Raines was their, with his two lap-dogs, Lyle and Cox. And at the centre of attention was Mr Broots. He looked like a man that had just had a nasty bout of seafood poisoning. But it looked like he was managing to hold his own.

“The rat escaped the escape-proof trap?” With and arched eyebrow, she strode into the middle of the room, no effort to disguise her smile. She wished she could have seen the look of surprise on Lyle's face when he had received the news.

“Ah….ahh….Miss Parker. Um…it seems….Jarod…..” Broots looked like he was about to cry.

“Our Pretender seems to have taken an unauthorised leave of absence. But fear not, we will track him down.” Mr Cox tried to disguise the anxiety that he was feeling. This was a disaster and he knew where the blame was likely to fall.

“I am surprised you managed to keep him this long.” She turned to Raines and sighed melodramatically. “Can I assume that the game is back on?”

Raines’ lip turned up in a sneer. “I want him back……on SL-27 by the end of the day. I don’t care…… what it takes. Is that….understood?”

Raines turned his attention back to Broots.

“Mr Broots….I want an update…..the second you know how this was…..done.” Dragging his oxygen tank behind him, he left the room, Willie heeling close behind. Broots let out a sigh of relief after Raines had left.

Lyle leaned into Broots and with his good hand got a firm grip on the back of his neck. Broots closed his eyes and waited.

“You find out what the hell happened. I want my boy back.”

Broots swallowed hard. He was on incredibly dangerous ground here and he could feel his entire world slipping away.

“Sir….I…I…owwww..” Broots was squirming under the tight grip at the back of his neck

“Why don’t you let him go and pick on someone your own size?” Without even turning around Lyle could see the smile on her face, and he knew that she had drawn her weapon.

“It would be a damn shame to get grey matter all over the console. Would slow down the search.”

Lyle let go of the back of Broots’ neck and turned around nonchalantly to face his sister.

“Can't have that now, can we? Wouldn’t do much for my suit either.” Lyle was smiling, but there was a dark undercurrent in his voice. He smoothed the shoulders of Broots crumpled shirt and then brushed his own suit off and gave Miss Parker a cold look. “Well sis, looks like we are going to be working together again. Hope you weren’t too settled over in Corporate.”

Parker re-holstered her gun and suggested that it might be more expedient if they all left Mr Broots alone to get on with his work. She knew that the techie was hanging on by a thread and the last thing he needed was that monster Lyle breathing down his neck.

Broots closed his eyes and silently thanked Miss Parker, swearing that he would never again curse her for anything she asked him to do.

“Keep me updated on your progress. I have some avenues of my own that I will be looking into.” As much as Lyle enjoyed taunting the techie, he did indeed have some things to look into.

Lyle strode out the office without a second glance, heading for his own. His missing thumb was aching miserably, and he started to massage it. He knew that there was no actual physical pain, but thinking about Jarod, free and not under his control, made it ache. When he caught whoever was responsible for this, he would make the Yakuza’s method of punishment seem mild in comparison. If it turned out to be Major Charles, and he had more than a sneaking suspicion that it was, he would have to come up with something very special.

Miss Parker gave a knowing look to Broots before she left for her own office. These next few hours would be critical. Jarod would be long gone by now, but if Raines or Lyle caught a whiff of their involvement, they would all be worse off than Jarod had ever been. Even Lyle would never go as far as killing their precious Pretender, but none of them had that kind of protection. She had no doubt that neither her father nor her brother would have any trouble using her against Jarod, or simply killing her if it proved more expedient. She hated the thought that her future hung in the hands of the bumbling techie. She did not doubt Broots’ loyalty, but she was not completely sure how much more pressure he could withstand.

She wondered if Sydney knew yet, and she wanted very badly to call Major Charles. But for the moment, she had to try and look like she was hot on the tail of their missing prized possession. By about midday, Broots should have uncovered the carefully placed trail that he and Gem had left and Miss Parker imagined that the chase would be on.

Broots sighed in relief after Lyle and Miss Parker left. He knew that Raines would have others working on this as well, covertly, looking for any possibility of Broots involvement. He knew that they suspected him, he was in the best position to infiltrate the security, and even though he was confident in the counter-measures that he and Gem had put in place, he was still a complete nervous wreck.

That extra month of waiting had been put to good use. Broots would discover an unauthorised incursion into the mainframe in about six hours. By the end of the day they would have tracked that to a house just outside of Blue Cove. By midday tomorrow they would have backtracked the rental of the property to a private corporation. After another day of meticulous searching, it would be uncovered that a primary stockholder in that company was one Mr W Raines.

It had taken the skills that only a Pretender could possess to set up such an intricate web. But Broots had been incredibly impressed by Gem's skills and was truly beginning to understand why they had been unable to catch Jarod for so long. Broots also really understood for the first time, that if Jarod ever decided to disappear for real, The Centre had no chance of catching up with him.

He sat back and focused on his task at hand. There was still much to do, and even though he thought he had weathered the worst of the storm, he knew that they would be watching him. At Major Charles’ insistence, he had not told Miss Parker or Sydney about their plan to set Raines up. Major Charles and Gem had discussed it at length and decided that this was the best course of action. Major Charles still had some innate distrust of Sydney and Miss Parker, and had only really ever trusted them because it had been the only way to ensure Jarod's freedom. Broots had believed that the Major was being unfair, but had reluctantly agreed. Although Broots had wanted to share the plan with his friends, he could not deny the guilty thrill of pleasure he felt at keeping the secret. He knew that he would pay for it dearly when Miss Parker found out that she had been kept in the dark, but he figured it was probably worth it.

As the tedious computer hacking continued, he allowed himself a small smile, it would be nice for the good guys to win for once. That happened nowhere near enough, at The Centre or in anywhere else, for that matter. He thought about how Jarod had helped so many people, people that had been unable to help themselves, and he realised just how much he wanted to do something for Jarod. Jarod had practically given him his daughter and had literally saved his life, more than once. Broots knew that people thought he was a nerd, a coward, and it never bothered him. Debbie’s opinion was the only one that really mattered to him, and he knew he was a good father. But he just wanted once in his life to do something that was courageous, something he could look back on with pride and say to himself. “I did that, it was a good thing.”

He wanted to email Gem, to see if Jarod was alright, but he knew it was far too dangerous now. The Centre was on full alert and they would be monitoring every incoming and outgoing transmission. His only job right now was to get past his own encryptions and not bring suspicion down upon himself. He settled himself, and for the first time in nearly a year, was happy to be at work.

Sydney's House

Sydney could not stand it any longer. He was already showered and dressed. He could barely contain his desire to ring Broots or Parker, but he held back. If Jarod was indeed out, then he would be putting them all in jeopardy by ringing unless he had a legitimate excuse. And even after an hour of trying to come up with something, nothing sounded convincing, so he went back to pacing. He had thought that the last month had been unbearable, not knowing what was going on with Jarod. No matter how hard he had tried, he had not managed to extract the complete story from Major Charles. He knew he was holding back on something, and by the dark look that had entered The Major's eyes every time he had tried to broach the subject of the failed rescue, Sydney had known that it was very painful. Finally Sydney had dropped it and left the Major alone.

This morning however, Sydney was as close to the point of insanity as he had ever been. He truly believed that if they were unsuccessful this time, he would simply die of a broken heart. Since that terrible day in the sim lab, Sydney had been haunted both night and day. His only respite had been the planning for the rescue, and even in that, he had been mostly excluded. For most of Sydney's adult life, Jarod had been the centre of his existence, and the vacuum that his absence left was almost too much for Sydney to bear. Even as Jarod explored his brave new world as he searched for his parents and his stolen life. Even as he learnt more of his betrayal and the true extent of his exploitation, even when Jarod had believed that he could never forgive Sydney, even then, that connection had not been broken. But now there was nothing

Sometime during that long night, Sydney had come to a decision. If they failed with Jarod again, he would take matters into his own hands. He had spent the early hours of the morning carefully pulling his gun apart and cleaning it. It was the same gun that he had planned on killing Kreig with, but there would be no-one there to stop him this time. He wanted to kill the three of them. He knew that this would not save Jarod, but Sydney was beyond that now. The ideal situation would be the three of them in one of their monthly meetings. There would be a good chance that he could shoot all three before a sweeper killed him. But Sydney did not know if he had the patience anymore to wait and get all three at once. The decision was no longer whether he could kill, but simply who he should kill, who deserved it the most.

