Two months later . . .
“Hello?” Miss Parker answered her phone.
“What are you doing? You’ve been missing for months from your comrades. It took forever to track this number down.”
“Ah.” There was the call she was waiting for. “What’s wrong, Jarod? Didn’t you always want me to leave The Centre? Wish come true.”
“As great as that would be to believe, I can’t,” he said.
“Believe it or not,” she said. “It’s happening. I took my life savings out and I am escaping for good.”
“No, not for temporary with some conversations here and there with you giving me riddles about my past,” she said. “For good. I’m going somewhere that’s sunny and perfect and not a business trip. Also, just a stepping stone for getting out of America. Retire on a foreign beach somewhere.”
“You really . . . did run from The Centre. What about the note you left?”
“Something simple for The Centre. Everyone leaves riddles,” she said as she turned on her blinker and turned. “I’ll be out of reception soon, so I’ll make this quick. I don’t like to play games or riddles like you, so be thankful I don’t say ‘The secret is on SL23’ or something like that.” She took off her shades. “I’m not the Miss Parker you think I am. I found my mother’s unfinished business she left. Has nothing to do with the list of seven children. Makes sense, everyone’s pretty much grownup by now.”
“I thought you said you’d make this quick?” Jarod quipped.
“Just be nice. I’m trying to be nice,” she said as she stared at her new future. “The past we have together, is not my past. I don’t know how they did it. I don’t want to know how they did it. If they could make you forget a day. I guess they could do more.”
“I. I don’t remember it. I tried to remember it,” she said. “I wanted to remember it. I wanted to know how I used to be so different. Now I know, and now I can finally start . . . . living. You were close, Jarod. Benjamin Thomas Miller. Does he ring a bell?”
“Yes, you’re famous little goose chase. You chased the goose, but you didn’t go down far enough. You should have, the goose would have laid a golden egg. It also would have saved her more time. Ah, ah, don’t start talking, just let me finish this out. You were right, momma did have a baby with Benjamin Thomas Miller, but it wasn’t me. Yeah for another new sibling discovery.”
“You had another sister?”
“Oh yes, and you met her.” She sped up more, moving onto the freeway.
“Faith is your biological sister? Parker, how do you-“
“Shut up. I told you I am talking, didn’t I?” She warned him. “I didn’t go down to see you much, Jarod. I’m sorry. My name is Miss Parker, but I’m not The Miss Parker.” She shrugged. “I always wondered how I could be dainty and sweet and then a bitch on high heels. It’s because I can’t be. I am just a bitch in high heels. I always have been.” She waited for him to catch up. “You can talk now.”
“I knew you and your sister? Is that what you are telling me?”
“I’m not even playing clues, Jarod, and you have to question?” She complained. “I had decent access in The Centre. Enough to move around and see Faith. Enough to get down and see the bunnies. But actual access, to you, via a sim room?” She sighed. “Why would I even care to be a part of any sim with you? Occam’s razor. I wouldn’t. It wasn’t me.” She smiled. “It’s terrible, but it’s good. I feel a sense of relief now. I found what she wanted me to find. Now, can you get her out? Jarod?”
“That’s . . . that’s why you never . . .”
“Good luck. Floor 2 of The Centre. She’s hiding there somewhere, in plain sight. Even Broots has access to that floor. I found her picture,” she said. “We could have been twins. It’s scary how alike we look to our mom. That’s all I have, Jarod.” She smiled. “I am going to get Broots to stand around there all day to see what’s going on. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get her later. Parker out. To you. Forever. Don’t bother asking Broots or Sydney for my number or I’ll just change it.”
She hung up the phone. A facility that held so much grief. For years, trying to figure out all the answers. It was time to move on. She was at her brink of youth and she knew it. Somewhere out there, was someone who could love her for the bitch that she truly had been. Someone besides Broots. Someone like Tommy. Someone she could grow old with and maybe have children possibly. Maybe.
Mary turned to look down toward the door as it was opened. Gil stood there, firmly.
“Hello, Mary,” he enquired. “How are you today?”
“I feel great,” she said. “How is the weather?”
“Why are you asking that?” He went in to see her closer as he got a paper and pencil. “You never go outside.”
