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Chapter or Story Chapter or Story
Rebeckah's note: Cassandra is set after the end of the third season and based on the premise that Jarod doesn't escape on the way back to the Centre. Also, the Pretender is the property of NBC and so are the characters, yada yada yada.
Danielle :-)'s Note: This part is written totally by Rebeckah and is posted with her with the following parts, which we wrote together, and with my Madeline series, where Cassandra also makes an appearance. If you leave comments for her here, I will send them along to her. :-)
Deep within the bowels of the Centre in Blue Cove Maryland, though not as deep as SL27, was a very unusual room. It was unusual for the Centre, that is. If it had been a room in the suburbs with the typical American family of Father, Mother and 2.5 children it would have been perfectly normal. Except, of course, for the lack of windows. Cassandra didn't notice the lack of windows. She knew about the lack, but she didn't notice it because she was blind.
She hadn't always been blind. Once she had lived a normal life with her family somewhere in rural Mexico. Her Papa had farmed the few rocky acres he had inherited from his Papa. Mama had kept house, laughed and sang, and sometimes helped Papa in the fields. Cassandra had played and grown with the casual enthusiasm of any young child. She didn't have any brothers or sisters to share her parents with, which suited her childish heart just fine.
The day had come, however, when Mama said it was time for her to begin school. Mama had grown up in a village that had a school and she felt strongly about education. Papa had protested. He had no formal schooling at all and girls didn't need to know such things anyway but Mama was adamant. Mama and Cassandra set out for Mama's old village on their ancient mule, with one of Papa's equally ancient pistols for protection. Papa didn't want them to go alone but he couldn't leave the farm unattended long enough to accompany them. Cassandra remembered feeling proud and happy to be undertaking this journey and having her Mama to herself.
They traveled uneventfully for two days. Midday on the third day, however, a bandit group found Cassandra and her Mama. Mama was a proud woman and she tried to defend herself and her daughter with the old pistol that her husband had given her. Cassandra remembered the horrible bang and the mule bucking in fright. She fell and as she fell was struck by the mule's hind hoof. When she awoke later she couldn't see. The mule was gone and the road was still and silent. She cried for Mama and when Mama didn't answer she began to crawl, sweeping her small arms across the road to feel what was ahead of her. It only took moments for her to encounter the broken body of her mother, already cold and stiff.
Cassandra sat by her mother in her now permanent darkness for the rest of that night and another day and night. Her Mama's people found her on the following day. They had come looking for the two when they didn't show up as planned. Cassandra hadn't cried before she had been found and she didn't cry when the rescuers found her. She moved where they pulled or pushed her and sat where they put her and spoke not at all.
Mama and Cassandra were carried back to Mama's village with haste. Mama's body was turned over to her Mama to be prepared for burial and Cassandra was put in a corner by a hearth and ignored. A messenger was sent to tell Papa the dreadful news, and still Cassandra hadn't cried or spoken. She felt as though she were encased in ice from head to toe. Her mind was frozen in the last moment she remembered, as she fell from the mule. Nothing else around her seemed real.
She was pulled slightly from this numbness when an agitated stir began by the door to the small home.
"Tia Theresa!" was whispered by many different voices with varying degrees of apprehension. Cassandra marked the newcomer's approach of by noting the movement of the voices as they drew back forming a corridor to where she sat.
"So!" It was a strong and vital voice. With just the one word Cassandra felt herself drawing closer to the awareness she knew she didn't want to feel. "You are our Maria's nina." The woman had stopped in front of Cassandra and prodded her demandingly with a staff. "Speak child. What is your name?"
Cassandra sat as silent as ever and strove to keep the feelings at bay. They were pulling her, though. Fear and grief and anger were waiting to attack and all Cassandra had to protect herself from them was the icy numbness.
"No, mi nina." The woman said more gently. "The silence does not heal. It does not protect. It only hides the pain until it grows stronger. Speak to me, nina, tell me of your Mama. She was my niece, you know." She added confidingly as she joined Cassandra on the hearth. "Tell Tia Theresa everything." Her arm enveloped Cassandra's small shoulders and suddenly Cassandra was in her Mama's arms. This woman felt and smelled like Mama! The ice encasing her mind broke and Cassandra finally cried. When she finished the room was silent and Cassandra was exhausted. She knew that everyone had left and that she and Tia Theresa were alone. She was finally ready to speak, to share her feelings and thoughts.
"Mama-" she began. "The men---" once again her throat closed up and she couldn't speak.
"No, no, nina." Tia Theresa soothed. "You do not need to tell me of that dreadful day. I already know. Now is the time for you to begin to build happy memories to give you the strength to face the sadness and the pain. Tell me of your Mama. Tell me of your Papa. Tell me of your home."
So Cassandra spoke and cried some more and finally slept. When she awoke she was sore and her eyes felt swollen and---and her Papa had arrived from home. It was not the Papa she knew, though. This man was stiff and silent. He not the happy, loving man who had tossed her in the air when he returned from the fields and kissed her gently on the forehead before she went to sleep at night. Cassandra knew as clearly as if he had shouted the words that he blamed her for Mama's death. She responded to the unspoken accusation by closing herself off again to all but Tia Theresa. Once again she was silent and almost emotionless as she endured the funeral by her father's side. During the gathering afterwards she slipped out of the small house and huddled in a nook created by a flowering bush by the back door. She didn't mean to eavesdrop, but she couldn't help but hear the argument that took place between her Papa and Tia Theresa a while later.
"The girl has the Sight." Tia Theresa told her Papa firmly. "She must be with one who can help her. Besides, how can you care for a girl-child?"
"She will return home." Papa said woodenly.
"But she does not see. She cannot help you." Theresa argued.
"She will return home."
"There will be no one to care for her while you are out in the fields." Theresa stated flatly. "She will only be a burden to you but she would be a blessing to me."
Cassandra suddenly heard the voices as if they were coming from a great distance. The blackness that had replaced her sight lifted slowly until she saw a metal plane sitting in front of her. A tall, thin stranger held her hand and they were approaching the stairs leading to the plane's door. Even though she was experiencing this vision as an event in the present Cassandra was aware that this was an event yet to come. She didn't need to be told that this was a prophetic vision; the knowledge seemed to come from some deep place inside her mind that had always known that this day would come. She willed herself back to the argument between her Papa and Tia. Silently she left the shelter of the bush and approached the two combatants with the confidence she had known when her sight still worked.
"I will return with my Papa, Tia Theresa." She announced gravely, inserting her small hand into her Papa's unresponsive one. So caught up in their argument were the two adults that they accepted Cassandra's sudden presence without question.
"But nina--" Theresa began to argue.
"I will return to my home one last time." Cassandra cut her off. "It will not be for long." She continued dreamily. "Soon I shall be taken very far away. Gracias, Tia Theresa, I will never forget you." She released her Papa's hand and hugged her Tia firmly. Theresa pressed her lips firmly shut over further arguments. It was clear to her that the child had seen into the future. Against the Sight there was no arguing.
"You will take this, then, mi nina." Theresa said simply, pressing her wooden staff into Cassandra's hands. "This will guide your footsteps and keep me close to you in your heart. When you feel alone, hold this staff and know that I am with you. You will be in my prayers and my heart, always." Theresa released her niece then, tears falling down her lined face. She gave Cassandra's father a hard look that made him hang his head in shame but couldn't sway his decision. Cassandra then walked slowly, feeling her way this time with her aunt's wooden staff, back to her father's side.
Both Theresa and Cassandra were proven to have been correct before the year was out. After she and her father had returned to the small farm Cassandra developed the habit of finding things no one else could find and answering questions that hadn't been asked. She sometimes even told her Papa about bad weather to come or of deceit in men who would come to trade with them. Within the month their neighbors refused to visit the small farm and made the sign against evil with their hands whenever they saw Cassandra. Six months after Maria's death Papa brought a new wife home. One month later a Doctor William Raines came to their farm following rumors of a blind girl with the Sight.
Cassandra left the next day with him, and her Papa and his bride moved to a better farm, purchased with the money Dr. Raines had paid for Cassandra. Once again, Cassandra shed no tears.
Cassandra's name hadn't been Cassandra in Mexico, of course. Dr. Raines had chosen her new name, and the name he would give the project based on her abilities, on the flight to the States. Cassandra didn't object. She knew Dr. Raines in a way that could easily have caused her death, had Raines fathomed the depth of her understanding. She knew that he wasn't a good or kind man and she knew he intended to try and mold her into the image of a useful tool. She also knew he had a daughter a few years older than herself and she knew something Raines wasn't aware of himself. As cruel as Raines could be, he had a soft spot for girls. Women, boys and men he could do anything with and to but with girls he had constraints. He couldn't bring himself to do to another girl what he could not do to his own daughter.
Cassandra didn't speak of her insights. In fact, she spoke very little at all. She knew that her silence and lack of emotion pleased Raines. Knowing it helped her to keep the façade even when she wanted to cry or rage or scream with fear.
She cooperated with Dr. Raines' experiments but never volunteered any information about herself or what she could do. Dr. Raines, in his arrogance, never suspected that the young girl he had completely dependent on him had thoughts, dreams, and ideas of her own. He rewarded her seemingly ideal behavior with a room, the door locked from the outside only of course, that would have been the dream of any little girl. Her canopied bed had a ruffled bedspread. Her white wicker vanity had a score of perfume vials on it. Her shelves had stuffed animals and dolls of countless varieties. The only possessions she had that she cared about in the least were her tape deck and computer. With the tape deck she could listen to books on audio. Her computer had a voice synthesizer that allowed her to access the Internet and understand what she found. She never received the education her Mama had wanted for her but she used the tools she had to forge an even better one. With nothing to do but study, learn and think she had amassed an impressive store of knowledge on subjects that ranged from Anatomy to Zoology.
Dr. Raines would appear several times a week to question her on events of interest to him and see if she could foretell something useful about them. Sometimes she could tell him what he wanted to know, often she couldn't or, unknown to him of course, wouldn't. He also would take her, from time to time, to the site of an interrogation or debriefing. She would tell him if the subject were being truthful or not and carefully mask her revulsion for the suffering involved. She knew of Jarod, Miss Parker, and Sydney, for her constant proximity to Raines made her sensitive to his mind and she saw more of his inner self than she wanted to. Angelo was to be her only friend. He was the only person who ever saw her alone as he alone knew and used the air ducts of the Centre as his own private corridors.
Several months after she had come to the Centre Dr. Raines came to her room during her sleep period. Even if she had not by now had the ability to read his mind she would have known something was seriously wrong. Moments after he entered her room she knew, with one of her rare flashes of precognition, that Dr. Raines' daughter had been abducted and worse, that she would never be seen alive again.
With regret and genuine sympathy, Cassandra told Raines that his daughter wouldn't return to him. She knew he didn't want to believe her and wouldn't until all hope was gone. He left and she was ignored for an entire week.
When Dr. Raines returned he had changed. Almost all of the human qualities that had remained in him were gone. His attitude with Cassandra was ambivalent. He resented her accuracy in predicting his daughter's death. He was angry with her for not being able to tell him where the girl had been taken. Yet he needed her as a surrogate daughter, one that would not only replace the one he had lost but could also be kept forever safe from evil in the depths of the Centre sub-complex. Cassandra knew about his emotions and accepted his erratic behavior calmly. It wasn't long after that time that Angelo first made his way to her room.
