Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chapter 67: The Prisoner

"Trust me."

The words whisper in her ear, twist around in her mind like ribbons swaying in a breeze. Who's voice is that, anyway?

Jillyan feels her legs, one ankle sliding over the other calf. She must have fallen asleep.

When? The last thing she remembers, she was looking for Julian. That wasn't a dream, she's sure of that.

"Trust me," he had whispered, right before...what? After that, her memory goes blank. There was a prick in her neck, like a needle, and then, nothing. 

Had she been drugged?

Trust me.

Where the fuck is she?

The room is so neutral and pale, it reminds her of the MorcuCorp lab where she been searching for Julian. But, despite the unsettling pristine emptiness of the room, it's clearly not a laboratory cell or hospital room. More like a hotel, if anything, though there's something off about this place, even for a hotel.

The wall length windows look out over a beach somewhere, nowhere Jillyan has ever been. Wherever she is, prime real estate like this is expensive. Whoever owns this place has a lot of money. Probably more than her own family, who are pretty wealthy by anyone's standards.

Is she a prisoner, or is she a guest? How did she get here?

Trust me.

The room has two doors, right by each other. Jillyan has no way of knowing what is behind either of them, what she might expect to find if she opened either of them. Perhaps the door is guarded. Or maybe there's no one out there, and she could run, escape.

But, Julian. She came looking for Julian, and she's not going anywhere until she knows what happened, how he got that message out to her, if that was even Julian who did send that message.

Trust me.

Behind one door, Jillyan hears the sound of running water, like a shower, vague and muffled. Of course, a bathroom. A bedroom like this would have an en suite. But who's showering her bathroom? Julian? Unable to take the doubt any longer, Jillyan reaches for the door's handle, and pulls.

It is a bathroom, but empty. Another door stands across from the first one, adjoining to another bedroom? Jillyan presses herself against the wall; the sound of the shower is louder here.

The next room is some kind of closet, she discovers. Though she's been inside ancient Chinese tombs, underwater caves and even the experimental chambers of the Horticultural Research Center, nothing she's seen has quite creeped her out like this huge walk-in closet, unnaturally bare and clean, like a museum exhibit. Does anyone even live here? she wonders, and imagines herself entirely alone in this mansion by the ocean, wandering from empty room to empty room.

Maybe she's dreaming this.

This closet has two possible exits, the door to her left, or the open doorway, partially covered by a curtain, ahead. The doorway tempts her with its view of the open sky over the balcony she can see outside the window. Though she can see only part of it, there's obviously a large room beyond that curtain, as pale and clean as the room she woke up in. But behind the door the sound of the shower is louder, and more, she hears a male voice, singing.

It's Julian.

She pauses in front of the door. He drugged her, didn't he? Lured her to that lab with a phony message, drugged her and brought her here. She glances again at the sky outside the window. She could run, she thinks, run and run until she finds a phone so she can call Fergus...

Trust me.

She can't run. Not without knowing what's going on.

Quietly, she steps into the bathroom, finding at last the shower, the man singing, Julian.

It is Julian, right? she wonders, remembering what Fergus told her about MorcuCorp clones. He thought Julian might be a clone. She notices his tattoo, but maybe they all have tattoos, identical men with identical designs inked on their bodies...Julian couldn't remember getting his tattoo.

She's gotten this far, and there isn't a lot of time to figure out her options. He's unarmed, obviously, and not very likely to have any needles or syringes on him. 

The sound of the shower masks her footfalls as she slips up behind him, taking him by surprise.

She grabs his arms, puling them behind his back, wishing she had some kind of restraints or something.  

"What the hell, Julian?" she demands, all the many specific questions she wants answered distilled into one simple generality, "What is going on?"

"Jilly," he says her name, with a longing in his voice that makes her falter, her hands loosen their grip on him. She's missed hearing him whisper her name like that.

Sensing her uncertainty, he pulls free and turns, pinning her, not ungently, against the shower wall. "Jilly," he whispers her name again, "I've missed you so much."

