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Intent Series
Part 1 – Intent to Live



Jarod stood in the shadows caused by the rising sun and looked out over the lake. The pier stretched out like a pointing finger, ending abruptly about five metres into the lake. Only about half the lake was visible from where he stood, the other half blocked from view by a wall of branches and the natural curve of the shore. Jarod took his eyes from the shimmering water long enough to glance at his watch and, as he looked up again, saw the person he was obviously intended to meet striding out over the wooden structure. Getting a firmer grip on the silver case at his side, Jarod stepped out into the early-morning light and gradually made his way over to the strange man.


"Are you the man I was told to contact?"


"I'm here ain't I? So I guess I must be."

The words were spoken sullenly from the twisted mouth and Jarod took a closer look, out of the corner of his eye, at the man's face. His attention was momentarily distracted by the sound of a voice at the other side of the lake and, as he turned back, saw the rapid movement of the stranger's arm, swinging the club he held. Jarod's own movement had caused him to slightly lose his balance and the blow sent him off the pier. As he hit the water, there was a bright flash of light before his eyes, followed by darkness.

The stranger, unperturbed, stood for a few seconds, watching the body sink below the surface. However, before he could watch it completely disappear, the assailant heard a distant splash as someone dived into the lake. The man looked up and ran off down the pier, throwing the wooden block into the shallows as he ran. In the blink of an eye he had disappeared into the shadows and the sound of a car starting up and driving off showed that he had left.

The swimmer, a young female, arrived at the pier in time to see Jarod's hand disappear below the surface. Diving quickly, she grabbed Jarod and pulled him to the surface. She towed him to the bank and pulled him up out of the water. Having realised that he was still breathing, if raggedly, the girl rolled Jarod onto his side and tried to clear some of the pond weed from around his face and neck. As she watched, his eyelashes flickered and she bent over him.


"It's all right. I've got you. You're okay now."


Jarod, having struggled to regain consciousness, found himself slipping back into it again. He had a hazy image of a face framed by brown hair and sparkling blue eyes before his eyes closed and he fell back into the blackness.

The girl continued to check Jarod's pulse while she tried to clean more of the mud from the lake off his clothes. Finally she heard a siren, announcing that an ambulance was on the way. As the vehicle drew up, one man jumped out and came over to her. Kneeling beside Jarod's body, he checked for signs of consciousness, while talking to the girl.


"What happened?"


"I don't really know. I was swimming and heard a loud splash. I swam around the trees and, as I came close to the pier, I saw this white thing sinking. As I got closer, I saw that it was a hand. I pulled him out of the water and waited until you came. That's all."


"Name?"


"Susan."


"Susan what?"


"I'd...rather not say."


By now a small crowd had gathered. The two ambulance men turned their attention to their patient, eventually succeeding in bringing him round. At the sight of the uniforms, Jarod stiffened. It was not until that the full situation was explained to him that Jarod allowed himself to be treated and put onto the gurney. The ambulance attendant, as he explained the situation, turned to the spot where Susan had been standing, gesturing with his hand.


"A girl helped you. She's..." he paused. "She was over there."


The place where the girl had been standing was empty and there was no sign of her. Of course, the EMT reasoned aloud, she could have either slipped through the crowd or swum away. There was no further reason for them to stay and the vehicle drove away.

* * *


Jarod descended the ramp of the hospital entrance in the wheelchair and climbed from it into the back seat of a waiting taxi. He had protested against the use of the wheelchair but was told that it was standard policy. The week he had been forced to stay in hospital had given him feelings closer to claustrophobia than he had ever had in his life before. The young female cab driver flicked her long, brown curls over her shoulder and grinned to herself as she pulled away from the curb. Her passenger was lost in thought and so, curbing her natural eagerness and curiosity, the driver did not speak until she pulled up to the place where the young man had requested her to leave him. Jarod was so absorbed in his thoughts that he failed to notice the taxi only moving a few feet before stopping again. The blue eyes of the driver gleamed as she watched the tall man enter the building and she looked down at the silver case that sat on the floor of the cab, filling much of the floor-space of the passenger seat.

The next day, Jarod straightened his tie and brushed some imaginary dust from the sleeve of his jacket before ascending the three stairs to the office of an accountancy firm. Having been told to take it easy for a few weeks, Jarod had decided to pursue an occupation that had long interested him, rather than one with a particular Pretend involved in it. As with every other situation, he slipped naturally and easily into the workplace and enjoyed the work. After almost a week there, he had become acquainted with all of his fellow work-mates and was deeply involve in the job.

One morning he was carrying several files down a staircase to the photocopier on the floor below. A woman, coming up towards him, noticed a damp spot on the stair, which Jarod, due to the large pile of papers he carried, could not see. At the same moment as she reached out, his foot slipped, and he would have fallen had the woman not grabbed his arm.


"It's all right. I've got you. You're okay now."


By the time Jarod regained his balance, the woman had disappeared through a door on the next landing and disappeared. Jarod spun around to follow her but was prevented from doing so by a call from below.


"Jarod, have you got the Mendelson file? We can't find it!"


Suppressing a curse, Jarod continued down the stairs and, through the door, into a large office. He put down the files and began absent-mindedly photocopying them. It had taken him less than a second to place the voice and he was urgent in needing to see the girl again.

