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1997, September

            “So it was you I was continually working against!”

            “Not always, but I brought you back or foiled your escape attempts several times. Your weak point was that you kept trusting people and helping the nobodies.” He grinned. “That’s my weak point, too.”

            “It’s a strength!” “Smith” snarled.

            “I agree.”

            “You know, all along I had a sense that I was working against a very powerful intellect. I thought it was Number One, but it was a little boy!” He gave another of his harsh laughs.

            “I was well aware of your intelligence, too. I liked you. I liked how stubborn and arrogant you were in your determination not to let them wear you down. You were my inspiration in some ways. I hated having to work against you.”

            “But how, Jarod? How did a little boy ever come to be mixed up in the Village?”

            “It wasn’t the Village I was mixed up in,” Jarod said bitterly. “It was the Centre.”

            “What is this Centre?” “Smith” demanded.

            “It’s a top-secret organization, loosely affiliated with the American government, loosely affiliated with the British government—loosely affiliated with anyone it wants to use on its way to gaining more power. It has its fingers in many pies, including kidnapping genius children to use their talents for its own purposes. I was one of those children, before I escaped. I solved problems. In this case, it was helping the British government find out about you.”

            “Smith” shook his head decisively. “But it wasn’t the British government. They didn’t run the Village, though they may have known about it and even been involved in it. I see you don’t know my side of the story.”

            “I figured out that you weren’t a Russian agent, at least.”

            “A Russian agent?” the old man exclaimed.

            “Yes. They told both Sydney and me that you were a Communist spy and were imprisoned in the Village so they could learn what you had told the Russians. Neither of us would have cooperated if it hadn’t seemed like we were helping the good guys. I figured out eventually that they were lying to us, but that was long after you faked your death and escaped.”

            “So you do know I faked my death. I’ve done it twice now. That was the first time. I escaped and came to America. It was well-known that I had no use for America, so I decided it was the best place to go. Eventually I settled down, married, had a family. I even came to like it. I kept investigating the Village, meanwhile, always a dangerous task—”

            “Tell me about it,” Jarod said grimly.

            “In time I discovered who ran the Village. That was always one of the greatest puzzles. Was it us or them, the British or the Russians—or someone else altogether?”

            “And who was it?”

            “Someone else altogether, an organization with their fingers in every pie on the global smorgasbord. No one has ever heard of it. It’s called the Triumvirate—”

            “The Triumvirate?” Jarod gasped.

            “You know the Triumvirate?”

            “The Triumvirate runs the Centre! It makes so much sense now. We’re both on the run from the same people, Smith.”

            “Well, I’ll be—” He put out his hand. “It’s good to meet another fellow who refuses to be a dupe of the Village.”

            Jarod shook it heartily. “Or of the Centre. But go on and tell me the rest.”

            “Well, I thought I was safe in America. I had a good life here, though not as exciting as I was used to. I have grown children—my wife died a few years ago.”

            “I’m sorry,” Jarod said softly.

            “Thank you, my boy. Then about two years ago, I got inklings that they were on to me again. I had set up a web of security around myself, and I could feel the tremors when the Triumvirate tiptoed around the edges. I don’t flatter myself that they cared after all these years about why I resigned, which was their ostensible reason for kidnapping me in the first place. It was about pride and power. They had owned me once, and they wanted me back.”

            “That’s exactly how the Triumvirate works. They’re after me because they think they own me, too.” His chin came up and his eyes narrowed as he remembered Number Six’s proud and independent words. “I am a free man!”

            “You hold on to that, son. I have, in the face of everything. When they came for me the second time, they found me dead again. I faked my death once again. It was safer for my family that I do so. My children know nothing of this life. The Triumvirate has nothing to hold over them. I wish I knew how they found me, though.”

            Jarod’s head sank back down. “That’s my fault, too.”


            “Someone was going over my old sims, and they decided to look into your case again. Your death was more suspicious than it at first seemed. Since I had been the authority on your character, they brought it to me again, and I tracked you by what I knew of your character. I knew you were perverse and stubborn enough to go to a place you disliked just so you could thumb your nose at them while they ran around in circles in Europe.”

            “Smith” chuckled. “Right you are. But tell me this, Jarod: why did it take you so long? I felt the tremors on the edges of my security web in plenty of time to fake my death again and escape. It went a little too smoothly.”

            Jarod smiled faintly. “I did that on purpose. I had been suspecting for a long time that the Centre was lying to me and using my sim results to hurt people. I no longer even believed you were a Russian spy. All I knew was that you couldn’t bear captivity any more than I could and you didn’t deserve it any more than I did. So I skewed my results. I hoped you would take advantage of the time I gave you.”

            “And I did. You saved my life, Jarod.”

            He clenched his jaw. “And I caused you and your family so much grief—I’ve been the cause of separating a family!” He gasped at the pain of that.

            The old man reached out and grabbed his hand, put all the command he was so capable of in his voice. “You listen to me, boy. That was my choice. My family had me for a good, long time. Longer than I’d once thought possible. My ‘death’ was unexpected to them, but it was a good death for them. It was better than the two alternatives.”


            “Yes. There was the Triumvirate catching up with me, and then there was my own mortality catching up with me. I knew then that I was dying, slowly, by inches. You’re a doctor—did you even look at my chart? My ‘death’ saved my family two years of watching me die slowly. I’ve been free these two years. That’s all I ask.”

            Jarod reached over and unhooked his chart, read it through. “You don’t have long,” he said softly.

            “Even shorter if the Triumvirate catches up with me. My web has been shaking again. They know I’m alive and what city I’m in now. I was about to leave when I collapsed and a neighbor brought me here.” He glanced around the room, sad and angry. “I refuse to allow this to be the end!”

            “So do I.” Jarod drew out a pen and applied himself to the chart.

            “What are you doing?”

            “Getting you out of here. You’re dead now, Smith, and look, there’s Dr. McKern’s signature to it. You’re going to live out your last few days in freedom.”

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