One month later

Bobby lay on his bed, arms clutching tightly at his sides. He tried hard not to move… to shudder… or even to breathe harder than was necessary. As it was, every shallow breath he took lit a fiery pain in his chest and ribs, and he wondered miserably whether one or more of them had been broken this time.

In retrospect, he had to concede he’d been in the wrong, but the simulation Raines had demanded he do had been abhorrent to him, and in the end he baulked and refused to do it.

Retribution had been swift and brutal, leaving him curled up on the floor of the simulation room, in agony and barely able to move. Eventually, a couple of Raines’ men had picked him up and dragged him unceremoniously back to his room. Not the solitary cell, though. Raines had not attempted to put him there again, although the room into which he was locked every night was nearly as bad.

Then, he’d been left with an ominous warning to ‘seriously reconsider his non-compliance’.

Well, fuck them, Bobby thought bitterly. And fuck Raines. He would cooperate with Sydney, but never with Raines. Never.

He heard the open, but made no effort to look. Looking would have meant moving, and that hurt too much.

“You know, I really don’t know whether to think you’re brave, or just plain crazy.”

Bobby sighed softly at the voice, though whether it was out of weariness or relief, even he didn’t know for sure. Miss Parker walked over and sat down carefully on the edge of the bed, watching Bobby thoughtfully. He remained on his side, facing the wall and showing no indication that he even knew she was there.

“Are you going to look at me?” she asked finally. Bobby shut his eyes. Part of him wanted to respond, to welcome the company she provided him with, and another part of him wanted to tell her to fuck off and leave him alone, that she was no better than the rest of them.

“Please,” he whispered finally, “leave me alone.”

Miss Parker hesitated, and then reached out to brush her fingertips lightly over his dark curls. It didn’t escape her notice, the way he flinched away from her touch.

“Sit up, and let me dress those ribs for you. Then I’ll leave you alone to wallow.”

For nearly a minute, he didn’t respond. Miss Parker didn’t grow impatient, though. She simply waited in silence for him to gather himself. Finally, Bobby shifted, sobbing faintly in pain as he did so, and pushed himself up slowly into a sitting position.

“Let’s get this off you,” she murmured, helping him to pull off his shirt, and it was all she could do not to cringe at the sight of the masses of bruising that covered his torso. “Why won’t you just cooperate with Raines, Bobby? Why do you give Raines an excuse to do this to you?”

Bobby stared miserably at the floor, doing his best not to cry out as she applied ointment to the worst of the bruising.

“I’d rather get the crap beaten out of me every day by his goons, than give in and do what he wants. If I do that, then I’m giving up… and I’m not ready to give up yet.”

She regarded him with sympathy.

“Bobby, you know they’re not going to let you go. They lost Jarod… They won’t lose you, too.”

“Sydney said the same thing,” he mumbled.

“He was right,” Parker confirmed. “And you’re not doing yourself any favours by fighting like this.”

Bobby looked at her balefully.

“What would you do if you were in my position? Do you even know what it’s like to be locked up like this? To know that everything you say… everything you do is being recorded? To know that you’re living purely at someone else’s behest?”

Parker paused in answering, her mind flickering back briefly to a memory of walking into one of Jarod’s traps, and being locked up with Lyle.

“Yes,” she answered softly. “I think I do.”

Before he had a chance to respond, she began to wrap a wide bandage around his torso, to strap his ribs. He winced, and grunted in pain, and she offered him a wry smile.

“Sorry, but it’s going to hurt a lot worse tomorrow if I don’t.”

“Why?” Bobby asked softly. She glanced at him questioningly.

“What do you mean?”

“Why are you doing this? Why are you helping me at all?”

He was answered with a flat stare as Parker abruptly stood up.

“Hey, if you want to keep up the tough guy act, be my guest. I don’t have to do any of this. I just thought it might help to make things a little easier on you. But if you’d rather, I can just go.”

She turned and walked to the door. Her hand was on the knob when Bobby suddenly broke his paralysis.

“I… I’m sorry… Please, don’t go.”

Parker hesitated, and then looked back at him slowly.

“Are you sure?”

He nodded, quietly hating himself for begging.

“Yes. Please… I’m sorry. I just… I don’t know who to trust.”

Parker returned to the bed, sat down next to him and resumed bandaging his chest.

“I won’t ask you to trust me. But I hope you believe me when I tell you that I don’t want to see you get hurt. And if you keep fighting Raines, you’re going to keep getting hurt… and it’s going to get progressively worse every time.”