He spent the next hour going over in his mind who, if it came down to a choice and he could only get one of the bastards, he should put down. The list of crimes for all three were extensive. He knew that Cox was ostensibly acting under orders, but it made Sydney's stomach churn thinking about the pleasure that Cox enjoyed from hurting Jarod. Then there was Lyle and Raines. It was still difficult to think of Miss Parker as related to these two. He would always think of her as the daughter of Catherine. Could he kill her father, her brother? Would she understand? Would she forgive him? He was only faintly surprised to find that he didn’t care whether he had her forgiveness or understanding.

Although they had never really had a loving relationship, there was a bond there. Disguised too often behind acerbic remarks, but nevertheless, there was a warmth and Sydney supposed that he was almost her surrogate father. She had once told him that there was nothing he could ever do that would give her comfort, but they both knew that that was a lie. Things were different now however. After Scotland, she had been colder and distant, and Sydney had yet to find out what had transpired between her and Jarod. But since they had both witnessed the devastating destruction of Jarod, a wall had grown between them. Sydney had wanted to reach out so many times to her, but he seemed unable to push past his own wall of pain, and now they were both horribly isolated in their own world of guilt and remorse.

When he looked up at the clock, his gun neatly re-assembled in his hand, he was surprised to see that almost an hour had slipped by. He could leave for work now without raising any suspicions. He still had not come to a decision about who he most wanted to kill, he would wait and see what opportunity presented itself. He steeled himself for another failure and made his way to The Centre.

By the time he pulled into the carpark, Sydney knew that either Jarod and the Major had been caught, or the rescue had been a success. It looked like every sweeper that worked at The Centre had been called in, he had never seen the carpark this full.

By the time he reached the lobby, it was clear that Jarod had indeed escaped. He maintained his cool composure with difficulty all the way to his office. He sank down in his chair and placed his head in his hands. It was hard to tell whether he was laughing or crying. Perhaps both.

Major Charles’
Hotel Room

The Major looked at his son, asleep in his arms and started to cry. He didn’t move, not wanting to disturb Jarod, just holding him closely. This was the first time in over a month the Major had let his emotions run freely. When Gem poked his head hesitantly in through the door, the Major gently shooed him away. He rested his chin on the stubble of Jarod's closely shaved head and tried not to think of all the long nights throughout the years that Jarod had been alone, with no-one to offer him comfort.

After his aching body could no longer stand the uncomfortable position on the bathroom floor, the Major called for Gem. He must have been waiting, listening on the other side of the door, because his face appeared in the doorway in a matter of seconds.

“Gem, help me get him to the bed.” The Major instructed, keeping his voice low.

After a brief struggle they managed to deposit Jarod on the bed. He had barely stirred as they had laid him down. When he was certain that Jarod was still asleep, he returned to the bathroom and washed his face. Gem hovered over his father like a mother hen.

“Dad, you need to eat, you need to get some more rest. I can look after things here. And I promise I will wake you if Jarod wakes up.” His eyes glanced nervously at the sleeping Pretender.

“Son, what happened earlier? What was that about? Did he hurt you?” The Major had imagined many ways that Jarod might respond to his newly acquired freedom and he had thought himself prepared. But never once had he ever given any thought to the fact that Jarod might be violent or could pose a risk to Gem, might hurt him, even unintentionally. He knew that Jarod's emotions were swinging wildly out of control, but he did not want to put Gem at risk either. He was unsure how to deal with Jarod. He wanted to be there for both his sons, but he was no longer certain that he would be able to achieve this.

Gem, in an unconscious imitation of Jarod, tried to hide his wrists from his father. But the Major reached out and gently took his arms.

“Show me.”

There were two red marks that hadn’t quite faded yet and were likely to leave bruises where Jarod's thumbs had dug into Gem's wrists.

“He didn’t mean it dad. It wasn’t his fault.” Gem ducked his head.

He had been looking forward to having Jarod back with them so much, but everything was going wrong. It didn’t matter what he did, it just seemed to upset Jarod even more and he was scared that his father was going to send him to stay with Emily. He knew that he could help Jarod. He had been reading everything he could find on post-traumatic shock and the effects of long-term imprisonment and brutality.

“I simmed him, what happened to him. I couldn’t help it, and I thought it might help.” Gem looked at his father miserably.

“Did you tell him this?”

“No, he just knew.”

He smiled sadly. Of course Jarod knew, would have done the same thing had he been in the same situation. His heart went out to his young son. He was trying so hard to find his way in the world, to find his own identity. These past few years had not been easy on him, and there were so many things that had remained unspoken between him and Jarod. The boy desperately wanted Jarod's approval and love, needed some way to define himself in relation to Jarod. Gem may be a Pretender and should understand that that Jarod didn’t mean to take his hostility out on Gem, but he was also still just a kid learning how to deal with his own emotions, suppressed for so long. Could Gem understand that although he thought he was trying to help Jarod, Jarod would perceive Gem simming him as just another Centre violation?

As if reading his thoughts, Gem stood up quickly and looked out the window, his back to his father.

“Everytime he sees me, he thinks of them. All I am is a constant reminder of what they did to him. He doesn’t se ME, he sees…I'm not even a real person.”

Gem tried to control the sobs that were racking through his body. He let himself fall into his father’s strong arms as they encircled him. Gem, like Jarod, was prone to horrific nightmares. Mostly they involved his time spent growing up at Donoterase under the care of Raines, and more recently, what had been going on with Jarod. But his worst nightmares always revolved around his deepest fear, one that he did not think that he would ever get over. He was not a real person. He was an aberration against nature and he had no right to be here. He sometimes wished he was still at The Centre, at least there he had a purpose and a function, his existence was very clearly defined. Before Jarod had come and turned his world upside down, he knew exactly who he was, what he was.

“Gem, we have been through this before, many times. You are just as real as me or Jarod or anybody. And the only thing I regret is that we didn’t find you earlier. But you must never feel that you are not loved and wanted. I need you, we need you to be strong now. Jarod is going to be in for some hard times ahead, and he needs the support of his family, we all have to be strong for him, now more than ever.”

The Major turned them both around to look at Jarod who was still sleeping.

“This is our family son, for better or worse, however it came to be. This is it. You are part of us and you are stuck with us. Don’t ever forget that. Jarod is going to say and do some things he doesn’t mean over the next few days, try not to take it to heart. He has been alone his entire life and it's hard for him to adjust too. Just keep that in mind and try to be patient. He will come around. He just needs some time, that’s all.”

Gem hoped that his father was right, but deep down he knew that Jarod would always see his own stolen life when he looked at him.

After eating a light meal, the Major tried to get some more sleep. He dropped himself on the small lounge chair, not wanting to disturb Jarod on the only bed. He would get a couple more hours of sleep and then they would hit the road again. He sighed heavily as he tried to make himself comfortable. He would find some way to pick the broken pieces up and put them all back together again. He closed his eyes and let his exhaustion claim him.

Gem used this time to get his notebook out. He was very tempted to take a peek into The Centre mainframe to see what was going on, but he resisted the urge. Instead, he spent a couple of hours checking that all the leads were in place. He knew that they were, but he needed to do something to take his mind off his brooding. He wanted so badly to make it right for Jarod, but he was at a loss at what to do.

Just before nightfall, Jarod awoke with a start. He was terrified, awaking in the semi-darkness, unsure where he was and what had happened. But then he remembered what had happened, and he rose slowly, careful of his aching muscles. He saw the hesitant smile on Gem's face as he put a finger to his own lips in a hushing gesture. Jarod looked over to see his father snoring softly. Jarod got up gingerly and found that his back was aching terribly. His lips twisted in a snarl at the irony. For so long he had dreamt about lying on something soft, and now that he finally had, he’d earned himself a sore back for the privilege. Lyle would laugh.

Jarod inhaled sharply at the thought of Lyle. He needed to get a message to him, let him know that he was alright. Then another alarming thought hit him. They would probably blame Lyle for this. Jarod knew how much Cox hated Lyle for trying to undermine his authority. Lyle had tried to look out for him, and Cox would make him pay now. His eyes fell on Gem's open notebook and he started formulating a plan.

Jarod had another light meal. Gem would not allow anything heavier, not until his stomach was ready to take something more exotic. Even though Jarod knew the boy was right, it was a battle for him to fight down his anger at being told what he could or could not eat. They ate the meal in uncomfortable silence until finally Jarod could stand it no longer and broke the silence.

“Where are we heading?”

Gem’s smile was beautiful and even in Jarod’s current frame of mind, he found it hard to resist.

“Montana. Dad has some property out there.” Gem briefly paused in his rambling as he noticed a sharp look from Jarod. “Ohh, don’t worry, it’s safe, we go there all the time. Nobody knows about it, not even Emily.” Gem loved the Montana property, the house might be small and rough, but it was their special place, and though he thought of it as just for him and his dad, he was eager to show Jarod it's charms. “It’s even got a river, well a creek really, running through it. Dad was thinking we could spend some time there, you know, until you’re on your feet, then we can take it from there.”

