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A very special thanks goes out to my beta, Manoline, without whom I'd probably suck.

Read and enjoy, but remember, I love reviews:)

Disclaimer:  I don't own the Pretender (there's a surprise.)  I do this for fun, so PLEASE don't sue me.


Chapter 2:  Animus

 

The first twelve hours of Jarod’s capture were some of the longest of Sydney’s life.  The psychiatrist had insisted on staying by Jarod’s side for the entire trip back to Delaware, even though he knew that under the sedative’s heavy grip the younger man would be completely unaware of his presence.  Parker had acquiesced with a disinterested nod.  Lyle had merely sulked; he was furious with his sister for her unilateral decision to sedate Jarod.

 

So, for the hour it took to return to Blue Cove, Sydney sat beside Jarod with no companion but his worries.  Broots passed the time reading a comic book poorly disguised inside a programming manual while Lyle sat in the back and steamed.  Parker, on the other hand, slept so easily that Sydney wondered if she’d saved a bit of the sedative for herself.

 

When the town car finally pulled into an underground Centre parking garage, it was Lyle who took charge and, with a sadistic smile, ordered Jarod sent to SL-25 for “processing”—whatever that meant.  Sydney had argued long and hard for him to be allowed to stay with Jarod, but Lyle fed him the same response he’d received at Jarod’s capture two years earlier:  We will inform you when your presence is required, doctor.  Or if.  Frustrated, the psychiatrist had turned to Miss Parker for support—only to catch sight of the tail end of her Porshe speeding around a corner at an unsafe rate.

 

It was after four in the morning, but Sydney knew that going home in search of sleep would be an exercise in futility.  So, instead he went back to his office, where this new nightmare had begun just hours earlier.  It was a small gray room just off the sim lab with a desk, computer, and filing cabinets.  It featured few personal touches—just a framed picture of his brother Jacob on the desk and a few mementos from Jarod stashed deep in the desk drawers.  Even so, the place was fraught with memories for Sydney.  He still remembered stepping into this office for the first time more than thirty years previously, literally flushed with excitement over the promising new Pretender Project, and proudly placing young Jarod’s Lego model of the Empire State Building in the corner where it still resided.  And—he remembered stepping into the office again just a few years ago to find an empty PEZ dispenser and scattered candy spelling out a word that meant so much to him: REFUGE.

 

It was a very long night.  The next morning, a disheveled Broots dropped in long enough to stammer a vague apology and explain that he was being transferred back to SL-5 to do coding for the mainframe.  Miss Parker did not appear at all.  The part of Sydney’s mind that was still bitter screamed that she was probably out celebrating her victory, but he thought he knew her better.  No matter how much she tried to convince people otherwise, Parker was not a cruel woman.  Sydney even suspected—though he was sure that Parker would never admit to this—that her decision to sedate Jarod had been an act of mercy meant to spare him a few hours of Lyle’s depravity before returning to the Centre.  Whatever had happened on Carthis had changed her, though for better or for worse, Sydney wasn’t sure

 

Bereft of any other occupation for his tortured mind, Sydney had whiled away the day in his office, doing routine paper work at a quarter of his normal speed, scanning new project proposals that he knew he would never be involved with, checking his email every ten minutes.

 

And then, five minutes ago a memo had arrived summoning him to a conference in the Tower to “discuss the ramifications of the new and dramatic change in the Pretender Project.”  The memo had floored him—he had fully expected Jarod’s capture to be a repeat of the last one, with him left permanently out of the loop.  Intrigued, he rushed to the Tower elevator, wondering all the time what new atrocity Raines had in store.

 

The ding of the elevator announcing his arrival pulled Sydney out of his reverie.  Letting his face fall into an emotionless mask—what he thought of as his “conscientious scientist face”—he picked up his briefcase and proceeded down the hall to the conference room.  His apprehension only increased when he saw the people gathered around the conference table.  At one end, Lyle and Cox, veritable boogeymen of the Centre, sat hunched in quiet debate.  At the other, a careworn Miss Parker sipped a glass of water and ignored the world.  In between sat a small panel of men and women, a few of whom Sydney recognized by sight.  With a shiver, he realized that they were researchers from the Centre Department of Experimental Medicine—the same department that twenty years earlier had involved Jarod—and himself—in an experimental drug test with disastrous side effects.  There was no sign of Raines yet, but Sydney had no doubt that the wheezing chairman would be there.  The party with the most power was always the last to arrive.

