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Through a red haze, Miss Parker watched as Jarod bent over her, concern written all over his face. Behind him Mr Parker stood and watched every move that Jarod made. A loud humming filled Miss Parker's ears but it slowly receded and was gone before she could recognize it. Gradually she realized that the expression on Jarod's face had changed. No longer was it friendly or kind but now his eyes glinted like pieces of steel and his eyebrows were drawn together as he glared down at her. In disbelief Miss Parker watched as Jarod reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small pistol with a silencer. She tried to alert her father to the danger but her movements were sluggish due to the pain that the original shot had caused her. A shivering, which went right along her spine from head to toe, followed a sharp jolt in her stomach. A red haze colored her vision and she watched with a sort of dumb surprise as Jarod spun around and sent a bullet through her father’s forehead. Almost in slow motion she watched as he crumpled to the ground. A maniacal laugh from Jarod meant that her final action before the darkness swept over her was to look at him as he stood above her in triumph.
Miss Parker's limbs flailed and she forced herself to move. A jolt of pain shot through her chest and, struggling to breathe through it, she fell back onto the pillow. A face came into view from her right-hand side and it took her several seconds to identify her father as he looked at her with concern.
"It's all right, Angel. It was just a dream. You're safe. This is a hospital and we're going to take good care of you."
"Miss Parker, I'm going to give you something to help you sleep."
Miss Parker's eyes swiveled around to the other side of the bed and she watched as a nurse injected fluid into a tube above her head. The nurse then picked up her arm and, as a warm feeling flooded over her and the pain receded, Miss Parker saw with a lazy shock that the tube led into the back of her own hand.
As Miss Parker's eyelids fell, her father turned to the tall figure at the end of the bed.
"How can I repay you for all of this?"
The figure waited until the nurse had left the room before he replied. "You know how. If you contact any of the Centre personnel while we are here your daughter will die. Do I make myself clear?"
Mr Parker nodded and watched as the figure glanced at Miss Parker's chart and then left the room. With a deep sigh he returned to his seat beside the bed.
Miss Parker stared up at the ceiling, trying to recall the recent events that had resulted in her being admitted to the hospital. Her dreams, all of which had been distressing and violent, were completely confused and she had lost almost all sense of real time. Her father had refused to discuss the cause with her until she was stronger. That, he had assured her, had been on medical advice from her doctor. As far as she had been able to tell, it had been three days since she had been admitted to the hospital and, for the first time, she had been allowed to have the head of the bed raised slightly. He father had taken this as a good sign but the doctor had warned him to be cautious.
"You don't want her to be permanently injured simply due to hurrying her convalescence, do you? Then this needs to be done slowly. I must reiterate, Mr Parker, that your daughter's injuries were, and, to a certain extent, remain, life threatening."
The older man had nodded and turned away. But then he stopped.
"Earlier you asked me why. Now I want to ask you the same question."
"The answer remains the same. Nothing will change that."
Miss Parker looked up as her father entered the room and she watched as he sat down on the chair beside her bed.
"Daddy, please. Tell me. I need to know what happened."
He sighed and looked at his hands. Miss Parker waited for several seconds.
"At least tell me where we are."
"Angel, I'm afraid that I really don't know. It's a small clinic but there's nothing to tell me if we're even still in America, let alone in which state. All I can tell you is what I know about what happened."
"Then tell me."
"Do you think you're up to it?"
As she sighed, two unseen listeners smiled at each other and waited to hear what came next.
"Sweetheart, at the flight school Willie shot at me. You got in the way. We laid you on the ground, protected by Sydney's car, and Jarod said that you would die unless you got to a hospital soon. Major Charles and the clone took off in the plane, although Raines tried to prevent them. When Brigitte tried to shoot Jarod, he got away and climbed onto a motorbike. Willie shot out the tires and Jarod's bike crashed. You…" Mr Parker stopped and took several deep breaths but his voice broke regularly as he continued. "You were dying. I could hear it. I made them…I forced them…to let Jarod get up and help you. Your brother and Brigitte watched while he did what he could but Raines began to get impatient. He sent Willie, Lyle, Broots and Brigitte, who was feeling sick again, back to the Centre so that Mutumbo would know what was going on and so that Broots could try and track the plane in which Major Charles and the clone had escaped. He, Sydney and I waited while Jarod did what he could. Finally Jarod said that the only way to properly help you was to get you to a hospital. Raines didn't believe him, thinking it was a trick so that Jarod could escape again, and tried to argue but I had picked up Brigitte's gun and I threatened to kill him unless he let Jarod, Sydney and I take you somewhere where we could look after you.…"
Miss Parker had been staring at her father in disbelief but now she broke the silence.
