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A month had passed since Parker and Sydney had been allowed to see Jarod. Parker had been reassigned to Corporate, but much of her work required the assistance of their resident Pretender. No-one could manipulate money quite as well as Jarod. But she was not permitted to see him. She was told that he had refused to work with either her or Sydney. Frankly, Parker did not believe this, she assumed it was Lyle's way of keeping control. Even so, the work was ferried back and forth between various sweepers and go-betweens. It was not very efficient, but Raines didn’t care. Now that Jarod was back where he belonged, the money was rolling in, and Raines’ position as Chairman had never looked so secure. Raines and Lyle had him working 14 hours a day now. He seemed to require little sleep, and had actually requested the extra workload. The Centre’s power-base was stronger than ever and even the Triumvirate seemed satisfied for the moment. There had been no mention of the missing scrolls and business was back to normal.
Sydney had refused to believe that Jarod didn’t want to see him. He had pestered Raines and Lyle long enough for them to finally show him the DSA of Jarod refusing to work with Sydney. Lyle had no intention of ever letting Sydney see Jarod again. Sydney had the potential to undermine what had taken him half a year to accomplish, and besides, it was killing the old man. Lyle just loved the perks that his new position offered him.
It had hurt Sydney terribly to watch as Jarod had reluctantly whispered his name. And Sydney believed that for the first time he truly understood how Jarod must have felt each time that he had tried to reach out to Sydney, only to receive nothing in return. Sydney had returned to his office with a heavy heart only to find Angelo sitting at his desk. Upon Sydney's entrance, Angelo looked up and gave Sydney a sad smile.
“Yes Angelo, Sydney is sad. I don’t think Sydney will ever be happy again.”
The empath reached out and put a gentle hand on Sydney's shoulder and they both tried to take comfort in each other’s presence.
Sydney arrived home, poured himself a drink and sat in the dark. It was a habit he had developed recently. He was tormented day and night by guilt. He wanted so very badly to make it right for Jarod. He sighed and poured himself another drink. He did not notice the other man sitting in the dark, watching him.
The man turned on the lamp next to him, and placed his gun within easy reach.
When the light turned on, Sydney hardly even blinked. He did not recognize the man at first. His eyes saw the gun, and he knew that finally someone from The Centre had been sent to kill him. His only regret was that he would never be able to make things right with Jarod.
Comprehension was dawning in Sydney's overwrought brain as he recognized his would-be assassin. He was certain that he was going to die now. But the man just sat there, obviously waiting for Sydney to respond.
Sydney actually smiled. Yes, he would die tonight, at this man’s hands, and this would perhaps balance things. Jarod would be avenged and perhaps Sydney's soul would have some chance at peace.
“Please, just do it.” Sydney carefully placed his glass down and prepared himself as best he could before he was sent to meet his maker.
“Do what?” The man was clearly perplexed.
Sydney's gaze lowered to the gun. “You are here to kill me.” It was not a question.
“No, I'm here because I need your help.”
“What?” Sydney could not quite understand what was going on. The conversation was almost too surreal to be anything other than a fantasy.
“I don’t want to kill you, but I don’t know where else to turn.”
“You’re taking a huge risk coming here.” Sydney was starting to recover his wits. But it suddenly dawned on him that the man had not known what had happened.
“You don’t have to explain to me about risks.” He was on his feet now, pacing. He placed his gun back in it's holster. “I have spent my whole life living with those risks. Now I don’t want to argue about the past with you. I need your help.”
Sydney felt his stomach sinking. How could he possibly tell him what had happened, what he had done?
“I haven’t heard from Jarod in over 7 months. I know he trusts you, I was hoping that maybe you had heard from him, that there is nothing wrong. I know he keeps in contact with you.” This was a hard admission for the Major.
