by: Highlander II

Category: Angst, Drama, Virtual Series
Archive: Clan MacSlow; The Pretender VS; all others: not w/o my permission
Spoilers: The Pretender - all episodes.
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Taking on the role of a hockey coach, Jarod has to help save a teen from the clenches of The Centre and Mr. Lyle.
Disclaimer: Jarod, Miss Parker, Sydney, Broots, Mr. Lyle, and Mr. Parker all belong to Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickel, et al. Gabriel is essentially a Mitchell/Van Sickel creation, but the name was given the character by the executive producers of the Virtual Series. All other characters are mine.
Feedback: Highlander II

New York
Jarod's Lair

Sandalwood. The fragrance was strong in her nose as she approached the door. She drew her weapon, the glistening .9mm, not knowing who, or what, might be on the other side. She turned the knob on the door with only a glance over her shoulder to make sure they had followed.

He knew they were close. Apartment 4-B was just down the hall; he could smell the incense. Miss Parker had taken point, as usual, and Broots was hovering between her and himself. Sydney, ever the psychologist, was trying to figure out why Broots was so afraid of Miss Parker, until he saw Broots catch a snicker as it tried to escape - Miss Parker had opened the door and been met by a fierce, beaded curtain. Or, so it seemed; strands of the beads were caught in her hair and around her wrist.

Miss Parker swatted the strands of plastic moons and stars out of her way, pulling several of them to the floor. Well, at least the only ones who saw that were Broots and Sydney. She would have shot anyone else. Sandalwood was stronger now, but mixed with several other fragrances she could not identify. Beatles music played at a moderate volume from a stereo in the corner. The tie-dyed curtains were a nice touch, though they did not quite fit with the other decorative aspects of the room.

Sydney followed Broots into the small apartment, absorbing everything. The varieties of incense blended to create a wonderful fragrance, though a little strong. The walls were tastefully decorated with hockey memorabilia of the 1960's. He browsed a shelf, removing a framed 8x10. "Miss Parker, do you know who this is?" He handed the photograph to her.

"Gordie Howe. So?" She thrust the black and white back to the psychologist.

"He was a very popular hockey player. He set some impressive records."

"Yeah, and they've been broken. What is Jarod doing?"

"Perhaps he's discovering an era he missed."

"Or he's just gone crazy."

Broots nearly jumped out of his skin when he turned around, coming face-to-face with the object in Miss Parker's hand. "Whoa! What is that?"

"It's a bra, Broots."

"Wha... what's wrong with it?" He took a half step back from the garment.

Sydney placed the photograph back on the shelf and stepped closer, lifted a portion of the brazier with his hand. "It's been burned."

"Discovering an era he missed, Syd? Are you sure he's not becoming a cross-dresser?"

"Miss Parker, Jarod is trying to tell us something."

"Yeah. That he's gone off the deep end, once and for all." She returned to the collection of items in the room. Walking along the far wall, she read the plaques beneath each piece of equipment: Terry Sawchuk's gloves, Maurice Richard's home game sweater, Doug Harvey's away game sweater, Bobby Hull's game stick, and Stan Mikita's skates. Jarod had been very busy with The Centre's money.

"Do you know how much some of this stuff costs?" Broots held up an autographed hockey stick, examining it in the light cast by four lava lamps of varied colors, grouped on a desk.

Miss Parker ignored Broots and his jabbering. "Sydney, what does all of this mean?" She holstered her weapon.

"I'm not sure, Miss Parker," Sydney responded, not taking his eyes from the objects in his hands -- a vinyl recording of The Beatles **Abbey Road** album, and a pair of bell-bottomed slacks.

"Great, Syd, what's next? Love beads?"

As though on cue, Broots jangled a string of beads. "You mean like these?"

"Give me those." She snatched the beads from his sweaty hand. Making Broots nervous was always great fun.

"Very clever, Jarod," Sydney beamed, rubbing his chin with his thumb and forefinger.

"A beaded necklace of hockey pucks and original six team insignia? Syd, maybe you've lost it."

The impressed psychologist paid no attention to Miss Parker's remark. He knew what Jarod was doing even if no one else did. Yes, this was still only a **breadcrumb,** but he understood the significance.

Mission City, MN
Hockey practice, Friday afternoon

A battle waged in the corner, bodies slamming against each other and the boards. Patiently, Jarod waited for the puck to jump free. Only a slight movement of his right skate was necessary to stop the rubber disk. He blew his coach's whistle and called the team to center ice. "Excellent practice, ladies. So, we all get to go home early." He waited for the applause of sticks tapping the ice to fade. "You've earned it, and hey, it's Friday. Rest up this weekend and be ready to practice hard on Monday. We have a game in a week."

The cheering began again and the crowd dissipated. Jarod hated seeing the sad looks in their eyes the first day he had come to coach. They all knew what had happened to Joseph Moore and he was concerned they would not accept him. But, they had let him into their circle and appreciated his guidance. He wished there was more he could do for these young women.

A few of the girls stayed after to chat with their temporary coach. He spoke with the girls for a few minutes, then urged them on because their parents would be waiting.

"Mr. Hull," called a young lady with long, blond hair, she shook free as she removed her helmet.

"Yes, Andrea? And call me Jarod." He leaned against his stick.

"Of course, Jarod. Sorry." She tucked a glove under one arm.

"It's all right. How can I help?"

"I was wondering, I've been having problems with my slapshot..."

"And, you'd like a lesson?"

"Yes. If you have time?"

"Always. But if it's okay, can we arrange something for tomorrow?"

"Yeah. Is 0900 good?" A big smile lit her face as she spoke. A retired, military father made her more disciplined than many others, but she never let that get in the way of having fun.

"Perfect. So, I'll see you tomorrow morning?"

"Great. Bye, Jarod." Andrea pushed against the ice, propelling herself backward before turning for the gate.

"G'bye, Andrea." Jarod watched her go. Once she had disappeared from view, he pulled out his red notebook, turned through the pages. **Joseph Moore Hospitalized** was the first headline; **Former Minnesota NHL Player Attacked,** and **High School Hockey Coach's Life in Danger** followed . The articles recounted the unprovoked attack on a former professional hockey player, Joseph Moore. He had played for the Minnesota team for ten years, and retired at the end of last season. Moore had looked for a job in the area, wanting to help the local children. He organized a pee-wee hockey league, for which he was a volunteer coach, and he was also offered a job as the coach for the Mission City High School girl's hockey team.


Mission City Hospital, Room 308

"Mr. Moore, you have a visitor," the nurse announced to the patient and closed the door as she left.

"Thank you," the drowsy man in the bed responded.

"Hello, Mr. Moore. I'm Jarod Hull." A long moment passed, Moore said nothing. "I'm filling in as hockey coach at Mission City High Sch.."

"I know who you are. They told me you were coming."

"I need to ask you some questions." He moved tentatively toward the side of the bed.


"Do you know who attacked you?"

Moore turned his head, slowly because of the pain. That was not the question he expected of a fill-in coach. "No. I don't. I don't even remember being attacked, except for the broken bones. The last thing I remember was waking up here, in the hospital."

Hysterical amnesia. This would complicate things. "What do you remember prior to that?"

Rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, he closed his eyes, concentrating. "Nothing really. The only reason I know my name is because everyone keeps saying it." He took a labored breath. "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Am I somebody famous? A movie star or something?"

"I've found it's better for the patient if people around him don't reveal any information about his past. Instead, he should be eased back into his daily routine."

"Are you a hockey coach or a doctor?"

"I taught biology and psychology for a while. You don't remember anything?"

"No. I need some sleep if you don't mind."


"If I remember anything, I'll let you know."

"Thank you." Jarod left quietly. He needed more information. Joseph Moore had amnesia, convenient occurrence, and Jarod was back where he started. He opened his red notebook again as he exited the hospital and a small, folded sheaf of paper floated to the sidewalk. Bending, he plucked it from the ground, opened, and read it. **This tidbit could be useful,** he remarked to himself as he looked to the sky.


The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

Her fingers drummed impatiently while she waited for the elevator doors to part. The morning had been hectic with the trip to Jarod's lair that produced little more than lava lamps and smelly sticks of incense and Broots spouting all of his hockey facts during the entire drive back from New York. Yes, the drive; someone had already chartered the jet, and if she ever figured out who, pain would be the first punishment inflicted. Now, she was looking forward to a quick visit with Gabriel.

Miss Parker pushed all thoughts of Jarod and The Centre from her mind as she walked the long, bright corridor. The door to the nursery was closed, as always, and she stopped just outside. Peering through the small, Plexiglas window, she released an exasperated sigh. Baby brother was asleep; she did not have the heart to wake him, nor did she wish to endure the rage of the nurse for disturbing the air around the sleeping child.

Turning on her heel, Miss Parker returned to the elevator; back to the real world.


Mission City, MN

Jarod decided to walk back to his house from the hospital. It would give him time to think. Mission City was a beautiful town, full of friendly people, all waiting with a smile and a hello for anyone passing. His walk took him past a small gun shop and the general-type store. All-in-all, this was a wonderful little town.