Another week had passed and Jarod was no closer to learning the identity of his savior than he had been since the accident itself. A further frustration was the complete disappearance of the Haliburton case and he was concerned that perhaps he had lost a bargaining chip in his dealings with the Centre. If it had been returned to them then he would never see it again and, being a complete record of his life, he felt that he could not afford to let it go. Covert questioning of Sydney had brought him no closer to solving the mystery of their disappearance and he had even considered going back into the Centre to try and get it back.

On the way to work one morning, Jarod's attention was distracted by the obscure behaviour of another pedestrian. A man appeared to be trailing a woman of moderate height with curly brown hair. Divining the intentions of the culprit, Jarod moved to try and prevent the situation. What he saw stopped him in his tracks. As the sunlight flickered off the blade which appeared from out of the strange man's sleeve, Jarod saw the girl's leg fly up and hit the man's wrist, sending the blade spinning down the footpath towards Jarod, who placed his foot on it instinctively. As he watched, open-mouthed, the former aggressor was treated to some superior karate moves, which left him gasping for breath. Smothering his laughter, Jarod moved in to separate the two, fearing, it must be admitted, more for the safety of the young man than of his prospective victim.

His initial attempt to restrain the movements of the woman met with little success. Finally, however, he managed to stop the aggressive action and gave the man opportunity to escape, a chance which was quickly taken. Eventually Jarod felt that it was safe to let the woman's arms go and, fearful, as ever, of being hindered, he turned to leave. A laugh made him turn back and, for the first time, he looked at the girl he had 'saved'. The sparkling blue eyes held his gaze for a moment before he had liberty to notice, and instantly recognize, the chestnut curls cascading down her back and which she brushed away from her face with an impatient hand.

Before he had a chance to speak, she turned on her heel and began striding away. He stood, stunned, for a moment, before chasing after her. She turned up a small side street and, getting to the mouth of it only seconds later, Jarod saw the girl enter a small, tumbledown apartment block. By the time she had reached the door of her apartment and was hunting for her key, he was standing behind her. About to touch her on the shoulder, he first coughed slightly, both to clear his throat and to alert her to his presence.


"Jarod, I know you're there. Will you come in?"


Without waiting for an answer, she threw open the door and walked into the light and airy apartment, Jarod following close behind. He closed the door behind him as she hung the key to the outer door up on a conveniently placed hook and then led the way into the living room.


"Would you like to sit down? I'll go and get us something to drink."

Not knowing exactly what else to do, Jarod took a seat on one of the two lounge chairs in the room. With his back to the wall, he was able to take in the pleasant aspect of the room before his host returned, carrying a laden tray. While she poured the drinks, he was able, for the first time, to get a good look at the person who had forced herself upon his notice. Feeling his gaze, she looked up and smiled.


"I believe I have something of yours. Allow me to return it."


While Jarod sat, confused, the girl slipped through a door, only to return carrying a very familiar-looking case. Leaping out of his seat, Jarod grabbed it from her and opened it. As he hunted through, checking that nothing was missing, the girl spoke again.


"It still works; I checked."


"You mean you..."


"Watched the tapes - never! I wouldn't pry into your life! No, I ran a few other things, though, and it works fine now. I had to do a little cleaning out though. Apparently pond weed and technical equipment don't like each other much." She sat back and sipped her coffee as her eyes danced in amusement and her lips twitched. Jarod, finally reassured, sat back on his seat and looked at her incredulously.


"Why?"


"Sensible question."


"Good. Now how about a sensible answer?"


"Okay. Ummm - because."


Jarod was becoming frustrated. "How about something I can understand?"


A grin curled the edges of the girl's mouth. "Maybe if you don't understand the answer, it's because you're asking the wrong questions, Jarod."


"How did you know my name?"


She grinned. "Wouldn't you like to know?!"


He glared at her. "Stop playing games with me!"


She yielded. "Oh, all right. I heard somebody say it in the office, a bit over a week ago."


"You're not still working there, are you?"


"No. I didn't stay very long."


"How did you get my case?"


"I rescued it when I rescued you - remember?"


"I have a hard time forgetting it."


"Oh, come on. You only spent a week in hospital afterwards."


"How did you know?"


"That's my little secret."


"When I was put into the ambulance, you weren't there."


"Not as far as you could see, anyway."


Jarod was becoming more frustrated with the ambiguous responses and he finally allowed it to show, snapping at her. "For God's sake, give me a straight answer!"


With affected innocence the girl grinned. "Gee, maybe that stay in the hospital did have an effect. Usually you're nice to people, like when you 'saved' me just now." There was a pause. "Oh, by the way, coffee's better hot than cold."


Jarod took a sip of his drink before replying. "What's your name?"


"I've been wondering when you'd ask. It's Susan."


"Susan what?"


"Not sure."


"What do you mean?"


"I never had a chance to meet my father and I've never really bothered to find out what my name was when I was registered at birth."


"Go on."


"We - my mother and I - moved around a lot, escaping from her abusive boyfriends mainly, and at every place and every new school I had a new surname. It's kind of a hard habit to break."


"Doesn't it bother you, not knowing who you really are?"


"Not really. I mean, if I was ever inspired to look and find out, I might get involved but I figure that what I don't know can't hurt me. Actually it's kind of fun sometimes. It's not like anyone deliberately hid the truth from me - at least I don't think they did."


