Table of Contents [Report This]
Printer Microsoft Word

- Text Size +

Emptiness. Parker saw only emptiness, miles of overgrown weeds lying flat, patches of sun-baked soil, wilted, fragrant honeysuckle strangling small trees to death. Disappointed and infuriated, she braked gently at the intersection, and shifted the car into park.

She removed her sunglasses, contemplated her options, noting the absence of signage, structures, and vehicles. They would have been as inutile as the sedan's GPS navigation system or any other technology.

Parker was confident that she was where she was supposed to be; confidence slowly began to wither. The three roads before her were, like the one behind her, unpaved, corrugated, and entirely uninspired.

She thought of one piece of technology that might be helpful after all, and speed dialed Broots.

"Hey, Miss Parker, you made it," Broots said with a cheerful wave at the blinking red dot on his screen that represented Parker's car. "How is your brother? I bet he's grown so much since-"

"The question is where," Parker interrupted crossly, her voice tight, tremulous. "Where is my baby brother, Broots?"

"He's- uh, well, those are the precise coordinates--" Broots coughed artificially and cleared his throat, "uh from, well, according to your uh t- the voices."

"Bring up the street and aerial views, Broots."

Broots obeyed and squinted at the screen. "It's kinda deserted out there, huh? Oh, gosh, you're at a-- you're at a literal crossroads, Miss Parker. Don't you think that's-"

"Don't," Parker intoned sharply, fearing Broots would say prophetic, or foreboding. "Please, Broots."

"I'm just saying," Broots said with a chortle. "Uh, it's pretty out there, but the grass could use some mowing, and some rain, and maybe even-"

"You're losing the plot, Broots," Parker interjected impatiently.

"Uh, right, um, maybe he's -- well, he's a toddler, right, so he's small, y'know, and the grass out there is taller probably taller than uh-- there are a few trees to your southwest, or, look, Miss Parker, please let me send Sam and Sydney out there. I'll join them and- and really you shouldn't be alone."

"He could be hurt," Parker said with a mute and sharp inhalation, finally hearing all that Broots had said, and hadn't. She tossed her sunglasses into the passenger seat, and stepped into the punishing heat.

"This is why you should have let me come with you," Broots softly scolded Parker. "What if you need some help with him? Don't take this the wrong way, but you don't know anything about children. And this could be a trap. What if it's a trap? I mean--God, Miss Parker, we don't even know who abducted him in the first place. Raines could be behind this, or Lyle, and you know-"

"Stay where you are, and don't you dare tell anyone about this," Parker hissed, promptly ending the call, and tossing the mobile into the driver's seat. She straightened, and murmured thinly, "Any suggestions, Mom? Please. Please."

Mom Radio might suck.

Fortunately, Broots doesn't.

The grass was, indeed, tall—coarse, dense, and lying flat alongside dying comfrey and dandelions, but easily thigh-high.
With short, tentative steps Parker traversed the land, occasionally sidestepping dried up animal carcasses, and one freshly dead rabbit who, in death, contributed to the vast circle of life; the air was putrid, and flies, vying for territory, angrily swarmed the carcass and flew upwards in thick swirls.

Ordinarily, Parker might have murmured, "ew," and wore a moue of disgust. Instead, she was relieved that it wasn't her brother that the legion of ants was carrying away, as tidily and efficiently as Centre cleaners, piece by piece.

"Hello," she called out, hoping to see a small hand waving back at her among the tufts of brambles. The cause seemed more lost and fruitless with each passing hour. Parker trudged on, regardless; returning to Blue Cove without the child, and with her mother's dire warning in her head, was unfathomable and unconscionable.

"Hello," Parker called once more, noting the shifting terrain, depressions that demanded a slower pace. Beyond the trees that Broots had alerted her to were steep, rugged inclines that terminated at a crumbling outcropping, and overlooked a small stand of oak trees.