He exited the coffee shop, a recent addition to the corner by the looks of it, and noticed a man seeming to have car difficulties. "Excuse me, sir. You seem to be having some car trouble."

"Yeah. Hey, do you have a ballpoint pen?"

"You sure you wouldn't rather use my phone?" Jarod dropped his bag full of gear to the ground.

"No. A pen will be fine."

"Will this do?" Jarod produced a pen from his red notebook and handed it to the tall man with graying sandy-blond hair.

"Perfect. Thanks."

Jarod watched intently as the man twisted the pen apart and removed the ink cartridge. He plucked the spring off and nimbly stretched it between two catches under the hood. Sliding behind the wheel of his Jeep, the man turned the key in the ignition. The engine cooperated and the man was ready to go.

"Thanks for the pen..."

"Jarod," he politely introduced himself. "You're welcome. Glad I could help." He pushed the hood closed and latched it.

"I owe you one, Jarod."

"Well, maybe you can answer a question for me."

"I'll give it a try."

"Why didn't you just call a mechanic?"

"The starter just needed a spring. I didn't need a mechanic."

"Do you do that all the time?"

"Do what?"

"Fix things with ballpoint pens?"

"No, usually I use duct-tape." A large, white smile crossed the man's face. He could see Jarod did not understand. Most people didn't.

"I see."

"Maybe I'll see ya around."

"Sure. Take care." Jarod watched as the inventive man drove away, realizing he had never gotten the man's name. What an intriguing person, he can fix cars with ballpoint pen springs and other things with duct-tape. Perhaps he could find this man again someday, when he was truly free from The Centre; he might be able to answer more of his questions.

"Hello, Mr. Hull!" A group of teenaged girls screamed from a passing vehicle, the windows down just long enough for them to holler at him.

Jarod lost his train of thought and waved back to the passing vehicle filled with members of his hockey team. "Drive carefully, ladies."

The driver honked and sped away from the line, knowing Jarod was shaking his head because she ignored his directive, albeit temporarily.

The rest of his walk was pleasant; the cool breeze across the snow covered ground a welcome change from the stuffy air-conditioned buildings of the school. His rented home was comfortable and dark. He flipped a switch and a soft light illuminated the room. He tossed his hockey gear onto the floor and sat in the chair behind his desk, flicked on his laptop. The monitor slowly came to life, silently working away to load the welcome screen. Jarod punched up his e-mail. The first two messages were standard intercepts from The Centre - Broots planning his vacation and Sydney scheduling an appointment with The Centre dentist for one of his test subjects. The third one disturbed him; from Sydney - Nemesis is missing - nothing more. Cryptic indeed. Jarod sat back in his chair, thinking. He vaguely recalled working on a project connected to that name - Nemesis - when he was still at The Centre, but he could not remember what the premise of the project was.


"This is Sydney." The accented voice came through the phone.

"What is Nemesis?" Jarod asked, deciding to be straightforward.

"A project at The Centre."

He should have known it would not be that easy. "Sydney, somehow I was a part of that project. I need to know what my part was."

"I have no more information than what I've given you. *Time* is of the essence, Jarod." Sydney cradled the receiver and returned to his computer.

Pressing the button to turn off his phone, Jarod stared at his e-mail in confusion. What was Sydney talking about, *time is of the essence*? Sydney had emphasized the word *time*, why? This conversation was just as cryptic as the e-mail.

He lifted his glass, knocking the small card that had fallen from his notebook to the floor. He sipped his water, returned his glass to the table, and plucked the card from the floor. Reading it again, he thought about the coach in the hospital, the e-mail from Sydney, and the recent conversation about Nemesis. *The dealer won't rest 'til he sells a child death.* He had found the card in Joseph Moore's room, on the floor beside the closet. What would Moore know about this card? Jarod asked him, and the only information Moore had was that it had been found in his clothing upon his arrival to the hospital. Moore had told Jarod he could keep the card, Jarod wanted to study it later. It was later and the note still puzzled him. The only conclusion he could draw with any amount of certainty was that the card had been planted on Moore after the attack. That was not much help. He flipped the card over to check the back, it was blank. Furrowing his brow, he sighed, irritated by his inability to decipher this piece of the puzzle.


The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

Broots sat up, attentive, the information on the screen very intriguing. He brushed potato chip crumbs from his snowflake-patterned, wool sweater and wiped his mouth. Eyes wide, he read the message again.

"What's that, Broots? A letter from your girlfriend?"

"Um, no, Miss Parker. I don't have a girlfriend." Broots rubbed his hands on his pants.

"Broots, the e-mail." Miss Parker pointed toward the glowing screen.

"Oh, right. I intercepted this message. Something about Andromeda."

"What is Andromeda?"

"It's a star constellation."

She smiled and snatched the printout she knew Broots had made and strode down the hall as quickly as her spiked heels would carry her.

Sydney hardly noticed the office door slam closed. He lifted his head and switched off his computer monitor in the two seconds before Miss Parker began ranting about Andromeda.

"Miss Parker, I don't know what you're talking about."

The desk lamp cast an eerie glow across the angry woman's face as she leaned against the heavy structure of the desk. "Sydney, I wasn't born yesterday. You know as much about what goes on here as anyone."

"There is nothing I can tell you, Miss Parker." He switched the monitor on again.

"Syd, you're trying my patience."

Persistence sometimes paid off, Sydney gave Miss Parker a tidbit. "Andromeda was a Centre project that did not go exactly as planned."

"There's news. More."

"More? There is no more. That's all I know."

The door slammed again, this time against the interior wall of the office as Miss Parker stormed out and back to Broots' terminal. She pushed the computer geek into the chair; pointed his head toward the computer. "See what you can find about Andromeda."

He worked as quickly as he could, but with her standing over him, brooding, he was very nervous. He could tell she was irritated as she began pacing around his desk. Did she expect the information to just jump out of the archives? He had to search through thousands of files, some encrypted, some not. He had to sift through it all, one byte at a time. "Um, Miss Parker, this might take a little while."

Dark eyes scowling, she turned on her heel and strode away, stilettos punctuating each step.


"Broots! Wake UP!"

There was a sound in his head, he knew it, but something kept him from reacting. The sharp pain in his back, on the other hand, seared to his soul and could not be ignored. His head bolted up and slammed into something hard. Over his shoulder he realized he had hit Miss Parker's hand. "Uh, Miss Parker..."

She sighed. "What do you have?"

"Sorry, not much." He cringed, waiting.

Miss Parker exhaled over his shoulder. "Broots, do you have anything?"

"Yeah. Nothing on Andromeda. I have to go through the files rather meticulously. But, I think I know where Jarod is."

"Out with it, Brain Guy."

"Well, he was seen talking to Glen Sather."

"Who is he?"

"Currently, General Manager for the New York Rangers."

"We were already there, genius."

"Yes, but he was also the coach and GM for the Edmonton Oilers."

"Jarod is not in Edmonton, Broots. Try again."

"How? You haven't even been there."

"Broots, I just know. Now, look for Andromeda." She left his desk and wandered the halls.

Miss Parker's House
the Next Day

**Damn! Just as you're walking out the door.** "What?" She snapped, lifting the receiver to her ear.

"So, how does Mr. Lyle like his new décor?"


"The star constellation or the galaxy?"

"Jarod, tell me about Andromeda."

"I don't know, Miss Parker."

"Come on, Jarod. You know more about what goes on at The Centre than I do."

"Now, now, Miss Parker, you know that isn't true."

"Andromeda." She could feel the muscles in the back of her neck begin to tense.

"Look, Miss Parker, to get the information you wish, we will have to work together. I can help you, but I'll need your help in return."

"That won't happen."

"Then I guess you're on your own." He released the call, leaving Miss Parker with an earful of dead air.

"Dammit!" Miss Parker slammed the receiver into its cradle. Keys in hand, she left her home for The Centre.


The Centre
Mr. Lyle's Office

When Jarod had mentioned Lyle's new décor, Miss Parker knew this would be something she could not miss. She opened the door, Lyle was standing in the center of the room surrounded by cardboard standees of hockey players. One **team** consisted of the 1960's stars - Hull, Orr, Howe, Mikita, and Richard - the other, The Centre - Sydney, Lyle, Broots, Cox, and herself. Both teams' goaltenders were giant PEZ dispensers. Two of the cardboard men, Howe and Sydney were positioned to take a face-off at what could only be called - center ice. She could not resist asking, "So, who's winning?"

That smirk, harsh, could kill. "What do you want?"

"I was on my way in and noticed the door was open. I was curious." Was she good or what?

"Well, now you can leave. And, here," he thrust the cardboard Gordie Howe at her, "take this thing. Put it in your office."

Muting a snicker, "Oh, I don't think so. Jarod gave these to you. If he found out you gave them away..."

"Out!" A stiff index finger pointed toward the exit.

She left the office, still holding laughter under her breath, definitely leaving the cardboard hockey player behind in Lyle's office.


The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

**"Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!"

But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.**

Miss Parker finished the story and closed the book. She thought the story would put him to sleep, but Gabriel was alert and watching her. She kissed his little head and relinquished her hold on the book when he reached for it. He put the edge of the book in his mouth. Miss Parker smiled at his baby behavior, then started as the book flew across the room and smacked into the wall.