Jarod listened to Gem rattle off a catalogue of the things that they could do in Montana, and for a while, he allowed himself to relax and get caught up in the fantasy.

“A river? It has a river running through it?’ Jarod paused his eating and focused his attention on Gem, who had failed to pick up the warning sign in Jarod's tone.

“Yeah sure, well it's not much more than a creek really, but it's good trout fishing.” Gem was pleased that he had managed to get through more than ten minutes without upsetting Jarod. But he felt Jarod tense up and he wondered what he said wrong now.

“Fishing. You go fishing there?” Jarod's tone had turned cold, and a muscle was starting to twitch in his jaw.

Gem was far too caught up in his tale now to pay attention to the danger signs. He loved fishing with his father and he plunged on before his good sense could stop him.

“Sure we do. Me and dad go fishing all the time. It's the best fun. We can do some when we get there. Oh Jarod, you are so going to love it.”

Jarod listened to Gem extolling the virtues of various fishing spots that his father liked. And it seemed that there was some disagreement as to who was indeed the better fisherman. But Jarod felt like he had been sucker punched by Sam. He found that he was having trouble breathing as pure jealousy coursed through him. He sat quietly, giving a good imitation of being an attentive listener. He was, after all, well practiced at sitting quietly for endless hours, alone in his cell, as time stood still. But dark volatile emotions were consuming him. While he was down in SL-27 being tortured, Gem and his father had been fishing. His dream of being left on the shore as they left without him hit him with full force, and he nearly gagged at the sense of betrayal. It took all of his self control not to reach forward and shake that smile right from the usurper’s face. This was HIS father, not Gem’s and Gem was stealing him, and after all the things that Jarod had done for the boy. He clenched his fists and tried to bring himself under control. He took a drink of water and made a visible effort to calm himself.

Gem must have finally noticed something was wrong, because he had lapsed into silence.

“Jarod, have I done something wrong?” Gem asked, worried that he had somehow messed up again.

With barely constrained resentment. “No, I'm just still really tired. I am going to go and sit outside. It's cold in here.”

Gem was unsure what to do, but Jarod solved the problem for him.

“Don’t worry, I'm not going anywhere. It has been a long time since I have felt the warmth of a summer night, and I want to see the sky.” Jarod felt stupid, like a little kid having to ask permission to go outside, but it seemed like the path of least resistance. He was no longer the property of The Centre, and he was no longer the plaything of Cox’s, he should not have to explain himself to anyone.

He sat on the step and let the warmth soak into his bones, melting some of the rage and anger that he felt. He concentrated on getting his breathing under control. He closed his eyes and fought down the resentment, and it wasn’t until ten minutes had passed that he opened his eyes. He was somewhat more in control of himself now, but it was tenuous and he could feel himself spinning, losing his grip. He needed to talk and his father just wouldn’t understand. It was clear that he was on the boy’s side. It was only just getting dark and the stars were just beginning to show themselves. He let himself relax and allowed his eyes to drink in the vista before him, he didn’t think he had ever seen a more beautiful sight.

This same time yesterday, he would have traded his soul, if it had been his to give, to be warm, free and looking at the stars. But now he found that he felt restless after only a few minutes. He had not turned around to check, but he knew Gem was peeking at him through the window. He hated the feeling of being watched and felt the need to get up and pace. He stood up and sent a glare at his observer, and was pleased to see him jump back in surprise. When he turned around again, his eyes caught on the van. He wandered over to see if it was unlocked. He had briefly thought of just jumping in and driving, but his mind went back to Gem's notebook. He had a few things he wanted to set up before he left on his own. And, although he hated admitting it, in his present condition, he did not think that he would get very far on his own. It was true that he felt much stronger, but he also knew that he was still suffering from borderline exhaustion.

He opened the passenger door and jumped in. His eyes caught the black backpack that his father had used when he came to rescue him. He rifled through it and found a palm pilot and a cell phone. He stared at the phone, and before he even knew what he was doing, he hit one on the speed-dial. His need to talk to Sydney was like an aching void. He held the phone up to his ear and realised that it was not ringing. This was not his phone, Sydney's number would not be programmed in. He clutched the phone to his chest as the realisation hit him. Sydney was no longer a part of his life, he had made his choice and turned his back on Jarod. Jarod choked back a sob as he realised that the man he had always thought of as his father had betrayed him yet again, and Jarod just didn’t have enough left in him to forgive him again.

He turned on the mini-computer, hooked it up to the cell phone and hacked easily into The Centre’s phone directory and found the number that he was looking for. He only had one person left now, one person that he could count on. One person that would understand. He dialled the numbers and waited.

“Lyle, it's me.”
8 by jacci
The Centre

Lyle was most definitely not having a good day. He had spent the majority of the day chasing around after Raines and pouring over endless hours of DSA’s. There was not one single hint how the rat-bastard had got out. That moron Broots had only been able to establish that someone had hacked into the surveillance system and looped the damn video feed. They were still no closer to determining exactly what had happened. It was impossible for Jarod to have engineered this from his cell, so that left only two options, either he had been rescued, or stolen. Lyle thought that for Jarod's sake, he had better have been kidnapped.

Cox was nowhere in sight. He had slithered away that morning, on some mission for Raines. Lyle rode down the elevators to SL-27. All the bars were still on all of the air-vents and despite and intensive search, they could still not find the way that Jarod had exited the sub-level. All the motion detectors in the elevator shaft were fully functional and the computer logs showed that the doors had not been opened during the night. Lyle hated computers. There were just so many ways that they could be manipulated. He had never trusted them. If that idiot Raines had listened to him, he would have put Jarod in a cage and welded the damn door shut. Not even a genius could think himself out of a bit of good old-fashioned welding.

He wandered into Jarod's empty cell and sat down against the wall. A cold smile spread across his lips. Ohh, but it had been sweet while it lasted.

“Nothing lasts forever.” He said to the empty room.

He shook himself and climbed to his feet. Despite Raines demented demands that they have Jarod back by the end of the day, even a fool knew that that wasn’t going to happen. But Lyle knew that he would get Jarod back, it might take a while, but sooner or later, Jarod would be his again. He had stamped himself onto Jarod's soul now, and into his flesh, there would never be any true escape for Jarod.

Making his way past a team of sweepers, he strode back to the elevator. He would get the geek down here too, to see how the elevator shaft had been tampered with. He was just about to get in the elevator when another idea struck him. Picking up his cell phone he dialled a number.

“Find Angelo and bring him down here now.”

As much as Lyle loathed Angelo, he did have his uses. He waited impatiently, running various plans over in his head. Unless the Brain Trust screwed up big-time, there was no chance The Centre was going to get their hands on him anytime soon. Lyle had originally planned to use Jarod to pave his way to the Chairman’s office. Raines was old and weak and Lyle was the natural successor. But now, a whole new world of opportunities had just opened up. Jarod's escape, while damned inconvenient, might just get him appointed to the Triumvirate. That’s where the real power was after all. Lyle could just see it now, walking into the lobby of Triumvirate headquarters in Africa, dragging behind him Jarod in chains, a sacrifice as an offering of his loyalty. He would return to Blue Cove in triumph. He would own them all, and they would pay. Oh yes, they all would pay.

He was snapped out of his daydream as the elevator door slid open to reveal one very pissed off sweeper and one terrified empath.

“Give you any trouble Sam?” He looked coolly at Angelo, cringing in the tight grip of the sweeper.

“Not too much sir.” Sam pushed the reluctant Angelo out into the hallway.

Angelo was terrified of SL-27, bad things went on down here. Last time he was down here, they had taken him to room 155, and really bad things had gone on in there. That was where Timmy went away and never came back. But room 155 was gone now, and things were different. Angelo could still hear the faint echoes of past atrocities, but now the sublevel reeked of more recent atrocities. Angelo did not want to be here now that Jarod was gone.

Angelo was also terrified of Mr Lyle. Mr Lyle was a very bad man that did very bad things. He fought against Sam as he was dragged forward, but he was no match for the sweepers strength.

Lyle reached out with his maimed hand to stroke Angelo’s forehead, brushing a lock of hair out of his eyes. When Angelo shrank back as far as Sam's grip would allow, Lyle reached and grabbed the empath’s head with both of his hands. Angelo's stomach clenched and his throat constricted, the vile touch making him want to retch. But he controlled himself, trying to block the emotions coming from Mr Lyle. He just needed to do what they wanted, then they would let him go back to his space. He knew they wanted help with Jarod, and that was okay because Jarod was far away now and safe.