“I read that it was a nice way to greet people,” she said. “I haven’t greeted you in some time, you’ve just always been there. Can I see anyone new today?”
“Can I see Oliver?”
“Not yet,” Gil said. “Give it time. It’s been some time since you’ve felt control over yourself.”
“Since I got control back. It’s been so long.”
“No, since you’ve felt like you had control,” he corrected her. “You are not a separate person. If it weren’t for The Centre, you would not have this separation. We will look at him together later.”
Gil kept walking through the bell curve of two doors before hitting the main door. When he went through, he saw someone never hanging out on that floor.
“Oh. Hi.” Nervous man. He knew what those looked like. He was always nervous himself.
Gil nodded politely and locked the door behind him.
“Thought that was a painting,” the man said. “I mean, that was scary.”
Gil turned to take notice of the man more. “It is an interesting entrance way.” He didn’t want to leave though with such a strange looking man right there. Now, Gil, Mary’s room is all sealed up. The Centre always kept her safe and sound.
“I haven’t seen you around before.” He seemed polite now. “I travel different levels all the time. Mostly sublevels. I’m Broots. I’m in charge of the computers.” Polite nervousness. “You?”
“Gil. Hello.” Perhaps this man had some kind of visual problem that caused his nervousness? Perhaps the lack of lights that late at night was getting to him. The second floor didn’t keep bright lights down on the edges as much. Or then again, maybe this Broots didn’t often work nights. Most at The Centre worked days. He nodded politely and moved on his way. Nervous people made him more nervous, and he was always nervous.
Broots dialed up Sydney. “So, I got something interesting. You know those corner paintings on the sides with like the staircases? Apparently, the painting, at least one anyhow, is one huge door and when it opens, it looks the same. Like, they are those same winding staircases.” He looked back the other way. “I think there are four on this floor? Maybe Miss Parker’s sister is behind one of those.”
“How long ago?”
“Huh?” That wasn’t Sydney’s voice. “Uh? Jarod?”
“Yeah, how long ago?”
“Not very,” Broots answered. “Apparently the one I met, that came out of the doorlike paintings is a night worker. It’s like 9:00 in the morning and he’s leaving for the day. Uh? He seemed nice.” There wasn’t an answer. “Okay.” Normally he’d tell Sydney goodbye. “Is Sydney there?”
“Yes, Broots.” Sydney’s voice. “Good work. So the staircase paintings actually represent staircases behind huge doors. Fascinating. Did you get the name of who came out?”
“Yeah, he said Gil. Not Mister Gil, just Gil,” Broots said. “I guess we are on the right track? I’ll check out the check out information tomorrow on him.”
“Don’t wait,” Jarod answered. “Go. Now. It’s early, you should be able to get it done.”
Oh. “I really wanted to get back home,” Broots said. “I’ve been here all night, again, scouting. I already have to pay the babysitter over hours. I need a few hours sleep.”
“Nevermind, Broots, just get home, hm?” Sydney’s sympathetic voice was back. “You did great. We’ll look at things this afternoon. Get some rest.”
Jarod heard Sydney hang up the phone. Waiting. Now he had a place to start. “Doctors work nights over there.” It could be how they kept her so quiet. If she was there.
“Jarod?” Sydney suggested. “We will find out more tomorrow, and I will let you know what we discover.”
“What do you remember about her, Sydney?” He questioned him. “Who set up the sims between her and I?” He rubbed his mouth. “Is she the girl I had my first kiss with? Or are you sure she isn’t Miss Parker?”
“Collaboration between Pretenders back then? There used to be someone prevalent there. I don’t remember his name. He didn’t work as often with others.” Sydney paced slightly. “He preferred small group working. He had a sort of disorder, didn’t like many people. But was his name Gil?” He stopped pacing. “I don’t know, Jarod. As for the other? I don’t believe that.”
Jarod held a pencil, dribbling it between his fingers “Always wanted me. Really good way to keep me around looking. I need to find this girl, get the DNA, and find out for sure. I should go check out the hours. Find out where he lives.”
“Jarod,” Sydney said. “He could just be a regular worker of The Centre.”
