Lost Souls

Jarod opened the door to his room, satisfied with his last mission. It had gone remarkably well and now it was time to move on. And quickly before the Centre caught up with him.

He dropped the bag containing his supper onto the table. Chinese takeout tonight. He had grown quite fond of Oriental food. Opening the bag, he took out a box and chopsticks, settling in front of the computer to check out his email and web sites before packing it up for travel.

Another pleading letter from Sydney but no new information. A light-hearted note from Nina and a chatty one from Ernie. A few junk emails. And a short note from someone using the email address of "e@sforce.net". He opened it.

I know something you may wish to know,

Jarod blinked, wondering at the mysterious contents of this email. Then he noticed that there was an attachment. Curious, he clicked on it, watching as it unzipped into a .gif file. Absently, he poked into the box, finding a nice hunk of chicken. He had it halfway to his mouth when he saw the file clearly for the first time. The food dropped unnoticed back into the box, the sticks following as he leaned forward.

It was a picture apparently scanned in from a photo and the quality wasn't the best but it was clear enough. It showed a woman standing, her arm around a teen-age girl. He knew them both, having seen them not three months ago. He reached out to gently press his fingers against his mother's face, feeling a hollow kind of joy sweep through him.

She looked younger then he remembered from his too-brief glance but if Emily was any indication, then this picture had to have been taken some ten years ago. They were smiling but his mother's seemed to be oddly strained, her eyes haunted. There was no indication where the photo had been taken. But it had been taken and whoever had it was sharing it with him for some reason.

He looked over the email message again. It seemed that whoever this "E" was, he or she had more information to share. Could it be someone from the Centre? Frowning, he looked at the email address. Absently, he set about to trace the domain, not hard if you know what you're doing. . .which he did. Just as a message popped up saying that the requested domain did not exist, another email appeared. He clicked it open.

Ah! Ah! Ah! No fair peeking. . .

Jarod blinked then leaned forward, typing a reply frantically but before he could send it another message appeared.

If you'd like to talk, be at the Deuces Wild 10:30 tomorrow night.

Jarod hit send and watched his reply vanished from the screen. A minute later, an email appeared announcing that the message could not be delivered. The domain sforce.net did not exist.

"Damn." Jarod muttered and went to work Soon he had established that there wasn't nor ever had been a domain called sforce.net and no email address of e@sforce.net. He paused, chewing his lip then started a search for Deuces Wild.

Deuces Wild turned out to be a notorious gay bar on the east side of the city, on the docks. This surprised him. How did E know what city he was in? Could this be a trap?

Jarod stared at the picture then printed it out, studying it intently. The picture was real. Had to be real. Ever since that too brief glimpse three months ago, he hadn't been able to find a scrap of information about his family. So he would go to meet E. With suitable precautions, of course.

Despite not being hungry any longer, Jarod forced himself to finish his meal then packed up. He would move to a new location and put the DSAs in a safe place before he went to meet the writer of these mysterious messages.

The next night, Jarod sat in a booth in Deuces Wild, watching as several couples danced and wondering what he was doing here. He'd dressed simply; black tee-shirt and black jeans and was portraying himself as interested but not aggressively so. Looking but not too hard. Waiting for someone. He'd already turned down two invitations to the floor below, which was apparently available for sexual encounters. Whether it was a single orgy room or a series of cubicles, Jarod had no idea and didn't particularly wish to find out at this time. He had other things on his mind.

He scanned the crowd again. He had no idea who he was looking for. Or maybe he did.

His eyes narrowed as he stared at the doorway. Someone had just entered, someone that looked vaguely familiar. Where had he seen him before. . ?

The newcomer was a tall man dressed entirely in black; calf-high boots, jeans, open-necked shirt with the sleeves rolled up, gloves, cowboy hat. As he stepped further into the room, eyes scanning the crowd, Jarod saw the long, raven-black hair, falling to the small of his back and a memory flashed through his mind.

In Boston, he'd had eyes only for his mother, his sister but as the cab had sped away, he had caught a half-formed impression of the driver. Of long black hair and startling silver eyes.

