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A mere twelve miles away, Jarod and Paul Wallace made the final preparations for their infiltration of the Centre, running contingencies again and again. Jarod was determined, come hell or high water, he would get Angelo out that weekend. Not that Angelo was cooperating with the mission in the slightest way. Jarod couldn't understand why he wasn't responding to his attempts at communication. He doubted they were keeping Angelo under particularly strict surveillance, even taking into account his recent escape to Atlanta.
Against his better judgment, he was including Vern and Marion's son Paul -- another of Angelo's cousins -- in the rescue mission. He had been adamantly opposed to the notion of bringing any of Angelo's family along, ostensibly because none that he knew had the requisite skills in combat, intelligence or infiltration. The real reason, though, was that Jarod would never forgive himself if yet another of the Wallace clan were captured by the Centre. However, Annalise had insisted that Jarod would need a telepath if Angelo refused to cooperate, especially since his speech capacity was so impaired. And she brought up Paul as by far the best qualified. When Jarod finally met the young man, he had to grudgingly admit she was right
People with military experience were a rarity in Angelo's family. The Wallaces had ancestral origins in Quakerism, and although many family members no longer practiced that religion a cultural heritage of pacifism continued to trickle down. Paul, however, had enlisted in the Army in his early twenties and had been deployed to Bosnia for most of 1996. Although he had no particular experience with clandestine infiltration of a secretive transnational organization -- not exactly something most people could put on their resume -- Jarod found the man to be quick-witted, adaptable, and calm and judicious under pressure. He understood when to resort to force and when to use stealth, and he readily absorbed Jarod's many and varied battle strategies.
Then there were the skills the Army knew nothing about: The ability to tell when a person was coming, and get a read on their mental state from afar. The ability to detect subtle electrical signals, such as hidden cameras and other sensors. He was even able to receive detailed memories of the lobby and other key locations from Jarod, so Paul would know and look like he knew exactly where he was going. And crucially, he had helped with the previous Healing, so dealing with Angelo wouldn't be a completely foreign experience. So they hoped.
They trained for a week together, developing plan upon contingency plan and practicing communication strategies, both hand signals and telepathic sending if they didn't want something on camera. One day Jarod asked him about the Healing. Annalise had only given him vague generalities about what it actually entailed.
"She won't know the details until she gets her hands on Tim. It's different every time, every person has a different set of problems that need to be addressed. When we worked on Annalise, the last time we all did this, it was pretty obvious PTSD. Remove many of the memories provoking the anxiety, reduce the overactivated fight or flight pathways, and the mental trauma lessens. This is more like fixing an old stroke, anything could be damaged."
"How will she know how to do it, if she's never lead a Healing before? How do you decide who's in charge?"
Paul shrugged. "There's always a consensus on who's the strongest at any given time, and he or she is the one who decides on a course of action. There has to be a person directing everything or it won't work, because no one of us has the power to change that many neurons that quickly. Annalise's mother, my aunt Martha, was the one in charge last time. She was kind of a pistol, not exactly the most stable personality, but she was hella strong and got the job done. I was only Miriam's age at the time but I remember her sucking us all in and working our minds like puppets. Kinda wild."
"Could you see her memories? What he did to her?" Jarod was less than thrilled with his daughter's impending participation in rummaging through Angelo's mind. Lord only knew what he had witnessed over the years.
"We all saw,' Paul said softly. "I think my parents do regret letting me in on it, and I was a little traumatized by it at the time. But later in Bosnia I saw some fucked up shit, rape camps and genocide and such, and I think it helped me empathize and assist the victims. It taught me that it is possible to recover from the most heinous acts. Miriam will be fine." He paused, thinking of the one contingency they hadn't yet broached. "He's still there, isn't he? It's possible we'll run into him?"
"Possible but unlikely. Lyle's office is in the Tower, and there's very little reason for him to be down in the sublevels late on a Saturday night. If you do encounter him before I'm in the building, do not under any circumstances engage. Leave him to me."
In truth Jarod had strongly considered leaving bread crumbs for both Lyle and Parker in a different part of the country, just to send them on a wild goose chase and ensure they would be out of the way. In the end he decided against it, for reasons he obscured even from himself. Perhaps on some level he wanted to run into Lyle.
