This is part five of a series. It is, oddly enough, a sequel to parts one through four and will make very little sense unless you have read those parts. Sorry it has taken so long and thanks to all those who have let me know they're still interested in this story. As has always been the case, "The Pretender" and its characters are not mine. I've simply borrowed them for my own nefarious purposes and am not profiting from this endeavor...unless you count personal satisfaction. I hope it was worth the wait.

Lies V: A Father's Lies

He glanced quickly around the room to be sure he was alone. It was a habit he had learned long ago in the interest of survival. Assured that there was no one else physically present anyway, he allowed his face to soften slightly as he looked at the photo on his desk.

'Oh, Catherine.'

Today was their anniversary...

Would have been their anniversary...

He remembered the first time he had seen her.

A board meeting like any other...until she walked in.

"Everyone, this is Catherine Jameson. She will be heading up our newly created
public relations department."

Warning bells had gone off in his head. The Centre did not create new departments without a reason. They had never cared about the public perception of what they did. Why the sudden change? Maybe it was real, but he had a bad feeling that it had something to do with this lovely young woman.

When she smiled at him, the warnings stopped. In fact, all sound ceased. It was only when someone sitting next to him actually leaned over and shook him that he realized he had been spoken to. After a few embarrassing moments, he gathered himself and was able to finish the meeting...but only by carefully avoiding looking in her direction.

He cursed silently. If only he had been able to control himself in that single
moment, perhaps he could have save them all a lifetime of lies.

She was special, they had explained to him. She carried an unusual gene that they were currently investigating. It was most commonly found in geniuses...and in the emotionally disturbed. They wanted to observe her, to record her reactions in different situations over time.

He was to court her, woo her, do whatever it took to keep her within the orbit of the Centre observers. Of course, she was not an ideal test subject, having been on her own for so long, but should she have any children...

He heard a soft knock and looked up as the door opened on the subject of his
thoughts.


*****
Below

Angelo wasn't surprised to find Catherine waiting for him at the air vent.
Somehow, she always seemed to know when he was coming.

"Hello, Angelo. Is it safe to talk?"

"Safe...for now."

Someday she would have to ask him how he always seemed to know when Centre
surveillance equipment was down.

"How is she? My mother?"

The smile with which Angelo had greeted her quickly disappeared.

"Sad. Angry."

"Why?"

"Daddy's lies."

"My daddy lied to her?"

"No," Angelo responded with a furious shake of his head. "Jarod hates lies. Too many lies. Daughter's daddy lies."

By now, Catherine had figured out that 'daughter' referred to her own mother, the Miss Parker of her photo.

"So I would venture a guess that he's not dead either."

"No." Angelo paused. "Not yet, anyway."


*****
Mr. Parker's office

He was stunned for only a moment before realizing that it wasn't his late wife that confronted him from the doorway, but her daughter.

"Daddy? Are you alright? You looked a million miles away," she commented,
coming around the desk to stand next to him. The concern on her face faded as she noted the photo that had held his attention.

"You still miss her, don't you?"

"Of course I miss her. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. Her, and you kids, of course."

He smiled up at her before changing the subject.

"Something on your mind, Angel?"

"Just wondering if you were free for dinner?"

"I am, but you're not. I just got a call that Jarod has been spotted out near our New Mexico research facility. The private jet is being readied for you and your team even as we speak."

*****
Below

"Jarod?"

Catherine had latched on to the name. "Is that my father's name? Jarod?"

Angelo had to pause a moment. Finally he smiled and nodded.

"Jarod is Catherine's daddy."

"What's he like? Is he looking for me, too?"

"Jarod doesn't know."

"She didn't tell him?"

"Couldn't."

"Because of the lies?"

Angelo nodded sadly.

"They had me do a sim once...a man whose daughter had been kidnapped. He was
very wealthy and powerful and they wanted to know how far he would be willing to
go to get her back. He would have done anything for her. I wonder if Jarod...if my father is like that."

As she thought in silence, Angelo wondered about the man whose cooperation with
the Centre had been bought with his child's life.

*****

Miss Parker sighed heavily.

"It would be so much easier..."

"What would be easier?"

"Catching Jarod. It would be so much easier if we had something to lure him back with. Something that he couldn't get anywhere else."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Family, maybe...a child?"

