Table of Contents [Report This]
Printer Chapter or Story Microsoft Word Chapter or Story

- Text Size +

Author's Chapter Notes:

Sorry for the truly shameful waiting period.  RL has been doing what it does best.

A huge thanks to my incredibly patient betas, Topanga and Manoline, who somehow find time to make sense of my stories when I'm sure there are countless better things they could be doing.

I don't own any characters or places in The Pretender.  If I did, I would be very happy.  The characters . . . not so much.


Though the rest of the sublevels were shadowed mazes, the Centre infirmary was always brightly lit.  Angelo liked that; the headache-inducing whiteness made dim air vents safer.  He smiled slightly.  People under those lights could stare at the steel grate all day and never notice him just inches behind it.  He could safely perch at the very edge of the vent, nose pressed against the cold grate, looking down on the sheet-shrouded body of his best friend. 

The room was little—out of the way—a place to store things.  Right now it stored a bed, a chair, beeping medical machines, and a man they didn’t know what else to do with. 

Angelo stared intently at the still face of his friend.  Pale.  No sun, no sky, no warm eyes twinkling.  No ice cream, no Cracker Jacks, just cold tube down dry throat.  No voice, no name, no laugh, just beepbeepbeep go the little lights.   

They took everything away.  Nothing real for Jarod anymore.  

An old man sat by the bed, one fragile hand held tenderly between both of his, always speaking, voice lilting, patterns and stories, lots unspoken.  He moved Jarod’s wrist back and forth as he talked—up, down, twist, stretch, not thinking, lots of practice, keeping him strong and flexible.  Jarod’s hand twitched slightly in his sleep; Sydney squeezed it affectionately. 

Sydney had grown old.  In this room, he had become weariness and guilt and apprehension and grief and secrets all rolled together, making Angelo’s head hurt.  Was he still playing a game? Chasing something?  It seemed, so, but the rules were all different, and he was afraid to break any.  There would be consequences if he did.  He missed Jarod, but didn’t want Jarod to wake up—was afraid.  He was alone a lot.  

Yet, Jarod was still there.  Angelo could feel him—quiet, like he couldn’t hear himself.  Like when there’s a hood over your head and you can’t see and you can’t really hear, you’re just enveloped up in the wrongness . . .  Jarod was there, but not there.  Not dead, not really alive, just . . . waiting.  Couldn’t remember how to be alive—the darkness wouldn’t let him.  Different, but the same underneath.  Angelo could barely hear him. 

Slowly—almost reluctantly—Angelo closed his eyes and reached back in his mind, back past years of scars both physical and emotional, past severed neurons and childhood trauma, past atrophied pathways and decades of repression, to the most potent areas of his brain.  His empathic abilities: the gift Raines had tried to harness, and instead unleashed against an unprepared mind.  Angelo focused all of that terrifying ability on the still form below him. 

Even then, it almost wasn’t enough.  The whisper from Jarod’s mind grew louder, but indistinct, like an old radio.  Confused . . .  That much was apparent.  Pain . . . That, too, was no surprise.  Afraid . . . But, it wasn’t the usual fear.  Jarod’s confidence was gone.  So, too, was his anger.  All the shields he had built so carefully were just not there anymore.  Jarod was left with a child’s insecurity.  Angelo sat back and stuffed his fist in his mouth.  He knew what was coming next. 

It hit all at once; an emotional wave emanating from Angelo’s own shattered psyche.  His stomach clenched.  His eyes teared.  He bit down hard enough to leave marks on his hand.  Angelo was very good—gifted, in fact—at giving names to the emotions of others.  Just by being in the same room with someone, he could tell whether they were nervous or excited or afraid.  But, that was other people; he had no words for the tidal force that ripped through him when he listened to his wounded friend. 

There was something salty in his mouth.  Blood from his hand.  Still, Angelo did not relax.  If he  made a sound, Sydney would hear.  He couldn’t cry out.  He couldn’t chant “Friend in pain, friend in pain.”  He could only sit, and wait for the wave to pass. 