 

Sydney settled beside Miss Parker and gave her a polite smile she did not return.  Stifling a sigh, he pulled his most recent notes out of his briefcase and settled in to wait.

 

He didn’t have to wait long.  Sydney was about to pull out a pen to make an annotation about the Jarod Harper pretend when the door behind him swung open.  Footsteps and the squeaky wheels of an oxygen tank announced the chairman’s arrival.  As Sydney turned to look, a cold chill ran down his spine.

 

As he had expected, Raines was entering, his expression suggesting a combination of anger, triumph, and constipation like it always did.  Flanking him, though, were a dozen men and women Sydney knew only by reputation.  Raines had brought the entire Centre executive board to decide Jarod’s future.  Silently, Lyle, Cox, and all the doctors stood.  Sydney hurried to follow suit and discreetly nudged Miss Parker until she copied him.

 

Without a word, the board members filed around the table to seat themselves on one side, facing Sydney and Miss Parker.  Cox and the two whitecoats who had settled themselves on that side scurried to the other side of the table to stand alongside Lyle.  Only after all thirteen newcomers were seated did Sydney and the others resume their seats.

 

Raines spoke first, his raspy voice even tighter than usual.  “We are assembled to discuss recent developments in the Pretender Project, namely the recent reacquisition of the primary subject, and our next step in restoring the project to full activity.  Miss Parker, as the agent who initialized the search leading to the subject’s capture, will give the first report. . .”

     

 

Thirty minutes later, Parker was quickly losing all patience as the board grilled her for the ninth time.  Her voice rang with irritation.  “No.  As I’ve said before, there was nothing out of the ordinary about this pursuit.  We had a lead.  We traced it to Western Maryland.  We ran an electronic search for Jarod Harper and acquired the plate number of the motorcycle he had purchased.  We towed the bike and posted half our sweeper squad and Mr. Lyle to watch its previous location, while the others combed the site of the hostage situation.  When the pretender arrived at that spot, the sweepers subdued him, I sedated him, and we hauled his sorry ass back here.”

 

Raines’s lip curled.  “Miss Parker, you will control your temper and your language in the presence of these board members.” He wheezed, sounding very much like the embarrassed parent recent DNA-tests implied he was.

 

Parker leaned forward and massaged her temples, wishing she were anywhere but here.  Filled with loathing over what her life had become, she forced a calm mask back on her face, and when she spoke, her tone was deferential.  “My apologies, Mr. Chairman.”

 

A mockery of a smile twisted Raines’s lip.  “Very good.  Now Miss Parker, your decision to inject the pretender with an eight-hour sedative complicated the process of extracting and later processing him.  Your brother has reported that you made this judgment call without consulting him.  Please explain to the board why you made this unilateral decision.”

 

The woman bit back a groan of frustration, but failed to keep the snappish tone out of her voice.  “We’ve covered this ground already.  After two failed attempts to transport Jarod by plane, both of which resulted in the crash of Centre jets worth millions of dollars, he was to dangerous to transport while conscious.  As you said, I made a judgment call.”

 

“A bold decision.”  Raines paused, “But one that this board supports.  Mr. Lyle’s objection was unwarranted.  Now, on to more pressing matters.”  The chairman turned away from Miss Parker as he continued, “In the matter of Jarod’s reeducation, both Sydney and Mr. Lyle have requested full control over the program.  Sydney, for thirty years you assured the Centre that Jarod was no threat to us, and yet he escaped.  What makes you think you have the right to any contact at all with him?”

 

All of Parker’s instincts were telling her that answering this question could be suicide for Sydney, but before she could stop him, the old psychiatrist looked Raines square in the face and responded in his most controlled, reasoned tone.  “I have the right simply because I did know Jarod for over thirty years.  I have a better understanding of his mind than anyone else in this room, or, possibly, in the world.  The compassion that drove him to flee the Centre also makes him susceptible to manipulation.  I believe that by using my connection with Jarod—what has been termed our ‘emotional umbilical’—I can guide him back into full obedience to this organization.”

