Eight by jacci
Summary: Will The Centre never stop pursuing Jarod? Can he cope with this newest revelation, or will it destroy him completely? Who is Eight? Will he do as Lyle commands?

Categories: Indefinite Timeline Characters: All the characters
Genres: General
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 4 Completed: No Word count: 7689 Read: 7420 Published: 13/09/06 Updated: 25/03/08

1. Chapter 1 by jacci

2. Chapter 2 by jacci

3. Chapter 3 by jacci

4. Chapter 4 by jacci

Chapter 1 by jacci
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters and no harm was intended. But if they weren't languishing in oblivion, we wouldn't have to write our own stories


I am a genius. I can become anyone I want to be. It is not a boast or misplaced pride. It is a simple statement of fact.

For many years I was unaware that this was an unusual gift. It wasn’t until I came out into the world that I realised that I was a surprisingly unique individual. I had always known of course that I was valuable and useful, as my masters often reminded me.

I had been trained to comply and perform well. And I always did. But this current assignment had stopped me dead in my tracks. For the first time in my life I had thought of defying those who controlled me.

I had been raised from childhood to obey and this was a new and frightening sensation. Of course, my resistance was only a momentary aberration and I hid it well. Had they seen, they would have shipped me back for some remedial retraining.

I have been through this retraining only once before, and it is not an experience I would care to repeat. Despite my perfect memory, I have made a conscious decision to block out those four weeks on the sub-level 27 and then the following four weeks recovering and being re-educated in Renewal wing.

As I said, I am a genius, and I have this ability to compartmentalize my mind. My dreams, however, I have no control over. Consequently I find that I wake howling in unremembered pain and fear, running from demons that my conscious mind screams at me do not exist.

The fear was only momentary, and I would treat this like I did any other simulation. It should be no different. The fact that I put myself before the mission was not the only thing that was unusual about what they were demanding of me.

But it was not my place to question my orders. I belonged to them and was subject to their will. Until the moment I opened the envelope I had never questioned that.

It is true that I was brought up in a very sheltered environment, but I was no longer the naïve child that I was when I first entered the world. I have seen many things, good and bad. I have done many things, good and bad. But I do not think I was prepared to do this.

In my time serving my masters, both under the world and above the world, I have been responsible for many deaths. I should not balk at this one. One more death on my conscience would make no difference in the grand scheme of things.

In my own defence, I have also been responsible for saving many lives. I do not know about ethics and morality, so I cannot determine if this somehow balances the scales. My trainers did not want anything to get in the way of my ability to complete any task assigned to me. For me, the concept of right and wrong had never extended beyond the act of obedience. To obey was right. To disobey was wrong.

And so I found myself standing in this hotel room in a strange country, staring at the photos of my next mission. I was not sure that I could complete it. It was not an act of wilful disobedience, but I know that my masters would not make such a fine distinction. Failure to comply, for any reason was simply unacceptable.

So, with slightly shaking hands, I reached for the photos spread out before me. The sweepers stood by, silent in their vigil. There would be no chance for me to run.

There was a time once when I did not know what I looked like. I had only ever managed to catch distorted images reflected in the concave faces of clocks. If I tried very hard, I could sometimes catch a reflection in the cameras whose eyes never blinked. Who were ever watchful.

Now of course, I knew exactly what I looked like, and I wish I didn’t. There was no mistaking the dark brown eyes. The familiar cut of the jaw. But the most damning evidence of all was the mole under the right eye. For many years I would have been unable to recognize that face. But not now.

Whoever coined the phrase ignorance is bliss was a wise person.

“Sit.” The man spoke with efficiency, no wasted words.

I did as instructed. My eyes scanned around the room, looking for a mirror or polished surface. My sense of self was fragile at best and I needed to confirm that identity I wore was the same as the man in the photo.

Keeping me from knowing my own image was not a deliberate cruelty on the part of my keepers. It was done to help me understand my role. I was a tool, nothing more, and a strong sense of identity would undermine that. Now that I roam outside in the world, there is no way for them to stop me from seeing what I really look like, but the image of myself as a possession rather than a person has been so hardened in my psyche, that when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, I am often startled by my own appearance.