"Bad," Gabriel said, making a sour face.

What did he mean? Her father had given her that book. It was one of her favorites. She had read it to Gabriel before, why was today different? She put him on the floor with his toys and retrieved the book. "Here you go." She handed the book to him again.

"No! Bad." Gabriel swatted at the book, sending it across the room once more.

The nursery door opened, the nurse entered. "It's time for his bath," the woman snorted, hands on her hips.

Miss Parker sneered at the haughty woman and knelt beside her brother. "I'll visit again later." She kissed him on the head and retrieved the book for a second time as she turned to leave.

"Book bad." Gabriel called again as his big sister stepped into the hallway.

Still confused, she tucked the book under her arm and returned to her office.


Mr. Lyle slid into his cozy corner, dark and suitable for hiding and eavesdropping. What exactly was sis up to now? He did not like it and was determined to put a stop to it. She was spending far too much time with that little boy, and she had somehow kept him away from the child. She had made him look bad on too many occasions, and he resented her for it. Now it was his turn. A thin smile passed over his face; the wheels in his mind turning.


Mission City, MN
Hockey Practice, Monday afternoon

Standing behind the bench, Jarod watched, intently, the scrimmage. Currently, no score, but several quality chances from both teams. Jarod had divided his team in half, creating two smaller teams. He had learned from Sather how to invoke a competitive nature in the athletes.

Several plays and actions caught his attention: swift, agile movements and perfect stick placement and passing. Finally, a goal was scored. Kara Stetson received a beautiful pass from Andrea Hatcher, and tapped the puck into the net. With a smile on his face, he watched the celebration of their achievement.

Jarod made mental notes as he watched the rest of the scrimmage. He glanced at the scoreboard: forty-five seconds remained; he readied his whistle. The clock wound down and the buzzer sounded; Jarod blew his whistle and the mock-game was over. He dismissed the team, after a few encouraging words, and made his way to the parking lot. He watched one of his players move nimbly across the pavement, smacking her stick on either side of the bright-yellow, street-hockey puck in front of her, dribbling it around the vehicles. He remembered the card from his notebook. *...The child...* Nemesis was a person. The card was a warning. Someone would be coming to retrieve Nemesis. Which of these girls was the one?

"Mr. Hull," a friendly voice called from somewhere to his left.

"Yes, Mrs. Hatcher?"

"Andrea talks about you all the time."

"I'm sure she does," he responded with a smile.

"Ordinarily I wouldn't ask this, but it would mean so much to her." The woman paused nervously, then continued, "Today is her birthday and her father and I thought it might be nice for you to have dinner with us."

"I'd love to."


Jarod arrived at the Hatcher home a little after six; the setting sun cast a warm, rose glow over the white-stone building, roof topped with twinkling snow. It was such a lovely evening, not particularly cold, he had chosen to walk the twelve blocks from his rented home. The brass door knocker was simple, yet elegant; he raised it to announce his arrival. A moment passed as he waited for the door to be opened. The head that rose to meet his eyes was that of Andrea.

"Mr... uh, Jarod. Wow. What are you doing here?" She stood, astonished, in the doorway.

"I, um. Surprise?" Jarod responded, thinking it odd that Andrea had not been told he was coming.

"Wow," she repeated.

Jarod made a steady surveillance of the porch. "Um, are you going to invite me in? Or shall we dine on the porch?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Come in. How rude of me." The young woman stepped away to permit him entrance.

"It's all right, Andrea." He crossed the threshold into a warmly decorated living space.

"Mr. Hull, welcome. Please, come in," Mrs. Hatcher greeted him kindly, shaking his hand before returning to the kitchen.

"Thank you for inviting me." He glanced around at the photographs on the mantel, books on the shelves, rich mahogany walls, and plush furnishings. This was a lovely home.

"What? Mom, why didn't you tell me?" Andrea half-pouted, semi-stomping into the kitchen behind her mother.

Mrs. Hatcher only shook her head.

Jarod leaned against the doorframe, watching the interlude by the stove. He began to wonder how many moments like this he missed because he had been taken by The Centre. Instead of watching his mother stir sauce on the stove, he was sitting in a darkened room becoming someone else. Instead of helping his father fix the car in the garage, he was figuring out, for The Centre, how a terrorist constructed a bomb that killed hundreds of people. A tapping on his arm pulled him from his musings.

"Jarod, ready?" Andrea motioned toward the table, set and placed for dinner.

"Definitely." A broad smile crossed his face and he sat in the chair Andrea had pulled out for him, feeling a little awkward, feeling it should be he pulling the chair out for her.

The meal was lovely, simple, delicious. Jarod had seconds, then thirds, not remembering the last time he had enjoyed a home-cooked meal. He was so focused on eating he had almost missed all of the dinner conversation, but a question from Andrea got his attention.

"Excuse me?" He wiped his mouth with the paper napkin beside his plate.

"Did you ever meet Wayne Gretzky?" she asked eagerly.

"Sorry, no. I've never met Wayne Gretzky. I didn't play very long. Once I injured my knee, it was really difficult and I had to try something else."



Mrs. Hatcher asked her own question, "Why high school hockey?"

"I know you're expecting the 'everybody has to start somewhere' response, but that's not why I opted for high school. Many high school programs focus more on winning than on teaching the proper skills. I wanted to change that. I was offered a coaching position in the ECHL, but then I heard that Mr. Moore had been injured and liked what he was doing for the sport at the high school level, so I decided to help out here."

"You gave up a position to fill-in here in Mission City?"

Jarod nodded. "It was not a difficult decision. I've heard wonderful things about Mission City, and, besides, it's a beautiful town."

"We're glad you like it here. Perhaps you'll stay a while?"

Jarod nodded again. "Perhaps I will."

Mr. Hatcher returned to the table with dessert. Jarod had not even noticed that the man had left during the discussion about Jarod's job decision.

Jarod's eyes widened with joy. "Ice cream. My favorite," he quipped, eager as a small child.

"Don't forget birthday cake."

"Birthday cake, huh?" Jarod was amazed at all the items that accompanied this special event.

"Yeah. Didn't you ever have a birthday cake?" Andrea asked, wondering what planet Jarod had been living on for his entire life.

"We didn't have a lot of sweets where I grew up." Why had that become a common response when anyone ever asked him about all the foods he had never tried? Of course, it was the truth, and people usually did not question it. Why had Sydney never celebrated his birthday with him? Did Sydney even know the date of Jarod's birth? Did Sydney care? Many more thoughts threatened to shove into his consciousness, but the sight of a frosted tower topped with flaming sticks was much more gripping.

Andrea's parents stood over her and began a rendition of "Happy Birthday." Jarod listened carefully. Was this the birthday song? It was very clever, and catchy. Then, he watched in utter amazement as Andrea took a deep breath and exhaled onto the cake, forcing the tiny flames to disappear.

"So, for your birthday, people sing you a song and serve you a special dessert with small sticks that have been set on fire, which you extinguish by exhaling on them once the song is over?" Jarod removed one of the candles from the cake, observing the remnants clinging to the end.

"Yeah! On you birthday, you're supposed to make a wish and blow out the candles." Andrea pointed to the one he held in his hand. "You never did that?"

"My childhood was very sheltered." His sad eyes looked away.

"Well, we'll light them again and you can give it a try," Andrea suggested.

"But it's not my birthday."

"Think of this as a practice run for your real birthday."

He almost said he did not know the date of his birth, but thought that might sound even more unbelievable than his previous comments.

"Come on, Mr. Hull," Andrea's father pressed, "If you've never celebrated your birthday by blowing out candles on a cake, you're missing one of the staples of American culture."

"All right. You talked me into it." A large smile covered his face, but the sadness still remained in those brown eyes.

Mr. Hatcher re-lit the candles and pushed the cake in front of Jarod, then stepped back, beginning a second rendition of "Happy Birthday."

Jarod watched the fires flicker atop the pastry. He had never experienced this, and the lack of judgment by the Hatcher family made this all that much more exhilarating. He very much wished his parents and sister could be here to sing and share with him. Closing his eyes, he imagined them singing the birthday song to him, cheering for him to make his wish and blow out the candles. He opened his eyes and anxiously awaited the end of the song and his opportunity to 'blow out the candles'.

"This is really fun!" Jarod exclaimed, discovering he had accomplished the feat at hand. He looked again and noticed three of the candles were still burning. "Andrea?" He waited for her acknowledgement; her parents had returned to the kitchen for some utensils. "How did you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Re-light the candles."

"I didn't. I didn't do anything." Noise from the kitchen startled her. "Jarod, don't tell my parents about this."

"I won't." Jarod blew out the candles and prepared himself for the eating part of the birthday celebration.

"Andrea," her father began as he placed a knife beside the cake and shifted a packaged wrapped with colorful paper under his arm, "cut the cake, then we can open your presents."

Jarod held his questions about the presents until the cake and ice cream portion of the birthday was completed. Poking a tentative finger into the slice of cake, he was rewarded with a sugary substance stuck to his finger. He studied it closely, putting it to his nose to inhale the fragrance - a light berry scent.