“C’mon you freak, time to go to work.” Sam dragged the reluctant Angelo towards Jarod's cell and tossed him in.

Angelo slid down against the wall, in the exact same position that Jarod usually sat, hugging his knees to his chest. Lyle and Sam stepped back and watched. Angelo opened his senses up and allowed the sensations to come flooding in.

“Lonely. Jarod lonely. Pain. Jarod in pain.” Angelo closed his eyes against the onslaught of the feelings he was receiving. He didn’t want to help Mr Lyle, but he was unable to stop himself under the barrage of emotions that were now slamming into him.

“Noooooo!” He wept and could barely catch his breath. “Betrayal. Sydney betrayal!” Angelo curled himself into a small ball and started crooning to himself, rocking back and forth.

“I knew this was going to be a waste of time” Lyle said with disgust. “Put him away.”

He turned his back and made his way out the cell but stop in mid-stride.

“Father. Father rescue Jarod.” Angelo had stopped his crooning and was looking up at something that only he could see.

Lyle knelt down and shook Angelo.

“Major Charles was here? The Major took Jarod?” He shook Angelo harder, trying to force him to respond, but Angelo had shut down and wouldn’t say anything else.

Lyle nodded to Sam to take Angelo back to his space. He briefly thought of locking Angelo in the sublevel to keep the knowledge secret, but dismissed the idea. It didn’t really matter if the others knew about Major Charles’ involvement, by now they were all long gone. But it did confirm for Lyle what he had believed right from the beginning and if he could manage to get his hands on all three of them, well the opportunities were endless. Yes it was indeed time to start planning. The sweeper teams would turn up nothing, and there would be no leads. He doubted that Jarod would go back to the cat and mouse game that he used to play, so it was likely that he would disappear off their radar screens for good. Raines would be frothing at the mouth of the next couple of weeks and he imagined Miss Parker and Sydney waiting by their phones for the call that would never come. Jarod would call, of that he had no doubt, and a smile spread across his lips in anticipation.

He looked at the empty cell, gave a small shudder and left. It was time to go home, nothing more could be achieved today. He needed to relax and start planning for his future. As he made his way to his car, he walked past Sydney. He had been surprised that the old goat hadn’t been down to gloat, but he hadn’t seen him all day. Lyle smiled again thinking about how old he looked, and he wondered whether Sydney still carried some vague hope that Jarod still cared about him, did he believe that Jarod would call?

Sydney did not acknowledge Lyle's presence and simply got in his car and made his way home. The only thing that mattered to him right now was that Jarod was safe. Somehow they had managed it. Broots’ deception had not been discovered, and by now Jarod would be halfway across the country. He was desperately hoping to hear from the Major or Jarod, but he suspected that Jarod would never call him again. He made his way into his empty house and his happiness over Jarod's escape was overshadowed by his own desperate loneliness.

Lyle had just entered his apartment when the phone rang. He threw his keys down and shrugged off his jacket, placing it carefully across the back of the couch.

“Lyle” he answered, not bothering to hide the irritation in his voice.

He waited impatiently for the caller to respond. He was just about to hang up when he paused. There was silence on the other end, but Lyle could hear soft, erratic breathing. He held his breath, surely Jarod would not call this soon? He tried again.

“Is there anybody there?”

“Lyle it's me.” The voice was timid, the words coming out all in one breath, as if unsure of their welcome.

Lyle's mind was racing. He had one chance and he didn’t want to blow it. He had been thinking about how to handle Jarod when he called, but he had not expected a call this soon. But the sound of despair and need in Jarod's voice told Lyle exactly how to play it.

“Jarod thank god you’re alright. It's crazy here. I've been worried sick all day. Are you safe?”

There was another heavy pause on the end of the line. Lyle was frantic that Jarod was holding back, unsure if he could trust him. But the next words put any doubt to rest.

“Lyle, I don’t know what to do.” The anguish in the cry was clear.

Lyle had a clear picture of Jarod, lost and bereft. He had not made a decision for himself in nearly a year, and had been brutalized beyond the point of breaking. Whatever was left of Jarod now, was only a tiny shell of the man that he used to be. Lyle had ensured that Jarod was completely emotionally dependent on him, almost literally unable to survive without him. But Lyle was not a fool. Jarod would find some other centre of balance soon enough, he had the support of his father, and the young Pretender. Lyle surmised that Major Charles, resourceful as he was, would not have been able to pull this off by himself. So, for the moment, Lyle would tread lightly, he didn’t want to scare Jarod off.

“They are coming for me aren’t they?” Jarod said in a whisper, scared of what would happen to him when he was caught. This was his father’s fault, and things were going to be so much worse when they took him back. He never should have left in the first place. Lyle was protecting him and life was getting better. But now they would give him back to Cox. Jarod shuddered at the thought of it.

“Jarod, they have no idea where you are, not yet anyway.”

Again there was silence, only the sound of tortured breathing and Lyle was worried that he had lost him.

“He’s here.” It was barely a whisper.

Lyle's mind was reeling. Had Jarod just given up Gemini? He could scarcely believe it. He had to tread very carefully now.

“Who Jarod, where?” Lyle injected just enough confusion in his voice.

“Gemini” again, nothing more than a whisper and Lyle could feel Jarod's desire to please him fighting with his shame for giving the boy up. But eight months of pressure were not so easily forgotten.

“Lyle” the voice was gaining a little more confidence “The Gemini Project, he’s here.”

Lyle could hear the dislike in the voice. Again he smiled. It was obvious that Jarod's crisis of conscience was over and he was ready to hand him over. He did not fail to notice how Jarod had disassociated himself emotionally by referring to him as a project, rather than by his name. Lyle briefly wondered if this was a result of genuine dislike of the boy, or self-loathing for what Jarod was about to do.

“That’s good Jarod.” Lyle was soothing him, while carefully exerting his control without pushing. “But right now I am more concerned about you.”

Jarod sighed in relief. Lyle understood. Lyle would help him. Lyle was the only one who could protect him from Cox.

“We’re staying in some kind of motel. It's on the highway……”

“No! Don’t tell me!” Lyle hissed into the phone. He was fairly sure by Jarod's obvious disorientation that Jarod didn’t know where they were and so it was a calculated risk. He would extend Jarod's trust in him and at the same time would be pulling the leash even tighter. Soon Jarod would pull himself together and he would remember that he could trust Lyle with his safety, that Lyle was always looking out for him.

Jarod was almost devastated with the rejection. He choked back a sob before he could continue.

“Lyle….don’t you……”

Lyle had to choke back his own amused surprise at Jarod's misinterpretation of his warning. But he recovered quickly and tried to reassure his Pretender.

“I don’t think this line is secure. You really need to keep your head down, they have called Parker back in and she is out for your blood.”

“No! Oh god Lyle, what am I going to do?” The fear in Jarod's voice was tangible, Lyle could almost taste it.

“Jarod it's going to be alright. I will think of something. It will take at least a few days for them to catch up to you, so until then, lie low and give me your number so I can contact you.” This was too easy, he could hardly believe that Jarod was falling for it. Genius indeed!

“You won't tell them I called?” the voice was small and hesitant.

“No Jarod, you have my word.” Lyle fought to keep the smile out of his voice. It was obvious that Jarod was hovering on the brink of some precipice and he wanted to make sure that when Jarod fell, it was straight into his arms.

Then in the background he could hear a voice calling out for Jarod, a voice he instantly recognized as Major Charles. Then the phone went dead. He wondered briefly if it had been Jarod that had disconnected, or the Major. He suspected the latter. Had Jarod snuck away to call him? Oh, this was better than anything he could have possibly hoped for. He had worked long and hard, fostering distrust and jealousy in Jarod for his family and how very sweet it would be if he could get Jarod to sell them out to him. He carefully hung up the phone and decided that he would treat himself to a special dinner. Today hadn’t turned out so bad after all.


When the Major had awakened, he was stiff, but felt much better for the rest. He stretched, trying to eliminate some of the kinks and spied Gem on his computer.

“Where’s Jarod?” the Major asked around a yawn.

Gem shifted slightly and nodded towards the door. “He’s outside in the van.”

The Major looked towards the door with alarm. “What's he doing in the van?”

“I think he just wanted some time alone. I…..I….upset him again.” Gem said softly, lowering his head.