“Do you know what it was that he wanted me to do?” Bobby asked softly. She paused, watching him carefully. This was dangerous ground, for Bobby to talk to her about any simulations Raines tried to force him to do. After a moment, she gave in with a sigh. As a Centre employee, there was no time when she wasn’t in some degree of danger. Now was no different to any other time.

“What was it?” she asked. He stared down at the floor, unshed tears glistening in his eyes.

“He wanted me to take on a role of a terrorist… and plan out an attack on the scale of 9/11. He wanted me to simulate the hijacking and crashing a plane… with the intention of causing maximum damage and loss of life. I… I couldn’t do it.”

Parker shut her eyes. Raines had tried and succeeded in creating a psychopath with Jarod’s brother, Kyle. She dreaded to think what he was trying to accomplish now with Bobby.

“Are all the simulations he wants to put you through like that one?”

Bobby drew in a shuddering breath.

“Three days ago… he wanted me to simulate a… a rapist… who attacks children. And last week, he tried to force me to simulate a serial killer.”

“Son of a bitch,” Parker murmured.

“I can’t do it,” Bobby whispered shakily. “I can’t give in to him. I’d rather be dead than give him what he wants.”

“I understand,” Parker conceded. “But you’re on dangerous ground, Bobby. Sooner or later, Raines is going to lose his patience with you, and when that happens… I really don’t know what he’ll do.”

“I don’t care,” Bobby said bitterly. “He can do whatever the hell he wants. I won’t cooperate with him.”

Park felt a chill race down her spine at his determined words.

“Bobby, don’t underestimate Raines. If he got his way, you’d disappear into the bowels of this place, never to be seen by anyone except him. You can’t begin to imagine what he’s capable of.”

“I think I have a pretty good idea,” Bobby mumbled. Parker sighed, and finished tying off the bandage.

“No, I don’t think you do.”

“You’re saying I should do what he wants me to do?”

“I’m saying, be very careful.” She stood up, paused, and then reached down to gently push a rogue lock of hair back into place and lightly caress his stubbled cheek. “It’s easy to go insane in this place. I wouldn’t like to see that happen to you.”

“Like it happened to Angelo?” Bobby asked. Miss Parker withdrew from him slowly.

“I can tell you for a fact that Raines was directly responsible for what was done to Angelo,” she told him quietly. “And that’s all the more reason why you need to tread carefully. If he no longer thinks he can persuade you to cooperate, he will resort to other means. And believe me when I tell you that you won’t like any of them.”

Bobby watched as she left his room, locking the door behind her.

“I’ll take my chances,” he murmured after she’d gone.

He’d noticed it when he was lying on the floor of the sim room, curled up in a tight ball and struggling to minimise the pain he was in. He marvelled that he hadn’t seen it sooner. But then, perhaps he had, and just hadn’t given it any further thought. He suspected that it was only the escalating violence that he was suffering as a result of his ‘non-compliance’ with Raines that he had bothered to really take note.

It was a vent shaft, covered with a wire panel and it was just big enough for a man to crawl through.

A month ago, he wouldn’t have even contemplated it, but he’d lost a lot of weight after a month of being on a strictly controlled diet and intensive physical exercise, and he had slimmed down considerably. He’d caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror in Sydney’s office a couple of days ago, and had been surprised and disturbed by his altered appearance. His hair was longer, and his face noticeably thinner.

Gone was the middle-aged chubbiness that had been starting to take hold, leaving him looking visibly leaner. Lean enough, he thought now, to be able to crawl through that ventilation shaft.

The more he thought about it, the more the idea appealed to him. The only thing stopping him from trying immediately was his lack of knowledge of the Centre. By the time Jarod had escaped, he had an intricate knowledge of the building. By comparison, his chances of laying his hands on the plans of the building were slim to none. The only time he’d been let near a computer had been under Sydney’s strict supervision, and he’d not been given a chance to do anything other than what he was expected to do.

On the other hand, he mused as got awkwardly to his feet and tried to stretch some of the more painful kinks out of his body, there was one person who might possibly be able to get that information for him without raising suspicions.

His gaze went up to the small vent above his bed. Maybe, just maybe…

“Angelo,” he called softly, taking care not to move his lips too much. He’d learnt soon after his recapture that the cameras which filmed him in his room lacked sound. It was something that he’d taken frequent advantage of in the weeks that followed. “Angelo…?”

Silence met his call, but he waited patiently. If nothing else, this place was teaching him endless patience. Minutes ticked by, until a voice came to him through the shaft.


