“Okay. So, the lightshow, huh?” Broots felt nervous but getting behind a keyboard always made him feel in his element. He could see what was going on in medical right now. “Bring out Miss Parker. Seal off Mary for now. Get her out. This should work.” He had been planning it for a week already. Watching and waiting. He couldn’t depend on Jarod taking action soon enough and the more time he talked with Gil, the more concerned he became. He stayed every night until they eventually took her again. “Cool blues. Intense reds. Sim for obedient wife? Uh, no. I don’t think so, Miss P.” He waited listening to the audio in the room he tapped. “Africa or sell her to the yakuza? Final decision? Oh, Miss P. is not going to like either of those.” He didn’t hear her yet. But as soon as he did? “I can do this. I’m just switching out signals in the brain that could drive her insane.” No. No. “She can’t live like this and she won’t escape as Mary. I am really sorry Miss P., we’ll all get through this. I’m sure.” Nervous. No one escaped The Centre, and even Jarod was always tracked. What would she do? “No, I can’t dwell on that. She isn’t anything to The Centre. Gil said that, even the kid isn’t special to them. They are a lost cause, that’s why this is happening in the first place. Don’t even waste cameras, they won’t waste much on them escaping. We can do this. Okay, okay, okay.”
Deep breath. He was only going to destroy or free her mind. “Lights and the pretender brain. The sim. I have to.” He swallowed and hit it.
He tore the lights into two different shades and then hit her with a burst of white, then red.
Mary looked around her, seeing herself in a red room. Before her was somebody she didn’t know. This guy. I know him. He must be the one they are thinking of sending me to. Sending me to, like an effing present. They. Think they. Can just send me. Like an effing present! Anger. She felt something new. Something fierce. No, not just anger. Determination. Justified enragement! She stomped forward to him, stole his gun and held it at him. All the fighting abilities she knew she had in her head locked away? Were opened to her. “Open up or he’s dead!” When medical opened up, she still used him as a piece of meat as she saw Raines and Lyle hiding behind glass. “You two!” She shot out the glass, causing the alarms to go off. They both took off like the cowards they were as she pushed out the glass and went through it. Her mind was racing as weird thoughts poured into it. All she knew, was that she was in trouble. Which meant Oliver was too.
“Take away my son, I don’t think so.” She broke into someone’s office and looked around. Everyone in The Centre should have a gun. They were all predatory. Fully loaded, she made her way up to floor 2. She went to the familiar painting and put in the code. “I’ll show you what Mary can do,” she muttered as she went inside. She banged on the clearance door that would lead to her room. “Doctor Gil, please! It’s Mary! Help me!” When he answered she took his clearance card and punched him. You deserve that you weakling! You couldn’t protect worth shit!
While he bled with his bloody nose, she went up toward her son. She opened the clearance door and saw him. Working on sims. “Oliver. Here. Now.” He came over, delighted to see her and hugged her. “Not now, we’ll make nice later.” She picked him up and headed out. “Cover your ears and trust mom.” When she saw Gil coming back to her, she banged him against the wall again. She had no time to deal with him right now. Raines would be-
“Miss Parker, stop right-!“
She shot and almost got him as she sailed down the stairs. She wasn’t even going to give quick quips, it was a rescue mission and there was no time for the little things. She nailed Lyle in the leg as he ran over. Sweepers would be coming. “Hang on, mom’s going to run.”
She ran into The Centre parking lot with no idea what to do, but she’d be damned if she’d die in The Centre. It was worth trying to fight to survive.
Someone stopped with a different looking car, gesturing for her with kind eyes. She ran toward him, starting to hear gunshots behind her. Alright, other side ran my life all the time. “What’s my name?!” She demanded. When he yelled Parker, it was close enough. She got in the back, put Oliver to the other side, buckled him up and pointed out the window behind her as the man drove. Wait for it . . . wait for it . . . there! She blew out one of their tires at a correct angle that would make that car curve away from them. With luck, it would hit another car. Just not theirs.
She ducked her head back inside and looked at Oliver. My mind is melted fudge in the microwave. Who did she call when her mind was melted fudge in the microwave? “You, I’m going to need more bullets,” she said to the man in front. She patted Oliver’s back. She turned back to her soft voice toward her son. “It’s okay, Sweetie, momma is right here. Nothing’s going to hurt you.” She looked back to the other man and her rough voice came back out. “More bullets if you have them, now!”
