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Vanished


By Gemini-M


Chapter 1


Disclaimer: The Pretender and all its characters are not mine. They
belong to NBC, MTM, TNT, and its Producers. I'm just borrowing them to write
this story for entertainment. No infringement intended.


Author's Note: Thanks to my Beta Reader, Jaccione for all her wonderful
help. To all the readers, I hope that you like my story and I'm looking forward
to reading your reviews. Thanks and enjoy.


"It's Choice not chance that determines your destiny." Jean
Nidetch.


The waves gently washed over his feet as he walked along the deserted beach.
This was his favorite time of the day. The Florida sun was just beginning to
rise over the horizon and its warm rays displayed a magnificent reflection over
the crystalline blue waters. Once again, he had found himself running from
another lonely hotel room to escape the demons that lived in his dreams and
terrorized his few hours of sleep. Here at the ocean's edge he would try to find
some refuge from his tormentors. The soft rhythmic murmur of the waves and the
cries of the sea birds above helped to ease his nerves and allowed his mind to
focus on the events to come. Remembering some of the breathing exercises Sydney
had taught him as a boy, he closed his eyes and inhaled the cool salty air. He
focused all his senses on the world around him and savored these few moments of
peace. Soon the beach would be invaded with sunbathing teenagers and families
trying to get away from their busy monotonous lives to enjoy a few hours of
peace and relaxation.


Peace was something he could indulge in as well on this glorious morning, but
his was never complete. He was always wary of his surroundings and relaxing for
him was a luxury that could carry a high price, his freedom. This was his life,
a constant race for survival just to stay one step ahead of those who pursued
him tirelessly day and night.


He stopped and observed the white foamy waves as they washed the sand and
tugged at his feet. The current was strong and he had to fight against its pull
to keep his balance. Here before him was the perfect metaphor of his life. The
powerful ocean waves pulled him in like the people that had controlled his life
since childhood, preventing him from finding his identity, his family and home.
Standing here all alone on this desolate beach, he had come to a decision. The
time had come to pull away from these forces of evil and make a life of his own,
and even though it troubled him to leave his friends behind, he had no
choice.


After his return from the Island of Carthis four months ago, he had cut all
communications with his hunters. He stopped leaving clues for them, and he had
ceased to call Sydney and Miss Parker. He could not deny that he missed the
talks with his mentor, but on the other hand, he was certain that Miss Parker
was enjoying more restful nights without his midnight wake-up calls. This hiatus
was needed to sort out his troubled thoughts and to help him come to the
decision he had finally taken.


He closed his eyes and remembered Sydney's words, "It's better to have loved
and lost than never to have loved at all." True, he had loved her since they
were young, but... "No fool, you still love her, but you finally had to accept
your defeat and her rejection; Stop punishing yourself." Jarod scolded himself
and shook his head in an effort to erase her image from his mind, but he knew
that was impossible. It was like telling his lungs not to take in oxygen or to
ask the sun not to rise. Parker always had that power over him and his heart
ached with sadness and guilt at the prospect of leaving his friend behind. Her
memories would always haunt him no matter where he went. She was his life and
his nemesis.


Since their first meeting in that cold Sim Lab, she had captivated his heart
and soul, like a bright light that brought a little happiness and hope into his
lonely world. Unfortunately, she too was a prisoner of that Hell and all those
years of betrayal, lies and pain had carved deep wounds that shattered the sweet
little girl he once knew. More than anything in the world, he wanted to stop her
pain and free her, but the powers that be had stolen her remote possibility at
happiness and twisted her reality to a point where she saw no escape from that
abyss. He could only hope that someday she would find the truth she was seeking
and free herself to find the love she truly deserved. With a heavy heart he made
his choice. Starting today, he would focus all his energy and thoughts to the
task of finding his family and leave his past behind forever. Maybe someday he
too would find someone who could love him and help him forget and heal. But for
now, it was time to end the game, cut all ties and vanish.


The Centre


The aging psychologist walked slowly down the hall towards the Sim Lab,
carrying his usual load of files and his morning cup of coffee. This was his
daily ritual, stop by the cafeteria to get a freshly brewed cup of coffee and
then prepare the material for the daily tests at the Sim Lab, but today his
stride seemed slower than usual and fragile. He felt drained of energy and
distracted. The last few weeks he had noticed this change. He was getting
exhausted easier and he was having trouble focusing.


Sydney sighted and thought to himself, "Looks like age and constant stress is
finally catching up with me, maybe I should start thinking about my
retirement."


This last few weeks the atmosphere at the Centre had been very stressful to
all those involved in the Pretender retrieval project. The Triumvirate was
growing impatient and was demanding results in the hunt for the elusive
pretender. There were rumors that Miss Parker's team was going to be dissolved
and new players were going to take over the hunt for Jarod. Sydney dreaded to
think about the possibility of Mr. Lyle and his associates taking control of the
Pretender retrieval assignment. He knew the hatred this mad man had towards
Jarod and combined with his hunger to reach the chairmanship at the Centre would
make him capable of anything. All these factors could easily dictate a death
sentence for Jarod and Miss Parker's team.


In the past, he had begged Jarod to just vanish and forget about them and the
Centre, but his stubborn pupil continued the cat and mouse game and his search
for the truth. Now this long period of silence from the Pretender had started a
chain reaction of events that could only spell disaster to all those involved.
Sydney felt helpless and frustrated not being able to give Jarod some kind of
warning. In desperation, he had sent numerous e-mails to his Refuge account, but
had no response. He could only pray that maybe this time Jarod had finally taken
his advice and had chosen to disappear for good.


Sydney sighed and scolded himself for thinking so negatively. Jarod was a
genius and if he had managed to avoid the Centre's clutches for over five years,
a change in the retrieval team was not going to affect him a great deal;
furthermore, Miss Parker would not allow Mr. Lyle to take over her assignment in
order to assure his ascent in the Centre hierarchy.


Sydney smiled as a new thought invaded his mind. No matter how well she hid
her feelings from others, behind that Ice queen mask, she could not fool this
old man. His years had made him wise and he knew that, like her mother, she had
a kind soul. She would never allow any harm to come to Jarod as long as she was
in the Centre. Jarod and Parker had been inseparable during their isolated
childhood and even though circumstances had torn them apart, they still shared a
bond the Centre could never understand or break. He remembered Catherine's
wishes to raise them together and to protect them, for she knew that one day
these two special children would abolish the evil that was germinating at The
Centre.


Sydney entered his small office in the Sim lab and threw all his test
material on top of his desk. He dropped heavily on his chair and brought the
warm cup of coffee to his lips once more, enjoying its aroma while he glanced
through the morning paper. He knew it was going to be another long day, so he
might as well take advantage of these few minutes of peace and quiet before the
lab technicians and test subjects started to arrive.


Sydney looked at the clock on the wall as he heard the lab doors opening and
the whispered voices of the first lab technicians. He folded his newspaper and
rubbed his tired eyes. It was the beginning of another day bringing him closer
to his damnation. As long as he remained within these cursed walls and worked
for the devil, he condemned himself to an eternity in the fires of hell, but he
had no choice. Sydney sighted with sadness and resignation for he understood
that as long as Jarod and Parker were considered Centre property, he would
remain here to protect them. As he stood from his chair and reached for his cup
of coffee, Sydney's world became a blur and the room started to spin
uncontrollably. Stricken with confusion and panic, he franticly reached for the
desk to steady himself but his clouded vision betrayed him and he crashed to the
floor. The last thing Sydney saw were distorted white covered figures running
toward him before his world descended into darkness.


TBC












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