After their initial reunion, they had both been so happy to finally find each other, but then they had lost contact for nearly a year. And after the Major had finally found his son again, things had been good for a little while. Jarod had been so excited and the Major was desperately hoping to form a real father-son relationship with him. He had missed nearly his entire life and he did not want to waste one second more. But Jarod had not spent very much time with them. He claimed that it was very dangerous for them to be together in one place for very long. Jarod did not want to place them in any more danger and he knew that The Centre would never stop searching for him. And although the Major knew that this was true, he also felt that this Jarod was using it as an excuse. And Jarod was more determined than ever to find his mother. Both he and Emily had set off to pursue their own avenues of research. Emily checked in on a regular basis and was developing a warm relationship with her new brother. Jarod however had distanced himself from all of them. It was not uncommon for him to go months without any contact. The Major believed it was because Jarod felt uncomfortable with his ‘brother’. He was afraid that the developing relationship between himself and Gem was threatening to Jarod. And he hated The Centre even more for planting such insecurity in Jarod. He also knew that Jarod felt very guilty about this, and was becoming quite depressed. He had refused to talk about it. It was almost ironic. Jarod usually had such clear insight into people and their problems. But Jarod was so emotionally unprepared to cope with this situation, having had no real experience dealing with the everyday reality of family. He couldn’t pretend his way out of it or around it, and it was eating away at him.
And then Jarod called to say he was on his way to Scotland, that he had some leads. But once he was back from Scotland, he was even more close-mouthed than before. He had called once to say that he briefly caught a glimpse of his mother and that he needed some time to think. The Major was concerned about the pain that he heard in his son’s voice and desperately wanted to talk to him. He wanted so badly to form a real connection with Jarod. But then there had been nothing but silence. Jarod had asked for some time, and the Major had acquiesced, he knew that Jarod needed time and space to work out his feelings. But the Major understood so little about Jarod the man, and although he knew all about Jarod the Pretender, he was beginning to think that allowing Jarod to isolate himself had been a momentous mistake. It had been so long now since he had heard from Jarod and he was very worried. He knew how risky it was coming to Sydney like this, but he was the only person he could turn to. He just hoped that Sydney was the man that Jarod seemed to think he was.
“Major, please sit down. I have to tell you something.” Sydney took a steadying breath and related the events of the last six months to the Major. Sydney did not try to justify his actions, he just told the sad tale in a flat, unemotional voice, it was almost a confession.
Sydney watched emotions run through the Major. First there was shock, then rage and finally despair. When the major had the worst of his emotions under control he spoke, Sydney was expecting recriminations and anger.
“What have they been doing to him, what kind of shape is he in?” The Major did not want to waste time with blame and reproach. Those bastards had had his son for just over six months now, and god only knew what they had been doing to him. He shuddered at the thought of it. And then finally, “How do we get him out?”
Sydney and the Major talked long into the night. Sydney told the Major everything that he could, but he had not seen Jarod for more than a month now, and so knew very little about what had been going on recently.
The Major could see the burden of guilt that Sydney carried, but at the moment he could not be concerned about Sydney. He had to focus all of his attention on planning to get Jarod out, and if what Sydney had said about the security was true, that was not going to be easy. Although the Major had realised this almost immediately. The very fact that they had been able to hold Jarod as long as they had was testimony enough.
Sydney was loath to bring up the subject, but he felt that it could no longer be avoided.
“I don’t know how much help I can offer. I will do everything within my power of course, but the people you really need to talk to are Broots and Miss Parker.”
The Major’s reaction was immediate.
“I don’t want that woman anywhere near my son. You don’t really expect me to trust her, do you? Not after what she has done.” The Major could not believe what Sydney was asking of him. It was Miss Parker that Jarod had sacrificed himself for the first time they caught him. He had watched helplessly from the plane as Jarod had given up his chance at escape to save her life. And now he had just been informed that it had been the very same woman that had shot and captured Jarod.
“No! I can imagine there would be nothing she would like more than to drag me and my son back to The Centre.” The Major got up to leave. He was thinking how appalled Catherine would be to know what kind of person her daughter had turned into. And now that he knew where Jarod was, he could figure the rest out for himself. He silently cursed himself, he should have known something was wrong long before now. Jarod had been imprisoned in that hell-hole for over half a year! The Major was not going to waste another moment. He knew Jarod trusted Sydney, but he was still a long way from that trust. And he could not afford to endanger himself or Gem, for then they would never have any chance of getting Jarod out.
For a brief moment Sydney was confused. Then he realised that the Major must be referring to the boy Gemini.
“Please Major. Please. For Jarod's sake. Give her a chance. I know you have no reason to trust her. But please meet with her, listen to what she has to say. Then, walk away, if that’s what you want. But you won't be able to get Jarod out on your own.”
“And how do I know that she won't bring an army of sweepers?”
“Major, you said your son trusts me, if you want to help him, you will have to trust me too.” Sydney sighed inwardly. He hated himself, although it was not exactly a lie, but he knew that he no longer had Jarod's trust, and it was likely that he would never regain that trust again.