Bobby fought the urge to smile. He didn’t trust Raines, Lyle, Parker… Hell, he didn’t even truly trust Sydney, but he’d soon discovered that Angelo could always be relied upon as a safe haven from the nightmare that his life had become. They’d had many a conversation through this shaft, and it was one of the few things that had helped him to keep his sanity. And God knew how damned hard that had been.

A not so small, very cynical part of him wondered what the Powers That Be would do if he were to follow in his mother’s footsteps, and suffer a major psychotic break. He couldn’t deny the idea was seriously starting to appeal to him. To just completely detach himself from reality, and retreat to an inner world where nothing mattered anymore… It wasn’t going to happen, of course, but he wondered all the same.

“Angelo, I need your help,” Bobby whispered. “I need the plans for this building. I need to see the plans for the ventilation shafts and tunnels. Can you get that for me?”

His question was answered with a long silence.

Bobby… escaping?”

“I hope to,” he admitted softly. Again, silence.

Jarod’s coming back,” Angelo told him, with slight agitation in his voice. “Patience…”

“I can’t wait for him, Angelo. I need to at least try to get out. Please, will you help me?”

I’ll help.”

And then he was gone again.

Bobby sighed and sank down onto the bed, suddenly exhausted. It was a dangerous road he was planning on trying, and he knew the punishment would be severe if he failed. Alternatively, if he succeeded, it would mean living on the run; the very scenario that he had baulked at when Jarod originally suggested it.

Whichever way it went, he was gradually coming to accept that his life as Detective Robert Goren, of the NYPD’s Major Case Squad, was over. With it, came the painful acceptance that he would probably never see his friends and family again, because if he were successful at escaping, he could never go home to New York. He could never risk contacting any of them – for their sakes as well as his own.

His life would become that of a drifter, with no permanent home… always running… always looking over his shoulder… never truly safe…

But he was being melodramatic, now. The first step was to get those plans, and then he would take the next step of planning his actual escape. Patience. It was all about patience.

Bobby sighed softly as his eyes slid shut and sleep began to overtake him. He didn’t know whether he would be successful or not. All he knew was that he had to try.

Angelo came through for Bobby not quite a week later. Bobby was sitting alone in the room where he was given all of his meals, waiting for lunch to be brought. Sydney had finally convinced the Director that he wasn’t going to try and escape, that there was no need to have cleaners on guard duty inside the room while he did something as menial as eat a meal, and the irony of that was not lost on Bobby. So he really was alone, except for the cameras that continued to monitor his every move.

Movement attracted his attention, and he looked up to see Angelo emerging out of the shadows. A small, tired smile touched his lips at the sight of the savant. In the midst of all the misery, Angelo had become a true saving grace, appearing to comfort him when he felt at his most miserable, and reassuring him that he hadn’t been forgotten by those who meant the most to him.

“Angelo,” Bobby murmured, willingly embracing the other man in a fierce hug. As they hugged, Bobby felt Angelo slip something that felt suspiciously like carefully folded paper in between his skin and the elastic waistband of his sweat pants.

“Be careful,” Angelo whispered into his ear. “Mr Raines… watching you.”

That didn’t surprise Bobby. Raines was always watching him. He was due to spend that afternoon with Sydney, though, and Sydney was not as paranoid as Raines was. Sydney was willing to allow him some time to himself, unmonitored. Time that he could put to good use memorising building plans…

“Angelo? What are you doing here?”

Angelo drew back slowly from Bobby at the sound of Sydney’s voice. Bobby looked up uneasily at Sydney, but there was no anger in the older man’s eyes. Merely curiosity.

“He just came to say hello,” Bobby said by way of explanation. “He wasn’t doing any harm.”

Sydney smiled a little.

“It’s all right. I have no objections. Bobby, I’ve decided to scrap the simulation that I had planned for you today. I thought you might appreciate a rest from all of that.”

Bobby couldn’t quite hide his eagerness and relief at the prospect of not having to do a simulation. As much as he was willing to work with Sydney, he couldn’t keep from feeling that every simulation he did, every new identity he assumed, sapped a little more of his own identity. His greatest fear was to lose his sense of self entirely, until he didn’t know who he really was anymore.

“What are we going to do, then?” he asked. Sydney chuckled softly at the eagerness and sudden cheer in Bobby’s voice.

“I thought we could spend the afternoon in my office… just talking… And, if you like, you can have some time to yourself, and perhaps work in your notebook.”