 

Parker turned to look at the shrink, mouth slightly agape.  She’d expected either a heated defense of Jarod or a stumbling attempt to placate his would-be torturers, not this cool proposal to manipulate his old friend for Centre interests.  He still has a little Dr. Frankenstein left in him after all, Parker thought.  Then she saw the subtle signs of tension written in his face—the clenched jaw, the frozen fingers—and realized that this was a speech he’d been rehearsing for some time.  He’s been preparing for this since the last time they caught him, Parker realized, maybe longer.  She turned her attention to the tabletop in front of her and fervently hoped that the old goat knew what he was doing.  Trying to outfox the entire Centre executive board could be considered suicide by any rational employee.

 

From across the table, Raines spitted Sydney with his coldest stare.  “Five years ago, you promised that this fabled “umbilical” would bring Jarod back in short order.  I think we all know how that turned out.”

 

Sydney met the icy gaze without flinching.  An outsider to the meeting would never realize that Raines could have Sydney killed without a second thought for less defiance than he was now showing.  The psychiatrist’s voice was steady.  “I failed because Tower directives increasingly flew in the face of my recommendations.  The more the search was interfered with, the more his trust in me was shattered.  As I repeatedly told my superiors, had we offered him just a part of the truth he was searching for we could have taken away his reason for running in those first few weeks and he would have gladly returned, never knowing about the brother we hid from him or the clone we made of him or the parents we stole him from.”  As Sydney listed off the Centre’s crimes against Jarod, his voice rose until even the densest of board members could hear the anger in his voice.

 

Raines silenced the psychiatrist simply by rising from his chair and staring until Sydney shut up.  “Enough. . .doctor.” the man wheezed, “We have not come here to listen to you babble on about grievances against your little pet.  We are here to make decisions.  You said that Jarod’s trust in you was broken.  How do you propose to gain his cooperation without that trust?”

 

Sydney drew a deep breath and waited until Raines had seated himself before responding.  “Jarod’s trust in me was broken in the early days of the pursuit because he automatically associated a betrayal by the Centre with a betrayal by me.  Bereft of a real childhood, his moral reasoning was still very much that of a child.  Jarod has grown since then.  He has learned to acknowledge shades of gray—the good and bad in everyone—but his only constant enemy has been the Centre.  Everything he has learned in recent years has drawn him closer to me and further from the Centre.  This organization used and abused Jarod for over thirty years, and he will never willingly aid it again.”  Sydney paused, holding Raines’s eyes with his own for one instant, “Unless I convince him otherwise.”  He finished.

 

It was all Parker could do to stifle a gasp of horror.  Nobody—nobody questioned the board to their face and got away with it.  Didn’t Sydney realize he was taking his life in his hands?

 

Raines stared at Sydney for another long moment as something unspoken passed between them.  Then, to everyone’s amazement, he adjusted his tie with a sharp motion and looked down the table at Lyle.  His next words were not directed at Sydney.  “Mr. Lyle.  On Jarod’s last return to the Centre, you were given complete control over him with the understanding that he would be broken and obedient within six weeks.  You failed spectacularly.  At the end of those six weeks, you assured us that he was broken to our will and would not resist transfer to Africa.  Instead, he escaped, costing us millions and forcing the Tower to explain to the Triumvirate just why a subject promised to them was not only gone, but had foiled Project Silence—a classified Centre investment.  What makes you think that you could do better this time?”

 

Lyle was just as startled as anyone by the sudden shift in the interrogation, but he rose to the occasion with his characteristic suaveness.  “I made an error in judgment when I took on the project last time.  It was unrealistic to expect him to break in only six weeks after three years on the run.  I’ll admit, he had me fooled, but he is a pretender—it’s what we’ve trained him to do. I’d like to remind the Tower, that the last time he was returned, I was given control over the project without sufficient time to prepare.  Since that time, I have studied Jarod’s psyche and pinpointed the weak spots that could make him more . . . agreeable to our will.  True psychological reconditioning in his case will take a few months, but I’m confident that you’ll see the results you’re looking for.”

 

For another uncomfortable moment, Raines stared at the man who might be his son before speaking.  “You both present convincing arguments.  They are as well-reasoned as they are wrong.  Dr. Anders,” the chairman turned his attention to the man that seemed to be chief among the whitecoats, “give your report on Project Animus.”