Parker cautiously navigated her descent, and deftly weaved her body through the trees. She followed the narrow, winding and well-beaten trail to a pair of large, fallen oaks. Shielding her eyes from the shafts of sunlight slanting through the sun-dried leaves, she knelt between gnarled entwined branches, and studied the empty hollow beneath.

She was both relieved and disappointed, relieved that his body wasn't stuffed inside and sloppily buried, and disappointed that she and her brother weren't already on a jet, en route to a better life. Bitter tears filled her eyes and she angrily blinked them away, and the shadow falling across the patch of earth directly in front of her went entirely unnoticed. Clouds and hawks had been passing overhead all morning, briefly shading everything below, and throwing misshapen shadows at her. She'd grown accustomed to them already.

Contrarily, she believed she'd never become accustomed to feeling frantic-- bordering hysterical. She couldn't stop seeing Catherine, panic-stricken and heart-broken, pacing the floor of Sydney's office, explaining to Sydney that she intended to stage her death. She couldn't stop drawing parallels, couldn't reject the idea that she felt now the way her mother had felt then.

Parker feared the way she felt, and there wasn't time to pace, fall apart, sleep, eat, think it through, or relinquish her tenuous hold on sanity; her little brother was in danger, and she intended to find him. She rose with renewed purpose, and carefully turned herself around on uneven terrain.
Emerging from the tangled branches, she perceived a presence, and immediately stopped plucking debris from her blouse. She sought and immediately found the intruder, and failed to conceal her surprise.
Jarod stood, silent and appalled, in a pool of diffuse light, attempting to appraise the situation. He wore jeans, a white T-shirt, and a look of complete disbelief. A single muscle in his face twitched when Parker drew a sharp breath and her weapon, respectively.

Mm. That's the last time I ever tune in to Mom radio. And once again, nothing but silence from W.T.F.M.
What The Fuck, Mom radio, where the reception is always shoddy, the news is always tragic, and the Centre's Greatest Hits are in heavy rotation.

Jarod smiled warmly, and whispered Parker's name. "It's nice to see you again, too," he said, dropping his gaze, briefly, to the nine millimeter between them. "I was beginning to think I never would."

"Jarod," Parker stammered, looking past him, and then quickly jerking her gaze east and west, south and north, and determining that they were indeed alone, and that Jarod had defied logic and physics, yet again, and had simply materialized. Parachuted? Teleported? Does it fucking matter how he got here? Why is he? And where the hell is my baby brother?

The pair stared each other down for several moments, both struggling to navigate a whole other variety of rugged terrain. Jarod chose to be merciful, and give Parker additional time to process his presence. At last, he asked cordially, "How did you find me?" He smiled calmly, demonstrated remarkable forbearance. "If you don't mind my asking."

"Find you,"  Parker repeated with a snort of cynicism. "No. No, you've got ten seconds to tell me where my baby brother is and why you took him."

Jarod's eyes hardened briefly, and then softened, filled with sympathy and anguish. "When was he taken?"

"No," Parker stammered, adding with a cry of rage, "No, no, no. Tell me where he is."

"I don't know where he is," Jarod declared in a voice saturated with empathy. "I'm sorry. But I will help-"

Parker shook her head, drew a tremulous breath, and asked fiercely, "Why do I think you're lying?"

"You can't help but to think the worst about me," Jarod answered softly. "I understand. I've always understood. You were trained to distrust and hate me," he added, repeating the words Parker had spoken in Carthis, and plunging them, briefly, into the past, coercing them both to remember what had transpired immediately after she'd said those words.

Parker never had appreciated Jarod's gift for exactitude; presently, she was thoroughly dissatisfied. Her faltering hunter's stance was an awfully strong indicator that she considered his answer a grim reminder, or perhaps a warning. Inexplicably, she lowered the gun a fraction, grimaced, warred with herself, defied Catherine by hastily resuming her aim, and took a step back.