"You…you threatened Raines? You threatened to kill him? Why?"
"Because all that mattered to me was you. I couldn't have cared less about Jarod right then - or his father - or the clone. All I cared about was that you came back to me." Mr Parker's voice became husky as emotion swept over him again and the opening of the door gave him time to collect his thoughts.
Miss Parker stared in amazement as Sydney looked into the room and smiled at her.
"Syd? What are you doing here?"
"I think that was where your father was up to in his story." He looked at Mr Parker. "Do you want to continue or shall I take over for you?"
Receiving a nod, Sydney sat in the chair on the other side of the bed and thought for a few seconds before speaking.
"Raines was walked by Jarod to the flying school building and Jarod locked him into a small office. On a scrap of paper he wrote a message, telling Mutumbo where Raines could be found, and then we carried you to the car in which I'd driven Major Charles to the flying school. Jarod and I got into the front and your father was in the back with you. Jarod drove for a few hours but your father had more important things on his mind than to look at the scenery. Then he got to another airport and we all got onto a plane, where a nurse looked after you. Finally he landed at the hospital here and…"
Sydney ran out of words but the introduction of a fourth person into the room made his next sentence unnecessary.
"Well, now that everything's understood perhaps I can have the luxury of examining my patient when she's awake rather than asleep."
Miss Parker lay back on the pillows, her whole body throbbing from the pain. Gentle though Jarod had been, he had been unable to help hurting her and she had had difficulty preventing him from realizing it. However she had been quite proud of her stoicism until she had heard Jarod speaking to a nurse in the doorway.
"Make sure she has something for the pain. It's needless suffering."
Miss Parker sighed with relief as the pain eased and she looked around the room briefly before closing her eyes.
"This is Sydney."
"Where is my son?"
The psychiatrist let out a deep breath before responding. "To be honest, Major Charles, I would have to say that I have no idea."
"Actually, I also have no idea where I am, either. Jarod flew us to some remote hospital where he is currently treating Miss Parker for her injuries and he has refused to divulge the location to any of us."
"I need to talk with him - now!"
Jarod looked at the screen in front of him. On it was a still of his father at the Pakor Frozen Food company - the only current record of his father that he had. He shut down the computer just as Sydney entered the room.
"A phone call for you, Jarod. I thought it was pretty important."
Jarod looked hard at Sydney but was unable to read the expression on his face or in his eyes, despite his knowledge of the older man.
"This is Jarod."
"Oh, thank God. I've finally found you again."
"Dad! Dad, are you alright?"
"I'm fine and so is the boy. Are you alright? I was so worried!"
"Dad, calm down. I'm fine."
"Jarod, where are you? How can I get to you?"
"I'll send someone to pick you up and bring you here. I can't leave and you would never be able to find this place on your own."
A muttering at the other end of the phone made Jarod suspicious and, as Sydney had already left the room, he began a frantic trace on the call. As his father came back on the line, the tracer located the position of the caller, which showed up on a map on his computer screen. Jarod stared blankly at the screen for several seconds, in shock, until he was able to respond by frantically breaking the connection, leaping up from his chair and running from the room, entering that to which the psychiatrist had returned.
"We have to leave."
"What?!" Sydney stared at Jarod in shock. "We can't leave!"
"The Centre knows that we're here! We have to get out as soon as possible. I'll be ready to leave in an hour. Make sure you are too."
A small dose was injected into the IV drip above Miss Parker's head and she watched as it flowed down the tube and into her arm.
"I still don't know why you're doing this."
"Just a precautionary measure, Miss Parker. We wouldn't want you to get worse for lack of a little care." The nurse tried to speak calmly but she was unable to fully repress the fear that Jarod had managed to instill in her during their short interview.
A sound outside made her look out of the window and she saw Jarod taxiing a plane into position close to the nearest exit. Two stooping figures approached the plane and were ushered on board. Looking down, the nurse saw that her patient was asleep and she released the brake and wheeled the bed out of the room and down the hall. At the doorway, she found another nurse waiting for her and together they rolled the bed outside and assisted Jarod in loading it onto the plane, where he locked it into position.
"Julia, you are coming I hope?"
"Of course. Don't forget, Ann," she spoke to the other nurse. "We've never been here and you don't know any of us."
As she spoke the door was slammed shut and, within a few seconds, the plane began to move down the makeshift runway and took off into the blue sky. Then she turned back inside.
Two hours later, as she was putting a new dressing on one of the other patients, a plane could be heard overhead.
"You're popular today, aren't you?" The patient laughed a little at his own joke, with care for his bruised ribs, and Ann smiled back.