But I am digressing. The man in the photo was me. I could not deny it. I searched through my memory to find out how I had failed, just what I had done wrong. Why I had earned such an extreme sanction. Although my skills were varied, when I was shown a photograph like this, it usually meant only one thing.

I sat numbly staring at him, reaching for the Glock 9mm I carried in my back. He watched me impassively, supremely confident that my conditioning made me incapable of hurting him. He was right.

I chambered a bullet, and with more calmness than I had felt a moment ago, I raised it to my head. Watching him watching me.

“Stop. Put the gun down.”

He smiled.

It had been a test. A test of my willingness to obey.

He then got up and moved swiftly across the room and backhanded me with a gloved fist.

My head snapped backwards under the force of the blow. I sat there, accepting the blow without resistance.

“Are you this disobedient normally?”

I looked at him in confusion. The smile never slipping from his face. Genius or not, I must confess to a sense of confusion. He read it in my face. It is the one skill I have never really mastered. Unless I am fully prepared or immersed in a simulation, I wore the few emotions I have developed over the years on my face. Frustration and fear were my most familiar emotions, but I have had some small experience with confusion.

“No sir” I finally answered when I realised the question was not rhetorical.

Experience had taught me that questions were often asked, but I was often required to maintain my silence.

“Then what did you think you were doing?” His smile never faltered.

He was American. I guess that should not come as a shock, I was in America after all.

I dropped my eyes to the photographs.

“I thought that you wanted me to terminate the target sir.”

“I will make my wishes known to you when I am ready. Until then assume nothing.”

“Yes sir.”

He sat back and watched me again. My obvious discomfort pleasing him.

The tension became too much for me. I am accustomed to sitting for hours, even days sometimes, with nothing to do under the scrutiny of eyes and cameras. But the pressure finally forced me to ask the question.

“What is it that you want of me? I do not understand. If I am the target......”

“You are not the target.” He interrupted.

I must admit, by this time, my confusion was absolute. I noticed that he had not taken his gloves off despite the heat. I sat and waited. He was obviously enjoying toying with me. The reason for this was unknown and unimportant. If he wished to play, that was his prerogative. He was my controller now, and until I was told otherwise, I would obey him as I would my masters back home.

“What is your name?” he asked.

I do not think he had any real interest in knowing my name, but he did need to be able to address me.

“I have no name sir, but my designation is Project Eight.”

“Well Eight, we have got work to do. The man in the photograph is not you. His name is Jarod, and you are here to track him down for me.”

I blinked stupidly wondering who this “Jarod” person could be. His similarity to me could not be coincidental and for the first time in my life, I thought that perhaps I might have a family. This man could easily be my identical twin.

I cannot name all of the emotions that ran through me in that moment. But what I can say with certainty, was I had my first moment of selfish desire. I desired to know more about this man. I then committed the cardinal sin and asked the forbidden question.

“Why do you want him terminated? What did he do?”

The man was on his feet, delivering two swift backhands across my face. One landing on the same spot that he had already hit me, my head, rocked to the side. The second blow snapping my head back the opposite way.

I looked at him with misery in my eyes. Once a report of my behaviour got back to my masters .....

In desperation, I did the only thing I could think of. I fell to my knees and grovelled at his feet and begged for forgiveness for my impertinence.

What I was not expecting was his laughter. Disobedience on that scale usually landed me in the infirmary.

“Do you know why I hit you Eight?” he asked, with a bemused look.

“The reason for the termination of the subject is not any of my concern. I need only concern myself with the expedient and successful execution of my mission.”

I recited the lessons taught me. The lesson not to ask was one of the longest I took to learn. But I did, and it still amazes me that I don’t have the scars to show for it.

“No. The punishment was for your assumption.”

I sat back in my seat, trying to will my hands not to touch my face. It was clear from the look on the other man’s face that my confusion was showing on my own.

“I don’t know how things are conducted in Africa, but here you do as you are told. Do not second guess me.” He sat back in his chair, enjoying the whole thing.

“Yes sir.”

A pocket of resentment flowered deep in my heart. I wanted, I needed to know about this man Jarod. My mind was racing, but I did my best to try and keep my face neutral. I would be told only what they saw fit, only what I needed to finish the mission.

I waited for the man to continue.