Cassandra awakened with the knowledge that someone else was in her room with her. She could tell that the boy was about her age and that he had been terribly hurt at some point. They established a rapport almost immediately, both taken from their families by Dr. Raines, both having even their names taken from them, both empaths. With Cassandra, Angelo could speak in his broken, monosyllabic fashion, but she understood him perfectly. With Angelo, Cassandra could allow her feelings out, since he felt them anyway. Each found the perfect companion in the other and they spent several hours together most days, seldom speaking, but understanding each other perfectly.
Even as a child Cassandra knew what kind of a place she was in. She despised the Centre and the pain that it stood for but she knew of no alternative for her. Technically she was an illegal alien in America. She was also blind and had no formal education. She knew nothing about the world outside of the Centre except what she had picked up on the Internet and through the thoughts of the researchers around her. She knew she could never survive alone so she suppressed all thoughts of life on her own and made the best she could of the situation she was in.
This was Cassandra's life up to the day Jarod was recaptured. Even though she was now a woman grown, her room remained that of a child. Her daily routine was the same as it had been since she had settled into life at the Centre. This day, however, she knew that her life would be changed forever. One of the rare prophetic flashes had come on her as she arose and, while she had no details, she was prepared for upheaval. She was dressed in her most professional looking outfit, a straight, three quarter length beige skirt and a red knit sweater. She wore her gold chain necklace---one of Raines' little gifts to her after a successful job. Her hair was pulled back into a sensible bun and her staff, the one given to her by Tia Theresa, was in her hand.
Raines had tried and failed to force her to give up that staff. He wanted Cassandra to repudiate every trace of her past but Cassandra held firm in that one area, she would never willingly give up Tia Theresa's staff. Since removal by force wouldn't have had the effect he wanted, Raines had endured the one small rebellion grudgingly.
"Ah, good, you're ready." He rasped as he entered her room without so much as a knock. He showed no surprised that Cassandra had anticipated him. "Come. This will be a challenge for you."
He turned about and exited her room. Cassandra followed him without assistance. Even without her unique abilities she would have been able to make her way to the rooms where they were headed. She had been there so many times she had every step memorized. From Raines' mind she was able to pick up that Jarod had been recaptured and that this time she would meet him face to face. Her heartbeat quickened at that thought.
She knew Jarod was a good man because she had "read" him many times during his initial stay at the Centre. She also knew that he helped people from both Angelo and gossip on the Internet. A very faint, never before acknowledged hope for escape surfaced. It was all she could do to keep her face in the impassive mask she had cultivated for so long.
The journey to the interrogation room seemed much shorter than usual. In no time at all Cassandra was following Raines into a cell that radiated anger, resentment, rebellion and, carefully buried, fear. This was no different from the emotions that had enveloped her every time she came to "read" for Dr. Raines.
"Jarod, this is Cassandra. She'll be joining us for this discussion." Raines announced.
"Why, Raines, I'm shocked." Jarod drawled sarcastically. "I thought for sure you'd be breaking out the rubber hoses and instead you bring a beautiful woman."
Cassandra had a flash of a picture of herself in Jarod's mind. Hair that was so black it had blue highlights, eyes hidden by dark glasses, lips that seemed very red against a complexion that was pearly white. She would have been darker but she hadn't been in the sunlight since she left Mexico.
"Hello, Jarod." She said with the carefully neutral voice she had perfected for these sessions.
"Why the sunglasses in this dungeon?" Even under duress Jarod had an insatiable curiosity.
"I'm blind." She told him calmly.
"None of your business, boy!" Raines snapped at the same time.
"Cassandra I want you to 'read' Jarod as deeply as you can. Tell me his responses to my questions in as much detail as possible. Do you understand?"Raines continued quickly, perhaps to stave off further questions from Jarod. Cassandra ignored the fact the he had just repeated the same speech he always gave her, word for word, before every interrogation she had attended.
"Of course, Dr. Raines." Cassandra answered with her customary composure. "I will have to be in direct contact with him to probe deeply, though."
"Whatever." Raines rasped.
Cassandra sat beside Jarod on the narrow cot and took his hand in hers. The moment they touched Cassandra's mind opened up a memory long shut away...
Young Cassandra had only been at the Center for a few months and in that time she had only met Dr. Raines and the people he had testing her abilities. One morning when she awakened she felt the presence of another person. This didn't surprise her unduly as she had frequently awakened under the watchful eye of a stranger, but this person felt different. He was young, perhaps even younger than she was, and he felt more like a wary, wild creature than a boy. Until she awoke and felt the boy's presence she had no idea there might be other children around her. She recognized his emotional aura as that of a terribly, emotionally damaged person. She knew that if Tia Theresa hadn't reached out to her in her intense grief that she could have been just like the stranger. And like her, he was empathic to other people. It was odd for her to realize that as soon as she perceived the boy's mental state he had, in turn, picked up on everything about her.
"Hello." She said tentatively. "Dr. Raines calls me Cassandra." Her accent was still very strong at this time but Angelo understood her.
"Angelo." The boy said cryptically.
"Yes," Cassandra murmured. She had no problem in 'reading' the boy. Their minds and emotions meshed easily. His name was no more Angelo than her name was Cassandra.
"Come." Angelo demanded.
Cassandra felt no hesitation at all. Somehow Angelo knew, so she also knew, that Raines would not be down for her that day. She couldn't quite 'see' what Angelo needed her for but she was confident he had a good reason to approach her. She did pick up the feeling that Angelo had been watching her nearly from the day she had arrived. She picked up her staff and held out her free hand to the boy. Angelo took it and led her to the open the air ducts that had been his doorway to her room. Cassandra was able to follow Angelo by the simple method of holding on to his foot from behind. The darkness in the ducts didn't bother her, of course, but crawling wasn't going to be her favorite form of locomotion. It felt like they crawled through the metal tunnels for and eternity but it was only about half an hour in reality before they emerged into a dusty, forgotten storeroom in the lower levels.
Not far in front of her she heard the wrenching sobs of devastating grief; the kind of grief she knew very well.
"Si, Angelo." She said to his silent urging and moved slowly forward using her staff to avoid crates and barrels in her way. Angelo remained by the duct.
Cassandra was the only help he had for the girl grieving for her dead mother.
"Hello?" Cassandra said moments before young Miss Parker would have noticed her on her own. The girl was startled and began immediately wiping away all trace of tears.
"Who are you?" She demanded. Her voice was thick with tears but strident with the hardness she was already developing to armor herself in this environment of deceit and secrets.
"I'm called Cassandra." She said quietly, instinctively striving to soothe the other girl's bruised emotions. She reached out a tentative hand and felt her way towards the other girl careful not to hit her with the staff. Miss Parker was intrigued when she realized that Cassandra's staff was to help her move without assistance; that Cassandra couldn't see.
"I didn't know there were any other children in the Centre besides Jarod and Angelo." Parker queried doubtfully, allowing Cassandra to sit next to her by the wall. "Why are you here? Where do you stay?"
"I have never been told of other children either." Cassandra said carefully. English was still a new language for her although she was already very nearly fluent. "Dr. Raines bought me from my father so he could try to find out about my Sight."
"But you're blind!" Miss Parker blurted tactlessly, covering her mouth with her hands immediately in remorse.
"Yes, I am." Cassandra agreed. "But I see other things. I know why you are down here and why you hurt so much."
"I'm not hurt!" She denied bravely but the wobble in her voice gave away her vulnerability.
"Your mama has just died. Your papa does not know how to help you be sad for her. You thought you had found a friend but she has also died. You feel alone and that you will never feel----" Cassandra searched for the right word but her grasp of English was still too tenuous. "----You will never feel not alone again." She finally said lamely.
"H-how do you know all of that?" Miss Parker whispered.
"It is the Sight." Cassandra said simply. "But I also know of these feelings in here." She touched her chest with her hand. "Mi Mama died before Dr. Raines came for me. It was then that I lost my sight. Mi Papa could no longer see me without seeing Mama. Seeing me made him hurt very much. So I am here." Cassandra's face was as calm as ever but her voice was imbued with a deep sadness.
"How did your Mother die?" Parker wanted to know.
"Evil men attacked us when Mama was taking me to her village to live with her family and go to school. Mama tried to shoot them with Papa's pistol and it blew up and killed her. Our mule kicked me in the head when I fell and when I woke up I could no longer see. At least, not with my eyes." Cassandra tried to recite these facts emotionlessly but like Miss Parker, Cassandra couldn't control the wobble in her voice. She had tried to believe that she had cried all of her tears in Tia Theresa's arms but she now found that grief took more than one good cry.
"Do you remember your Mother?" Parker whispered as tears welled up in both girls' eyes. Cassandra's arms crept around to hug her knees. She tried to hug her composure to her as well but the tears spilled over.
"Mama used to brush my hair every morning and every night. She let me brush hers. We always talked then---it was our time, she'd say." She used a whisper also as she shared her most precious memories with the girl beside her. Her voice broke as memories she had tried desperately to bury overwhelmed her.
"Me too." Parker's tears spilled over but she struggled to explain her special relationship to her mother to Cassandra. "She smiled a lot. She'd sing sometimes too. But the best times were when she'd do my hair and we'd talk."
Parker's arm slid around Cassandra's shoulders as she spoke and Cassandra's arm slid over hers.
"Did she like to eat outdoors? To-to---" Cassandra couldn't find the word.
"Picnic." Parker supplied. "She liked to go on picnics."
Within moments the two girls were clinging to each other for comfort and support as they mourned the loss of the person they had loved most in the world. They cried and talked about their mothers and what they missed most about them.
Jarod spied them together hours later. He stood unseen, watching the two girls talking together. They were very alike, he noticed, with their dark hair and solemn faces. He was surprised at the jealousy he felt to see his only real friend at the Center with another. He also envied Miss Parker for having someone to cry with over her loss. No one would even talk to him about his parents. He was about to slip away when he saw Miss Parker smile, transforming her solemn face. He found himself feeling grateful to the strange child for that smile as he returned to an authorized part of the Centre.
"Cassandra!" Raines voice cut sharply through that vividly shared memory. "Are you ready?"
"I'm sorry, Dr. Raines." She responded quickly with feigned remorse. "He is very hard to grasp. His mind is very----" she paused searching for the right adjective, "twisty. It is very twisty." She emphasized.
"Twisty!" Jarod repeated with his little boy grin. "I like that. Thank you." For a moment his eyes danced with amusement that dared Cassandra to join in. Perhaps if Raines had not been present she might have at least smiled, but the presence of her guardian kept her rigidly contained within her professional demeanor. Jarod's smile faded into a look of sympathetic acceptance. He understood her choice and why she had made it. After all, he too had once been a child of the Centre. Cassandra almost felt guilty as she absorbed those impressions.
"Where is the Major taking the boy?" Raines once again interrupted their private communication. Jarod wonder briefly if he noticed it and was jealous.
"I don't know." Jarod answered deliberately. "And you know I wouldn't tell you if I did."
"Why didn't he run away from you?"
"Maybe your training isn't as good as you think it is!"
Cassandra sensed that Jarod was purposely goading Raines but she wasn't sure why he would want to. When she'd told Raines Jarod's mind was twisty she hadn't just been making an excuse. She really was finding it difficult to keep up with the lightning speed at which his mind worked.
"Cassandra?" Raines questioned after an impotent glare at Jarod.
"He is telling the truth, Sir." She told him quickly. "He believes you should know that the child would be too smart to be deceived because the boy is---------him." Cassandra paused, stunned, to realize that this man had been cloned.
"He has no idea at all where the Major and the boy might go?" Raines pressed.
"Many places flashed in his mind; a rough house surrounded by trees, a desert area with a cave, a very cold place with much snow and round faced people in furs, but he does not truly believe this Major would go to any of any of them." Cassandra clarified slowly. She had actually received much more information and was trying to organize it in her mind.