"What do you do?"


"As a job, you mean? Actually, I drift a lot. I've done a few things - taxi driver, microbiologist, office clerk, traffic cop. I like the variety."


"That's a heck of a jump!"


"True. I get sick of the same thing all the time - maybe it's from always moving when I was younger. Then, like now, I could always meet new people and make new friends. Of course, I've had to leave a lot of them behind but that's something you get used to."

Jarod opened his mouth but closed it again until he could organize his thoughts to frame a proper question. Susan stood and went over to the window. Then she turned to him.


"I'll tell you what happened and then you won't have to get all hot and bothered, asking questions. At the time you got knocked into the water of that lake, I was getting ready to practice a hobby of mine. Scuba diving, before you ask. Anyway, I heard the splash and thought that no one in their right mind was going to dive into that end of the lake. There's usually a big sign there, warning of the dangers of diving into the shallows. If anyone were going to dive, they'd use the deep end, which was where I was. So I swam around the curve of the lake but, even though I was under water, I could still hear a second splash, which was not as big as the first one. That's when I got suspicious. When I came around, I couldn't see anyone, but there was an object that sank as I neared it and which turned out to be your hand. Anyway I pulled you out and dragged you onto the bank. You were still breathing but I cleared some of the weeds away from around your face and I thought you were coming around and, so you'd know you weren't alone, I talked to you. I said..."


"..."It's all right. I've got you. You're okay now." "


"Very good," she said condescendingly, with a grin. "I wondered if you'd remember. Anyway I stayed there until the ambulance arrived and then, when I told the guys what they wanted to know, I went back to rescue that case of yours. It’d become wedged under the pier. When I was in the water again, and after you were put into the ambulance, I decided it would be better to just keep swimming, and so I left. I'm not one for drawing attention to myself."


"Then you'd better quit using karate moves on people when you're standing on a public street!"


"Oh, come on, Jarod. What else did you expect me to do? Let him take my bag? I'm not going to do that! Anyway I learnt to defend myself so that people wouldn't treat me the way they treated my mother. Ever since I was really little I decided that I wouldn't put up with that kind of thing from anyone. I actually teach classes in it every now and again. Karate, that is. Not the behaviour itself."


"Sounds good. Maybe I should learn."


"I think you'd probably pick it up pretty quickly. Of course, if your going to continue to hang around with the people who sent you for that unexpected swim, the sooner you do it, the better for everyone, especially yourself."


"How do you know about that?"


"When I pulled up to the parking lot, I saw a car there that everyone in this area's pretty familiar with, and avoids like the plague. There's a well-known gang that hangs around and causes trouble. They've been involved with every dirty deal in this area that's occurred over the past few years. The faces may change but the cars, the attitude, the money - never. The only reason that the police aren't after them is that half of the police are under their thumbs in the biggest way. In fact I think half the population of this place owes them something. I've seen them walk into a shop and walk out with half the stuff and the store owners obligingly reroute the film through the security cameras to make it look as though nothing happened. It's all petty stuff but there's usually a big thing behind all the little things."


"Big?"


"Yeah, you know. Kidnapping, drug-dealing, murder. Anything that'll really scoop in the money. That's the only part of the gang thing that's any kind of secret."


"But, wait a minute. If it's secret, how do you know about it?"


Susan shuffled her feet and looked down at the carpet without speaking.


"You might as well tell me."


"What could you do? You work in an office, remember? As an accountant. They don't usually have much sway. Unless, of course, you decided to take part in a massive job change, as big..."


Susan stopped speaking, giving Jarod the opportunity to confirm what he had been beginning to suspect all along. "...as big as some of yours. Come on, give. What are you, really? A spy?"


"Not...not exactly."


"Tell me."


Susan stood up from the seat she had taken only minutes before and, walking over to Jarod, stood over him with her arms folded and a big grin on her face. "Just a minute, here. I saved you from almost certain death and I think that gives me the right to a privilege or two. Like, how do you go from being involved with a gang like this one, which has connections all over the state..."


"Country."


"Whatever. And don't interrupt. It's rude. To continue... from a gang this size to working with the best accountancy firm in the district. That's a bigger jump than some of the ones I've tried myself. I think we could be sharing more than just hair color here. There's no chance of you - us - being overheard here so what say you tell me your history and then I'll tell you mine."

* * *


There was a moment of silence once Susan had finished speaking and Jarod tried, vainly, to conceal his astonishment.


"Just to clarify...you're a...Pretender? Like me?"


"Well, I never called it that. It was just a gift I had. But, yes, I suppose so."


"Wow!"


"I don't know why you're so surprised about it. I mean, you knew that other Pretenders existed."


"Yes. But not outside the Centre."


"I should introduce you to my friend. She's like me too."


Jarod stood and went over to the window and rested his head on the glass. "I can't cope with this! You mean there's more of you?"


"Just the two of us, so far. Look, let me get Jaclyn. She only lives next door."


When Jarod turned around it was to find himself alone and he had time to become a little wary before Susan reappeared, towing another girl after her.


"Jaclyn, this is Jarod."


"Nice to meet you."


Even as Jarod shook hands with the stranger, a plan was forming in his mind. The three sat down and exchanged stories of their different lives and work. Eventually Jarod asked a question that he had been considering for some time.