 

Halfway down the table, one of the white-coated men stood.  Parker scrutinized Anders with a suspicious eye.  He looked at least as old as Sydney, but with none of the psychiatrist’s warmth.  He was nearly as bald as Raines and had a shriveled, shrunken look that wasn’t improved by a severely stooped back.  When he spoke, his voice croaked slightly with age and cracked a bit with what Parker realized was excitement. 

 

“Project Animus is the compilation of over twenty years of research in human consciousness.  In recent years, a number of significant breakthroughs have allowed us to target the areas in the brain controlling memory.  Once identified, a series of carefully dosed drug treatments is used to return these areas to their dormant state, effectively creating a case of amnesia that is targeted and flawless.”

 

Sydney’s face clouded, but his voice reflected only confusion as he interrupted.  “You want to wipe Jarod’s mind?”

 

The scientist responded with a twisted grin.  “Yes and no.  The beauty of the Animus therapy is that we can target specific time periods and completely annihilate them.  In this case, the chairman has indicated that he would like to remove five years from the subject’s memory, effectively removing the time he spent on the outside and the events leading up to his escape.  A two hour session of intravenous pharmaceuticals can accomplish this with little to no lasting side effects.” 

 

“But surely you can’t expect accuracy with this sort of procedure?  This therapy could just make Jarod’s rebellion worse if it doesn’t work!” Sydney exploded.

 

“I beg to differ, doctor.  In the time I’ve been head of this project, numerous tests have been run on the therapy.  Early results suggest accuracy to within one week for major treatments. The therapy even removes previous memories that have been recovered during the target time.  Any memories that were repressed at the beginning of the five years—either naturally or intentionally—will return to their repressed state.  It’s all in these project proposal booklets. . .”  The man slid a stack of manila folders down the length of the table.  Parker took one.  It was filled with chemical formulas and twenty syllable names for drugs she’d never heard of.  The proposal was so much gibberish to her, but she saw Sydney studying it intently.  What he saw didn’t please him.

 

With a sigh, Parker leafed through the booklet until she found a page that seemed to be written in English.  At the top of the page, one paragraph summarized what Anders had just said.  Below that was a list of potential side effects, including headaches, nausea, and vertigo.  No wonder Sydney wasn’t happy.  According to the report, though, the effects were expected to disappear within a week of treatment.

 

Seemingly unaware of where he was, the shrink stood and began to pace while peppering Anders with questions.  “You’ve been head of this project for how long?”

 

Anders shifted uncomfortably.  “A month.”

 

“A month?  And your predecessor was. . .?”

 

“None of your concern.”

 

“My concern?  My concern is that you propose to inject an unsafe, untested, experimental treatment into a mind worth millions of dollars!”

 

“Doctor!” Anders exclaimed, sounding scandalized, “This is the culmination of over twenty years of research!  We are not taking unnecessary risk!”

 

“Am I really expected to stand by while the most destructive department in the building plays God with the most valuable project the Centre has ever seen?”

 

“Doctor.” The icy voice belonged to Raines, “That is exactly what you are expected to do.”

 

Sydney rounded on the chairman.  “Don’t tell me you’re even considering this madness?  Not one of these drugs is FDA approved.  Most aren’t even fully tested!”

 

“This is not the federal bureaucracy, Sydney.  This is the Centre.  Sit down.”  The words rang with such merciless authority that Sydney had no choice but to stomach his revulsion and sit.  Raines paused another moment before addressing the entire gathering.  “Gentlemen,” his eyes rested on Miss Parker for an instant, “Ladies.  We have always known that subduing the pretender after so long would require desperate measures.  A few minutes ago, Sydney made the argument for me.  With what Jarod now knows about Centre interests and policy, he will never willingly aid us again.  No amount of reconditioning will eradicate the hatred and mistrust he has fostered for us.  Dr. Anders’s therapy will.”  The twisted former doctor now focused his attention solely on Jarod’s mentor.  “I expected a more positive response from you, Sydney.  For five years, you have claimed that you only want Jarod to be returned to his previous situation.  We now offer you a solution that keeps your precious project under control with virtually no punishment for his previous sins. Dr. Anders’s therapy is the most humane method we have for transitioning Jarod back into life at the Centre without physical or psychological damage.  I would have expected you, of all people, to jump at the chance.  Decide, doctor:  do your loyalties lie with the Centre or with Jarod and his pathetic search for answers?”

