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SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: January 8th
For someone living the life of a nomad, the goodbyes were the hardest. He would settle in, forge connections, do his work, and then it was time to move on, start over.
As much as Jarod was enjoying his freedom and the wonderful people he had met on his pretends, walking away from these new treasured relationships was immensely difficult. It was a different kind of prison, always on the move, never allowed any permanence.
After seven years on the run, the constant turbulence in Jarod's life was beginning to take its toll. The first few years were much simpler, his city and personality hopping was well cushioned by the new discovery's life outside had to offer. Through ice cream, pez, McDonalds, and even much simpler pleasures as the ocean, sunshine, even the feeling of raindrops on his forehead, Jarod was able to deflect much of the sorrow he felt.
But now, seven years later, Jarod was beginning to feel a deep yearning from within. The world not longer was full of endless discoveries. His brief encounters with his family, Zoe and even that sacred night in Scotland with Parker had slowly opened the floodgates of Jarod's tortured soul. Now, more than ever, even in those isolate years behind the Center's walls, Jarod wanted a home. He wanted friends he could grow old with. He wanted a family. He wanted to feel loved, to love, and be able to do so without being chased around the planet.
Jarod sighed, turning away from the glare of his laptop briefly. He knew the path his life had been forced upon would never allow such a luxury. He also knew that this yearning was slowly eating at him from within. Today he was running through the paces of his nightly search on the web trying to grasp some clue of where any member of his broken family may be. And as usual, there was nothing.
The email chime of his laptop snapped Jarod from his thoughts, and he absently mindedly opened his new message. Scanning the top, Jarod felt that familiar knot of dread brewing within, as he noted the sender was Angelo.
Corporation Zero Beware.
That was all the email stated. Jarod furrowed his brow in confusion as he googled Corporation Zero, returning no results. Subsequent searches through the archives of the Pentagon, CIA, and FBI yielded no results.
Unsure of what Angelo seemingly wanted to warn him about, Jarod grabbed his cell phone and pressed one of two numbers always pre-programmed into his speed dial. Sydney's warm Belgian accent promptly answered the phone.
"Sydney!" Jarod greeted with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, but his tone came out flat.
"Jarod!" his mentor greeted warmly. Jarod felt a pang of guilt, it had been nearly two months since had called in last. Jarod had been finding it increasingly difficult to engage in any meaningful contact with his mentor. His phone conversations with Sydney always left him feeling empty. They were a stark reminder of how desperate he was to be his father.
"Sydney- I .." Jarod started but was abruptly cut off by Sydney.
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, EQUATORIAL AFRICA : January 8th
Parker was irritated. Or at least that was the conclusion that those around her would conclude upon inspecting her crisp posture, immaculate outfit and obviously unimpressed facial expression.
Within, she was terrified. Late yesterday she had been summoned into Raines’ office with Lyle. The Triumvirate had requested the trio's presence urgently. Never in Centre history had such a request been made. Raines had demanded they leave instantly as to adhere to the urgency of the Triumvirate's request. Parker hadn't even been granted time to pack. Fortunately after seven long long years chasing Jarod around the country, she was wise enough to always have a packed suitcase at the ready.
Upon arriving at the Triumvirate headquarters, it appeared that similar summons had been made to all Centre branches and Triumvirate holdings across the globe. Parker turned to her brother, catching Lyle looked around nervously.
The entire room, holding about 70 key officials from Triumvirate companies around the globe, hushed instantly when Triumvirate officials entered the room and took their places at the front of the room. Stress was evident on their faces.
"What the hell is going on?" Parker thought as she took her seat aside Lyle.
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: January 9th
Jarod paced nervously, replaying the phone call with Sydney from the day before in his mind. Miss Parker had mysteriously vanished, along with Raines and Lyle. Centre air logs revealed a flight had taken place direct to Equatorial Africa, leading Sydney to the obvious conclusion that Parker had been summoned to the Triumvirate.
Between Angelo's cryptic email, and Parker's disappearance, Jarod was at a loss. He was terribly concerned about Parker's safety. Triumvirate summons usually were an indication of 'Corporate Retraining. Jarod shuddered at this thought, thinking briefly to his timely escape from the Centre several years before when he was enroute to Africa for a little retraining of his own.
Jarod glared at his laptop, willing for the sweet tone of his email chime. Sydney had promised to send any new developments his way. Jarod's individual search had yielded no further information. All he could do was wait and wonder. His overactive mind kept conjuring up situation after situation; none of which resulted in a happy ending for his childhood friend.
THE CENTER, BLUE COVE, JANUARY 10th
Broots pounded his keyboard in frustration. He felt Sydney's comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Don't worry Broots. I know you will find something."
Broots spun around. "I don't know Sydney! It is like Miss Parker, Raines and Lyle have just vanished. There is no written order from the Triumvirate. No clues. Just nothing!!"
Sydney burrow creased in frustration. "Perhaps Jarod was able to turn up something. I'll – " Sydney's train of thought was interrupted as he got wind of a familiar clicking sound approaching from the hallway.