“Or he could be holding a woman up there hostage, forcing her to do sims. Forcing her to live in a single room without any outside air.” Before he knew it, he found he broke the pencil in half. “The girl I knew.” He dropped the pencils. “Or, he could be in cahoots. Hiding Miss Parker up there. The whole lot of them, trying to catch me once and for all.”
“I can’t imagine it’s easy,” Sydney agreed. “It’s easier to accept that The Centre changed her, but she was still safe and sound. That one day, maybe she could even come around to stop working for The Centre. That’s what you were trying to achieve with Thomas Gates, was it not?” Jarod didn’t answer. “We’ll find her. Or.” He sighed. “We’ll find out if it’s a trick. Miss Parker doesn’t include Broots and I inside of tricks.”
“Well, that was before the whole scrolls and only one winner survives thing,” he reminded Sydney. “Only one team survives.”
As Gil went in for work, he noticed someone new over by his area. He was sitting down with a paper. Most likely, he would be heading home soon. He made his way to the door, unlocking it.
“Lovely night,” the man said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve bumped into each other.”
He turned around and looked at him. About his age, perhaps slightly older. It was Sydney. “I’m horrible with faces,” he lied.
“Sydney,” he smiled.
“Sydney. Oh. I remember that name.” He gestured toward him “You are highly regarded around here. What are you doing in my little area?”
Sydney folded the paper and stood up. “Oh, I’m not that highly regarded anymore. I mostly chase down the Pretender I was working with.”
Jarod of course but he’d play dumb. “Eddie?”
“No,” Sydney corrected him, picking some lint off his suit for him. “Jarod.”
Gil moved away a little. Sydney must have been one of those clean kind of guys. He knew Jarod though, so he was going to have to answer. “Still missing. I’m sorry.” That must hurt. All that overstimulation to the poor Pretender’s senses.
“Yes, but confidentially we will be getting him back soon. I wanted to ease him back in by having some collaboration with another Pretender.” Sydney sighed sadly. “Sadly, his collaborations haven’t been around, and I don’t know of any new ones to try. I don’t suppose you are working with a Pretender? I’m afraid I don’t remember.”
Of course he didn’t. Sydney and him didn’t fly in the same kind of circles. He must be talking about Mary, but it’s too early. Raines would be watching. “She can’t help I’m afraid,” he answered. “They haven’t collaborated since they were children.” Huh. For a second, he thought he saw a twinkle in his eye. “I should get going.”
“Once he readjusts, he would be quite suitable to befriending another Pretender,” Sydney still tried. “Perhaps she would even influence him to understand and accept The Centre again? Being a woman, maybe he would feel less threatened and more receptive?”
Or, he would teach her not to accept The Centre’s security and knowledge. Things were bad enough for Mary because of Jarod. He was still uncertain whether he wanted that pretender involved at all even after the trial run. Now, now, Gil. Not his fault. Not Sydney’s fault. Everyone shares in the blame. “Um? Sydney.” He had to make it clear. “I know that you are trying your best to find someone for your Pretender. You are here at two in the morning, when I assume you work days. Do you work days?”
Sydney sighed and shrugged. “I believe that Jarod had a difficult confrontation with an ex-Pretender, and it hurt him. Deeply, enough to instill the need to run away. If Jarod could build a trust, even a small trust with another one? It could bring him back around, for good.”
“Let me ask you something,” Gil said. “Do you remember who mediated between us? O-or do you assume that we’ve actually met?”
Sydney touched the tip of his index finger to his thumb and rubbed them together. “I am getting down to the nitty gritty I suppose. I’ve been here for some time, but I don’t stay up with every person in The Centre. Especially someone who works such odd hours.”
“I like my hours,” Gil insisted. “I like my work at The Centre as well. I feel as if getting our duties together would be something that would need a strategy. Perhaps?” Raines won’t care within two weeks. Two months? “In two to three months?”
“Well, yes, I am willing to work on a strategy,” Sydney insisted, “but two months is an excessive time. I want Jarod to feel at home faster. I would even move my hours, and Jarod’s hours, to meet yours.”
“Mary is not working with another pretender that fast.” Gil sighed. “It is not just about Jarod’s influence. The Centre wanted her to collaborate with Alex.” Yes, he should let him know that much. “She had a bad experience with him.”