"Have either of you ever considered secretarial work? I've heard a rumor..."


* * *


Sydney was at home that evening, finishing some work, when the phone rang.


"This is Sydney."


"You're not still working? That's not like you."


"Jarod, hi! No, I'm almost done for the day."


"Gee, and it's only just after ten. I can remember nights when we worked until after midnight."


Sydney tried to detect bitterness or reproach in Jarod voice but was unable to do so. "If you miss it, I'm sure Raines wouldn't object if we used some of the Centre's facilities."


"Thanks, but no. I'll just live on the memories. And the DSAs. Of course you know that it's not healthy for a man in your position to work as hard as you do."


"I assume you have a solution..."


"Of course. Don't I always? Except that you can't sell this solution. In fact, it might actually cost you money."


"Go on."


"A secretary."


"A what?"


"No, not a what. A secretary. Most people use them now. I've been one myself."


"Wait. Let me get this straight. You're offering yourself...to me...as a secretary?"


"Of course not! I'm not going to do your job for you! I just thought that maybe it could work, that's all. Give everyone a bit more spare time, give you a better chance to actually get all your files up to date - there's a heap of stuff missing, by the way."


"How do you know?"


"I looked. How else do you thing I'd be able to know?"


"Were you looking for anything in particular?"


"Are you offering to help me look?"


"Well, no. I'd like to live a little longer."


"Then you should work less hard. Listen, how would this do? In the Classifieds section of the newspaper: 'Wanted. A secretary with basic typing, word processing and virus debugging skills for a large firm with regular multi-national dealings. Should also be able to deal with regular unlawful technological intruders. Versatility a must, good looks a definite advantage. Must not be turned off by physical defects or massive scarring, particularly baldness and burns. Should also be willing to be under constant scrutiny and to feel constantly repressed at all times. Must not be fearful of dark places or people in dark clothing. Reticent nature an added bonus if includes ability to keep mouth shut.' There, how would that do?"


"Jarod, that fails being funny, it's just pathetic!"


"Oh, come on, Sydney. Just because I poke fun at the place that brought me up, or perhaps dragged me up might be more accurate, that's no reason for you to sound so disapproving. But don't you think a secretary would be a useful thing to have?"


"Well, maybe."


"I'll see if I can't do something about it, then."


Sydney was about to respond when he realized that Jarod had already hung up. It was usually very frustrating when he did that, but, this time, it prevented Jarod from realizing that he, Sydney, had actually found the advertisement he had created somewhat amusing. He just wished that Raines would consider the idea for longer than a few seconds.

* * *


By the time a week had passed, Sydney had completely forgotten the conversation. It was, therefore, something of a surprise when Raines appeared in his office, accompanied by a tall girl with red hair and dark green eyes.


"Sydney, the Tower feels that it's about time you devoted more time to our little 'problem' and left things like filing and typing of notes to an outside source. That's why we brought in a secretary. This is Jaclyn Thomas. She'll be working in the outer desk. And now, if you'll excuse me..."


Raines withdrew and Sydney waved the new employee to a nearby seat.


"Please sit down Ms Thomas..."


"Call me Jaclyn."


"Of course. Tell me about yourself."


"I've been working for a large, multi-national firm for about nine years but they went into liquidation and were forced to close. When I went to the unemployment office, they directed me here."


"Good, good. Do you have the reference from your previous employers?"


"I left that with the man who met me at the entrance. I'm sorry, did I do the wrong thing?"


"No, not at all. Well, I think we may as well get started. Let me introduce you to some of your colleagues."

* * *


Jarod listened through the miniature headset and grinned at Susan. He flicked a small switch on the body of the machine from 'send and receive' to 'receive' and spoke aloud.


"Well, they fell for it, hook, line and sinker."


"You're lucky she was willing to do it."


"Hey, it was a challenge. She enjoys them. We all enjoy them. Besides, if they had suspected anything, I would have had her out of there quicker than a bat out of..."


"Okay, okay, I get the picture. What now?"


"Now we let her get settled in and turn our attention to the next job."


"The girl?"


"You got it?"

* * *


The conversation, after planning the 'invasion' of the Centre, had gone back to the local gang and Jarod, after learning about many of their activities, had decided to shut them down for good. The problem was learning where they were going to strike next. Jarod himself, having already been involved, could not try to permeate the inner circle but Jaclyn, it was decided, would be safe enough. Over the space of a week, as well as priming for her new secretarial post, Jaclyn had been learning about the next 'big' job due to be done by the group. Once she had explained the situation, there was silence in the small room that was Jarod's latest lair.


"I take it these people have no morals," Susan said softly.


"I guess not," the man agreed glumly.


"But to take a dying girl - even one due to inherit as much as she is - it isn't human!" Susan burst out. "Jarod, you don't suppose the Centre - ?"


"I'm often surprised at the lengths they'll go to but, in this case, I don't know what benefit it could be to them. I mean, she doesn't have the predisposition - "


"How do you know?"


"I ran some tests, of course. How else would I find out?"


"Do her parents know?"


"That she's dying or that she's going to be kidnapped?"


"Both."