Gradually, it did.  Jarod’s vulnerability faded once again into a psychological whisper.  Angelo opened his eyes, blinked several times, and yanked his fist out of his mouth.  His emotions faded mercifully back into the tiny portion of his brain where Timmy lived. 

Angelo—the empath, the savant, the freak—stared once again through the grate.  Now he knew; Jarod slept, but the Pretender’s mind was still a busy place, though much changed.  Angelo’s friend was definitely still there.  Angelo was glad, because only his friend could elicit the shockwave that had just run through him.  Angelo found in Jarod an echo of his lost humanity.  The pain was welcome; it told him he was still alive. 

The empath settled on his haunches to continue his invisible vigil. 

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// 

The air in the simulation lab was cold.  Miss Parker shivered and pulled her prep school blazer a little snugger around her shoulders.  Her saddle shoes clicked loudly on the steel grate of the stairwell.  The contraptions pinched her feet; a blister had been forming all day.  She longed to take them off, but Daddy would pitch a fit if he found out.  She forced the discomfort from her mind. 

Jarod was right where she expected him to be, nestled into the little space beneath the stairs.  When Sydney was out of the lab, he liked to sit under there, out of sight, to read his tech manuals—or whatever boring stuff Syd had given him.  Sure enough, Jarod’s knees were drawn up almost to his chest, and he cradled something in his lap.  When Jarod saw Miss Parker, a grin split his face, and he stretched his legs out to stand.  To Parker’s surprise, he wasn’t reading a dry, stapled manual but a brightly colored comic book.  The pages fluttered from his fingers and tumbled to the ground in a riot of red, blue, and orange.  When the paper finally stilled, Superman stared haughtily up at her from the front cover. 

Parker opened her mouth, intending to ask Jarod where he’d gotten the comic.  Her mind formed the words, but when she tried to speak, no sound passed her lips. 

Jarod gave no indication that he found this unusual.  He nodded as if he’d understood every silent word.  His lips moved as if in response.  Still, no sound broke the unearthly silence of the sim lab. 

Parker was puzzled, but only for a moment.  Sounds and words just didn’t seem that important.  Without her really being aware of it, her lips formed a silent response.  She strolled away from the stairwell, and Jarod fell in step beside her.  Continuing their voiceless conversation, the two wandered out into the blackness. 

The lab—always cavernous—now seemed to span several football fields.  The stairs were out of sight and Parker was starting to think that she should head back when a sudden sound pierced the eerie silence. 

Parker jumped at the noise, and Jarod grabbed her hand reflexively, but the sound was warm and hauntingly sweet.  Music.  A single chord.  As the note faded, Parker ached for its return, yet barely a moment had passed before another took its place.  This chord gave way to a gentle cascade of notes; the first breath of a melody.  Parker turned, looking for the source of the music, only to discover a massive, white piano behind her, where previously there had been only an empty floor.  Even more strangely, a miniature rubber Igor rested on the piano’s closed lid.  “Knows the secrets!” the doll piped brightly.  Parker covered a soundless giggle.    

A tiny boy in a white, starched shirt sat at the bench, his back to Parker and Jarod.  He knew they were there; though the music never faltered, after a moment the dusty blond head turned and Angelo surveyed them with wide eyes.   

“She played for you.”  Angelo’s eyes were thoughtful in his round face, and when he spoke his voice was that of a man.  “I play for you.”  The notes flowed through a smooth transition, and Fur Elise faded into the familiar rhythms of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.”  Jarod seemed entranced by Angelo’s newly-revealed skill.  He took a step towards the younger boy, but Parker tugged on his hand, pulling him back.  She couldn’t stay in the lab much longer, and there was something she needed to show Jarod.  He looked at her, sighed, and reluctantly turned his back on their friend to follow Parker into the darkness. 

There was a door ahead.  The knob turned easily, and Parker turned to Jarod with a challenging grin.  He bit his lip, but followed her into the darkened labyrinth beyond.  Somehow, the music stayed with them, though Angelo and his piano were soon left behind.  Parker and Jarod made their way through a maze of narrow corridors.  Parker took each turn confidently, though she wasn’t sure how.  Finally, they reached another door—this one made of steel.  Parker grabbed the knob and turned.   

