Cassandra Series by Danielle SmileyFace, Rebeckah
Summary: Written by Rebeckah and Danielle :-)... Jarod escapes the Centre (after "Donoterase") with help from an old friend. Remarkable revelations about Lyle surface. A mysterious enemy out to get Raines puts everyone's lives in danger.
Categories: Indefinite Timeline Characters: Angelo, Broots, Jarod, Lyle, Miss Parker, Mr Raines, Original Character, Sam, Sydney
Genres: Angst, Drama, Suspence/Mystery, Tragedy
Warnings: Warning: Character Death
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 3 Completed: Yes Word count: 50610 Read: 6657 Published: 28/02/10 Updated: 28/02/10
Fractures by Danielle SmileyFace

Fractures
by Rebeckah and Danielle :-)

Disclaimer: The characters Miss Parker, Sydney, Jarod, Broots etc. and the fictional Centre, are all property of MTM and NBC Productions and used without permission. We're not making any money out of this and no infringement is intended. Rebeckah did write most of it.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Cassandra sat before her vanity brushing her long black hair and humming a tune her mother used to sing to her. She was quite content, enjoying the peace and quite of the Centre at night. This was her favorite hour of the day, between two and three in the morning, when most people still at the Centre were sound asleep and their emotions were muted. She always felt relaxed and happy at these times when she could let down her rigid guard and simply be. However---
Her hand stilled and she cocked her head in a listening pose, although she was listening more with her mind than her ears. She felt something odd----an unnatural silence in her mental landscape. It felt almost as though someone, or something, was deliberately hiding their mental presence----something Cassandra was unaccustomed to. Most people radiated thoughts and emotions like a never-ending explosion of psychic garbage.
Just then she felt the merest whisper of air moving where it shouldn't, and a large male hand clamped over her mouth.
"Not a sound!" The smooth, deep voice was familiar to her, as was the emotional signature she could suddenly pick up from the intruder. Somehow he had been able to hide his mental presence from her extra senses, at least he had until he touched her. Cassandra's gift was much stronger when someone was in physical contact with her.
How did he do that? How did he hide his presence long enough to get in here without me knowing? He's never had a shield before! What is he doing, anyway? He'd never try this if Dr. Raines hadn't been taken off by the Triumvirate. Cassandra considered, even as she nodded her head obediently in response to the order.
"Good." The hand eased off of her mouth. "We're going for a little walk." He continued, moving to her closet and rummaging around in it. "If we encounter anybody you will smile, let me do the talking, and agree with anything I say. Do you understand?"
Once again Cassandra nodded and a moment later a wad of silky fabric hit her softly in the face.
"Put that on." She was ordered. "You can hardly be seen wandering around the Centre in a nightgown."
"When you leave the room." Cassandra agreed calmly, although she was trembling inside. The impressions she'd picked up from the intruder's mind when he touched her were deeply disturbing, but she knew that she had no real hope of resisting him, so her only option was to cooperate. She had to wonder why he was acting in the dead of the night anyway. He was the temporary head of the Centre, he could go anywhere and do anything without fear of reprisal now.
She breathed a silent sigh of relief when the man laughed and moved to the door. He was capable of forcing her to change in front of him, or even dressing her himself, but he had opted to indulge her and she was deeply grateful for that indulgence.
"You have two minutes before I come in and help you." He promised mockingly. "Not one second more."
The adrenaline running through her system worked against her, making her hands tremble and her fingers fumble. Still, she was just smoothing the dress back down after having pulled on her nylons when he re-entered her room. He had dropped that strange shield by now, and she had a clear glimpse into his mind, seeing herself in a flattering silk dress of red and gold with her black hair tumbling wildly over her face and shoulders.
She accepted the heels he thrust at her, knowing they would be whichever pair set off the dress the best. He was nothing, Cassandra reflected wryly, if not vain. He'd never choose to be seen with a woman who was looking anything less than her best. She sat down once again in front of her vanity to pull on the shoes.
"This will never do." He said from directly behind her when she straightened up again. His hands swiftly gathered together her disheveled hair. "I can't be seen with you with your hair a mess like this."
Deftly, and with surprising gentleness, he swept her brush through her hair a few times before rolling her hair into a sophisticated french twist at the nape of her neck. Long fingers pulled a few wispy strands to float around her face before he stepped back to admire his handiwork.
"Much better." He proclaimed, eyeing her appearance proudly. "I don't suppose you have any makeup? Oh well, can't have everything, I suppose. You'll do."
He swept Cassandra to her feet and out of her bedroom towards her "front" door---if a door leading to the inside of an office building can be considered the front.
"Where are we going?" Cassandra asked, her voice composed and even, disguising her rising anxiety. She had to wonder if she too was going to disappear on a plane to Africa. She knew that she'd seriously displeased Big Mutumbo when she'd been unable to read Jarod's mind after his capture.
"Don't worry, it's a pleasant surprise." He lied smoothly. She could feel his smug pleasure in the thought that she would know he was lying before he even spoke the words but she was more preoccupied with the thoughts of the man observing their departure. He was distressed, upset enough to do something dangerous!
{Angelo, no!} She halted her old friend with a swift thought when he would have plunged through the air vent to rescue her. {We need to know what is going on here, and who is behind it. If I do not come back tell Miss Parker or Dr. Sydney about this.}
{No.} Angelo thought back firmly. {Bad man! Hurt Cass!}
Cassandra marshaled her arguments, thinking regretfully that this was the first time she rued her deep bond with Angelo. Their shared gift of empathy made it remarkably easy for their thoughts to mesh, but just now she wished she had even the slightest chance of lying to her dear friend.
{Angelo, if he hurts you I will feel bad. Please, wait. He might bring me back.} She finally thought at him with perfect honesty.
{Angelo wait.}" He thought clearly to her, sending his distress and hurt as well as the words. {Not happy. Fear. Caution?} He sent with the added sensation that caution wasn't going to do her any good.
{I am sorry, Angelo. But he would hurt you; you know that don't you? I want you safe.} Cassandra sent back with perfect sincerity.
By then they were deep within the maze of hallways that comprised most of the Centre. {I will be very careful, I promise.} She added earnestly before deliberately closing down the connection between the two of them for the first time since she and Angelo had become friends so many years ago.
She felt a little better, though, knowing that Angelo knew what had happened. If she didn't return, (and Cassandra was just as convinced as Angelo was that her escort had no intention of returning her to her room), at least someone would know what happened to her.
The elevator doors opened in the first sublevel of the Centre---the garage. She was led to the passenger side and the door was shut firmly as soon as she'd entered the shiny black Ferrari that was her captor's pride and joy. Cassandra buckled her seatbelt, something she hadn't done in so long she'd almost forgotten what it was, and they pulled smoothly out of the garage.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Lyle." The guard at the gate stammered nervously. "But Miss Cassandra isn't cleared to leave Centre grounds."
"*I* decide who is or is not authorized to leave Centre grounds, you incompetent buffoon!" Lyle snapped angrily. "Didn't you read the memo sent around a few weeks ago? " He accelerated through the gate over the poor guards sputtered excuses.
Cassandra sat silently during the long drive. Lyle ignored her just as completely, caught up in his own deep thoughts. He wasn't blocking his mind from her anymore, but Cassandra resolutely kept her mental shields firm and ignored any stray thoughts that came her way. She was too busy worrying about Lyle's strange behavior to be sidetracked by the vague and unpleasant thoughts the came her way from Lyle's direction.
Lyle hadn't bothered to hide her or smuggle her silently away from the Centre----he'd left a trail that might as well have been marked by neon signs, in fact. Cassandra suspected that even the Triumvirate knew nothing of this midnight jaunt and wondered just who or what could be powerful enough to sway Lyle's loyalties from the Centre. She suspected, strongly, that this whole escapade was somehow directed at Raines and she was nothing more than a pawn in the midst of a much larger game, but she had no idea how Raines could be impacted if he wasn't even present.