"Well, they know that cystic fibrosis is fatal but I'm not sure that they're aware of the plot. Actually, it's not them at all. The girl's mother died in a car accident almost a year ago. The money that Mary-Ann is going to inherit was her mothers and, due to a pre-marital agreement, the father can't touch so much as a cent of it. It's all going to go to this girl on her next birthday."


There was another short pause.


"Just out of interest, what is cystic fibrosis?"


"It's a disease where thick mucus is produced and clogs up the lungs. It also affects the sweat glands and digestive tract, meaning that the person can't absorb nutrients properly. Also, in most cases, they have to had a form of therapy every day to clear the mucus out of their lungs."


"What causes it?"


"It's genetic. It's caused by a mutation on a gene. The other problem it that it's fatal. One hundred percent fatal. This girl's got her eighteenth birthday coming up soon but it's unlikely that she'll live to see her twentieth."


"How does the family cope with that?"


"I suspect, like many others, that they see a psychiatrist to help them deal with it. Often the parents become very protecting of a child who has only a limited life-span which damages the child's chance to live a semi-normal life. A psychiatrist can help with that."


"What else can happen? Physically, I mean."


"Chest infections, pneumonia, things like that. Anything that can affect the respiratory or digestive systems. And eventually something just gives and the person dies."

* * *


As Sydney was leaving the office, he dropped a bundle of papers on the desk. The new secretary was making life easier for everyone, although he still had a lot of work that he had to complete personally. It was sometimes tempting to take her along on the searches for Jarod, just to give him a better chance to concentrate on that instead of his other case notes. He smiled at the girl as she moved back from the photocopier to her desk.


"If you could finish those notes before tomorrow afternoon, that would be great."


"Certainly, Dr Green. No problem."


It was interesting how she had adopted that name. He assumed that Miss Parker had probably told her and encouraged her to call him that. The fact that the two women got on so well was a constant source of amusement, particularly since the only other person that Miss Parker actually liked was Debbie, Broots' daughter. With a grin, Sydney got into his car and headed for home.

Miss Parker also stopped by the desk before she left for the night.


"Want to come out and have a coffee somewhere?"


The new assistant looked up with a smile. "I'd love to but I need to finish these before tomorrow. Then I can get on with the files that Mr Raines wants me to organize."


"Bad luck. What say we organize it for a day next week?"


"Sounds great. I'll see you tomorrow."

* * *


Jarod settled his jacket and wiped the grease from his hands onto his overalls before tapping gently on the bedroom door.


"Come in."


He swung the door slightly ajar and stuck his head in through the gap.


"Your dad told me to tell you that dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. He also asked could you please lay the table."


"Sure thing."


Jarod turned to go back down to the garage where the car he had been working on was waiting for him, but the girl’s voice stopped him.


"Jarod?"


He turned. "Yeah?"


"Can I come watch?"


"What would your dad say?"


"I don't know. Maybe, finish your homework and have dinner first."


"Then what say we wait until after that."


"Okay."


It had been great to find that Mary-Ann enjoyed watching him work on the car and in the garden - it was easier to keep an eye on her that way. The actual date for the deal had not yet been struck but Jarod had thought it better to be integrated with the family before it happened. Therefore he had taken the job, primarily of mechanic, but really of general handyman.

Ten minutes later he was called in for dinner and he gave his hands a rapid wash and stripped off his overalls, revealing neat casual clothes beneath, before coming inside. The mansion was so huge that he could hardly restrain a gasp every time he entered it. On this occasion he slid into his place at the foot of the table just before the meal began. For a time there was silence before the conversation started. It was nice, reflected Jarod while he ate, that a powerful business tycoon could still find time to have dinner with his daughter. And there was none of the artificial affection that Jarod had seen in the only other father-daughter relationship he had been witness to.


"Daddy, can I work with Jarod tonight?"


"Sweetie, don't you have a appointment later?"


"Oh yeah." The girl's face fell and she spoke quickly to cover her disappointment. "Are you coming?"


"I'm sorry but I can't. I've got a big meeting. Oh, that reminds me. Jarod, could you take her? You don't have to go in, only wait in the car until she 's finished. It usually only takes an hour or so."


"Sure thing. Can you give me an address?'


"Oh, Mary-Ann can show you where to go."


"No problem."

As Mary-Ann directed him through the streets, a chill of premonition made Jarod shudder slightly. He had been this way several times and it should have occurred to him by now where they were going. He tried to speak lightly but, to him, the tones sounded false.


"What's this guy's name?"


"Dr Green. But he lets me call him Sydney."


"I see. What do you guys talk about?"


"What's happening and how I feel, stuff like that."


Jarod concentrated on driving for a moment, then spoke. "Can you do me a favour? I think I used to know this guy and I'd rather you didn't tell him about me just yet. Is that okay?"


"Sure. When did you meet him?"


"When I was really young."


"Oh, I get it. You ran away and you think he'll be angry at you."


"Something like that."


"Cool! Can I use that for a story I'm writing?"


"You write stories?"


"Yeah. It's good therapy. At least that's what Sydney says. I just love doing it. English is my favorite subject at school because we get heaps of time to write stuff."

"Sounds like fun."


The conversation languished until Jarod pulled up outside Sydney's house. He could see the lights shining through the front window and, as Mary-Ann got out, he was tempted to go with her, just to see Sydney again. It had been months since they had done anything except talk on the phone and he thought that he had never seen Sydney working with children that weren't like himself. Finally the temptation became too much and he got out of the car.

