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Disclaimer: The characters Miss Parker, Sydney, Jarod, Broots etc. and the fictional Centre, are all property of MTM and NBC Productions and used without permission. I'm not making any money out of this and no infringement is intended.

Part 2

by StarsingerSaathi

"No, I do not want to be dropped off midair," Miss Parker was explaining patiently. "Nor do I want to be dropped off alone." Her voice echoed weirdly in the biosuit that the CDC people had insisted she wear. The man she was speaking to, a native Mexican who was the only pilot within a thousand miles who spoke English, was willing to fly her into a hot zone, who accepted the scant amount of money she had on her- plus her cigarettes, butane lighter, and her 'medicinal' booze - shook his head in fear. She doubted that the unwieldy green suit and helmet she was wearing (and he wasn't) helped his paranoia any, either.

"I may be cheap, lady, but I'm not crazy. Look, I just drop you off twenty feet from the ground into that big hay pile over there. That's soft, yes?" She looked over to where he was gesturing. The 'hay pile' was actually a large compost heap-like mound, covered in cut grass to keep it from drying out. It was forty feet from where they had dropped the supplies - all safely in durable, foam-lined containers, thank God - but it was still unappealing. She realized that he was maneuvering the small helicopter over to the mound and faced him with her fiercest look, and shouted back.

"NO!" But he was undeterred. He hovered the beat-up aircraft about twenty-five feet from the heap's highest, and hopefully softest, point, pulled the release for her door, and said:

"Yes! Goodbye, miss!" And pushed her out. She fell, screaming obscenities in every language (including a few in Spanish that made him glad he'd gotten rid of her) as she landed. She continued shouting at him until his plane had disappeared into the clouds.

Finally, she sat up, counting the bruises she'd pay him back for if and when she found his sorry hide again. Fortunately, he'd guessed right that it was soft - the actual grass part, at least. There were also massive branches, logs, and a pervasive odor of decomposition and. Oh, damn. For the pilot's sake, she hoped that she didn't smell what she thought she smelled..

Wait a second. She could smell? Through the suit? She twisted, examining the suit closely, and found a large rip in its sleeve. She didn't remember how it happened, but she was sure it was the pilot's fault. Or Jarod's. Either way, the suit was useless now.

She stripped the fabric away, ripping the tape from her wrists and ankles, and tied her long-sleeved shirt around her waist. God, it was hot out. She began trudging to the edge of the heap, and towards the large trunks of supplies and medicine Jarod had requested.

By the way, where was Jarod? He may have been sick, but the least he could do was send someone to meet her and help carry this junk to the hospital. She scanned the clearing's edge, and noted a long, low building just hidden by foliage at the tree line. From what she could make out, it had a large red cross on a white field painted on the doorway.

"At least I don't have to drag these things too far," she muttered, beginning to curse once more as she lifted two of the smaller containers. One in each hand, she waded through the uncut grass and scrub towards the tiny hospital. She made two more trips, depositing her burdens just outside the plank door, before ever looking in. She had a bad feeling about the building. It reeked of illness, and of death, the way the Centre reeked of confinement and solitude.

* * * * *

"So?" Sydney replied calmly to Lyle.

"So?!" The younger man shot back, "You just let her - no, you helped her leave?"

"I saw no reason not to. If I hadn't, I would have been hindered her job performance. Which, I remember you saying, was not up to par." Sydney repressed a smile at this warped sense of sibling rivalry that the Centre had brought about.

"Let me tell you something, Sydney: if something happens to her, and Jarod is still at large-or if he dies, god forbid. then you'll have the Triumvirate to face. They would not like to lose either, as much as a pain in the ass those two are." Lyle strode out, still fuming.

Sydney allowed himself to smile then, but more bleakly. He realized that Lyle was omitting one thing: it wouldn't be just Sydney being reprimanded, but everyone who'd known about Jarod's plight. Including Lyle.

He just hoped Parker had gotten to her destination in time to save the Pretender.

* * * * *

"Oh my dear god." Miss Parker said this in a monotone, staring around at the hospital's interior, or what she could make of it. The electricity had apparently gone out, and the only light illuminating the one-room clinic was filtered through the forest canopy and about forty layers of grime on the windowpanes (the ones not completely broken). Cracks and holes in the glass were plugged with rags, dimming the sunlight even further.

What she could see, however, was completely repulsive - by far the most squalid hellhole to which she had ever chased Jarod. The hard-packed dirt floor was littered with refuse, the three rows of cots crammed so closely together that she barely realized that the three foot open area along the left wall was actually an aisle. Mosquito netting, so torn and grimy it almost looked like spider webs hanging from the ceiling, covered the threadbare and stained cots by the windows and the door. The entire room was empty of people, but it still smelled of diseased human flesh. Miss Parker decided to breathe through her mouth.