Jarod believed that the Major was his father and he had many emotions that surged around that fact. He regretted the brevity of their reunion, hoped that the two fugitives were safe, and wondered if the Major would simply accept the boy as his son and give up Jarod for lost. He hoped the Major would be able to find Jarod's mother and sister, Emily and that the four of them could become a family. At the same time, he hoped that they were never reunited so that they would still be looking for him.
"What do you think?"
"I think Jarod does not have the answers you seek." Cassandra told Raines bluntly and truthfully.
"Very well." Raines snarled, accepting Cassandra's assessment with ill grace. "But I know you know this one---Who in the Centre has been leaking information to you?"
Jarod pressed his lips together and glared first at Raines and then at Cassandra. Cassandra could feel the desperate plea underneath his glower.
"Cassandra!" Raines demanded.
"Once again he shows many faces, Mr. Raines." Cassandra prevaricated desperately. "Mr. Sydney, Miss Parker, Mr. Broots, Angelo, even Mr. Parker are in his mind. He feels many feelings; I cannot sort them out!"
"He's gotten to you, hasn't he?" Raines demanded of Cassandra.
"I do not know what you mean, Sir." Cassandra protested weakly. Years of hiding her feelings had not prepared her for out and out deceit.
"You're helping him---covering for him! You've been taken in by his innocent air and turned against me, haven't you?"
"I do like him." Cassandra confirmed with quiet dignity. "But I truly cannot sort out his feelings in this matter."
"Bah!" Raines made an impatient gesture of negation and turned and strode out the door, pulling his oxygen tank behind him.
Cassandra sat in amazement for a moment and then she rose and made her way to the door. She could feel Jarod's curious gaze on her as she carefully tapped her way to the wall with her staff and then felt her way along the wall to the door itself. It was locked and Cassandra was at a loss. She'd never been left alone with a subject before.
"Might as well sit down." Jarod suggested practically. "It's probably going to be a while before someone comes back."
Cassandra hesitated a moment. Years of the same routine had not given her any practice in dealing with the unexpected and she had no clue as to what would be the best course of action for her. After a moment, however, she bowed to the inevitable and made her way back to the narrow cot. Her progress was swifter and surer this time, but she still obviously relied on the staff for guidance.
Cassandra felt his intent stare. He'd noticed how easily she'd navigated the room when she and Raines had entered and was speculating as to why she had difficulty now.
"Is it not obvious?" Cassandra responded to the unspoken question on Jarod's mind.
"What?" Jarod asked blankly, taken off balance by the comment that seemed to come from out of nowhere.
"I can find my way around more easily when Dr. Raines is in the room. You were wondering." She explained gently. "I can feel where I am better with him than anyone else, except Angelo."
"That's right, you do know Angelo, don't you?"
"He is mi hermano." Cassandra smiled gently. "My brother." She clarified in English.
"That's not possible. He was here before you, wasn't he?"
"Not in blood, in spirit. You and mi amiga, Miss Parker, you had each other growing up. Well, Angelo and I had each other. He is very special to me."
"Angelo is special all right." Jarod concurred, but his mind was obviously worrying another subject. "And so are you. You read minds?"
"Not really. I feel your feelings. Sometimes I see what others have seen or are seeing. Dr. Raines mostly uses me as a lie detector. Your subtlety, however, amazes me." She finished with heavy irony.
"I assumed you would see through any attempts to hide my curiosity in idle conversation."
"Yes, I suppose you are right. Have I satisfied your curiosity?" She knew the answer was 'no' but hoped Jarod was clever enough to realize she wanted to change the subject.
"Close enough." He humored her. "Tell me, did you ever see Miss Parker again?"
"No. I never had the opportunity until I was much older. Then it seemed best to leave matters as they were. I do not even know if she remembers me. She has buried much in her mind."
"I was jealous of you two, you know."
"Yes, I knew. I wanted to invite you to join us but Miss Parker would have closed up if I had. She needed to grieve then."
"How did you know what she needed? You were younger than us."
"Mi Tia, my aunt, did much the same for me when my mother died. I remembered."
"So you really had lost your mother, like you told Parker."
"I never lie." She retorted with icy dignity and a flagrant disregard for her recent lies to Dr. Raines.
"Right." Jarod agreed skeptically.
"You, however, are hiding something from me." Cassandra probed, turning the conversation yet again. "Why are you so worried for Miss Parker? What has happened?"
"She's been shot." Jarod answered soberly. "Someone was going to shoot her father but she was hit instead when she tried to warn him. It looked bad but I was hustled back here before I could find out more."
"She's still alive." Cassandra told him confidently. "I would feel it if she had died. She may have forgotten me, but I never forgot either of you. I checked on you both, you know, from time to time. Not often, though. It is painful when people you care about are unhappy."
"And how did this checking in work?" Cassandra and Jarod both jumped as Sydney's voice sounded suddenly from the door.
Cassandra flushed with embarrassment--it had been a long time since someone was able to approach her without her knowing it in advance. She didn't often get so engrossed in a conversation that she failed to monitor her surroundings.
"Sydney, wish I could say it's good to see you." Jarod spoke dryly.
"I'm glad to see you in such good health, Jarod." Sydney replied, as carefully neutral in his choice of greetings as he usually was in all conversations.
"Perhaps you would be so good as to tell us just what's going on? What is Raines trying to accomplish by locking Cassandra in here with me?"
"As always, Raines' motives are a mystery to me." Sydney responded, moving further into the room but leaving the door ajar. "I find your new friend here quite intriguing as well, Jarod. Cassandra, isn't it?"
"Cassandra is what Dr. Raines has called me since he brought me here." Cassandra told Sydney pedantically. "And you are Sydney."
"Yes. And I wanted to know how you 'checked in' on Miss Parker and Jarod." Sydney repeated doggedly.
Cassandra's set jaw indicated she was considering whether to answer Sydney's question or not. With a resigned sigh she finally complied.
"I met Miss Parker long ago, when we were all still children. Her Mama had just died and my Mama had died less than a year earlier, so we shared a strong bond. I--" Cassandra paused, looking for the right word to describe a process she had never explained before. "-linked with her on a very deep level. After being so close to her at one point I was able to feel her again whenever I wanted to. Except for when she was gone from the Centre, of course." Cassandra paused, considering her next words. Sydney and Jarod waited patiently.
"Jarod and I never really met but he was present during our meeting." She continued. "She never knew, but I felt him. He has a very strong presence. He was easy to find until a few years ago when he left."
"Tell me, did you know Jarod was escaping at the time it happened?" Sydney wanted to know. Cassandra flushed and dropped her head guiltily.
"I see." The two words held a wealth of meaning the way Sydney said them. Jarod stared at Cassandra in astonishment.
"You were radiating emotions." Cassandra told him defensively. "You woke me up from a sound sleep!"
"Why didn't you notify someone?" Raines voice came from the doorway, startling Cassandra a second time. She was really going to have to work on her powers of concentration, she reflected ruefully.
"I wanted him to be free." Cassandra admitted softly, realizing the time for lies had passed. "He was so excited and apprehensive and--happy." She finished passionately. "He was happy for the first time I had ever felt. I could never have taken that away from him!"
"Girl, I thought you knew better than to let your emotions control you!" Raines expostulated. "You've always been so level-headed."
"I am still level-headed, Dr. Raines." Cassandra told him firmly. "And I feel no more and no less than I ever had, I am simply allowing you to see what it is I feel. Always I have shared with you what others feel and now I am sharing what I feel." She had risen and was making her way towards Raines.
Jarod watched in fascination as she moved without resorting to her staff at all.
"I don't care what you feel! You have a job to do!"
"I have always done the best I could for you. I simply did not share with you those activities I am ethically unable to do. It was easier for you." She was face to face with him, looking directly at him as if she could see him from behind those dark glasses.
"Ethics have no place in the Centre."
"Perhaps it is time they did."
"That is not for you to decide! You will do as you are told, girl."
"Dr. Raines, you have cared for me since I was a young girl. I owe you for who I am today and I will help you in whatever way I can. But I will not begin to do now what I have never done in the past. I will not help you to hurt another. If you look back you will realize I never have."
"You've been lying to me all along." Raines' face had turned so red that even Jarod felt some concern. It wouldn't do to have the gargoyle drop dead in his cell.
"Only when it was for the best." Cassandra soothed, placing a gentle Raines' arm. "If I had refused outright you would have been placed in a position that would have inevitably caused you pain. By keeping my own counsel, by misleading you, I protected you as best I could."
"I don't need your protection, girl, I need your obedience." Raines protested, but with less heat.
"No, you do not. You have had too much obedience already. You need someone who cares." Sydney and Jarod watched in stunned silence as Raines frowned with confusion. His usual abrasive nature was completely subdued by now but he couldn't let Cassandra's statement go unchallenged.
"You will follow my instructions in the future, do you understand?" He ordered half-heartedly.
"I will do my best, Sir." Cassandra promised noncommittally. "But you seem stressed and tired. Should you not rest now? Perhaps a visit from your masseuse would relax you? It would not do for you to fall ill right now with so much depending on you."
"Yes." Raines murmured, raising a vague hand in her direction. "Yes, perhaps you're right." He turned and exited the room in a daze.
"What did you do to him?" Jarod breathed with amazement and Sydney with sardonic humor at the same moment.
"As a child I could only sense emotions and respond to them, as an adult I can influence them to some extent." Cassandra explained calmly. " However, this information will bring you no gain, Dr. Sydney. Dr. Raines will not realize that I manipulated his feelings and there will be no recognizable tape of this event."
"I see." Sydney responded slowly. "I assume there never has been a record of this facet of your unique abilities."
"No." Cassandra smiled serenely. "I suspect that I produce some bio-electric field when I actually project with my ability that disrupts electrical fields and equipment."
"Handy, that." Jarod grinned. "Now what?"
"Yes, what now?" Sydney mused. "You and I are going to have to talk later, young lady, but in the meantime we are going to visit with Mr. Parker and Mutumbo. I was sent to fetch you, before I was side tracked by that fascinating demonstration."
"And I will wait right here for my next exciting visitor." Jarod quipped, stretching out on the cot and folding his hands nonchalantly behind his head.
"Yes, well you might want to consider cooperating with the next one. Eventually they'll get tired of waiting and send someone in to force you to be----more forthcoming." Sydney advised his protégé in a low voice as he passed by him to grasp Cassandra's elbow. Jarod's cocky grin was replaced by a thoughtful frown as they disappeared out the door.
There was no conversation between Sydney and Cassandra as he guided her through the corridors and levels of the Centre complex to the meeting room where Mutumbo and Mr. Parker waited. The thoughtful frown that showed on Cassandra's forehead over her dark glasses was mirrored on Sydney's face. She knew they were both worrying about the man they had left behind. The Centre had ways to obtain the results it desired and most of them weren't pleasant.
Anyone could be broken, they were both uncomfortably aware of that fact, and neither wanted to see Jarod broken. He had to be protected somehow, but how?
It was at this point that Sydney's and Cassandra's thoughts diverged. Cassandra knew with every fiber of her being that Jarod had to be free. Sydney hoped just as fervently that he could convince Jarod to cooperate with the Centre and return to work unscathed. He had too much knowledge of Jarod's thought processes, however, to place much faith in that hope. Buried deeply within his mind was the truth that he would actually help Jarod to escape again before he allowed the Centre to destroy him.
Cassandra noted that hidden resolve and filed it away for future use. Getting Jarod out of the Centre wasn't going to be easy and every ally was essential.