Chapter 2 by jacci
Author's Notes:
thanks to Onisius.....wouldn’t know what to do without you.
As I sat there, waiting for him to continue, I watched him watching me. It seemed clear that there was something more going on here than just a simple mission. Usually when I met with clients, it was all business. They did not care who I was, or what I was, just as long as I could get the job done. Whether it was an assassination or something as simple as a seduction. But this man was staring at me as if I were something delectable on the menu.

“Amazing.” he finally said. But it was clear he was talking to himself, not me. “I wonder what would happen if I slapped a pair of cuffs on you and dragged you through the lobby? Would anyone be able to tell?” He laughed. Obviously he thought this idea was incredibly amusing, although it did nothing to decrease my unease at the situation.

My eyes flickered over to the small pile of red folders. I wanted to get on with the business at hand, but the man seemed in no rush at all and was quite content to keep staring at me. Whatever was going on here was personal. I looked down to his gloved hand and noticed the missing thumb. Perhaps it was revenge.

He noticed my glance and it wiped the smile from his face. He slid the folders across the table. “We have been tracking the target for years. He is elusive. These people are close to him.”

I opened the first folder to see a photo of an older man. He had sad eyes. There were a few printed sheets of information, but I would read them later.

“Sydney,” the man explained, and his dislike of this person was clearly evident. ”Jarod’s handler and surrogate father. We have long suspected that Sydney has been helping Jarod elude The Centre, but we have never been able to prove it. Jarod keeps in contact with Sydney, it’s the only reason we haven’t had the old goat terminated.”

I looked up at him in surprise. “He was Jarod's only handler?” The concept of just one handler was ludicrous. It was bad management “So an emotional attachment has been formed?”

“Yes, but the main goal is the recapture of Jarod, if you can prove Sydney's complicity, that is just a bonus. Once we have Jarod again, the old man is no longer important beyond using him to control Jarod.”

I took the second folder. A beautiful woman, with striking blue eyes. But where the man’s were sad and warm, hers were cold and hard.

“Miss Parker” he said as way of explanation. “She is in charge of the pursuit. She has had no success.”

“You have been pursuing him for five years now and she has not caught him once?” I looked up in surprise. That level of ineptitude should not be tolerated. “How is it that she remains on the pursuit?” I asked, my shock overcoming my better judgement.

He smiled, reminding me of a cat just before it pounces on prey. “You know Eight, I have asked myself that very same question many times.” He poured himself a drink and sat back and nursed it. “But you see, my sister has the protection of being the Chairman’s daughter.”

I blinked in surprise. There was much more going on here than I first realised. Normally I did not care about such matters, but this Jarod fascinated me. Was he a Pretender like I was? Was he my brother? Why had he run from his keepers? Was the training so inferior in America, or was he somehow defective? The questions burned through me and I had to force my attention back to the task at hand.

I picked up the photo of the woman, Miss Parker the file name said, so then I guessed I was addressing Mr Parker. “Mr Parker...” I started, but before I got any further, he had launched himself out of his seat and had slapped me across the face again. His face was red with fury.

“You are incredibly stupid for a Pretender. What have I told you about assumptions?” he sat back in his chair and asked casually, as if it was not important. The anger of a moment ago forgotten.

“My apologies sir.” I resisted the urge to bring my hand up to rub the stinging out of my face. It was clear that I had no idea about the undercurrents that were going on here. I resolved to remedy that situation with as much immediacy as was safe. I disliked this man intensely, although I was not foolhardy enough to show my dislike on his face.

For the first time in my life, I was plotting my own agenda. I wanted to know who this Jarod was. I looked at this man, and the seeds of defiance were already growing in my heart. I would deliver their runaway project, but first I would have my own questions answered.

“If you need to address me, the name is Mr Lyle.” He took another sip of his drink. I ducked my head in acknowledgement. I still held the picture of the woman in my hands, I raised it and looked at him.

“I have long suspected that Parker has helped Jarod, or at the very least, is not as committed to the chase as she claims she is. When you catch him, if you could find a way to implicate her.....I would be, shall we say grateful. I will make sure your masters in Africa know.” He raised his drink to me and swallowed.

He stood and looked down on me. Again I had that feeling as if he wanted to consume me. “All the information you need is in the folders. Call me on this number when you have an estimate of how long this will take.” He threw a small white card on the table with his name and number on it, and left the room without looking back once.