"I wish to god you hadn't been," Jarod confessed with some solemnity, frowning deeply. "It certainly explains a lot, answers some painful questions I've asked myself over the years. The good news is that if our half brother can break free of his training you can, too. You don't have to-"

"What have you done with my brother?" Parker shouted impatiently.

"I don't know where your brother is," Jarod answered quietly. "I wouldn't deny you your family," Jarod assured Parker. "I would never take a child from the person who loves him. You're his family. He should be with you. I know that. I know how much your mother wanted us all to be together, to be a family, and I want the same thing. Now, please, let me help you. When was he taken?"

Parker narrowed her eyes, and demanded eagerly, "Why are you here?"

Jarod shook his head, addressed her continued evasiveness: "You didn't answer my-"

"Why?" Parker screamed tearfully, startling Jarod, and much of the local wildlife as well. She was acutely aware of how completely mad she sounded. She knew she was being ridiculously—possibly insanely—cynical. She felt much too vulnerable for a Jarod confrontation.
She hadn't prepared for him, for his self-righteousness and condemnation, or his help.

"Dad owns some property nearby," Jarod said, answering quickly to appease Parker, and although the frown he wore deepened, he continued to speak in an even, measured voice. "I've been staying there, off and on, for about a year. I saw you get out of the car," he confessed, adding gently, "This entire area is surveilled 24/7."

"You were watching," Parker accused, briefly lowering the gun again. She asked hesitantly in a voice filled with dread, "Are they watching? Is Ian watching?"

Handily concealing consternation, Jarod nodded. His clone had decided the previous evening that he wanted to be called Ian, after trying on thousands of names over the years. How does she know? "Yes, he is," Jarod answered. The cameras are motion activated, and triggered our early warning alarm system. We're recording, too, and preparing to go live on several social media platforms if you pull that trigger. I've assured them that you won't." Jarod watched her face, asked solicitously, "What's wrong?"


Every fucking thing is wrong.

I'm the intruder, here, trespassing in Wonderboyland.

My baby brother hasn't triggered any motion-activated alarms, which means he isn't here.

Mom radio completely sucks.

Jarod's looking at me like I've lost my mind.

I may have lost my mind.

I've definitely lost my car.

If I can't keep track of an entire car how the hell am I going to keep up with a toddler--- that I've already lost once, and still haven't found.

"Ian knows about me?" Parker asked, her voice strained and quiet. "About this?"

"He knows it's complicated," Jarod confirmed. "It doesn't have to be," he asserted with his typical impassioned optimism. "It doesn't have to be this way. You can give me the gun, come with me right now, and see for yourself how happy Ian is, and this-- all of this can be resolved. Everything can be different, and we'll find your brother together."

Too stunned to rebut or even speak, Parker's face twisted in disbelief, and in response Jarod said, "All right, yes, maybe it sounds insane. The most important creations in existence now were considered crazy ideas when they were first conceived. It's never too late for a beginning, for the life that your mother wanted for all of us."

"Is Ian happy?" Parker asked. "He's probably driving by now, demanding to be treated like an adult, but was he allowed to have a childhood at all," she asked, her voice faltering, nearly breaking---and nearly breaking Jarod.

Jarod drew a breath, and nodded enthusiastically. "He's very happy, and he's enjoying an extended childhood, complete with a steady diet of homemade ice cream, Garfield, and one of our old favorites, Cracker Jack, or as he likes to call it: The Holy Trinity of Childhood."

Well, hallefuckinglujah to that.

Parker returned the gun to its holster, swallowed hard, and said with a slight nod, "I'm glad."

"Yes, yes, of course you are," Jarod agreed, "Ian said you would be, that you wanted him to play, be a child, have a normal life. You were the first person to ever show him love and compassion, to tell him it's okay to cry. He and I have that, have you, your kindness, in common; we both know the truth, that this--- this isn't who you are."

Jarod smiled sweetly when some marginal semblance of relief touched Parker's eyes. "That wasn't all he had to say," Jarod added somberly, and observed Parker's head-shake of negation.