Holding a giggle in with her mouthful of cake, Andrea swallowed, then spoke, "Jarod, it's strawberry frosting."

"Why is it called frosting if it is not cold?"

"It's not supposed to be cold, and honestly, I don't know why it's called frosting. That's just what they call it." She put another forkful of cake into her mouth, watching Jarod continue to examine the frosting. "Strawberry's my favorite. Especially on yellow cake."

"Frosting. It's not supposed to be cold, but you put it on the cake?"

"It's mostly for decoration. Try it."

Jarod licked the frosting from his finger, then lifted a forkful of the cake to his mouth. "Mmm. This is very good." Several more forkfuls followed, accompanied by the vanilla ice cream.

Andrea and her parents smiled at their guest and his enjoyment of the celebration. "All right, now, Andrea has some gifts to open," her father announced, handing a box across the table.

Confused, Jarod felt compelled to return to his set of questions regarding the gifts. "So, on your birthday, in addition to the special cake and the song, you receive gifts?" He indicated the colorfully wrapped boxes.

"Well, generally." Andrea looked at her gifts, then back to Jarod. "Do you want to open one of them for me?"

"No. This is your day. I'll just watch."

"Sure." Eagerly, she tore into the first package. She opened the box and removed the object inside it. "Thanks, Mom."

"You're welcome." There was a smile in her voice as she replied.

Andrea was enjoying her gifts, or the unwrapping of them, Jarod thought. He studied the gifts, noting the significance of each as Andrea explained them to him: a silver necklace with a silver crucifix from her mother - something she had always wanted; a first edition copy of the autobiography of Wayne Gretzky - a piece her father picked up in a used book store on one of his trips, and a must-have for avid hockey fans; the final gift was from her brother who was attending university in Madrid - an original language version of her favorite book -- **Don Quixote**.

"Why, **Don Quixote**?" Jarod asked, interested.

"My brother read it to me when I was little." She led Jarod to the living room as they spoke, watching her parents move out to the swing on the back porch. "It was his Spanish homework assignment." Andrea turned the leather-bound volume over in her hands.

"You miss your brother very much, don't you?"

Sadly, Andrea nodded, then leaned her head into Jarod's shoulder. "He used to play hockey with me in the driveway."

"Does he come home on breaks?" Jarod put his arm around her.

"Yeah, but it's not enough. One or two weeks at Christmas and during the spring, and sometimes a month during the summer."

Jarod watched as the photograph flew past his head and crashed into the wall behind them. He made no comment, waiting for her to speak to him again.

Andrea raised her head. Frightened, blue eyes found his trusting ones. "Jarod, please don't tell anybody."

"Do you do that often?" he asked, cocking his head to one side.


"Light candles without a match, throw pictures across the room from ten feet away."

"I don't know if it happens often. It just happens."

"Can you control it at all?"

"Sometimes. But, not when I get angry or really upset."

Jarod thought a moment; this girl had to be **Nemesis**. "When did you discover this ability?"

"I don't know. I've been able to move stuff since I was, at least, five, but nothing like that ever happened before."

"You need to learn to control your talent."

"What? Control it? I want to get rid of it. I want to be like everyone else." Her eyes widened, a fire igniting behind them.

"Andrea, you have a special gift. If you learn how to use it correctly, you can help a lot of people."

"Jarod, I don't want to be different anymore."

Remembering something, he felt compelled to ask the next question: "Have you ever used your abilities on the ice?"

"No. That would be cheating." Andrea lowered her head, then raised it again. "I did use them in practice once to freak out Joe."

"Your coach?"

"Yeah. He spent an hour trying to figure out how I had done it. It was kinda funny." She smiled at the memory, but the smile quickly faded as she remembered her coach lay in a hospital bed, battered and broken, in pain.

"It's all right. Mr. Moore is fine. I spoke to him Friday afternoon."

"Really? He's okay?" Her face brightened with the news.

"Yes. He's fine." Jarod hated lying to her, but he did not have the heart to tell her that Joseph Moore did not remember anything, and that there was no way of knowing if he ever would.

"Thank you, Jarod."

"You're welcome. Now, can we get back to the subject at hand?"

Her head fell to her chest. "I guess."

"Andrea, I don't want to make you uncomfortable, but I need to know about your abilities. Maybe then I can help you."

"You're a hockey coach. How can you help me?"

"I know a little bit about telekinesis."


"The ability to move objects using the mind."

"Sure. So what do you need to know?"


The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

Miss Parker noticed the door to Lyle's office was ajar and he was speaking to someone on the phone. She peered through the small space between the doors and watched, confused, as her brother pressed a syringe into his shoulder. Why would Lyle need an injection? And, he had administered the injection so calmly, it must be something he does routinely. She started at the sudden rise in the volume of his voice.

"I don't care what you have to do, just bring her back here!" Lyle slammed the receiver back into its cradle and slapped his gloved hands together.

"Trouble in paradise?" Miss Parker smirked from just inside the double doors.

"Did you need something, Sis?"

"I just wanted to know what you were doing for lunch." She had planned to ask him about the injection, but changed her mind, wanting to investigate that one on her own.

"You want to take me to lunch?" Confusion was the most apparent look in his face.

"No." Miss Parker watched the confusion turn to disappointed anger. "I just don't want to run into you when I go to lunch." She turned on her heel and pulled the double doors open, exiting with a minor flourish. Lyle was up to something and she was going to find out what. Perhaps she should have invited him to lunch, maybe she would have gotten some information out of him that way.


Mission City, MN
Hockey Practice, Tuesday

Practice had gone well this afternoon. Jarod was pleased with the progress the team was making and was sure they would be ready for the game on Friday. He paid particular attention to Andrea, noticing her seemingly inherent abilities, resembling those of Wayne Gretzky. She could make plays others could not, and passes that seemed to connect every time, even without looking at her teammates. He wondered if she might also be psychic, or if she was truly a gifted athlete. A glance to his watch alerted him that it was time for practice to end for the day. He blew his whistle and dismissed the team.

Standing at the entrance to the arena used by the school, Jarod watched parents arrive to chauffeur their children home. He spotted an odd, black car that had pulled up, and a strange man stepped from the vehicle and spoke with a group of the girls. The man nodded and continued to wait. Moments later it seemed he had found what he wanted - Andrea. He spoke with her a moment and she followed him into the vehicle. She appeared to know the man, so Jarod thought little of it and returned to his office.

Thirty minutes later he received a frantic phone call from Andrea's mother. Andrea had not returned home; she was supposed to have gotten a ride from a friend, but never showed. Jarod tried desperately to calm Mrs. Hatcher, but only succeeded in quelling her fears temporarily. He assured her that he would do everything he could to find her daughter.

Jarod ran the vehicle's plates through the DMV database. Patiently, he waited while the machine processed his request. A beep and a pop-up window indicated the search was complete; he had traced the vehicle back to a corporation funded by The Centre. Andrea would be in danger if he did not find a way to get her back before The Centre completed its experiment.

He began putting all the pieces together - "Nemesis", Moore's beating, the note that fell from his red notebook, Andrea leaving in a strange car - he knew they were all connected, but how? He had established that "Nemesis" was Andrea, but what that had to do with everything else... The Centre had returned to reclaim its project and when Joseph Moore gave them nothing, he was "punished". The Centre was terribly subtle that way. But how, then, did The Centre find her now? How did they know which girl was "Nemesis"? Jarod could not help feeling a little responsible, knew he had to find her and get her out of The Centre.


The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

"Oh, Miss Parker!" Broots called, trying to catch the blur that was his boss. Cringing under her harsh glance, he waited for acknowledgement. "You have a message..." he swallowed hard, "...from Jarod."


Broots punched several keys and an email system opened with the note from their elusive prey.

"Broots, are you kidding? There is nothing there."

Broots looked to the screen; it was blank except for a lower-case "j" at the bottom. Broots started at the sound of Miss Parker's phone.

"What?" Miss Parker snapped into the phone.

"The Centre has lost something. I may have found it."


"If we work together maybe we can save it before it's too late."

"Where are you?"

"You know I can't tell you that, Miss Parker."

"How are we supposed to work together if you won't let me know where you are?"

"There's a light in your heart, Miss Parker. Follow it." Jarod cradled the receiver without telling her more.

"'There's a light in your heart'? What did he mean by that?" Miss Parker asked herself, apparently louder than she had thought.

"Maybe he's telling you you're not really as cold-hearted as you pretend to be," Broots dared to respond, hoping he would not be knocked out for his boldness. He returned to his terminal, avoiding eye contact with the woman behind him.

Ordinarily she would have slapped him for a comment like that, but today, today was different. Something in the back of her mind told her he was right. Jarod had meant that her heart was good, like her mother's. She only need believe it herself. She shook these thoughts from her mind. Work came first, she must locate Jarod @and@ whatever he might have **found**.

Leaning in very close to Broots' ear, she spoke: "Broots," she smiled at the flinch from the techie, "search Centre files for anything labeled as **missing**."

"Miss Parker, that will take forever!"

"Well, then you'd better get started," she hissed in his ear, keeping her head close for dramatic effect.