"At least you knew where I was," she answers. The days since his disappearance had been torturous, not knowing where he was or what happened to him, "And for all I know, you're a a clone," she adds angrily while she thinks about the best ways of breaking his hold on her. She knows of several...but she still wants answers more than she wants escape, so she stands still in the prison of his arms, unresisting.

"I am a clone," he replies, and here eyes widen in shock. She wanted answers, yes, but maybe not that one..."But not in the way you mean."

"I don't even know what kind of clone I mean," Jilly complains, "That was Fergus' idea, he said MorcuCorp uses clone agents and you might be one."

"Yes, they do. Use clone agents," Julian says, dropping one hand from the wall to wrap it around Jilly's waist, pulling her close to him, "I'm not that kind of clone. I'm the only one of my kind currently in existence."

"And was Fergus right, about you working for MorcuCorp?" she asks. One hard thrust of her knee into his groin would take him down, she thinks, and she could escape. But that isn't what she wants. What she wants is to take her hand and run it over his chest, to press her lips against his and taste his tongue...what she wants is her Julian, back with her. And she'll she see this through until she gets it.

"I thought Fergus was crazy and paranoid," Julian says, "But, I've got my memories back now, Jilly. And Fergus was right. Right about nearly everything. But not about me...not entirely, anyway."

"Are you working for MorcuCorp or not?" Jilly asks again, noting the way he dodged her question, "It's a simple question. Yes or no?"

"It's not a simple question at all actually," Julian says, "And this shower probably isn't the best place for this. Your clothes are getting wet. And I'm not wearing any."

Jillyan giggles, breaking the tension that had become like a wall between then.

He gave her a shirt to put on, so she could get out of the wet clothes she'd slept in. He hadn't put any thought into his choice, he still doesn't think of these clothes as his clothes, this room as his room, despite the memories that tell him who he is, or was, and what belongs to him. But seeing her in that shirt stirs an old memory of another woman who had a habit of wearing his shirts to bed.

Peridot is dead, he realizes as the memory completes itself. Geoffrey was a cold, hard bastard sometimes. Julian pushes that memory aside and looks at Jilly. Unlike Peridot, she doesn't bother buttoning the shirt all the way up. She's not trying to be seductive, he knows, she's just not conscious of the effect the sight of her bra peeking through her open shirt has on him. He can't lose her, not now.

"You asked me about my tattoo," he says, "I remember getting it now. I was just the latest in a long line of clones, just like the man I called my father. We're supposed to be perfect, above the rest of humanity. But the knowledge that you are physically identical to all your predecessors tends to make you feel less 'special' and more like a faceless number. The tattoo was my way of setting myself apart, I guess. I later learned that there was another clone who did the same; he was known as a traitor, actually. That used to amuse Geoffrey."

"Who is Geoffrey?"

Julian rubs his thumb over his palm, bring himself mentally, "Geoffrey is the man whose memories I carry," he explains. Jillyan cocks her head to the side, perplexed. He takes a deep breath, "Geoffrey created Julian."

"You're a clone of Geoffrey," Jilly says.

Julian shakes his head. "From what I can put together, Geoffrey came up with this plan to get past Fergus' ability to read memories. He had his memories hypnotically suppressed, and had false memories and a false identity implanted. And that's me, Julian. That's why my memories were incomplete snapshots. I was only given enough of a background to get past Fergus. I wasn't supposed to fall in love with anyone."

"Fergus said I might have broken you," Jilly tells him, getting it now.

"Jilly, if anything, you fixed me. You made me real," Julian says, sitting beside her on the bed.

"But you have your memories back," Jilly says, "Doesn't that make you Geoffrey again?"

"I think that's what was supposed to happen. But it isn't working like that. The memories are there now, but I still don't feel them as my own. All I have that's truly mine are my memories with you, Jill. Everything is else is like watching a movie through some other person's eyes."

"That's how Fergus describes his ability, too," Jilly says, "But that doesn't explain why you drugged me, or what we're doing here. Wherever here is."