Bobby nodded wordlessly. His notebook was something that Sydney had given to him after his first week. It was a simple spiral bound notebook, where he was encouraged to flesh out any ideas he had. At first, he hadn’t known what Sydney meant, but before long he found himself coming up with ideas and potential inventions, and surprising himself greatly with his new-found creativity and inventiveness.

He’d come to look forward to the time that Sydney gave him to brainstorm, and work in his notebook, for not only did he find pleasure and relief in letting his mind wander, it was also a welcome break from everything else he had to do that was not nearly so pleasant.

More to the point, though, was that Sydney’s private office contained only one solitary camera, making it pretty much the most private place in the entire building. There was just the one camera, built into the clock face on the wall. Bobby had soon learnt that if he sat in just the right position, he could quite adequately conceal what he was doing, and he knew this because he had overheard Raines abusing Sydney for letting Bobby spend so much time in his office where, quote, ‘they couldn’t adequately monitor the subject’.

So, he knew he had at least some degree of privacy in that room, making it possible for him to get away with various minor infractions – whether it was nibbling on an apple that he’d pilfered from his lunch tray, reading a book that he might have slipped discreetly off Sydney’s shelves… or studying the plans of the Centre with a mind to making his escape. It was the most privacy he could hope for, and he intended to take full advantage of it.

“I’d like that,” he murmured, offering up a grateful smile. Sydney patted him lightly on the shoulder.

“Very well, then. As soon as you’ve had your lunch, we’ll go straight to my office.”

Sydney stayed with him for nearly two hours, talking about subjects that ranged from Bobby’s physical wellbeing to the various simulations he had been doing. Bobby tried a number of times to probe for information about what was going on in the world beyond the Centre’s walls – just some scrap of news, to try and keep himself grounded – but the psychiatrist was far too wily, and gave nothing away.

“None of that concerns you anymore, Bobby,” Sydney told him gently when Bobby flat out asked why he wouldn’t answer his questions. “You must accept that. To talk about those things would just amplify your longing for a world that you don’t belong in anymore.”

Bobby looked away, but not quite quickly enough to hide his tears. Sydney’s words cut deeply, and painfully. He’d spent the last month and a half trying desperately to cling to his memories of that outside world, but with every day that passed, with every simulation he performed… with every beating he suffered at the hands of Raines’ men, those memories grew more distant, and harder to hold on to.

Every night, Bobby ran through the painfully short list of his closest friends, picturing their faces, and trying to hear their voices in his head. Some were clearer than others. He found that his memories of Alex and Deakins were more vivid than those of Mike and Carolyn. It was starting to become a real effort to remember Mike’s voice in his mind, and he could barely remember how Carolyn sounded at all. Their faces had not yet faded from his mind’s eye, but a horrible feeling deep in his gut told him it wouldn’t be long.

He could only pray that, of all the faces and voices he was trying to desperately to hold on to, Alex’s would be the one who would never fade from his memory.

A hand alighted on his shoulder, and Sydney’s voice spoke quietly.

“I’m sorry, Bobby, but it would be best if you would try to forget. The world outside these walls is no longer a part of your life, and it never will be again. Accept that, and you will eventually be happier for it.”

Happier, Bobby thought bitterly as Sydney patted him again on the shoulder and excused himself from the office. Yeah. Right. Not in this lifetime.

He waited until Sydney was out of sight before getting up and beginning to pace back and forth slowly, the way he did every time that Sydney left him alone like this. He made no attempt to leave the confines of the office. He had tried that just once, the very first time Sydney had left him there. Two cleaners had appeared out of nowhere, and their guns aimed at his face had been a very big incentive to beat a hasty retreat back into the office. He’d not bothered trying again, knowing damn well that even though they weren’t in sight, the cleaners were still there, watching to make sure he didn’t make a wrong move. Specifically, he didn’t try to move out of the office.

He paced the length of the office for nearly ten minutes before picking his notebook up off Sydney’s desk and seating himself carefully so that his back was squarely to the camera in the clock. Then, taking extreme care with his movements, he extracted the paper from where it had been tucked into the waistband of his sweats.

Bobby had to smile when he got a good look at it. Angelo hadn’t simply folded the papers up. He’d folded it origami style into the shape of what Bobby guessed was supposed to be a police badge. He drew in a slow breath, finding he suddenly had to fight the threat of tears.

Remember who you are

It was a mantra he’d taken to repeating to himself every night before sleep took him.

I am Robert Goren. I am Robert Goren. I am Robert Goren

It meant fractionally less to him with each day that passed.

