The Birthday by planet p
Disclaimer I don't own the Pretender or any of its characters.
Before assignment, he'd lived with a carer. They'd lived in Texas, on her family's property. Her parents had been buried in their private cemetery right there on the property. Back then, he'd been Gemini. He'd had no name, but for that codename, though she'd called him Gem more often. They'd been a little family, of sorts. When he was eight, a little baby, just born, had come to join their family. The little baby was named Aster. He'd be 16, now.
But, now, Gem had a new family, even a new name. He'd called himself Geronimo, though he called himself Mo more often. His new family had a mother, Margaret, and a father, Major Charles, a brother, Jarod, and a sister, Emily, and a dead brother, Kyle; it even had a half brother, Ethan.
He was 24, now.
He was also a clone; Jarod's clone. He was a Pretender, like Jarod. He often thought that he'd been made to be like Jarod. Except for his eyes. His eyes were blue; Jarod's were brown. Kyle's had been blue, and Emily's were green, and Ethan's were brown. His carer, Sarah's, had been blue, too.
Then there was Harmony, Margaret's friend. Harmony was a novelist; she wrote romance novels.
Mo often wondered if there were others, other clones; not of Jarod, of course, but of other Pretenders, perhaps. Surely, there would be, had to be.
He'd been saved, once, by the daughter of Mrs. Parker. Mrs. Parker was famous for her insolence; she'd saved many others, and then her daughter had saved him. He thought he must have been the first. He didn't know if he… perhaps it should have been another, perhaps the daughter of Mrs. Parker should have saved another? He'd been born to do just what he'd done, then. He didn't think he'd expected anything other than that he'd been afforded, then.
And now, he felt somehow as though he'd let his family down, as though, he'd made a terrible mistake by leaving. Then, he'd always dreamed of being good enough, brilliant enough, to be placed again to work with Aster, of being a family again. And now, that would never happen. He'd been given this new family, but at the expense of his old family. He'd always known, then, that he could be good enough.
He'd been placed with Sarah because he was special. He supposed he'd been the first successful clone. He wondered if Jarod sometimes wondered why it had been him, of all the Center's Pretenders, who'd been chosen. Aster was special, too; he was a high class Empath. He was impossible, unbelievable, but so very real. The scale of Empathy ran from One to Seven, and Aster was Eight. He'd been special to Mo, too, he'd been like a little brother, and he'd always known how to make him smile.
If anyone had deserved saving by the daughter of Mrs. Parker, he though that it'd been Aster. So why had it been him?
There was no way, now, that Aster would be rescued. He'd been assigned, years ago now, to the Center's Tower branch, and Mo didn't even know where that was!
He knew, that were they to meet again, that his baby brother wouldn't be the same person he'd left behind. He'd been just a child when he'd left, five; Mo didn't even know if Aster would recognise him anymore, would he even know him? And would he recognise him if he met him again? What would he look like? Was he healthy? Did he still like Some Kind of Wonderful as much? Would he be angry? Would he feel betrayed?
He could not think that they'd improved him, could not think that they'd implanted him with one or more biomechanical colonies. He knew nothing of upgrades, except that they killed, within five years, on average, and eight at their lengthiest. He did not think he could bear the thought of his baby brother dead like Kyle. He'd never known Kyle, but he knew that Jarod had cared for him a great deal, even though Kyle had been sick. He'd heard of Kyle, of course, just as he'd heard of Jarod, but they'd never met, thought, he thought that it wasn't likely that Jarod had heard of Aster. Alex, perhaps, because he'd been a Tower Pretender, and downright mental.
Today was Jarod's birthday, and the day had been assigned as Mo's birthday, also, by default.
The hotel Jarod chose wasn't exactly exclusive, nor a Five Star restaurant. They were directed to a table for eight beside a large group of high school students, dressed in school uniform, but for two girls and a boy in casual clothes.
Mo was seated beside Emily on his right, and Zoe, Jarod's ex-girlfriend, on his left. He glanced at Emily, who smiled at him brightly, before he looked away, to the other faces sitting at the table. Ethan, sitting on Zoe's other side, looked morose, which wasn't unusual, as it was his favourite expression, then he seemed to catch sight of Emily's smile and grinned back at her. Though Emily was no less friendly to him, or Jarod, Emily had formed a particular attachment to Ethan, and Ethan, in his turn, to her.