Had she not been prepared for it, she probably would not have noticed the sudden
tension in the room or her father's sudden intake of breath.

She turned to look at him, a dazzling smile on her face.

"I mean, you'd do just about anything for me, wouldn't you?"

His pause was just a second longer than she liked.

"Of course I would. You or your brother."

'He would have to throw Lyle in there, too,' she thought. Instead of voicing that thought, she allowed a sadness to creep in to her expression.

"I like to think that I would have done anything for...her...if only I'd had the
opportunity."

There.

It was only a moment...maybe a fraction of a moment, but it was there.

That slight, suspicious tightening of his face as his eyes narrowed and his mouth drew in. He was thinking...wondering...

"I'm sure you would have, Angel." He cleared his throat and returned to the
original subject. "Besides, we couldn't take a risk like that with a Gen2
Pretender...assuming one existed. Jarod has been in and out of here several times, and we cannot afford to offer him a lure that we couldn't lose."

"Besides," Miss Parker added, "If we had an offspring of Jarod's, we wouldn't need him anymore, would we? Especially since he's become...tainted by his time on the outside. Would it really do us any good to bring him back?"

"That's not your concern, Angel. You just bring him back where he belongs and
leave the rest of it up to us."

He smiled and patted her hand.

"Let me know when you get back from New Mexico...with Jarod."

He bent back to his work, not looking up again until he heard the door click shut.

'I'm doing the right thing, Catherine. It was the only choice I had.'

*****

'Assuming one existed, my cute little ass!' Parker thought as she stalked towards her office. She glanced at her watch. Just enough time to leave another little message for daddy before gathering her posse and heading off on another wild goose chase. Just as she bent to slide in the floppy, carefully prepared the night before, her phone shrilled loudly.

*****
Below

"Tell me about Jarod, Angelo. Is he still alive, too?"

"Alive and free!" Angelo assured her with a smile.

"Free? You mean they let him go?"

A snort of laughter greeted her question.

"Couldn't stop him."

"He escaped! Do you know where he went?"

"Searching for Jarod...for family...helping people."

"But wasn't he helping people here at the Centre?" she asked in confusion.

"Used to. Sometimes. A long time ago. When mom was still here."

"Jarod's mom?"

"Daughter's mom. Catherine...like daughter's daughter."

"I'm named after my grandmother," she exclaimed with a delighted smile.

"Always bad things. Taking the children. Took Jarod and Kyle from family. But
some good, too. Later, more bad things. Catherine tried to save the children."

"Did she?"

"Couldn't save Jarod or Timmy or daughter."

"Why not? What happened to her?"

"Man in black stopped her." He made his hand into the gun shape that children
have employed for centuries. Even with her lifetime isolation, Catherine understood his meaning.

"The Centre had her killed?" Catherine asked, shock evident in every aspect of her.

Angelo froze and cocked his head, listening to a sound only he could hear.

"Time to go."

She knew not to delay him with any more questions. If they were caught, she would never find out the truth.

"Bye, Angelo. Watch out for my mother."

*****

Children had never been a part of the plan...not his plans, anyway. He had never really understood them or even especially liked them. Catherine had wanted children, but had decided not to have any, due to her periodic bouts of depression. Having grown up with a mother who suffered from it, she had sworn never to put a child of her own through that.

The Centre, though, wanted her to reproduce. They had plans for her child. If one was not produced soon, they would have to take more drastic measures.
Reluctantly, he agreed to help. He switched her birth control pills for a low level fertility drug. In spite of his deception, she still did not conceive and he had begun to hope that normal biology might defeat the Centre.

Unfortunately, her annual assignation up north had accomplished what he could
not.

Yes, he knew about Maine...about Ben.

In an odd sort of way, he was happy that she had someone in her life who loved her first and foremost...something he could never do. In his life, the Centre must always come first. It was the only way to stay alive.

When he had first approached her with the idea of turning the child over to the
Centre, he had been shocked at her negative reaction. Surely she understood that the child would receive the very best, things that even they could never hope to give it while at the same time offering valuable insight to their medical scientists.

But she was vehement. No child of hers would be used as a lab experiment.

Fate, though, offered him a way out.

Twins, they told him. Two little girls. They had even lied about that.

