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“Sydney, I’ll do the simulation.” Jarod’s voice was spiritless. “Just make them let me out of here and back to my own room.”
Sydney stood looking at Jarod for a long moment. What had they done to him? He knew Jarod was having nightmares, and not just about the friendly janitor he had watched them kill to make him obey. There was something else, but Jarod said he couldn’t remember anything but the horror of the dreams. Sydney felt some of the defeat he saw in Jarod’s eyes. So many years spent working with Jarod, fostering his intelligence, his interest in his work, his goodness of heart, doing all he could to protect him from the worst aspects of the Centre, and now Jarod’s own stubbornness was going to expose him to it. Unless they had finally managed to break his spirit, in the three weeks Sydney had been so conveniently got out of the way. For thirty years Sydney had watched Jarod’s spirit burning bright, unquenchable despite the unorthodoxy and frequent pain of his life. Surely he wasn’t now watching it die away? He didn’t think he could bear that. “Jarod—” he said softly.
“Please, Sydney. I just want to be in my own room.” And he turned away, lying on the bed facing the wall.
“I’ll see to it, Jarod.”
“What was Angelo doing in the guard room?” Mr. Raines demanded.
“Apparently he wanted to see Jarod,” Sydney answered. “He can sense his pain from quite a distance, it seems. But when he got to the guard room he was distracted by one of the guards who is going though a divorce. He is easily distractible, especially when someone near him is feeling something quite intensely. He had the guard in tears.”
“The man should be shot.”
“Who? The guard or Angelo?”
“The guard. Angelo is too valuable, even if he is a nuisance. Jarod has decided to cooperate now, has he?”
“Yes. Letting Angelo see him might have had something to do with it. But he says he has to be in his own room. He can’t think in a holding cell.”
Raines gave a short, unamused laugh. “He can go back anytime…now.”
“Raines, I wish you would tell me—”
Raines’ head swiveled around. “What was that?”
The shrill voice of a girl could be heard in the corridor outside the laboratory. “Let me go!”
Sam the Sweeper flung the door open. “Mr. Raines, we’ve caught an intruder!”
“An intruder?” Raines and Sydney both repeated.
“In the Centre?” Sydney said. “Has that ever happened before?” People usually wanted to get out of the Centre, not in.
Sam and Willie brought the struggling girl in. She was short, stocky in an attractive way, blonde, and very pretty. She was also very young and rather grubby.
“What is this?” Raines demanded.
She crossed her arms and glared at him. “He said there weren’t going to be any zombies.”
Sydney cocked his head. London accent? Cockney? Not something you would expect from a Centre intruder.
“Just you wait until my daddy finds out about the way your sweepers have treated me, Mr. Raines! Or should I say Doctor Raines?”
“Who are you?” Raines growled at her.
“Miss Tyler!” came a new voice from the doorway. Five heads swiveled this time. The new intruder was a tall man, hair cropped short, very long nose and wide mouth, wearing jeans, a black leather jacket, and a smirk. “There you are! You have given me quite a chase, young lady. As soon as my assignment here is cleared up, I am taking you straight home.”
Another Brit? Northern England, Sydney decided.
“No. I’m not going home. You tell Mutumbo it’s not his job to send sweepers after me. If Daddy wants me home, he can jolly well come here and fetch me himself.”
Raines dragged his oxygen tank forward and glared up at the tall man. “What is going on? Who are you?”
“I’m the Doctor.” He smiled widely beneath his long nose.
“Doctor? Doctor Who?”
“Just ‘the Doctor.’ My business here is with you, Mr. Raines. Mutumbo sent me.” He pulled a wallet out of his pocket and flashed what was clearly a Triumvirate authorization, signed by Mutumbo, in Raines’ face. “It also incidentally happens to be with Mr. Tyler’s little girl.”
“I’m not a child anymore!” Miss Tyler shouted at him. “And I don’t want to go back to Africa! I hate Africa! I want to go back to London where I belong!”
“Who is Mr. Tyler?” Raines snapped. “And what is his kid doing in the Centre?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t have heard of Mr. Tyler, Mr. Raines. But he’s valuable enough that Mutumbo is even willing to put up with his spoiled brat to have his assistance in Africa. She stowed away aboard my plane, thinking I was going to Dover. Dover, England, not Dover, Delaware.”
“I like Delaware,” Miss Tyler announced. “And I really like the famous Centre. Really neat place. Wicked. You know I’ve been here a day and a half and none of you ever knew? The poor Doctor has been searching for me all over Delaware, and here I’ve been.” She edged up to Sydney and smiled at him. She had a dazzling smile, one that made her face glow. “You’ve been doing some interesting experiments, Doctor Sydney. I liked the one with the little twin boys. Do you think they could actually read each other’s minds?”
Sydney chuckled with a sly enjoyment of Raines’ predicament. “I’m not sure yet. Identical twins do have a very special connection. Are you interested in twins, Miss Tyler?”
“Of course! Who isn’t?”
The Doctor interrupted them. “Sydney, keep the child occupied while I talk to Mr. Raines. Don’t let her escape. Alright, Mr. Raines. Mutumbo sent me to find out why you’ve been keeping the Centre’s biggest discovery from him.”
“Discovery? I haven’t been keeping any discovery from the Triumvirate—”
Sydney quite enjoyed talking to Miss Tyler. She was a change from his normal subjects, a chaotic but vivacious seventeen-year old with no mother and no home life to speak of. He could see that her antics were an effort to get her father’s attention, not really a bid to go home to England.
