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Tuesday afternoon, Miss Parker summoned Broots up to her office for the latest, after brooding most of the morning with Sydney over the meaning and potential usefulness of Jarod's sudden attachment to Angelo's family. He couldn't protect or hide dozens of people, not without giving himself away. A fact they could use to their advantage, although Parker wasn't sure how far she was willing to take it. Lyle certainly wasn't going to have such ethical considerations, though.

Broots looked less flighty than usual. "Well some good news to start: Lewis finished the audio enhancements from the camera outside of Angelo's closet."

"Huh. Nothing good has ever come up from that on any of his previous break-ins."

"Jarod never had anyone to talk to on his previous break-ins. Here's the transcript." He handed out copies to both Miss Parker and Sydney.

 

JAROD: Angelo. It's so good to see you. Did you get my emails? I found your family. Your mother.

PAUL: Hi. I'm Paul. Vern and Marion's son. Do you remember your aunt Marion?

[12 second pause]

 

"Somebody's working the email angle, I presume?"

"Yes. We found the account but the content was encrypted, still working on breaking into the messages."

"And the aunt and uncle?"

"Vern and Marion Wallace, Marion is Angelo's mother's sister. Both born in Berks County. Married in 1964, two sons Brian and Paul. They signed the rights to their farm over to another relative in 1985 and the whole family hasn't been seen since."

"1985? Around the time the mystery baby was born. Interesting."

"Keep reading."

 

JAROD: What happened?

PAUL: He can feel everything. The entire fucking building.

JAROD: You mean everyone in the building?

PAUL: Everyone and everything in it. The objects in it, the electrical infrastructure, every sordid experiment, its 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.

ANGELO: Martha's baby?

PAUL: Martha? Aunt Martha? Annalise is not her baby anymore.

JAROD: But she was still a baby when Timmy was stolen. That's what he remembers.

ANGELO: Hurt.

JAROD: She was hurt but now she's better. And now your family wants to help you too. Will you go with us?

[5 second pause]

PAUL: Tell me what's wrong. Why don't you want to leave here?

[15 second pause]

PAUL: His mind speech 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.

JAROD: He was trained to think that way. Can you talk to them both?

PAUL: 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.

[32 second pause]

JAROD: He's coming. We've got to go soon. Angelo do you have anything you want to bring?

PAUL: Wait. There's something electrical here. An implant.

JAROD: 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.

[18 second pause]

JAROD: I'm sorry my friend. We don't have time now. This is going to hurt.

[24 second pause]

PAUL: There's a man sized vent in a closet right next door to where they're handing out schedule two drugs like candy?

JAROD: Welcome to the Centre. That's probably why he chose this room. Let's go.

 

"Mind speech." Sydney marveled at the incontrovertible evidence staring them in the face. "He was talking to Angelo in their minds."

"That explains why Jarod brought a buddy along. He wanted help communicating with Scrambled Eggs here. Also explains why the Centre has such an interest in this group of inbred hillbillies."

"Perhaps they were hoping to produce a child that was both a Pretender and had empathic abilities. Although this seems even further than empathy, perhaps full telepathy. I was unaware that Angelo could directly project thoughts into others."

Broots spoke up. "Does that mean Raines knew he was an empath before that experiment down in SL-27? You know ... on Timmy?" Both he and Parker glanced meaningfully at Sydney.

"I only saw Timmy on rare occasions, but I find it hard to believe even Raines would perform electrostimulation if he thought Timmy was anything more than a potential Pretender."

"How do you know, Syd? How do you know how any of these kids were chosen? To hear you tell it, Jarod and company just conveniently fell from the sky into the sim lab."

"I was told there was a screening process. We ... I ... didn't ask too many questions."

Parker stared down this weasily answer, then leaned back in her office chair. "It doesn't matter now, what's done is done. Honestly I couldn't give a rat's ass about Angelo or his family, we just need to use this information effectively to find Jarod. They're all hiding out somewhere, we need to find it. 'Vern' and 'Marion' aren't exactly common names. Do a search of all rural property transfers from 1984-86 looking for either of those two first names, with variations on 'Marian'. Once a hillbilly farmer, always a hillbilly farmer. Seems like a good way to get off the grid."

"You're still going to do this even though there are innocent people at risk? A child?"

"A possibly imaginary girl is not my problem, Syd." She picked up the transcript and re-read it. Lyle knows I found your mother's farm. "But Lyle might be. He's clearly in the middle of this. In fact, maybe you can find out what he was doing in 1984 for the Centre." She was hurt but now she's better. "Did you discover who authorized the bugs?"

"Uh. Yes." Broots cleared his throat and shifted around. "It was your father. Mr. Parker."

Miss Parker sighed and tossed the papers on her desk. "All right. You work the Lyle angle on your end, and I will as well. My way."

 

******

 

Parker smoothed her dress and turned to examine herself in the mirror. The sleek minidress and updo may have been overkill, but she so rarely had dinner with her father, she wanted to look good. Plus it would distract her oleaginous brother, never a negative. She half expected Daddy to brush her off yet again, but with Lyle on board he was vastly more likely to attend. A depressing notion if she really thought about it, that Daddy had his beloved son now, one who was more than happy to take up the reins of the photogenic heir apparent. Well, she wasn't going down without a fucking fight.

Both her father and Lyle were waiting for her when she swept into the restaurant, a few minutes fashionably late. Daddy gave her his customary "Aaaangel, you look lovely," and kissed her on the cheek. Lyle opened his arms in mock affection.