"Tourmaline, she's Geoffrey's second in command, I guess, decided this operation had failed and she pulled me back. That cell you found me in, that's where they were holding me for as long I persisted in claiming that I was Julian. I knew, because I remembered having that facility built, that there was no way out, no way to be rescued. So I did what I had to get out, I pretended to be Geoffrey. And I came up with a plan to lure you here. Drugging you was Tourmaline's idea, and I couldn't disagree with it without giving myself away, I would never hurt you Jilly, but I had to get you in here in a way that Tourmaline would believe."

"So, you're the boss of MorcuCorp, now? You couldn't have just flown me in on your private jet?"

"I'm only the boss of MorcuCorp as long as I pretend I'm Geoffrey," Julian explains, "Geoffrey wouldn't have sent a plane, he would have set a trap for you."

"Well, I'm here now," Jilly says, wrapping a comforting arm around him, "Let's go. We can get out of here. Go back to Isla Paradiso. Or China, or wherever..."

"It's not that simple, Jill," Julian sighs, "They aren't going to let me just walk away, not with the knowledge I carry. Tourmaline would kill me first. I'm not entirely certain she's not planning to get rid of me, anyway. I'm a prisoner here, Jilly. And I need you to rescue me."

"You have a plan?"

Julian shakes his head, "Not yet. There are so many loose ends to this. And we are going to have to get Fergus on board. I'm going to need you to follow my lead whenever we're dealing with the MorcuCorp people though. I have to be Geoffrey or we're both fucked."

"I trust you, Julian," Jilly says.

Julian smiles as they touch their foreheads together.

"There are things you should know," he whispers, telling her about the history of this operation, from the creation of Pearl and her seduction of Heath Brannon through Jack Horner's unwitting role as a spy for the corporation.

"Dad would just die if he knew..." Jilly says.

"Then don't tell him," Julian suggests, "MorcuCorp cut him loose, I know that much. And nothing really bad ever came of the information they got from him."

Jilly nods, relieved at that. "But, wait," Jilly says, adding some things up in her head, "You say Geoffrey was in charge of all of that?" 

Julian nods, "It was all his operation, from the beginning."

"He was alive when my great-grandfather was. He was alive when my grandfather was a baby...How old are you? Are you immortal?"

"Not anymore," Julian says with a smile, "Geoffrey had been under a fairy curse. He wouldn't age or die, ever, unless he managed to find true love."

"That's a weird curse," Jilly observes.

"Well, fairies," Julian says, "Their minds don't work like ours. The curse is broken now."

"You're sure?" Jilly asks.

"I've never been more sure of anything."

"I'm glad you set that trap for me," Jilly sighs, falling into his embrace, just glad to be with him again, no matter how precarious their circumstances, "And I'll get you out of here, somehow, I promise."

"I came to inform you that your prisoner had escaped," Tourmaline's cold voice chills the warmth of their reunion, "But apparently you already know."

"Follow my lead," Julian reminds Jilly in a low whisper, squeezing her once more before releasing her to stand and face the MorcuCorp agent.

"Miss Brannon is my guest, Tourmaline, not a prisoner," Julian says, arms folded against his chest, "She'll be needing a new wardrobe for her stay. Have someone attend to that."

Everything about him changed in an instant Jillyan notes, watching the agent stammer her obedient acquiescence to his commands. The man he was just a second ago, her Julian, is no longer recognizable, despite his appearance. He had been like that in the shower, too, quick to turn her hold on  him and pin her to the wall...that was not Julian's style at all.

"I need a word with you, in private," he says to his underling in his clipped, commanding tone, not even glancing back at Jilly as he leads Tourmaline out of the room.

"Are you really going to let that Brannon have the run of the house?" Tourmaline demands when they are out of Jilly's earshot, "She could escape! What the hell are you doing, Geoffrey?"

"What I'm doing is salvaging an operation that you did your best to undermine, Tourmaline," he says, letting just a hint of anger into his tone, enough to remind her who is in charge. "I counted on you, all of you, to keep this end of things running while I did what needed to be done. But you dropped the ball, and now we are scrambling just to get back to where we were before this operation started."