Major Charles was alarmed at how much Gem had reverted to the unsure young man that he was when he was first rescued. In such a small amount of time, all his confidence had been stripped and the Major had to consciously remind himself that it wasn’t really Jarod's fault. This was The Centre’s doing and Jarod was only a victim, he was not responsible. He looked from the door to his son and decided it was time that he had a word with Jarod. He needed to know what was going on in his head, what he was feeling. Gem had already turned back to the game that he had been playing and so the Major headed towards the van.

He could see the front passenger door open, light spilling out, but he could not see Jarod. He moved towards the van, about to call out Jarod's name when he heard Jarod talking. He froze and strained to hear the conversation. He had called Sydney. The Major should not have been surprised, but the pain sliced deep. His own son had turned to another man in his deepest time of need. He was just about to turn and leave Jarod alone, granting him the privacy he must have sought by making the call in the van. Perhaps talking to Sydney was what he needed right now, as painful as the admission was, the Major could not remove over 35 years of his own absence and Sydney's constant presence.

Just as he turned he heard the name Gemini. The Major had never used that name to refer to the boy, not ever. When they had made the flight after Jarod's capture on the tarmac, the Major had asked the boy what his name was, and he had replied with a frown. “Name?” The idea that he should have a name seemed like a strange concept to him. “I am Project Gemini” he had responded. The Major could not bring himself to use the label that The Centre had assigned to the boy so that had compromised and settled on Gem.

To hear that word come out of Jarod's mouth now hurt him more than he thought possible. As much as he disliked Sydney, he did not believe that Sydney would turn them in, he had ample opportunity after all. So who could Jarod be talking to? He walked forward, panic rising, how long had he been on the phone? Would they be able to trace the call? Then he stopped dead in his tracks when he heard the next thing that Jarod saide. Lyle? Jarod was talking to Lyle? His brain refused to process this for a moment. How could this be? It seemed impossible.

“Jarod, who are you talking to? Give me the phone.” He still refused to believe that Jarod had been talking to Lyle.

He snatched the phone from Jarod's hand as he sat there, unmoving and unresisting. The Major quickly disconnected the call, and Jarod then scrambled further back into the van.

“Lyle? You phoned Lyle?” He spat the name out. This was the man who was responsible for the murder of Kyle and was the man behind the torture of Jarod.

“My god Jarod! What have you done?” he snapped at Jarod before he could calm himself. They had to get moving right now.

He saw the frightened look on Jarod's face and took a calming breath before he continued.

“Jarod, I am not going to hurt you.” His tone calm and placating.

Jarod’s eyes saw his father, but his ears heard the honeyed sounds of Cox. He cowered, afraid of the retribution that was sure to follow. But then a small triumphant smile curled his lips, and in defiance, he sat up a little straighter, trying not to show his fear. His confidence had been boosted by his conversation with Lyle.

“Lyle is my friend.” Jarod's voice was quiet, but it was adamant.

The Major slumped in the seat. The Stockholm Syndrome was a common reaction among hostages and kidnap victims, but he had never expected Jarod to fall victim to it. But there was no time to deal with this now. There was a good chance that The Centre knew where they were and they had to get moving. He quickly revised his original plan to hire a plane, they would be keeping their eyes on all the airfields for a wide radius. It would be safer to stick to driving.

Without even trying to soften his tone or explain he commanded Jarod. “Stay here!”

He saw Jarod flinch, but he noticed he didn’t move. Satisfied that he would remain there for the moment, he went back in the room and informed Gem that it was time they were going. No explanation was given, but Gem had had enough encounters with Jarod to know that something must have happened in the van. By the look on his fathers face, he thought it prudent not to push.

Jarod sat sullenly in the back of the van, resenting his father ordering him around. Who the hell did he think he was? Jarod was tempted to get out of the van and just run, but he was not a complete fool. He was still too weak and he had no money, no idea where he was and no idea where he would go. He couldn’t just run straight back to Lyle because if Parker got her hands on him before Lyle could protect him, she would send him straight back to Cox. He would have to wait. Lyle had said he would come up with at plan, and in the mean time, Jarod had a few of his own to work on. He was thinking about trying to broker a deal with The Centre. If he gave them Gemini, perhaps they would just let him go, stop chasing him. He could talk to Lyle about it and see if maybe something could be worked out. He had no intention of giving one more second of his life to that bastard Raines, and he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life on the run either. He wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to give up the boy yet, but it was worth keeping in mind.

Before too long, his father and the boy had climbed into the van and they were heading off into the night. Jarod curled on the mattress and glared out the back windows. He was thinking about all the things that he needed to organize, and he was making a list of all the things he planned to do with his new-found freedom. Jarod had expected to fell ecstatic and exhilarated. He had dreamed of his freedom and a reunion with his family for so long. But all he felt was empty and he was helpless to hold back the feelings of anger and resentment.

They drove along in silence for an hour. The Major was thinking about the best way to approach Jarod, he needed to know what he was thinking, he needed to find a way to break through his defences.

“Jarod, tell me about Lyle.”

Jarod was grateful for the darkness. The cameras couldn’t see him in the dark, and he didn’t have to worry about hiding himself. For the first time in almost a year, he felt he had some kind of privacy. He shifted slightly at his father’s inquiry. He wasn’t sure how much he should tell his father. Lyle had promised that he would not tell anyone about their phone call, and although Jarod had made no such promise, he felt that he should do the same.

“Lyle is my friend. That’s all you need to know.”

The Major hushed Gem before he could make a reply.

“Jarod, you know that he killed your brother don’t you? I just want to be clear on this point.” Major Charles wanted there to be no misunderstandings.

After only a very brief hesitation, Jarod explained how that was an accident and that Lyle had never really intended to harm Kyle.

The Major was horrified at just how deeply Jarod had been manipulated and for the first time, he had real fear that perhaps Jarod might really be lost to them. He decided to change tack, no idea of the mine-field that he was walking into.

“Ok Jarod, that’s fine. But what about Miss Parker or Sydney, why didn’t you call them?’

“What?” Jarod hissed in the dark. And in that instant many things became clear to the Pretender. His father was in league with The Centre. He wondered what they could possibly hope to achieve. Was his “rescue” all part of some huge sim? Did they want to see how he would react, or perhaps they wanted to uncover his escape route? Jarod knew that they had never figured out how he had managed to get out before. Or perhaps it was just another form of torture that Cox had thought up. Dangle the possibility of freedom and a reunion with his family in front of him and then snatch them back away. Cox had been obsessed with obtaining the location of Gemini, and then he had simply stopped asking.

But that didn’t explain why his father would agree to this. It made no sense. Had the Major guaranteed the boy’s freedom by agreeing to participate? Had his father sold him for the safety of the boy? Jarod's mind was racing, making the next leap. Perhaps he had been in on it all along, had actually given or sold him to The Centre in the first place. The Major must have known he had been in The Centre his entire life. He had known Catherine Parker, had supposedly attempted to rescue him when he was a young boy. The full realisation hit Jarod and left him breathless. His father had always known where he was, how could he possibly not? All his protestations about searching for years! He had always known where he was! Jarod's brain was scrambling, trying to make sense of it all. He could not believe how incredibly stupid he had been. He didn’t know what all this was about, but knowledge was power and he slipped into the most difficult pretend of his life. He was going to pretend to be himself.

Jarod imagined Lyle's gentle voice easing him into the sim, encouraging him. Jarod had always found the initial part of letting himself go was the hardest. He had so little sense of himself as an individual, he was always scared that he might not be able to find his way home. For nearly his entire life, it had been the softly accented tones of Sydney, but they had been easily replaced by Lyle’s dulcet tones and comforting touch. He closed his eyes and gathered himself together. He needed to know what he was up against. He had been bumbling along like a fool for far too long, allowing himself to be ruled by his emotions and the foolish dreams of a lost little boy.

“You have spoken with Sydney?” Jarod surprised himself by the calmness in his voice.

The Major was relieved to have the direction of the conversation on more stable ground. Jarod had not yet asked about the details of his escape, and this surprised him.

“Yes, I have been in fairly close contact with Sydney and Miss Parker now for nearly two months. Jarod there are things you need to know. Things I have to tell you.”

Jarod closed his eyes against the knowledge. Suspecting that his father was colluding with the people that had betrayed him and then participated in endless months of torture and cruelty until he finally broke was one thing, but hearing the confession straight from his father’s own mouth was almost too much too bear. But he steeled himself, he needed to keep control of the conversation, he was afraid that he would succumb to his father’s lies. It was now painfully obvious that he was working with those that had betrayed him.

“What did they tell you about what was happening with me, did they tell you what they did to me?” Jarod still clung to some tiny glimmer of hope that it was all some gruesome mistake. If his father knew what had been done to him, he surely would never have agreed to work with them, maybe he had just been another pawn in some sick Centre game that Jarod was unable to divine a purpose to yet.