Broots followed Sydney's gaze, praying that he was not imagining the wonderful sound of Parker's stiletto heels approaching the techroom. The two were not disappointed, as seconds later Parker, flanked by Lyle breezed into the room.
Not wasting a moment of silence Parker glared at Broots "What do you have on Jarod's current location?" She barked.
Broots just stared slack-jawed at Parker. "But, you.. Triumvirate... Africa.. How..." the poor tech mumbled, unable to control the thoughts rapidly spinning in his head.
Lyle stepped in from behind Parker, his usually smug, over-confident posture was evidently ruffled. "That is none of your concern. I want a solid lead on Jarod before anyone leaves this building." With that Parker's twin spun around and hurried out of the room.
Sydney turned to Parker. "You're alright Parker?"
Miss Parker returned his comment with an icy glare. "I will be as soon as I can get to my damn cigarettes."
"What happened Parker? Why were you in Africa? Did they do –" Sydney questioned, but was immediately cut off.
"I said, I'm fine Freud." Parker spun around, following the same path her twin had moments earlier. Pausing slightly at the door she turned the two bewildered men, her facial expression softening. "Trust me, you rather not know." And with that she snapped her fingers harshly. "Jarod, Broots. NOW!"
"Sydney what is going on?" Broots whispered. Never before had he felt such an urgency to locate Jarod emanating from the Parker twins. In fact never before had he ever seen the Parker twins share a common goal. The psychiatrist shook his head, equally as confused. "I'll leave you to your work Broots."
The psychiatrist rushed out of the room, fear for his beloved protégé growing within. He had to warn Jarod.
FERRY DEPOT, SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: January 11th
Jarod sat absent mindedly on the bench, barely aware of the distant sound of fog horns. He was replaying his late night conversation with Sydney the night before.
The psychiatrist had obviously been deeply concerned about Jarod's safety. "I've never seen her like this before Jarod. Something has lit a fire within her, a sense of urgency, and it is fully directed at you."
Jarod had tried to downplay the psychiatrist's fears. "I've evaded them for seven years Sydney, why should this be any different?"
In the end Sydney's uneasiness had won out. Jarod was already slightly apprehensive due to Angelo's mysterious email, and as was often true at the Centre, had a nagging suspicion that Parker's new found motivation for his capture was somehow linked to Corporation Zero. There was no such thing as coincidence when involving the Center. He promised the psychiatrist that he would hover below the Center's radar until he knew fully what he was up against.
Jarod had packed that night, but opted to spend a final night in his apartment. He was just too tired to run out on yet another mini-rendition of a real life just yet. He was planning on slipping north of the border to spend some time on the west coast of Canada. He was awaiting his ferry to Vancouver on this lonely winter morning.
Jarod clutched the brown paper bag that he held on his lap, smiling briefly as he thought of Mrs. Finnegan. Jarod had opted to spend his time in Seattle in a real apartment. He knew it was fruitless, but as his soul was deeply craving a sense of stability, normalcy and family, he found himself indulging more and more often. He had purchased the downtown condo, and furnished it as if he planned to live out the rest of his days there. He had even copied and framed the treasured picture of his mother, and placed it on the mantle of his gas fireplace. Jarod knew he was just lying to himself, and his indulgences only served to make his constant uprooting harder. But he felt as if he couldn't survive any longer in his back alley, invisible existence he had so often embraced on his first few years outside of the Center.
Mrs. Finnegan had been Jarod's incredibly sweet neighbor. A recent widow, she lived for her grandchildren. Every Saturday she spent the day baking for her nine grandchildren in the area. Cookies, cakes and banana bread were her specialties. On Sunday she was often frequented by visitors, or tracked out to the suburbs to visit her own children and grandchildren.
Jarod had found himself spending more and more time with Mrs. Finnegan as his four weeks in Seattle played out. Her stories about her wonderful family filled his heart with laughter and joy. Jarod now understood the full meaning of 'living vicariously' through someone else. Through Mrs. Finnegan, he was able for the first time to picture himself had his life been Centre free, the joys and laughter that could have existed for him.
Jarod again focused his attention onto the paper bag he now clutched in his hand, his last link to his Seattle home. He had been unable to leave without saying goodbye to Mrs. Finnegan.
He had knocked on her door promptly at 7am. The two of them had begun a regular early morning tea ritual. She had ushered him in, and before he could say two words a steaming mug of Earl Grey was before him.
Jarod couldn't bear to tell her the truth- that he wasn't likely going to be able to come back. "I have to go away for a few weeks." He had lied. Guiltily he had fabricated a story of how he had a lead on his mother. Mrs. Finnegan didn't know the truth about Jarod's life, but she, just like many others had been privy to the fact that Jarod was lost from his family.
She had hugged him enthusiastically. "Best wishes Jarod!" I will be here waiting for you when you get back." He had turned to leave, but she halted him.
"Wait!" she had scurried excitedly into her kitchen and reappeared with the small brown paper bag he now clutched.