The handle didn’t budge.  She stared quizzically at the door.  This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.  The music cut off abruptly.  Jarod glanced around apprehensively.  Parker tried not to show it, but she was nervous too.  She wasn’t sure what was about to happen. 

Suddenly, Jarod’s hand tightened on hers and jerked, almost pulling her arm out of her socket.  Spinning to face him, Parker realized that Jarod was under attack.  A towering figure had loomed out of the darkness to grab him.  Parker’s eyes widened.  Her heart hammered.  The strange man gripped Jarod’s upper arms.  The boy’s feet kicked helplessly inches above the ground.  Never releasing Jarod’s grip, Parker strained to make out his assailant.  Pale hands with white knuckles, dark arms encased in a nondescript suit, shiny black shoes—Parker caught only flashes.  The man’s face was shrouded in darkness.  The stranger lifted Jarod higher off the ground and began to shake him like a ragdoll.  Parker clung to his hand as Jarod’s limbs jerked this way and that, his head flailing.  His desperate eyes sought her face.  The brown orbs were wide and shocked.  He stared out at Parker, not knowing what was happening, not understanding why she would take him here.  Parker opened her mouth to tell him that it was all a mistake—that this wasn’t what she meant to have happen—but still, her mouth produced no sound. 

Jarod’s eyes rolled up in his head and he screamed once—an earsplitting, reverberating sound—and fell limp in the man’s arms.  The faceless stranger slung the unconscious boy over his shoulder and strode away into the blackness.  Parker knew she should follow, but her feet seemed rooted to the floor.  There was a sudden clang like a door slamming shut, and Parker knew that Jarod was gone. 

Eyes wide, breath coming in gasps, Parker turned slowly to scan the darkness.  She completed a half circuit before jumping nearly out of her skin.  Angelo and his piano were right behind her.  The bench had vanished, and the boy stood facing her with eyes that accused.   

“Help us.”  Again, the voice was decades older than Angelo’s body.  With one small hand, he reached behind him to tap a simple melody on the keys.  Twinkle, twinkle.  The song her mother had played in the dark.  A song to make the nightmares go away.  “Do it for her.” 

Do it for her.

 ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// 

Parker didn’t wake with a start.  She didn’t sit up in bed and scream.  When her eyes popped open, she knew exactly where she was.  After eight long weeks, nightmares were an accepted habit—just one more facet of a new routine.  It took the woman only a few seconds to slow her ragged breathing and glance at the clock.  The numbers glowed scarlet in the darkness.  5:26.  She’d slept for almost four hours—a comparatively good night. 

Though she wasn’t due at the Centre till nine, Parker knew there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting back to sleep.  Resigning herself to another interminably long day, she threw back the damp covers and staggered out of bed. 

Her kitchen was small and bare.  The oak cabinets were stocked with little food but lots of booze and coffee.  Each morning was a dilemma, as Parker decided which to pour.  This morning, her better angels won out, and she put a pot on to boil. 

It took three cups of coffee to revive Miss Parker.  The process was conducted in the living room while flipping through the morning shows.  The kitchen—where she’d once shared coffee with Thomas—was strictly off-limits; as was the front porch where he’d loved to sit and where she’d eventually found him dead.  Incursions into her mother’s study were even more infrequent.  Katie Couric’s perky banalities left Miss Parker irritated and short-tempered, which made them essential to her morning routine.  It kept her from staring at the emptiness of the walls and wondering  Is this really what my life has come to?  

As soon as she could trust herself to stay on her feet, Parker made her way to the shower and did her best to scald her skin off for a good twenty minutes.  As the steam cleared, Parker dressed quickly in a crisp, maroon pantsuit—stylish and perfectly tailored, of course.  With the ease of decades of practice, she blow-dried her hair and flipped it under.  Only then did she confront her least favorite part of the routine—the part she put off for as long as humanly possible.  She tucked her hair back and looked in the mirror. 