As her eyes adjusted, she realized that the far wall was actually a makeshift curtain that had acquired the same beige tint that the once white walls had. She made her way towards this rudimentary partition, for once hoping not to find Jarod behind it. He wouldn't have stayed if it was possible for him to leave before she arrived with the serum.

She pulled back the curtain gingerly, seeing a desk covered with papers, medical supplies, a laptop, and. the DSA's. She caught her breath as her gaze found Jarod's still body.

"No," was all she could whisper.

* * * * *

"Jarod. Jarod, wake up, damn you!" He roused himself from his delirium long enough to peer weakly at the all-too-familiar apparition above him.

"Well, Miss Parker." he rasped, attempting to smile. He found it hurt the muscles in his face too much, and grimaced. That hurt, too. "I guess you've got me. That is, if you can save me." And he felt the darkness close around him once more as she laid a cool hand on his forehead.


One Day Later

"So, Sydney, any luck derailing the higher-ups?" He quickly shielded the mouthpiece of the pay phone Broots had rewired.

"Actually, no. Your father's quite determined to get you back, even with Brigitte on his arm, telling him to just disown you and get it over with." On the other end of the line, Miss Parker smiled in grim humor.

"Well, I'm not having much fun here, either. I just hope that the helicopter pilot delivered the cure to the CDC headquarters in Mexico City like he was supposed to." God, she was dying for a cigarette. She should have kept some from that coward Mexican.

"He must have. News of a 'miracle cure' are making headlines even in the U.S." Sydney paused. "What about Jarod?"

"What about him?" she replied, looking over at Jarod's nearby prone form. "He's alive, if that's what you mean. But still out like a light, thank God." She smiled again, this time with definite overtones of triumph. "Don't worry, Syd, I'll deliver him to daddy dearest within the next two weeks."

"Two weeks? That's too long! The Centre will find you by then!" Sydney protested. But she had already cut the connection, leaving him to wonder whether the phrase 'daddy dearest' referred to her own father, or to his own connection to Jarod. He gave Broots back the cannibalized receiver.

"All done?" The computer expert asked. Sydney merely nodded.

"I believe so, yes."


Two Days Later20

"God, how I loathe you," Miss Parker murmured to Jarod's sleeping figure behind her, wiping the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. She continued rinsing out the washbowl she'd been using for cool water. It had acquired an odd, repulsive, pinkish slime from his forehead. Thank heaven for rubber gloves.

She glanced at her sleeve, noticing a pinkish discoloration on the cuff. Great. She'd smeared some of his goo on her clothes. Wonderful. Too bad she hadn't been wearing the gloves while actually cleaning the stuff from his face. At least she hadn't cared to clean any other part of him. a thought she didn't even want to allow to cross her mind. She was not going to play Florence Nightingale to this bastard.

God, she felt like shit. She pressed her palm to her face, feeling a little flushed. "God damn it, god damn it," she spat out from beneath clenched teeth. The heat was starting to get to her.

Jarod stirred a little, making a noise of discomfort, and she whirled. His eyes were open again, but fortunately, not with the glassy look they'd had before. She noticed that his breathing was much better, too.

"Good morning, Jarod," she said bitterly. "Have a nice nap?" He sat up a little, and groaned again, clutching his temple and wincing as if something had struck him.

"So I wasn't in hell after all." He asked weakly.

"No, but you will be, as soon as I get you back to the Centre."

"Don't make me want to get better or anything." He smiled this time, without the searing pain in his nerve endings.

"You don't have a choice, now that you have the serum in you."

"So it works?" he seemed intensely focused on that subject. Mister guardian angel at it again, she thought. "Did you get it to the CDC?"

"It should be there by now."

"Oh thank." he sighed, sinking back onto the cot. He seemed drained of energy now, that small effort to carry on a conversation apparently too much for him. She watched him drift into the oblivion of sleep once more.

* * * * *

"All I know is that Miss Parker left for Mexico. I don't know how, I don't know when, and I don't know where!" Mr. Raines was nearly purple with rage.

"Neither do we, sir," Broots said quietly. It was the truth. Miss Parker had purposely left everyone out of the loop on the particulars of her departure, just in case.

"Why do I doubt you?"

"I really." Broots began. Sydney came to his rescue.