The man tossed her more bullets.
“Momma?” Oliver finally spoke. “This is a lot of stimulation. I don’t feel so good.”
“Oh, your world is just getting started.” She refilled her gun. “Why don’t you hum a song you like, huh? You’ll be okay, Honey. I have to go kill some people now, be right back.” She hung back out the window, aiming with all her might. “Wasting only three cars on little lesser Mary, huh?! Well, your mistake.” She wasn’t aiming for tires this time. She sniped the side driver that was trying to get a good shot. It surprised the first enough, he tried to shoot at her too. “Driver, turn to your right now!”
As he turned out of the danger path, she shot and got him. No one messed with Mary. The other Centre car cut his losses. Good choice. She ducked her head back in. “Keep driving, whoever you are.”
“Miss Parker,” he said hesitantly. “Don’t you remember me?”
“Don’t. Even.” She glared at him. “Mary.”
“Wow. Okay. Okay. Can I call Sydney? You know Sydney?” He picked up the phone.
“Sydney.” Sydney. “Barely know him,” Mary said. “Doctor of The Centre. Don’t call him or I’ll kill you.” She pointed her gun at him. “I’ve still got more left but I don’t want to make it tough on Oliver unless I have to. He already has a tummy ache from all this exposure.”
“Okay. Okay, we’ll call later,” Broots said. “Where do we go?” His phone started to ring. “That’s Sydney’s number. Um? Maybe you could answer instead?”
“Sydney.” Tip of her tongue, like she said it more than once. “Jarod.” Right, Jarod was with Sydney. “Jarod just saw us.” Okay. “Answer.”
The man answered his ringing phone. “Hello?”
“Broots, did you do something?!” Sydney accused him. “What is going on?”
“Well, I, uh? I sort of freed Miss Parker, but sort of didn’t,” the man said. “I think I sort of mixed up the, uh, emotional sides? Mary feels a lot like Miss Parker. Sorry. She broke out of The Centre with her son.”
“So you did know about Oliver?!” Jarod’s voice, about as mad as she felt. “I knew it!”
Ooh. Jarod’s voice. It agitated her for some reason, though she didn’t know why. He was just yelling at a man she didn’t know. She looked back at Oliver. He made her feel better. She held his hand and smiled at him. “Always remember. Sometimes it’s better to kick ass and live. Okay?”
Oliver nodded and tightened his grip. “Um? Are we okay out here?”
“Yes. Simulation rooms are just complete malarkey for people to take advantage of others.” She knew that now. How, she . . . couldn’t put her finger on it, but she knew. At this point, she was running on instinct, and even though Oliver looked like he was feeling sick? It was probably from his mom gunning people down and the fast car speed than the lack of white and calm in a room.
“Jarod really wants to talk to you, Mary.” The man moved the phone away from his ear. “Plus, they are both starting to hurt my ears.”
Jarod. She took the phone. “What.” Hm? “Sorry, I don’t mean to be irritated at you.” She still felt herself almost seething. “What is it, Jarod?”
“Are you Mary or are you Miss Parker?”
“I’m both, Jarod,” she said. “You always told me to never separate myself like that.” Her mouth twitched. “Although I have a large amount of anger in my heart right now, and I apparently remember combat skills. I used them to rescue our son. I also killed some people. I don’t think Gil would approve of any of my actions. I also punched him. I felt like he deserved it.”
“Okay.” Jarod sounded off. He was probably getting used to the idea of fatherhood still. “We need to meet.”
“Jarod, I’m sorry, you’re in The Centre. I don’t even know where in The Centre you are,” she apologized. “I just had to focus on rescuing Oliver.”
“No, I’ve been out. Sydney helped me trick Gil to go up and see you.”
“Oh. You came all the way back to The Centre for me? That was nice of you.”
“Y . . . yeah.” He still sounded strained. “What’s the last thing you remember, Mary?”
“An hour, once a month on the fifteenth, over and over again,” she said. “Plus? New things have hit me. It’s like, being in a story and having different parts in different places, Jarod. Like? I don’t know who’s driving but he was there with a getaway car and he knew my name.”
“Broots. His name is Mister Broots,” Jarod told her. “Oliver’s there? How is he?”
“Absorbing everything around him, Jarod,” she said. “Every single thing. He’s overwhelmed and has a slight tummy ache. Nothing severe, just . . . I trained in the darkness.”