The face reflected in the oval glass was very different from the one seen just a few months ago.  Parker’s eyes were red, her lids swollen and heavy.  Tiny creases were gaining prominence in the center of her forehead.  Moisturizer only went so far; if the lines kept getting worse, she might have to bite the bullet and invest in a more permanent solution.  The heat of the shower had brought color to her cheeks, but that was quickly fading, leaving her alabaster skin pale and rather dead-looking.  Most troublesome, though, were the dark shadows developing under her eyes.  A steady diet of facial products had prevented any real bags from forming, but Roc could do nothing about the purple smudges left by countless sleepless nights. 

This face, of course, couldn’t pass through the Centre’s doors as it was.  At work, Parker was her usual Ice-Queen-from-the-Pit self.  Those who weren’t fooled by the Maybelline miracles enacted here were cowed into silence by her snappish demeanor.  With a sigh, Parker pulled out her extensive make-up kit and got to work. 

For a moment, though, as she contemplated the products before her, Parker caught herself glancing again at her reflection and passing a pensive hand over the dark shadows.  The marks looked like injuries—purpling bruises.  For one somber moment, Parker caught herself thinking of Jarod’s wrists.  They had bruised purple too, as he struggled against the restraints eight weeks ago.  As the days passed, the marks had slowly faded to brown, then yellow before finally vanishing entirely leaving his arms pristine and pale against the paler sheets.  The evidence faded; the guilt remained. 

Parker jerked her hand away almost angrily.  It did no good to brood, and right now she couldn’t afford it.   Summoning the correct expression of haughty disdain, Miss Parker reached for a stick of cover-up.

  ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// 

When his alarm went off at six thirty, Broots was already up and sitting at his desk.  He leaned back against his chair, shoved off from the computer desk, and reached over to swat the blaring alarm.  For a moment, he feared the din might have woken Debbie, who was asleep in the next room.  But, no; the house was silent and the muttered teenage curses that would indicate he was in for another Bad Morning were absent.   

As Broots dragged his worn office chair back to the computer, he wondered for the thousandth time just what was happening to his daughter.  Gone was the sweet faced child still in pigtails and overalls at ten years old.  Debbie had just started high school, and the teenage years were hitting her hard.  In the past six months, Broots had thrown out heavy makeup by the pound, confiscated several barely decent shirts, imposed a curfew, and ladled out Debbie’s first ever grounding for inappropriate language.  Sometimes Broots wondered if his little Debbie had been kidnapped and replaced with this pint-sized monster who insisted on being called “Deb.”  Most of the time, though he just sighed and prayed to God it was just a phase. 

Yet, irritating as “Deb’s” bids for independence were, they didn’t trouble Broots nearly as much as the revamped personality that came with them.  His little girl had always been quiet but cheerful, with a precocious sense of humor and perpetual optimism.  Deb the Teenage Girl was grim and taciturn in the company of her father, sarcastic and mocking when around her friends.  She wasn’t given to displays of emotion except for the occasional angry outburst.  Broots thought this must be an example of karmic punishment, though he couldn’t for the life of him imagine what he’d done to deserve it.  He was witnessing his daughter once again transforming into Miss Parker. 

Or, so it seemed.  It was impossible to compare because Parker no longer showed any interest in Debbie’s life.  For years after that first near-disastrous baby-sitting arrangement, Broots’ boss had been a small but vibrant part of his daughter’s life.  Parker had called every few weeks to check on Debbie.  They’d gone shopping for clothes Broots wouldn’t let Debbie wear to school. Broots even suspected that Miss Parker had given his daughter dating advice that she was much too young to hear.  It was a strange relationship, but there was love on both sides.  Broots sighed.  Like so much in life, the bond between his daughter and his boss was something he’d never really appreciated until it was gone. 

As things grew more intense in the Centre in the months leading up to Jarod’s recapture, Parker grew more and more aloof.  She stopped calling, stopped planning outings, and finally stopped asking about Debbie.  The little girl who had always been so good at mimicking responded in kind.  Jarod’s recapture was the death knell for that relationship.  Parker had stopped talking to him except for a brief, formal debriefing and a few awkward meetings in the halls.  He knew from Sydney that she worked a lot though there wasn’t much to do, drank a lot, and spent her evenings alone. 