His eyes met the newcomer's and the other man smiled slightly. He walked to the booth where Jarod was and slid into the seat across from him, taking of his hat and setting it on the table. Without a word, the man slipped a photo from a pocket and tossed it to Jarod.

Jarod picked it up, not surprised to see that it was the original of what had come to him through the email. He studied it longingly before looking up at the man who delivered.

"E?" He asked quietly.

There was a flash of white teeth as the man smiled. "Call me Epitaph. Most people do."

"Interesting name."

"Yes, isn't it?"

Perry Jackson watched the two men with a frown. It looked like a pre-arranged meeting, though anyone else seeing it would assume it was two lovers meeting. Perry didn't think this was the case. Not if the information he'd been given concerning Jarod was correct.

He stepped into the shadows of an alcove and pulled the phone from his pocket, dialing a number known to very few people.

"Yes?" The voice of his employer rasped in his ear.

"I've found him."

"Good. Report."

Perry obeyed, finishing with a sketchy description of the man Jarod was meeting with. He couldn't help but notice his employer's breathing change, growing harsher.

"The man..." He rasped. "Long black hair. Silver eyes. Looks to be a Plains Indian."

"Something like, yes."

"And they're talking? How long?"

"Just a few minutes. He just arrived."

"I see. Any sign of Miss Parker and her helpers?"

"No." He eyed the two men in the booth. "Shall I grab Jarod?"

"I have a more important assignment for you right now. When it is finished, then capture Jarod if you can. Kill him if you can't. Right now, your job is to kill the other man. I want him dead and quickly. Before he can say anything of importance to Jarod. Understood?"

"Understood." Perry's voice was distracted as he reviewed his options. He had, of course, several weapons available but the majority of the truly deadly weapons were locked in his car. It won't do to be groped and have a weapon discovered. "What if I end up eliminating some bystanders?"

"Whatever is necessary. Eliminate Jarod if you must but kill that man. Keep in mind though that you get your bonus only if Jarod is alive."

"Catch 22." Perry muttered. "Consider it done." Perry hung up and shoved it back into his pocket. He'd have to go out and get a gun. A powerful little beauty capable of cutting a man in half. And if it killed more then just his target, well, then so be it.

It was while choosing that weapon that he spotted a familiar threesome heading for the bar and heard an equally familiar voice.

"A gay bar, Sidney? What? Frankenboy exploring alternative lifestyles?"

Sydney's answer was lost as they entered the bar but Perry wouldn't have heard it anyway. He was hurriedly dialing the phone.

"How do you know my mother?" was the first question Jarod asked and the other man smiled.

"I meet her in France some nine years ago." He waved away the waiter who came by and continued. "She and her daughter. Tourists on holiday by all appearances but she...your mother...was scared of something. Jumpy, always looking over her shoulder....isn't that Miss Parker?"

Jarod started then hastily looked at the door. "Damn! It is!" He scrambled to his feet, Epitaph following suit.

"Come on. This way. We'll go out the back."


"Hmmmmmm." Amusement glinted in silver eyes. "Keep close. Hello, Adrian. Open up, passing through."

"Not gonna stay and play?" The huge bartender asked politely as he opened the door to the private basement.

"They won't let us." He jerked his head toward the approaching trio and slipped through the door. Jarod hesitated then plunged in after him.

Down a flight of stairs and into a large room filled with men. Jarod's steps faltered and he blinked. He'd never realized that there were so many ways to have sex! If it weren't for his pursers, he'd have found a stool and just observed but he could hear the sound of angry voices behind him and hastily followed the other man into the press of bodies.

Hands groped at him in passing though he couldn't help but notice that not one hand touched Epitaph. Jarod chalked it down to vibes and wondered, briefly, why he was following this man in the first place. Well, he did seem to know a way out of here. . .

A hand took advantage of his distraction to grope downward and a voice said, almost in his ear "Ohhhhhh, is that for real?"

