The Healing by MarieL
Tech room by MarieL

Broots flailed himself awake at the phone ringing, trying to disentangle himself from his blanket to get to the phone. He blearily glanced at his alarm clock: 11:30. There was only one reason to get a call at this late on a Saturday night, and it wasn't going to be good. Why couldn't Jarod pop his head up during normal business hours? He picked up his cell.

"Broots here. Where was the sighting? ... WHAT? Oh, criminy, I'll be right there."

He jumped out of bed, and while throwing his clothes on considered his babysitting options. There was no way he was going to get anyone to come over at the last minute at this hour, but Mrs. Johnson would probably be available tomorrow morning. Maybe. He would have to leave her alone, again, as he had so many times before. Broots dashed into Debbie's room and left her a hastily scribbled note, made sure her cell phone was charged, and ran out the door.

It was chaos in the parking garage and main entrance, as every sweeper detail in the area had been called in. He was universally recognized, however, so was able to jump through security and dash down to the tech room, making it 17 minutes after the initial call. Miss Parker had still somehow managed to beat him, dressed like she had spent an hour getting ready, a supernatural feat to Broots.

"Nice of you to join us. I think these children down here could use your assistance."

Broots ignored her for once and crossed over to Vandehey's station. To hell with the tongue lashings, the tech room was his domain. "Where was the initial sighting?"

"Monitoring detail three picked him up on one of the rotating cameras on SL-11 near the dispensary."

"With Angelo? We were just down there yesterday."

"Apparently yes. He was spotted with a second individual, in the system as a Centre computer technician Paul Darling. He entered the building at the parking garage entrance at ten pm." Vandehey put the digital picture of Paul's identification card up on a screen, and a cut from the SL-11 camera on a second monitor.

"Never seen him before. Maybe a false ID Jarod got into the system, to smuggle him into the building?"

"Lewis is working the personnel angle, he can update you on that. Anyway, all three of them entered the ventilation system approximately 25 minutes ago. There have been several proximity alarms go off in the north wing on SL-4 and ground level. Security's trying to physically chase all these leads down now, as it's hard to tell what's real and what's false. No other camera sightings have been made."

Miss Parker came up behind them, observing. "Haven't we had motion detectors in the ventilation system for over a year? Why aren't there alarms blaring for that?"

Broots pulled up a schematic for SL-11 showing all the motion sensors for that floor, blinking red as they pinged back "operational" to the system. There was a clear path of broken sensors leading from the dispensary to a service shaft 300 feet away. "Miss Parker, look, some of these sensors have been disabled."

"That's where they are then, service shaft 11.7. Let's ..."

Just as she was about the bark out orders for sweepers to converge on the area, the pattern of disconnected sensors changed right before their eyes. Now the path led from the dispensary over to a utility closet fifty feet and ninety degrees to the west of service shaft 11.7.

"What the fuck just happened, Broots?"

"Um, there must be software in the system disabling sensors on some sort of rotational pattern. It's going to take me some time to track it down."

Sydney came strolling in nonchalantly then, looking like it was any other day in the office. This was fortunate for Broots, as it diverted Miss Parker's nerve-stimulating attention from him onto a new target. "Well, Syd, it looks like your boy has outdone himself this time. This place is lit up like a Christmas tree."

"Any indication what Jarod came back for?"

Both Parker and Broots responded at the same time. "Angelo."

 

******

 

By seven in the morning the security teams were exhausted and despondent, as it was clear Jarod and Angelo had escaped. Miss Parker had been called up to the Tower by Lyle and Mr. Parker for the first of likely many postmortems of the break-in. Broots, however, was having a good morning solving many of the previous night's mysteries.

First he had identified the program that disabled the sensors. It had been a installed at the root admin level, which in and of itself was enough to give him pause. Broots couldn't imagine how Jarod could have gotten the program into the system from outside the building; even he couldn't do that. It was always possible that Jarod had installed the program from a terminal after entering, but it seemed an unlikely task in the time frame allotted. The virus that had set off proximity sensors seemed a more plausible candidate for fast installation.