Lyle's actions in abducting her had placed him beyond even the Centre's twisted boundaries. He'd either lost his mind, come under the strong influence of another, or sold out to some other organization. Those were the only explanations Cassandra could come up with, but she had a nagging sensation that there was more to this situation than she was grasping. Lyle wasn't acting at all like the Lyle she knew, loathed, and feared.
"What is this about, Lyle?" Cassandra finally asked. They'd been driving for over an hour by then and she was tired of pretending everything was fine.
"It's a surprise." Lyle laughed a little wildly and pressed his foot harder on the accelerator.
Cassandra kept her face impassive and slipped back into a contemplative silence. Lyle's bizarre behavior was deeply unsettling, and more frightening than his openly psychopathic personality. The thought that he was somehow under the influence of something grew stronger. It was almost, she admitted to herself, as if someone else was controlling his mind. However Cassandra, more than anyone, knew how very difficult true mind control was, so she dismissed the idea that some "super-telepath" was behind this scenario almost as soon as it occurred to her.
A thread of fear coiled in her stomach as she realized that if the intent of this abduction was to hurt Raines that, sooner or later, she'd probably end up hurt or dead herself. She knew that with Annie dead she was the closest thing to a daughter Raines had. Since his wife had left him shortly after Annie's death, Cassandra was the only human left that Raines truly cared about----even though he tried to hide that affection from everyone around him.
His pretense, however, had been pretty much blasted away when he'd stormed into the interrogation room and rescued her from Mutumbo and his pet torturer. His gentle care and attention after that rescue, while she'd pretended to regress to a child's mentality, had further destroyed his image as the cold and sadistic monster of the Centre. Since her "recovery" a few weeks ago, she and Raines had enjoyed a new level of almost open affection. Cassandra had even begun to hope that Raines might just be able to loosen up and be pleasant to the other people around him, but now she feared she'd simply never see him again at all.
It had been two weeks since Mutumbo took him and Mr. Parker away, and fear gnawed at her daily. Miss Parker, who'd started to recover from her gunshot wound, had vanished shortly after Mr. Parker, increasing her worries. Broots was even more timid than usual, and Sydney's usually soothing tones had an undercurrent of anxiety that made Cassandra almost want to cry. Now this! She rubbed her temples tiredly, wondering why she hadn't left with Jarod when he'd asked her----well, his almost immediate re-capture had indicated that her decision was wise. The second time she'd been unable to ferret out his whereabouts, and with Lyle in charge, too afraid to try.
The result of her inability to help her friend, however, had been sleepless nights, vivid nightmares that were either projected from Jarod or were the product of her link with him while Lyle tormented the man he hated so. In that respect, she was almost relieved to be out of the Centre. She no longer felt her friend's torment this far away and she was ashamed of what a relief it was.
Lyle had finally turned off the main roads and was now slowly easing his pretty sports car along a long gravel road. Cassandra strained to peek into his mind for a hint of what he was seeing; the slightest clue of where he might be taking her, but had pulled that strange curtain across his thoughts again. She was too unnerved by the presence of a psychic shield in someone who had always been firmly non-psychic to attempt to breach that barrier. Frankly, she was afraid of the power that could disguise such an ability, and until she knew if that power came from Lyle or some other entity, she was going to avoid the shield around his mind. Finally the car jolted to a stop and Lyle turned off the engine.
"C'mon, girl." He ordered carelessly, swinging out of the car and heading away from it without waiting for her.
She left the car and listened intently, wondering where she was and what was going to happen next. She didn't dare leave the side of the car. She'd left her staff in her room and without someone else's eyes to look through she was as helpless as any other blind person was.
"What the hell are you waiting for?" Lyle demanded irritably from a few feet away to her right.
"I am blind, Mr. Lyle." Cassandra reminded him with quiet dignity. "If I do not have a guide I can not find my way anywhere."
"Damn, useless, snooping female!" Lyle muttered angrily to himself as he retraced his steps. He grabbed her arm roughly and pulled her along behind him, ignoring the way she stumbled and faltered over the uneven terrain.
Cassandra could tell they were in a wooded area because she could hear the leaves of the trees whispering in the night breeze. She smelled only rich earth and growing things, so she suspected that they were far away from civilization. After several long minutes of travel, impatient on Lyle's part and uncertain on her own, he hauled her up onto a porch. Since he hadn't warned her, she'd fallen over the first step, but his grasp on her arm merely tightened and he literally dragged her up onto the porch and through the door of the building.
Once inside the building, which smelled of dust, mildew, and neglect, he dropped her unceremoniously onto the floor and continued further inside. He was obviously confident that her blindness would keep her from attempting to escape in his absence.
His confidence wasn't misplaced, Cassandra reflected regretfully as she rubbed the bruises she could feel forming on her legs and shins. After a few moments, though, her curiosity got the better of her discomfort and she climbed to her feet. Arms stretched cautiously in front of her she located the hallway wall and carefully made her way further into the house, following the direction that Lyle had taken.
"Well, don't leave her by the door!" She heard an impatient female voice declare as she passed by a door left only slightly ajar. She halted instantly, knowing they were discussing her, and listened avidly.
"She's blind." Lyle supplied cheerfully. "She can't go anywhere without help. Why, I could have even left the keys in the car!"

"You fool! Blind and helpless are not the same! Get her in here, now! Besides, *he* wants to see her." The woman's voice was sharp with irritation, but Cassandra suspected that when she wasn't angry it would be husky and seductive.
"No need, Mr. Lyle." Cassandra chose to make her presence known rather than wait to be found eavesdropping. "I found my way here all by myself."
She could almost see the two whirling to face her as she pushed open the door and moved to stand in the doorway. All of her senses, including her paranormal abilities, were stretched to the fullest, trying to pick up every possible hint of information about her situation. This room smelled clean and cared for. She detected the lemony scent of most wood polishes and by the lack of echoes deduced that it was furnished as well.
"Why, Lyle!" The woman's voice magically became just as husky and enticing as Cassandra had anticipated. "You didn't tell me our guest was so pretty! *And* independent." She didn't sound too happy about the independent part.
Cassandra smiled brightly in the woman's direction, putting on her most effective air of naive innocence. The woman only added to her general unease---like Lyle she was shielded in a way that Cassandra wasn't accustomed to encountering.
"I'm Cassandra." She offered with the quiet hesitancy that so often awakened the protective instincts of the people around her. The instant the woman took her outstretched hand to shake it, though, Cassandra knew that this one wasn't going to feel protective of anyone but herself. The woman was cold----colder even than Lyle, who at least had a vulnerable, damaged side that he hid from the world.
"Hello, sweetie!" The woman didn't shake her hand so much as stroke it. The avidly sensual impressions Cassandra picked up from her touch prompted her to withdraw her hand almost instantly. She remained almost painfully alert as the woman circled her assessingly.
"Oh, I *do* hope *he* lets me play with her!" She finally declared, sending a shudder of dread down Cassandra's spine.
Angelo, I was wrong! She thought with a mixture of panic and belated regret. Please come rescue me! She knew, however, that Angelo was too far away to hear her hopeless thoughts. For better or worse, Cassandra was on her own.
"Look, Pearl," Lyle interrupted the woman impatiently. "Let's deliver her so I can go home and catch a couple of hours sleep before I report to Headquarters."
"Who is this *he* you keep referring to?" Cassandra demanded impatiently and with more than a touch of fear. "What are you trying to achieve?"
"*He* is the man who will decide if you live or die, and how painful either will be for you." Lyle responded with a certain relish.
"Bring her." The Pearl declared impatiently at the same time.