“Trained in the darkness?” Jarod asked. “What do you mean?”
“I trained in the darkness. I was surrounded by objects I talked to like people, but I trained in darkness. I trained in red lighting. There was an instructor, that’s it. They talked to me and all the objects.” She swallowed. “Why was I talking to objects? My mind feels fried, Jarod.”
“Okay, give the phone back to Mister Broots. Sydney and I are meeting you very soon, I promise.”
She gave the phone back to the strange man. “Here. Um. Broots.” She tossed it in the front seat. He took the phone and said ‘uh huh’ and ‘uh huh’ and ‘thanks’ and ‘sorry’ and ‘okay’ before hanging up. How do I know him? Who are you? Why are me and Oliver with you in this car right now?
They traveled awhile in dead silence. She went ahead and scooted closer to Oliver, calming him down. He was getting better now. He’d be alright. When they reached a small diner, the man Broots stopped and got out. He opened the back door.
“It’s alright, they’ll meet us here.” Broots held out his hand, but she didn’t trust it. She unbuckled herself and Oliver but went out Oliver’s side with him. She held him tight in her arms as they went into the diner. She kept her gun handy.
She sat down at the table, but didn’t let go of Oliver. She just stared at the man in front of her. “How do I know you?”
“Well, I’m Broots,” he said. “Do you want something to drink while we wait?” She didn’t answer. “Okay.”
“How do I know you?” She questioned him again.
“We work together,” Broots said. “Does any of it ring a bell? You’re fighting like you remember being Miss Parker. You sounded like that on the phone too with Jarod. Is that what college was?” He asked. “Were you just trained in The Centre, in a sim?”
He was asking her questions? I don’t even know him. He isn’t telling me anything. “What do we do at The Centre together?” He didn’t look like the type she simmed with. Was he new?
“I’m the computer guy for it,” he said. “I work with you. Your father put me, you and Sydney together.”
Her father? “Raines worked me at The Centre?”
“Your original dad. The one who raised you,” Broots said.
“No one raised me except Gil. Since 1970.” Ooh. Her emotions. It wasn’t just rage anymore. She was feeling herself start to tear up. She held Oliver tighter now. “No one raised me, I’ve always been at The Centre as a lesser. They didn’t care. They. They threw me away.” She felt Oliver’s grip around her increase in understanding.
“I’m sorry. I think your college was a hoax,” Broots said to her. He tried to reach out for her but she backed off with Oliver, scooting her chair out. “Don’t be scared. I know the real you. You were released as Miss Parker permanently in September 1996.”
Like she didn’t know the month she was dropped from most of her life? Oliver was only born in July. August. “September.” Tears were starting to fall. “What do I do? Harder Sims?”
“Well. You.” He was stalling again. “You’re not owned by The Centre. It was a paid job.”
Her throat felt like it had gone dry. “I worked for The Centre? I? Worked worked?” They did it, they turned her into a soulless soldier after all! She stared at this man. He was not her friend. He was the Miss Parker of The Centre soulless soldier’s friend! He’s not taking Oliver and he’s not taking me! She stood up with Oliver, reached for the keys he left on the table, took the back of his head and knocked it out on the wall next to him. He yelled in anguish about it, so she flung him out of the seat hard, hoping that did something else as his head smacked against the back of the bar. She dashed out. She ran back to the car, put Oliver on the other side, buckled him up and got in the driver’s seat. I know how to drive.
A simulation of a car that didn’t work with a screen ahead of her popped into her mind. First driving lesson was a sim. No time. She put the keys in the ignition and got out. As she road away, she looked for the phone. She must have left it with the man. She looked at Oliver. He was upset again. “Are you okay? We had to get away. I didn’t trust him.”
“I? I know,” he said. “So much, there’s just so much.” He shook his head.
Yes. Calm. He needed calm. She needed calm. Darkness, we need darkness. They lived their life in lights of white and the darkness of night. Darkness, safe darkness.
“We can’t murder Broots, Jarod,” Sydney reminded him as they stopped at their location. “Without him, we never would have gotten one DSA. I was too upset, I’d never ask.”
“I know.” Jarod kept it together. “He just shouldn’t have set a rescue mission all by himself.”
“He was scared of what Gil said,” Sydney reminded him once more. “We were working without him as well.”