The patterns of sensor deactivation themselves were a form of genius. They overlapped just enough with each ten minute rotation, in three dimensions with all 26 official sublevels, that someone could access the entire building undetected. Assuming that someone had superhuman spatial awareness and timing, that is. It seemed like complete overkill even by Jarod's standards to create such a program for a simple retrieval mission. It would have been much simpler to deactivate large areas or even whole floors of sensors at once, to enable their escape. Simpler and less risky by far, for any small mistake in turning the wrong corner could have gotten them caught. Only someone who wanted undetected access to the entire building over a long period of time had the motivation to create such a program.

Then there was the matter of the code itself. Broots had spent countless hours staring at the programs Jarod had written for his various forays into the system, including ones left behind the day he escaped. His coding style was efficient and elegant, like he had every last command worked out in his head to maximum effect before typing a word. The Cube script -- as he was beginning to think of it, after a recent creepy SF movie -- wasn't efficient at all. It was strangely disjointed, as if the person who wrote it couldn't keep a coherent thought in head for very long, but kept plugging away at it until it worked. Broots had no smoking gun that Angelo had written it instead of Jarod, but his gut as a programmer told him it was true.

So, one major problem solved. It still didn't tell him why Jarod had come for Angelo now, why Angelo had chosen to go with him when he had copious opportunities to escape in the past, or why Jarod had uncharacteristically involved a third party in the break-in. Sydney was particularly fascinated by the latter point, and speculated that perhaps the young man had something to do with the mystery child. Which led Broots to his second major challenge of the evening, getting some information on the co-conspirator "Paul Darling."

SIS had recovered fingerprints from both the car Darling had left in the parking garage and several surveillance cameras. They had run them through the usual databases and come up with a military record for one Army Specialist Paul Nichols, enlisted in 1994 and honorably discharged just two months prior. He had a good record during his tenure but nothing spectacular, nothing that would attract Jarod's or the Centre's attention.

All fine and good, but the reason this had been kicked back down to Broots was that the personal information in the man's file did not stand up to scrutiny. The home address he had given the Army was for a Nichols family in Riverdale, California, but cross-referenced with tax returns the son was named Daniel, who was a currently an aspiring dentist in Fresno. Paul Nichols apparently did take classes at the local community college using the same address, those credits being counted as his high school diploma by the military, but there was no record of such a person prior to that.

Broots added the image of this Paul to his web bot, and in the process checked on his previous search for the young woman, almost forgotten in the hubbub over the weekend. To his shock, there was a hit. When it rains it pours, he thought. Miss Parker came up behind him as he ws processing the information, still looking impeccably unwrinkled but now with faint dark circles under her eyes betraying the stress. Sydney came over for an update as well.

"Anything new, Broots?"

"Nothing on Paul, but I did find something on the woman. You know, from Friday."

"Ah, the lovely Martha?"

"No, her name is actually Annalise Wallace, from Nowhere Pennsylvania." He handed over a short article from the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1981, documenting Annalise's perfect SAT scores at age 14 and accompanied by a small picture of a smiling adolescent. She was listed as a homeschooler with parents Martha and George Wallace.

"She's Martha's baby? Why was Mush Head calling her that?"

"Who knows? But now that we have a real name, it will make it much easier track down more information."

By the end of the day, Broots had found the 1967 article on Timothy Wallace and put two and two together, and the trio was in a car heading west.

 

******

 

A couple of hours into their investigation in rural Pennsylvania, Broots was reminded yet again why he hated field work. He hated having to leave Debbie alone for days on end, her status as a neglected latchkey kid cemented in the minds of all of his child sitters. And he hated feeling useless, especially at a time like this when there were so many juicy leads to follow from the comfort of the tech room. Why Miss Parker insisted in dragging him on these missions was a mystery to him. Maybe she just wanted someone to talk to other than a shrink. That's what Broots told himself, at least.

By the third door slammed in their faces, Broots knew this would be no ordinary red notebook-retrieval mission. The Wallaces knew about them, in ways that seemed unlikely for large extended group.