The computer tech set his fingers into motion. She knew he was hoping she would not stay long. Smiling inwardly, she decided to let the man work. Perhaps there was a light in her heart after all.


The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

Gabriel sat on the floor pushing blocks around, banging them into each other. Miss Parker, sitting on the floor beside him, watched his beaming face as he made crashing noises in his play. She ruffled his hair, smiling, rising to her feet. Watching Gabriel play in this pale, windowless room was tearing at her heart. He needed to see sunshine and nature.

"Come on, Gabriel, let's go outside."

The small boy eagerly toddled to his big sister and extended his tiny arms to her. She drew him up, close to her, grabbing the diaper bag on her way to the hall. The nurse would return from her "potty break" and find the child gone, but no matter, this was her brother and he needed to learn of things outside The Centre.

She carried him to a small greenhouse a few yards behind the main building. Sprigs of green were beginning to break through the melting snow. The sun was warm though the air felt cool. A few days ago, she had requested the sandbox, in which Gabriel now sat, to be placed in the greenhouse so he might enjoy it year- round. She loved to watch him play, enjoying all the aspects of life The Centre refused him. Brushing away some scattered sand, Miss Parker sat on the lip of the sandbox and began shoveling sand into a pail with Gabriel.

"Bad," the baby muttered.

"What? I don't understand. What is *bad*?" Something tugged at her mind and she looked over her shoulder, nothing. No one was there. She returned to Gabriel and the sandbox.

"Bad!" the boy said again, more vocal this time.

"That is it! I have told you to not interfere with the boy's routine and you continue to defy me," her father ranted as he snatched her brother from the sandbox, slinging tiny grains into her face and hair.

Defiant, she rose to her full height, hoping her father did not catch the slight stumble when her ankle wobbled under her slightly unsteady weight. "You keep him locked in there like a prisoner. He's your SON, *Daddy*," she snapped; *Daddy* hitting with the bite of sarcasm.

"That's right. He's *MY* son. Meaning *I* decide his schedule. And you are my daughter, and I'm telling you that you are no longer permitted to see him. Do I make myself clear?"

"But, Daddy..." she stopped at the harsh scowl and severely knitted brows on his face.

"DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?" he asked again, wanting an affirmative answer.

Miss Parker lowered her head an inch. "Crystal," she whispered, hardly aware she had spoken.

"Good." Mr. Parker shoved past his daughter, the small boy tossed over his shoulder, heading back toward The Centre.

"Mine!" Gabriel cried, reaching toward his sister.

She crossed to the greenhouse door, wanting to run across the grounds to him, but had evoked far too much of her father's rage this time.

"Mine!" she heard Gabriel wail just before the door closed behind her father.

The breath she held finally escaped and she sank to the ground as her knees melted. Somehow she had just lost contact with the most important person in her life since Thomas. She had to find a way to get Gabriel back before he was ruined by The Centre.


Mr. Lyle smiled, sly as a fox, watching his father tote away the small boy. Miss Parker would never know he was indirectly responsible for this simple maneuver. Those photographs, along with the DSA, he had strategically placed in his father's office would never be traced back to him, he had made sure of that. His sister was still kneeling on the ground, emotional, seething under Daddy's wrath. The scene contented him. "This was fun," he said to himself, turning to make his way back to his office.


Sub - Level 13
The Centre

He stood there, watching through the two-way mirror; the girl sat with her head to her chest. The blond hair fell loose around her face, hiding her features and expressions. Nothing moved inside the room, not even the girl. He was growing frustrated with her lack of cooperation, and stomped to the door. Collecting himself, putting his anger in check outside, he entered the room.

Pushing the door closed behind him, he stood in absolute silence for several moments. Finally, he introduced himself to the girl who had raised her head at his intrusion into her world, "My name is Mr. Lyle."

No response.

"Let me explain this to you now to avoid misunderstanding in the future. I'm your only friend here, and things will be much easier if you cooperate."

Nothing. She did not move her head, her eyes, her hands, her body; she only stared at the man across the table.

Lyle closed his eyes, cooling the fast rising anger, then opened them as he spoke again, trying to hold the frustration at bay, "Listen to me, Andromeda..."

"My name is **ANDREA**!"

"No, actually, it's not. You're name is Andromeda. And that is what I will call you."

"I won't answer," she replied defiantly.

This girl was beginning to irritate him. But, he could handle this; he had handled the reluctant Jarod; this should be no different. "You **will** answer, or this will be one hell of a nightmare for you."

She refused to back down, her eyes bored through his chest, straight to his heart. What was he going to do with this lovely little gem? She was terribly stubborn; it was going to be great fun breaking her.

Lyle crossed the room, lifting an object from a table in the corner. Standing with his back to her, he asked, "What am I holding in my hand, Andromeda?"

"Do I look like a psychic to you?" she spat, still facing the door where he had entered.

So, she will answer to her name, wonderful. And, yes, you do look like a psychic - a Centre-grown psychic. What else can I get her to do? Lyle contemplated the objects and surroundings a moment. Everything had been laid out according to a specific plan in the back of his mind. Nothing in this room was random; even the amount of lighting had been chosen for this specific interrogation. "Now, I know you are not a psychic," let her believe the lie for just a while, "but I'd like you to guess anyway." Had he really spoken so calmly? Either he was getting soft or Sydney was rubbing off on him. He shook those thoughts away as the girl answered.

"I don't know. A candle?" She mumbled something he could not hear.

"What was that?" he snapped; his voice returning to its more familiar tone.

"Nothing. Was I right?"

"No. It's a football." He displayed the item to her, proving his statement.

"Now, I know I'm thrilled. What next? A game of catch?"

"Nothing of the kind. You will tell me where Jarod is."

Wow, sudden change of subject, was this guy nuts? His question threw her off guard, perhaps that was exactly what he wanted. "I don't know anyone named Jarod."

"Of course you don't. But that is not the point. I know you have the ability to find him. You can tell me exactly where he is." He paced the room slowly, methodically, drawing his gloved fingers over the objects on the tables, the statues in the corners, lengthening the silence. He stopped. "Now, I did forget to mention that you will need one further piece of information before you can truly help me."

"Oh, really? And what might that be?"

Her smart mouth is going to get her into a lot of trouble. Lyle stepped around the table and placed his left hand on her shoulder, applying mild pressure. "You need this." He pulled a photograph of Jarod from one of the tables and placed it in front of her.

"That's Jarod?"

"You know him?"

"No," she lied. "I'm just wondering why you are having so much trouble catching him?"

"Oh, so you think it's an easy task chasing a man who can become anyone? Well, that's why you're here. So, let's get started."

"I am not going to help you. Don't you get it?"

Lyle's reflexes were tested, as he was forced to duck when a large, heavy, book was hurled at his head. The pleasure he was feeling remained hidden, though he was sure she could feel it. She was more advanced than he had thought. Perhaps everything he had done worked. Mr. Parker, father, had assigned him this project shortly after his return to the Centre. His research on the subject had revealed that drugs and other experimental procedures were used to ensure the desired result. There had been one serious problem, the mother became ill halfway through the pregnancy, and continuing the experiment would have been dangerous to her, and by extension, the child, so the project was put on temporary hold. Once the mother's life was out of danger, the next problem arose - the child could not be raised within the confines of The Centre. A decision was made to place the girl in the home of a family not associated with The Centre to ensure there would be no compromises in the manner in which the child was raised. The Centre, of course, kept a close watch on the family, and all was well, until the girl was returned to The Centre. Now, Lyle had to deal with a head-strong teenager, and a hockey player on top of that, making her not only stubborn, but physically strong as well.

Having completed a few more tests, Lyle corralled his project down the hall to his newly refurbished simulation room. Heavy draperies covered the walls, but pulling them to one side would reveal no windows. No chairs or tables were present, only a blanket and large bean bag chair in the center of the room. He watched the girl as she turned around the room, taking in the blank walls and draperies.

"What the hell is this?" Andrea kicked the dark, blue, cotton bean bag.

"Think of it as your office." Lyle pushed the door closed, activating the electronic door lock. A quick glance at the steady red light confirmed the camera was working. "Now, let's get to work." He motioned for her to sit.

Reluctantly, she reclined into the bean bag, hoping compliance would grant her release from this dungeon of a place. "Now what?"

"Work. Focus on the pink drapery." Lyle instructed, waiting for the contempt in her face to fade, and her compliance to surface. He saw her focus, waited a moment. "What's behind the curtain?"

"A wall."

Sarcasm. This he could only tolerate for a short while longer. "True. But there is something on the wall. I really need you to concentrate; focus your energy."

**Is this guy for real? Focus my energy?** Andrea crossed her legs, Indian-style and settled her elbows on her knees. Staring at the pink drapery, she tried to focus on whatever was behind it, but could distinguish nothing. "I can't do what you're asking. I don't know how."

"Yes, you do. I know you do. Try again. Try harder."

Once more she tried, focusing on the space behind the tapestry. Perhaps if she did as he asked, she would be allowed to return home. A picture filtered into her mind, a pleasant picture. "I see something. It's a blond woman walking in a field of colorful flowers." She smiled at the image in her mind.