Pushing aside his pain at the thoughts of what he’d lost, Bobby unfolded the paper and found himself staring at a complicated diagram of lines and symbols. He frowned deeply for a moment, before his vision adjusted and he began to understand what he was looking at.

His breath escaped him in a rush as his sharp eyes picked out the ventilation shaft that ran from the duct in the sim room. Eyes narrowed to near pin-points as he followed the line of that shaft from the point of origin, right through to where it connected to a tunnel outside the Centre walls.

Bobby went over that path again and again, not just seeing it on the sheet before him, but also envisaging the actual tunnel. Over the next hour, he travelled not only that path over and over in his mind’s eye, but three other possible escape routes that he’d found. By the time Sydney returned to the office, he’d destroyed the papers spirited to him by Angelo, and he knew those four paths as well as he knew the eleventh floor of One Police Plaza back home in New York.

His breath caught a little in his throat. Home. That was a reminder he hadn’t needed.

“Nothing today?”

He looked up as Sydney walked back in and came over to look down at the blank pages of his notebook.

“Sorry,” Bobby apologised, and was quietly disturbed that apologising was becoming a reflex action with him.

“It’s all right,” Sydney assured him. “Next time, perhaps. Now, Bobby, I’ll be going away this weekend. Raines has been instructed by the Director to leave you alone, but if anything happens while I’m gone, I want you to tell me. Do you understand?”

Bobby nodded wordlessly, feeling a distinct chill of fear at the thought of Sydney not being around.

Standing up again, Sydney crossed to the bookshelves, and selected three books.

“Here,” he said, coming back to the desk and handing the three books to Bobby. “I want you to relax this weekend, Bobby. Don’t think about our work. Read, and relax.”

Bobby clutched the books to his chest as though they were a lifeline, and spoke softly in answer with his eyes cast down to the floor.


New York

Alex awoke with a violent start, lathered in sweat from trembling almost uncontrollably from chills. She lay still and silent for a long while before her mind came back to the present, and she remembered that she was safe in bed, in her home. And then she remembered the nightmare that had jolted her so brutally out of her slumber.

Bobby… Of course, it had been about Bobby. Just about all her dreams now were about Bobby, and they were rarely good. Even on those few occasions when they were pleasant, it was always bittersweet, and left her feeling even more miserable when she woke up.

In this instance, there had been nothing pleasant about it. She remembered in her dream that she hadn’t actually seen him, but she could hear him calling to her, begging her to help him. Begging her to save him… And it was a plea that she was powerless to respond to, either in her dreams or in reality.

Shuddering, Alex dragged herself out of bed and made her way out to get water from her kitchen. The sound of snoring stopped her cold and sent her mind into hyper drive, until she suddenly remembered that Mike had accompanied her on a binge session at a nearby bar and had ended up crashing at her place. She wondered briefly why she didn’t have a massive hangover, like he was bound to have when he woke up. Then she remembered that her binge had ended very abruptly when the bartender, remembering her from past visits she’d made there with Bobby, plonked a margarita down in front of her, ‘on the house’.

She’d spent the rest of the evening staring at the untouched drink in melancholic silence, until the sound of Mike offering to do karaoke without musical backing spurred her haul his drunken ass out of there.

Two months, she reflected miserably as she made her way past the snoring heap on the sofa that was Mike Logan. It had been nearly two months since Bobby’s abduction by the Centre. She’d spent the first month waiting and hoping desperately for a call from Jarod to say that they had a plan, and they were ready to go and get Bobby back. But nothing had happened, except from that disastrous attempt to speak to Bobby by diverting calls from Frances Goren’s private phone to Jim Deakins’ office.

Oh, the nightmares she’d had after that one. And she hadn’t been the only one, judging by the constant ashen colour of the captain’s face in the days following that incident. Riddled with guilt, Deakins had had the divert on Frances’ phone removed, but there had been no more phone calls from Bobby to his mother.

Now, a second month was nearly gone, and still they seemed no closer to getting Bobby out of there. Quietly, Alex was starting to wonder whether Jarod ever intended on coming back. Forget assurances. What reason did he have for putting himself at risk again? The Centre had Bobby now; Jarod was essentially a free man.

Before she knew it, Alex was sobbing quietly over the sink, the glass of water forgotten. She missed her partner, and she wanted him back. Nothing would be right again until that happened.

She was so caught up in her own grief that she didn’t notice movement behind her until she felt a strong pair of hands gently turning her around, and she found herself wrapped up in a warm, strong embrace.