“Alex was more troubled,” Sydney tried to reason. “Jarod has held his own out there. The Centre is needed to help him master his best abilities and skills, but he has survived out there just fine.”
“You don’t get it. Mary is a very beautiful woman,” Gil said, trying one more time. He was not good with people, let alone Sydney who he’d been ignoring all those years. Sydney did not even know him, but he purposefully walked down different halls so he couldn't even come across him. He adjusted his glasses. “When you take a pretender, who has had little social time with others, let alone little social time with the opposite sex? Then as adults, there is a deeper problem.” He swallowed. “Just. I can’t let anyone hurt Mary again.”
“Jarod’s been exposed to several grown women. He’s been out there for years. He would be the best candidate for her,” Sydney said. “Was she traumatized by what happened?”
“I do remember Mary was a nice girl,” Sydney said. “She did get along with Jarod. Would she still remember him?”
Gil held his head. When would he get the hint? Not yet. “I am sure she probably still remembers him. She hasn’t seen more than a handful of people in her life, of course she’d remember.” He turned to his door. “I need to go.”
“I suppose I can’t get you to change your mind right now,” Sydney finally reasoned. “We should talk later again about this. Maybe after you meet Jarod. By the way, who did mediate between Mary and Jarod?”
“Oh.” Years ago. “That was so long ago. It was Fenigor I think. Or maybe Mister Parker himself? I think she was very close relation.” He opened the door and closed it. He couldn’t even risk goodbye. He hated having to say no to people, especially those he didn’t know. He headed up the stairs to see Mary, unlocking all of the doors on his way up.
Sydney pulled his collar closer against his mouth. “Did you get all that, Jarod?”
“Mary,” Jarod’s voice echoed from the small area. “Her name is Mary. If she’s not Miss Parker. Did you get it?”
Sydney looked at his hand, where he had taken some of the ‘lint’ off of Doctor Gil. “If it’s her, we’ll know.”
“If it’s her?” Jarod was quiet. “It’s going to be a long time before anyone catches up with me Sydney. She has pushed way too far with this one.”
“If it’s her?” Sydney nodded. “I agree with your action, Jarod.”
The Centre, The Next Night: 1:00 AM
“Angelo?” Jarod called through his favorite tunnels. Finding anything on Mary Parker was nearly impossible. Her doctor worked with her at varying times from 12:00 AM -9:00 AM. He couldn’t find a single DSA except for the small sims he ran with her as a child. She was in a place with a multiple key scheme that would be hard to break. His best chance was to find her through Angelo’s tunnels. More and more she looked like just a ruse. “Angelo?”
“Jarod.” Angelo smiled as he came toward him. “Come to see Angelo.”
“Yes. I need help, Old Friend,” Jarod insisted. How to put it into words for him? “Have you heard of another Miss Parker before? A Pretender Miss Parker?” No. He was shaking his head. Kept secret from even Angelo. That was tough. “Are you aware of Miss Parker’s biological half-sister?”
“Miss Parker have sister?” Angelo seemed as surprised as him. “Where?”
“Jarod know Miss Parker’s sister?” Angelo asked curiously.
“Maybe, but I don’t know how much.” Jarod sat down in the tunnel. “If she exists. I need to get her out of here.”
“Taking to family? Taking her to Miss Parker?” Angelo asked.
“Eventually. I won’t keep them from each other.” If she exists. “Half the time I spent with Miss Parker, I was supposedly with someone else. I don’t know how to feel about that after all these years.” He always thought he only had one person there, who understood his world. He could have had two. Could have. He hated that word could right now. Not knowing.
“Jarod lost,” Angelo sat next to him. “Jarod saving a ghost.”
“Catherine didn’t even know about her. She must have suspected it though. Miss Parker found the connection, found her unfinished business.” Jarod sighed. “Erasing her existence.”
“Then having Miss Parker?” Angelo asked.
“Immediately after. Like they were disappointed.” Jarod hugged his knees like he was young again. “It. It always hurt, Angelo, knowing Miss Parker never wanted anything but to hunt me. Then, when she finally . . .” He closed his eyes. That ‘could’ couldn’t go away. “I don’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing she refused to come with me.”
“You invite her to come with you?” Angelo asked. “Stop hunting Jarod?”
