By Gemini-M

Chapter 1

Disclaimer: The Pretender and all its characters are not mine. They belong to NBC, MTM, TNT, and its Producers. I'm just borrowing them to write this story for entertainment. No infringement intended.

Author's Note: Thanks to my Beta Reader, Jaccione for all her wonderful help. To all the readers, I hope that you like my story and I'm looking forward to reading your reviews. Thanks and enjoy.

"It's Choice not chance that determines your destiny." Jean Nidetch.

The waves gently washed over his feet as he walked along the deserted beach. This was his favorite time of the day. The Florida sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon and its warm rays displayed a magnificent reflection over the crystalline blue waters. Once again, he had found himself running from another lonely hotel room to escape the demons that lived in his dreams and terrorized his few hours of sleep. Here at the ocean's edge he would try to find some refuge from his tormentors. The soft rhythmic murmur of the waves and the cries of the sea birds above helped to ease his nerves and allowed his mind to focus on the events to come. Remembering some of the breathing exercises Sydney had taught him as a boy, he closed his eyes and inhaled the cool salty air. He focused all his senses on the world around him and savored these few moments of peace. Soon the beach would be invaded with sunbathing teenagers and families trying to get away from their busy monotonous lives to enjoy a few hours of peace and relaxation.

Peace was something he could indulge in as well on this glorious morning, but his was never complete. He was always wary of his surroundings and relaxing for him was a luxury that could carry a high price, his freedom. This was his life, a constant race for survival just to stay one step ahead of those who pursued him tirelessly day and night.

He stopped and observed the white foamy waves as they washed the sand and tugged at his feet. The current was strong and he had to fight against its pull to keep his balance. Here before him was the perfect metaphor of his life. The powerful ocean waves pulled him in like the people that had controlled his life since childhood, preventing him from finding his identity, his family and home. Standing here all alone on this desolate beach, he had come to a decision. The time had come to pull away from these forces of evil and make a life of his own, and even though it troubled him to leave his friends behind, he had no choice.

After his return from the Island of Carthis four months ago, he had cut all communications with his hunters. He stopped leaving clues for them, and he had ceased to call Sydney and Miss Parker. He could not deny that he missed the talks with his mentor, but on the other hand, he was certain that Miss Parker was enjoying more restful nights without his midnight wake-up calls. This hiatus was needed to sort out his troubled thoughts and to help him come to the decision he had finally taken.

He closed his eyes and remembered Sydney's words, "It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." True, he had loved her since they were young, but... "No fool, you still love her, but you finally had to accept your defeat and her rejection; Stop punishing yourself." Jarod scolded himself and shook his head in an effort to erase her image from his mind, but he knew that was impossible. It was like telling his lungs not to take in oxygen or to ask the sun not to rise. Parker always had that power over him and his heart ached with sadness and guilt at the prospect of leaving his friend behind. Her memories would always haunt him no matter where he went. She was his life and his nemesis.

Since their first meeting in that cold Sim Lab, she had captivated his heart and soul, like a bright light that brought a little happiness and hope into his lonely world. Unfortunately, she too was a prisoner of that Hell and all those years of betrayal, lies and pain had carved deep wounds that shattered the sweet little girl he once knew. More than anything in the world, he wanted to stop her pain and free her, but the powers that be had stolen her remote possibility at happiness and twisted her reality to a point where she saw no escape from that abyss. He could only hope that someday she would find the truth she was seeking and free herself to find the love she truly deserved. With a heavy heart he made his choice. Starting today, he would focus all his energy and thoughts to the task of finding his family and leave his past behind forever. Maybe someday he too would find someone who could love him and help him forget and heal. But for now, it was time to end the game, cut all ties and vanish.

The Centre

The aging psychologist walked slowly down the hall towards the Sim Lab, carrying his usual load of files and his morning cup of coffee. This was his daily ritual, stop by the cafeteria to get a freshly brewed cup of coffee and then prepare the material for the daily tests at the Sim Lab, but today his stride seemed slower than usual and fragile. He felt drained of energy and distracted. The last few weeks he had noticed this change. He was getting exhausted easier and he was having trouble focusing.

Sydney sighted and thought to himself, "Looks like age and constant stress is finally catching up with me, maybe I should start thinking about my retirement."

This last few weeks the atmosphere at the Centre had been very stressful to all those involved in the Pretender retrieval project. The Triumvirate was growing impatient and was demanding results in the hunt for the elusive pretender. There were rumors that Miss Parker's team was going to be dissolved and new players were going to take over the hunt for Jarod. Sydney dreaded to think about the possibility of Mr. Lyle and his associates taking control of the Pretender retrieval assignment. He knew the hatred this mad man had towards Jarod and combined with his hunger to reach the chairmanship at the Centre would make him capable of anything. All these factors could easily dictate a death sentence for Jarod and Miss Parker's team.

In the past, he had begged Jarod to just vanish and forget about them and the Centre, but his stubborn pupil continued the cat and mouse game and his search for the truth. Now this long period of silence from the Pretender had started a chain reaction of events that could only spell disaster to all those involved. Sydney felt helpless and frustrated not being able to give Jarod some kind of warning. In desperation, he had sent numerous e-mails to his Refuge account, but had no response. He could only pray that maybe this time Jarod had finally taken his advice and had chosen to disappear for good.

Sydney sighed and scolded himself for thinking so negatively. Jarod was a genius and if he had managed to avoid the Centre's clutches for over five years, a change in the retrieval team was not going to affect him a great deal; furthermore, Miss Parker would not allow Mr. Lyle to take over her assignment in order to assure his ascent in the Centre hierarchy.

Sydney smiled as a new thought invaded his mind. No matter how well she hid her feelings from others, behind that Ice queen mask, she could not fool this old man. His years had made him wise and he knew that, like her mother, she had a kind soul. She would never allow any harm to come to Jarod as long as she was in the Centre. Jarod and Parker had been inseparable during their isolated childhood and even though circumstances had torn them apart, they still shared a bond the Centre could never understand or break. He remembered Catherine's wishes to raise them together and to protect them, for she knew that one day these two special children would abolish the evil that was germinating at The Centre.

Sydney entered his small office in the Sim lab and threw all his test material on top of his desk. He dropped heavily on his chair and brought the warm cup of coffee to his lips once more, enjoying its aroma while he glanced through the morning paper. He knew it was going to be another long day, so he might as well take advantage of these few minutes of peace and quiet before the lab technicians and test subjects started to arrive.

Sydney looked at the clock on the wall as he heard the lab doors opening and the whispered voices of the first lab technicians. He folded his newspaper and rubbed his tired eyes. It was the beginning of another day bringing him closer to his damnation. As long as he remained within these cursed walls and worked for the devil, he condemned himself to an eternity in the fires of hell, but he had no choice. Sydney sighted with sadness and resignation for he understood that as long as Jarod and Parker were considered Centre property, he would remain here to protect them. As he stood from his chair and reached for his cup of coffee, Sydney's world became a blur and the room started to spin uncontrollably. Stricken with confusion and panic, he franticly reached for the desk to steady himself but his clouded vision betrayed him and he crashed to the floor. The last thing Sydney saw were distorted white covered figures running toward him before his world descended into darkness.