The mission before them had four phases: (a) Get both of them into the building, (b) Identify Angelo's whereabouts, (c) Actually find him and convince him to come along, or barring that, knock him out and carry him back, (d) Get out without getting caught. Jarod also had a secondary objective to leave some viruses in the computer system so he could access the mainframe later. It was rather dismaying how successful they were lately at keeping him out.
Introducing an unknown player did open up new avenues of approach, Jarod had to admit. The Centre hadn't been idle in the previous two years beefing up their physical security on top of the computer upgrades, in order to prevent just such incursions. His last visit, to pry information out of the supposedly dying Mr. Fenigor, had almost been a disaster, what with the bombing and all. The route out of the previously secret SL-27 was now identified and blocked, as were the ventilation shafts he used in his first escape and to spring his brother Kyle. There was another set of ventilation tunnels that could be accessed, but they terminated in the biotracts, not the building itself. The current plan was for Paul to walk in through the regular entrance as an employee, then essentially just let Jarod in through a back door.
When the day of reckoning arrived, Paul dropped Jarod off early near the edge of the Centre's property just east of the vineyards. He had to hike in about a mile to reach the ventilation intake for the biotracts.
"Well, there goes my military pension. Good luck, man, and don't let the dogs get you. Annalise will fry my brain if we have to somehow get in there to retrieve the both of you." Jarod smiled and shook his hand, bidding him good luck as well, and the mission was on.
Paul waited the requisite two hours, grabbing a bite to eat in town, double checked that Broots was really still at home on a Saturday night, then drove straight up to the Centre's main parking garage. He was dressed rather schlubily in flannel and jeans, his cover as a computer technician working late. The guard at the first checkpoint barely even looked up as he flashed his badge nonchalantly. So far so good.
The guards at the second checkpoint in the lobby, though, weren't so complacent. His card scanned just fine, authorized for the tech room on SL-5, but one of the sweepers scrutinized it and him.
"Are you new here? I don't think I've seen you come in on the weekend shift before."
Paul ran his hands through his hair, feigning fatigue. "Yeah, man, only been here a month. Of course when the server gets glitchy they send in the new guy. Like I don't have better things to do on Saturday night than come into work because some asshole can't type correctly?" The guard looked over the card one more time and handed it back.
"Just stick to the areas you are authorized to be in. I'm sure they warned you of that in orientation."
"Of course." And he was through.
He walked all the way down to the south end of the ground floor, for what felt like miles of building. Jarod had informed him there were 27 more just like it below him, and the reality of locating his cousin Tim in what amounted to an underground skyscraper began to sink in. He found the obscure side door leading to Biotract Eight, slowly angled the camera to the side so Jarod would have a window to approach unobserved, and waited.
It took an extra half an hour for Jarod to show up, the most nerve-wracking thirty minutes of his young life. Finally he heard the light knock on the door.
Silently they made their way to the nearest office. Now that Jarod had entered the building, the clock was officially ticking. It was only a matter of time before the rotating camera schedule picked them up, and every sweeper in the place knew his face. Jarod knew that in a building with thousands of cameras, a few going on the fritz was intrinsically less noticeable than strange people walking around, so Paul killed the camera for the room before they entered. Jarod hooked up a drive to the computer and began both uploading the viruses and hacking the system to find any recent mentions of Angelo, starting with the daily log reports from internal security.
"As of yesterday he was down on SL-11 near the dispensary in a closet. Here, give me the key card." Jarod pulled out another device, one that could alter the magnetic strip on the card, and took an additional four minutes to break into the personnel database to change the security authorization. "There, we're good for down to SL-15, that covers the sim lab."
"What if he's moved lower down?"
"We'll have to take the ventilation system, we don't have time to break into the Personnel office for the current codes for the lower sublevels. Let's move." He stuffed his devices into a backpack and they crept back into the hallway, heading for a nearby cargo elevator. Paul deactivated the camera in there as well.
They made it to SL-11 without incident and began walking down a maze of corridors to find the dispensary. Jarod watched each and every camera as they walked by, trying to detect any changes in their rotation. If they spotted something unusual, the sweepers often manually overrid the automatic panning motions in the hallways to focus on the suspects. Changes in those patterns would be the first sign they had been detected in the building.