After he was gone, along with his sweepers, I got up and poured myself a drink as well. I settled down and read carefully through the files. It appeared that this project had been treated more like a treasured pet than the valuable asset and weapon that he truly was. It was no wonder he managed to escape his training, and his confinement. It appeared he had no true understanding of his proper place.

Yet what fascinated me the most was the fact that he stayed. He obviously resented his former masters, but had taken no real action against them, and always kept himself only one step ahead of them. Were his skills really that inferior, or was it just a game to him? I must confess, he intrigued me.

After reading the files, I wondered if my fascination was due solely to the fact of the remarkable resemblance to me he bore, was it just my own vanity that spurred me on? Or was it the fact that he, a Pretender like myself, had shaken off his training? I do admit, the notion was appalling and appealing at the same time. But I would get my answers, and then I would give him back to Mr Lyle.

It seemed that he was The Centre’s best Pretender. And yet he seemed a complete failure as a project. They had been unable to control his emotional outbursts as a child and had had no control over him as an adult. The files however did not tell me anything but the bare facts. It was not enough.

About five hours after our meeting, my face still sore from his slaps, I phoned him.

“Mr Lyle. I can have him within two weeks.” I waited for his response, confident in my estimate. “No sir, he is adept at eluding you, but I think I have come up with a plan that should please you, and it will tell you if the woman is loyal as well.” I could almost hear him gloating on the other end. “At this stage sir, it is best that you do not know. Ignorance is a valuable tool, and it is best we do not risk giving the game away too early. But rest assured, I will deliver him as promised.”

I could tell that he was not completely happy, but the promise of delivery in two weeks was too much for him to turn down.

I took another drink. The feeling of my own defiance was making me giddy. Never before had I actually lied deliberately to them. Well actually, that’s not entirely true. Once as a young boy, I had lied about a sim result. I had been given a small stuffed animal to help me with a sim, and I had said that it was too complicated for me to finish. It would be easier if I was allowed the bear overnight, would help me to stay focused. Of course, they saw through the lie instantly. The punishment does not bear retelling, but suffice it to say, I have never lied to them again. Until now.

My heart was pounding and my palms were sweaty. The magnitude of what I was planning was beyond any petty defiance I had ever perpetrated or even dreamed about before. The thought of the lie made me nauseous and excited at the same time. If they caught me out in this......I shudder to even think about it. I took another drink to calm my nerves. I had not even yet met this Jarod and already he was having a negative influence on me.

But I am digressing yet again. I knew that I could have the Pretender within two days, three at the outset. All I needed was the right bait. His skills were obviously inferior to my own, and I wondered how he had managed to hang on to his so-called freedom for so long. Taking the picture of the woman again, tracing over it with my fingers, I knew she was the key. And I might even get to have some fun with this assignment. Putting aside my earlier apprehension, I smiled at the thought of it.

I logged into the Delaware database and spent the entire night going through their files. This Jarod was soft, and he was a fool. He was wasting his talents and skills. I failed to understand his attraction to this Parker woman. Although it seemed they were friends as children, she had done nothing as adult but torment him and make his life difficult. It was true that she was a good looking woman, but from all accounts she seemed nothing but a ruthless bitch. And lets face it, Jarod was a good looking man. I smiled to myself at that thought. I had never had any troubles with the ladies, or even the men, and I could not imagine that this Jarod would have any difficulties either.

The further I looked the more sure I became of my ability to ensnare Jarod. A plan formed in my mind and I would set it in motion tomorrow. This would be so simple, it was almost below my abilities and I wondered again at how Jarod had maintained his freedom. Well, it was of no consequence. I would have him, and I would have my answers, and then Mr Lyle could do what he wanted with him.

At three in the morning I picked up my cell phone and dialled the number. I had practiced my American accent, and now I sounded just like Jarod did. I waited for the phone to be answered. My skills were varied, and I had a natural aptitude for accents.

At the rude “What?” I bit back my smile. I suppose I should not judge her too harshly, it was very early in the morning after all.

“You weren’t sleeping were you Miss Parker? I thought you never rested in your pursuit of me.” I waited for her to reply.

“Jarod, what do you want?” she asked with resignation in her voice.

“Not on the phone. Can we meet tomorrow? Somewhere public, somewhere safe. And if I see one single sweeper.....”