"You have the girl," Tourmaline points out, "Use that to lure Fergus in."

"This will go a lot easier if she trusts me," he answers, "I need you to play along with this, even if you don't understand what I'm doing."

"Yes, sir," Tourmaline huffs in response, obviously not happy with the situation.

"You switched off so easily," Jilly says when Julian finally returns to her, "I didn't even recognize you."

"It's not easy, Jilly," Julian confides, "I'm walking a very fine line here, playing Geoffrey while remaining myself. I'm not sure Tourmaline is convinced by it, but she's going along with it, for now. One slip, though...," Julian shudders to imagine what the assassin might do to them both, "I'm doing my best to play Geoffrey, but I'm afraid of what might happen if I lose myself in that role. I need you to hold me together, remind me of who I am, until we can get ourselves out of here."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Chapter 66: Never Doubt Me

Jillyan buries her face in his pillow, inhaling the last faint traces of his scent that still linger on his rarely used bed. She'd feel closer to him in her own bed, where they'd actually slept together, where they'd  made love, but Fergus said it would take too much of his power to maintain wards on her house as well as this old warehouse, and that if she wasn't going to go back to Drake's Hollow with him and Tasha, she needed to stay at his place.

She doesn't give a crap about her own safety, not while Julian is out there, somewhere, needing her to rescue him, but she promised Fergus, so she waits here, hoping that maybe Julian just had a memory lapse and will wander back home on his own. Or that he'll find some way to contact her, or...Jilly doesn't even know what she's hoping for, but, whatever happens, she just knows she has to be here, ready to move, and not off in Drake's Hollow when whatever is going to happen happens.

She rolls over on her back, pulling her buzzing phone out of her pocket. Her heart leaps in anticipation as she prepares herself to hear Julian's voice, calling for help, telling her what she needs to do rescue him.

"Jilly," Fergus says, dashing her improbable hopes to the ground.

"Have you learned anything?" she asks, not ready to give up hope yet. This might be the call she was waiting for. The call to action so she can stop lying here, helpless, with nothing to do but worry.

"No, not yet," Fergus says, Jilly makes an irritated growl. Why the fuck is he calling her if he has nothing to tell her? "I talked to Moth and Tansy, and they're going to put me in contact with another fairy who might be able to help," he adds.

"Well, that's vague enough," Jilly sighs.

"I'm sorry I don't have more," Fergus says, "I'm doing what I can, but MorcuCorp is huge and near impenetrable. It took my grandfather years before he could find where they were holding my grandmother." 

Jilly groans audibly, "I can't wait fucking years, Fergus. I need to find Julian now."

Fergus says nothing to let, and a long pause follows before he speaks again, "Listen, Jilly, Tasha and I are getting married. There's nothing you can do for Julian there; why don't you come home? I'd like for you to be here for my wedding."

"I can't leave, Fergus. What if Julian were to come back? I need to be here," Jilly insists, "I'm sorry."

Jilly ends the call without congratulating her cousin. It was all she could do to refrain from telling him to go fuck himself. He's supposed to be finding out where Julian is so they can rescue him, not planning a wedding.

Her phone buzzes again; if it's Fergus, she will tell him off, she won't able to hold back...but it's not Fergus, it's a text from an unknown number. The random string of letters looks like a child had been playing with a phone, but Jilly can't dismiss this message as garbage so easily. The text ends with a JL, Julian's initials, and that gives her hope.  The random letters might be a code, she reasons, and this could be the message she was waiting for.

She had noticed a couple of books on cryptography in Julian's collection here in his room, and uses them to decipher the random looking message into what appears to be GPS coordinates. Looking those up online, she finds they point to a horticultural research center on Sunset Island, owned by Landgraab Industries. Bingo.