When the Major left, Sydney felt the smallest ray of hope, something he had not felt in a long, long time. Tomorrow he would talk to Parker and Broots. He slept soundly through what was left of the night, the first time he had done that since he had learned of Jarod's capture.
The Next Day
The Hybrid Biotracts
Parker and Broots were meeting with Sydney in the nature walks. It was the only place they could talk at The Centre and not be overheard. Sydney had relayed the previous nights meeting to the two of them.
“I want to meet with him Syd.” Parker was adamant. Finally they might be able to do something. These past months had been very extremely difficult for her. Parker was not used to sitting idly by. She was a woman of action. She had clawed her way to the top of Corporate and was now a force to be reckoned with. And yet, it had still been terribly frustrating. After all the indecision, a lifetime of being lied to, she had finally made up her mind to take a stand, but there was nothing she could do.
“He doesn’t trust you Parker.”
She grabbed Sydney's arm “Well then, make him trust me.”
Sydney's phone rang. He shrugged off Parker’s grip and answered the phone.
“Hello this is Sydney.” His eyebrows shot up as the Major responded. But before he continued, Parker had snatched the phone out of his hand.
There was a brief pause on the other end.
“Miss Parker.” The voice was terse, there had been no effort to hide the animosity.
“Major Charles. I know what you must think of me, but my only concern right now is Jarod. We need to get him out, and to do this, we need to put aside our personal issues. Once Jarod is safe, then, but only then, will I answer to you.” Parker knew that a day of reckoning would come, and she was prepared to face the consequences, but not today, not until Jarod was safe.
It was finally decided that the four of them would meet that night as Sydney's house. But if anyone suspected that they were being monitored in any way, they would have to abort. It had been so long now, and Parker did not think that they were being watched, but this was The Centre after all and you could never be too careful.
Parker ordered Broots to get every piece of information available on the Jarod Project and SL-27. Although technically Broots did not work for Miss Parker anymore, that didn’t stop her. She wasn’t sure what the Major could do that they hadn’t already thought of, but it felt damn good to at least be trying.
Broots scurried along, he had much to do before tonight, and he would have to be careful. But since Jarod's capture, nobody had paid much attention to the techie, and he had been allowed unrivalled access into the mainframe. As much as he hated to admit it, life had been much easier for him since Jarod had been caught. He felt guilty for feeling like this, knowing what must be going on with Jarod. He knew that the Pretender was back working full-time now, and he shuddered to think of what it took to get Jarod to cooperate. He had not asked Sydney or Miss Parker about what had happened, he really didn’t want to know. And neither of them had been forthcoming. Broots had thought that it was best left alone. But guilt had nagged at him. He owed Jarod, for Debbie, and he felt partially responsible for Jarod's capture. Yes, he would do everything that he could to help them, just as long as it didn’t put his daughter at risk.
Later That Night
The tension in the air at Sydney's house was almost thick enough to cut. Parker was pacing and craving desperately for a cigarette. Sydney was sitting calmly, but was churning on the inside. The Major did not trust Parker, and in all honesty, Sydney could not blame him. And Sydney was very afraid that Parker would not be able to control her temper, and scare the Major away. Sydney was prepared to move heaven and earth in order to save Jarod, and if that meant making sure Parker behaved herself, then he was damned sure that she would.
Broots was fiddling with files on his lap-top. He kept glancing nervously between Sydney, Miss Parker and his watch. The Major was now two hours overdue. Broots wished that he could be anywhere but here. He finally looked up and said what they were all thinking.
“Maybe, maybe he’s not going to come.” He waited for a response, and when there was none, he continued. “I don’t understand, what do you expect the Major to be able to do. I mean, I know he’s Jarod's father and all, but he’s not a Pretender.”
“I am though.”
Three heads swung simultaneously to the source of the voice.
It had been more than three years since Parker or Sydney had seen Gemini. He had grown and was looking more like ‘their’ Jarod. Parker brought her hand up to her lips and fought back the tears. She was unprepared for the onslaught of emotions that coursed through her as she looked at him. He was Jarod, and he wasn’t. He was so young, and she was remembering Jarod at that age. But this boy had a healthy colour about him that Jarod never had. He had that same look in his eyes that she remembered so fondly and it was breaking her heart to think that Jarod may never have that look again.