Before Jarod could even think of a reply, something appeared over his shoulder. Long and black and razor-sharp. A knife that could possibly qualify as a short sword. Where had that come from?

"This is." Epitaph growled and the hand pulled away hastily.

"I'm not into that!"

"You're in luck. Neither am I. Damn. Here they come. Come on, Jarod."

The crowd took one look at the knife Epitaph held and parted. Jarod glanced over his shoulder to see Miss Parker running down the stairs and bolted after him, up another flight of stairs and out a door into the night air.

"Run." Epitaph commanded, slamming the door shut. Unnoticed by Jarod, he pulled an envelope from a pocket and flipped it at the base of the door before running after him.

"Where to?" Jarod asked.

"There's a. . .oh, damn." Epitaph had caught a glimpse of someone moving to cut them off. He didn't know the man but he did know the gun the man was holding. He also suspected who the shooter was really after. "Split up! Go that way." He shoved Jarod in the direction opposite the gunman and sprinted toward the docks.

Miss Parker promised herself a scalding hot bath when they got back to the hotel. More then a few of the men had thought her outfit to be just grand, much to Sydney’s ill-concealed amusement and it had taken her brandishing her gun to clear a path. Once outside, she paused, looking around.

"There!" Sydney pointed then, "Jarod, wait!"

Miss Parker caught a glimpse of Jarod sprinting across the dock, weaving through the crates there and ran after him. Sydney sighed and followed. Behind them both, Broots, in worst shape of them all, wheezed against the door and it was him who spotted the envelope on the ground. Written neatly on the front was the name "Miss Parker". He picked it up and studied intently. He was thinking half-heartedly of opening it when the shots rang out.

Jarod was sprinting along the dock, outlining the escape path he'd planned before ever entering the building. Two minutes and he would be gone. He smiled slightly and began to work out how to get a hold of Epitaph once again. . .

Shots rang out, a long series of automatic gunfire. Jarod instinctively threw himself to one side but then realized that whoever it was was not firing at him. He whirled to look in the direction of gunfire.

He could see Epitaph near the end of one of the docks, sprinting for the water. Another burst of gunfire and the man jerked. Even from this distance, Jarod could see the bullets tear through the man's torso and neck and he knew why Epitaph had ordered him to go in this direction.

"No!" Jarod screamed, watching as Epitaph fell off the pier and into the water. "Damn. . !" He bit back the rest of the shout, turning and bolting for the bike he had hidden at the far side of the wharf. It was obvious the Centre had sent someone out to kill anyone who could possibly give him information about his family, had apparently decided that keeping that information from him was more important then getting him back.

He ran on, anger filling him.

Miss Parker watched as the shooter walked to the edge of the pier to peer down into the water. He looked familiar.

"Isn't that Perry Jackson?" Sydney said in a low voice.

"Yes. Yes, damnit. Who sent him out here?"

"Three guesses." Sydney looked around, realizing that the distraction had given Jarod a chance to vanish. "Come on, we better get out of here."

"Jarod. . ? Damn!" She threw another look toward the dock, seeing with some trepanation that Jackson was also gone. "Come on."

Broots rejoined them as they ran for the car. "I think you should see this, Miss Parker."

"See what?" She snatched the envelope his hand, glancing at her name written neatly on it. "Damn Jarod and his little games. Sydney, you drive." She tore the envelope open and slipped out the contents.

"Miss Parker, that isn't Jarod's handwriting." Sydney observed as he started the car and backed out from the parking space. "Miss Parker?" He glanced over to the passenger seat when there was no answer. Miss Parker's face had gone totally white as she stared at the photo that had been in the envelope. "What is it?" He asked sharply.

Miss Parker didn't answer, just offered him the photo. Sydney glanced at it then pulled over under a streetlight and looked closer.

It was a photo of a woman he knew very well. Catherine Parker. Why would someone send that to Miss Parker? But then he looked closer, seeing things that weren't familiar. Catherine's hair was cut stylishly short in this photo and there was a child with her, a young boy by the look of it. And, impossibly, Catherine seemed older then when she had died.

