People were looking at him. He could feel it, though his eyes were closed. People were always looking at him. But this time it was different people than he was used to. He blinked a couple of times, like he was just waking up, and through his rapid glimpses, he saw the beautiful woman Mr. Raines had called Miss Parker standing outside the narrow window, staring in at him. Her face and mind were almost as disturbed as they had been when she first saw him back at Donoterase. There were other people with her this time. Mr. Raines was there in his normal dark suit, and with him were two men and a woman, standing back a little, aloof from Miss Parker and from Gem. One of the men was tall and had white hair and a white mustache; he was speaking to Miss Parker with a strange attitude, his whole face full of puzzled innocence but his eyes hiding everything. Gem didn't like him, but he wasn't afraid of him. He was automatically afraid of the shorter man with the gentle, handsome face. Both men hid things behind their faces, but while the tall man only hid selfishness and a lust for power, the shorter man hid a disturbing darkness. Gem shuddered away from him and turned his eyes to the other woman, short, blond, and pretty, with an insincere smile and eyes that hated Miss Parker. She wasn't one to be afraid of, either. Miss Parker…under some circumstances she could be. You wouldn't want her angry at you. But right now she was angry at Mr. Raines and the tall man, and that was fine with Gem. He hid his satisfaction with that.
They were all talking vigorously, as if they were arguing. Every once in a while someone would come up close to the window and look in at him, then turn to the others to argue some more. After a few moments Gem decided to risk sitting up to see if he could understand what they were saying. He'd developed his ability to read lips long ago, because no one told him anything or talked to him unless he was doing a simulation or having a lesson.
The tall man was saying, "We're producing the finest beef at our place in Argentina, each one designed to be exactly the same. Now that is progress."
Beef? They were arguing about beef? Gem had never tasted beef and couldn't understand why it would be worth arguing about. Still, people arguing frightened him. When people argued, he was the one who got in trouble.
And then a fourth man entered the room, and things changed. He, too, was tall, had a rectangular face and grey hair brushed back, and of all the things he hid, not one was to be frightened of. He came right up to the window, leaned his arms on the outside sill, and gazed in at Gem with wide eyes. His eyes weren't surprised, but they held a grim sort of awe and…affection? Gem couldn't quite believe that what he was seeing in this fourth man was real, but he had been trained to believe what his eyes saw.
The man turned and spoke to Miss Parker, and now Miss Parker was angry with him, too. This anger was a little different, as if she had believed implicitly in this man, and he had broken some trust she had given him.
Gem couldn't see what the man was saying, but he saw the tall man's response.
"I'm making Sydney project coordinator on Gemini. I'm going to find out how he compares to the original Jarod."
Miss Parker jerked away and stared at Gem again through the window. What was an "original Jarod," and why should that be disturbing to Miss Parker?
It angered Mr. Raines, too, because he expostulated with the tall man, who snapped at him, "He doesn't belong to you, Raines. He belongs to the Triumvirate, and before we deliver him, I want a performance comparison done by the man who knows more about Jarod than anybody else!"
Maybe "Jarod" was a simulation. That was why he was here, to do a special simulation. It was a relief to learn that he did not belong to Mr. Raines, though he wasn't sure if he liked the idea of belonging to some unknown thing called "the Triumvirate," either. Did people ever just belong to themselves?
The man called Sydney with the affectionate eyes joined Miss Parker at the window. He was smiling, using his smile to hide a great deal that Gem knew no one but he could see. It sometimes seemed strange that other people couldn't see the things he saw, though he had been told time and time again that his talents were special and unique. This man named Sydney hid just as much disturbance and unease as Miss Parker revealed, but he, at least, had the sense to cover it over with a smiling acquiescence in the presence of the tall, powerful man, the short one full of darkness, and the malevolent Mr. Raines. Miss Parker was snarling something at him, completely unaware that inwardly he was agreeing with her, and he only brushed past her.
And then he was coming in the door to Gem's room, and there was a mask over his face, what Gem thought of as the psychiatrist mask. He had seen it on other people, when they came to evaluate him and weren't allowed to reveal anything of themselves. Sydney did it extraordinarily well, his face faintly smiling but neutral in anything that would actually mean something, a veil dropped over his clear brown eyes. He didn't know that Gem could see right through the psychiatrist mask, through any mask, actually. Under the mask was fear, and anger, and guilt, and a steely determination, and buried deeply under that was the affection. Something more than affection. Gem didn't have to wonder why it was so deeply buried. You didn't want to reveal emotions like that in a place like this, to people like these.
"My name is Sydney," he said. "I'll be taking care of you for a while."
Willie the Sweeper shut the door behind Sydney, right in Miss Parker's face, leaving her staring through the window. Gem wished he could figure out what was upsetting her so badly.
To be continued...