"Look, why don't you go ahead and take her to *him*." Lyle suggested with a casualness that didn't fool either Cassandra or his companion. Cassandra caught the strong undercurrent of fear running through his mind.
"I've got to clear my things from my apartment before they come looking for me." He added with the barest hint of hope in his voice. Cassandra felt icy tendrils of panic curl around her heart at the fear in Lyle. Anyone who frightened Lyle was doubtlessly going to terrify her!
"No, darling, *he* wants to see you both." The woman purred with an anticipation that fed Cassandra's rising dread.
Lyle took out some of his frustration and obvious anxiety on Cassandra by grabbing her roughly by the arm again and moving swiftly through a door in the back of the room and down a long flight of stairs. His uneasiness made him move even faster than he had for their trip through the woods, and in far too short of a time for Cassandra's peace of mind he halted in front of another door, one made of metal this time, and knocked sharply.
"Enter!" The voice that sounded that command was one of the featureless, electronic voices produced by certain voice synthesizers.
"Here she is, Sir." Lyle's deference shocked Cassandra to the core. He wasn't that respectful even to Raines!
"Excellent!" That artificial voice declared. "Bring her in, under the light, where I can see her."
Lyle obliged silently, dragging the suddenly numb Cassandra behind him. Cassandra noted that the strange woman, Pearl, had remained behind. Was she afraid of this man too?
"So, you are my good friend Raines' charge." He mused hollowly. "He will be most distressed to find you missing, won't he?"
"I doubt it." Cassandra contradicted him through fear tightened lips. "I am only one of his projects." She didn't even think to mention that Raines no longer resided at the Centre.
She sensed a sudden movement in the man beside her and the stumbled backwards at the force of the slap Lyle gave her.
"Don't lie to *him*!" Lyle hissed venomously. "*He* knows when you do."
Cassandra recovered her balance, her hand covering the stinging cheek.
"Now, girl, let's try it again." The eerily inhuman voice said again. "Raines' will be grieved by your loss, won't he?"
Cassandra nodded her head dumbly.
"That's better." *He* chuckled breathlessly. "Now, Lyle," *He* paused expectantly.
"Yes, Sir?" Cassandra's tender heart was touched by the obvious apprehension in Lyle's voice. It didn't matter in that moment that he'd abducted her and brought her to what was certain to be an unpleasant fate. He was genuinely terrified---so afraid that his shield had vanished and Cassandra could sense his mind literally retreating in anticipation of *his* next words. Who was this *he*? And what had *he* done to Lyle to make the man so easily anxious?
"I've decided that I want you to keep your cover for a while longer. I've heard that you are now the acting head of the Centre---a fact that might work to my advantage." Did she detect an undercurrent of pleasure from that unknown entity at Lyle's fear?
"But how can I do that? I was seen leaving with Cassandra. Even though Big Mutumbo wasn't happy with her, he'll be angered by her disappearance." Lyle protested feebly, seeming to suspect that he wasn't going to enjoy what was coming next.
"Quite easily, boy. She was abducted from your attentive care. You fought valiantly, but they overwhelmed you." The voice explained coldly. "Besides, I am not pleased by your reticence in the matter of your promotion, *or* your attitude of carelessness. The girl could have easily escaped when you left her unattended, blind or not. She has *extra* abilities."
Did Lyle actually whimper? Cassandra wondered where her compassion for Lyle was coming from. True, he'd never actually hurt her, but she knew what a monster he could be. He'd been well trained by Raines----or had he? Just when had this *he* gotten *his* hands on Lyle, anyway? Obviously it had been long enough to mold Lyle into an obedient servant, far more obedient than he was to Raines. Then she sensed the presence of two more people, and wondered what was interfering with her empathic ability?
"Yes, Sir." Lyle sighed now with weary resignation. Cassandra heard the two men bracket Lyle and then the three men walked out of the room, Lyle's footsteps lagging ever so slightly. She had to restrain herself from running after Lyle and begging for protection, or, oddly enough, offering it. He may have sounded resigned, but now that he'd dropped the curtain he'd somehow drawn across mind she could sense his stronger emotions. He was dreading whatever had been planned.
"You, girl!" *He* turned his attention to Cassandra as the door closed behind Lyle and the other two men.
"Yes?" She asked quietly, her mask of neutrality firmly in place as she pulled her head up to face the man fully, even though she couldn't see him.
"What is your name?"
"Cassandra." The man sighed, sending more shivers of fear through Cassandra.
"Pearl!" *He* called out. Cassandra felt the door open again and sensed the icy presence of the strange woman from the outer room in the house.
"Please help this young lady to understand the error of lying in answer to my questions." *He* ordered unemotionally. Cassandra was suddenly doubled over in agony as Pearl punched her in the abdomen without warning.
"Your name, girl." *He* demanded again. Cassandra straightened up slowly.
"My name is now Cassandra." She answered firmly, rolling with the backhanded fist Pearl gave her at her insolence. "I have been Cassandra since Raines brought me to the Centre."
For several long moments the only sound to be heard was Pearls hands and feet connecting with Cassandra's helpless body. Cassandra had fallen to the floor the second time Pearl hit her in the stomach and she lay there, curled into a defensive ball until the man called a halt.
"Are you going to answer the question?" *He* asked mildly.
"I did." Cassandra gasped, trying to control the helpless sobs that coursed through her. This was worse than Jarod's interrogation!
"No, Pearl." The man stopped whatever she was about to do. "It would appear that the devotion goes both ways. She's chosen to accept his name for her, and that is that----at least for now."
Cassandra realized, as she lay there, that the strange man hated her for some reason. Because she loved Raines? No, because Raines loved her in return. Why hate her for being a surrogate daughter to him? The hatred, though, brought an entirely new level of meaning to this abduction. It wasn't just Raines that this person was after----*he* was getting some sort of a twisted revenge on Cassandra as well!
She thought she heard a growl of displeasure issue from the Pearl, but *he* began speaking again, ignoring her anger. Cassandra hurt too badly to try and even sit up, so she lay there, wrestling with the pain and a growing desperate fear. Whatever *he* had planned, it was sure to involve far more pain and torture than even her years at the Centre had exposed her to. Could she remain herself through what was coming?
How did Jarod survive with his mind intact for so many years at the Centre? She asked herself desperately, looking for any grain of hope, no matter how small. Unfortunately, she was convinced that Jarod survived solely because Sydney protected him, and she had no Sydney here.
"You know that Raines is not worthy of your loyalty." *He* told her casually.
Cassandra shook her head in mute denial, opting not to speak.
"Well, if I could convince Lyle of the truth, I'm sure I can convince one small, insignificant, and helpless woman." The man sighed again, as though his life was too difficult to bear. "Pearl, take her to her room. She can stay there until I decide to begin her education."
Cassandra climbed shakily to her feet, pushing off Pearl's helping hand. She was more afraid than she had ever been in her life, but she was determined not to show it. Partially, it was to bolster her own flagging courage, but in another way it was out of respect and loyalty for Dr. Raines. Her actions now would reflect on his care of her, and she wanted them to be a good reflection.
She almost felt like she was back in the lower levels of the Centre as Pearl led her deeper and deeper into the concrete maze under the abandoned farmhouse. Pearl opened another metal door---No lock. Cassandra noted with interest---and ushered her into what was undoubtedly a cell. The room echoed emptily, letting her know that it was basically a concrete box.
Cassandra ignored her aching body and forced herself to make a minute inspection of the cell. A chemical toilet graced one corner, a narrow, hard cot with a woolen blanket pushed against the far wall, and the rest of the 10' by 12' room was utterly bare. She felt over every inch of the concrete walls, determining that there were no windows, no other exits, not even a chair for furniture. The door, even without a lock, was useless to her. She could open it easily enough, the same way she'd opened the locked door to Jarod's cell just a few weeks earlier, but where would she go? She didn't know her way around this place! What she needed was a hiding place where she could remain safely undetected until someone from the Centre showed up to rescue her. She had no doubt that someone would come, eventually, and she wanted to still be herself and not "re-educated" when they did.