He offered them a compromise. One child for them, one for Catherine. It was the perfect opportunity to verify the efficacy of Centre training methods. As long as he remained at the Centre, they would have access to the child raised in a normal environment, as well as the one raised in their strictly controlled one. Over the years, they could compare the two girls.

To his surprise, they agreed.

He did feel a tiny bit of guilt at his wife's grief over her lost child, but comforted himself with the fact that she did still have one child. If not for his intervention, the Centre probably would have taken them both.

Over time, a strange thing happened. He found himself falling in love with the little girl. Even though he didn't really like children and even though this one wasn't really his, he discovered feelings within himself that no one, not even her mother, had ever aroused in him before.

And that put her in danger.

A casual comment following a boardroom disagreement.

'It'd be a real shame if something was to happen to that sweet little girl of yours, Parker.'

So the armor went on. Never show your emotions. Never let them know you care.
Not only does it make you look weak, it puts those you love in danger.

The hardest time was when Catherine died. He knew what she was planning.
She had done so with his blessing. He wanted her and the girl gone...somewhere
safe...even if he never saw them again. He had told her to make her plans and to go. The less he knew about them, the safer they would all be.

If only she hadn't insisted on taking Jarod. He knew that it was this part of her plan that had gotten her killed. He had tried to talk her out of it...thought he had succeeded. Apparently not.

When he was told about her death, his first instinct had been to grab the girl and make a run for it. Fortunately, his hard-learned caution had won. As difficult as it had been to watch her mourn alone, he reminded himself that it was for her own good. That which does not kill us will make us stronger.

Only the strong survive. This was apparent nowhere more than at the Centre.
Since the Centre would never let her go, he had to do his best to prepare her for it.

*****
Miss Parker's office

"What?"

"Catherine Faith Parker."

She froze. Not Jarod. Not now.

She swallowed hard and forced a note of confusion into her voice.

"Who?"

"You tell me."

"Catherine was my mother, Faith was my sister. You know that as well as I do,
Jarod,' she reminded him.

"But neither was born in Blue Cove and both were dead long before August 21,
1980," he shot back.

She remained silent.

"What are you up to, Parker? Why all the games with the Centre computers?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. If you have questions about the computer systems, visit your local bookstore. They've got whole sections on computers. Or better yet, why don't you come in and ask Broots for help. We can set you up in a nice little room downstairs."

"So which did you use? Broots or the books? I'm guessing it was the books,
because you wouldn't want to risk getting him involved."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Jarod."

It sounded weak, even to her own ears.

"Tell me, Parker. I want to help."

Suddenly, she was angry...very angry.

"Help!? You want to help?! I've seen your idea of 'help'! Your little hints and innuendos...a word here, a photo there! Always dangling the carrot in front of me! You know who you dangle carrots for?! You dangle carrots for a jackass, Jarod!"

"Parker, listen..." he tried to interrupt.

"No, you listen, Jarod." Her voice was quiet and intense. "I may not be a genius like you, but I'm not an idiot either."

"I know that, Parker..."

"I know things aren't right here. I don't need your games, Jarod. This is far too serious a matter."

He was silent for a moment as he thought about her accusations.

"How can I help?"

She breathed a sigh of relief.

"Just stay our of it for now...Please..."

She hated begging, especially from Jarod, but for Catherine...

"You're playing a dangerous game, Parker."

"I know...and the fewer people that know about it, the better my chances of
success." She could almost hear him thinking, coming up with arguments.

"I will ask for your help, Jarod, but there's so much to tell you first, and there's just not time right now. Everything is too confusing and it's all happening so fast..."

"Parker..."

She took a deep breath, prepared to do the hardest thing she had ever done.

"Please, Jarod. If you ever felt anything for me...if you ever really cared...you have to trust me on this...let me do this my way..."

*****
Mr. Parker's office

She had been away at boarding school when he was called before the Triumvirate.
They needed her, they told him. The pretender project was going so well financially that they needed another pretender.

He reminded them of the deal struck when she was born. They got one child, he got the other.

That hadn't exactly worked out the way they had hoped it would, they told him.
Besides, that was back then. Times and situations had changed.

She's too old, he told them. Well past the target age for training a pretender.

It would take time...probably several years, but the financial return on their
investment would be well worth it.

