Wittenburg, Germany



"You were never supposed to see that."

Sydney stared at her father through hot tears. The files in her hands shook as she stared at him, though she could not have said if she was trembling from fear, or grief, or shock.

After a silence that seemed to last for hours, he stepped closer. He was clothed all in black, as though he were on a mission. Then again, Sydney now knew that he was on a mission, every second of every day. "You've - read them all."

"Yes." Sydney wasn't sure she'd seen everything, but she thought her father knew too many of her vulnerabilities already. "I've read how you've used me, and betrayed me, my whole life."

The day she was born, he had agreed to report on her: What she ate, how she slept, whom she knew, what she did. In the folders, his work was catalogued: completed years checked off, as if on a medical chart.

The details weren't included - those would be stored elsewhere, in the heart of the secret project he worked on. But Sydney knew the surveillance levels discussed, what they entailed. To fulfill these duties, her father would have copied her personal correspondence (did that include the diaries she'd kept in junior high?), monitored her conversations (phone taps? Bugs in her room?), and reported on everyone she interacted with. Somewhere, secret files invaded the privacy of Francie, Will, even Danny.

Her father had a stalker's knowledge of her whole life. All those years he hadn't bothered to talk to her - he'd been taking notes for someone else.

Her father closed his eyes, as though in the grip of pain. "Sydney, I can't claim that I haven't used you. That I haven't betrayed your trust. But I never -"

"Never. Never's a long time, Dad." The word Dad was heavy on her tongue. "You betrayed me before I was ever born."

He leaned forward; the dim lighting in the bank's vault cast shadows over his face, blackening his eyes into invisibility. "I knew you were important as soon as we found out we were expecting you. I knew that there would always be people who would want to manipulate you, or hurt you, or -"

"Manipulate me. Hurt me. Are you the only one who gets to do that?"

At last her father was silent. Sydney sensed he would say no more until she asked him a direct question. That had been her goal, but his compliance infuriated her. He should want to explain.

Brushing the auburn strands of her wig from her face, Sydney stood to face him. The high heels she was wearing brought her eyes almost even with his.

She would need to choose her questions carefully. Maybe their entire history was only a web of lies. But their final conversation should be worth something.

Important, he'd said. There was only one way that could be true. "You've always known about Rambaldi, haven't you?"

"Since my earliest days at the CIA -- that's why I was recruited. My blood work suggested a certain genetic pattern. Modern DNA mapping didn't exist then, but they could still draw certain inferences."  Every word seemed to cost him; it pained him that much to tell her the simple truth.

"And -- Derevko -"

"Knew as well. That was why the KGB sent her here; they knew the CIA would take her into the Rambaldi program."

Sydney's stomach twisted, a slow wrench of nausea, before she could bring herself to say the next words. "And the two of you bred me."

"That is untrue." Her father's jaw tightened, and she recognized something like anger in his eyes. 

"Why should I believe you?" She flung the files onto the table; the manila paper hissed against the wood. "I was a product of this project. I was supposed to be used for their purposes. You were willing to file reports on me from the day I was born, Dad. Or should I just call you Bristow and end the lie?"

That hurt him, and the knowledge flared inside, both painful and welcome. "The reports - Sydney, we knew you would be significant in Rambaldi's work, but we didn't know exactly how --"

"You knew I'd be important. You and your friend Bill Vaughn. Were you ever going to tell Vaughn that he was a part of this too?"

"Michael Vaughn was quickly eliminated from the program." He said it as though it were nothing, as though he were describing the marble floors of the vault. "His genetic type was entirely wrong."

"That's all that's ever mattered to you about any human being, isn't it? Their genetic code. Numbers on a sheet of paper."

"Sydney -"

"'Vaughn needs closure,' you said. You set him up as your assassin and claimed it was out of love for me." One of only three times he'd told her he loved her since she was a small child, and he had done it to make her an unwitting accomplice to murder. What lies had the other two times concealed? "You just needed Lauren dead to cover your own tracks."

The silence that followed her words was longer than the others, and his voice lower when he replied. "Both motivations were valid."

User. Manipulator. Liar. Sydney wanted to scream the words at him, her rage on Vaughn's behalf eclipsing her own. But she had to stay calm, to blink away the tears and keep her mind focused. The information she gouged from her father now would have to serve her and Vaughn for a very long time to come.

"Why did Lauren know this?" She forced herself to meet his eyes. The expression there - such a good imitation of pain and regret and love - stung her, but Sydney forced herself to endure it. "Why did my worst enemy know the truth while I was wrapped in lies?"

"Around the time your mother - left - several members of Project Christmas split away from the CIA. That splinter group went deep underground for many years. But eventually they resurfaced as the Covenant."