“Yeah, I did.” He wiped his eyes. Great, now he was breaking down. “Now, this might be the one I cared for as a kid. If she exists.” He almost grinded his teeth. “But there is nothing on her. I just.”
“Jarod love ghost. Jarod don’t love ghost.” Angelo shrugged. “Angelo feels for Jarod. Not knowing.”
“It’s going to come to an end,” Jarod insisted. “One way or the other. You haven’t heard anything about it at all?”
“Angelo all around The Centre,” he said. “Reach everywhere. Don’t know. Angelo sorry. You think Pretender Miss Parker will be Angelo’s friend too?”
“Maybe. I don’t even know if she’s Jarod’s friend.” No one ran over his heart harder than Parker. Their past. Finding out all about hers. The pain of theirs intertwined them. He even almost kissed her. “I feel like someone’s just been playing me for a fool in a game.” Jarod looked down the tunnels. But whose game? “I have to find the way to her.” Jarod heard his phone go off.
“Broots found something. A Pretender that looks greatly like Catherine Parker. While we can’t find her DSA’s or existence, we have found her on another’s DSA, Jarod. Alex.”
Ooh. “Send what you have.”
“I can’t send it if Angelo is there. It is rough.”
Jarod nodded. “I’ll call you when I’m ready for it.” He nodded to Angelo. “I’ll be back.”
Jarod’s Current Hideout
Jarod booted up his computer and called Sydney back. “Okay, send it.” He drummed his fingers, waiting for it. What was she like? What was her name? What did she look like? How did she sound?
Since it was Alex’s DSA, he was right there. Just, staring ahead. Just waiting for whatever The Centre wanted. Jarod used to have that same vacant look on him. Then, his expression changed as he glanced to the side.
There. There she was. Fully grown, and her hair was now long and feathered. Her outfit wasn’t anything like Parker wore, she had on a simple white dress. Simple. The Centre was always about simple. Still. That looks incredibly like Parker. Everything but the hair and the clothes. His heart sank just a bit. Hope dashed just a little more.
“Mary. Say hello,” a voice he didn’t know requested from the side.
Mary moved closer to Alex and smiled. “Hello. I’m Mary.”
“Aren’t you just.” Alex’ eyes weren’t glazed over anymore. He was looking over her unabashedly. He licked his bottom lip and shifted. “I didn’t know there were still girl Pretenders.”
“Not a Pretender and not a girl. Woman,” she corrected him. “Like you’re not boy. You’re a man.” She got quiet again. “You’re name?”
“Alex,” he said. “Why don’t you come closer? Regular conversations take place closer?”
“Gil wants me around here,” she answered. “When I talk to others, it’s always back here. I’m older and a female so it bothers him to have me too close. He was very opposed to this meeting.”
“Mary,” a voice came from the side.
“I’m sorry, I was being too honest again.” She winced like she made a faux pas. “What do you like to do when you aren’t simming?”
“Aw.” He smiled at her, bowing his head. “That’s not your concern. You look like somebody I know. You have a sister?”
‘Let’s not go deeply into family.” Doctor Gil showed up next to her and whispered to her. She nodded. He moved away from the cameras again.
“I do, I had a mom when I was younger,” she said. “I never saw her though before she died. I heard she was nice.”
“Yeah. My family left me here too,” he said. He shook his head and closed his eyes, with a small smirk. “It hurts terribly. Knowing they are out there, yet not being able to do anything.”
Jarod held the desk the computer was on tightly as he watched the commotion. It was quick, but it would have set Angelo off alright. She had felt safe enough to approach closer, Alex had lunged for her, pinned her to a wall, stole a kiss, and fought off two sweepers to try and keep her. Fortunately, their instructors also had more sweepers, enough to take down Alex. Although. I recognize that technique. She was trying to break free herself, her cute charade over, Parker’s eyes fiercely fighting back.
Before Alex was thrown out, Jarod heard Doctor Gil clearly.
No Pretender would ever come near Mary again.
“At this rate, probably not.” How could she? How could she go that far with a Centre trick? Involving Sydney and Broots now too?!
Sydney would have the definite proof soon. After that. I can’t. I just can’t, no more with her!