He couldn't tell them 'no'...not if he wanted to continue living...but he had
promised Catherine that he would always protect her daughter.

So he came up with an alternative. While she was a good candidate for the
program, any child she produced would be even better, especially if they were able to choose the father. He knew about their work on a pretender breeding
program...knew about their failure with artificial conception means.

Once again, he found himself offering them a trade: a child for a child.

Her child...and Jarod's child.

Artificial intervention wouldn't be needed, just nature and biology and a little
preparation on their part.

After some discussion, they reached an agreement. They would use the girl for their breeding project. If she produced what they wanted, they would allow her to remain free.

Somewhere deep inside, Mr. Parker knew that this agreement would not meet with
Catherine's approval, but he didn't see that he had any other option. She would be free, he reminded himself, not locked into a life of simulations. She would be hurt, feel betrayed and angry, but she would remain free.

She could be treated, they assured him...not brainwashed...that was such a nasty
word...so that she would only remember what they wanted her to.

Jarod's betrayal.

Her father's love and support.

Her child's death.

It would be hard, but she was strong. He had made her that way. She would
survive and come through the experience even stronger.

Furthermore, it would offer her a degree of protection. Even if she didn't
remember, she had provided the Centre with something very important to them,
something that no one else could give them. Should they ever find cause to take
action against her, that fact could well save her life...or his.

Everyone won.

Except the baby...and he tried not to think about her. Besides, she actually had it pretty good. She had clothing, nutritious meals every day, a roof over her head and a place to sleep. She had received the finest education possible from the finest minds the Centre had been able to round up. She would never fall prey to the evils others faced on the outside world: crime, drug abuse, teen aged pregnancy. She was safe from all that. She was actually a very fortunate young woman.

Really, she was.

*****

Parker held her breath as she waited for Jarod's response.

"This is really important to you?"

"This is the most important thing I've ever done, Jarod."

"All right. I'll stay out of it...for now. But I should warn you that the technical team they have working on your bombs is very close."

"I know. They almost caught me the other day."

"Actually," Jarod told her, "that was me."

"You? Are you telling me that I actually beat you?"

He started to deny it, to offer up some excuse, but the hint of delight in her voice stopped him short. She had so few things in her life that gave her pleasure. If thinking that she had outsmarted him would help...

Who was he kidding? She had outsmarted him.

"Well...maybe...sort of..."

Her laugh and the image of her smile at that moment soothed the sting to his pride that this admission caused.

"Too bad I can't tell Daddy."

His heart ached at the wistful tone in her voice.

"Parker, I cannot understand why his opinion is still so important to you after
everything he's done."

'And you don't even know the worst of it,' she thought.

"But then I wouldn't know much about parent child relationships, would I?" he
continued. "Seeing as how I haven't had one since I was taken."

"I know, Jarod. I'm sorry. We will find them."

Jarod was speechless. His statement had been reflexive...a part of the game they had been playing since his escape.

"We?"

"It's important to me, too, now. You'll understand when I explain. Until then, I need your promise that you won't interfere."

"I promise."

Then he whispered a name...the name of a little girl she had once been...and she
trusted him.

She hung up the phone with a smile on her face and pressed the button that would
send one last little note to the Centre mainframe.

*****

Mr. Parker's office

He reached out and gently touched her face in the photograph, longing for the feel of warm flesh rather than cool glass.

'I've done my best, Catherine. You might not have agreed with my decisions, but I did what I felt was best for her. At least she's free.'

On a security monitor, he watched her stride across the grounds to the hangar, a
team of sweepers close on her heels.

'She's still free.'

*****

Below, Catherine carefully unrolled the paper that Angelo had just pushed through the ventilation grate.

It was another photo.

A man.

Dark hair, dark eyes, small mole underneath one.

He looked kind, humorous, and inquisitive.

"Jarod?" she asked.

Angelo nodded. "Jarod," he confirmed, since she hadn't even taken her eyes off the picture to look up at him. She pulled out the other photo, the one of her mother, and lay the two side by side on the floor. She studied both intently with her eyes and her fingers, trying to learn about these two strangers who had given her life.

"I miss them, Angelo. I've never met them, but I miss them."

He nodded in understanding. "Soon, Catherine. Soon."

She smiled, gently tracing her mother's face.

"Soon," she agreed.



The end of part V.