"Sir, I think you're pursuing a useless trail of investigation." Raines began to cough, he was so furious. "Why don't you follow up on this Nova person?"

"Because," Raines hissed, "That's what you two are going to do."


Three Days Later

Miss Parker rose from her light doze at a small sound. She looked around in the predawn darkness to find Jarod's bed empty. "Fuck!" she cried, immediately awake.

"Don't worry," a low voice said from the other side of the partition. She squinted, just able to make out Jarod's shadow thrown onto the vertical divider. "I just needed to go. I thought I'd spare you that from now on." She clenched her teeth, thankful for small mercies.

He walked in then, leaning heavily on the wall for support. Chips of the whitewash flaked off from his passage, exposing the bricks beneath. She held out a hand, offering some support in case he needed it. It would help her standing in the Centre if she didn't allow Jarod any more health mishaps. He shook his head, and she withdrew the offer. He was getting much better, but still had a couple of days before long-range travel was possible.

Jarod sat carefully on the edge of the cot, grimacing as his unusually slender frame was jarred by even that action. Miss Parker looked at him critically. He'd lost weight - not a lot, but just enough to prove his illness had indeed been serious. She sat too, feeling a bit weary. Her temples throbbed something awful.

As he turned to lie down, she noticed the faint yellowish bruising at his temples and froze, making the connection.

"Jarod." she began, suddenly chill with fear. He glanced over at her. "I think I'm sick." That got his attention. He was on his feet again in a moment, discarding the pain as unimportant sensory input, and knelt beside her.

"Are you feverish?" He asked quietly, just as if he were a real doctor. She nodded.

"Have you been flushed continually?" In the low light, he couldn't see the fine spiderwebbing of reddish capillaries just under her fair skin. Another nod.

"Headaches, dizziness, nausea, blurring eyesight?"

"Yes..." she whispered, brokenly, attempting to disguise the despair that threatened to overwhelm her. "But I gave myself the serum."

"You might have another strain," he suggested gently. That did it. She stood and strode away from him, through the back doorway and onto the path that, she'd discovered earlier, led to the hollow buildings of the village AgonEDa.

"AgonEDa," she whispered aloud. Agony. That sounded about right. She leaned against the hospital's outer wall, finally aware of the heated disease coursing through her body, infecting and crippling her nervous system. Her sight faded for a moment, and she pressed the base of her palms to her eyes, fighting the pain and the tears that threatened to appear.

"Miss Parker," Jarod said gently. "Can I get a blood sample?" She shook her head. No way was he going to come near her with a needle. He could inject something into her, and make a clean getaway.

Oh, hell, she told herself, you have nothing to lose. Besides, Saint Jarod would never pull a bait-and-switch on you. "Fine," she said aloud. She felt the sharp prick of the needle as a distant pain that grew sharper as her protesting nerves relayed the information.

The next thing she knew, she was feeling drowsy. So sleepy.

Jarod caught her as the sedative took hold and she crumpled towards the floor. He knew she'd resent him for tricking her, but her well-being was more important.

He did not think, even once, of using the opportunity to escape.

* * * * *

Sydney was worried, and had been since Miss Parker's last call. She'd sounded tired, and unwell. He made a decision, and picked up his home telephone, dialing her cell number. To hell if my line's tapped, he thought. Someone picked up the other end, but didn't answer.

"Hello?" Sydney asked into the receiver. "Miss Parker, is that you?"

"No, Sydney." From the tone in Jarod's voice, Sydney knew something was wrong. "Miss Parker didn't get all the information I sent you, did she?"

"No." The older man confessed to Jarod. "Broots got the follow-up communication from Nova just after she left to find you. She doesn't know the nature of the virus." Sydney felt a depression beginning to seep into the pit of his stomach.

"Well, she's well acquainted with it now." Jarod stayed silent so long after this bleak statement that Sydney worried that the Pretender had left Miss Parker's cell phone.

"Jarod, I have to tell you something. I was sent to your friend Nova's house to make some inquiries, but Lyle had already gotten to her first." Jarod closed his eyes, not even wanting to think what Lyle had done to the peasant, aging computer enthusiast. "He knows where you are, Jarod. He'll be there within the next ten hours."

"I can't let the Centre get Miss Parker in this condition. They can get the new strain that's infected her."

"New strain?" Sydney repeated, hollowly. If the Centre found Miss Parker now, in her current condition, they could use the new strain - one that was most likely resistant to the serum - for any of their immoral operations.

"Yes. I can't let them get to her now. Sydney, I have to go. I'll keep her safe. I promise." Sydney covered his face, in complete shock. This situation was getting worse and worse.

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