Gem was followed into the house by his father. He was distinctly uncomfortable under the scrutiny. He knew that when they were looking at him they were seeing Jarod, and he fought the urge to tell them that he wasn’t Jarod, that he was his own person. He sometimes caught his father looking at him that same way, as if he were searching for his ‘real’ son and would be forever disappointed that he only got the ‘copy’. He often wondered if he would ever feel like a real individual, not just a duplicate, the shadow of another man.
As Gem moved into the room, Sydney could not tear his eyes from him. He finally rose from the chair and approached the Major.
“I was worried that you weren’t coming.”
“Just being careful Sydney. Didn’t want to walk into a trap.” He cast a glance at Parker.
Parker clearly wanted to respond, but a sharp look from Sydney silenced her.
Gem could feel the tension between his father and Miss Parker, it was practically vibrating between them, but he did not understand it. His father had not told him the circumstances of Jarod's capture, only that he was now in The Centre and that they were going to try and get him out. The Major was hoping that Gem’s abilities as a Pretender could help them. Gem moved over towards Miss Parker. She was the first person in his life that had ever shown him any kindness, and he felt a very strong connection to her. He wanted to get to know her. He knew so little about her, just that she worked for The Centre, and that Jarod had given up his freedom once to save her life.
“You must be Mr Broots.” The Major tried to dispel some of the tension.
Broots got up clumsily and shook the Major’s outstretched hand.
“Pleased to meet you sir. Umm….. I just want to say, that umm,…..” Broots sat back down and turned back to his computer, when he noticed that the Major was no longer paying him any attention. Gem was making his way towards Miss Parker. The Major grabbed Gem’s arm before he could get too close to Parker. He didn’t like the idea of his son, any one of his son’s, having anything to do with her.
“This is Gem, my son.” There was no mistaking the pride and protectiveness in his voice.
Parker got up, ignoring the Major’s cold stare, and shook the young man’s hand.
“I am very pleased to meet you properly Gem.” There was a warmth and tenderness in her voice that surprised all three men. Sydney looked up sharply. He knew that Parker was seeing the same thing that he was seeing, and the same thing that he imagined the Major saw. A second chance in this boy, perhaps a way to make up for all the things that they could not change.
Gem and Parker settled into an easy conversation. It felt natural to Gem, he had remembered her kindness and how gentle she had been with him, and he wanted so very badly for her to like him. But a silence grew between them. She took his hand and held it in her lap and stared down at it. Gem was hoping that she was thinking about him, thinking about when they had met at Donoterase, but when a tear splashed on his hand, he knew that she was thinking about Jarod. He wanted to pull his hand away in disappointment, but she shook herself and let him go. She looked up into his eyes and smiled at him.
“I won't look the other way ever again.” She promised him. Then she got up and joined the men at Broots’ computer.
Gem was left sitting there on his own. He didn’t really understand what she was talking about, but he understood only too clearly who she was talking to. He fought down the bitter stab of jealousy, and made his way over to the group as well. They were all here for Jarod. They were here to try and save Jarod. He hated himself for such unworthy emotions. He owed Jarod for everything that was now good in his life. Jarod had risked himself to save him and he had given unstintingly of himself that first night. It had been so very difficult for Gem to accept the truth that Jarod had told him. To come to terms about what he was, who he was. Gem had secretly hoped that Jarod would become a father to him, he had been so warm and loving, so concerned and Gem could feel the sincerity behind his words. He also recognized the loneliness underneath the voice. The need to be loved and wanted as a person, not just valued because of what you could do. He shared more than just Jarod’s DNA, he felt that they were kindred spirits. Gem loved his father of course, but he had been very disappointed that Jarod was not more involved in his life.
Gem sat down next to Broots and cracked his knuckles. He was fully focused now, having shaken off the emotions of a moment ago. It was time to show these people what a Pretender could do, and when Gem set his mind to something, he usually finished what he started. Raines was not one that took failure lightly, and Gem had learnt his lessons well.
Broots liked this young man almost instantly. He was affable and quite easy-going, but Broots could feel his awkwardness under the showy exterior of confidence. Broots had never known the real Jarod at this age, but from watching so many of the DSA’s he felt that he had. And this boy was definitely Jarod. There was no denying his skill with the computer either. Gem managed to crack one of Broots’ firewalls in less than half an hour. Broots chuckled to himself, he had set it up as a test, to see if the kid was any good, and he had figured that it would take him at least an hour.