She stared at him. "The people who kidnapped me - who tortured me, and tried to turn me into a killer - you knew who they were? You knew all along?"

"I had leads. I tried to hunt them down, Sydney. To find the people I thought had killed you, I would have -"

"Done ANYTHING. I know. Anything but tell the CIA everything you knew. Or even tell Vaughn."

"What would Vaughn have done?"

The contempt in his voice pushed Sydney over an edge she hadn't realized was so close. She slapped her father with all her strength, so hard her arm hurt and her hand stung. His head jolted backward, but he didn't step away. "He would have looked for me! Because he loved me! Not because he wanted to use me for his own position and power in the agency."

"If you honestly think that I put my place at the CIA above you -"

"Stop right there. You don't get to tell me what to think. Not anymore."

He looked down at the folders - mostly, Sydney thought, to avoid her eyes. "You saw the information about Nadia, as well."

"Did you always know I had a sister? Did Mom tell you that she was trying to breed another child for the program, but leave out the part about Sloane?" She'd thought the image of her mother with Sloane would be no more repellent, but she'd been wrong.

"For many years, I've been tracking other children from Project Christmas, both those who received agent training and who did not." Agent training, Sydney supposed, meant the brainwashing of children. Her one fragile memory of assembling a gun for her approving father mocked her yet again. How had she managed to push it aside for so long? "Obviously, many of them were and are unknown to me. Allison Doren and Lauren Reed were two of those. Nadia Santos I learned about years ago, but I never suspected she was Irina's child with Arvin Sloane."

He sounded so hurt, as though he had a right to accuse anyone of betrayal. Sydney remembered how much she'd hated Sloane for strapping her sister, Nadia, to a gurney and injecting her with drugs. He'd experimented upon her, a violation Sydney had found revolting. Now, compared with her father, Sloane seemed the more merciful man of the two. At least he'd gotten his experiments over with quickly.

"Still, when we connected the dots - you knew who she was. You could have told me all about her. And you didn't."

"Do you remember the prophecy your beloved Vaughn relayed to you?" The sarcasm was coming out now; she should've known her father wouldn't be able to hide his hard, angry side for very long. "That you and Nadia are destined to battle, and that one of you will not survive? If I didn't want to expose you to that risk, I think you should appreciate the reasons why."

"Is that why you ordered her assassination?"

He froze. She hadn't known he could look that stricken, that shocked. It was good to know she could affect him that much. Sydney watched his face as he realized that she hadn't known, only suspected - and that he'd already betrayed the truth, caught out by her bluff. When he spoke, he said only, "Blind guess?"

"The guards you handpicked for her - they were a bunch of amateurs. So I always wondered how serious you were about keeping her safe. Then, before I came here, I tapped into our communications grid. I heard that she'd escaped. That was the word - 'escaped.' I knew somebody wasn't playing by the rules." Sydney was almost shaking with anger. "And even before I saw this, I figured it was you."

"I didn't want you to be hurt."

"So Nadia was somebody you could just kill in cold blood? You would have had my sister murdered and never told me why." And that, Sydney knew, was the core of it. The rest, baroque and twisted and manipulative though it was, was only the form her betrayal had taken. At its heart was this one fact: "You never wanted me to know the truth about anything in my life. You never wanted me to have anything honest - anything that belonged to me alone. You only gave me lies, so you could control me."

Her father visibly fought back an angry response - perhaps because that, too, would have been a kind of honesty. At last he said, "You were in no position to accept the truth."

"The truth would have let me have some control over my own life. The only pain you ever knew was the fear that you wouldn't be able to use me anymore." Sydney began restacking the files. "Well, that day has arrived. You're out of a job."

"Sydney -"

"I accept that you've done a lot of this with the agency's approval." Not Dixon, Sydney thought. Nor Marshall, and maybe not even Kendall. But there were shadowy figures in her world who had been behind her father all along. Watching her. Laughing at her ignorance, her powerlessness. "I accept that I'm still going to have to see you every day, until Vaughn and I can get a transfer. But you're never going to control me again. You're never even going to speak to me. It's over. The lie we've been has ended, forever."

He just stared at her, and it hit Sydney that he was beginning to look old. Only beginning - he was still strong, and tall, and his gaze sharp - but the wrinkles around his eyes were more pronounced, the drape of his neck unlike a younger man's. For the first time, she could see his infirmity and his death, and they comforted her. Someday, there would be a world without Jack Bristow - a world in which she might hope to breathe free.

Sydney turned to go, only to hear him say, "You have to leave the files."

"Have to? I don't think I have to do anything."

"Sydney, I can't let you leave with those files." Her father stepped forward, between her and the door.

Anger pushed the blood from her heart into her temples, her throat, her fists. "Or what? Are you going to stop me? Are you willing to hurt me? I know the answer to that one. You are. Well, go ahead. Try it." 