 

For a moment, a shadow of something passed across Sydney’s face.  His mouth opened soundlessly for a moment, then, haltingly:  “I. . .no, of course I want him back.”  He closed his mouth and seemed to compose himself for a moment.  Anger faded from his face and was replaced by a thoughtful expression as he appeared to rethink the proposal.  He took a deep breath, and when he spoke again, his tone was merely that of a scientist contemplating a subject.  “Forgive me, sir,” he said to Raines as what appeared to be genuine regret filled his face, “For a moment, I allowed my concern for Jarod’s physical well-being to override my judgment. The Animus Project was just so unexpected that I forgot myself for a moment.  Of course I understand the implications of this . . . therapy.  If successful, it could be the answer we always dreamed of.”  Sydney hesitated for a moment, and Parker could only stare at him, mouth agape.  When had Sydney turned to the dark side?  When he spoke again, it was in a measured tone.  “I merely worry about the repercussions if something goes wrong.  This is after all, an experimental procedure that has not been fully tested.  It takes longer than a month to develop something like this, so Dr. Anders must not be the original developer.  What would be the harm, I wonder, in running the therapy through one final battery of tests?  If Jarod’s mind were somehow damaged through haste or incompetence, the consequences could be . . . severe.”  Everyone present knew what Sydney was referring to.  The Triumvirate was not known for forgiving carelessness. 

 

For a moment, Raines seemed to struggle as if he’d bitten into a lemon.  Then he spoke coolly.  “Dr. Anders, you are hereby ordered to run Project Animus through a final test battery.  If deemed flawless, it will be implemented on the primary subject in one month.  Will that satisfy you, Sydney?”  The shrink nodded with a small smile.  “Then this meeting is adjourned.”

 

Parker was the first one out of her seat, ready to sweep out the door and leave the whole mess behind her.  Raines’s voice stopped her.  “Miss Parker.  A moment of your time, please.”  The woman bit back a snarl as she turned on heel, ignoring the sympathetic look Sydney shot her as he left.  She waited until the last of the board members had left before snapping “What?” from her position halfway to the door.

 

Raines stood and slowly rounded the table, tank squeaking behind him.  He came to a halt a mere arms length in front of Parker.  “I have a new assignment for you.”

 

Parker grimaced in fury, but she forced her tone to stay level.  “I thought the deal was simple:  I bring him back, I go back to Corporate. I’ve held up my end of the bargain.  It’s time for you to do likewise.”

 

“That arrangement was with Mr. Parker.  Recent events render it impossible.  The new arrangement is this:  you will stay in Special Projects as head of security for the Pretender Program.  You ensure that Project Animus goes off without a hitch.  You make sure Jarod stays put before and after the procedure, and you keep Sydney and all others on the project loyal to Centre interests.”

 

It took a gargantuan effort for Parker to keep the loathing out of her voice.  “This ‘procedure’ may not even take place.  Sir.”

 

Raines smiled and the effect was like seeing a snake laugh.  “It will take place.  I’ll see to that.  I’ve risked too much to get this far.  Jarod is going to forget his years of rebellion and remember where his true loyalties lie.”  Raines took a sinister step forward.  “See that you do as well.”

 

It was all Parker could do not to recoil before him.  Tone still neutral, she asked “Why me?”

 

Raines breathed a deep sigh into his oxygen tube.  Glancing around the room, he took another step forward and whispered conspiratorially, “Since Mr. Parker made his exit, little has been as it seems in the Tower.  I have the chairmanship, but my power is shaky at best. I need to consolidate my power base.  To do that, I need the Pretender, and to keep that, I need someone I can trust holding the reins.”  Another smile twisted his face, as he enjoyed the effect his words were having on her.  “And if I can’t trust family. . .well.”  He stepped back, and the smile fell from his face.  “I warned you that the Centre is changing.  You owe me a sign of loyalty.  Consider this your notice of collection.”

 

With that, the head of the Centre turned on heel and left the room.  For a moment, Parker just stood there, despair and fury welling in equal parts within her as the truth she should have seen long ago finally hit her:  she would never be free; not from the Centre, not from Jarod.

 

 





Chapter End Notes:

"Animus" is a Latin word with several meanings.  It can mean "memory" or "consciousness," but it can also mean "courage," "spirit," or "will."  I thought it was appropriate.








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