"The date, Sydney. Look at the date."

Sydney's eyes were drawn down to the corner where the date was automatically stamped and his mouth went dry.

"May 16, 1985, Sydney. Thirteen years after she died. Supposedly died."

Several miles down the river, a man clawed his way quite literally from the water and up a pillar onto a dock, clinging to the pillar to stay upright then pulled away to glare back in the direction of the club. Blood flowed from a dozen bullet wounds to merge undistinguishable with river water.

"Damn!" He said. "I've ruined a new shirt. And lost my hat to boot!"

A giggle flowed through his mind and he scowled darkly.

"Oh, shaddup." He muttered to the giggler and he walked into the night.

Months later
Under the Centre in SL-27
During the explosion. . .

The fireball rolled toward them.

Jarod's mouth was dry, with fear, with anger, with hopeless resignation. To die without finding out the truth, who he was or who his parents were. Or what Finnager meant when he said his father shot Miss Parker's mother. . .

"Damn, damn, damn!" The voice came from behind him and someone grabbed the collar of his jacket, yanking him back. "You wanna die, boyo? Get back!"

Jarod blinked, looking at the figure that was suddenly in front of him. A woman, no, a girl in her mid-teens stood there, braced as if for an attack. The fireball surged closer then hit an invisible wall, swirling and twisting then fading and receding as the effects of the bomb dissipated, revealing a small sturdy figure walking through the flames toward them. Like the figure before him, this newcomer was dressed in unfamiliar body armor, flames dancing on an invisible shield inches from her skin. A knapsack dangled from her hand as she approached, pausing briefly at Sydney.

"You couldn't wait another couple days to actually find your spine?"

"Hellion." said a reproving voice came from behind Jarod and he turned to see another half-dozen youngsters standing there. A couple had rifles slung over their shoulders but most were unarmed save for the handguns they held. Not their handguns but weapons taken from Centre personnel, including a very angry Miss Parker. "Find what you were looking for?"

Hellion raised the knapsack. "Most of it, yes. And even more downloaded directly into our computers. Not all of what we wanted but hopefully enough. The room started blowing up before I could finish." She finished dryly. "You could have warned me, y'know, Sphinx."

"It wasn't like you'd actually be hurt." The speaker stepped forward. A girl with Asian features, her long hair in a bun and eyes hidden behind dark-tinted, wraparound glasses. Jarod estimated that she couldn't be more then twelve years old but she held the handgun with a sure knowledge. "And we needed as much of that information as possible."

"Well, we're not going to get any more so how about we blow this joint. So to speak."

"Who the hell are you?" Parker finally found his voice and the first girl, the one who had held back the firestorm, turned toward him, almost absently pulling down her wrap-around glasses to peer at him with tawny eyes.

"Oh, come now, Parker. You didn't honestly think the Centre was the only organization of its kind? Of course, there are major differences. We work for our organization quite willingly, get paid a tremendous amount of money and can leave any time we please." Her eyes shifted to Miss Parker. "Unlike the Centre."

"Telzey." Sphinx said and the other girl subsided. "We're from Strikeforce One. I'm sure you've heard of us. . ?" From the expressions on both Parker's and Raines' faces, they had. The girl didn't bother turning to confirm the answer, just continued speaking over her shoulder. "We're just here to retrieve some things stolen from us. And since we have, we'll just be on our way. I suggest, Jarod, that you let us give you an escort out. Unless you fancy spending the rest of your life in a cell."

Jarod looked down the fire-scorched hallway. "I. . ." He shook his head. "I need to find out the truth. . ."

"In this lie-ridden place? Please. You have a better chance of getting the truth from the Prince of Lies. Besides, the truth you seek isn't anywhere near here."

"And how would you know?" Miss Parker snapped.

Sphinx turned her head slightly, not quite looking at the woman. "How would I know what? That Jarod's father shot your mother? The question is, which father? His biological father or the one who raised him? And why?" The girl turned fully now, stepping close to Miss Parker, her voice dropping to a whisper. "What is the truth, Miss Parker? It doesn't exist here, in the Centre. All of your answers are out there, in the real world. The question is, do you have the guts to go out there and search for it or will you remain here, being spoon-feed lies and deceptions for the rest of your life?"