"We're always popular, Mr Stewart. But I think these are the people I was told to expect."
She left the room, having swiftly completed the dressing, and hurried out to the desk. There, as she had expected, were a group dressed in black, headed by a blond woman and a man wearing a leather glove on one hand.
"What can I do for you people today?"
"We’re looking for one of your doctors. This man. His name is Jarod and we know that he's been working here."
Ann carefully examined the photo he held out. "I'm sorry but there is only one doctor associated with this hospital and his name is Frederick. He's not here at the moment. Are you sure you have the right place?"
The woman looked hard at the nurse, who returned the gaze without blinking. "Look, sister, we know that he was here. He was treating a patient for bullet wounds. He's accompanied by two older men, one of whom is my husband."
"We haven't treated bullet wounds for months. You can check our records if you wish. But I must say that it was a little careless of you to let your husband go, if you're that worried about him. Perhaps this doctor could be at one of the other hospitals in the neighborhood. There are several clinics within a few miles of here. You may have better luck with one of those." Discreetly she pressed a button with her foot, lighting up a call button on the signal wall behind her and emitting a short buzz. "Now, if you'll excuse me, my patients need me."
She turned from the desk, thankful that the switch had been installed earlier, designed to prevent her from having to talk with annoying salesmen who often landed in the area.
After about twenty minutes in the air, Julia rose from her seat. After scrabbling around in his pocket for a few seconds, Jarod handed her a small plastic container.
“Dalmane! Do you really think that’s such a great idea? I mean, the side effects…”
“If the two of us can’t deal with any side effects together then I’m worried! Besides, it’s only a once-off. And I really don’t want them seeing where we’re going.”
“Well, I’m sure you know what you’re doing…”
With a soft laugh Jarod concentrated on the controls of the plane, changing direction slightly and heading south-west. As he did so a small, red light next to the hand-held radio on the control panel began to flash.
Using a mirror on the wall of the mythical 'ward', which was really nothing more than an office, Ann was able to watch the party. They stood for several minutes at the desk, deep in conversation and obviously nonplussed at their reception. Finally, much to her relief, she watched them leave and heard a place take off. When the last sounds had vanished, she emerged from the room and checked through the several wards and other rooms to ensure that they had not left any guards behind, before turning to the small aeroplane radio unit on the desk.
Jarod disconnected the radio call and replaced the receiver. He grinned at his co-pilot, who smiled back.
“Looks like we were lucky.”
“I guess so. But I still don’t know how you guessed that the Centre was running a trace on the call.”
“Call it instinct but somehow I just knew - maybe because if my dad was free he wouldn’t have needed to talk to other people about his plans. That’s why I ran my own trace. It showed the Centre’s location all too clearly, which is why we left. And not before time, by the sound of it, either.”
Julia, after checking that all of the other passengers were comfortable and still sleeping, turned to Miss Parker. She was still under the influence of the Activan, which had caused her almost instantaneous sleep at the other hospital and which, Julia knew, would keep her unconscious for several hours after their arrival, which is exactly what she had been ordered to arrange.
Jarod taxied the plane down the runway and into the hangar. Miss Parker was still sleeping but the others were awake, although still slightly woozy. They were helped down and into the building which adjoined the aeroplane hangar, while two other nurses appeared and wheeled Miss Parker’s bed into the hospital and into the room prepared for her. After several more hours, she awoke to find her father again beside her bed.
“It’s all right, Angel. You’re still in hospital and I’m here.”
“It’s a - different place.” Miss Parker forced the words out through lips that would not work properly.
“Yes, Sweetheart, I know. We took a short trip and brought you here, where you’d be safe. Now just go to sleep.” He put his hand on hers and watched as her eyelids fell. Then he turned to the doorway.
“Are we safe here, do you think?”
“As safe as we are anywhere. You know as well as I do what the Centre can do. But I don’t think they’ll find us for a while yet.”
“And this is a hospital?”
“There are quite a number attached to various small runways across the continent. I got the address of the first one from a page in a phone book and arranging a transfer was easy.”
Jarod turned and quietly left the room. Once in his office and with the door locked, Jarod withdrew Sydney’s phone from his pocket. Using a cord, which he removed from his desk, he plugged the phone into his lap-top and connected to the mobile phone company with which the Centre had their accounts. He located the record for Sydney’s phone and changed the phone number, thereby preventing the Centre from calling and locating them again. Then he unplugged the phone and slipped it back into his pocket. Finally, as he searched the Centre mailbox, his eyes lit up with delight.
Lyle stared in shock at a piece of paper which Raines handed to him. For the third time he read over the contents and dropped the paper on his desk.