And even though Major Charles guessed that he would never really know the true extent of what had been done to Jarod during those eight months, he had a fairly good idea. After a long pause, he looked in the rear view mirror and waited until he caught Jarod's eyes in the dark.

“Yes Jarod. I know what happened.”

Jarod closed his eyes and took a deep cleansing breath. At least he knew, painful as that knowledge was, at least he knew. He had what he needed and didn’t want to discuss it anymore, it was time to find a way out of this. They were sorely mistaken if they thought they had fooled him, but for the moment he would play along. He would make his own move soon, when they were least expecting it.

“I’m tired dad. Is it alright if I get some sleep?”

The Major and Gem both breathed a sigh of relief.

“Of course Jarod, lie down and don’t worry about anything, I will look after everything.”

Jarod stayed in his pretend a little while longer. This was a much nicer world. This was a world where the people you loved never betrayed you. The world where you grew up and your childhood friend turned into your teenage sweetheart and then your wife, and you bought a nice little house in the suburbs and you lived happily ever after. This was a world in which parents didn’t lose or sell their children, where the people who raised you loved you and never used or exploited you. Where carbon copy replacements weren’t made so that no-one ever noticed you were gone. This was a world Jarod wanted to stay in. He could pretend that none of it had happened, and whatever deal had been struck, he would find some way out of it. They could build some kind of life together, they could be a family. He closed his eyes and fell into a troubled sleep and had the first nightmare since he had surrendered and stopped fighting.

Gem glanced back anxiously at Jarod as he started to moan and then thrash. He wondered if this is what he did when he was in the grips of one of his nightmares. After a quick look at his father, he slipped in the back and tried to soothe Jarod. He could only imagine the kind of tortures that Jarod was dreaming about and he wished that he could make it better.

As they drove into the night, Gem started to doze in the front seat. His father looked at him with tenderness and hoped that somehow he could pull both of his sons through this. He knew that Gem needed to form a real bond with Jarod and the poor kid was falling over himself trying to please him. It had taken the Major nearly a year to get Gem to really accept that he was loved as a son. Until he had been ripped from his existence, he had not known any better, and although he was not happy, he was secure and understood his role. He knew that sometimes Gem missed Mr Raines, although he would never admit it, but he had been his only constant companion for his entire life. Now he was constantly on the run, had been told that he was a clone and had no real idea what his purpose was in life. Somehow he had come to believe that Jarod could offer him some kind of redemption, some kind of explanation.

The Major drove through the night into the early morning. When Gem roused, he was stiff and sore from sleeping in the uncomfortable position. He looked back and saw that Jarod was still sleeping. In low voices they discussed their next moves and what they should do over the course of the next day or two. They talked about inconsequential things to pass the time until the Major found another out of the way hotel and decided it was time to stop.

As Jarod lay in the back, feigning sleep, he listened to his father and the boy talking. He forced down a bitter stab of jealousy at their easy and comfortable way of communicating. He had never had that with anybody. That natural way where you didn’t think about what you said or did, it just flowed. At The Centre, everything had been about the correct and satisfactory completion of sims. No-one had ever tried to understand him. Sydney understood him, but only in so far as a scientist understood his subject. Little Miss Parker sprang to mind and he wanted to hold on to that cherished memory. But he fought down his tears. He had deluded himself even there. He had been nothing but an interesting diversion for her. A way to rebel against her father, a way to keep herself entertained when she was bored. And later, even when he had been free, every move, every word spoken had to be carefully considered and chosen. It just wasn’t fair.
9 by jacci
a/n: I could not be doing this without the amazing Onisius, thankyou so much and to everyone reading, sorry this one took so long, will try to do better for my next update

Aftermath Pt 9

Major Charles’ Hotel Room

The trio made there way into another non-descript hotel room, but this one was larger, and had two beds. Jarod was doing his best to keep his cool and maintain a civil veneer. His father and the boy went about organising themselves and their breakfast with the ease of long practice.

“Jarod, I think it's time that we had a talk.” The Major continued with his breakfast preparations and Gem sat anxiously, waiting for Jarod's response.

Jarod remained standing in the doorway, watching the domestic scene in front of him. It was so ordinary, and yet so alien to him, and he felt very out of place. He briefly thought of slipping into a pretend to enable him to deal with it more comfortably. But he stopped himself, resenting the idea that he had to pretend in order to be with his own family. He never wanted to pretend again.

In the cold light of day, Jarod realised that some of his thoughts from the previous night seemed a little ridiculous. After sleeping through most of the journey, he felt much more in control of himself and much stronger, and he admitted to himself that perhaps he was being just a little paranoid. He looked at his father, trying to measure what he knew about his character against what he believed was a betrayal. But the sad truth was that he knew so little of his father and he no longer trusted his own ability to judge who was his friend and who was his foe. He had been so wrong about Sydney and Miss Parker and he couldn’t afford another mistake like that again. Reason told him that if the Major was indeed conspiring with The Centre, that it was unlikely that he would still be free. The idea of this being a sim seemed more than just a bit foolish, Cox would never risk allowing him outside of The Centre. But the soft, caressing voice of his friend Lyle, was urging him to be careful, not to trust too easily. When you trusted people, it was easier for them to hurt you, betray you.

Jarod finally moved from the doorway and sat down heavily, not looking at the boy or his father. The last few months of his imprisonment had taught him it was easier to do as he was told, to resist and fight cost too much. Jarod was no longer willing to pay the price for such resistance. He listened to his father, not really hearing what he was saying. It wasn’t until his father reached out and touched his arm that Jarod's attention focused on the conversation. He flinched from the touch before he could stop himself.

“Jarod, I know that you are in pain, I know that you are hurting, but I need you to talk to me. I need to understand, I need you to tell me what's going on in your heart and in your head. I don’t know how to help you. Jarod, please. You don’t need to go through this alone. We are your family, we’re here for you.”

Jarod had refused to look at his father during the speech, and he now felt the stinging in his eyes, but he fought the tears back. He would not let them see him cry. Where were they when he was alone in his cell? Alone with nothing but his own pain and misery for his company? He would not show them how weak he truly was. He moved away from his father’s touch, trying to find the words that his father wanted to hear. But he couldn’t talk about it, he hated the pity he saw in their eyes, hated the idea that they knew what had been done to him, knew what he had done, how he had sold himself. He couldn’t stand the shame of it. He didn’t want to be a victim anymore, helpless and powerless. But most of all, he hated how completely out of control his emotions were. He was finally free, but there was no joy, just emptiness and despair. He wanted things to be the way they were before. In all of his daydreams and fantasies of escape and rescue, he had never imagined feeling this way and he began to wonder if perhaps Cox had broken something inside of him that he would never be able to mend.

He wanted very badly to reach out to his father, allow him to comfort him and take away all his pain. He knew that’s what parents did with their children, kissed away the pain, and he wondered what it would feel like to have his fathers strong arms wrap around him. Would they be strong enough to wipe out the last 40 years? Would they fill the aching void in his life? But instead of reaching out, he just sat there, paralysed by fear.

He finally raised his eyes to look at his father. In a voice that was shaky with repressed emotion he asked, “What do you want from me?”

But the Major did not flinch from the question, and he did not look away from his son’s stare. He reached out and captured one of Jarod's hands, holding it, trying to communicate through that touch, all the things that were so hard to put into words. He could feel that Jarod wanted to snatch his hand out of his grip, but was resisting the urge. He let Jarod's hand go when he realised that Jarod had nothing more to say, and he could see the tension building in his arm, from the strain of not pulling from his grasp.

“It’s alright Jarod. Right now, I don’t want anything from you. In your own time.” He sighed as he turned his attention back to his breakfast.

Jarod knew he was lying, they all wanted something. They were always after something.

Gem had been watching them intently. He could see how much strain this was putting on his father and he fought down the anger at Jarod. He saw something dark and frightening in Jarod, something that he had never seen in him before. He rubbed his sore wrists and wondered if Jarod might truly hurt him. He would never have believed that before, but looking at Jarod now, he began to suspect if the old Jarod was truly lost to them. There seemed to be nothing left of the Jarod that he knew, his brown eyes, usually so soft, were hard and cruel now. And when he spoke, there was a hard edge to his voice, as if he were struggling to control something that was just hovering under the surface. Gem looked down at his food, his appetite no longer there, but forced himself to eat so that he wouldn’t add anything more to the long list of things that his father had to worry about.

They finished their breakfast in an awkward silence and then Jarod made his way to the bathroom to take a shower. Avoiding looking at himself in the mirror, Jarod hated the thought of his body now, he got into the stream of hot water, losing himself for a few long moments in the sheer physical sensation.