Extremely pleased with the first demonstration of her ability, Lyle pulled the drapery aside revealing exactly what she had described. He had *cheated* a bit on that first one, having released the fragrance of flowers into the room to stimulate the correct response. Later tests would contain no such *hints*.

Lyle directed Andrea through the next several tests, casually observing. The cameras, carefully hidden in the walls, recorded every moment for review at his convenience. Only halfway through the series of tests, he could tell a review of the recordings would tell him nothing he did not already know - this was going to take much longer than he had planned. A change of strategy may be in order. He was pulled from his musings by her voice crossing his ears.

"My head hurts and I want to go home." Andrea rubbed her temples. The pounding in her head was growing.

His stifled laughter angered her more, but she kept her anger at bay as Lyle spoke. "Andromeda, you are home."

"This is not my home!"

"I beg to differ. This is where you were conceived, born, and raised for the first two years of your life. This is very much your home."

She turned away from him, drawing her knees to her chest; resting her arms and head against her knees. Thoughts racing through her head told her this was not a vacation, and things were going to get worse.


Mission City, MN

The wind whistling past the windows told him the weather was growing colder. The warmth of the last couple days would be fading quickly into a heavy snow and freezing temperatures. Jarod walked to the window and pulled the heavy drapery closed, blocking out some of the cooler air.

He returned to the table and placed the small card that had fallen from his notebook into the box. He fastened the silky ribbon into a perfect bow, tightly wrapped about the small box. Gently balancing the box on the tips of his fingers and thumb, he studied it for a moment, and whispered to the empty room, "Happy Birthday, Miss Parker."

The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

Miss Parker stepped off the elevator and began down the corridor, shifting nimbly around a maintenance worker on a ladder, changing a light bulb. *How many forms had to be filled out to get that done?* she asked herself, glancing over her shoulder just to make sure the worker was actually changing a light bulb. He knew she had caught him looking at her and he turned away quickly, feeling the heat of the snarl in her face.

A smile crept onto her visage as she made her way to her destination. She entered the Tech-Room and there he was, diligently working as he had been told. Leaning in very close, making no sound, she asked, "What have you found?" in a husky whisper.

"Jesus." Broots jumped out of his chair, knocking over his mug of coffee gone cold hours ago. "You scared me."

"Broots, shouldn't you clean that up?"

The nervous tech pressed paper towels on the desk and floor, mopping up the brown liquid.

"Have you found anything?" She rocked back on her heels and stood up, placing her hands on her hips, a smile on her face.

Broots tossed the soggy towels into the trash can. "Did I ever. Miss Parker, there are over four thousand items. This list includes everything from office supplies that never reached their destination to the spare tire for Mr. Raines' oxygen tank."

A shuffling sound coasted across the Tech Room. "Great. What now?" Miss Parker mumbled, irritated. "What?" she snapped at the noise in her ear.

"This came for you, Miss Parker," Sam replied. He had not even flinched at her bark. These guys were trained well.

She took the package from her sweeper, examining it closely. "You're late, Jarod." She spoke to herself, reading the *Happy Birthday* on the shiny red and blue paper. Tugging on the stark, white ribbon, it came loose, and Miss Parker let it fall to the floor. The happy paper was plucked free and removed from the box. Lifting the lid, she expected one of Jarod's usual prank-type gifts - a snake flying out at her, plastic dog doo - and was surprised by a simple note. 'The dealer won't rest 'til he sells a child death,' she read to herself. "Broots." She waited for his acknowledgement. "Jarod has found a person."

"You think the thing missing is a person?"

"Well, he hasn't found four-thousand paperclips," she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Okay... well, if it's people, this should only take a minute." The techie's fingers danced over the keys and the machine obeyed his commands. "Looks like this is the best we can do. Fifty files."

"Are all these people still here?" Miss Parker leaned over the man's shoulder, reading the information on the screen.

Broots turned his head, finding his face incredibly close to Miss Parker's breasts. Inhaling sharply, he tried to hold the squeak that rose to his throat. Quickly, he looked away and cleared his throat. "Um, this list hasn't been updated since 1974. Well, I mean, things have been added to it, but no one has gone in to remove any items that have been located."

"Fine. We'd better get started. What's first?"

"Actually, Jarod is at the top of the list."

"Is this a joke?"

"No. Raines made the entry himself. Jarod is considered missing."

"What's next?" she asked, exasperated.

Broots keyed up the next file. "Um, hmm..."

"What, Broots?"

"Your father."

"Someone really needs to clean up this file. Okay, we know he's not missing anymore. Next."

"Something called *Yellow Files*."

"What are the *Yellow Files*?"

"I'm not sure."

"Ow! Dammit! Who put this table here?"

Miss Parker turned to the commotion that was her single-thumbed brother. "Trouble in paradise, dear brother?"

"You could say that."

Broots returned to his terminal and shifted the screen to a different file. Trying not to eavesdrop, trying to look busy, he still overheard the discussion between the Parker siblings. A conversation about a project that was not going well; he tried to ignore the two people behind him and focus heavily on his computer.


Mission City, MN

"Mr. Hull," Mrs. Hatcher put a hand to her mouth.

Jarod put an arm around her shoulder. "It's all right. I know you're scared, but agent Ludwig is working night and day to find Andrea. We will find her."

The dark-suited FBI agent shifted his glasses on his nose while he addressed Jarod. "Mr. Hull, do you have anything further that might be of any aid?"

Shaking his head, "No. That's all I know. I'm sorry it isn't more."

"Thank you. I'll get on this right away. Mrs. Hatcher, we will find your daughter." The agent shook hands and returned to his dark car.

"Jarod, we need her back. She's our life."

A rage began to build within Jarod; a fiery rage that could only be quelled by the destruction of The Centre. However, he knew he did not have nearly enough resources to take on that mission; instead, he would have to take it one step at a time; starting with the rescue of Andrea Hatcher.


The green glow from the laptop lit his face. So much had happened over the last few days and even more would follow; he was certain of it. Jarod tapped into The Centre's files through an electronic backdoor, searching for anything on Nemesis. An urgent e-mail from his sister, Emily, halted his search. She informed him of big plans by The Centre - the current element of which involved Nemesis.

He knew this was going to get worse. Now, he had to go to Blue Cove and rescue Andrea. @He@ had to do it. One problem entered his mind, in this case, he would require the aid of Miss Parker and Mr. Broots.

"Hello?" Jarod answered the beckoning phone. "Mrs. Hatcher. No, I'm sorry, I haven't heard anything more. But they're working on it." He attempted to calm the still frantic woman.

"Jarod, there is something I think you should know about Andrea."

"Is something wrong?"

"Not yet, but Andrea was recently diagnosed with a very rare genetic disorder. And if she doesn't receive her treatments, there's a good chance she will die."

"What kind of genetic disorder?"

Jarod absorbed the details he was given. The doctors had diagnosed Andrea with Von Willebrand's Disease, but something told Jarod there was more to this than a variation of hemophilia.

"Did she have any other symptoms?"

"No, Jarod. Not that I know of. I'm sorry."

"It's all right. Who is Andrea's physician?" Jarod explained to Mrs. Hatcher that as a biology teacher, he was researching rare diseases for an article and was in need of information, and assured her that he would, in no way, exploit her daughter.

"Mrs. Hatcher, one more thing. You said the disease was genetic..."

"Yes, but Andrea is our adopted daughter. Neither my husband, nor I, nor our son have the disease. We were told it wouldn't be a problem until Andrea wanted to have children."

"Thank you. I'll see what I can do." He placed the receiver in the cradle and began his search.

A thorough search of the medical files in Minneapolis - there were no doctors in Mission City specialized enough to diagnose Andrea's condition - revealed startling information. The doctor Andrea had been seeing was a former employee of NuGenesis and was receiving regular payments to an offshore account from a research firm funded by The Centre. A little more hacking and he was logged into The Centre's medical files. Thousands of viral strain files to sift through, this would take a very long time. He attempted a cross-reference with Nemesis, but this resulted nothing. Sighing and settling in for a long night, Jarod began to read through the reports.

Several hours later he stood and stretched. A walk to the refrigerator for more water seemed to stimulate his brain. He stopped, turned back to the table, looked at the phone. The conversation with Sydney. *Time is of the essence.* Sydney had emphasized the word *time*, that had to be the key. Jarod returned to the computer and filtered the files for anything related to time or chronology. The thousands of files were narrowed to just under one hundred. He then eliminated any that were less than fifteen years old and those that were not labeled as genetic, thus narrowing his search to a dozen. Five of these files never reached the human testing stage, leaving seven. Four more files were reserved strictly for animal experiments. His list was down to three - Era IV, Kronos I, and Millennium VII. That was the best he could do.

He received another e-mail from Sydney - Nemesis = Andromeda. This was turning out to be the week of the cryptic e-mails. Jarod fully understood the need for discretion, but this was far beyond the usual level of security, even for Sydney. However, Jarod knew this must be important. The medical files. He reopened the three he had downloaded and searched them for any mention of Andromeda. Only one file referenced that name - Kronos I.