"Good to see you, Sydney, Cassandra. Where's Raines?" They had barely entered the plush conference room when Mr. Parker greeted them. Sydney nodded in response but carefully seated Cassandra before he attempted a reply.
Cassandra noted the thickly cushioned, leather-covered chair, running an exploratory hand along the upholstery to note the smooth texture. She'd never been around such luxury.
"Mr. Raines was feeling indisposed." Sydney finally spoke, moving to stand a little behind Cassandra, between her and the door. Another person might have felt uneasy to be watched from behind but Cassandra relied on her extra senses to track people. Their location in relation to her made no difference, she knew where they were and, in general, what their intentions were. Sydney was no threat and neither were the two bodyguards standing against the far wall behind Mutumbo and Mr. Parker, she decided, and focused her attention on the two men seated directly in front of her.
Mr. Parker she could read easily. His jovial mask covered an almost frantic worry for his daughter and a deep anxiety at the presence of the man sitting beside him. Mutumbo was harder to read. His emotions were cold and rigidly controlled. All Cassandra could be sure of was that he was very unhappy with her results with Jarod.
Apparently Raines had made a report to the two men about the results of his questioning. Mutumbo seemed to agree with Raines' original assessment that Cassandra was protecting Jarod. This was a truth that Cassandra knew she needed to cover immediately if she wanted to survive.
"Hello, Mr. Parker, Mr. Mutumbo." Cassandra drew her own mask of calm and submission firmly over her face. She then waited patiently. Any sign of anxiety on her part would simply feed their suspicion that she had betrayed Centre interests. Her only hope lay in convincing the two men that she had done her best and failed. Failure wasn't a good thing to admit to in the Centre but it was preferable by far to sabotage.
"I wish to understand the conference with Jarod." Mutumbo spoke finally. His voice had a faint accent and portrayed a wealth of menace.
"Sirs, Jarod is a brilliant man. His mind works quickly and jumps from thought to thought. I am only an ordinary person. I cannot follow his thoughts when he begins to plot and plan."
"You are far from ordinary." Mutumbo contradicted grimly. "Are you telling us, then, that you could follow his thoughts if he were relaxed and unsuspecting?"
"I am an empath, Sir. I feel the subject's feelings. Sometimes, if the connection is very good between us, I can see images in his mind. I cannot read actual thoughts, though." Cassandra clarified carefully. She sensed an immediate wave of relief coming from Mr. Parker at that news.
"If Jarod were calm and relaxed, do you believe you would be able to determine the identity of the Centre leak?" Mutumbo pressed.
"I do not know." Cassandra considered thoughtfully. "Perhaps, if he were led to dwell on this person and remained at peace..." she trailed off noncommittally.
"We will have to see if we can set up such a situation for you. It would be better for you if you were to succeed at that time." Mutumbo half suggested, half threatened. "Sydney, you will see to it, won't you?"
"Of course." Sydney agreed. Only Cassandra sensed his feelings of ambivalence with the order.
"In the meantime, miss, your quarters will be moved so that you can be more readily accessible to us. Mr. Raines has monopolized you long enough." Mutumbo ignored Sydney and continued his disposition of Cassandra. "I believe Mr. Parker here will be able to set you up and provide you with a suitable guide."
Even though Mutumbo used no inflection as he spoke, Cassandra knew clearly that her 'guide' would really be a guard. After years of relative freedom in the sub-levels of the Centre it appeared she would be returned to the status of captive. She wisely allowed no sign of her thoughts to show on her face, merely inclining her head slightly in a half-nod.
"As you wish, Sir." She agreed softly. "I wonder if I might make one small request?" Inwardly she trembled at her own boldness. Now was really not the time to be pushing the Powers That Be, but she was tired of playing it safe.
"Might I be allowed to visit Miss Parker?" Cassandra called on all of her years of showing Raines the face he wanted to see to make herself look as meek and harmless as possible. It was only the truth after all; no harm would come from her visiting with her one-time friend.
"My daughter is in a coma right now." Mr. Parker answered, concern weighing heavily in his voice.
"Then a friend by her bed could only be of benefit." Cassandra suggested.
Mr. Parker looked towards Mutumbo with a faint spark of hope in his eyes. Mutumbo nodded with the grace of a king granting a boon.
"She may visit with your daughter." He agreed. Only Cassandra caught the amusement in his acquiescence. He enjoyed being in the position to do a favor for his subordinate that was so important to Parker and yet so trivial in his eyes. He waved a languid hand in the direction of the two large, black suited men standing behind him. One of them moved away from the wall and started around the table toward Cassandra.
Cassandra stood, waiting for the man to reach her side, even though no word about the two men had as yet been spoken. Sydney noticed and filed her action away in his mind for future reference. She claimed to merely be an empath yet she anticipated the actions of the people around her with an ease that suggested far more than just the ability to sense feelings.
"Sydney, I believe you have work to attend to as well?" Mutumbo suggested. "I will expect you to be prepared to interview the subject before his evening meal."
Sydney accepted the order with an impassive nod. He stood politely back from the door to allow Cassandra and her guide to exit and then followed them out of the room.
"One moment, please." He stopped them just outside of the closed door. "Do you think you can be of assistance to Miss Parker?"
"I do not know." Cassandra responded gravely. "I have never tried to reach an ill person. I have heard, though, that the voice of friends and family are important to the recovery of those in a coma."
"You are quite right. I hope to be able to join you later. If Miss Parker should regain consciousness while you are with her, please give her my best wishes. Good luck, Cassandra, and thank you."
Cassandra gave Sydney a warm smile.
"I'll do my best." She promised and they parted ways.
The guard/guide maintained an impassive silence during the entire journey to the Miss Parker's room. Even though Miss Parker was being cared for within the Centre walls it was a journey. Down corridors, up and down in at least three different elevators; Cassandra estimated that it had taken at least thirty minutes by the time they finally paused outside an anonymous wooden door.
"She's in there." He finally spoke. Cassandra smiled warmly at him.
"You have a very nice voice. You should use it more often." She almost giggled at the astonishment her words caused in him, escaping into the invalid's room before she could ruin her image of icy professionalism. The man remained outside the door, leaving Cassandra alone with her friend.
Cassandra listened intently once the door was shut behind her. Even though she was often able to use the impressions she picked up from people around her to navigate, Cassandra had still developed her other senses just as any other sightless person would have. The room was tiled, not carpeted, so Cassandra could tell by the echoes that it was a fairly large room with something, probably a hospital bed that absorbed sound to the left and far wall from where she stood.
With that established she made her way to the side of the bed. She had to detour around a pair of comfortable armchairs and a coffee table between her and her goal but her staff saved her from cracking a shin on the table.
By Miss Parker's bed was another chair, this one much less comfortable. It was cushioned on the seat and back, but had no arms. It was a chair to maintain a vigil in, not to hold a cozy conversation. Cassandra pulled it closer to the head of the bed and settled down in it comfortably.
Miss Parker lay on her stomach, keeping all pressure off of the hole left by the bullet. Cassandra took Parker's hand in both of hers, and felt carefully for her friend's emotions, but she was distracted by the crushing sensation of pain.
Cautiously she followed the trail of pain, seeing where the surgeons had repaired major veins, but finding that they'd left the bullet which was far too near her spine for them to feel comfortable about trying to remove it. The problem was that the bullet was pressing on nerves in the spine, preventing Parker from feeling anything below the waist and causing overwhelming agony. Parker had retreated from the pain and the fear of paralysis into a coma; her sense of self was deeply buried under layers of blankness.
Cassandra examined the metal object in her friend's back, feeling the misshapen lump carefully with her other senses. She could do it, she decided. Unknown to anyone in the Centre, Cassandra had discovered the smallest degree of telekinetic ability in herself many years ago. She knew she could remove the bullet, but doing so would re-open the injury, wouldn't it? Cassandra knew that it might be possible for her to use her mind to simply remove the bullet and transport it instantly to another site, but it would require energy reserves that she was sure she didn't have.
Even as she reached that point in her deliberations she felt the unmistakable presence of Angelo in her mind, doubling her energy level. He'd give everything for Miss Parker, his childhood friend.
Cassandra nodded once, her decision to try already made. She knew that if she failed, or worse, if she succeeded only partially, that Miss Parker could be worse off than she was already, but she also knew that Parker would have wanted her to do it. Cassandra re-established her contact with the foreign body within Miss Parker, surrounding it with her mental senses. Drawing in a deep breath and calling on Angelo's energy even as she pulled up all of her own, Cassandra pulled and *twisted* the bullet and the space around it in an instant.
Energy rushed out of her like water over a dam, but a moment later she felt the unmistakable heaviness of the bullet in her hand. She swayed slightly, her porcelain skin paper white, before resting her head lightly on the bed by her friend. After a few moments she pulled herself back up, and placed her hand with a featherlight touch over the back injury. It had worked! Already the pain was ebbing to the point that the medication dripping through Parker's IV was easing what remained. More importantly, Parker could now feel her legs.
The sensation was faint, more like the thick, numbness left over after a dentist visit. Cassandra sensed her friend's faint elation, followed by fear when she realized that the improvement was only very minor.
She sighed, realizing that she would have to convince her friend that all was well----or at least it would be, eventually. Cassandra began to speak, trying to project through the blankness to where Miss Parker hid.
"Do not fear, my friend, you are not paralyzed. The bullet has irritated the nerves in your spine, and only time will soothe them, but you will walk again, I promise." She assured the unconscious woman.
"So, Amiga, you have gotten yourself shot." She went on in a faintly chiding tone. "Now how long has it been since your ulcer perforated and you almost bled to death? You have really got to start taking better care of yourself. You worry me, you know, when you are trapped in the hospital and I cannot even visit with you." She sensed Parker listening, although the woman hadn't returned to consciousness.
"And are you not interested in knowing about Senor Jarod?" She questioned. "I have met him now, face to face. He is a fine man--a good man to have as a friend. He is still your friend, you know, Amiga. He is worried about you----he sacrificed his freedom for you. I like him too. You have good taste in friends. He has brought joy to so many people and yet he gets to feel so little of it himself. He is not like us, Amiga, he cannot accept what is, he must go out and change what he does not like--what is wrong in our world."
"He sure as hell never brought me any joy." Parker's voice rasped with pain, dryness, and disuse. "And who the hell are you?"
"Amiga!" Cassandra's voice was full of joy. "You have returned! You have worried many people who love you, you know. You really must be more careful."
Miss Parker tried to roll to one side but subsided immediately with a groan of pain.
"Do I know you?" Parker asked slowly, forcing the words out through the pain throbbing through her.
"Ah, Amiga, you have forgotten our meeting." Cassandra chided sadly. "Remember the sub-levels of the Centre when you were a child? Remember the little blind girl?"
Parker frowned as she tried to bring forward the memory teasing at her mind.
"Cassandra!" She burst out suddenly, gasping as the outburst caused an explosion of agony. Cassandra placed her hand on Parker's back, high between the shoulder blades, and located the nerve cluster transmitting the majority of the pain. She pinched it quickly, temporarily blocking the flow of sensation. Parker felt the pain ease but didn't know what part the small woman next to her bed played in her relief.
"You're Cassandra? I thought you'd died or been sent away years ago!" She continued more slowly, but with pleasure tinting her words.
"You will find this hard to believe, Amiga, but Dr. Raines has taken very good care of me over the years." Cassandra chuckled softly.
"Raines? Good? In one sentence?" Parker grated out bitterly. "Don't make me laugh. It hurts too much right now. That wheezing vampire is the reason I'm in here!"