“It was too personal. It was my unknown three weeks, Sydney, and then her involved? I just needed you and that’s it.” Jarod got out of the car with Sydney and went in. He looked around and saw Broots nursing his nose. No sign of Parker or Oliver. He went straight over to him. “Where are they, and the answer better be ‘Oliver wasn’t feeling well and they are in the bathroom’.”
Broots looked scared. Maybe too strong? “Oliver wasn’t feeling well, but they aren’t in the bathroom. Once she found out she worked for The Centre, she fled.”
“Fled? Oh, Broots, where to?” Sydney demanded. “How long ago?”
“Not long. My nose stopped bleeding,” Broots said. “Ten minutes?”
“Any ideas, Jarod?”
Betrayed. Finding out she worked for The Centre. She’d run but where to? She doesn’t know this place. She feels lost. She feels alone. She’s going to be worried about Oliver too, she’s a good mom. She’d want to make Oliver feel better too. Calmness. No white rooms easily accessible so the opposite. Lights out. Darkness. “We need to find this town’s movie theatre.”
Local Movie Theatre
Darkness. Complete darkness. Empty seats and no one around. Nothing was playing in that room. She mugged someone outside for a few dollars and went inside. She got a ticket for him and her, but didn’t go to the room for the movie.
She knew movies. They were like huge sims playing overhead. She heard giggles in her head, like she used to enjoy them with someone. A part of her other self leaking through. She must have liked movies. Anyhow, there wasn’t a movie playing nor was it what she wanted. The darkness and the overhead projection screen. Just like sleeping for Oliver. She kept him in her arms wrapped tight, sitting in a corner, not a chair. She could watch the door to make sure no one came in after them.
Oliver felt better. She hummed a little for him as she gently rubbed his back. The whole time, she still had her pistol ready. She sat on the floor so she couldn’t get trapped in a chair. Oliver’s heart didn’t beat as fast and he felt more at peace. After she finished her humming, they both sat in silence. Tranquil silence and darkness.
She heard a knock at the door. No one would knock at an empty movie door. As it opened up, she called out, “Back off! Get out now!” She would have shot her gun if she had any bullets left. It was the Broots man of before, he probably didn’t need a bullet. “Get out!”
“It’s okay, Miss Parker?” He held his hands up.
“I will kill you with any accessory currently on you if you don’t get out now!”
“Move. Stay back. Now.” Jarod pulled Broots back. Sydney and he helped him look at the rooms. He knew the theatre would be the perfect place to go. He looked back at Broots and Sydney. “Stay out here. Guard the door. Don’t say anything. Don’t come in.”
“She doesn’t remember us at all, but she remembers a movie theatre?” Broots asked. “Her actions, and knowing how to drive? There has to be some of Miss Parker in there too.”
“Look.” Jarod held his hand toward both of them. “The only person in the world right now that can go into that room is me. I’m the only one who knows what it’s like being used by The Centre. Trapped. Alone. Frightened. So you two stay out here and guard this door.” They seemed to get it.
Jarod opened the door slowly. He didn’t hear a weapon. Probably out of bullets. “Mary?” He gently looked inside, letting his eyes adjust. She didn’t make a sound. Neither did Oliver. He stepped in, opening the door more to let some light come in.
There she was. In the corner, Oliver in her grasp. He closed the door behind him. “I know you’re scared,” he said softly. “It’s okay. I’m not here to hurt you, you know that.” She still wasn’t moving. “You trusted me enough to put Oliver’s arms around me. At one point, we must have been close enough to have Oliver. That should say something.” He noticed Oliver opening his eyes to look at him.
Jarod looked back toward her, another step closer. “I know it doesn’t make any sense but Broots wasn’t there to harm you.”
“I worked for The Centre!” She finally cried out. “They turned me into what they wanted.”
“No, they didn’t. You did, you worked for The Centre, but you weren’t . . .” Words. He had to be careful. “You were full of more than rage. You felt sorrow too, about your mom. You felt love, with a man named Thomas. You almost left The Centre for good to move away with him but he was killed. You discovered secrets. You had openings, leeway’s that helped me get away a couple of times,” he said. “If you were what they wanted, they never would have brought the more obedient side of you back. Right?”
“ . . . right.” Her voice was soft, so soft. “I’m not obedient anymore.”