“Tell me about your father, Miss Tyler.”
She made a face. “What’s there to tell, Syd? He’s a workaholic. So he works for Mutumbo. Big deal. That man thinks he’s a king.”
“Well, he is, in a way.”
“The important thing is my father thinks he is. Mutumbo says Jump, and Daddy jumps. Doesn’t matter that he promised to take me to the wildlife reserve last week. No, he has to run off on another assignment for King Mutumbo. It’s not fair! He should be here!” Angry tears started out of her eyes. “I hate Africa, and I hate Mutumbo.”
“Your father is probably trying to protect you, Miss Tyler. It’s not an easy thing working for the Triumvirate. He probably has no choice—anymore than the rest of us do.”
Miss Tyler stared at him. “Is that why you do it, Sydney? Why you work here and do experiments on little children?”
He stared back. No one had questioned him on his motivations before, not since Jacob—that night— He pushed the memory away. “My work here is valuable, Miss Tyler. The discoveries I make about the human condition will benefit society.”
“You really think that, don’t you? So it really doesn’t matter what happens to a few individual lives, as long as you can feel like you’re benefiting society.”
For a moment Sydney seemed to see another person behind the eyes of the seventeen-year-old girl, and that person was analyzing him as intently as he was analyzing the girl. But then the glimpse disappeared.
“That’s probably what my dad thinks, too. What do we matter as long as the Triumvirate is served? Forget society. The Triumvirate is what matters.”
A sweeper stuck his head in the door. “Jarod’s room is almost read for us to move him there to get ready for tomorrow’s simulation, Mr. Raines.”
Sydney broke away from Miss Tyler. “We’ll meet you on the way, Sam.”
“I’m done here,” the Doctor announced. He clapped Raines hard on the back, making Raines burst out into a fit of coughing. “Mr. Raines, I expect this project you’ve told me about to be completely buried until you receive word from Mutumbo about what he wants done with it. It should never have got this far without Triumvirate authorization. You people here at the Centre really are overstepping your bounds. He’ll probably be sending in some overseers from Africa. You can tell Mr. Parker to be ready for a complete audit. Miss Tyler, come along. You’re coming home.” He took her arm. “Don’t bother to see us out, Mr. Raines. We’ll go out the way we came in.”
Miss Tyler tried to shake out of his grasp and failed. She heaved a dramatic sigh. As he began to pull her out of the room, she turned back to Sydney. “Be seeing you, Number Two!” she smirked with a strange sort of salute, curved fingers raised to eye and flicked away.
Sydney and Raines stared after them. What did that mean? Sydney wondered. That was familiar, what she did. It’s important. Why?
“That was a disaster,” Raines muttered. But then he smiled his ghastly smile. “But at least we still have Jarod.”
The Doctor pulled Rose down the corridor, both choking on silent laughter. “That was so fun!” Rose chortled quietly. “They didn’t know what hit them. What did the psychic paper say?”
The Doctor pulled out his wallet and glanced at the blank paper in it. “Something about Chief of Security for Mutumbo, full authority, etc., etc. You were fantastic, ‘Miss Tyler’! How old are you really? And all that stuff about your dad and hating Mutumbo…!”
“I’m just glad I could remember his name. The bloke sounds like a thug who thinks he’s God.” As they stepped casually into an empty laboratory and from there accessed the ventilation shafts again, Rose mused, “You know, that Sydney is an interesting man. I wanted to find out why he does this work. I don’t think even he knows why.”
“He’s a scientist, Rose. He’s a scientist even before he’s a human. As long as he’s learning something, he doesn’t have to think about anything else. The next few years will change him, though, open his eyes.”
“I hope so. I can’t help liking him. I think he actually cares for Jarod. What did you learn from Mr. Raines?”
“Experiments with time. I didn’t have time to get all the details, but I don’t need the details. Somehow Raines in the future managed to get word back to this Raines in the past. This Raines doesn’t know how it worked, except that it was further research on a simulation Jarod did a few years ago. Future Raines has it figured out. He’s in a position to influence the development of any event his past self has control over.”
“Doctor, we’ve got to stop him!”
“We will. We’ll stop him now, before it ever starts. His present self knows almost nothing about the research. Apparently his future self doesn’t trust even himself.” He grinned.
“So what are we going to do?”
“Oh, we aren’t. Angelo is.”
“Angelo?” she asked skeptically.
“Angelo’s mind has been scrambled—by Raines, incidentally—but he has a brilliance the Centre knows nothing about.”
“He loves Jarod, and Jarod has integrity. He’ll do anything for Jarod. But Jarod doesn’t know it yet.”
“This whole time thing is fun, Doctor. It must be neat to know how people are going to interact in the future.”
“It must be strange not to know.”
She gave him a prod as they crawled through the vents. A low chortle reached their ears.
As before, his head popped around a corner.
“Angelo, do you know about Jarod’s Simulation 742? Do you know where the information is kept?”
“Raines,” Angelo said.
“That simulation needs to be compromised. It needs to disappear, or be ruined in some way. Jarod’s future depends on it. Can you do it?”
He chortled again.
“I trust you, Angelo. You’re a good friend.”
“They’re going,” Angelo said.
“Moving Jarod? Then it’s time to move. Take us to where we can head them off.”