"Oh no!" She protested sadly. "He didn't!"
"Well, it wasn't me he planned to kill." The other admitted with grudging honesty. "I got in the way while his goon tried to shoot my Father."
"Amiga! I am so sorry!" Cassandra's eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she gently squeezed her friend's hand. "Your father is fine, though. I just spoke with him before I came here."
"Thank you." Parker whispered, a tear she couldn't keep contained soaking into the pillow.
Cassandra smiled understandingly.
"I should go, my friend." She suggested half heartedly. "You need to rest."
"Resting is all I've done lately." Parker protested. "Keep me company for a while. Tell me whatever it was you wanted to say about Jarod. I missed it."
"He was doing well when I left him. I could not obtain the information that the Centre sought from him, though, so I think that now they are planning to try drugs on him." Cassandra answered carefully, well aware that most rooms in the Centre were bugged as a matter of course.
"Whose idea was that? Raines?"
"No, Mr. Mutumbo wanted it done. I believe Dr. Raines may have had more physical means of persuasion in mind but he had to leave suddenly."
"Oh, yes, Mutumbo." Parker breathed thoughtfully. "I had forgotten about him."
"He's quite displeased with me at the moment." Cassandra confessed. "Your father, however, will be very happy when he comes to visit you again!"
"Where is Daddy, anyway?"
"He's in a meeting with Mutumbo. He was very worried about you, Amiga. He backed me up when I asked for permission to visit you. He was hoping I could make a difference in your recovery."
"And it would appear that you have worked a miracle and brought my Angel back to us!" Mr. Parker boomed from the doorway.
Cassandra noted the immediate tension rising in her friend at the arrival of her father, stepmother, and brother.
"Hello, Daddy, Brigitte, Lyle." Miss Parker said in her most restrained voice.
"It is so good to see you looking so much better!" Mr. Parker enthused, kissing his daughter's cheek.
"Indeed, Sis, you look almost ready to jump right back to work." Lyle offered with only a trace of his usual sarcasm.
"Really, Lyle!" Brigitte scolded. "She looks terrible and you know it."
"Gee, thanks!" Parker responded through gritted teeth. "I hate to be a bad host, but I'm really not up to a family reunion right now." She admitted, closing her eyes painfully.
"We don't want to tire you, Angel." Mr. Parker interposed himself in the conversation. "We'll let you get your rest now. And you, Cassandra, would you join us? I believe Mutumbo had a project in mind for you."
Cassandra felt her heart sink at those words. She really didn't want to be a part of Jarod's next interrogation but options were always in short supply at the Centre. Miss Parker amazed Cassandra by picking up on her discomfort and attempting to aid her.
"Daddy, couldn't Cassandra keep me company for a while?" She asked softly, forcing her eyes to meet with her father's.
"I wish I could say yes, Angel, but Mutumbo's in charge at the moment." His voice was cheerful but his eyes begged his daughter for forgiveness.
Cassandra could tell that Mr. Parker was truly anxious about Mutumbo's authority, and she nodded her understanding to him.
"I will come back as soon as I can." Cassandra murmured to her friend as she rose. "And I will be okay." She assured Miss Parker with more hope than conviction.
She began feeling her way out of the room when Lyle, who had been watching her with the intensity of a lion stalking an antelope, moved to her side and grabbed her elbow. Cassandra carefully maintained her mask of calm and rigidly suppressed a shudder of revulsion. While Lyle had been at a distance she could shield herself against the raging torrent of emotion that surged behind his mask of charm. Once he touched her, though, they battered at her mind fiercely. She knew he suspected that would be the case, though, and that any sign of discomfort on her part would serve to encourage his interest in her. She could only hope that if she ignored the emotional pain his presence brought her he would become bored and look for a more rewarding victim.
"Lyle----if anything happens to my friend------." Parker's eyes closed again in a grimace of pain.
"I'll watch her like a hawk." Lyle promised, his tone charming but the double meaning of his words understood by both women.
"Miss Parker." Cassandra stopped dead in her tracks just as they reached the door, much to Lyle's annoyance. "I almost forgot. Mr. Sydney wanted me to give you his best wishes. He said he hoped to be able to visit you in person soon."
"Thank you, Cassandra." Parker smiled faintly, she was already slipping back into a drugged sleep.
Cassandra hoped that her friend would remember Sydney's good wishes when she woke up.
Cassandra seriously contemplated cracking Lyle across the head with her staff more than once during the journey to the interrogation rooms. The impersonal grasp of her elbow had become one arm around her shoulders and the other hand on her elbow, pulling the right side of her body tightly against his. His left hand occasionally wandered down her arm in a sly caress.
Finally, when he tried to squeeze her even closer as they turned a corner, she stopped dead in her tracks.
"Mr. Lyle." She began in a voice that dripped ice. "I will be able to move much more freely if you release me. I am blind, not mindless. I am perfectly capable of following Mr. Parker without your assistance."
Mr. Parker stopped and turned back to see his son and Cassandra facing each other. Cassandra was clearly furious, bright spots of color burning on her cheeks, and Lyle was clearly delighted at the success of his aggravation tactics. His face bore an incongruously boyish grin as he faced her.
"I'm only trying to help, darlin'." He defended himself innocently.
"Yes, a common mistake where I am concerned." Cassandra replied briskly. She was confident that her little tantrum had satisfied Lyle's need to torment and was rebuilding her impassive facade again. "Dr. Raines made sure, however, that my blindness did not limit my movement. If you would care to walk with the rest of your family I can make my way behind you quite easily."
"That won't be necessary." Mr. Parker blocked off his son's incipient response briskly. "Why don't you come with me and keep an old man happy?" He suggested, moving to take her elbow and giving his son an unmistakable 'hands off' look. Lyle complied with the barest hint of a scowl.
"Now that's better, I have the two prettiest young things in the Centre to keep me company." He said comfortably, patting Cassandra's hand. He was preferable to Lyle, so Cassandra gave in with good grace. She really hadn't expected to be left on her own to trail behind the little group anyway. There would be repercussions later, though. She couldn't see the look Brigitte gave her from where she walked on Mr. Parker's left, but she could feel the animosity directed her way. Behind her, Lyle sulked and contemplated petty revenges.
Cassandra gave an inward sigh---this day had certainly changed her life. She no longer had the comfortable, secluded existence Raines had given her. In the course of one day she had renewed one friendship, embraced another, angered both her mentor and his superior, and made two adversaries. She wished her prophetic flash this morning had been just a little more specific! She could have stayed in bed and pled illness!
"Now then, tell me what you did to my Angel to bring her back to us." Mr. Parker ordered, breaking in on her futile chain of thought.
"I did not do anything, Mr. Parker." She told him in the quiet voice she had developed over the years to use with any authority figure. It usually brought out the protective in them, male or female. "Miss Parker was simply in a state of deep unconsciousness to facilitate her own healing. It is a natural response to a life threatening injury, I understand. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
"Now I'm sure that it was more than that, but I'll allow you your modesty." He told her, shrewdly letting her know that her meek and unworldly persona didn't fool him.
She considered a response that would let him know that his genial "Uncle Parker" act didn't fool her either, but decided against it. It was going be hard enough to keep this one underestimating her. Like her friend, Miss Parker, Cassandra preferred to be underestimated. As it was she could feel the assessing gaze he leveled on her, straining her ability to maintain an impassive face. She almost sagged with relief when he turned his attention to his young wife and let her off the hook. Mercifully, no one else bothered her until they had arrived at their destination.
It wasn't to be an informal question and answer session in the prisoner's cell this time. The room Mr. Parker led her into had more in common with a hospital room than anything else. Three of the walls were covered with cabinets and counters full of vials of fluids and pills and shiny metal tools. In the center of the room was a bed/chair something like a dentist's chair but with leather straps on the armrests and strategically placed to go around the subject's chest, waist, and upper and lower legs. A moveable light, also like one from a dentist's office, hung from the ceiling over the chair. Cassandra knew the contents of the room from past experience. Raines hadn't brought her here often but she had come frequently enough to have formed an accurate picture of the place in her mind from glimpses she had picked up through her subjects. She hated this room passionately and her discomfort showed through her best effort to remain emotionless. Lyle, of course, noticed and commented on her reaction.
"What's the matter, darlin'? Don'tcha like the decor?" He taunted cheerfully. The verbal stab soothed his wounded pride from their earlier altercation.
"I am an empath, Mr. Lyle." Cassandra retorted frigidly. "I feel everything that happens in this room while I am here. Perhaps you would like me to try to link with you so that you too can enjoy the upcoming experience?"
"No, thanks anyway." Lyle responded quickly, just a little disconcerted at the thought. "I've had all the fun and games in that department that I want." He murmured, almost to himself.
Cassandra could feel the deep down, uncontrollable fear that the thought brought him. Pain had been too much a part of his childhood for him to be casual about experiencing it again. His mask of nonchalance was good enough to fool most people, but Cassandra knew what lay underneath it. She despised the man but felt a deep sadness for the little boy that had been raised in hell. In some ways Lyle and Jarod had a great deal in common, if only Lyle could put aside his anger and see it.
Mr. Parker seated Cassandra in a wooden chair placed near the head of the redesigned dentist's chair. Then Lyle, Brigitte and Mr. Parker left the room to take their places in an adjoining room that allowed them to watch the proceedings through a one-way mirror to one side of the door. Mutumbo and Sydney were already there although Sydney was just leaving as the other three entered. His attempt to dissuade Mutumbo before the Parker clan arrived had failed. He would be overseeing the questioning this time. He entered the interrogation room and went to speak to Cassandra.
"Are you all right with this?" He asked her, concern in his voice. Even though their acquaintance had been brief, Sydney already showed more comprehension of the negative aspects of her mental capabilities than anyone else Cassandra had met.
"No." Cassandra told him honestly. "I hate this room and I hate what usually happens here, but I have been through this before." She finished reluctantly.
She sensed that if she could give Sydney just one good reason he's call off the session. Unfortunately, she didn't have anything to offer but mental anguish. In the Centre that was no reason at all.
"It shouldn't be too bad for you this time." Sydney promised with more optimism than fact. "I'm just going to give Jarod a light sedative and try to hypnotize him. That should make it easy for you to see any images he comes up with."
"You do not really think you can hypnotize Jarod, do you?"
"He trusts me, to an extent, and it will save him "what usually happens in this room", Sydney copied her words wryly, "if he cooperates. Let's just say I'm optimistic."
Cassandra nodded her head but she allowed Sydney to see the doubt on her face.
Their conversation was ended by the arrival of the main participant to the upcoming event, Jarod. Two unusually large guards, probably bodybuilders by the size of them, literally carried him into the room as Jarod silently fought with every ounce of his strength. Behind them were two more, ensuring that even if Jarod overcame these two he wouldn't be able to escape his fate. Jarod ignored the futility and struggled anyway. Cassandra sensed that he couldn't have stopped himself if he'd tried. This proceeding had dredged up terrible memories for him and he was fighting them as much as he was fighting his captors.
She and Sydney had to move back from the chair as Jarod was strapped firmly in. It was only when the last strap was tightened that Jarod finally stopped his struggles.
"So Sydney, you've chosen the Centre after all." He panted bitterly. "What now, bamboo slivers and electric shock?"
He completely ignored Cassandra as Sydney reseated her near the head of the chair.
"Nothing nearly so melodramatic, Jarod." Sydney used his most soothing voice as he retrieved a syringe from the nearest counter. "This'll just relax you, I promise. If you cooperate it will be much easier for everyone."