She'd inspected everything she could think of and she could no longer ignore the pain coursing through her body. She made her way to the narrow cot and lay down on it, breathing a shallow little sigh of relief as she relaxed and her abused muscles stopped screaming at her.
Oh, Angelo! She mourned inwardly. Why did I not listen to you? I should have known that you know Lyle better than I could ever hope to!
Cass sad. Cass hurt. She thought she heard the barest echo of Angelo's voice in her mind. Angelo go. Sydney help.
Cassandra didn't know if that quiet voice was the product of her own desperate desire not to be alone, or if somehow, by some miracle, Angelo truly had connected with her.
Hurry, Angelo. She thought, letting the not inconsiderable energy generated by her fear go into that thought. I am really scared and I need my friends. She wanted to believe that somehow Angelo knew her need and that help was on the way, but she really didn't know who was left at the Centre who would even care about her absence.
Her skeptical view on rescue proved to be accurate. She lost track of how long she was down there. Later that day there was a commotion, people bustling around, shouting and even a few screams. In the days that followed she was all but forgotten. Someone would occasionally remember to deliver some food to her, but she was otherwise ignored completely.
She wasn't unhappy to be reprieved from further visits with the mysterious *he* and she occupied her time in regaining her strength and flexibility from the beating Pearl had given her. She also spent a great deal of time trying to figure out just how she was going to escape this place. She hashed out plan after plan, but every plan snagged on the rocks of her blindness. She could leave the cell easily enough, but once out she was helpless. She needed a guide, an ally, that was all there was to it.
She also spent far more time than she was happy with worrying about Raines and Miss Parker. If only she could have figured out what was going on at the Centre this time, she mourned inwardly. She didn't know if her beloved friends would ever return, and that was more painful than her healing bruises. Sometimes she reached out to Angelo, sure she could almost feel him, but if she did then he was preoccupied and unable to answer.
She had no idea what day, or even what time of day it was when she was awakened from a light doze by angry voices and the sounds of people rushing around down the hall from her cell. She immediately wondered if rescue had finally come. It only took a few minutes of careful listening to determine that the noises had nothing to do with her. Someone had entered the compound, and that person was the recipient of a lot of hostile attention, but the newcomer couldn't have been there to rescue her because no one came to check on her.
She waited, listening with the keen hearing developed from years of blindness, and heard Pearl's husky voice delivering orders. Then she heard Pearl's unmistakable light footsteps moving away, followed by the dull thuds of fists landing on flesh. The victim remained silent, except for a few grunts of pain until Cassandra distinctly heard one man tell the other to lay off.
"He's passed out, Tom, leave him be." The man repeated in a reasonable tone of voice. "She didn't say to kill him, just teach him a lesson."
"I owe him!" Tom snarled back, "Pearl had me "disciplined" for letting him get away three days ago."
"She'll have you disciplined again if you kill him. He's still valuable to us."
Apparently the voice of reason won out, because Cassandra heard the two men move away from the cell area. A low moan of pain floated down the hall after the men were out of earshot, an then came a dead silence that Cassandra found unnerving. She listened closely and was rewarded with the sound of someone moving freely about.
Who's that? She wondered, knowing she was the only prisoner currently being held in this area. The poor man they beat up won't be able to move easily for days, at least!
"Pssst! Hey, you!" Cassandra turned her head slowly at the hissing, youthful call from the barred, open window in the door.
"What's your name?" The voice was oddly youthful and deep at the same time. Cassandra had a nagging feeling that she knew the owner of that voice, but she couldn't quite place it.
Where'd he come from? She wondered briefly.
"I am called Cassandra." She admitted quietly, unwilling to risk drawing attention to them with a louder voice. "Who are you?"
"I'm Bobby." He whispered back conspiratorially.
"Bobby?" Cassandra repeated thoughtfully, trying to nail down the pressing feeling of familiarity. "Do I know you?"
"Of course not!" The newcomer answered like a scornful boy. "What's the matter? You blind or something?"
"Yes." Cassandra admitted with a slight smile, moving over to the door. "As a matter of fact, I am blind. What are you doing here?"
"I don't know." The boy answered with casual unconcern. "Sometimes I wake up in really strange places."
"Why do you suppose that is?" Cassandra probed gently, reaching out tentatively with her mind to touch the boy speaking to her.
"Say, who gave you that shiner?" He ignored her question, but Cassandra found it almost frighteningly easy to slip into his mind and see his thoughts. Especially after the shielded minds that had surrounded her since she'd come to this strange place.
"I think her name is Pearl."
Cassandra was amazed at the response her words brought out in the boy. Like a door opening in a basement she caught a glimpse of a shadowy, menacing figure in a throne-like chair and a pale blond woman with icy blue eyes. Then, in a quick kaleidoscope of emotions and images she saw Raines, an older woman with a worried frown, Miss Parker, glaring coldly, a man who seemed at least 7 feet tall looming with his arm upraised threateningly, and with each face came a burst of violent emotion. Raines brought forth anger and loss, the woman a mixture of wistful love and disdain, Miss Parker inspired anger, a feeling of rejection, and suppressed longing for acceptance, finally, the man brought forth only feelings of rage and hate, followed by a savage feeling of satisfaction.
"Nope, don't know her." The boy said cheerfully, the door to his chaotic inner mind slamming shut firmly. Cassandra was astonished to realize that the boy truly didn't know Pearl. She sensed the presence, however, of some other entity that did know, not just Pearl, but all of the players in the boy's memory. That entity lurked quietly in the shadows of Bobby's mind.
"Do you want me to open the door for you?" He asked with artless generosity.
"Well, if you want to you can come in." Cassandra answered doubtfully, "but I think it would be better if I stay here for a while longer."
She retreated back to the cot, the man, or very large boy, following her. She seated herself and he sat down next to her, making the cot groan ominously.
"So, how do you get around? If you're blind?" That oddly youthful man's voice asked with the bluntness of youth.
"I use my other senses. I listen and feel and smell things around me better than most sighted people." Cassandra answered, her mind racing with a truly unpleasant suspicion even as she spoke. "Would you mind if I tried to "see" your face with my hands?"
She was half-convinced now, that she knew the identity of this strange man-child, but she didn't have the slightest clue of what she would do with the information if she confirmed it.
"Sure." He answered easily
Gently, with a feather-light touch, she ran her fingers over his face, feeling the fine, almost chiseled features of an extremely attractive man and the bristly hairs of an adult man's beard. She also felt the swollen flesh on his right cheekbone, the sure indication of a fresh bruise, and a moist, rough line coming from his lower lip that indicated it had been split by some blow. He seemed not to notice them, or the pain even her gentle touch should have generated.
"That tickles." He was his only complaint, made with a cross between a chuckle and a giggle.
"Mmmm, yes, I have been told that before." Cassandra answered absently, trying mentally to connect with the lurker in the stranger's mind.
{Who are you?} She demanded privately of the shadowed being.
{I'm part of him.} He answered easily, moving further back in the recesses of his mind.
{And who is he?}
The shadow laughed mockingly.
{You know who we are.} He responded firmly. {You just don't want to accept it.) The other faded silently into the dark, hidden places in Bobby's mind until Cassandra no longer had anything to direct her questions to, even though she knew he was still there.
"Hello, *Lady*." The boy protested loudly, drawing Cassandra's attention back to her external senses.
"I am sorry, Bobby." Cassandra answered easily, pushing aside her persistent sense of being off balance. "Did you say something I missed?"