“Look Jarod, it's late, it's early, what the hell is this about?”

I could hear the irritation in her voice, but at the same time, I could hear the curiosity underneath.

“Three o'clock, town centre. I will give you the information then.” Then I hung up without telling her anymore.

It was time to get some sleep now, I needed to be looking my best for my meeting with the ice-queen.
Chapter 3 by jacci
Author's Notes:
Onisius is the one that keeps me honest in the telling of this tale, and all my thanks go out to her, couldn’t do it without you Kye.
When I awoke, I felt as I if I had had no sleep at all. It is not unusual for me to only sleep for a few hours, but the bad dreams were very unusual. I used to be plagued by the most awful dreams. As a child I used to wake up screaming, but I soon learnt that if I did that, the consequences were often worse than the dreams. And of course that is what caused the dreams in the first place. So I learned to repress them I guess. I am a genius after all.

But I woke feeling disorientated and the dream slipped away quickly. Holding on to it was like trying to hold onto the morning fog. I shook my head and made my way to the shower. It was very unusual for my sleep to be disturbed these days, and frustrating that I could not remember what I had dreamt about.

After a shower and a shave, I had a large breakfast sent up and went on another excursion into the Centre’s mainframe. There was a wealth of information that I gathered, but none of the answers to the questions that I wanted answers for. After a small amount of creative manipulation, it was very easy for me to have the computers sitting up and begging, I had access to Sydney's email account and both of his phones. It was my ‘gut’ feeling that it would be Sydney that got into contact and did my dirty work for me.

I smiled. People were so easy to manipulate. Although, my mind was still reeling from the news that Sydney had been allowed to keep this Jarod for so long. It was no wonder that a strong emotional attachment had been forged. And yet he must be a heartless bastard to allow such things to happen to a child, and even worse, to a child he was supposed to care about. I wondered if he suffered from guilt.

My handlers, although not unnecessarily cruel, were always aloof. Their cruelty was efficient and always served a purpose. But the idea of knowing that someone cared about you, and then inflicting such horrors on you would surely be too much to bear.

The further I looked, the more startling the picture became. This Jarod was an interesting contradiction, and it was plainly clear to see how his training had failed. His relationship with Sydney was fascinating. I was sure that when Sydney saw me with the delectable Miss Parker this afternoon, the first thing our long suffering shrink would do would be to run to his computer to give the Pretender a heads up, and most probably a scolding.

At least that was what I was counting on. Of course, you know what they say about plans. Yes, I know. But I am getting way ahead of myself here.

I failed to uncover any further information in the Delaware mainframe that would answer my burning questions, but I did discover just how truly inept our American cousins really were. But I was pleased to unravel some of the mystery behind the enigmatic Mr Lyle. He was certainly an interesting fellow. I started to understand why he might be so fascinated with me and with his obvious animosity towards his Pretender, I felt some small stirring of sympathy for the hapless Jarod.

As the appointed hour grew near, so did my apprehension. This mission was reverberating with hidden significance. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the challenge of melting the ice-queen, but the thoughts of getting my hands on Jarod was what really spurred me on. There were secrets here, secrets about my identity that perhaps he could answer.

The strange thing was of course, that this same time yesterday, it had never even occurred to me to ask these kinds of question. Until this photo of Jarod had come into my life, I never would have imagined that I was capable of the blatant rebellion that I was planning. The knowledge of what they would do to me when, if, they found out, somehow made it more thrilling. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I had been so excited about anything

Leaving my questions behind for the moment, I made my way into the town centre of Dover. After checking the surrounding area, confident that I had not been observed, I settled down and waited to see if she would turn up. I had chosen this time because I knew that Sydney had an appointment and he would be sure to see us. Pleased with my own cleverness I waited.

She was late of course. But I had expected that. She strode through the park as if she owned it. Her long coat flowing out behind her. Her short skirt showing off those lovely legs to all who dared to admire them. And turn they did, the men looking with lust, and the women with envy. I wondered if Jarod had ever had her, but I would know soon enough by her reaction.

I watched her scanning the area, the tiny bulge at her back telling me that she was armed, and by the look of her I had no trouble believing that she would be capable of using it. She was far more impressive in the flesh than even her photographs had indicated. She approached the bench, but did not sit. I could tell by her posture that she thought that this was some kind of trap, but she had come alone as directed.