Jilly considers calling Fergus, but immediately dismisses that idea. He'll worry that it's a trap, or he'll want to wait until after his wedding, or to talk to his fairy contact first. Fergus had never gotten over his suspicions about Julian, and didn't think of him as family the way Jilly does. Fergus would let him rot in a cell while he and Tasha celebrate their wedding, Jilly thinks angrily...well, fuck Fergus. She's going to get her Julian back without him.

The Landgraab Horticultural Research Center on Sunset Island isn't exactly a high security facility.  After hours, they have one security guard working the front door, and electronic surveillance in the corridors. Power to the whole building is controlled through a utility room on the top floor; all Jilly has to do is get up on the roof, get into that room to cut power to the alarms, and she's in.

The cement walls are rough, giving her decent hand and foot holds to scale up to the second floor balcony.

From there, it's another climb up to the flat roof above.

Then, a quick spring across the roof to the third floor balcony to the utility room.

The door has a simple, easily broken lock. They were hardly expecting for anyone to try to get in from the roof, obviously.

Jilly has never seen anything so pristine and sterile in her life. And this is just the utility room.

She'd done her research, so she knows exactly which wires to cut to to kill the alarms, without cutting the power to anything else and raising the suspicion of the sole guard posted by the front door. 

With that done, Jilly drops back down to the second level balcony and breaks the simple lock on the employee access door to get into the building.

Inside, it's pretty much everything you'd expect in a horticultural research lab; white walls, computers...

...weird plant things in tanks. Nothing suspicious at all, nothing to suggest they had any humans locked up here, or were engaging in any experiments not strictly related to plant life.

For a moment, Jilly lets herself get distracted when she discovers how to make bubbles rise in a tank by stepping on a floor plate.

But she isn't here to play games, she's on a mission, so she leaves that lab behind to explore the rest of the building.

Electricity traps were not mentioned at all in the building specs she downloaded...

Undeterred, Jilly disarms the trap. Obviously, she must be getting to where they do their secret, illegal experiments. Because why else would they put up this kind of security?

She was right; the labs following the electricity trap are clearly meant for human subjects.

The operating table in the cell next to the creepy examination chair just feel sinister. This isn't a hospital, after all, and this facility is supposedly about plant research. Whatever research is going on in here is secret, no doubt illegal and probably highly unethical.

What are these people doing to her Julian?

Though MorcuCorp is obviously up to something far more sinister than plant research here, Jilly has so far not seen a single human being or any sign that any prisoners are being kept here. She's investigated every lab on this floor and found no one, and there are no more doors to open. 

All the doors are on the one side of the corridor, Jilly notes, and the exterior dimension of the building would suggest there are more rooms on the other side. Of course, if they are keeping captive subjects, they'd want to hide them.  Jilly taps and pushes at the wall, searching for a hidden door. 

And finds a hidden corridor that conceals rows of doors leading to yet more pristine labs filled with equipment that suggest unnamed horrors, but still no Julian, nor any other living soul.

Eventually the tight, dingy corridor  ends at a staircase leading down to a sub-level not listed on the official building specs.

And leads her to a row of cells, designed like a prison, each with its empty bed. At the end of the row, she finally finds him. She calls out to him, lying on the bed in his cell, but nothing gets past the soundproof walls, and the door is locked electronically.

But that is easily opened with the computer in the observation office.

He rises up from he bed as she open the door, rushing into his arms. 

"I knew you'd come for me," Julian says softly, in a tone that suggests he's not at all surprised by her rescue, like he's been waiting for her arrival.

"Of course I came, as soon as I got your message," she answers, breathless with joy at being reunited with  him at last, even if his reaction seems a bit off. And then a sudden realization intrudes, casting a shadow over her happiness, "Wait, Julian, how did you get a message out to me, being trapped in here?" she asks.

Julian caresses he cheek, brushing his lips over her neck as he whispers close to her ear, "Trust me."

Something stings her, a sharp, quick poke, like a needle. Everything becomes bright, for a second, until it fades to black.

Tourmaline walks in as Jillyan falls unconscious into his arms. "Never doubt me," he says, barely glancing up at the waiting agent.


Credit to Ditway for the Horticultural Research Center tomb lot used in this chapter.