Jarod approached the house and looked for any window under which he could wait and listen to what was occurring. However the coolness of the night meant that Sydney had closed them all. Sighing in frustration, Jarod slipped around the back of the house to a door he knew, had a faulty lock. His assumption that Sydney had not had a chance to fix it proved correct and he slipped, unheard, through the back door and into the kitchen. The floor plan was as well-known to him as the air-ducts within the Centre and he was quickly standing just outside the room where Sydney and Mary-Ann were talking.


"...So how about any new people? Is there anyone new at school this term?"


"There's only one new person in my life but he asked me not to tell you about him."


Jarod flinched in the darkness as he realized that that was enough to make Sydney suspicious. He listened as Sydney feigned nonchalance with his next question. "Really? And what does he do?"


"Oh, a whole heap of stuff. Mostly he's there to fix the car but he runs errands and keeps the garden neat and everything."


"And you really like him, huh?"


"Oh yeah. He's really nice. He drove me here. He said he'd wait in the car but I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you looked at him through the window."


"He didn't want to see me, then?"


"I guess not. He thought maybe you were angry at him for running away."


"Did he tell you that?"


"Um, no. I sort of guessed."


"Ah."


There was a long pause, during which Jarod tried, without success, to see Sydney's face. Finally Mary-Ann spoke again. "Are you angry at him?"


"What?"


The girl repeated the question patiently. "Are you angry with him?"


"No. Not any more."


"But you were."


"He was a very frustrating person."


"And now you miss him." It was not a question.


"How do you know?"


"I can tell by your voice. You loved him, didn't you?"

There was a prolonged silence, which, to Jarod, seemed to go on longer than it really did. Suddenly he heard footsteps coming towards him and he hurriedly backed into a dark corner, behind a chair. No sooner had he done so then the light in the room was switched on. Peering around the edge of the chair, Jarod saw that Sydney was standing, with his back to both the chair and the door leading to the kitchen, bent over a dresser with his head bowed. Although he said nothing, Jarod could see Sydney's shoulders move with quick, short breaths. Looking to see that the door to the inner room was shut, Jarod stood and moved over so that his back was towards the kitchen. Then, finally, he spoke.


"Hello, Sydney."


Sydney spun around, his face pale with shock.


"My God, Jarod. What are you doing here?"


"You know. I heard you talking about me."


"How did you know that was you?"


"The same way you did. Come on, Sydney, don't play dumb! You know that I know that you know it was me she were talking about."


There was a prolonged pause, during which Sydney studied the pattern of his carpet and Jarod watched the older man's face to read his expression.


"When she's finished, send her out. I'll be waiting."


"Jarod, wait..."


"Well?"


"How do you know I won't call Miss Parker?"


"I trust you, like Mary-Ann trusts you. And she wouldn't trust you for much longer if she saw her beloved friend dragged off at gun-point now, would she?" Jarod flashed a grin. "I'll wait in the car."


And he was gone. With a sigh, Sydney turned back into the sitting room for the rest of the session.

* * *


All Mary-Ann talked about during the car trip was the session with Sydney. Once at home, she went to her room to begin on her latest story - an imaginary biography of Jarod's life. Jarod couldn't help but suspect that Sydney may have told her something about him during the rest of the hour and he had begged to be allowed to read the story once it was finished. In the meantime he quickly finished the work he had been doing on the 'spare' car and then went to his own series of rooms above the garage. He was hard pressed not to call Sydney but remembered that there was supposed to have been a gathering and planning session of the gang that day. So he called Jaclyn.


"Hi, this is Jarod."


"Hi! I went to the meeting today. Jarod, they're planning to make a move on Monday. They know that her father will be away for that day and for the three following. And someone said that they were going to get that girl and no one and nothing would stand in their way! Just so you know."


"Oh, hell. That only gives us four days to work with. Look, is Susan there?"


"Why, have you got an idea?'


"I think so. Can you organize the phone so I can talk to both of you at once?"


"Sure, just a sec."


As Jarod explained his plans, both girls took notes for their respective parts on the activity and, when he hung up, Jarod was grinning. He opened his computer and prepared several messages, none of which he sent but all of which could be easily activated at one time by a central command. Next he set up the computer to run a detailed search. Then, finally, he called Sydney.

"This is Sydney."


"I know," the Pretender retorted, grinning.


"I didn't think you'd call."


"Oh, gee. I guess that means that either I'm becoming less predictable or else you're forgetting what I'm like, amazing as that may seem. What a choice!"


"Can we, just for once, drop the sarcasm?"


"You know I only do it to annoy you."


"Yes. I know."


There was a long pause.


"Jarod, why did you call?"


"I wanted to know if you said anything about me to Mary-Ann."


"Who?"


"Oh, don't be stupid, Sydney! You know who I'm talking about. Your patient. Mary-Ann."


"Yes. Well?"


"What did you say to her about me?"


"Nothing, why?"


"So she's going to write my biography out of her head?"


"She has a very good imagination, Jarod. I have no doubt she’ll write it very well."


"But it doesn't surprise you that she's going to write it."


"I believe she mentioned something about it, yes."