The dispensary turned out to be a large, fully-stocked pharmacy. Someone had left a bottle of synthetic heroin out on the counter, which raised Paul's eyebrows, but he maintained radio silence. Jarod didn't give the place a second glance but strode right by, turning the corner towards the supply closet. And there, thankfully, was Angelo, sitting on the floor cross-legged, waiting for them.
His face was neutral, neither happy nor terrified to see them. Jarod couldn't help but run over and give him a hug, although he now knew to try and avoid skin-to-skin contact so as not to overwhelm his empathic abilities. "Angelo! It's so good to see you. Did you get my emails? I found your family, your mother." He motioned for Paul to introduce himself.
Paul came over and knelt down to the floor. "Hi, I'm Paul, Vern and Marion's son. Do you remember your aunt Marion?" He held out his hand, palm up, the universal sign in the Wallace family that he wished communicate something via mindspeech. Angelo still didn't react, just stared at him with wide unfocused eyes, as if he were seeing something different than the young man entirely. Finally, with much hesitation, he reached out and rested just his fingertips on his palm. For an instant the two sat with eyes locked on each other. Then Paul suddenly gasped and wrenched his hand away, nearly falling over he was so disoriented.
"What happened?" Paul shook his head and held up a finger, to signal he needed a moment to recover. Angelo sat there on his clothes pile, placidly watching him.
"He can feel everything. The entire fucking building."
"You mean everyone in the building?"
"Everyone and everything in it, the objects in it, the electrical infrastructure, every sordid experiment, it's history past and present. It's like listening to ten thousand ghosts screaming in your ear. We've got to get him to Annalise, there's no way I can deal with this here."
At the mention of Annalise's name, Angelo's eyes widened. "Martha's baby?" he asked.
"Martha? Aunt Martha? Annalise is not her baby anymore."
"But she was still a baby when Timmy was stolen. That's what he remembers."
Angelo nodded, pleased that Jarod had figured it out. "Hurt."
Jarod looked gently at his old friend. "She was hurt, but now she's better. And now your family wants to help you too. Will you go with us?"
Angelo began to look upset, like a freak-out was eminent. Paul reached out his hand again. "Tell me what's wrong. Why don't you want to leave here?"
For a few seconds Jarod was sure Angelo was going to spring up and run, and they would be forced to used the drugs. But then he seemed to get control of himself, and reached out to touch again. This time Paul did not jerk away but sat there concentrating, trying to hear the correct signal.
"His mindspeech isn't any better than his verbal speech, but I think I got the emotional gist. His mind is almost like a split personality, he thinks of Timmy as a different person."
There is no more Timmy, only Angelo, thought Jarod. "He was trained to think that way. Can you talk to them both?"
"Not necessary, Timmy isn't really in there, so to speak. It's a type of repression of memories. I think he's ashamed of what they did to him. He thinks of himself as one of the silent ones now, or an entirely new creature irrevocably attached to this building. He doesn't want Joan to see him this way."
For the first time, Jarod reached out and touched Angelo's hand. He transmitted as clearly as he could. Your mother Joan loves you and wants to see you. She's still mad at me for not rescuing you sooner. Everyone is gathering to help Heal you. Please, please come back to them.
Jarod smiled as he heard the response. I've been getting extensive lessons. Now it's your turn to learn.
Well, they didn't forget about you. I know you can tell I'm telling the truth.
There were so many ways of interpreting that one word, Jarod just had to take a stab in the dark. Do you want Timmy to come back? No more Angelo, only Timmy.
Yes. We'll have to leave. Timmy can't live here.
Angelo closed his eyes, as if deeply mulling it over. Paul tipped his head to the side, listening with his mind as best he could without touching the two of them. It almost felt like his cousin was mindtalking with the building itself.
"He's coming," Jarod told Paul with relief. "We've got to go soon Angelo, do you have anything you want to bring?"
Angelo dug around in his clothes pile and yanked out an old laptop and a few paper files and DSAs. Jarod stuffed it all into his backpack without a glance. Time to look through the treasure trove later.