“Mutumbo wants Major Charles as well as the clone? Why?”
“How should I know?” Raines glared at Lyle, who began to pace the room.
“Have you tried to contact him? What does he say?”
“He isn’t reachable. We’ve been trying for hours. How could you let this happen?” Brigitte’s unpleasant whine rang across the room and Lyle glared at her.
“We didn’t let anything happen! We’re in the best possible position that we could be in. I just don’t understand why Mutumbo and the Triumvirate would want Major Charles as well!”
“We don’t have time to stand here arguing. Mutumbo has only given us twenty-four hours to get the boy to him.”
“Are we going to do it?”
“We don’t have a choice! Order Willie and Sam to accompany us. I’ll meet you here in five hours!”
“Yes!” Jarod stared at the computer screen and allowed Julia to read over his shoulder. “They’re moving the two of them tonight - to an unspecified location.”
“Miss Parker will be able to return to the Centre by then. In fact, had this been a normal situation, she would have been able to return on the day that we moved.”
“You’re coming with me?”
“Well, it’s always nice to have a woman’s touch in these things, don’t you know.”
Willie and Sam stood guard over the Centre safe-house while Lyle, Brigitte and Raines waited for word from Mutumbo. Finally the phone, lying on the table between them, rang and all three jumped to answer it. Lyle reached it first and listened to a short message before hanging up.
“That was Broots. He received a message about a sighting of Jarod in Bakersfield, California. He got this from a police officer in that town. He said, and I quote: “We are holding a man here whom we arrested for practicing medicine without a license. He has a high fever and has mentioned ‘The Centre’ during some of his fever-induced ramblings. We also found a case of picture discs with the name of your corporation on every scene. So we called you. But he won’t go without a fight. You need everyone you can get here as soon as possible.”
“So why hasn’t Broots sent the other sweepers out to this place?”
“You sent all of them except Willie and Sam off to various other Centre offices, remember?” Raines’ voice held a touch of bitterness as well as his accustomed sarcasm.
“So the only people we can trust are - here?” Brigitte’s voice rose in pitch until she was squeaking with indignation.
“We’re not thinking straight! If we can get Jarod then we’ll have everything Mutumbo wants and we can finally get back to the original tasks of the Centre. Let’s get Major Charles and the boy back to the Centre and get going.”
“But if Mutumbo comes and they aren’t here then there’ll be more trouble.”
“So someone has to stay behind…”
Jarod and Julia slipped behind the building and watched as the loaded car pulled away from the building.
“It worked! It really did! I never thought it would!”
“Were you doubting me?” Jarod spoke in the same undertone as she had used and grinned back at her over his shoulder and, further back, at the ambulance as it waited, silently, several hundred metres away behind a thick wall of bushes. Then he looked through the window at Willie as he stood guard over his father and his clone, both of whom were bound tightly to chairs.
“This’ll be easier than I thought. Ready to go?”
“Uh huh. Let’s do it.”
Jarod waited until Willie was looking out of the door. Silently he tossed a blanket through the open window above his head and then dropped a silver canister into the room.
Raines and Lyle glared at the police office who had come to meet them at the desk.
“What do you mean, Jarod’s not here? You called us…”
“I have already told you several times, we are not holding anyone by that name or under those circumstances here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” The sergeant walked away from the desk and through a door into a room behind him. The group left and walked out onto the street.
“It must have been Jarod who sent us here. Call Willie. Get him to keep his eyes open. Tell him we’ll be there in two hours. Lyle jumped into the car and, hardly waiting for the others, sped off.
Jarod fixed his gas-mask on more firmly and wheeled in the first trolley. He untied the nearest figure from the chair and with Julia’s help, loaded his father only the mattress. Then, as he fastened the straps and began to roll the gurney out of the door, he saw the boy being treated in a similar manner while Willie was slumped on a third seat. When the two trolleys were loaded into the ambulance Jarod went back and tied Willie into his chair before snatching up the canister and, with gloved hands, locked the door behind him.
As the helicopter rose above the helipad, with the lights of Bakersfield glistening behind them, Jarod rose from his seat and went to check on the other occupants of the chopper.
“Are they awake?”
“Not yet. Give them a couple more hours and they’ll be fine.” He took his seat again and the machine hovered high above the ground. Jarod took a pair of field-glasses from a case at his side and watched as a familiar black car pulled up beside the small building and people poured out of it and inside.
“I can’t believe we just raced past them.”
“Well, we are an official emergency vehicle. And neither one of us was driving, remember.”
There was a long pause while Jarod stared out of the window in front of him.
“What now, Jarod?”
“Now… now I find the rest of my family and then we live happily ever after - isn't what they always say in stories?”