The Centre
Tech Room

Miss Parker pinched the bridge of her nose, forcing out some of the dull ache that was building in her head. She arched her back and heard several vertebrae snap in mild protest, but it relieved some of the stiffness. "Broots, how much longer is this going to take? There are only fifty files."

"The only way to be sure we find the right file is to go through them one at a time."

"All right, let's keep going."

They scanned a couple more files. What's this? Miss Parker asked herself, staring at the screen. She clapped Broots on the back of the head.

"Ow. What'd ya do that for?" he asked, rubbing his skull. His eyes followed the fierce finger nearly poking a hole in the computer monitor. "Jacob," he read and risked a glance over his shoulder. "But he's dead."

She clapped his head again. "Of course he's dead, Broots."

"Would you mind not doing that?" He rubbed his head again. What had gotten into her?

"Sort this list by alive and dead." Her feet hurt, her knees were stiff, she needed a strong cup of coffee, a massage, and a vacation. Stiletto heels clicked against the linoleum in a steady rhythm across the room. She could almost feel the shaking of his fingers as they tapped the keys. He was really scared this time. That was partially her fault; she should not have been so harsh, but Daddy had really angered her, and she was taking it out on whoever was nearby, in this case, Broots. She made a note to apologize for it later.

"Done." Broots refused to say more, fearing another intense blow to the cranium.

Miss Parker scanned the list. Perfect, down to twenty-three from fifty. "Broots, is there a faster way of doing this?" She rubbed her tired eyes.

*Yeah, don't give me a concussion.* Broots keyed in a few lines, but was unable to further shorten the list. "Sorry, Miss Parker. We still have to go one at a time." He resumed his examination.

Both Miss Parker and Broots were so intensely fixated on the computer monitor and the wealth of information it held, that neither noticed Sydney had entered and exited, leaving behind the strand of hockey love beads.

It was right in front of her and she had missed it. "Hockey, Broots."


"Search for hockey. There can't be more than a handful of names linked to hockey on this thing."

"How would hockey be relevant to anything in The Centre?"

"I just have a feeling. Now search!"

Broots did as he was asked; his search resulting in only one file. "Andromeda," Miss Parker hissed over his shoulder.

"Jarod has found Andromeda?" The tech swallowed hard. "That's one of Mr. Lyle's projects."

"That makes life more interesting." She rose to her full height, towering over the computer wizard in his chair.



Lyle paced the floor behind his subject. These tests were going nowhere and he needed to know the true level of her abilities. The fact that she was more than uncooperative was making his task much more difficult. Something deep down inside begged him to not follow his next course of action. Easily, he squashed that nagging piece of his conscience - the only piece of his conscience - if that's what it might be called, and proceeded with his plan.

He marched his ward down the long, dreary corridor and took mental note of her immediate reaction: intimidation. A pretty good feeling from his end, one he knew would improve dramatically. "Ah, ah, ah," he chided, grasping her shoulders and turning her back to the solid, metal slab on one side of the room. "Now, get on the table."

She sighed heavily, "Why?" Somehow she was no longer standing on the floor. Cold, hard metal met her back, the sound of Velcro, her ears, nylon, her wrists. How had he done that? The straps were strong; she was barely able to wiggle her fingers. Fear gripped her like a vice, squeezing tighter around her, restricting her breathing. She saw the maniacal look on his face as he leaned over her, brushing her hair away from her face; that she would never forget.


Andrea woke in a fuzzy haze, still secured to the table. Her head ached and a wave of nausea hit, forcing her to close her eyes until it passed. She had not realized he had strapped her head as well, and an attempt to roll her head to one side was met with a harsh scratch from the thick nylon. What had happened? How long had she been out? And, that man, Mr. Lyle was his name; where was he? As far as she could tell, from what she was able to see, she was surrounded by an empty expanse.

A door opened, then closed. Shoes tapped across the floor and shuffled to a stop by her side.

"Good, you're awake."

Mr. Lyle. Now he was flipping through pages on a clipboard. Shaking his head, he spoke over her again, "You did not perform to my expectations. We will have to try this again." Lyle laid the clipboard aside and collected several items from a nearby tray. Andrea watched him load a syringe and give it a flick to dislodge any air bubbles.

"Please, no more." She tried to shake her head, with no success. "My head aches. And I swear, if you give me any more drugs, I'm gonna hurl."

"No you won't," he replied nonchalantly and pushed the needle into her arm. "You'll be awake for these tests."

There was nothing she could do, the drug was taking affect, relaxing the part of her mind that obeyed commands, thus ensuring complete cooperation. The Centre had used this drug before on several other projects, but not to this level. Lyle was pushing the envelope on this one, and no one was questioning his methods.

He ran his tests. The conclusions were satisfactory. She answered all of his questions accurately. She even informed him that Miss Parker and Broots had discovered the files for his project and were digging for more information. Nemesis was turning out to be an excellent venture after all, and very successful too. The Triumvirate was sure to be pleased with his accomplishments. And, he could now bring Jarod back to The Centre, clinching his place in the Tower, and removing anyone who got in his way.

Testing complete, it was time to put Andromeda's abilities to work. He released her restraints and escorted her back to his simulation room. "Andromeda, I want you to tell me where Jarod is."

"Who?" She asked over her shoulder, only responding to that wretched name because it meant he would not inject her with some awful drug.

"Jarod," Lyle snapped, wishing he had kept her strapped to the table.

"Who's that?"

He took a deep breath - anger check again. Damn those drugs. And had she forgotten what he looked like already? "I just need to know where I can find him."

She furrowed her brow at him. "Look, you want me to tell you where he is, but you don't give me any specifics. Do you know how many Jarod's there are just in Delaware?"

How did she know she was in Delaware? Her abilities were stronger than he thought. "All right. He's a Pretender. A genius. And very elusive. He masquerades as other people, taking on any job he chooses. If you want physical attributes, he's about 6'1", dark hair, dark eyes, muscular. Anything else you need?"

"No. That should do. He's in Blue Cove." She crossed her arms over her chest and reclined into the bean bag.

Lyle raised his hand to strike her, but stopped. "You're lying. Jarod is NOT in Blue Cove!"

"Suit yourself. I can only tell you what I know."

Irritation was just the first of the expressions to strike his face, anger and frustration were there too. "I grow weary of your foolish games. We are going to try this again, and again, until I get the response I want." He administered another injection and leaned against the wall to wait.

The girl began to convulse and twitch on the floor, catching Lyle completely off guard. "What the hell is going on?" he asked to absolutely no one. Not trained in any true medical technique, he was at a total loss about what to do. He entered the number for The Centre's medical center into the phone and ordered a physician to SL-13 immediately. During the excruciatingly long wait, he managed to keep the girl from hurting herself, but could not cease the seizure.

Lyle attempted to conceal his frantic behavior when the doctor arrived, but succeeded only in revealing much of his desperation. "What happened, Mr. Lyle?"

"I don't know. She was sitting there, answering my questions, then she started shaking."

"I have never seen anything like this. I've administered a mild sedative that should control the seizures until I can do a full work up. We'll need to get her to the infirmary."

"NO!" Lyle said sharply. "She must remain here. Whatever you need can be brought to this room."

"Very well, Mr. Lyle." The doctor handed him a syringe and a bottle, with instructions on how to administer and when, then left to make arrangements for creating a medical lab on SL-13.

The Centre
Tech Room

"Miss Parker," Broots called to the brooding figure by the door, "I think you're gonna want to see this." Fear or excitement, he could not determine which was causing the shaking in his hands.

"What?" she barked, approaching his terminal.

Broots shuffled in his chair. "Um, this." He called up the file. "Miss Parker, Andromeda is Lyle's daughter."

"Now there's a branch of the family tree I'm sure he's not aware of." Her eyes shifted from the semi-stoic face of the tech, to the information on the monitor. "See if you can find anything else." A heavy sigh followed the scream of her cell phone. "What?"

"I need your help."

"No quips? No games?"

"Miss Parker, this is life and death. I know that's cliché, but it is. A young girl will die if she does not receive the proper medication within the next hour."

The desperation in his voice was convincing, but was there any way to trust him?

Her hesitation was expected. "Miss Parker, did you find Andromeda?"


"Then you should understand."

"Well, I don't. So, explain it to me."

"Lyle is in charge of Project Nemesis. The girl has a rare genetic disorder, created by The Centre, known as Kronos-I."

"The first strain worked?" Miss Parker knew what the "I" after the name meant -- The Centre had administered the first strain of the virus to one of its people because the test results had been satisfactory. Disease strains at The Centre were analyzed in labs until ready for subject testing, each new strain of a virus was given a number, along with it's name, and once the strain was successful on the subjects, further development was generally not required, and development ceased. She had never heard of one succeeding in the first strain.


"Jarod, did you say it was genetic?"

"Yes. Why?"

She turned her face away from the phone. "Then Lyle has it too."

Broots was paying attention now. What did Lyle also have?

"Miss Parker, Andromeda is in danger. We have to help her, or she will die."

"Lyle doesn't know?"

"No. And he never can, or she will be in more danger."

There was an excruciating pause while she pondered his request. Something on the desk caught her eye. The book; The Velveteen Rabbit. Anger welled beneath the surface, this would not be a direct hit on Daddy, but just as effective. "Call me back in five minutes." She snapped her phone shut and began whispering orders to Broots.