"God, Sydney. You're about as see-through as Broots is, when you're trying to get him to lie about some-thing! It's no wonder I'm still out here, with the two of you working together. And when you add Miss Parker to the equation..." With a final, derisive snort, Jarod hung up the phone.

* * *


Five days later Jaclyn arrived for work, almost half an hour late, but discovered that the usually bustling halls were silent. She spend most of the day divided between her work and the memories of the struggle with the gang the previous night. Of course, they hadn't had to do most of the work. There were plenty of people, exploited by the gang, who had been overjoyed at the chance of revenge. The meeting, to which Jarod, through messages sent to newspapers and the local television, had managed to call the local residents, had shown the gang just how many lives they had damaged or destroyed. The mock-trial, all four hours of it, had been followed by the dumping of the 'guilty' party and she, Susan and Jarod had spent most of the time highly amused by the whole business while Mary-Ann slept at Susan's flat.

The day was drawing to a close and most people had left before Miss Parker appeared and strolled up to her desk, sitting on the edge.


"Have you heard?"


"Obviously not. What is it that I'm supposed to have heard?"


"This morning there was a whole group of guys being held by security when I turned up to work. Their story is that they were going to kidnap a little girl and found a note, supposedly written by the girl, telling her father that their mechanic was taking him to a place - which, the note said, was here - and so they came and broke in. Security found them in SL9, completely lost. Raines is going to hand them over to the police for trespass."


"The police? Really? He's going to let the police come here?"


"God, no! They're going to be taken to the shed just outside the grounds and locked in. The police can come and pick them up from there."

* * *


As the day drew to a close , Jaclyn looked up to see Jarod and Susan open a door at the far end of the hall and begin to walk towards her. As she was about to verbally greet them, she heard footsteps in the office behind her, approaching the door. With vigorous hand gestures she sought to try and warn them and Susan, placing a warning hand of Jarod's shoulder, prevented them both from approaching. Jarod stood, confused, as one of the doors into the hallway swung open and Miss Parker appeared, almost in front of him. In terror, he turned to Susan, but her expression forced him to remain silent.

Miss Parker stopped by the desk for the second time that day after a casual glance up and down the deserted hall.


"Want to go for that coffee now?"


Jaclyn looked up and forced a grimace onto her face.


"I'd love to but my nose is being held to the grindstone. Tell you what. I should have finished these in an hour so I'll come by and pick you up then and we can go somewhere and pick up something for dinner."


"Sure thing. See you then."


As Miss Parker turned down the hall, she thought she saw a figure out of the corner of her eye but, turning quickly, she was confounded by the still-empty passage. With a slight shake of her head, she slipped though the self-locking door and left the building.

Jaclyn heaved a sigh of relief and turned away from the door and back to where her friends had been.


"All clear. She can't get back through that. It locks from the inside."


Susan's voice came out of nowhere, into her mind. "And there's no-one else here? Or any other way in?"


"No."


Jaclyn waited for the slight pressure on her mind to dissipate before she looked at the spot where her friends had been and was relieved to see that they were both there. Susan sighed with relief as she was able to relax and become visible to Jaclyn, although she still had to be sure that the cameras would not pick up the image of either herself or Jarod, who was looking from one girl to another with a bemused expression.


"I assume you've got a reasonable and rational explanation for what just happened then."


"Explanation? Yes. Reasonable and rational? Probably not. At least, most people don't think so."


"Well?"


"Just one thing first. Sue, is it working with the video cameras?"



"Well, I'm waiting for the alarms to go off but they haven't as yet so either the computer system's really slack here, or else, yes, it's working."


"I'm waiting!"


"And patience always was one of your great virtues wasn't it Jarod? Okay, okay. Stop glaring at me like that. I'll tell you."

Susan settled herself on the edge of Jaclyn's desk and Jarod took the chair that sat in front of it. The two women exchanged glances before Jaclyn spoke.


"Jarod, did you ever read that people only use about fifteen percent of their brain capacity?"


"I think I might have heard of something like that but I don't see..." The rest of Jarod's words were cut off as, with a wave of her hand, Susan silenced his voice, although his lips continued to move. When he stopped, confused, she laughed at him.


"Look, give us time to get through the explanations before you try to provide any of your own, okay?"


Jarod nodded and Jaclyn continued.


"Susan discovered, and God only knows how she discovered it, that, if she concentrates, she can alter her physical state. I don't mean that she can shape-shift. Only that she can make other people's brains believe that she isn't there."


"Like ESP?"


"No, not exactly. It's more like just shutting down that part of their perception. They simply can't see her and look right through her, literally, although sometimes they can see her shadow out of the corner of their eye. Luckily for you, it also works with other people, provided she has some sort of physical contact with them at the time."


"Sounds like something that should be on the X-files!"


"Oh, it has been! Don't worry, we've made our small investment by writing a script for them. You don't think we'd let a chance like that go, do you?"


"Can you do it now?"


"Of course." At the word Susan vanished from view. As she did so, Jaclyn turned her head slightly to the left until her eyes were focused on a point above Jarod's head.


"What are you doing?"


"She's behind you."


"How do you know?"


"She taught me. Although I can't get quite to the point of disappearing myself, I can tell, by the pressure on my mind, where she is."