“You know he got the cure, you know he went astray…..astray…..astray”

The words came back to him, haunting, whispering, taunting, running around in his brain. Is that what he was now, astray? Lost? Beyond redemption?

As he lathered himself, he tried to ignore the words and the feel of the textured landscape on his chest and his back. He didn’t like to look at his chest, so he kept his eyes closed, again refusing to look in the mirror as he reluctantly stepped out to dry himself. He heard them talking through he wall and strained to listen.

Gem was sullenly pushing around the remains of his breakfast on his plate. He looked tired. The Major looked over at his son, wishing that he could make this easier on him. He wished for the hundredth time that he could send him to stay with Emily. But Emily took too many risks with herself, and the Major was not confident that they boy would be safe with her.

“I wish it was different son. But it will get better. I promise.”

“How can you promise?” Gem looked at his father. “He’s so different dad. He scares me. I know he doesn’t mean it, but……” He didn’t know how to continue, flushed with shame, “I’m sorry, he scares me.” He repeated himself.

Major Charles wanted to reassure him that everything would work out, and that Jarod would be back to his old self soon. But he had seen Jarod's mood swings, his quiet resentment and the hostility and jealousy that burned in his eyes. He knew that Jarod tried to hide it, but the Major had caught him looking at Gem a number of times with that look in his eyes. There was no evidence of that easy-going attitude, no evidence of that gentle spirit that was now buried deep underneath the damaged surface. The Major looked at the boy that should have been Jarod and admitted to himself for the first time that he was scared too. He was scared that Jarod would hurt Gem, but even more so, he was scared by what he had heard on the phone. It made him sick to think that Jarod could possibly contemplate turning Gem over to The Centre, even to save his own hide. The Jarod that he knew would die before he let anyone at The Centre come near Gem. He was beginning to fear that he may be forced to choose between them and he didn’t think that he was prepared to make that decision. How could he possibly?

“Gem, you know that Jarod would never hurt you. He is a good man son, he is just lost in a dark place now. But it won't last forever.” The Major had not told Gem about what he had overheard.

“I know that dad, and I want so badly for him to like me, and things to be good. I want us to be together, a family. I thought he wanted it too. It's not supposed to be like this. But something is really wrong. It's like it's not really him. Do you think that whatever they did to him….” he faltered, not knowing how to say it, not wanting to admit it, “….that it was so bad, that…..”

“NO!” The Major was adamant, but even to his own ears, his denial sounded empty. He was too tired for this, and he couldn’t believe that this could be happening. “Jarod will come back to us and it will all work out.” He had to believe this. The Major stood and hugged his son. He found that Gem often needed the reassurance of touch. For too long in his life he had been denied any human contact, and now he craved it. For too many years, the Major had felt the aching emptiness in his arms and his heart for his lost children.

Jarod came back into the room and watched as the boy disentangled himself from his father with a guilty look. Jarod knew he had been behaving badly, but he seemed unable to stop himself, and he seemed unable to say the apology that he knew they both deserved. Instead he sat down and stared at them both, daring them to say anything. Jarod finally had his family and he couldn’t believe how disappointed he was. All those years of longing and imagining how perfect it would be, but he shrugged it off as just another in a long list of disappointments that he had recently suffered.

They passed the day without another incident, and Gem started to visibly relax. There seemed to be no sign of Centre pursuit and the Major urged Gem to take a nap. The boy had barely had any sleep over the last two days, and it would give him a chance to have a proper talk with Jarod.

“Jarod, I know that you don’t want to talk, but frankly, I have to know what's going on with Lyle. I will not let you jeopardise our safety.” The Major said in a no non-sense tone.

“You mean his safety” Jarod nodded towards the sleeping boy.

The Major sighed. He didn’t want to have to do this, but he didn’t think that he had a choice. Jarod was resisting him every step of the way. The last few weeks of exhausting fear and frustration had taken their toll and the Major had lost patience.

“Yes Jarod, I do mean his safety. He is my son, as much as you are. You gave him to me, sacrificing yourself in the process. That was your decision and I will not allow you to make me feel guilty for letting that boy into my heart. But that doesn’t mean that you are any less important to me, I need you to understand that, he is not a threat to you, he is your brother.”

“He is not my brother. My brother was Kyle, and he was killed, or have you forgotten?” Jarod hissed. “He died because you never came for him.”

Major Charles looked at his son as if he had been slapped. How many times had he blamed himself for Kyle’s death? If only he had gotten there sooner, if only things had been different.

“NO! It was Lyle that killed your brother. That bastard you were talking to on the phone as if you were friends.” The Major seethed with anger. “Does Kyle mean so little to you that you can ally yourself with his murderer? Defend him to me?” Despite his attack on Jarod, he knew that Jarod was right. He was their father, it was his job to protect them, and he had failed miserably.

“And now you think everything is fine, you have your replacement son and……” Jarod started, ignoring his father’s words. He would not believe them. He could not believe them.

“Stop right there.” The cold fury in his father’s voice stopped Jarod in mid-sentence. Something snapped inside the Major. “Kyle is dead because Lyle killed him. It wasn’t your fault and it most certainly was not mine, and I will not have you talk about him like that. And as for Gem, he is your brother in every sense of the word and you will treat him accordingly or…”

“Or you’ll what? The Pretender was on his feet now, not even trying to control his anger anymore. “Punish me? Lock me in a cell, chain me to wall and beat me until I behave in a satisfactory manner?” The Major saw Jarod pale and for a moment Jarod stopped breathing. With a visible effort he shook the memory off. “Or maybe you can call YOUR friend Miss Parker. I am sure you can cut some kind of deal, if you haven’t already. Offer me to her and let the boy go free. Is that what you did with Catherine? Did you offer up me and Kyle so you could save yourself, your precious daughter?” Jarod’s furious eyes widened as his fevered brain made the next leap in the twisted logic. “Ohh god! Did mom know, did she agree?” during his rant he had started to pace, but as the implications of this new knowledge settled on him, he sunk back down into the chair, breathless, defeated again.

The Major was too stunned to speak for a moment. “Jarod I…… must understand…I never…” He stood there watching his son as a burning anger filled him. How dare he accuse him of such things! How could he be so selfish? Did he truly believe that he was the only one that had suffered?

“I understand perfectly, dad. And the funny thing is, I don’t suppose I really blame you.” He said bitterly. His anger had burnt out, and now he was just left with the familiar emptiness. “He is your second chance after all. I bet when you look at him you can pretend that none of this ever happened. I am surprised you didn’t call him Jarod. I mean, after all, he is me, isn’t he? You can claim back all those lost years, but if you think I am just sitting here and waiting for you to call your friends…..”

“They are your friends too. Miss Parker was……”

“Miss Parker is not my friend.” It was barely a whisper. Even though he didn’t want to admit it, the pain of that loss sliced deep into his soul.

“Now you listen to me, as much as I hate to admit it, Miss Parker has been more of a friend to you than you could ever know.” The irony of defending Miss Parker was not lost on the Major.

Jarod was not going to sit here and listen to his father defend the woman that had condemned him, whose sole purpose in life was to destroy him. He could not believe the audacity of the man!

“Did you know that she shot me in the back and dragged me back to The Centre? She gave me to them.” Even now, after eight months and all he had been through, this was a truth that Jarod found very bitter.

Jarod was confident that his father would be shocked, but the Major just looked steadily back at him. Jarod should of expected it, but somewhere deep down, he had been hoping that his father had been duped, that he would never willingly work with them, not if he knew the whole truth.

“Well then, call her. She can bring me back again, make her father proud. My freedom is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. That’s really all I'm good for after all, to serve others ……”

“I have no inten……her father? Jarod, what are you talking about? I thought Mr Parker was dead.”

A triumphant smile lit up Jarod's face. So he didn’t know, she hadn’t told him.

“Let me disabuse you of your misguided notions. Her father is Raines. Ohh, I see she didn’t bother to share that fact with you. Did she tell you about the months of me hanging on, fighting with everything I had? Almost going crazy from the drugs and half out of my mind with pain? Did she tell you how, at the end, she buried a gun in my throat and threatened to kill me?” Jarod's hand flew up to the hollow at the base of his throat, remembering that moment. Remembering her cold brutality, remembering how he had searched in her eyes and found nothing but fury and hate.

The Major reeled from these revelations. He had always known that Sydney and Miss Parker had been holding back on him, but they had let him believe that they had not been involved in Jarod's torture.