"That'll be the day!" Cassandra gently grasped Jarod's hand with one of her own, much as she had during the earlier questioning.
"I understand why you're helping them." Jarod told her, grimly but more calmly than during his exchange with Sydney. "Just as I hope you'll understand that I won't make this easy on you."
Even as he spoke Sydney injected the serum into a vein. His final words to Cassandra were spoken with the slow care of a drunk. His words were defiant but the white knuckled grip he had on Cassandra's hand revealed his stress. He clung to Cassandra for much the same reason she clung to him. All they had to turn to for help was each other. They had formed a bond earlier and he was counting on that bond to help him in his struggle to keep the Centre authorities in the dark about his friends.
She knew that she had to support him in his choice and was counting on his strength of will to see her through the upcoming fight.
"Just relax, Jarod, don't fight it." Sydney moved to the head of the chair on the other side from Cassandra. Jarod's head wobbled in his direction, his eyes rolling in his head from the effects of the sedative.
"Won' help you." He slurred with dogged determination. "Do your wors'"
"Just relax, Jarod." Sydney ordered him again. "And listen closely to my words. You need to relax and put your trust in me."
Jarod fought against the drug, the seductive words Sydney offered, and his own tired desire to give in and allow someone else to make the decisions. In a Herculean effort he shook off years of obedience and reliance on Sydney and began drawing on the vast store of anger he had inside. He knew Cassandra was empathic, she'd admitted as much to him, and he'd concluded that his only defense against empathy was a tidal wave of violent emotion.
As Cassandra comprehended his strategy for this upcoming interrogation she surreptitiously squeezed his hand, letting him know she understood and would help. She felt the relief surge through him as he interpreted her silent message.
Sydney proceeded with his attempt at hypnotism and Cassandra began to remove mental barriers that she had held in place since the day her Tia had shown her how to erect them many years ago. She was afraid, she knew that leaving herself wide open like this could result in a shock to her psyche that might leave her mindless by the end of this session, but she was determined to be as strong as Jarod.
"Just listen to my voice, Jarod." Sydney continued gently. "I want you to concentrate for me. I need your help. Do you understand me, Jarod?"
Jarod shook his head from side to side, rejecting Sydney's plea.
"Jarod, you have to listen to me. You know that I'm the only one who can help you now. But you have to stop fighting and help me out here. You've been on the outside for some time now and someone has been leaking Centre information to you. Who is that person? You don't have to say his name, just try to picture his face."
Cassandra marveled at Sydney's acting ability. All three of them knew that he was one of Jarod's best sources of inside information from the Centre and yet he carried out this proceeding as if he truly wanted Jarod to cooperate.
"Dam' vulshur." Jarod mumbled despairingly. Sydney's 'mild' sedative was quickly rendering him unconscious. If he were going to put his plan into action it would have to be now.
"I trus'ed you... I believed y' cared a' leas' a lil'..." his face twisted in a level of grief he had never willingly shown anyone since he was a small boy. This time, though, he wallowed in it and by doing so allowed it to swamp over Cassandra's wide-open mind.
"Just focus for me Jarod." Sydney urged gently.
"N' one t' trus...all users, all..." Jarod's eyes rolled up and his face went lax, as though he had lost consciousness.
Beside him tears were rolling down Cassandra's cheeks from behind her dark glasses. Jarod wasn't unconscious, he was right there in her mind.
"Cassandra?" Sydney queried carefully maintaining his gentle tone. "Can you sense anything?"
"Loss, grief..." She whispered brokenly. "All gone-everyone I loved, all gone---even Sydney..." Her voice trailed off as she bent her head to touch the back of Jarod's captive hand with her forehead. "Pain and loss and grief-no one to trust, no one to love me, all users, all..." her voice broke with a sob she couldn't contain. She hadn't felt grief this intense since the death of her mother!
"Cassandra, Jarod, can you hear me?" Tension crept into Sydney's voice as he tried to communicate with the two. This wasn't going at all as he'd planned. He was becoming seriously worried for Cassandra's mental well being.
"Go away!" Cassandra suddenly shouted, sobbing freely now. "Go away and find someone else to torment! I don't like you anymore! You lied! You told me they were dead and they aren't, they're out there somewhere and I have to find them!" She sounded eerily like Jarod in his teens.
"Jarod?" Sydney questioned, not ready to accept what he thought he was hearing.
"Find another victim, Sydney!" Cassandra jeered as Jarod twitched vaguely on the chair. "I can see what you are now! You're one of them---always have been..." Unexpectedly she silenced and slid bonelessly from her chair.
"Cassandra!" Sydney rushed around the head of the table and knelt beside her. "Cassandra! What happened? Are you all right? Speak to me!" He slapped her gently on the cheeks and she moaned in response. "C'mon, girl, wake up." He urged her, encouraged by her response.
"Ohhh! My head!" Her hand fluttered shakily to her temple as Sydney helped her to sit up. "What happened?"
"I believe that's my question." Was Sydney's dry response.
"Jarod." Cassandra said slowly. "No barriers, emotions flooding my mind---I do not remember anything but overwhelming pain and anger." Cassandra shuddered at the memory. She devoutly hoped that she'd never have to bond that closely ever again. Her head pounded with a ferocity that made her nauseous and she still felt grief pulling at her insistently. "I do not think the sedative was such a good idea." She finished in a quiet understatement.
She fervently hoped, though, that the group of people behind this little party were convinced by her collapse to end this line of questioning. She hadn't anticipated the force of Jarod's unbridled pain and rage nor had she anticipated the raging headache she was now experiencing. If they tried to continue she didn't know if she could maintain her sense of self.
Sydney helped her back into the wooden chair and checked on Jarod. Finding him semiconscious and mumbling disjointedly he approached the one-way mirror.
"I don't believe that Cassandra will be of assistance here." He offered quietly. "It would appear that sedating Jarod has only released his control over his emotions and that they have come close to overwhelming her. I don't know enough about Cassandra's abilities to know what might happen if we pressed on at this point, but I'm sure it would be very dangerous for her. I'm afraid I have no suggestions to offer at the moment. I simply must have more time to determine Cassandra's limitations."
Behind him Cassandra rested her pounding head tiredly on the armrest beside her next to Jarod's shoulder.
"I'm worried, Amigo." She confessed in a whisper. She knew Jarod could hear her but she wasn't sure if he could understand what she was saying. Sydney's 'mild' tranquilizer was considerably more powerful than he'd claimed. She shrank from the thought of touching his mind again, her mind was still to tender. Words would have to do.
"I cannot read this Mutumbo person and he frightens me. I wish Dr. Raines were here." She almost managed a smile at that. She knew that Raines was the last person on earth most people at the Centre would long for, but he had always been her protector. Cassandra had a strong feeling that she needed protecting very much at the moment.
The conversation behind them ended with Sydney's departure from the room. He didn't leave happily, though. She felt the concerned look he threw at them over his shoulder before he opened the door. Dread filled her; something very bad was coming.
"Get ready, Amigo." She warned, a tremble invading her voice. "Something is going to happen soon."
She still didn't know if Jarod understood her warning but it made her feel better to say it. Almost before she finished speaking the door opened again to admit a tall, slender black woman. She wore a caftan in rich reds and golds, her kinky black hair was cut short against her head, and her neck and ears were decorated with large gold rings. Like Mutumbo, Cassandra couldn't read this woman. She had her emotions firmly locked down, giving Cassandra no foothold into her mind. Or perhaps it was the beating her empathic senses had just taken that prevented her from reaching into the new person's mind. Right now Cassandra didn't know anything for sure except that her head hurt and she wanted to hide in her room until everyone went away.
"Mutumbo wishes to know who has betrayed the Centre." The woman said in a measured cadence. She had the same faint accent that Mutumbo did. "I always give my subjects one opportunity to cooperate. One of you must tell me who the traitor is."
Cassandra's grip on the armrest turned her knuckles white. Jarod opened his eyes briefly but seemed unable to focus them.
"Sydney's the traitor." He forced out bitterly. "He's betrayed me for my entire life!" Spent, his head sagged back against the chair.
"Very well, then, we shall begin." The woman said with no more feeling than if she had been ordering a ham sandwich for lunch. Ignoring the wealth of instruments on the counters behind her she reached into an inside pocket and drew out a small, flat box, about the size and shape of a box of cards, with a sturdy wire jutting out of one end. Briskly she slapped Jarod's cheeks several times..
"Pay attention." She ordered, bringing him somewhat more in focus. To the other side of her Cassandra raised her free hand to cover one cheek. Her fair skin showed the red marks of a hand on each cheek. Dread became outright fear and she did something she had never dared before. With all of the energy her fright gave her Cassandra sent out a voiceless cry to Raines for help.
She knew that sometimes she could project into people what she wanted themto feel and she could only hope that wherever he was Raines could feel her terror now.
"The traitor?" The woman demanded tonelessly as Jarod managed to focus blearily on her.
"Who're you?" He responded instead. The woman touched Jarod's biceps with the wire from the box and pressed a button on the side with her thumb. Jarod yelped and Cassandra jumped as several volts of electricity shot into his arm. It wasn't terribly painful but it was impossible to ignore and Jarod felt the comfortable woolly feeling created by the drug begin to dissipate.
"The traitor." She asked again, with the exact inflection she had used the first time.
"No." Jarod responded with as much firmness as he could muster, given his condition. She turned his arm to expose the underside of his forearm and applied the device again. This time she allowed the electrical current to flow for longer on the more sensitive flesh. It didn't help them any that they were prepared this time. The current caused the muscle beneath it to spasm painfully. Jarod suppressed the cry that Cassandra voiced. Cassandra was gripping Jarod's arm now with both hands. She was shaking uncontrollably. She had never responded to the pain of a subject with such force! Her forearm now sported an angry red spot that looked ready to blister. Somehow she experienced exactly what was happening to Jarod. It was actually worse for her because Cassandra had experienced very little outright pain in her sheltered existence. She had none of the defenses Jarod had formed over the years to cushion the effects.
"The traitor." The woman demanded again, still with no emotion. Cassandra buried her face in Jarod's upper arm with a moan of dismay.
"Let her go." Jarod demanded in turn, his head almost clear now of the effects of Sydney's drug. "She has---" His sentence cut off with a strangled groan as the woman applied the device to his inner elbow. She must have had some way of increasing the voltage because each shock was more painful than the last. "She has nothing to do with this!" He burst out quickly as soon as the current ceased.
"The traitor." The woman responded exactly as she had the previous three times. Jarod simply closed his eyes and set his jaw, accepting the futility of appealing to this woman for mercy. He was acutely aware of Cassandra's every twitch, shudder, cry and moan as the interrogation continued.
The woman soon dispensed with the electrical box and turned more traditional methods of causing pain. It didn't escape Jarod's attention that, while the woman was certainly talented in finding and hurting the more sensitive areas of the human body, she was very carefully avoiding causing any real damage. That was about all he noted, though, as his world soon deteriorated to the by now despised words, "The traitor.", and the surge of pain that followed his silence.
No one was more surprised than he was when Raines burst into the room.
"WHAT is going on here?" He demanded in a voice so harsh that it set off a bout of coughing.
"I am questioning this man." The woman responded with an icy dignity.
"With my project in the room?" Raines' voice radiated enough menace to penetrate even her confidence.
"I am operating under Mutumbo's orders." She defended herself, thrown slightly off balance by Raines' dismissal of her authority.
"No longer!" Before Raines could go on the door opened again to admit Mutumbo.
"You forget yourself!" Mutumbo attacked immediately. "I am in charge now."