As she waited I smiled. Creeping silently around behind her, I snuck up on her and slid my arms around her waist, relieving her of her weapon in one fluid movement. I might be good, but I was not a total fool.

She stiffened in shock, but relaxed slightly as I nuzzled under her ear. She let out a small moan as I bit on her earlobe. She smelled of expensive perfume and power.

“Jarod!” she hissed when she remembered herself. She turned in my embrace and pushed me away. She was stronger than she appeared too. She was a formidable woman, of that there was no doubt.

“Miss Parker, good to see you looking so lovely.” I drawled.

She immediately reached for her missing gun, a predatory smile crossing her face, making her eyes glitter.

I took a step back and smiled. “Looking for this?” I opened my jacket to show her her own gun carefully snuggled suggestively in the front of my jeans.

“Wanna come get it?” I teased her.

Despite plastering my best grin on my face, her hand struck out like lightening and slapped me. And I had to be in the exact same spot that her brother had hit me a number of times.

“Jarod what the hell do you think you are doing?” The outrage clear on her face. But I had a sneaking suspicion she was more upset with her own reaction than she was with me.

“I am sick of your games. Why the hell am I here? And it better be good or I am going to make you wish you were safe in a sub-level cell.” Despite the fact that she had no weapon, she pulled herself up to her full height and levelled a gaze at me that would drop any normal man.

I waited patiently for her rant to be over. I reached out and gently stroked an errant hair off her face. I think she was more surprised than I was when she didn’t pull back.

I put that look on my face that I know the ladies love, I believe I have been likened to a puppy-dog. Well, it always worked before, and I watched her as she defrosted half a degree. I stroked my finger down her cheek and then withdrew it guiltily.

“Why does it always have to be like this between us?” I took a step closer, we were almost touching now.

Something seemed to crumble inside her. “What do you want from me Jarod?” she asked in a voice, heavy with defeat. It was almost heartbreaking. I wondered if it worked on Jarod. But I wasn’t falling for it. She was not the type to roll over this quickly

I folded her into a chaste embrace, nothing too overt to begin with, but I imagined she would be a wild one when properly motivated.

I smiled as she melted against me, overcoming her initial resistance. But my pride was somewhat wounded when she fought it longer than I would have thought. But she was not totally immune to my charms.

Constantly scanning the area, I was pleased to see the old shrink come out and stop in shock as he noticed us.

“Jarod, has something happened?” she asked, coming to her senses again. She pulled herself away from me, my own vanity demands that I must admit it, she did seem somewhat reluctant to break the embrace.

I could see she was a fighter and was not going to go down easy. She assembled her formidable forces and got herself together. She looked at me with weary eyes and I wondered what was going on between her and Jarod. She seemed to want him but at the same time she was fighting it.

I tried one last time. Bringing my face down slowly, I held her and brought my lips down on hers, in a feather light kiss. Her lips parted slightly and she sighed a delightful little sigh. I withdrew, leaving her wanting more.

“Jarod” she whispered. When she opened her eyes, I could see the uncertainty there. She was not at all prepared for this, but most of all, I don’t think she was prepared for her own reaction. Her eyes sought mine and I smiled at her. For a brief moment, some kind of understanding passed between us. But then it was over.

If she was playing me, and I am not completely sure that she wasn’t, she was very good at this game. She seemed torn somehow, but in the end, her true nature won out, as I knew it must. Her eyes glanced down to her gun, sitting just above my groin and I could see her calculating the odds.

“Still determined to bring me in Miss Parker?” I questioned sadly.

“You know the game Jarod, nothing has changed, now tell me what you came here to tell me.”

“Would you like me to make it easy for you?” I held my hands out, wrists together, just to see how she would react.

She raised her eyebrow, looking at her gun.

“Jarod, why are you here, why in the centre of town, do you know how likely it is that you will be spotted? If you have a death wish, why did you have to involve me in it?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I kept a watch on Sydney. He had moved closer and I could only assume he was trying to confirm what his eyes were telling him were true.

Trying to placate her, I smiled, and spread my hands out at my side.

“C’mon Parker, you know you can't do it.” I said gently. Her eyes flared and I knew that I had hit a sensitive spot, forcing her into the next move.