Broots closed his email program and started fishing around on his C-Drive.  The files he was looking for were buried in five different folders under innocuous names like “Tax Info, 1998” and “Debbie’s Project on Ancient Greece.”  The whole computer was protected under the most sophisticated password encryption Broots could get his hands on.   

Broots pulled up a file labeled “Man of the Year Application.”  It was actually a timeline several pages long, covered in notes.  Broots had put the most important tidbits at the top of the page.  He glanced over these entries now. 

1981:  Animus gets initial approval, budget at 1M

1982:  Mystery Man hired as lead researcher

1985:  Memo sent to Tower reporting first breakthrough, requesting more resources.

1988:  First evidence of Anders in special expeditor position.  Function unknown.

1989:  Testing on human subjects begins

1996:  Weidman personally reports findings to the Director.  Requests more funding.  (April)  Jarod escapes. (September)

1997:  Project Coordinator Nathan Weidman diagnosed with cirrhosis

2001:  April:  Raines discovers Animus.  Funding quadruples

October:  Mystery Man vanishes.  Anders steps in.

December:  Weidman dies of Cirrhosis (Dover General).  Anders promoted.

2002:January:  Jarod captured, beta tests initiated

February:  Procedure clears tests.  Implemented.

April:  Evaluation to begin.  Set for 4/20/02. 

Though he had read the pages so often he could recite it backwards, Broots always began his day by reviewing the “Man of the Year Application.”  It was his pep talk; a reminder of how far he’d come and how much was at stake.  As he’d acquired new information, he’d filled in the spaces between dates with precise data—like pay increases, funding fluctuations, and scientific reports—along with less empirical sources—like the rumors he’d heard from a disgruntled former intern.  The timeline provided only a rough framework for the mountain of information.  Broots found it ironic that after years of grasping at straws in the hunt for Jarod, he was now faced with the dilemma of too much data. 

Still, after months of having this as his only hobby, Broots was fairly proficient at it.  He skimmed through the fine print around the 1982 entry and quickly found a few leads he wanted to follow up on.  He pulled up another file—titled “Best of ‘The Who’”—and got to work.  Broots had realized early on in his operation that trying to find direct evidence of Mystery Man’s  identity was an exercise in futility.  The Centre was far too good at erasing people for there to be any evidence of the missing researcher, even in Animus’ voluminous records.  Instead, he’d used peripheral sources—like the Centre’s distributor of parking permits—to compile a list of Centre employees who may have gone missing in late 2001. The resulting list was disturbingly long and difficult to sort through—especially since Chuck in the parking permit office could give him first and last names but not positions within the Centre.  Slowly, though, Broots collected data and whittled the list down.  Along the way, he was pretty sure he solved several open murder cases and identified a few John Doe corpses, but it would be a very bad idea to broadcast that. 

Currently, there were only three names still listed under “Best of ‘The Who.’”  Isaiah Lawrence, Scott Dewey, and Vincent Leverett all had their parking permits revoked between September and November of 2001, along with several others. That year, the state of Delaware had at least one taxpayer by each of those names—though weaseling information out of the IRS was incredibly tedious.  Princeton, where Mystery Man had supposedly done his graduate work, also listed a Lawrence, a Dewey, and a Leverett as alumni.  That had been the breakthrough; it had taken days of scouring through Princeton’s newsletters and contributor records, but in the end, Broots had eliminated three quarters of his initial candidates.  And now, after months of fruitless searching, Broots could smell victory. 

An hour later, he leaned back and let the self-congratulatory accolades begin.  There was a good chance that the unfortunate Isaiah Lawrence now graced a morgue for unidentified bodies in Cecil County, Maryland.  Broots would have to get a hold of dental records to be sure, but for now he felt confident in ticking Lawrence off the list.  Dewey, too, could be eliminated; The Scott Dewey who had attended Princeton now worked at a small law firm and lived in the suburbs of Trenton.  He had never worked at the Centre.  A Centre janitor named Scott Dewey had announced that he was filing for bankruptcy two weeks prior to his Honda disappearing from the parking garage.  Dewey had reapplied a few months later, and got a parking permit for a rusted Dodge pickup.   