"Yeah." The cot shifted as he got up and started pacing restlessly. "I asked if you knew where we are? When I tried to go outside all I could see were trees and old buildings."
"No, Bobby, I am afraid I do not know where we are." Cassandra murmured softly. "But if you were outside, why did you not get away?"
"How can I get away if I don't know where to go?" He asked practically. "Besides, I don't like it at home. I'm in no hurry to get back."
"How old are you?" Cassandra wanted to know.
"I'm almost thirteen." He answered proudly.
"I see." Cassandra paused, at a loss for words. What do you say to a 12-year-old man?
"Why don't you want to get away from here?" Bobby wanted to know. "I wouldn't want to hang around where I got hit."
"No, I do not wish to stay, either." She told him honestly. "But I am afraid we would get caught and in more trouble since neither of us knows where we are."
"But---" Cassandra cut him off with an upraised hand, listening intently.
"Bobby, someone is coming. Is there a shadow or a corner you can hide in?" Her answer was a nearly silent rustle of clothing. Moments later she heard the husky tones of Pearl and the deeper responses of an unknown man.
The door! Cassandra realized suddenly, reaching out with her limited telekinetic ability to close it fully. If Pearl found it partially open she'd be sure to search the cell. Cassandra didn't want Bobby found.
"Where the hell is he?" She heard Pearl shriek from down the hall.
"I-I don't know, Ma'am." The man was plainly terrified. "I don't know how he could be gone, he was in pretty bad shape when I finally pulled Tom off of him. You know how excited Tom can get about his work."
"Well, someone had better find him! *He* won't be pleased if I have to tell him his pet has vanished a second time this week! If you don't locate him quickly it'll be you're asses in a sling, not mine." She pulled up in front of Cassandra's cell and looked in briefly.
"The girl is here and the door is locked---so that's all right. You have exactly 30 minutes to find the playboy before I send you in to explain to *him*." There was an inarticulate noise of protest and then the sound of swiftly retreating footsteps.
"So, pretty girl." Pearl's purred from the doorway. "You've had a bit of a reprieve. Did you rethink your loyalty to the old ghoul? You're dead either way, the question is do you want to die fast and easy, or slow and painful? I *do* hope you stick to your Pollyanna principles, since I'm the one who gets to kill you." She chuckled at the thought.
"Who is *he*?" Cassandra asked in the steadiest voice she could muster. "And why does he want to hurt Dr. Raines so bad?"
"You know what Raines is capable of." Pearl countered easily. "The real question is how you could possibly feel any affection for the creep."
"He took care of me." Cassandra answered simply. "And he has no one else."
"So, you're one of those bleeding heart types. Take in strays and orphaned waifs?"
"No. That is not exactly an option for me." She admitted wryly. "Yes, I know what Raines is and what he has done, but he is still the man who raised me and provided for me and, in his own way, cared about me. I will not be turned against him."
"Honey, you have no clue what *he* can do to change your mind."
"Pearl, I am an adult, not an impressionable child. *He* will not change my feelings. Besides, if I'm to die either way, what does it matter how I feel about Dr. Raines?"

"There is the faintest possibility that you could save your life, little girl. If you renounce Raines and throw in with us *he* might even let you escape to serve us from within the Centre." Cassandra thought she heard the tiniest hint of pleading in the woman's harsh tones, and wondered what that was about. Was she not the sadistic monster Cassandra had originally believed?
"That would be quite a trick to explain, seeing that I am blind." Cassandra pointed out, shelving her questions. It didn't really matter if Pearl preferred not to torture her, she wasn't willing to turn on the man who'd raised her, and that was final.
"I do hope that *he* lets me help in your *reeducation* before we kill you." Pearl hissed malevolently, angry that her offer had been thrown back in her face.
"Why are you here, anyway?" Cassandra asked curiously. "If this *he* is as cruel as I suspect *he* rivals anything Raines is guilty of. Why would you help *him* and attack Raines?"
"That is none of your business." The woman bit off abruptly. "I'll see you later." She added in an obvious attempt to instill fear in Cassandra.
However, all Cassandra felt was the conviction that Pearl's hasty retreat was due to ambivalence raised in Pearl's mind by her innocent question. She still couldn't 'read' Pearl, or anyone else in the compound unless she was touching them directly. But in Pearl's case this was due to a raging river of emotions that swirled around her innermost self like a deadly moat. Cassandra wasn't ready to brave that maelstrom of feeling yet.
"Lady, I think you should get out of here while the getting is good." Bobby whispered in subdued tones next to her.
So, 'Bobby' did not leave when danger threatened. I wonder why? If he is who I think he is, then he can not have spent more than an hour at a time with full consciousness before. Why did one of the others in his mind not take over and protect him from harm?
{Because the little wimp won't let us.} The oily, mocking voice another presence spoke clearly in Cassandra's mind. She was quite shocked---never before had anyone but Angelo actually initiated contact with her!
{Apparently he is quite taken with you.} The unpleasant personality added before fading.
{So Bobby is prime?} Cassandra asked cryptically.
{No, there's one more---even younger. But Bobby is the closest to prime, and the other never comes out---hasn't since the split.) The mental impression from this entity was calm and reasonable, unlike the first.
{What did this do to you?} She wondered, not really expecting an answer, and not getting one.
"Bobby." She said aloud, having made come to a decision. He couldn't be allowed to fall back into the hands of the mysterious *he*, especially not while Bobby was "out".
"I think you are right. I must escape this place before something worse happens to me. Will you help me?"
"All right!" Bobby cheered softly, mindful of the menacing people in the building, but confident of his ability to elude them once they left the cell. "Sure, I'll help."
"Can you get us outside without us being seen?"
"Of course. I know lots of ways in and out of here. It's a neat place to explore."
"Then let us go. I will have to figure out a plan of action but I think that can wait until after we are away from the building."
"Okay." Bobby agreed, accepting her position in charge with complete unconcern. It appeared he was more interested in the adventure than in the outcome.
Cassandra went to the door and placed her hand over the spot where a handle should have been. She'd been able to move the door earlier only because fear lent her strength. Now she had practically no mental reserves left so she needed to be as close to the object she was moving as possible. She focused, fearing at first that she didn't have the energy left to move the latch, but she received an unexpected infusion of strength from one of the strangers in Bobby's head just as she was about to give up.
{Thank you.} She silently sent to the other.
{Hey, I don't want to be here anymore than you do.} He responded with a gently mocking undertone. {Unlike Bobby, I feel the bruises.}
Interesting. Cassandra thought privately. I wonder how it is that Bobby doesn't?
With the help of her new friend, Bobby, Cassandra was able to exit the underground compound. She knew as soon as they were in the open that it was just before dawn. The air was cold and utterly still, but birds were beginning to chirp sleepily to each other, heralding an imminent sunrise.
"Bobby," She whispered, hoping there were no guards above ground. "Do you see a path or trail through the trees?"
"No, but I know where one is." He answered confidently.
"We need to follow it. I think it will lead us to a highway, eventually." She prompted quietly.
"Okay." Bobby agreed easily.
"Bobby?" Cassandra held him back a moment and he swung to face her.
"What?" He asked curiously.
"I just want to thank you, for helping me. You are very brave." Cassandra told him quietly. Before she could think twice about it she placed a quick kiss on his cheek.
"Oh! Um, that's okay." Bobby answered with adolescent embarrassment.
Cassandra smiled in the darkness. She wanted to heal the fractured mind in the man before her. Some of the personalities she'd already encountered were quite nice, and she knew that life in general would be easier if she could get more of them incorporated into his daily personality. She knew, however, that to accomplish her goal that she had to encourage Bobby to remain in control. She could access some of the others in his mind that way, whereas before she'd never even suspected that the others existed. But he'd apparently taken enough of a liking to her to remain present through at least one close brush with discovery, which was a good sign.