"What, no hug for your brother?"

"Not unless he wishes to lose another digit," she said with just the right amount of malice and a hint of humor. It wouldn't do to have an outright brawl, not in front of Daddy. Lyle smiled, his usual malicious combination of charm and barely repressed rage.

They had ordered dinner and were a couple of drinks in when she finally started on them. Mr. Parker had commented something meaningless, along the lines of "the wonderful capabilities of my Angel, and the bright future of the Parker legacy when Jarod is finally brought in."

"Yes. Although I might have caught him by now if the two of you weren't cutting me off at the knees." Both men stopped to stare at this direct confrontational stance.

"Angel," Mr. Parker hissed. "Now is not the time ..."

"Oh no, now is the perfect time. So you can't weasel away as usual." Miss Parker casually leaned over to grab a pile of papers from her purse underneath the table, tossing them in front of their salad plates. The photo of Annalise Wallace was on top. "You have known about Jarod's connection with Angelo's family for months and I was never informed. And now he might go underground and disappear forever."

"You see, sis, it's a delicate situation ..."

"Delicate because you didn't want me to know the Centre brazenly kidnapped little Timmy Wallace in broad daylight on his way home from school? And also apparently his cousin from her dorm room, for some disgusting breeding experiment?" She motioned to the photo on the table.

"The Wallaces are dangerous," Mr. Parer said, his voice even lower. "No one with that amount of power should be walking around free in society. Imagine the damage they could do if one of them ever got themselves into a position of real power. Like Jarod, they need benevolent guidance of their gifts, to protect both them and the rest of us."

"Benevolence." Miss Parker nearly spit the word out, although she too kept her voice low. None of them wanted to be shouting in a public place. "Was Jarod kidnapped from his parents the way that Angelo was? Tell me the truth for once, Daddy."

Mr. Parker downed the remainder of his Scotch. "Jarod. Jarod is special, Angel. Jarod is ... necessary for the Centre's survival. You must find him and bring him back."

A non-answer as usual, thought Parker. "Why, Daddy? What are you going to do with a uncooperative genius? Even if -- when -- I drag his ass back, he'll never do another simulation again."

"He will if we find the girl too." Lyle spoke up for the first time in the exchange, his voice calm, more sober than the other two. "Find where they're hiding out, and we'll have both Jarod and the means to control him. Plus as an added bonus she likely has the gift, according to the genomics people. Still young enough to be malleable."

Miss Parker leaned back and sipped her drink as well, to choke down her horror. Malleable. What the hell did Lyle want to do with a "malleable" middle schooler? It made her stomach turn, but she had a job to do, if she was ever to permanently escape this never ending hell herself. "If I'm to do this, I need to know everything you have on these people. Nothing held back, or I am done with this."

Her father and Lyle exchanged a glance, and Parker gave a slight conceding nod to his son. Lyle then dug into his briefcase under the table to produce a thick fifty-odd page bound report. Apparently she wasn't the only one to come prepared.

Miss Parker gave the document a brief scan. The first half of the report was an extensive brief on the Wallace family: The social structure of their family, their cultural environment, the extent of their abilities, lengthy personality and intelligence profiles of Annalise, basic ones on her close relatives. She didn't see either Angelo or Timmy mentioned in her initial skim. The second half was a transcript, of an interviewer and a second person mostly speaking in the abstract third person. Parker looked up in astonishment.

"This is a simulation. Who ran this?"

Lyle responded. "Jarod. It was done while Sydney was on Christmas vacation. He was told she had escaped from a secret government facility, and we wished to locate her to render assistance to her and her family." Miss Parker snorted at this obvious ruse. How they had strung Jarod along until his mid-thirties with such flimsy excuses was a mystery to her.

"Oh, and sis?" Parker looked up from the engrossing report with her eyebrows raised. "My one piece of advice is this: If you find them, don't them touch you. Ever. Not even Angelo now."

"If one of the Wallaces somehow managed to get close enough to touch me, I guarantee they would not be on the winning end of the stick." But then she thought of the little girl touching her face, and wondered.

 

******

 

The next morning Parker had the document photocopied, then headed straight for Sydney's office with the simulation. "What do you think, Syd? Is it really one of rat boy's?"

Sydney sat back and slowly read the first few pages of the sim, chewing on a pencil meditatively. "It's certainly... similar to his style."

"You don't sound convinced."

Sydney frowned and read further. There was something off about it. Not what was there, what was missing. It took him a minute to identify it. "Normally when Jarod runs a simulation, the first thing he does is go through the emotions of the people he is Pretending. This simulation is cold, analytical, right from the beginning. He identifies the emotional state of the Wallace woman only after being prompted. The person was clearly skilled, but if I had to guess, I'd say not Jarod. Maybe Kyle."

"Raines' personal psychopath, makes sense he wouldn't hone in on emotions."

"Mmmm. May I keep this for further study?"

"Sure, professor. There's some juicy telepathy stuff in the beginning, too. Don't overexcite yourself."

Parker was nearly out the door when Sydney suddenly spoke up again. "Parker. Wait." He circled a passage with his pencil and motioned her over. "It was neither Jarod nor Kyle."

 

PRETENDER: The family will likely educate the child at home, but as she gets older she will want to interact with her peers and the world more and more. Her personal interests or hobbies would be potential weak points for discovery. How old is the child now?

HANDLER: Twelve.

 

The simulation had been run within the previous year.

 

 












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