He could see that. He walked up to her slower. “Can I come to you?” He moved more casual when he got the nod. He came right to them and bent down. He looked back at Oliver. He had the roundness of his nose, but the shape of his mother Margaret’s eyes he saw time and again in the picture. He even had his chin. He had her ears though, and her eyebrows that crinkled just right when they were worried. Little genetic miracle. A sum of different pieces of DNA of me and Parker.
He looked back at her. She wasn’t even holding the gun at him. Yeah, he got it right. For once, he was on her top list of people to trust. “Broots and Sydney worked with you. Whether you liked what they did, they appreciated you. Without Broots, we never would have been there tonight.”
“Oh.” She looked so confused. “I. Was I good or bad then?”
“Complicated,” he settled on. “You were okay. You’ll see. I’m sure you’ll remember more.”
“It was a con,” she said. “Everything. He just. He.” She was searching. “I saw him. After I did well with the instructor, he tried to show up.”
“Mister Parker.” Jarod understood, and it didn’t make him any happier. Hang on. She had college buddies. So if no one else was at her college sims except an instructor and her father every once in awhile? “Did you see someone else?Tommy Tanaka?”
“I knew him from there. I saw him,” her throat sounded sore. “He was there in the red room tonight. I. They said I was going to my future. And I didn’t want to listen. I didn’t want to be obedient anymore. I didn’t want to let them have Oliver. I didn’t want to become a wife or a mistress for the yakuza. I. Want.”
“Freedom.” Jarod touched her hand. It wasn’t the Miss Parker asking for freedom of The Centre, but it was still the words he’d dreamed of hearing her say. And he wasn’t letting it go. “You have it. You and Oliver, I promise. The Centre will never get a hold of you two again. Sydney and Broots are just outside-“
“No!” She curled up tighter with Oliver.
She didn’t trust them. Not a shred of her. How the tables turned. “Okay. I’ll make them leave and then we’ll get out. I have a car.”
“I drove with a video game wheel,” she said in disbelief. “I couldn’t see but now I see.”
“That’s the sims. The Centre must have used your . . .” No, he shouldn’t get into red files with her. None of that right now. “I’ll go get them out, I’ll get my car and we’ll all be out of here in five minutes. Okay?” He looked back at Oliver. “Are you doing better now? I heard you weren’t feeling good.” He nodded, but he still wasn’t recovered from the night yet. A lot of freedom very fast and unexpected. “I’ll be back.”
“Okay, Jarod,” he finally responded.
Jarod headed back out. Broots and Sydney were right there. “You have to leave,” Jarod said. “I’m getting them out now. They are coming with me, but not with you here.”
“But? We aren’t here to hurt them,” Broots said. “I’d never hurt her. I was here to help her.”
“We’re just worried,” Sydney said. “Is she okay?”
“She’s fine, but until she remembers anything else, she isn’t going to want to see you.” Jarod gestured out the door. “Go.” Neither of them moved very fast. “Yeah. It sucks. Someone you love and trusted no longer wants anything to do with you. They don’t trust you. They hate you. Everything you say makes them angry. Welcome to the other side of what I went through with her. Go!”
Broots headed out. He didn’t say a word, just went out.
“I hope that she remembers everything soon,” Sydney said. “She deserves to be whole. Not just a mess of emotions and only the memories of Mary.” He nodded and headed out.
With them gone, he went back into the movie room and into the darkness. He went to the corner. “Okay. Come on.” She stood up and held Oliver’s hand in hers and then outstretched hers to Jarod’s.
It felt like such a rush. She hadn’t trusted him in so long. He took her hand and led them out of the darkness. The light pierced their eyes slightly after lingering in the absolute darkness, but it didn’t last long. Jarod opened the front door of his car. He looked toward Oliver. His chance to finally pick him up. “Come here. Middle with you.” He wasn’t going in the back seat, he was going right in the middle. Right between him and Mary.
He tried to pick him up, but watched Mary pull him away and pick him up into the middle instead. Well? She still didn’t know him well. He was going to have to ask if he could pick up Oliver if he wanted her to feel better about it. He did help him fix his seat belt though.
Mary was already getting in on the other side and closed the door. She fixed her seatbelt.
Jarod looked at the both of them as he climbed into his car. He wanted to memorize everything about it.
It was wrong, a part of him knew that as he started the car and headed away. Broots and Sydney were Miss Parker’s partners. They’d been through many things, trusted each other completely. Meanwhile, he’d been shunned. Pushed into an area to be distrusted, lied to, hated and chased by her. And now?
Karma bit them all back.