{What about me?} The shadow entity's amused voice purred in her mind. {Do I get a kiss too? I'd enjoy it more than him, I promise.}
{Certainly NOT.} Cassandra responded indignantly. {You have been no help at all!}
{I helped you open the door. I've kept Lyle from returning.} He offered with feigned hurt. {The boy could never keep him down by himself.}
{Why?} Cassandra demanded. {Why help Bobby now?}
{Because I like him more than Lyle. And I like you too.} He added meaningfully before fading away again.
Cassandra's cheeks heated at that silent exchange. She might be close to thirty, (she wasn't sure how old she'd been when Raines discovered her although she knew she was closer to Angelo's age than Jarod and Miss Parker), but she'd lived a very sheltered life. This man, a man who was more pure mind than flesh, was her first experience with flirtation and flattery. She wasn't sure yet if she liked it.
She slowly pulled her awareness back to the present, realizing that she was hurrying behind Bobby down the same trail she'd come up with Lyle. She stretched out her senses, focusing on the area in front of them, searching for any guards or searchers. As far as she could tell it was deserted.
"Don't worry." Bobby assured her in a low voice. "The guards are all closer to the farmhouse."
Cassandra faltered, realizing that Bobby had picked up on her mental search. Her grip on his shoulder tightened and he slowed down until she regained her balance.

"Tell me when you see a car, okay?" She whispered breathlessly. She considered herself in decent shape, but she wasn't in any condition to be rushing through woodland paths. On the other hand, she wouldn't even consider asking Bobby to slow down.
"What an AWESOME car!" She heard Bobby gloat moments later.
"I believe Mr.----um, my friend is quite proud of it." Cassandra assured Bobby dryly. "Do you know how to drive?"
"A little." Bobby admitted modestly. "Do you think your friend would mind, though?"
"Oh no." Cassandra assured him, loving the irony. "He would be perfectly happy for you to borrow his car long enough to get us to safety."
"Sweet!" Bobby enthused, pulling the car keys from his pockets without a moments thought as to how they got there in the first place. He helped Cassandra into the passenger side and bounced over to the driver's side. Within moments they were crawling slowly down the neglected track towards the highway.
Cassandra remembered which way they'd turned off of the highway, so she was able to start Bobby back the way they'd come, but she instructed him to pull off in the first city of any size they came across. Time seemed to slow down as she waited impatiently for him to tell her civilization was approaching but finally he announced the approach of the small town of Oakhaven a few miles ahead.
"Does the sign offer Gas, Food, and Lodgings?" Cassandra asked him.
"Yeah." Bobby confirmed.
"Good, I want to go to the lodgings place."
Twenty minutes later they pulled into a small, but well kept motel.
"Now what?" Bobby questioned.
"Do you have a wallet, Bobby?"
"Yes."
"Is there any money or are there any credit cards?"
"Wow!" Bobby exclaimed a moment later. "A hundred and fifty dollars! Where did I get that?"
"I believe our friend provided it. Would you give me a hundred, please? I'll pay you back later."
"Sure." Bobby agreed easily.
"Now, I need you to guide me to the office, but please let me do the talking to the manager."
"Okay." Bobby was a remarkably compliant companion, Cassandra noted. She decided that she liked him better than Mr. Lyle too.
The manager wasn't sure he wanted to give a room to two bruised and battered people, but Cassandra's gentle air of entreaty and her ready cash finally convinced him. He rented them an outside room with matching queen beds and promised not to tell anyone that he'd rented to them. Cassandra, surreptitiously monitoring his surface thoughts, believed him and she let Bobby lead her to their room with a feeling of relief.
"Now what?" Bobby asked, looking around the motel room with innocent curiosity.
"Now I have to contact my friends to come and get us." Cassandra announced firmly, wondering just how she was going to accomplish that.
{Hey, you! Shadow man!} She thought forcefully.
{You don't have to shout.} The stranger in Bobby's mind became slightly clearer to Cassandra's mental vision.
{I need your help.} Cassandra started without preamble.
{Do I get a kiss?} He teased slyly.
{Will you please be serious? I do not know what will happen if Pearl manages to find us, but I suspect it will be highly unpleasant for all of us. I believe you know a number that I can use to call the Centre for help---will you give it to me?}
{For a kiss.} He insisted with stubborn amusement. Cassandra wondered what Bobby was making of the wave of color sweeping over her face.
{How can you kiss me?} She demanded with desperate irritation. {You do not even come out of the shadows.}
{How do you think Lyle convinces women he's such a prize?} The stranger countered smoothly. {I'm his Romeo. Bobby will give me control for a few minutes---go ahead, what's one little kiss?}
{Oh, all right!} She conceded ungraciously. {But do not expect anything wonderful. I have never---}
A deep, rich laugh interrupted her.
"Of course you haven't." 'Romeo' said from Bobby's mouth. "You've been locked up in the Centre like a nun for most of your life." He went on in a husky whisper that sent shivers down Cassandra's spine. He place his hands on her shoulders, drawing her closer to him, sliding his hand slowly down her back as their bodies grew closer.
"But I know enough for both of us." He murmured gently before capturing Cassandra's lips for a long, slow kiss that made Cassandra feel hot and anxious, and weak and languorous at the same time.
"Oh my!" Cassandra stepped back on shaky legs as soon as he released her, raising a tentative hand to her lips as though she wasn't sure they belonged to her.
"Oh my indeed." 'Romeo' agreed, but he sounded a little shaken himself. Cassandra heard the sound of the phone being picked up and the beeping of numbers being dialed before 'Romeo' handed her the phone and stepped back. She still hadn't removed her fingers from her lips when Miss Parker's angry "What!" sounded over the line.
"Amiga?" She said uncertainly, her heart suddenly racing as she realized that her dear friend was all right.
"Cassandra? Where are you? Are you all right?" Miss Parker's harsh tones softened dramatically.
"I am at a motel, in Oakhaven. I do not know where Oakhaven is." Cassandra confessed shakily, fighting back the tears of relief. They spilled over, though when she heard Raines anxious voice demanded that Miss Parker tell him what was going on. They were both there! And they were both safe. Suddenly nothing else mattered.
"We're on our way!" Parker announced firmly, ignoring Raines completely. "Don't go anywhere---and if that snake Lyle is there tell him he'd better be gone before I arrive or this time I really will shoot him!" She clicked the phone firmly off, missing Cassandra's cry of, "Wait!".
"What is it?" The youthful tones told Cassandra that Bobby was in charge again. She ruthlessly suppressed the thread of disappointment that wound through her. ""Are you okay?"
"Yes, Bobby." She assured him with a watery smile. "They are on their way here. I think, though, that it might be a good idea if you were to wait on the bed farthest from the door."
"Why? Are they going to be mad at me?"
"Well, it might seem like they are mad at you, because you look very much like the man who took me away from them. They will understand, once I explain things to them, but until I do I think it would be best if I was between you and the door."
"Okay!" Bobby agreed fervently, going to the other bed and sitting nervously on it.
The two of the waited anxiously for the better part of an hour for help to arrive. Cassandra tried to keep her mind on checking the surrounding area for any suspicious people or on any suspicious "voids" and off of the remarkable sensations that grudging kiss had inspired. She failed miserably and she was aware of the smug amusement radiating from 'Romeo' within Bobby's mind.
{You just stay there.} She warned him ominously, fleeting thoughts of allowing Miss Parker to beat him up sliding quickly through her mind.
{You wouldn't let her hurt me.} He contradicted her confidently. {Besides, Bobby is in charge right now.}
{And he had better STAY in charge, comprende?}
She was so caught up in her mental duel with the elusive 'Romeo' that she missed the arrival of her friends completely. Her first clue was when Bobby grabbed her around the waist and cowered behind her defensively.