Broots started explaining to Gem about the security system that Raines and Lyle had set up. He gave him a detailed rundown on what he had been doing thus far and the problems he had encountered. For the first time in a long time, Broots began to believe that perhaps they might be able to find a way around the system after all. As the two of them got deeper into the computer tech stuff, neither of them noticed as Miss Parker, Sydney and Major Charles moved away.
Both Sydney and Miss Parker found it extremely difficult to take their eyes from Gem. They moved into Sydney's kitchen so as not to disturb the duo at the computer. If there was a way to get Jarod out, it was Broots and Gem that were going to have to find it.
Sydney gestured for them to sit down at the table as he prepared coffee for them. Major Charles eyed Miss Parker of warily, he was still obviously uncomfortable with her presence here. He clearly remembered the last time that he saw her, and her gun was aimed straight at his heart. As he looked at her, he could not help comparing her to Catherine, they were identical, and yet as different as night and day. He sat down opposite her.
“Ok, I am here, and I am willing to listen. But make no mistake. I will not allow you, not under any circumstances, to touch my son. I will do anything to protect him from you people.” He looked over his shoulder at Gem hunched at the computer in the other room. He silently added “Not like how I failed to protect you, Jarod.”
Miss Parker bit back the caustic remark that was about to jump out of her mouth. She knew that the Major had good reason to hate The Centre, and good reason not to trust her. But oh, it was so difficult, and she had to remind herself that they were here to help Jarod. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize Jarod, alive and healthy and free. Happy. But she could not shake the memory of the last time that she had seen him. How utterly bereft he had been, hanging limply, chained to the wall, his look of relief when Lyle had finally saved him.
“We are all here for the same reason.” Sydney placed the steaming mugs of coffee in front of them. He hoped that he did not have to play peacemaker for much longer. His nerves were already stretched to breaking point, and although he knew that Parker’s heart was in the right place, he wasn’t sure that he could cope with very much more of her attitude. He chastised himself silently. He knew it was just her coping mechanism and that she wanted Jarod out just as much as he did, perhaps even more.
As the evening wore on, the three in the kitchen had come to an understanding, and hopefully they would be able to work together. The Major saw that although Sydney and Miss Parker had a seemingly adversarial relationship, they had that easy camaraderie that came from a long association. It was becoming very obvious to him that these two people cared at least as much as he did about his son. The Major had learned the complete story behind Jarod's capture, and he grudgingly admitted that perhaps he had judged Parker too quickly. He could clearly see her anguish over what she had been forced to do. But he also knew that the two of them were holding things back from him, and these things might prove vital. He was determined to have the whole story, but maybe not tonight. A fragile alliance had been formed tonight and he didn’t want to jeopardize that. Until they could break into the security system, there was nothing more he could really do here. He knew that he needed them to get in, but he didn’t need them to get out. He had no intentions of sharing his plans with them for what he intended to do after they got Jarod out. He would take Jarod and Gem far away from the clutches of The Centre.
Finally, the discussion about Jarod over, Parker asked a question that she had been wanting to ask all night.
“Have you heard from Ethan?”
A dark cloud passed across the Major’s face. He looked at Parker and found that he sympathised with her. Here at least, they were on common ground.
“No. I am afraid that I have not heard from nor seen Ethan in over 18 months. He was having a terrible time trying to adjust to life, and one day he was just gone. No note, nothing.”
Sydney sympathised immediately with him. It seemed that this man was destined to spend the rest of his life trying to patch his fractured family back together.
Parker leaned back in disappointment. She had been hoping very much for some news on her brother. She had not heard from him since he had left abruptly. They were all very tired. Although it had been exciting to finally be doing something, it had also been a very emotionally draining night. Nothing more could be accomplished until Broots and Gem found a crack in the security. And there was no telling when that would happen.
The Major went out to the other room to collect his son. A weary smile came to his face as he saw Gem and Broots hunched over the computer. It appeared that they had become friends already and the Major was glad for his son. The realities of their life made it very difficult for Gem to develop any kind of real friendships. And as warped and twisted as this group was, he was grateful for that at least.
It was agreed that it was far too dangerous for them to meet like this again and so a schedule would have to be worked out. Sydney, Parker and Broots would go back to work and try to behave normally. Any information that they could glean on Jarod or what was going on with him would be passed on to the major via an email account similar to the Refuge account that Jarod and Sydney had used. Gem now had access to most of what he needed and Broots would be contacted when necessary. Now they all hoped, it was just a matter of time, but the waiting would be extremely difficult.