"Miss Parker, I can't do that."

"Find her now!"

Reluctantly, Broots started a search. He retrieved the necessary information and passed it along to a pacing Miss Parker.

"Jarod?" Her voice was more anxious than she had wanted it to be.

"Have Broots kill the security system for SL-13 and the elevators."

"How did you..."

"Do you want me to explain or do you want to help me save Andromeda?"

She exhaled sharply and relayed her orders to Broots.

"Meet me at the elevator on SL-6."

"Why 6?" Her question was lost in the dead air.


"Oh, dear God!" Broots jumped at the light pressure on his shoulder. He turned to face the source. "Oh, geez. Jarod! What... I mean... uh..."

Why was he always like that? Jumpy and skittish. Jarod found it only mildly annoying, but understood why the man was so nervous. "Thank you, Mr. Broots."

Broots swallowed hard before responding, "Uh, you have just over ten minutes before the security system kicks in again."

"Again. Thank you." Jarod took off toward the elevator and climbed the shaft to SL-6.

Pacing outside the elevator, Miss Parker was growing angry, and impatient. Where the hell was he? The sound of his voice was almost a comfort, but where did it originate? He was not in the hallway with her. Her phone was idle.

"Miss Parker, call the elevator."

She pressed the call button and the doors slid open, revealing a black-clad Jarod leaning against the metallic, rear wall. Miss Parker stepped onto the car, waited for the doors to close. A slender finger to her lips stilled her voice.

"We can't talk now."

She was only going to ask what had kept him, but remained silent.

The elevator stopped on SL-13.

"Is that really necessary?" Jarod asked of Miss Parker's drawn weapon.

"If Lyle has anything to do with this, yes."

"Fine. Come on."

"Someday you'll have to explain to me how you do that."

"Do what?" Confusion enveloped his face.

"Get in and out of here."

"Maybe." He peered through a small square window. "Here."

"How do we get in?"

Jarod turned the handle on the door and pushed it open with a minor amount of flourish, receiving a harsh scowl for his trouble. "Lyle's in the Tower," he responded to the very serious question hiding behind the mock anger in her eyes.

Crossing the room quietly, he knelt beside the prone Andrea, brushed her hair away from her face. He removed several items from his jacket pocket and set them on the floor.

"We are in a bit of a hurry, Jarod."

"Miss Parker, if I do not give her this injection, getting out of here won't be a problem for just me." He loaded the syringe and gave it a flick before inserting it into the girl's arm. "This should stabilize her long enough to get her out of here."

The dazed girl tried to open her eyes and focus on the man leaning over her. She wanted to run from the unrecognizable figure, but her legs were JELL-O, and her head was spinning. She could not even lift her arms to push him away.

"Andrea, it's Jarod."

"Jarod?" she asked drowsily, rolling her head toward him.

"Yes. It's all right, honey. We're going to get you out of here." He lifted her from the floor, wrapping her arms around his neck. She nuzzled her face against his shoulder, relaxing in the strength of his arms.

"Jarod, how are you getting out?" Miss Parker glanced up and down the corridor.

Looking at his watch, checking his time, he replied, "The same way I got in. Sort of." When she turned to check the corridor again, he disappeared.

Miss Parker turned to ask something else and met empty space. Dammit! How does he do that? "Good luck, Jarod," she whispered into the nothingness.

"What is going on down here?" Lyle called from the elevator.

Putting her gun away, Miss Parker replied, "I saw someone down here and came to check it out. All I found was this open door."

"What?" He pushed past her and rushed into his simulation room. "Damn!"

"Something wrong?"

"Nemesis is gone." He drew his cell phone and punched in a number. "Total lockdown. Project Nemesis has escaped. I don't care what you are in the middle of, FIND HER, NOW!" He slammed his phone closed and grabbed Miss Parker's wrist in the same movement. "If I find out you had anything to do with this, you will wish you had killed me." He released her and stalked to the elevator.

She would shoot him now if she thought it would do any good, but that would only prove that she had helped Lyle's pet project escape, and she could not allow that, for Gabriel's sake, Jarod's, and her own.


Private Airstrip outside Greensboro, NC

She did not recognize the approaching vehicle, but the two passengers were unmistakable. Never would she forget her daughter, though adopted, or the man who had rescued her from the kidnappers. She glanced over her shoulder to be sure her husband and son had followed. Holding the handrail tighter than she expected, she descended the small set of airstairs. The man and young woman crossed the tarmac with little hesitation.

"I'm glad you got my message," the man called when he knew she was within earshot.

"Me too." The woman nearly melted as she pulled the two into a large embrace. "Andrea, are you okay?" She brushed several tears from her face.

"Yes, Mom. I'm fine. Thanks to Jarod," Andrea replied after being released from the embrace.

"Andrea, honey, thank God you're all right." Her father stepped in for his own hug.

"Dad, I was so scared." Andrea began sobbing, happy to be reunited with her parents and away from those awful tests.

"I know, baby. But you're safe now." He stepped back and turned to Jarod. "Mr. Hull, how can we ever thank you?"

Smiling, Jarod replied, "Just keep your daughter safe and your family together. I know what it's like to miss your family."

"Andrea," Mrs. Hatcher began, "there is someone else who wanted to say help." She moved to one side, revealing a tall man with soft, brown hair and smiling eyes.

"Michael!" Andrea leapt into her older brother's arms, relishing his crushing embrace.

"Hey, kid. Been a long time." He held her close, knowing she needed him.

"All right, I hate to break this up, but you need to be going." Jarod put a hand on Mrs. Hatcher's shoulder.

"Jarod, thank you so much," Mrs. Hatcher hugged him.

"You're welcome. Now take your family to your new home." He stood back, smiling, as he watched the family mount the airstairs, Andrea turning to give him a last wave before ducking into the plane.

Jarod returned to his vehicle and watched the plane take off into the sky. One more child safe from The Centre, for now.


The Centre
Two Days Later

"Something wrong, Lyle?" Miss Parker queried as her brother stalked through the maze of desks and columns.

His stern look did not even trigger a flinch. He pulled his jacket off, loosened his tie, and began unbuttoning his shirt.

"Stop right there." Miss Parker held out a hand of insistence.

"Easy, Parker. Jarod left me this." Lyle revealed, on his upper, left bicep, a superb replication of the Andromeda constellation.

"Nice. It's sure to be a hit at parties."

"Miss Parker, like I told you earlier, if I discover you helped him steal my project..."

She stepped closer to her brother, stabbing a finger into his newly formed tattoo, taking great pleasure in the wince on his face. "Any of your projects that escape from this place, have my blessing." She gave his shoulder a slap and walked away, leaving Lyle standing in the corridor with his shirt dangling from his wrists.


Mission City Hospital, Room 308

"Mr. Hull, it's great to see you again," Joseph Moore greeted Jarod as he entered the hospital room.

"I see you're feeling better."

"Yeah, and parts of my memory are returning."

"That's wonderful." Jarod smiled broadly. "I just spoke with the doctor and she said you'll be able to play again in a month or so."

"Yeah. Did they find who did this?"

"They've been dealt with." It was not a lie, but not the entire truth either.

Moore sipped his water. "I see. What happened to the Hatchers?"

"They're fine. It's probably best you don't know all the details. For your own protection."

"Of course. Thank you, Jarod." He gripped the visitor's hand.

Jarod smiled again. "You're welcome."

Miss Parker's House
Later that evening

The dark clouds hung heavy over the old, rustic house. Miss Parker parked her car and made it to the front door moments before the rain fell. Lightning flashed, seconds later, thunder crashed, as she fumbled with her keys and the lock.

A small light in the distance illuminated a portion of the room and the figure reclining on the couch. She opened her mouth to ask How did you get in here? but no words came. Her bag hit the floor with a soft thud and she pushed the door closed, blocking the chilling wind that accompanied the harsh storm.

She crossed the room and sat before him on the coffee table. "Jarod?" she asked, her hand brushing his knee.

His eyes slowly rose to meet hers. "Thank you." He saw the confusion in her face. "For helping me save that child's life."

The only response she could manage was her fingers clasping his hand, her voice would not cooperate. He had asked for her help and she had given it. It was an odd feeling for her, but this time something was different; she was protecting the children, a response provoked by her father forbidding her to see Gabriel anymore.

"I have to go now." Jarod rose form the soft couch, his hand still in Miss Parker's grasp.

"I understand. And I won't keep you here." She released her hold on his hand.

The power flicked off as a result of the storm. Left in darkness, Miss Parker could only wait for the power to return, or risk tripping on her own furniture. Patiently she waited.

Pale illumination returned as electricity was restored to the small lamp on the end table. Raising her head, she found the space Jarod had recently occupied, void of his presence. He had done it again. Pulling that disappearing act was one of his more annoying traits.

She fell into the couch, but sprang up just as fast, having sat on something. A PEZ dispenser with a plastic hockey player for a lid was resting on the cushion. With a sigh, she picked it up and returned to the couch, flipped the dispenser open and put a piece of the sugary candy in her mouth.