"Don't let her shoot me!" He begged earnestly. "You promised they wouldn't hurt me!"
Miss Parker's brow furrowed at Lyle's strange behavior and her ready stance with the gun faltered as she tried to process the scene of her ruthless brother cowering behind the much smaller woman.
"Wait, Miss Parker!" Cassandra called out immediately, patting the arm Lyle had locked around her waist comfortingly with one hand and holding the other out, palm forward, to halt her friend.
"This is not Lyle." She explained urgently.
"What?" Miss Parker demanded forcefully. "Are you INSANE, Cassandra? What did he do to you?"
"Miss Parker, this is your brother, Bobby." Cassandra repeated meaningfully. "He will be thirteen soon, he told me so. You would not wish to harm a young man, now would you?"
"You ARE insane." Miss Parker stated frigidly, her brows furrowing ominously.
"Don't let her hurt me!" Bobby pleaded desperately.
"Miss Parker, you know that I, of all people, would know the truth of a person's identity. I assure you, this is Bobby and he is not quite thirteen years old."
"Are you saying what I think you are saying?" Sydney asked smoothly removing Parker's gun from her now slack grasp. She simply stared in amazement as Cassandra, realizing the crisis was over, turned to comfort Bobby.
"It is all right now, Bobby." She soothed him gently, crouching down to gather him in a reassuring embrace. "She knows that you are not the bad man. It will be fine now, okay?"
"You said she's my sister!" Bobby protested resentfully. "I don't like her!"
Miss Parker's eyebrows shot up to her hairline at that remark but Cassandra prevented her from following up with a cutting insult by speaking first.
"She is a very nice person, Bobby, most of the time. She just thought that you were the man who hurt me and she wanted to protect me."
"How could she think I'm a bad man when I'm just a kid?"
"You are very big for your age." Cassandra answered lamely, trying not to get drawn into Sydney and 'Romeo's' amusement.
"Well, I don't want her near me." Bobby declared sulkily, finally allowing Cassandra to draw him upright.
"Miss Parker, Sydney," Cassandra said formally. "May I introduce you to Bobby. He helped me to escape from the people who kidnapped me."
"I am most pleased to meet you, Bobby." Sydney answered, his eyes directly on the boy looking out from Lyle's face. "We are very grateful that you saved our friend."
"Oh, I didn't do anything." Bobby mumbled shyly, making Miss Parker's brows rise again. "She's real nice."
"I want you to come home with me, Bobby." Cassandra asked him gently. "My friends and I want to help you the way you helped me."
"You ain't sending me home to him, are you?" Bobby demanded warily.
"No, Bobby. You never have to see Mr. Bowman again." Cassandra promised with complete confidence. "Why do you not allow Sydney to show you the vehicle that will return us to----um, home, while I have a private word with your sister?"
Miss Parker grumbled inaudibly while Sydney coaxed Bobby to follow him to the van waiting outside with frequent assurances that Cassandra would be following along shortly.
"What the HELL is that all about?" Parker exploded as soon as the door swung shut behind the two men.
"Your brother has multiple personalities." Cassandra answered simply.
"Oh, get real, Cassandra. We've known him day in and day out for what? Two years now? Surely we'd have noticed something by now? Hell, while you were out playing explorer Jarod locked the two of us in a shipping container for three days. I'm sure I would have noticed something then!"
"Apparently Lyle has been the dominant personality for many years now." Cassandra explained patiently. "I do not exactly know why Bobby came out tonight, but I think it has something to do with the beating he received from my captors. I imagine the thought of the Triumvirate's ire regarding Jarod's apparent escape might have helped matters along as well. I think further explanations should wait until we are all returned to the Centre. Please, Amiga," Cassandra added softly. "Be kind to him. He really is just a frightened little boy at the moment."
"I'm sorry Cassandra, but I don't believe a word of it." Miss Parker countered grimly, guiding Cassandra to the door. "He's just fooled you somehow."
"Amiga," Cassandra laughed. "Just how do you think your brother could fool me? I can feel his emotions, remember?"
"I don't know how." Parker muttered stubbornly. "But I know he did!"
Cassandra wisely let the subject drop, knowing that Miss Parker needed time to come to terms with this dramatic revelation. She and Sydney spent most of the journey back describing the Centre to Bobby. Miss Parker refrained from adding anything to the conversation. Only Cassandra knew what an effort it was for her to appear strong and healthy as she drove. Her back injury was healed on the surface, but the damaged muscle would take longer than a few weeks to finish recovering from the insult the bullet had inflicted.
When they finally arrived at the Centre Sydney insisted that Parker escort Cassandra and Bobby to the Centre's physician while he reported to Raines. He gave Parker a significant look as he added,
"Perhaps you could prepare her for her guardian's current frame of mind?"
Cassandra picked up on the concern that both he and Parker were feeling, not about Raines, but about her reaction to his condition.
"Did they hurt him?" She asked anxiously, ready to abandon Bobby and rush to the side of her surrogate father.
"Oh, Raines is feeling fine." Parker assured her dryly, guiding her firmly down the hall. "In fact, he's feeling *wonderful*."
"Amiga, please, what is wrong with him. I know there's something." Cassandra pressed worriedly.
"Really, Cass." Parker answered her sincerely this time. "He seems perfectly okay, it's just that----" She paused, weighing her words carefully. "Well, he seems to have found religion."
Cassandra was speechless, seeing in her friend's mind a replay of her encounter with Raines as he spoke with the Priest from the local parish.
"No he didn't." She finally managed to say. "That is not how Dr. Raines would *ever* act. They did something to him!" Parker and Bobby both patted a shoulder as she began to cry again.
The Centre doctor was astonished when he received the x-rays he'd had ordered at Cassandra's insistence and discovered that Bobby was suffering from a fractured right arm and three cracked ribs. He couldn't believe that Bobby wasn't feeling any pain and Cassandra didn't feel up to the challenge of explaining multiple personalities to him. All she really cared about at the moment was getting to her guardian and assessing the damage to his mind for herself.
Because Lyle had been battered so badly by the two thugs at the farmhouse, and because Bobby apparently couldn't feel the pain of the injuries he'd sustained, it was decided that he should spend the night in the medical wing under observation.
"But I don't want to stay here alone!" Bobby protested when Cassandra told him of the doctor's orders.
"The doctor will give you some medicine to help you sleep." Cassandra explained. "And I will stay with you until you fall asleep." She promised reluctantly, knowing that Bobby's need was more urgent than Raines'. "Then I have to go and talk to Dr. Raines and some other people, but I will come back before you wake up, I promise." She firmly suppressed the anxious thought that a good night's rest might bring Mr. Lyle back to the fore.
"You'll come back?" Bobby pleaded, clutching her hand tightly.
"I promise." She walked with him to the room that the doctor had assigned him, talked to him through the door while he changed into a pair of pajamas in the tiny bathroom. She handed him the small red pills, wondering why the sight of them brought forth amusement from some of the other personalities in his mind, and then sat beside his bed, holding his hand and humming a tune from her childhood while he drifted off.
"I definitely deserve a kiss for this." He said in an unexpectedly coherent voice just as Cassandra was ready to release his hand and go reassure her guardian of her well being.
"You let him go to sleep!" Cassandra scolded fiercely. "I must go see Dr. Raines."
"He IS asleep, out like a light. Just one kiss?" He pleaded charmingly. "To sleep on?"
"No!" She answered firmly. "And what are you doing here anyway?"
"Trying to steal a kiss." He confessed unrepentantly. He laughed, low and sexy, as she blushed.
"Well that is not going to happen again." Cassandra avowed defensively. "So why do you not just go to sleep too, and let me be about my business?"
"I can't." He admitted simply. "If I do then Lyle might come back out. Will you come back after your meeting and keep me company, at least?"
