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Timeline - This prequel to Season One takes place about 1 year before Jarod's escape and includes flashbacks to the children's' past.

Summary: Raines approaches Sydney with a "problem" subject from his research team. Angelo is drawn to the newcomer, but not sure why. Unknowingly, the young person has crossed paths with Jarod in the past and is destined to meet him face to face.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Pretender characters in this story (heavy sigh), no infringement is intended, and heaven knows I'm not getting paid for writing it!

Author's Note: This series was first posted at the Pretender Archive, which has not updated since April 2002. The first eight chapters are being reedited and reposted here along with the newer material. I hope you enjoy it. I am currently working on Ch. 16 and the end is in sight!

Alicin Wonderland By Lizz

Part 1 First Impression

1996-Day One Sydney's Office Friday Morning

Sydney replaced the handset on the phone's base and slumped back in his desk chair. With a long sigh, he checked his watch. Only a few minutes past 7:00 AM on a Friday morning and his day was already headed south. His conversation with Raines had been brief. Raines talked, Sydney listened. Raines had a problem and Sydney was his first choice to solve it. Raines and his problem would be arriving at Sydney's office momentarily. Sydney briskly rubbed the heels of his hands together and pressed their warmth against his closed eyelids. Beginning Monday, he promised himself, he would take no phone calls before noon.

One half-hour after the phone call, Sydney heard the soft tone announcing the arrival of an elevator at the end of the concourse and the whoosh of doors as they opened. He winced, as the squeaking of Raines' approach grew louder until it stopped just outside the doctor's office door. Sydney took in a deep calming breath and held it for a moment before exhaling. The office door swung wide and Raines entered the room, his oxygen tank trailing behind him like a five-time canine obedience champion.

While Raines crossed the room to sit in the chair that faced Sydney's desk, two sweepers entered the office. Between them they supported a slender, rather disheveled young person; head shaven and dressed in the typical Centre-issued pajamas and (Sydney could hardly believe it) a straightjacket! The sweepers backed him against the glass door to the left of where Raines was now seated. Sydney noted that as soon as the two men turned away and took a step forward, their charge scooted his slippered feet forward just enough to allow him to push away from the cold glass at his back. He kept his gaze fixed on his feet and never once attempted to take note of the surroundings.

Raines now had Sydney's full attention. "On the phone you said you had a problem. What is it?"

"The problem is standing over there," Raines rasped and he tilted his head to point out the figure at the door.

"You'll have to explain it to me. Perhaps you could begin with the reason for the straightjacket."

"She became violent when they tried to move her into the elevator."

'She!' Sydney thought so suddenly that he feared he had spoken the word out loud. Raines had derailed his train of thought so completely that Sydney could only lean forward and place his clasped hands on the desk blotter until he recovered.

"Hard to believe that one of such slight build could pose a threat two seasoned sweepers," he said at last.

"Looks can be deceiving, doctor. She has been a burr under my saddle for the past three months." He then launched into a litany of complaints and behaviors that were inconveniencing his team. He droned on, speaking as if his young subject were not in the room to hear and finally reached the end of his tale. "In the last six weeks she has become stubborn, obstinate and oppositional. She verbally abuses staff and I suspect she has been sabotaging team projects as well as some of her own assignments. Two weeks ago she stopped eating and refused anything to drink except water. If she doesn't come to her senses soon, we'll be force-feeding her. I want you to find out what's wrong with her and fix it, Sydney. She may be a pain in the ass, but she's a brilliant researcher. I want her back at her computer on Monday!"

Sydney was at a loss for words again.

"You have seventy-two hours, Sydney."

"Not possible! My initial evaluation requires that much time at the very least. Assessment of the results and finished copy of the evaluation report, takes maybe three to four days additional. You're looking at seven to ten day's minimum, and that does not include treatment recommendations and implementation. At the very least, we're looking at-"

"Unacceptable, doctor. I can't afford to spend that much time on this."

"If this young woman is as important as you say, Mr. Raines, you cannot afford not to."

"Sydney, I am not going to debate this with you. I will go to Madam Director if I have to."

"Fine! I'll go with you, if only to explain to her that I will not compromise my professional ethics or this young woman's health merely to satisfy your timeline. We're not talking about a machine, for god's sake! She's a human being, Raines, and that makes her worthy of whatever time it takes." The doctor's voice carried an edge of warning that was not lost on Raines. If the young woman at the door had heard any of this discussion, she was not letting on.

Raines stood and threw a green file folder on Sydney's desk. "Very well, then. She's all yours. You have seven days to do whatever it is that you do. But I want her up and running when I come back for her. Are we agreed?"

Sydney's eyes wandered to the young woman, who now stood facing the door and was resting the right side of her face on the cool glass. Surely there is more to this situation, he thought. Seven days would be a start. "We are agreed," he said at last.

Raines turned to his sweepers. "You're dismissed," he growled. They left the room. Turning to Sydney he said, "You have seven days, Doctor. Use them well. The clock is ticking!" With that, he turned and left Sydney and the young woman alone in the office.

"Well, young lady," he began as he crossed to the door, "My name is Sydney and I'll be taking care of you for a little while. He released the buckles on the back of the jacket, saying in a soothing voice, "Let me help you out of this ridiculous thing." When he gently turned her around, he saw that she was bleeding heavily from her left nostril. Sydney reached into his pocket to retrieve a handkerchief just as the young woman's knees gave way and she slumped against his chest and began a slow descent to the floor.

End Part 1 TBC

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