Miss Parker stared down at the girl for a long, frozen moment then her hand darted up to tear away the concealing glasses the girl wore. Sphinx didn't even flinch but Miss Parker did. Her face went white and she stumbled back in shock, the glasses dropping to the floor.

Sphinx crouched to unerringly pick up the glasses but she didn't put them right away, turning instead to walk back toward Jarod. His eyes widened in shock. Where Sphinx's eyes should have been was a smooth layer of skin. The girl moving so confidently towards him was blind.

"Do you know the truth?" Miss Parker asked suddenly, sharply.

"Oh, yes." Sphinx slipped her glasses back on. "I do." She reached Jarod, slipping her hand into his, looking up at him as if she could actually see him. "And trust me, Jarod, you won't find it here. Come with us."

"Will you tell me the truth?" Jarod asked softly and Sphinx smiled.

"Some of it. Parts of it. Maybe all of it."

Jarod hesitated then tightened his hold on the girl's hand. "We better go."

Sphinx's smile widened. "Door. . ." She called over her shoulder.

"Wait a minute!" Miss Parker said sharply, stepping forward, stopping when guns moved to point at her unerringly. She almost said something sarcastic but those guns looked just too comfortable in those small hands. "I want to know who killed my mother!"

"For that, you'd have to ask your darling father, Mss Parker."

"But you said. . !"

"I said I knew who shot your mother. Not who killed her. Big difference. Home, Door." She said to the boy who now stood next to her. "Now, if you please."

The boy nodded and walked forward. As he walked, the hallway seemed to shimmer and melt then rebuild itself into a totally different hallway. One with wood walls rather then concrete. Windows rather then barred cell doors. And a man in black standing in the shadows, leaning casually against the wall, his face hidden until he lit a cigarette. The flame flared, flickering in cool silver eyes and briefly revealing long, raven-black hair, light coppery skin and high cheekbones. Then the flame flickered out.

Jarod heard a wheezing gasp from Raines but was too stunned to even look at the man, even when the gasp turned into fight for breath.

"Impossible." Miss Parker stepped closer. "He's dead."

"Wouldn't be the first time." Sphinx said pleasantly. "Haunt. Chance. Cover us. Everyone else. . ." She gestured toward the rebuilt hallway. All but two of the children followed her gesture.

"No!" Miss Parker started forward then stopped abruptly as a gun moved to point at her midsection. "I want. . !"

"What do you want, Miss Parker?" Sphinx said pleasantly, half-turning as if to look her. "Really want? The truth? Which truth? Mine? His?" She pointed unerringly at the woman's father. "Yours? Or maybe your mother's?" She let the silence drag for a moment then crooked her finger at Miss Parker in a "come closer" gesture.

Miss Parker hesitated, eyeing the guns but their bearers had shifted them slightly to cover the men and were now ignoring her. She stepped forward slowly then with more confidence as the two young people covering their companions' retreat continued to ignore her. She stopped a couple feet away from Sphinx and Jarod but Sphinx smiled and beckoned her even closer. Miss Parker looked at Jarod and he shrugged, as uncertain about what was going on as she.

After a moment, the woman stepped next to Sphinx, ignoring her father's cries of warning and, at another gesture from the girl, leaned over so Sphinx to speak directly into her ear. She spoke softly so the others from the Centre couldn't hear but Jarod could.

"Richard Joseph Jenko." Sphinx said softly then stepped back, smiling slightly as she tugged Jarod down the corridor. Miss Parker stared after them, a thousand questions in her eyes but none that she wished to ask in her father's hearing. The other children walked past her, the last two with guns still held steadily on the Centre personnel. When the last one was safe, the corridor once again seemed to melt and shimmer, once again becoming the blast-damaged corridors of SL-27.

I know there is at least one more scene after this. Where it goes from there, I have no idea. Yet.

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