"Wait." He grabbed Paul's hand and awkwardly tried to put it behind him, near his back. Paul frowned and ran his hand just over the surface of his shirt. His eyes widened as he hit a certain spot, and pulled up the shirt to confirm.
"There's something electrical here. An implant."
Jarod palpated the spot, right next to the left scapula, and could indeed feel a match-sized object under the skin. There was a fresh centimeter-long scar nearby, likely only a few weeks old.
"Ah, I thought they might have done something like this. Lyle knows I found your mother's farm, they know it's a possibility I would come for you." He pulled a small surgical pack out of the front pouch of the backpack and and began rubbing the area with a numbing solution. While he was working on that, Paul poked his head out the door to check on the camera situation.
The one across from the supply closet wasn't moving. It was pointed directly at the door.
Paul ducked back inside, and without niceties touched Jarod's neck. SHIT Jarod one of the cameras isn't panning the hallway. We need to book, now.
Jarod glanced at Angelo with regret. "I'm sorry, my friend. We don't have time now. This is going to hurt." He then proceeded to do the fastest surgery thus far in his life, literally a splash-n-slash. He dumped betadine on the implant site and, without even donning gloves, cut into the skin on the other side of the implant from the old scar. Then he pulled the implant out with some forceps, wiped the area with some sterile gauze and slapped a large steri-strip on the wound in lieu of stitches. Total length of the procedure: less than ten seconds. Angelo barely blinked.
Jarod then motioned them all behind the door, but Angelo shook his head and pulled him away by the arm of his shirt. He ran to the back of the supply closet and moved an apparently empty filing cabinet, and there behind it was a large ventilation cover. Paul raised his eyebrows at Jarod.
"There's a man-sized vent in a closet right next door to where they're handing out Schedule II drugs like candy?"
"Welcome to the Centre. That's probably why he chose this room. Let's go." He kicked the bloody implant under a blanket and followed Angelo through the vent.
They scrambled through the ventilation system for twenty minutes, twisting and turning. Paul quickly got turned around and he wasn't too sure Jarod knew where they were on the floor either. It occurred to him that they were placing faith in their escape squarely in the hands of someone who had been brain-damaged for nearly thirty years, and who didn't want to come with them in the first place. Jarod had accidentally let some thoughts bleed through during their training on this very subject, and it wasn't comforting. I decide who lives or dies.
The tunnel finally came out at an elevator shaft, ninety degrees from the actual door to that floor. Jarod climbed over to a service ladder and flipped open a electrical panel next to door opening. He crossed a bunch of wires and the elevator came roaring up to them from some floor down below. As it approached all three of them jumped on top.
As they rose up Angelo touched both of their hands. Cars?
Paul responded first. He could still feel the building through Tim but the noise was reduced to multitonal screeching now; his cousin's control over the mountain of stimuli was already getting better. Jarod didn't seem to be getting anything but the mindspeech. We have vehicles at the west end near the vineyard, at the southern pier on the bay, in the parking garage, and one to the north hidden just off the road to Blue Cove. The original plan was out through Biotract 8 or 11.
Eight is out, I think I tripped an alarm coming in. We should go for 11.
We have to either use the sewer line or run on the beach for the pier.
Alarms. New. Sewer. Pier. Pier. Pier.
Okay, the pier it is. We're approaching SL-1, we have five seconds to get off and then the elevator will return down to fifteen.
They all grabbed onto the service ladder as the elevator slowed, and Angelo climbed over to the vent cover in the same position in the shaft as on SL-11. They could hear an alarm blaring somewhere else in the building. A general alert had been called, triggering one of Jarod's viruses that falsely activated alarms north of the lobby. Jarod had previously estimated they had 25 minutes to exit the main body of the building at that point.
After another fifteen minutes of scrambling they entered a utility room, Paul killing the cameras yet again. SL-1 was located just below the lobby level, and many utility lines and pipes ran through there, as well as the underground parking lot. Angelo and Jarod found the hatch leading to the southern sewer line, which ultimately dumped into the ocean nearly half a mile away.
"Good thing you didn't wear your leather jacket. And I always hated flannel," Paul commented as they wedged themselves in the tube. Jarod grinned and slammed the door shut behind them.