"You forget yourself!" Was Raines' venomous response. "Cassandra is my project!" With the cunning developed during years of Centre infighting Raines changed his area of attack.
"How long," he queried malevolently; "do you expect to retain any authority once the rest of the Triumvirate discovers that you risked her unique abilities on a simple security matter?"
"She is hardly unique." Mutumbo retorted but with less confidence. Raines had rattled him.
"You know that she has had the greatest accuracy and consistency of any subject in the Cassandra project." Raines pressed relentlessly. "You've risked her very sanity with your little game! Be warned, if she doesn't recover fully from this episode, the others shall receive a full report from me. As of this moment your questioning is over."
"We will resume as soon as the girl is removed." Mutumbo attempted to reassert his authority.
"Your questioning is over." Raines stressed grimly. "Look at her. She's achieved a physiological link with him. It won't matter where she is, until we break that link she will actively feel anything that happens to him."
Mutumbo conceded with ill concealed irritation, gathering up his protégé with a sweep of his head and moving furiously out of the room.
Jarod found himself pitying the next person to encounter Mutumbo. He was also astounded by the coincidence that had caused Raines, of all people, to actually help him.
"Cassandra." Raines had a gentle hand on her shoulder and he spoke to her in an equally gentle voice, further astounding Jarod. "Cassandra, everything is okay now. You're safe. Do you understand?"
Cassandra didn't respond nor did she lessen her white knuckled grip on Jarod's arm.
"Release me, maybe I can help her." He suggested softly, as concerned for Cassandra as Raines. He ignored both his black eye and split lip and all the other aches and pains reminding him of the recent session and focused on Raines, willing him to trust him. Raines glared at him impotently but relented enough to free Jarod's arms and chest from the straps. Jarod twisted awkwardly in the chair and loosened Cassandra's grip on his arm.
"It over, Cassandra." He told her firmly, lifting her head with a finger under her chin. "Raines is here and Mutumbo is gone. Raines is going to take care of you now. Do you hear me?"
"Where is mi Mama?" The hairs on the back of Jarod's neck rose in horror at the little girl voice Cassandra used to ask that question.
"Why is it so dark?" Jarod exchanged a worried look with Raines.
"Dr. Raines is here now, Cassandra." He reiterated helplessly. "He's going to take care of you."
"I remember Dr. Raines." Cassandra didn't seem to notice the split lip she shared with Jarod, she had retreated fully into her childhood. "He gave me a sweet before we got on the plane."
"That's right." Raines responded with a coaxing tone that Jarod had never anticipated hearing from that source. "We're going to go to your room now, Cassandra. I want you to rest, okay?"
"Okay, Dr. Raines." Cassandra answered with the cheerful simplicity of an eight-year-old. "I do feel very tired. How did I get here?" She asked artlessly as she allowed Raines to draw her to her feet. Jarod was unbuckling his feet by the time Raines and Cassandra reached the door. His faint hope that Raines' strange behavior had extended to leaving him unguarded vanished with the entrance of the two hulks that had manhandled him into the chair earlier. Raines spoke briefly to them and then whisked Cassandra through the door.
Jarod was too exhausted by now to offer any resistance when each man grasped an arm and hauled him to his feet.
"Home, Jeeves." He quipped wearily, stumbling between the two back to his cell. He didn't even have the energy left to worry about Cassandra.
Cassandra kept up an artless chatter as Raines led her to her room. When she had actually been eight years old she had been much more reserved, but Raines didn't seem to notice. She felt a twinge of guilt over worrying Jarod and Raines, but decided her survival was more important than their peace of mind. Besides, Raines actually seemed to be enjoying pampering her.
When Raines finally opened the door to her new quarters she was surprised by the size of it. The room they entered was easily three times that of the size of her room below.
"This room is not mine." She announced innocently, cocking her head to one side in an exaggerated listening pose.
"You're getting bigger now, dear, you need a bigger room." Raines told her, still uncharacteristically gentle. Cassandra felt tears pricking at her eyelids. She hadn't known she missed being cosseted over the years but Raines' tenderness towards her now awakened that need.
"Yes, I am a big girl now." She agreed softly, squeezing his arm in an impulsive hug. She wondered briefly, as Raines led her around the room so she could memorize the new furniture arrangements, how he had known that Mutumbo had ordered her quarters changed.
The door they had entered through was in the middle of the large room. To the left of the door was a small "living room" arrangement thoughtfully placed where company could enjoy the view from the floor to ceiling windows facing the ocean. In the furthest corner to the left, with the wall that bordered the Centre hallway, was a small nook that had been created with bookshelves. Her computer was housed there along with her small collection of books in Braille. Just to the right of the door, but against the outside wall, was a small kitchen. Like the computer nook it wasn't walled off, but a cabinet and counter arrangement blocked it into its own space. It boasted a tiny stove and refrigerator. A built in dishwasher and a microwave as well as her own dishes and utensils completed her collection of conveniences.
Cassandra had never been taught to cook and she was thrilled to think that eventually she might have the opportunity to do so. Of course right now she was far to young to consider it, she ruefully reminded herself. Deception, it would appear, had its limitations.
"I can have you over to tea!" She told her mentor joyfully, trying to repay him, from inside her childhood persona, for his kindness. Now that she had thought about it, Raines had become gentler towards her several months ago; shortly after Annie's body had finally been recovered. Had that caused a change in his heart?
"Of course you can." Raines patted her hand in a way that could only be described as 'fatherly' as he led her to the door in the wall to the right of the entrance. This was her bedroom, with the remainder of her possessions from below. Her canopied bed, her shelves of stuffed animals, her vanity cluttered with its quantity of perfumes, they'd all been transported to this room. She smiled with genuine feeling for the first time since her rescue in the interrogation room. This room even smelled just like her place. The tension that had been holding her began to relax in the familiarity of her possessions.
"You have a bathroom too." Raines was telling her. "It's on the far wall from where we entered. Why don't you take a nice hot bath and climb into bed? You've had a very hard day."
Cassandra nodded with willing obedience. It had been a harrowing day, as Raines had pointed out, and she needed some peace and quiet. As much as she appreciated his newfound tenderness with her, Cassandra was relieved when Raines left as soon as she started running her bath water. She needed to be alone, to plan her next moves. Today had been too close, and she had to figure out how to get Jarod out of the Centre quickly. He and Raines did not belong under the same roof! This train of thought led to another concern; would Angelo find her here? Would he be able to get to this room to visit her?
Suddenly the adrenaline that had kept her going evaporated, leaving her completely drained. She skipped the bath, opting for a quick shower instead. Once out, she dressed herself in a comfortable, fake silk jogging suit a female researcher had bought for her a few years ago. She would just rest for an hour or two, she told herself, and then she would address the problem of helping Jarod escape.
It was completely quiet in the Centre when a man's hand pressed over her mouth brought her to instant wakefulness.
"Angelo." She said with pleasure as soon as she'd moved his hand. "I am so glad you could find me. It is night, is it not?"
"Dark and quiet." He affirmed. "Time to run."
"You can get me to Jarod's cell?"
"Angelo knows everything." Cassandra agreed with high spirits. Angelo was here and everything was going to work out fine. "The air ducts?" She asked.
"Come!" He tugged insistently on her hand. She slipped on flat canvas loafers and followed Angelo as he led her to her computer area. By standing on one of the waist high bookshelves she and Angelo were able to enter the ventilation shaft above her rooms.
Cassandra resisted the memories this journey brought back to her. She had to focus on the task at hand not dwell on events of the past. It had been close to twenty years since she joined Angelo in the vents that riddled the Centre like secret passageways and changed her life in the Centre forever. Now she was using them once again to meet one of the select group of Centre children.
Crawling through them wasn't anymore enjoyable this time around than the first time, but it was only for a short while. As soon as they had come to a grate that was out of sight of the guard on her door Angelo loosened it and led Cassandra back to the hallway.
"Just a minute, Angelo." She stopped him as soon as they were standing again. "I want to try something."
She closed her eyes; blind or not the gesture still helped her to concentrate. While she had slept she had dreamed she could make herself invisible by projecting the message that she wasn't there. It was possible, she acknowledged to herself, that she was simply expressing an intense desire to be invisible, but she'd discovered other facets of her talent through dreams before so she was ready to try this one out.
Ignoring the faint pounding at her temples that lingered from earlier; she carefully built the concept of nothingness in her mind. Then she sent it, much as she imagined a computer send a command code, to the part of her brain that actually projected the emotions and ideas she wanted others to have. Now, if her dream was correct, and not a product of wish fulfillment, she would be sending a continuous message of "nothing is here" as they completed this escape. The added benefit was that the use of her projective talent fouled up any recording devices in her vicinity. They would be effectively invisible if everything worked as she hoped.
"Okay, Angelo. We are as ready as we will ever be. Let us go and liberate Jarod."
"Come." Angelo knew how to hold Cassandra's elbow to guide her and they moved quickly through the labyrinthine corridors of the Centre. Cassandra missed her staff, though. She hoped it would be returned to her from the interrogation room where it had been left behind during the crisis.
Literally no one knew the Centre like Angelo did. It seemed like only moments before they stood in front of Jarod's cell door. Cassandra's "nothing here" ploy was working perfectly. The two men who had brought Jarod to and from his cell were standing guard, staring directly at Angelo and Cassandra, but seeing nothing.
Cassandra silently told Angelo to wait, with a hand on his shoulder, and then went to stand between the two men. She wasn't sure how well her projection would work if there were any unexpected noises and she was sure that one man would notice if the other suddenly collapsed. She'd have to take them out simultaneously.
She found herself grinning a little wildly. She'd never stretched her abilities like this before and she was finding it exhilarating. Steeling herself mentally she reached out and touched each man at the base of the neck, one with the right hand, the other with the left. They froze rigidly in place, their eyes glazing over. Cassandra then knelt and placed both hands flat on the door surrounding the knob. A moment's fierce concentration brought a clicking sound. She turned the knob and hurried into the cell.
"Jarod!" She hissed urgently, squeezing his shoulder.
"No! Don't!' He moaned urgently, caught in one of his frequent nightmares.
Cassandra caught a brief glimpse of something like a dark tunnel and Raines' smiling face closing an airtight steel door.
"Jarod, wake up!" She shook him lightly, sickened by the reminder that her kind and protective Dr. Raines was also capable of great cruelty. Jarod started awake, fully alert in an instant.
"Cassandra?" He wasn't sure if he was awake or not. The last time he'd seen Cassandra he'd been convinced that their ordeal had unhinged her mind.
"I am not that fragile." Cassandra told him tartly. "Now let us go, before we are discovered."
Jarod sat up; pleasure at her sanity warring with anger for the worry he'd expended over nothing.
"You can vent at me while we make our way to the lower levels." Cassandra pulled on him urgently. "I do not know how long I can hold the guards."
The thought of freedom galvanized Jarod into decisive action. Like Cassandra he'd slept fully clothed. He joined Angelo in the hallway with a pleased smile and a nod of greeting seconds after Cassandra. While Cassandra relocked the door he studied both her and the frozen guards intently. Angelo's warning finger over the lips halted a comment that he was about to make as Cassandra nodded in satisfaction and joined her two friends. Grasping Angelo's shoulder and Jarod's hand she silently urged Angelo to hurry them away. They had trotted down the corridor and around a corner before any of them felt it safe to slow down.
"Okay." Cassandra said quietly, still not willing to risk any loud noises. "I think we are far enough away to talk. But we should, perhaps, walk while we speak?" She finished, cocking an inquiring eyebrow at Angelo. Angelo nodded solemnly.