He breathed in sharply, but his only response was, "If I don't take the files from you, someone else will."

Sydney threw the files to the floor, scattering them across the vault. "Scrape them up."

They weren't much - the last words she'd ever speak to her father - but they would have to do.

Their eyes met, and Sydney's traitorous memory flashed up image after image of times when things had been different: their embrace when he'd been released from jail, the Chinese food they'd eaten together at her apartment, a drive through the Indian countryside as they wore the silliest disguises imaginable. Thanksgiving night, and tears in his eyes as he'd promised that he would give her mother back to her if he could. A carousel in the park, and his smile as she rode by on a powder-blue pony, circling so fast it was like flying.

All lies.

He knelt down, silently picking up the files. Goodbye, she wanted to say, but it was more than he deserved.

Without another word, Sydney walked out of the vault, ignoring the tears in her eyes.

**


outside Genga, Italy



"The Sphere of Life."

Nadia could hear the reverence in her father's voice, even if she couldn't fully share it. The artifact he'd just pulled from a hole in a cave wall didn't look impressive; it was dull, bent metal, its soldering primitive, its shape imperfect. But none of that mattered compared to the joy in her father's eyes.

How she wanted to call him Papa, or Father, or even Daddy. But they weren't there just yet. "Are you sure this is it?"

"As sure as I have ever been." His smile lit up their dark surroundings - chandeliers of limestone, iridescent in the flashlight's beam -- and made her forget the dank, musty smell, the miles they'd walked. Between them stood a rough stone pedestal, clumsy and unfinished - unlike everything else Rambaldi had done in his life in its crudity and imprecision. Nadia held the flashlight so that it was squarely upon the Sphere of Life, trying to see more within it. "Thirty years' quest, Nadia. Three decades of hoping, and trying. And three years of searching for you. All of it has led me - has led us here."

"And this is Rambaldi himself? His spirit?" She couldn't quite imagine it - the essence of another human being caught in a small sphere of metal. But then, so much of Rambaldi's work defied her fragile imagination. The only time her mind could hold those visions was when she was deep in the thrall of the serum - when Rambaldi spoke through her, used her as his instrument. Even the memory of them, ill-formed and elusive as it was, made Nadia shiver in awe.

"His final instructions, for his last and greatest work." Her father put one hand on her shoulder, a small caress that warmed Nadia from skin to bone to heart. "Work you and I shall complete together."

"What must I do?"

"Very little, my dearest." The soft word seemed fully, entirely meant - no automatic endearment, but something spoken from a father to a daughter. For a moment, Nadia remembered the skinny little girl she had been in Buenos Aries, defiantly smearing dirt on her face and her one good dress. She had drunk water from a tin cup, and the rain had filled her battered shoes. All the deprivation had been worth it - her stubbornness, her hunger, the tears she'd cried on her cot during the night. It had all been a prelude to the wealth and splendor of her father's love, and of the mission they shared.

"Tell me," Nadia pleaded.

"I'll need a small sample of your blood," her father replied. "We can use your genetic code in ways the Sphere of Life will finally make clear. You've always been the key, Nadia. Always."

Nadia had known physical pain of one sort or another -- bullies' fists, the stabbing belly of hunger -- from childhood. The prick of a needle was as nothing, compared to that. Yet the idea of unraveling a secret from her very genes unnerved her.

For a moment she found herself remembering Sydney, as she had been when they'd met: drawn and pale, determined, sure that Sloane was up to no good. There were reasons for that, as her father had since confessed - sins he had committed in a time before he realized Nadia lived to know him and judge him. And even Sydney had been willing to work with Sloane, in order to find her, so she couldn't distrust him completely.

But blood - to give her blood -

Nadia remembered a needle in her arm, and agony that went beyond burning, perhaps beyond dying. Yes, it had been beautiful, a kind of transcendence Nadia had lnot dreamed the human heart could know. Yin and yang, black and white - the unity of all opposites, not in a ethereal, metaphorical way but as hard fact, pure truth: Nadia had glimpsed that and seen the beauty of it, and it was impossible to want anything more than to hold that truth in her hands.

But it had been painful, too, and her father had been the one to inflict that pain. Some purposes justified pain, but others did not. Beyond any doubt, Nadia knew that he felt his actions to be right. Would she agree?

Even her own yearning for love should not cloud her judgment.

"What will it do?" Nadia's whisper did not echo within the cave. She knew how to speak so that her words would not carry. "My genetic code - what will it reveal?"

Sloane looked up at her, his face illuminated by a light that had nothing to do with the torch she held; it was a fire deep within, and its warmth beckoned to her. Doubts, fears, Sydney's face - all of it slipped away into the mists.

He said only one word:

"Eternity."

**




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