“Thought you were asleep,” she whispered in between hiccoughing sobs.

“I sleep light,” he murmured, rubbing her back gently in soothing circles. “Thinking about Bobby?”

“What gave me away?”

He smiled, but there was little humour in that smile.

“We are going to rescue him from that place, Alex. Don’t give up, okay?”

“It’s been two months!” Alex choked out, her voice muffled by his rumpled shirt. “Do you know what sort of damage could be done in two months?”

“I know,” he murmured, deciding not to even try and argue. “But Bobby’s a tough guy, and we have to hold on to the hope that when we do get him back, whatever damage has been done will be reversible. We’ve got some pretty damn good shrinks to fall back on here, remember. Skoda… Huang… Olivet… And I can vouch for Olivet. She helped me enough times.”

“What scares me is that he might really be emotionally and mentally damaged enough to actually need a shrink,” Alex admitted. Mike hugged her fiercely.

“It’s not going to be easy, Alex. I think we all know that. But there’s no reason why it has to be hopeless. But one step at a time. First we have to get him back, and for that we have to be patient, and wait for Jarod.”

“Jarod,” Alex spat bitterly. “How do we know he’s even trying to help Bobby? For all we know, he could have just decided to blow Bobby off and get on with his own life.”

The sudden silence, and sudden stillness from Mike caught Alex’s attention, and she drew back and looked up at him slowly.

“What?” she asked softly. “What is it?”

Mike groaned, then, and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“Fuck… I’m sorry, Alex. I promised Deakins I’d tell you, but then we went to the bar… and I went and got shit-faced and forgot.”

“Forgot what?” Alex demanded. “Damn it, Mike, spit it out!”

“Deakins got a call from Jarod. It was while you out meeting your snitch this afternoon. He told Deakins that he’s managed to track down that friend of his that he told us about, the one who’d be willing to help get Bobby out. The only problem is the guy is on a job… I think he said in Iran… Anyway, it’s gonna be at least another month before Jarod will be able to get together with him to start planning a rescue.”

It was all Alex could do not to start crying again. As it was, Mike could read the devastation on her face as clear as day.

“Another month…? Mike, how long do you think Bobby could last in that place?”

He drew her back in close for another hug.

“We have to pray that he will, Alex. Because there’s nothing else we can do now, except wait. And I know it’s a bitch. I hate it as much as you do, but we don’t have any other choice. We don’t want to jump the gun, and get Bobby killed.”

“Like we could have done with that phone trick?” she asked, and immediately regretted her words. Mike may have come up with the idea, but she had gone along with it whole-heartedly, able only to think of talking to Bobby, and hearing his voice. Deakins had seen the risks, and had voiced his concerns, but none of them had really paid any attention… until that god-awful scream of pain that had burned its way into all their memories. Then, and only then, had they finally understood the gravity of the mistake they’d made. And then, it had been too late.

“You need sleep, Alex,” Mike murmured, not loosening his hold on her.

“Come to bed with me?” she asked before her brain could catch up with her mouth. Mike froze.

“Alex… I don’t think…”

“I just want someone to hold me,” she whispered. “Please, Mike. I don’t want to be alone.”

The sigh that escaped him was one of pure relief, much to her amusement, and he bent down to press and gentle kiss to the top of her head.

“Okay, Alex. Okay.”

Bobby had known as soon as Sydney told him he would be away from the Centre that weekend that there would be trouble. He didn’t need to be psychic, or super intelligent to know. All he needed to know was that Raines had been waiting for an opportunity to get at him without Sydney’s knowledge, and this weekend he’d been presented with a perfect opportunity.

From Friday night onwards, Bobby waited in fear, waited for Raines to come for him. Saturday morning passed, and nothing. Afternoon… Evening… All amounted to nothing. But then, just after eight on Saturday night, Bobby’s fears were finally proved right.

He had been sitting on his bed, trying to focus on one of the three books Sydney had given him, when his door opened and a cleaner stepped inside, brandishing a gun.

“Move,” the man told him in monotone. Bobby’s first instinct was to be a smart ass, but he clamped down on that urge. He didn’t know exactly what was going on yet, and there was no reason to get himself beaten up… or worse… until he knew exactly what was wanted of him. Grimacing, he put the book aside and walked silently out of his room.

Bobby found himself back in the sim room, confronted by Raines and a single chair that was fitted out with restraints. He stopped several feet away, his breath catching in his throat. What in the name of God did Raines want to do to him that involved restraints?