"No? Hmm? There's no reason to deny it, and it won't matter if you do; the Centre records everything. I know you were going to rescue him, take him away from the Centre, and- "

"Jarod," Parker cautioned sharply, evidently uncomfortable with the direction Jarod was taking the conversation.

"What's wrong?" Jarod asked, dropping his curious gaze to Parker's legs, her irresolute step back. Followed by another. And another. "What," he continued gently. "Now, surely, you're not considering leaving already," he chided with mock incredulity and a grimace of pain, matching Parker step for step, "not in the middle of our conversation. Now--hmm, where was I? Ah, yes, Ian. He said you knew a boy once, a boy like him, a boy exactly," Jarod added bluntly, and observed the color drain from Parker's face, "like him, and that you felt-"

Parker turned suddenly, and commanded her legs to move.

Running from a man who had spent years running from her, running for his life was, Parker knew, a futile, wasted, absurd effort. Jarod's continued freedom suggested that she was incapable of outrunning him.

From Jarod?
And I had the audacity to accuse Broots of losing the plot.

"You can outrun me," Jarod informed Parker gravely, "but you can't outrun this. You'll never outrun the truth," he added sternly, walking in long strides, and watching the dirt and dead grass beneath her shoes indolently spiral upwards. "You know that." 

Parker certainly knew; Catherine Parker's voice was reminiscent of a chorus of susurrations and gullible amens accompanying a hell-fire sermon, was consistently overlapping Jarod's clipped, stern cadence.

Parker, determined to prove both Catherine and Jarod wrong, urged her body to move faster, and while she instantly regretted it, she understood, at last, why Ethan had clutched his head, and cried in agony: Catherine's voice increased in pitch, volume, and intensity, insisting Parker turn around, listen, believe, that Jarod was correct, that he was the one to trust, the one.

The one?
The hell does that even mean?

Catherine pleaded with her daughter to turn around, and Jarod issued the same entreaty. "You don't have to run from this. Please, don't run away from me."

Jarod, like Catherine Parker, dared to contradict Centre mandate and Mr. Parker's doctrines. The pair were in complete accord, and while Parker was confident that she could defeat either of them in a reasonable one-on-one battle, she feared that, together, they were indomitable and inescapable. Catherine was, at least.

Parker slowed to a jog, transitioned to a slow walk, and glanced over her shoulder. Satisfied, albeit astonished, that Jarod wasn't chasing her, she bent at the waist, clutched her sides.

"Like I said, you don't have to run from me; I'm sorry that comes as a surprise to you. And seriously? Running from me?" He asked, a combination of strained patience and fatigue—both the mental and physical varieties—in his voice. "I know it's been a while, and we're both bound to be a little rusty here, so I'll refresh your memory: I run. You chase. Okay? Now, come with me-" 

"Shut up," Parker groaned, squeezing her eyes closed, struggling to distinguish Jarod's voice from Catherine's. "Both of you."

"Both?" Jarod asked, observing Parker gulp air.
Her mother.
Of course.
"Your-- inner sense?"

"Inner, yeah," Parker answered tartly, unconsciously hugging herself. "Sense? Mm, not so much."

"Come on, now," Jarod asserted skeptically, "you don't really believe that."

"I," Parker stammered numbly, shuddering in the scorching heat. "I'm not sure what I believe," she confessed with a noncommittal shrug, and angrily dropped her hands to her hips. "I came here searching for my brother, and-"

"You found me," Jarod said when Parker's voice dissolved to silence. "It's no coincidence, no mistake. You're here right now because you're supposed to be. Your mother knows that I can help; it's sorta what I do.

She knows we're stronger together. We always have been. The Centre's always known that, too; it's why they worked so hard to pit us against each other, separate us. It's all right," he whispered sympathetically when Parker jerked her gaze away. "I imagine it's rather difficult to take my word for it. You don't have to," he explained, insisting gently, "listen to your mother."



You must login (register) to review.