And as I knew she would, she struck. As fast as a snake. I was looking down the business end of her gun before the last syllable was out of my mouth.

Now it was her turn to smile, and smile she did. It sent a shiver down my spine.

I stood stock still as she took a step closer and buried the muzzle into my impressively developed chest.

“Okay Jarod, it's time to go home. You were a fool for coming here.”

“That might be so, but I am not going back there.”

“Well unless you snuck into my bedroom again and removed the firing pin.” She dug the gun a little further into my chest. I had to react quickly to hide my surprise at that little snippet. Perhaps this Jarod was not such a sap after all.

“Would you like me to?” I asked with a cheeky grin.

I could have easily disarmed her, but this was way too much fun and I was finding out all kinds of interesting bits of information. Perhaps this Jarod was a bit of a dark horse. Well good for you Jarod.

I watched as Sydney came closer, pretending to ignore him, I knew that time was running out and if I wanted to avoid a confrontation with him I had to get out of there very soon. Tempting as it was to stay, I had achieved my goals for this meeting, and as the American’s are fond of saying, it was time to get out of Dodge.

And that was when everything went to hell.
Chapter 4 by jacci
Author's Notes:
I know it has been FOREVER since I updated and I apologise. Real life is just so annoying sometimes and also I have spent far too much time launching my Pretender website. Hopefully some more chapters will follow and I can actually complete this story (if anybody is even interested any more... lol)
There is one universal constant throughout the universe, which turned out to be a rather good thing for me. Security, and sweepers in particular, are of less than average intelligence, and dear old Sam was no exception.

Despite all my best laid plans, what I hadn’t factored into my little scenario was the vending machine that went by the name Sam. Well, of course I had thought about the likelihood of Miss Parker bringing a phalanx of sweepers, but since she had turned up very much alone, how was I supposed to know Sam might just be happening by? Talk about bad luck. Who would have thought that the cockroaches would venture so far from home and out into the daylight?

I felt his gun in by back before I even knew he was there. I can only put my sudden and unusual lapse in attention down to the intoxicating presence of Miss Parker. There he was though, telling me in his gruff voice to freeze. How original.

I was almost tempted to ask him if he had to practice to get his voice that way or was it a defect of some sort. Keeping my mouth shut, I watched as Miss Parker relaxed, her grin turning triumphant. I could actually see her eyes harden, moving from the confusion she must have experienced, me catching her so off balance and all, to resentment that she had allowed herself to be caught out like that. She was not a woman you wanted to cross, that much was now perfectly clear to me. Which of course only made me more interested. Easy prey was not really worth my time, she might prove an interesting diversion.

“You shouldn’t have come Jarod. Now it’s time to go home.” She said those words with such satisfaction and I knew that my kiss had rattled her more than she would admit to herself. That just made me want to melt the ice–queen even more. Was this her secret fantasy, one she kept so deeply buried she didn’t even know it was there? Of course, now I had this added irritation and time for that kind of speculation would have to wait. Her gun in my chest and Vending Machine’s in my back and the time for dallying was most certainly over.

A lesser man might have given up, and I wondered if Jarod would have, or found some ingenious way out. Perhaps he might have tried appealing to her softer nature, drag up their past, their friendship. I suspect though that that friendship was a little more one–sided than Jarod probably hoped, judging by the look in her eyes. What a sap. He seemed so drawn to lost causes. One thing was certain, I was not a lesser man, nor was I stupid enough to think she was going to just let me toddle off on my way even after that kiss.

Now, this is where that universal constant came in very handy. Ignoring her ranting about going home and getting what I deserved yada yada yada, I grabbed Miss Parker’s gun with one hand. You know one should really instruct her never get close enough to your quarry to enable them to touch you. That is a fundamental principle after all. So, I had possession of her gun again and with the other, I spun around and had broken the Vending Machine’s thumb before he knew what had hit him.

His grunts of surprise and pain were very satisfying and hoped that it taught him a valuable lesson about interfering with my plans. I briefly thought about killing him, which I could have done with my bare hands, being an expert at many forms of the marital arts and self defence. I doubted Jarod would have done that though, so I had to restrain myself, not wanting to give the game away too soon. The dear old shrink might put it together a little too quickly if I behaved too outrageously and that simply would not do.