“Come here,” Raines demanded. “Sit here.”

Bobby shook his head, suddenly fighting to control the panic that was surging through him.

“No. I want to go back to my room.”

Raines glared at him.

“I won’t ask you again. Sit here, now.”

“No,” Bobby said again. “Sydney said I didn’t have to do anything this weekend. I’m going back to my room, now.”

He turned to walk away, only to find himself suddenly in the grip of two of the cleaners. He struggled, but they had his arms in vice-like grips, dragging him backwards across the floor and dumping him forcefully in the chair. He tried to get back up again, but the other cleaners pounced, so that he had no hope of pulling free.

Within a matter of seconds, despite his efforts, his wrists and ankles were secured by the restraints, leaving him effectively helpless. By the time the haze cleared from his vision, and he was able to see clearly, Raines was standing in front of him and brandishing the biggest damn syringe he’d ever seen.

“What… what are you doing?” Bobby whispered, barely able to suppress his terror.

“Just relax, Bobby,” Raines rasped. He waited as one of the men tied off Bobby’s arm at the elbow and swabbed Bobby’s forearm. “This won’t hurt if you just relax.”

“What is that?” Bobby demanded to know.

“Just a mild hallucinogen,” Raines answered placidly. “It’s experimental, and hasn’t been given approval for human testing. We’re being paid to test it for them.”

He glanced at his men, and nodded dismissively. They exited silently and swiftly, leaving Bobby alone with the evil doctor.

“Please,” Bobby whispered as Raines leaned in close. “Don’t…”

Raines glanced up at Bobby. For a brief moment their eyes met, and Bobby was chilled by the vicious cruelty that he saw there.

“You are going to learn to cooperate with me, Bobby,” Raines hissed. “One way or another.”

He then injected the contents of the syringe into the out-jutting vein.

“That should start taking effect in five or ten minutes,” Raines murmured, more to himself than to Bobby. “I’ll be back in a little while.” He paused, flashing Bobby a warning look. “Don’t try to fight it, Bobby. You’ll only cause yourself more grief if you do.”

Then he was gone, and Bobby was alone.

As soon as Raines was out of the room, Bobby began to struggle with the restraints that held him so securely. He didn’t know for sure what to expect with the drug that he’d just been injected with, but he thought he could probably guess. Raines had called it a hallucinogen. Whether that was accurate, Bobby couldn’t know, but he figured Raines was planning on messing with his head.

A string of thoughts rushed through his mind, but the predominant one was to get away. Now, while he was still in his right mind. Escape, get away from whatever Raines was planning.

He grunted softly as he struggled against the restraints, trying desperately to get at least one hand loose, but it was a useless exercise. The straps were too tight, and locked down too well. He couldn’t free himself.

Shutting his eyes, Bobby tried not to sob. This was one of the things he had been terrified of, that Raines would begin to use him again for his sadistic medical experiments. It had damn near destroyed him when he was a child, and he had a horrible suspicion that his resistance to that sort of torture would not be that much greater now.

Of course, Raines had deliberately bided his time, waited until Sydney was out of the way, and then made his move. And once this sadistic little experiment was over with, Bobby knew it would only be a matter of time before Raines got permission from the higher powers to resume his own personal program of testing.

Bobby groaned. Raines was the mad scientist, and he was the poor sap who got to be the guinea pig.

“Alex,” he whispered, barely aware of the tears that trickled slowly down his cheeks. “Please… help me…”

The hand that closed over his startled him back into semi-awareness, and he looked around dazedly. For a moment, his vision was hopelessly blurred, and he couldn’t make out the figure crouched beside him. His rapidly degenerating thought process ran through a list of possibilities, including the likelihood that he was merely hallucinating, before his vision finally focused on Angelo.

“Angelo…” Bobby whispered. Angelo didn’t respond, but rather picked carefully at the restraint that held Bobby’s left wrist, undoing it. He then started on the restraints that held Bobby’s ankles.

“Angelo, what are you doing?” Bobby asked hoarsely. “Raines will see… He’ll punish you.”

Angelo paused, glanced up at Bobby and grinned maniacally. He then went back to undoing the restraints. In that moment, Bobby realised what Angelo had done, for him not to care about the cameras.

“You… overrode the cameras?” he asked as he picked open the last restraint with trembling fingers. Angelo grinned again, and made a looping gesture with his index finger.

“Copy…” he said. “Loop… They think you’re still tied up. Watching… but they don’t see.”

