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Alternate Ending #2, Part 2

Wipe the slate clean

            Snow was falling when Jarod left the Centre for the first time in thirty years. Willie the Sweeper held the car door open for him. Sam was driving. It had amused Jarod to keep his two old guards on as bodyguards. He hardly glanced around him as he strode toward the car in his long black jacket and got in the back with Sydney. Despite the coolness of his eyes and attitude, Sydney saw the way he angled his body slightly away from him, the way he watched intently out of the window as they drove through the snowy Delaware forests. Jarod had managed to suppress a great deal over the last ten years. His pain had converted to anger, his longing to a lust for power. He had repressed his desire to experience the world until he had ceased to feel it. And yet he gazed out of the window, his fingers laced tightly together.

            When had it started? When had he changed? It was unnecessary to ask. Sydney had first seen the change when he had come back to the Centre from the three-week trip the Tower had sent him on. Sydney found out only a long time later what they had done to Jarod in those weeks he wasn’t there to protect him, the drug experiments and the murder of his friend the janitor. Taken together, those experiences had broken the man Sydney had spent so long building Jarod up to be. It was subtle at first, something in Jarod’s eyes, something in his voice, the way steel had come in, humor had gone out, how he had ceased to be stubborn about doing simulations. In time Sydney realized that Jarod had stifled whatever it was inside him that cared about other people. They had betrayed him too many times, and he had to cease to care or kill himself in despair. The day came when Sydney wished it had been the latter. The Jarod who cared about the innocent had been one of the most incredible human beings Sydney had ever known. The Jarod who cared for nothing but his own survival was frightening and ruthless. His first victim was Lyle. That was when they learned that Lyle was a Parker. No one missed him. Jarod filled his role admirably. His second victim was Mr. Parker. The Triumvirate was about to come down hard on him until they discovered how able and willing he was, how ruthless. That was when Miss Parker fled, after trying and failing to kill him. His third victim was Mutumbo, the other members of the Triumvirate following closely after. Then Raines. Someday, Sydney knew, it would be him, and then there would be no one to hold him back from a complete despotic rule. What after that? The presidency of the United States? He could do it. Jarod could do anything he wanted. Sydney had raised him to believe that, because it was true.

            “What are you sighing about?” Jarod asked.

            Sydney hadn’t been aware that he was sighing. “I was thinking about death.”

            Jarod glanced at him. “Jacob?”

            “Just death in general, really. The death of dreams. The death of meaning. The death of character.” It’s the end of the world as we know it, he thought blankly, not bothering to wonder how he knew the song. “How do you like the snow, Jarod?”

            “It’s nothing but frozen water,” Jarod said indifferently, and he said nothing else until they arrived at the Mount Pleasant Home.

            “Sam, stay with the car. Willie, inside.”

            Jacob’s nurse met them with her gentle smile. Sydney knew her well enough to read the worry in her eyes. “Everything’s ready for you, Sydney,” she said.

            “Thank you.” He led Jarod down the familiar halls. How many times had he walked them? As many times in his mind has he had the Centre halls in reality. Outside Jacob’s room, he glanced at Willie trailing along behind. “He stays outside.”

            Jarod nodded, and Willie took up his position outside the door. Sydney led the way in and closed the door.

            “Where is he?” Jarod asked.

            Sydney looked at the bed that had held his twin brother for so long. “Jacob died three months ago, Jarod.”

            Jarod wheeled. “What?”

            Sydney’s hand flashed, plunging the syringe into Jarod’s neck. “You’ve underestimated me, Jarod. You thought you had complete control of me, but you don’t.”

            Jarod’s hand clutched his shoulder. “Sydney—” he said thickly.

            Sydney caught him, lowered him onto the bed that had been Jacob’s. “I’m sorry, Jarod. I failed you. Now I’m giving us both a second chance.”

            Jarod’s eyes flickered closed. Sydney went to work with the IVs. The door opened, and Miss Parker came in, Broots close behind her. “Sydney,” she said, her hand on his back, and he turned and hugged her.

            Broots, glancing at Jarod nervously, gave Sydney his hand. “Syd, it’s so good to see you again.”

            “And you, Broots. How’s Debbie?”

            “Graduating from high school this year, Sydney.”

            “Congratulations, Broots!”

            The conversation sounded so normal, but there was nothing normal about it. They had just kidnapped one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world.

            “Willie and Sam, Parker?”

            “Both out of commission. I was very strongly tempted to kill them both.”

            “That wouldn’t have helped.”

            “I know. You know, I think there’s something seriously wrong with me, Syd. This man had my father killed, and my brother—no great loss there—and I should want to put a bullet in his skull right now. But I don’t. Why is that?”

            “Because this isn’t Jarod, Miss Parker. This is the Centre. And we all have the Centre’s crimes on our hands. We’re going to cut away the Centre and let Jarod out again, to be free for the first time.”

            “Is it really going to work?” Broots asked.

            “It worked on Jacob.”

            “But then he died!”

            “He was dying anyway, Broots. What we gave him didn’t alter his health, only his mind. I have you to thank for letting me finally communicate with my brother one last time.”

            It was Broots, out in the real world, who had uncovered the experimental drug that brought Jacob out of his decades-long coma, for a few final weeks with his twin brother. Sydney had thought they would have a thousand things to say to each other, but much of it had been quiet, sitting (lying, in Jacob’s case) hand-in-hand, communicating more by their eyes than their mouths. Jacob told him that he had heard most of the decades-worth of monologues Sydney had carried on at his bedside. He knew all about Jarod, all about Sydney’s failure. And it was Jacob who told him about the top-secret, also experimental drug hidden away in SL-25 (thank God Jarod had never heard about it), and Jacob who insisted they try it on him to be sure it worked properly. Sydney had wanted to resist, but he knew resisting was fruitless. Jacob was dying, and Sydney could not refuse him his dying wish to be allowed to help his twin brother give a second chance to the boy they had both cared for.

            The drug worked perfectly on Jacob. It wiped his memory clean, and yet it left him something of himself, so that though he knew nothing of his past, his love for his twin brother was as instinctual as ever, and when he died it was with his hand in Sydney’s and a smile on his face. It was better that way, Sydney decided. No memory of the Centre, no guilt in his final moments. Just a sensation of being loved by the man with his own face.

            Now here was Jarod lying in the same bed where Jacob had lain year after year, and Sydney could only pray that it would work the same way with him. Jacob’s nurse brought in the drug on a tray, and Miss Parker and Broots came close to watch as Sydney hooked up the IV to Jarod’s arm.

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