Jarod waited for the figure to reappear but, before he could do so, something else startled him. Out of a nearby door the figure of Sydney appeared in the corridor. Jarod jumped up and tried to run but found that he was unable to move. A laugh from behind him made him turn and he saw Susan standing, with a grin on her face.


"Don't worry. He's not really there."


"But he is! I just saw him! He was over..." Jarod's voice died away as he looked at the spot where Sydney had been and saw that it was empty.


Jaclyn laughed as Susan moved back and sat on the desk again.


"Don't get so upset, Jarod. It's just another little ability that Susan has. She can make you think you're seeing people and objects when they're not really there. You could even have a discussion with the person if you wanted to and you wouldn't notice anything unusual."


Jarod sat back with his mouth open and stared at the slim, laughing girl.


"I've got two more nitpicks. One is my voice. How did you stop me from talking? And how did you stop me from moving just now?"


"That's a combination of a couple of things. One is the mind games that I can play but it's a little more complicated than that. The first thing you have to understand is that my mother liked dabbling in witchcraft."


"In what?"


"Witchcraft. You've seriously never heard of witchcraft ? Never seen Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie or Sabrina? No? You had a sadly deprived life! How about magic then?"


"You aren't telling me anything I don't already know about my life and, if witchcraft is another name for magic, then it makes sense."


"Well, anyway, my mother spent her educational years at a school on the East Coast, which was set up for really gifted children and one of her teachers, who was an amateur magician, taught her a few tricks, which she, in turn, taught me. Naturally, because I can muck about with people's minds and make them see whatever I want them to, I've always been pretty successful. But two of the things were how to take a person's voice and how to freeze their actions. I only use them in emergencies, though, because they take a lot of energy…"


"Just a sec. Your mom went to a school on the East Coast? When?"


"In the fifties. I'm twenty-something and she was about thirty years older than I. And, before you ask, yes. The school was in Delaware. Don't worry. I've established the connection already. I started looking around in their files after I got the password from you."


"But I never gave it to you."


"You didn't have to. I'm not a mind-reader but, when you were planning revenge on that gang, you used the codes so often that they showed up in your dreams. I just 'borrowed' them from there."


"You can see into my dreams?"


"Oh yes! But I only do it when I have to."


"So you searched the files?"


"Yeah, but there's nothing there."


"By the way Jarod, I had to stop your search of the files. The computer was about two seconds away from detecting an intruder and, when I realized it was you, shut down your system."


"Thanks, I think."


Jaclyn's watch beeped at this point and the secretary bounded to her feet.


"Gotta go. I have to go and pick up Miss Parker for that coffee."


"When did you set your watch?"


Susan spoke while Jaclyn picked up her bag. "Oh, I did that. I can get inside inanimate objects too, you know. That's actually easier."


The two women laughed again at Jarod's expression as they left the building.

* * *


Jarod dropped Mary-Ann off for the last time at her session with Sydney and settled down to read his copy of the story she had written. She had been disappointed when told that the company he worked for was transferring him across to the other side of the country but had accepted it. Although Jarod didn't usually tell people when he was planning to leave, it had seemed cruel to simply desert this girl who had already lost many of her friends. As he did so, a piece of newspaper flapped up against the windscreen of the car and, through the open window, Jarod reached out and grabbed it. It was a piece from the local paper and told the story of the final destruction of the gang, including seizure of their assets to pay numerous people.

The conversation which had created the idea had begun innocently, after the three Pretenders had seen an article on a news program exposing many of the activities of the gang.


"I've heard a rumour..."


At this juncture Susan groaned and threw a cushion at Jarod. "Lat time you said that we got embroiled with a massive gang. What have you got planned for us this time?"


"Well, actually, it still involves the same gang. Do you remember that you told me about the way the gang members could walk into shops and just take things? Well, don't you think the victims will want compensation for that?"


"Suing the gang, you mean? But for that we'd need a lawyer and...Jarod, you're not suggesting that I...?"


"Well, who else is there? I mean the gang has already seen me and you know the problem we had keeping Jaclyn out of sight at the mock-trial. It would be worse this time. So that leaves you."


"Why wouldn't the trial we organized be enough?"


"Well, it gave people emotional revenge but emotional revenge isn't going to help them pay back their creditors, is it?"


Susan turned to Jaclyn with a rueful expression on her face. "I had the feeling, even when I was swimming over to him, that he wasn't going to make our lives any easier, or more peaceful! Maybe I should just have left him there!"


"Oh, very funny! But you'll do it?"


"You always did like helping people, didn't you?"


"Well, I can understand how they must feel!"


This time it was Jaclyn who threw a cushion at him. "Enough, already. We'll do it. Just shut up, will you?"

* * *


Sydney stood at the door of his house and watched as the car drove away. He had wanted a few words with Jarod, just to talk about the story he had read that evening, as well as find out how everything was going. It had taken Sydney only a matter of second to connect the strange occurrences at the Centre with Jarod, but he wondered how it had been done. Sydney sighed as he turned back inside but stopped short at the sight of the young man standing in the doorway to the living room.


"What are you doing here? Didn't you just drive off?"


"Well, I could hardly be there and here at the same time, could I?"


As Sydney closed the front door and ushered his protg into the living room, he failed to notice a young girl standing in the shadows. A smile twisted her lips as she stood for a minute - and then vanished!









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