"I already promised Bobby I would return." Cassandra answered evasively, rising to her feet. He caught at her hand, halting her flight.
"I really DO deserve a kiss, you know. I've kept Lyle away almost all night." He coaxed seductively, and then, surprising Cassandra, he released her hand.
She sighed with mock tiredness. In actuality his touch had charged her senses and filled her with nervous energy, but she didn't want him to know that.
"You know more about me than is fair." She accused before reaching out and locating his face. She leaned over, intending to give him a quick peck on the cheek, but 'Romeo' wasn't having it. His good arm snaked out, capturing her neck, and he drew her down into another long, toe-tingling kiss.
"Don't forget to come back after your meeting." He murmured enticingly into her ear before releasing her again.
She hurried away, cheeks pink and heart pounding far too fast. She wondered how she could even find a splinter personality of Lyle's attractive, or how she could be so swept away with her emotions when Dr. Raines had suffered through something so traumatic that his current reactions astounded the unflappable Sydney and the self-contained Parker.
A Centre aide guided Cassandra to Sydney's office. That was where Raines had waited impatiently for Sydney and Miss Parker to return. As soon as she steeped through the door Raines enveloped her in a fierce hug, which she returned with all of the love within her heart.
"I was afraid I'd lost you too." Raines murmured in her ear before releasing her, his eyes suspiciously moist. "Thank God you've been returned safely!"
"I am fine, Sir." She assured him warmly as he held her an arm's length away to examine her carefully. Observing the dark circles under her eyes, scrapes and bruises on her face, arms and legs, and the ruined condition of her dress he contradicted her firmly.
"No, you aren't. I don't know who is behind your abduction, but with God as my witness I swear I will find them and destroy them!" He vowed fervently. Cassandra frowned, picking up on the preprogrammed references to the Lord. He seemed almost normal, except that he was now firmly convinced that working for the Centre was a divine calling from God above. Why had they done this to him? Was it because of his defiance of Mutumbo?
He pulled her close to his side, sliding a protective arm around her shoulders. Cassandra let her head rest tiredly on his shoulder for a moment, relishing the sensation of being cherished and guarded, even if it was only possible because of whatever they'd done to his mind. It was only for a moment, though, before she forced herself to straighten up and address the questions that needed to be answered.
"I'm afraid I do not know who is behind this, Sir." She told him regretfully, somehow making "Sir" into a term of affection. "I could not penetrate the barriers around the leader's mind or his followers. But I know he specifically targeted me to hurt you. This is personal; the leader wanted to hurt you badly."
"If you hadn't returned to me he would have." Rains admitted in a barely audible voice. "But God has returned you to my care!" He added in a hearty voice that fell flat in the sudden silence of the room.
Cassandra opened her mouth, driven to ask him why he was being so artificial, but before she could speak the door to the office was flung open and a young woman burst in.
"Sydney, I---" she broke off abruptly as she realized that the small office was filled with people. Her gray eyes went wide, and then her face became utterly neutral, as she recognized Raines. Cassandra was surprised to feel distinct impressions of suspicion relating to her, too. As far as she knew, she'd never met this girl, so why was she anxious about her presence in the room?
The girl was just about to apologize for disrupting the meeting when Raines turned to Sydney and in a voice dripping with acid demanded to know why Sydney kept an open door policy here in the Centre.
"You know that you compromise Centre interests when you allow just anyone to run in and out at will." He chided with heavy self-righteousness.
Miss Parker and the newcomer bristled, raising their chins defiantly in identically challenging angles. Miss Parker moved closer to the girl, placing a hand that was proprietary and protective at the same time, on her shoulder and fixed a glare on her father. Cassandra merely blushed with the shame she felt for her guardian.
"Actually, I was expecting Madeline this morning." Sydney interjected quickly, staving off a major eruption from Miss Parker.
Cassandra couldn't resist the temptation so she quickly peeked through Raines' eyes at the girl. Tall with a lushly curved figure, she was only a few inches shorter than Miss Parker. Her straight dark brown hair swinging slightly just below her chin, in a flattering pageboy cut. The girl stood ramrod straight, but with a loose, youthful grace. Her gray eyes seemed large on a triangular, almost pixyish face, but a hint of a cleft in the chin indicated a stubborn will.
The girl, while seeming poised and calm on the outside, seethed with anxiety and suspicion, pushing Cassandra's protective buttons. She smiled warmly at the girl, silently declaring her status as a potential friend, and was surprised and faintly hurt at the renewed suspicion her overture sparked. A moment's deeper probing, however, revealed that it was her proximity and obvious good standing with Raines that prompted her negative emotions. As much as that saddened Cassandra she understood the response.
"Sydney," Cassandra suggested on impulse, suddenly needing to be out of this room and away from her strangely changed mentor. "Perhaps it would be helpful for 'Bobby' if someone closer to his age was around when he woke up."
"That is an excellent notion, Cassandra." Sydney jumped on the idea enthusiastically. "In fact, I believe that Madeline and Bobby will find they have quite a bit in common."
Madeline gave Miss Parker a quick look, her eyes asking if this was a good idea or a bad one. Miss Parker surprised her by smiling at the petite, woman with her black hair tumbling wildly down her back. She couldn't understand how her Park could show anyone that obviously friendly with Raines such open and grateful warmth.
"Thank you, Cassandra." She said, her normally biting tone softened remarkably. Madeline was shocked at the sudden stab of jealousy she felt towards the other woman. She'd never really had a rival for Miss Parker's affections before, well, except for Thomas, but he didn't really count since her affection for him had been of a different sort.
"De nada." Cassandra shrugged, her mouth in a small smile. "Tu amiga es mi amiga."
"Um, excuse me, but who is Bobby?" Madeline asked, quite confused now by the odd lines of friendship crossing the room.
"Yes, Sydney." Raines said suspiciously. "I believe you were trying to explain that to me, as well."
"Perhaps, while Sydney is explaining, I can get Madeline to guide me to the medical ward? I did promise him I would be there when he woke up." Cassandra smiled gently around the room. "Tomorrow would be a better time for me to----debrief?"
"Of course, Cassandra." Raines supported her immediately. "You must be exhausted. Look in on Ly----ah, Bobby, and then get some rest---that's an order."
"Yes, Sir." She answered softly, giving his hand a quick squeeze before making her way to Madeline.
"Would you be so kind as to guide me to the medical wing, Madeline?" She asked simply. Once again Madeline was at a loss, why did this woman need to be guided anywhere? Once again she glanced quickly at Miss Parker for answers.
"Cassandra is blind, Madeline." Parker supplied to her unspoken question. "But she is a good friend of mine. I'm sure you two will get along just fine."
"Yes, Amiga, we will be fine friends in no time." Cassandra agreed softly, placing Madeline's hand on her arm and starting them out of the office while Madeline was preoccupied with trying to make sense of the confusing scene she'd just lived through. Lyle, Bobby, this strange woman who was treated with affection by both Park AND Raines? It was all too much for her. She looked suspiciously down on the woman, promising herself to get answers before she went anywhere near the medical wing.
As the door swung shut behind them she faintly heard Sydney's soothing voice begin to answer the almost querulous demands from Raines, who had been nowhere near as frightening as she had expected!


EPILOGUE

"They are both nowhere to be found, Sir." The burly guard was shaking in his shoes as he made this confession.
"Report to conditioning with your men." The synthetic voice said dispassionately, ignoring the guard's cry of dismay. "Such errors must be dealt with firmly, don't you agree, my little Pearl?"
"Of course I do, Mother." Pearl answered glaring coldly at the guard.
"You will get the girl for me, won't you dear?"
"Yes, Mother. I will see that she is returned. She will fulfill her part in your plan, I promise."
"You are a good girl, Pearl. You make your mother happy."

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