“Don’t you presume to tell me who my friends are! I know exactly who my friends are, I know who stood by me, and who stood up for me, and who did everything to see me destroyed. You know nothing about it. How could you? You weren’t there! You’ve never been there. You can't know!” Jarod choked off a sob, his hands unconsciously massaging his wrists. All his life his father had never been there for him. Never.

The Major sat there in dumb silence, his heart breaking for his firstborn, who had suffered more than anyone should ever have to endure, and he had been helpless to stop any of it.

“Don’t you talk to him like that!” Gem had been woken by the raised voices, but he remained unnoticed as he watched with growing fear. But he was not going to sit idly by while Jarod ripped his father to shreds. “ I don’t care what you’ve been through, you’ve got no right to talk to him that way! For the last two months all he has done is think about you, never stopping, trying to find some way to get you out of that place. Do you think that this has been easy for us? I think you should show some gratitude.” Gem hissed in fury.

“Gem, please.” Major Charles turned to Gem, pleading with his eyes to stay out of this.

“No dad. It's not right. You risked your life to rescue him, twice. You don’t deserve to be treated like this. It's not fair.”

“It's not fair? You want to talk to me about what's fair?” Jarod barked out a harsh laugh. He got up and started pacing.

“Sit down!” the Major barked.

And much to Jarod's horror, he found himself doing just that. What a good little well-trained Pretender he was, so eager to obey anybody’s command. He was thoroughly disgusted with himself.

“Now, this is how it's going to be.” The Major ordered, slipping into full father mode. This was not a role he was familiar or comfortable with, but he had to stop this situation escalating. Neither of his sons had the emotional experience to deal with this situation. Hell, neither did he. “We are all tired, and our nerves are frayed. We have all said things that we don’t mean. Jarod, I want you to apologise to your brother. If it wasn’t for him, we never would have gotten you out of The Centre. He worked tirelessly to free you and deserves better from you.”

“No dad.” Gem was too angry to stop. For the last six weeks he had barely slept, thinking about rescuing Jarod had consumed him, and now that Jarod was here, he was treating them as if they were his enemies. Gem had tried hard to allow for Jarod’s state of mind, but he was not about to sit idly by and watch such a mean attack on his father.

“Jarod, you think you had it so bad? Why don’t you grow up!” Gem snapped. The pressure that had been building in him finally exploded. “Eight months under Raines huh? I spent my entire life living under the tender care of Mr Raines. You’re not the only ones with nightmares you know, and you don’t see me acting like you are. You know, you’re a real bastard! I can't believe that I wanted to be like you! Me and dad were doing just fine before you came back and I know you don’t really want to be here. Even before they caught you, you didn’t want anything to do with us, so why don’t you stop pretending that your family are the most important thing in the world, when we both know that’s just a load of crap. The only thing you care about is yourself!”

“Gem” The Major’s voice was low, he grabbed Gem and gently shook him. “That’s enough. Do you understand son, I said, that’s enough.”

Gem struggled to get his breathing back under control. He looked from his father to Jarod and spat out one last thing before he fell quiet.

“The whole world doesn’t revolve around you, you know!”

Jarod had heard enough. He got up and moved to the back of the room and picked up the boy’s notebook computer, and grabbed his cell phone. He did not speak.

“Jarod what are you doing? You can't leave, not like this. Please.”

Jarod spun around and walked towards his father, the computer tucked under one arm.

“I can leave and I will. We are not in The Centre and I do not belong to you. I don’t belong to anyone anymore. I do not follow orders any longer.” He held his scarred wrists out, offering them to his father in a gesture of surrender. “But unless you are willing to cuff me again.” Jarod sneered at his father. “I am going. I don’t need this, I wonder why I ever thought I did.”

“No Jarod, I am not going to make you stay here.” The pain of Jarod's words weighed him down, and there was no fight left in him. He wanted Jarod to stay, but things could not continue like this. It was too destructive. Jarod was out of control and was in obvious need of help, help that the Major didn’t know how to give. And Gem seemed to have fractured and was slowly falling apart, all of his self-confidence, so painstakingly built over the last two years, and Jarod seemed to have demolished it in two days.

“Hey! That’s mine! You can't take that!” Gem stood in fury when he saw that Jarod was planning to run off with his computer.

“Buy another one” Jarod growled, not even stopping, not looking back for even a moment.

The Major grabbed Jarod's arm in a crushing grip before he could reach the door. He looked him in the eyes and Jarod at least had the good grace to flush.

“Jarod, we need to work this out. You can’t leave now.” The Major pleaded. It couldn’t end like this. Not after all the years, all the pain, it just couldn’t.

Jarod ripped his arm out of his father’s grip and he paused with his hand on the door handle. He took a look at the two of them and turned and left without speaking.

The Major sat back down and put his head in his hands. He took out his own phone and with a heavy heart, he dialled Sydney. He was well out of his depth here and he needed help.

Gem ran out after Jarod, screaming his name in rage and frustration, he wanted his chance to vent his anger and he would not be denied by Jarod running away. Jarod was already walking along the roadside, trying to thumb a ride. When he got even with Jarod, he grabbed his arm and spun him around.

Jarod flinched and only just stopped himself from hitting the boy in a mixture of self defence and defiance. He did not want hands on him ever again.

“What more do you want from me? Isn’t it enough you have stolen my father? Stolen my life?” Jarod asked in despair. Gem had everything Jarod had always wanted, that should have been his, was rightfully his. As he looked at Gem, his jealousy and resentment grew. “You shouldn’t even exist.” He finally hissed out.

“For the last two years I have listened to stories about you. Jarod is such a good man, he is trying so hard to make right for all the wrong he was forced to do. All the good he has done…..Jarod this…Jarod that……” Gem scrunched up his nose in disgust, spitting out the words, all his insecurities fuelling his anger.

“But you know what? You are nothing but a selfish, self-indulged spoiled brat” Gem shouted out, his fists clenching and unclenching in impotent fury at his sides. “And to think I wanted to be just like you.” Gem trailed off in a tone of contempt that left no doubt that he no longer desired this.

Jarod could not believe it. Who was this kid to talk to him like that, after all he had been through?

“Selfish? Why you little bastard. I risked my life for you. I gave up my freedom for your safety. And I never wanted you to be like me, you are a freak! Go on back inside little boy, go run to daddy.” Jarod looked up to see the Major coming out from the hotel. His eyes fell back on gem, “You have YOUR father, and I have…..” he was about to say Sydney, but what came out was “…Lyle.”

“How can you defend that bastard?” Gem yelled at him in anger and confusion. “He killed Kyle and he tortured you! He would see us all back in The Centre if he had half a chance and don’t think I don’t know that you wouldn’t give me to him.”

Jarod’s eyes widened in shock.

Gem smiled triumphantly.

“You talk in your sleep.” He offered in way of explanation. “Ohh, I know all about your plan to give me up to your buddy.” But the look of triumph was gone now, replaced with a look of hurt and betrayal. The pain of the knowledge that Jarod was prepared to sell him was almost too much for him to bear. He had not told his father, for he knew it would break his heart.

The Major had reached the pair and held out a key ring. “Here Jarod” he said, offering the keys to Jarod.
“Hitchhiking is dangerous. We’ll get another car.”

Jarod took the keys and mumbled something that might have been a thankyou and headed off towards the van.

“Dad, you can't just……” Gem protested, although he was unsure why. Jarod was ripping them apart and destroying his father. But he was shocked that his father was so willing to let Jarod go. For the past two years, Gem had known that his father had loved him, but Jarod was always the priority, always seeming more important. But now Gem understood for the first time that he was at least as important as Jarod. Maybe more so.

“Hush” he went after Jarod, stopping him just before he got in the van.

“There is an email account on that computer. You can use it to contact us, or Sydney. It’s safe. Jarod, give yourself some time to heal, we will be here waiting for you when you are ready, please don’t forget that.” He pulled a reluctant Jarod into an embrace.

“Dad, I…” Jarod started, but didn’t know what to say. He wanted to stay, he wanted things to be the way that he had always thought they should be, but he was so out of control at the moment that he was scared about what he might do.

“I understand.” His father soothed. But he didn’t understand, he didn’t understand anything. And now he felt like his son was being stolen from him again. “You take as much time as you need. Remember, I love you Jarod.” the Major’s voice cracked, strained with emotion.

Tears pricked at the back of Jarod’s eyes as he climbed into the van. He forced them down, he would not allow them to weaken him. He needed to be strong if he was to survive. He may have lost everything, but he would not let them, any of them, destroy him completely.

Gem had snaked his way under his father’s arm, and as Jarod was driving away, the last thing he saw was Gem holding onto his father with a triumphant grin on his face, waving him goodbye.
This story archived at