They started early in the morning at Joan Wallace's farm, just a half mile from where little Timmy Wallace had disappeared in 1967. Not a soul was home. Then they visited the childhood home of Annalise, only to find it occupied by another of the family clan. He had glared at them and shut the door muttering "Liars, goddamned liars," even before Miss Parker finished her spiel on who they were looking for. The third house was deserted again, then the fourth occupied by a terrified woman who only opened the door a crack with a chain attached, and nearly crushed Miss Parker's hand in her eagerness to close the door when she saw Annalise's picture. But the final home was the most disturbing of all.

The door had been answered by a curious little girl of about nine. Miss Parker, apparently deciding the aggressive approach wasn't going to work with these people, knelt down to her level. "Hi honey, are any grown-ups at home?"

The girl had cocked her head, staring at Miss Parker with open, trusting eyes. "You're very pretty, can I touch your face?" Parker blinked at this unorthodox request, but thinking she was making inroads, nodded her head. The girl reached out and rested just her fingertips on Parker's cheek. After about two seconds, the girls eyes suddenly widened and she began screaming at the top of lungs. "DADDY! THEY'RE FROM THE CENTRE! THEY'RE FROM THE CENTRE! DADDEEEEEEEEEE..."

A man, presumably the girl's father, rushed down a flight of stairs and yanked his kid inside, again narrowly missing Parker in his rush to get the door closed. They he shouted through the door, "I'm calling the sheriff's office for harassment from you people! Get the fuck off my property!"

Broots resisted the urge to make a beeline for the car. Sydney appeared thoughtful. "How did the girl know who we are?"

"Well she wasn't a psychic, genius. Obviously the good people of Mayberry have been bothered by the Centre before. Maybe Jarod spilled his guts for once to Angelo's family. Not a nice thing to do to these people at all, you'd think your boy would know better. Let's pay Barney Fife a preemptive visit and get a more level-headed perspective on what the hell's going on here."

The county sheriff, a well-built man in his fifties with intelligent light brown eyes, ushered them into his office. "So. Have a seat. You are the folks that have out been 'visiting' the Wallaces? I've fielded three telephone calls just this morning."

Miss Parker gave him her least offensive smile. "Sorry if we startled anyone. People are quite jumpy around here, aren't they? We are simply looking for information on this man." She placed a photo of Jarod on the desk. The sheriff glanced at it without recognition.

"Never seen him before. However, the reports I received this morning indicated you were looking for Annalise Wallace. Who no one has seen for, what now, nearly fourteen years?"

"It's possible this man may be connected to her disappearance."

"Really. That's interesting. What organization did you say were with, miss?"

Parker smiled again, this time much more predatory. "I didn't say. Unfortunately this matter is a sensitive one. On a more national scale."

"A runaway college student is a matter of national security? Fascinating. You know what's equally fascinating? The fact that ... someone ... has taken an inordinate interest in an ordinary family in a obscure corner of this fine nation." With that, he unlocked a filing cabinet behind him and pulled out a Ziploc bag filled with small electronic devices, and tossed it on the desk in front of them. "These were found in over a dozen Wallace-related households in the past four months. Getting illegally spied upon, that might make a family a bit ... jumpy."

Miss Parker pulled the bag towards her to get a better look, then casually pushed them back towards the sheriff. Broots nearly lost control of his sphincter. The bugs were clearly of Centre origin, including both microtransmitters and wiretaps for the telephone lines. How had non-professionals sniffed these out so effectively? "I know nothing of this, Sheriff. We were simply looking for information on these individuals. Thank you for your time."

"Mmmm. Thank you for your visit. Please let it be known in your ... organization ... that invading the privacy of innocent citizens will not be tolerated, and the next time someone shows up poking around in the Wallace family business, we will not be having a friendly conversation."

Parker simply nodded curtly and walked out. Broots breathed a sigh of relief at not getting arrested, again. Once they were in car, Parker turned to him. "Broots. Take this number down before I forget: 506786E. One of the bugs. I want to know who authorized its issue."

"They looked like they were from Centre."

"Of course they were from the Centre, you moron. I need a name. Lyle, Brigitte, whoever it is. Someone obviously has known about these people's connection to Angelo and Jarod for months, and was incompetent enough to leave sensitive hardware lying around so that even Joe Sixpack could find it. We need to get in the loop."



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