Besides, it might be just as much fun to see what Parker did to him at such a gross dereliction of his duties. Would she foist the blame on him to avoid any nastiness herself? It would be intriguing to see how it all unfolded.

With both guns in my possession, the immediate danger neutralised, I risked one last kiss. Time was short and the old man was closing the distance. I would be lying if I said it was only to give the shrink something to ponder over, or if poor Sam was with it enough to notice. That should cause her some small trouble explaining away. I mean, letting Jarod slip through her fingers was as much her fault as his after all. Mostly though, I just wanted to, the rest was a bonus, laying the groundwork for Mr Lyle to prove her complicity, if that was what he wanted. Grabbing her, smiling to myself at the shocked look on her face, she didn’t think Jarod boy had THAT in him, I kissed her brutally, nothing tender or gentle this time. I think she preferred it too.

Pulling away from her, disarming her gun and tossing it back in one fluid motion, I had to chuckle at the look of pure shock on her face. “Talk soon Miss Parker.” I said before I took off. I kept the Vending Machine’s gun, as a souvenir, and a little extra protection never hurt. I paid no attention to her threats and promises of the nasty things she was going to do to me, I mean Jarod, as I scooted across the immaculately kept lawn to the motorbike waiting for me. Despite the glitch in my plan, I was glad I had prepared for a hasty retreat.

It certainly had been a less than impressive start and I should have factored the sweeper’s random appearance in. It was very unsettling for things to go this wrong this early in an assignment and I would have to be far more careful from now on.

It is true, not even someone with my staggering intellect can account for every single detail, and it made me realise just how sloppy I had let myself become. Becoming emotionally involved went against every second of training I had ever had. I was NOT Jarod, my training was far superior to his and this should not have happened. I had SIMed him of course and now I had to question if I had allowed some of his psyche and ineptitude bleed off into mine. Now there was truly a disturbing thought.

I blame Jarod for this completely, his very presence throwing my performance out of whack. It had very well nearly turned into quite the disaster. Still I managed to escape, as predicted, leaving them all in a flutter about Jarod's aberrant behaviour.

One had to wonder though why Jarod just hadn’t reached out and taken what he wanted. Was he too scared? It certainly was intriguing and I wondered if it might be worth organising a conversation with the shrink to get his thoughts on the matter. But see, here I go again, getting all distracted. This simply will not do.

The conferences would start and an email would be sent, and of course our hero would ride in to see just what was going on. Perhaps I might call Miss Parker tonight. I wonder if she would welcome the call, would she be waiting for it, lying in that big bed, all alone in a little teddy?

Now it was a waiting game. I entertained myself by replaying the afternoon in my mind, my perfect memory able to focus on the tiniest detail and I don’t really need to tell you what I was focusing on now do I? Her lips had been soft, softer than her eyes, her perfume almost overwhelming. She was a beautiful woman, of that there was no doubt, but not beautiful enough to risk freedom over surely, or to moon about for 20 years. Plenty of fish in the ocean after all, that were as easy on the eyes and certainly more easy on the soul than this one.

Yanked out of my reverie by the computer kindly telling me the old man had sent off an email, right on schedule. Now all I needed was for the Pretender to read it and I would have him. Well not yet, but it would be a very good start. It was all so predictable. Jarod I am worried about you, Jarod why are you taking such a terrible risk? Jarod, what were you thinking?

It really was too bad I couldn’t hack past their pathetic security and hook into their live DSA surveillance feed, but the drain on the bandwidth would be noticeable even to the monkeys they had running their server. Still it would have been fun to peek in. Would Miss Parker talk about her little adventure, and how would she explain losing Jarod yet again? So many unanswered questions. I have never had a mission that was so titillating before.

Perhaps once I gave them Jarod I might stay here for a little while, there were many interesting things to pursue after all. I am sure a little reward would be in order, and who knows I might even find something to tell them to let me stretch it out. See, there I go again thinking all kinds of rebellious thought.

I am getting ahead of myself yet again. It seems to be a nasty habit I have developed lately. This burning sense of anticipation is making me lose my edge. Right now I need to be at the top of my game, and as this afternoon clearly demonstrated, I am certainly not. Jarod, despite his flaws and inferior training might just be able to best me if I am not a little more careful.
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