Broots stared at the last name on the list.  Vincent Leverett.  Two months of hunting, and all he had was a name.  At least he no longer had to spend all his time at the Centre.  It had taken some doing, but Broots had managed to quietly copy the relevant Animus data and transfer it to his home computer.  That allowed him to have almost a normal life; he worked a nine to five job doing coding for the Centre mainframe, he got home in time to have dinner with Debbie.  It was dull, but it paid the bills, and more importantly it kept him in the Centre, closer to the answers he was seeking. 

The sound of a radio alarm followed by muffled thuds drifted through the thin wall, telling Broots that his hour of sleuthing was over.  Broots had closed the program and was logging out of the computer when a bleary-eyed Debbie padded by, dressed for school but clearly not yet awake. 

“Morning, honey,” he called. 

“Hi Dad,” she grunted grudgingly. 

“I’ll be ready to drive you to school in a minute.  Get some breakfast.  We’re out of Pop-Tarts, but there are some waffles in the freezer.” 

“I’m not hungry.  I’m just gonna get some coffee.” 

“Not in this house, you won’t.” 

“But Da-a-ad—“ 

“We’ve been over this, sweetheart; I don’t want you drinking that stuff.  Now go wash your face.” 

“Come on—“ 

“Uh uh, no buts.  You’ll need an ice scraper to get that war paint off.” 

She stood her ground, glaring at her unbelievably dorky father, daring him to press his case.  Broots happily obliged.

 

“Oh, did you want to discuss your shoes next, young lady?”

 

 Not ready to declare war so early in the morning, Deb the Cool Teenager reluctantly turned and stomped back towards the bathroom.  Broots sighed.  He’d hoped that him having a more normal job—being home more—would be good for Debbie, but if anything, she’d become more combative in the two months he’d held a regular schedule.  It was as though the more her father was in the house, the more Debbie wanted to be out of it.  It took Broots only a minute to shuck his bathrobe and pull on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt—he’d dress for work after he dropped Debbie off.  As his daughter stalked down the hall for the second time, Broots snatched up his keys and stuffed his wallet awkwardly into his pocket. 

“Ready, hon?  Let’s get going.” 

“Dad, I’m going to Elaine’s house after school.” 

“That’s fine, just be home by six for dinner.” 

“Dad—“ 

“You know the rules.  It’s Tuesday, and on Tuesday we eat together.” 

“Fine!  Can we just go already?” 

“Sure, sweetie.” 

As he left the house, Broots felt a momentary flash of pride.  Sure, his job was boring, his search was excruciatingly slow, and after two long months he had almost nothing to give Sydney, but his daughter almost certainly wouldn’t be home by six tonight.  And for once, Broots would be there to see it.  

 ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// 

Sydney leaned against the railing just outside his office.  An air conditioning vent laid directly above his head, and if he closed his eyes he could imagine it was the wind—that he was standing on the balcony of a small villa overlooking a river . . . When he opened his eyes, though, he saw only flat gray.  The sim lab stretched below him, corners shrouded in shadow, as always. 

“Syd, are you even listening?” 

Sydney smiled, but didn’t turn to face the exasperated woman addressing him.  “Miss Parker, have you spoken to Broots lately?  I hear he’s been having some trouble with Debbie.” 

“I don’t have time for this, Freud.  We’ve got a program to run, or have you forgotten?” 

“It would be nice if you’d show some interest.  They miss you.  Both of them.” 

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”  Sarcasm dripped from her voice. 

“It would be good for you.” 

Parker paused, finally speaking in a subdued tone.  “Well I make a terrible role model.  Now before you get any more senile, can we talk about tomorrow?” 

“I don’t know what you’re so worried about, Miss Parker.  You’ve been planning this for two months now.” 

“But, the minute they pull the IV, everything could go straight to hell.”  Parker fixed Sydney with a look that was almost a glare. “So can we please go over it one more time?” 