"For your journey, my dear! It is my world famous chocolate chip cookies. I cannot believe you haven't tried these by now!" Jarod had hugged her back. He stared now at the bag, and then glanced at his watched, sighing. Another thirty minutes until departure. Absently mindedly he grabbed a cookie. Perhaps in three weeks time he would come back for a few days. He couldn't dare to break that old ladies heart. Jarod smiled, it was almost like having a home to return to. Almost.
Glancing at the family waiting across from him, Jarod bit into his cookie. Mrs. Finnegan was an amazing cook, and cookies were her number one item. It wasn't until thirty seconds later that Jarod realized the error in his absent mindedness.
As he fell to the floor, his throat closing in, one word came to his mind, "Pistachios." Mrs. Finnegan, through no fault of her own, had failed to disclose the other key ingredient in her world famous chocolate chip cookies : Pistachio nuts, to which Jarod was deathly allergic.
The Conglomerate, Undisclosed Location, New Zealand
Lysander stared poker faced at floor. The constant pacing of the two guards in front of her wasn't helping to calm her nerves.
Two months. Lys had managed to breach the suffocating walls of the Conglomerate for two months.
The Conglomerate was a top-secret corporation hidden in the vast hills of New Zealand. Lys had been brought to the facility as a bright teenager, sixteen years of age. Her mother had thought she was sending Lys on a gifted retreat.
Lys still remembered clutching the small brown package her mom had thrust into her hands as Lys ride to the 'retreat' had shown up on their doorstep. A care package her mom had explained, with strict instructions to not open it until Lys had reached her destination.
Lys had ridden up to the retreat with an energetic fifteen year old girl named Alice. The two had talked passionately for the entire eight hour journey into the New Zealand countryside. Lys smiled as the two had tried unsuccessfully to lure their driver Lorne into any form of interaction.
The Conglomerate was impressive when it came into view. The facility was surrounded by a massive stone wall, something Lys would have expected to see surrounding the medieval castles in Europe.
Lys pulled herself out of the reverie, not willing to relive the experiences that had passed when she and Alice had been ushered into the main lounge of the Conglomerate. Needless to say, Lys had never been given the opportunity to open the care package her mother had lovingly sent with her that fateful day. It has been seventeen years since she had last seen her mother, despite three escape attempts, each resulting in longer bouts of freedom then the last.
Lys was a predictor. She had the ability to logically and unemotionally create and analyze situations. She excelled at military ops and stock market games. Her mentor called her kind 'emotionless pretenders'. Back in the 1960's the Conglomerate had tried unsuccessful to establish a pretender program. The company's recruits simply were not up to snuff, apparently.
Instead the company stumbled upon a different rendition on the much sought pretender gene. Predictors had the ability to envision various future outcomes. However without being able to utilize emotions as a factor in their predictions, it was impossible to zero in on an exact scenario, as a Pretender would be able.
However Predictors were highly valuable commodities. Military and stock market applications, areas where raw human emotion was highly discouraged, were the specialties of a predictor. Whereas a pretender may only simulate one potential outcome, a predictor could concur up numerous situations.
The door to the left of Lys was thrown open angrily. A gray-haired man emerged and barked immediately at the two guards. "Get her on her feet." Not even given a chance to react, Lys was pulled roughly to her feet. There was no point in trying to resist, her five foot six frame no match for the lumbering guards before her.
The gray-hair man stepped in front of Lys, looking her up and down. Lys felt deeply conscious about the mud caked into her long blond hair, and the deep gash down her cheek she had received when the sweepers had finally be able to retrieve her. Her clothes were still soaking wet from the heavy rain that had presided over her recapture.
"I’m glad you decided to rejoin us Lysander" the man spoke saucily.
"Always a pleasure Conrad" she responded cattily, and was rewarded with a hard slap across her cut cheek.
"The Triumvirate was most disappointed to hear about your most recent escape. They have decided to take a more supervisory role in your work."
Lys jerked her head up. "Africa?" She whispered weakly. Triumvirate headquarters were in Africa, and the greatest fear of all residents of the Conglomerate was to be shipped over there like a disobedient mule.
Conrad smirked down at the blond women before him, his intense stare penetrating into her innocent blue eyes. "You betcha Pet!" he said with great satisfaction. Lysander had been a pain in Conrad's ass ever since he had been assigned her case ten years prior. A spirited woman, Lysander had been difficult to control from the beginning. She had been through three mentors in six years before her genius had fallen into the hands of Conrad. Her portfolio was impressive, three penetrations beyond the massive stone wall of the Conglomerate, and about 50 times that in escape attempts. Despite all of the horrors Conrad had inflicted on Lysander, he had never succeeded in breaking her will. He smiled, knowing that after a stint in Africa, Lysander would never quite be the same. Conrad frowned as he remembered the last of his instructions from his triumvirate contact.
He cleared his throat and the guards pulling Lysander momentarily ceased their actions.
"Don't fret pet. We have a pit stop to make on the way to Africa. So you need not dread any crazy torture sessions from the Zulus - just yet." He added threateningly.
Lys turned her head questionably, disguising the apprehension in her voice she asked, "Where?"
"Top secret pet. You'll find out when you get there."
Lys could feel her heart beating in dreaded anticipated as the guards pulled her along the hallways. Things were not going well at all.