Bobby let his breath out in a rush, and fell forward into Angelo’s arms, hugging the other man fiercely.

“Thankyou,” he whispered.

Angelo patted his cheek affectionately, and then pointed to the vent. Bobby looked, and saw it was open, that the grill had been removed.

“Come,” Angelo urged him, skittering across the floor and crawling into the vent shaft. “Come…”

Bobby didn’t hesitate and, without so much as a glance backwards, he crawled into the shaft after Angelo.

It was dirty, dusty and dark, and Bobby didn’t give a damn. He followed along behind Angelo, struggling to keep his bearings. Angelo was talking to him, but he couldn’t make any of it out. The sound of Angelo’s voice was fading in and out, like someone had their finger on the volume control and was randomly pushing it up and down. At one point, his eyesight began to do that same and, for one frightening moment, he thought he was actually going blind. But then they came out into a dimly lit area of the shaft, and Bobby realised with relief that his apparent blindness was due instead to a simple lack of light.

Angelo moved at a cracking pace, and Bobby guessed he spent a great deal of time moving around the vent shafts. It wasn’t long before Bobby was hopelessly disoriented, and had no idea where they were. But when a siren suddenly began to wail, vibrating through the very walls around them, Bobby knew he had no choice but to trust in Angelo completely, and let him continue to lead the way. His absence had clearly been discovered, and if he broke away on his own now, then it would be tantamount to turning himself over to Raines.

At some point, in his increasingly hazy state of mind, Bobby became aware of the sudden chill in the air around them. The temperature within the Centre was strictly controlled, so this steady drop in the temperature could only mean one thing. They were out…

The shaft suddenly widened into a tunnel that was big enough for both men to stand in, albeit hunched over. Angelo didn’t hesitate, scrambling to his feet and taking off at a loping run. Bobby tried to follow, but the drugs he’d been injected with were finally starting to take hold, and he suddenly discovered his balance was shot. Staggering to the side, Bobby crashed into the wall and collapsed, his head spinning hopelessly.

Angelo realised Bobby wasn’t behind him, and hurried back, clasping at Bobby’s hand and trying to pull him up.

“Must get up,” he begged anxiously. “Bobby… get up!”

A whimper of fear escaped Bobby’s lips as, right before his eyes, Angelo morphed into Raines, and he tried to cringe away from him. Angelo hesitated, and then knelt down in front of Bobby. He didn’t say a word, but instead reached out to lay a hand on Bobby’s head with a firm but reassuring pressure. He then clasped his other hand to Bobby’s cheek.

Slowly, painfully slowly, it occurred to Bobby that he wasn’t being hurt, that the figure in front of him that he thought was Raines, was not hurting him. Slowly, he became aware of the hand on his head, and the warm dry palm that patted his cheek gently. Raines would never have been so gentle and considerate towards him, he realised numbly, and forced himself to look around.

Raines was gone, and in his place…

“Alex…” Bobby whispered helplessly, tears flooding his eyes as his drug-filled mind formed a new hallucination. The image in front of him reached for him, and drew him silently into a warm embrace for several seconds before rising up and urging him up as well.

Shaking, confused and frightened, Bobby allowed himself to be led away down the tunnel, and out of the Centre.


Raines shivered, despite himself. Very few people would have dared bellow his name like that – even the arrogant Mr Parker. So, when he did, it was a fair given that he was deep in the hole. He turned slowly, just as Mr Parker strode into the sim room, his face black as thunder.

“What the hell do you think you were doing with him?”

“I wasn’t doing anything,” Raines growled, but Parker wouldn’t be deterred by the death glare that Raines was firing at him.

“And the ‘nothing’ that you were doing needed restraints?” he demanded. Raines said nothing, choosing instead to scowl at the floor. Parker stood by the empty chair in silence, feeling his blood pressure rise by the minute. “Just what the hell did you do to him, Raines?”

“It was just a drug test,” Raines hissed. “A mild hallucinogen…”

“An untested hallucinogen,” Parker corrected. Raines was unapologetic.

“Of course. We were getting a lot of money to test its effects on a human.”

“You mean you were,” Parker snapped. “Damn it, Raines… Well, I think we know what the effect was. It made him run! Now we’ve got to find him.”

“He won’t get far,” Raines said. “My men are already out looking for him.”

Parker’s eyes narrowed almost to pinpoints.

“Isn’t that what you said when Jarod escaped?”

Raines looked as though he was about to blow a gasket. Parker glared at him for a moment longer before turning and storming from the room.

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