“The doctors will remove the sedatives and administer a mild stimulant.  I’ll be present, along with Dr. Anders and a few other personnel from the Department of Experimental Medicine.  He’ll wake up, and we’ll be able to start our evaluation.” 

“How long before you know if it worked?” 

“Hard to say.  It might take a few hours for the last of the sedatives to clear his system.  He’ll become coherent slowly.  It all depends on how fast his metabolism is.  Then, there’s a battery of tests that we can run to determine if there’s been any residual brain damage.  In a day or so, Anders will run his own tests to see if his little scheme worked .  And then we’ll know.” 

Parker sighed.  She slowly came up beside Sydney and rested her arms wearily against the railing.  “What about security?” 

“Shouldn’t be necessary.  He’ll regain motor function in stages and will likely be disoriented.  The doctors will have an orderly or two on hand, but I don’t foresee any problems.” 

“Famous last words.  You really don’t think you’ll need sweepers?” 

“You might post one or two outside the door, but a large presence would only alarm Jarod.”  Sydney gazed thoughtfully up into the rafters.  “You have to remember, the man we’re waking up is not the same man you brought back.  For years before his escape, Jarod had a fairly clean disciplinary record.  He did not take defiance lightly.  He was always just a little nervous around the sweepers, so I kept them away from him when possible.  There would be no reason for us to have sweepers in his sick room and he’d find it strange if there were.  You’ll have to limit their visibility once he’s released from the infirmary, or he’ll start asking questions.” 

Parker pursed her lips thoughtfully.  “Raines wants to be there.” 

Sydney’s head snapped up.  “What?!” 

“He’s going to be there when you wake him up.  I guess to make sure we all stay on script.” 

“That’s ridiculous!  The situation will be volatile enough—“ 

“Thought you just said it would be a cakewalk?” 

“His presence will only cause Jarod anxiety.” 

“I realize that, and I don’t like it either, but what Raines wants Raines gets, and right now he wants access.  I guess Wonder Boy will just have to learn to deal with anxiety.”  Parker paused.  “How soon till we can move him?” 

“Probably about a week.  He’ll need some physiotherapy to get back his strength.” 

“Even with all the work you were doing?” 

“I administered daily physical therapy, but there’s only so much you can do for a patient in a coma.  Jarod’s muscles have atrophied, and it may be a while before he’s back to full strength.” 

“Can I ask you something?” 

“Hmm?” 

Her voice was serious.  “What if the procedure didn’t work?” 

Sydney sighed.  “Parker, have you been to SL-17?” 

“Not lately.” 

“That’s where they’re holding the ‘subjects’ from the Animus beta test.  There are about a dozen of them, male and female, ranging in age from ten to over sixty, but they all have one thing in common.”  Sydney wet his lips.  “Not one of them has shown any signs of recovering their memories.  There’s no extra brain damage, but their memories from the targeted time periods are just . . . gone.  Animus works.” 

Parker bit her lip.  “But what if it didn’t?  What if the doctors press a button tomorrow and it’s the same old wise-ass Jarod knocking down sweepers like bowling pins and pestering us for ice cream?” 

Stealing a glance at Parker’s face, Sydney was surprised to detect a trace of wistfulness in her tired eyes.  The psychiatrist turned to face her, and waited until she met his gaze.  “If it was unsuccessful, then Raines will take control and I doubt either one of us will ever see him again.  Pray the procedure worked, Parker.  Pray.” 

Parker sighed and shoved off from the railing.  “I’ll see you tomorrow, Freud.  Seven sharp.”  Sydney nodded to her retreating back. 

Returning to his office, Sydney picked up his briefcase and walked over to a calendar he’d hung on one wall.  Pulling a pen from his pocket, he drew a swift X through the box labeled April 19th.  The next date, Wednesday, April 20th, was circled in red marker.  Wearily, Sydney lifted his head to glance at the clock.  Eight PM.  His face twisted slightly.  After two months, dozens of leads, and just as many dead ends, he was left with exactly what he started with:  prayer. 





Chapter End Notes:
Reviews are joy wrapped up in a little silver button.







Enter the security code shown below:
Note: You may submit either a rating or a review or both.