Jarod accepted their judgment, simply taking Cassandra's elbow to guide her as confirmation.
"Before you start, Jarod, I have something I want you to know." Cassandra began as they started out again. "I saw Miss Parker earlier today and she's going to be fine."`
"You did?" Jarod was sidetracked from his focus on Cassandra and her suddenly enhanced abilities. He smiled softly, remembering Miss Parker running after him, heels clacking, gun in hand, long coat flying behind her. In a strange way it was a relief to know she'd be able to do so again. This thought, however, led him back to his imminent escape and Cassandra's part in it.
"Can you see as well?" He suddenly demanded as it sank in that Cassandra had fooled him as well as everyone in the Centre quite thoroughly.
"No, I am blind. The blow to my head caused nerve damage."
"You're certainly more than the simple empath you've pretended to be."
Cassandra chuckled unrepentantly.
"Jarod, this is the Centre! Do you really think I would let them know the extent of my paranormal range? Besides, even I still do not fully know what it is I can or cannot do."
"But you were even younger than us!" Jarod protested. "How on earth could you have known to..." His voice trailed off as realization hit.
"You're a full telepath, aren't you?"
"Since I have never met a 'full' telepath I cannot say, but yes, sometimes I do actually read the thoughts in addition to the memories and feelings." Cassandra's brow furrowed as she attempted to explain what she really didn't understand herself. "But when I was younger I was much more limited. I could "deep read" Dr. Raines after only a few months. What I learned from his mind and from Angelo after we had begun our friendship, kept me from revealing much more than I already had. I learned caution very early."
"Have you been manipulating Raines all these years?"
"Some." She confessed, slightly guilty. She didn't like manipulating people's minds. It made her feel dirty inside. "I did not have to do much, though. He really wanted me as a surrogate daughter, even before Annie was killed. He wanted someone who knew everything about his life and still could care about him."
"And you provide that?" Jarod was incredulous. "How can you? When you know him better than anyone?"
"Because I do know everything about him. Jarod, no one is all good or all bad. I know that part of Dr. Raines that is kind and gentle. The part that he has only been able to show to very few people in his life. I know the evil as well, and I hate it, but I love the good."
"Why you? Why would Raines show you and no one else?"
"Some he does not know that I know." Cassandra smiled tenderly. "The rest, because I am safe. I cannot leave him; I cannot betray him to the world because I never enter it. And, in his mind, because I am so totally dependent on him that I cannot reject him."
"Not the healthiest of relationships."
"I have heard that very few families do have healthy relationships any more."
"Just don't expect me to like the man. I'll never forgive him for what he's done to me and my family."
"Then do not." Cassandra said simply. "Just focus on all of the evil deeds he has committed and continue to hate him. Remember, though, you do not harm him with your hate, you harm yourself."
Jarod sighed, conceding her point.
"So what did you do with the lock? And the guards?" He changed the subject.
"I can manipulate small objects with my mind, so turning a lock is not too difficult. As for the guards, I placed a loop in their minds, like one would with a cassette tape, which made them believe that nothing was happening while we retrieved you. Telepathy, empathy, who can say what that application is? I can do what I can do, that is all that I know."
"Think of the good you can do on the outside!" Jarod enthused. "Once we're away from here---"
"I will not be joining you, Jarod." Cassandra cut him off.
"What do you mean? You can't stay here!"
"I have to stay here. If I were to leave I would be fair game to any government or organization that desired my abilities. Here, at least, I know who and what I am facing and I can control some of my fate. Besides, I cannot leave Miss Parker now. I have only just renewed my friendship with her. And what about Angelo? How could I leave him? He as been my brother and only friend for years."
"Cassandra, if you stay here they'll study you and dissect you like a lab rat!"
"Perhaps. And perhaps Dr. Raines and your friend Sydney will have something to say about that. Remember, they do not know what you do about my extra abilities. Also, you have forgotten the recent trauma I have undergone. I am no longer strong mentally. Perhaps I will even lose my gift due to this terrible ordeal." Cassandra speculated cheerfully.
Jarod laughed in spite of himself.
"Cassandra, if they had any concept of how conniving you are they'd throw you out of the Centre before morning. You're going to be just fine, aren't you?"
"Yes, Jarod, I believe we will all be just fine." Cassandra agreed seriously. They were passing through the doorway to the same forgotten storeroom that Cassandra had met Miss Parker in those long years ago.
"I will wait for you here, Angelo." She said simply, tears threatening again. "I find that I do not like to say good bye."
"This isn't good bye, Cassandra. We'll keep in touch through the Internet and we will meet again. That's a promise." Jarod promised her. Cassandra smiled tremulously.
"May I 'see' you, before you go?" She asked softly. Jarod understood that she was asking to Braille his face with her fingertips. He placed her hands on his cheeks in response.
Gently, her touch feather-light, Cassandra ran her fingers along Jarod's jaw, bristly with two days growth of beard, over the full lower lip and the thinner upper. Her fingers shaped the aristocratic nose and ran up his high cheekbones, pausing to explore the eyes that, even now, closed to her touch, darted to and fro as if seeking out new information. Finally she smoothed the high forehead, brushing back a few strands of dark hair, and lowered her hands.
"A strong face." She commented. "It suits you well, Jarod."
"It'll do." Jarod agreed awkwardly. He touched her cheek gently and turned to leave.
"One other thing, Jarod." She stopped him, her voice hesitant.
"If you ever find yourself in Mexico, could you look up mi Papa and tell him I am well?"
"I'd be happy to, but don't you think I should know your given name for that?"
Cassandra smiled, it had been so long since she'd even thought about her true name that she'd almost forgotten she had one. She put her hand on Jarod's forehead and closed her eyes. Jarod's face looked startled for a moment and then he smiled warmly. Instead of answering him verbally, Cassandra had gifted him with her memory of her father calling her by name. Along with the vision of her father were the emotions connected with that moment: Happiness, security, love; this was a moment from before her mother's death that was experienced with the simple joy that only a child could feel. Jarod, with virtually no such memories, valued Cassandra's gift as she had expected he would.
"Thank you." He said simply. "If you need me..."
"Refuge." Cassandra finished for him. "And if you need me..."
"Miss Parker, Sydney, Broots?"
"I will watch out for them." Cassandra assured him. "Go-get out of here." She urged him, responding to Angelo's silent anxiety. "It will be morning soon and I must be back in my room by then."
Jarod hesitated a moment longer.
"You're sure?" He asked, urging her to change her mind about leaving with him.
"Positive. Now is not my time. Go!" She turned him and gave a gentle push on the shoulders. This time Jarod left as ordered.
Cassandra stood by an open window in her new living room. Several weeks had passed since Angelo and Jarod had disappeared in the depths of the Centre. She had firmly maintained her guise of insanity in those weeks. Her beloved Raines had disappeared, whisked off along with Mr. Parker by the frightening Mutumbo. Miss Parker had also vanished. Cassandra hadn't been able to get close enough to Lyle to confirm her suspicions that he had something to do with his sister's absence.
Sydney visited her every day, checking her progress mentally.
She'd taken her cues as to how fast her progress should be from Sydney's mind. He suspected her breakdown was a hoax, but he never betrayed his suspicions in any way. Like Cassandra, he was worried about the atmosphere in the Centre following Jarod's near escape. She still didn't know how a guard had happened to be stationed outside of the storm drain just as Jarod had exited it, but the results had been explosive.
Now Lyle, who had apparently had something to do with the placement of the guard, was in charge of the Centre. Cassandra knew that only her supposed madness had kept him away from her during this time. That, and the fact that he was preoccupied with breaking Jarod's spirit.
Jarod's pain reached her, even as far down in the Centre as Lyle had hidden him. She cried often, disguising her pain as grief for her mother, but in reality aching for the tortured man in the depths of the Centre.
Today was going to be different, though. Jarod was being moved out today, she'd been peeking into his mind when Sam injected him with the vaccines recommended for travel to Africa. She was going to find him, and somehow she was going to help him again. He wasn't going to be placed at the mercy of Mutumbo if there was anything she could do about it.
It was amazingly easy to gain access to the metal and concrete hell Lyle had devised. Jarod sensed her arrival, and looked around suspiciously, but even he was unable to penetrate the "invisibility" shield she had perfected during his initial escape attempt.
Sydney and Angelo crept in moments after she had, Sydney ignoring everything in his need to determine if Jarod was still okay. Angelo spared Cassandra a brief, knowing look, and she smiled serenely back at him.
The two men spoke quietly, Jarod with pained earnestness and Sydney with desperate joviality, before Lyle and Sam entered the room. Lyle's anger flared the moment he realized that Sydney was present, finding it's target in Angelo.
Cassandra had to nudge Lyle's attention back to Jarod before he actually struck her friend. They both looked over as Sam rattled the red pills in the tiny cup and Jarod assured Sydney he'd rather sleep through the upcoming trip.
Cassandra blessed the effort she'd expended in removing Parker's bullet, which she still had in one of her vanity drawers, as she snagged the pills from the transparent container. She felt Jarod's surprise and then appreciation as he pretended to swallow the pills Cassandra now held in her hand. Knowing that she was the only person in the Centre who could pull off such a feat, Jarod directed a request at her as Lyle told the men to hug each other good bye.
She was happy to comply, and when Jarod paused to look back from the door to the cell she allowed him to see her. She nodded and mouthed her "good bye", while tears trickled down her cheeks.
Lyle had hurt him, deeply, but he hadn't broken Jarod's indomitable spirit. Cassandra was confident that this time he would make good his escape. Even as she regretted his departure, she rejoiced in his soon to be freedom, a feeling she shared with Sydney as he discovered the tranquilizers in his pocket.
She allowed Sydney to see her then, knowing it was time now for her to openly return to sanity. He never mentioned her earlier behavior, though, he just spoke to her of inconsequential events as he and Angelo escorted her back to her quarters.
"He will be okay, Sir." She whispered in his ear as she gave him a quick hug at her door.
"I know." He assured her with a mixture of sadness and joy. "I'll be by later. I think it's time we started to explore the parameters of your Gift, don't you?"
"I think you should find Miss Parker first." Cassandra told him seriously. "I am worried about her."
"Don't worry, Broots is already working on it." Sydney tried to reassure her.
"Perhaps the three of us will join you for lunch?" He suggested, including Angelo in his invitation.
"I would be honored." Cassandra's smile was blinding. She didn't know if it was her Gift or not, but she was sure that Miss Parker would be found soon, that Dr. Raines would be coming back any day now, and as for Lyle-----well she was sure something unpleasant was in store for him.
Several months later, in a sparsely populated part of Mexico, a stranger walked up a dirt driveway to a modest, white farmhouse. An older man, lines of worry and care etched onto his face came out of the barn to meet him. The stranger asked a question and, after receiving an affirming nod from the older man, began to speak. A woman, gray streaks just beginning to show in her black hair peeked out the screen door, her young daughters crowding behind her and watched in amazement as tears began to course down the old man's cheeks.
The stranger refused the man's offer of rest and refreshment, simply holding out a flat object wrapped in plain brown paper before he turned back down the drive he'd come up. The old man's hands shook with emotion as he tore the wrapping off to reveal a picture frame. From it smiled two women, one with auburn hair and fine, patrician features, the other with deep brown eyes and jet-black hair and the open, giving smile of her mother.
The old man started for the house, calling for his sons in the fields to join him. Today was a day to celebrate. Today the guilt and fear of two decades had been lifted from his shoulders. Today his sons and daughters would learn about their older sister.
Walking casually down the road Jarod was grinning with deep-seated pleasure. After all, he reflected, family is the most important thing.