Across the table, Jarod's face was plastered with genuine happiness, as he talked with Charles, whom he had taken a seat beside. Beside Charles, Margaret and Harmony chatted. Briefly, Mo wondered as to the topic of their discussion, though, over the lounge music, to which Emily was humming along to – Why Do Fools Fall in Love? – it was difficult to hear, and he thought for a quick moment, that he ought to learn to lip read. It couldn't be that hard, after all, and he did have an advantage being a Pretender.
After they'd decided what they'd be having from the menu, Jarod ordered wine, and a waitress returned, later, with glasses and a couple of bottles of red wine, and Mo watched Ethan sipping his wine glumly for a few moments, before being distracted by the sound of Harmony's light laughter.
Mo took a sip of wine from the glass that had been set in front of him, ignoring the loud giggles and rowdy voices coming from the table next to theirs. It wasn't bad, but it could have been better, he supposed, and noticed Ethan frowning at the teenagers, whose table he was seated closest too, across from Jarod, though Jarod seemed not to notice the teenagers at all.
Mo took another hasty sip of his wine, deciding that if Ethan was to tell the teenagers off, he'd need a good bit more wine than just two sips. Upon occasion, Ethan had shown a tendency for becoming more upset than was possibly necessary, and, after that, calming him down wasn't an easy task, though Mo was hoping that Ethan would take his lead and just have another glass of wine and let the telling off fall to someone else, such as a member of staff, rather than ruining Jarod's birthday completely.
Though it had been decided as his birthday, too, he didn't really think of it that way. With Sarah, both Aster's and his birthdays had been celebrated on Christmas Day, and he'd always thought of that day as his birthday, though he'd never said so to anyone. The day he'd left Texas, and Sarah and Aster, had been the first day of his 'real' life, the first day of the rest of his life dedicated to his work; there would be no more birthdays again, and they were certainly not expected. He could not think of the birthday as his, but as Jarod's.
He thought for a moment of Alex, who he'd heard had been spectacular at ruining things: conferences, boardroom meetings, fundraisers, psychological assessments, medical examinations, even Triumvirate meetings, and surely, birthdays, too, if he'd ever been given the chance, though, never any Sims that Mo had heard of, as though he'd been wary that that would have been the very last straw, though, he'd made a fine immigration officer, from what Mo had read from a Tower report he'd been given to study for inconsistencies, nothing to find fault with there, though, then, he'd no longer been Alex, but someone else.
Sometimes, Mo had wondered why Alex hadn't been assigned to the Blue Cove branch as a branch Pretender. He'd surely have done just as good inside, on Sims, as outside, on Field. Alex, of course, had liked to joke to the psychiatrist assigned to him, which might change by the month, that they were always waiting for something 'unfortunate' to befall him, which was why he'd been assigned to Field in the first instance, though Mo thought that it was probably because they didn't think any of their 'inside' Pretenders would have been able to stand him for very long, with the exception of Kyle, whom he'd worked with over the years for a very long time, before Kyle had died. A Pretend, they could deal with, but not Alex. Alex had been too much.
Mo often wondered if this had been the reason that Jarod had been favoured, aside, of course, for the fact of his mention in the scrolls. Because he'd been reasonably sane, but not too sane, though probably more sane than any of the trainers combined.
Of course, Jarod was, more often than not, there to defend Sydney, though Mo felt that, perhaps, Jarod defended him just a bit too much. Sydney was as mad as the rest of them, he was sure, and how could he not be?
Kendra, he heard, had been nice, though she'd been 'transferred,' after the disappearance of her Pretender, Alicia, of which she'd been accused of having a hand in, though later, she'd been cleared by the discovery of Mrs. Parker's rescue/sabotage efforts, though, nobody at the Blue Cove branch really knew if an 'accident' had befallen her, the same way it had Jacob. That seemed, after all, to be the way of the Center; a regular accident factory, waiting to happen, to anyone at anytime.
Across the table, Jarod was still smiling, and at the next table, the teenagers were still yahooing.
Mo sighed inwardly, and supposed that, as far as birthdays went, it wasn't the worst, by far, which probably would have been when Sarah had attempted to cook Christmas dinner herself, and they'd ended up driving the twenty miles into the nearest town, to find that, given that it was Christmas night, next to nothing was actually open, and they'd been stuck with fish and chips, sitting at a table outside on the footpath, whilst slowly turning to human ice sculptures almost as fast as their Christmas dinner.
It was warm in the hotel lounge, at least, and the wine wasn't completely trashy, and the seats were actually quite good, for a welcome change.
By the time their meals arrived, Ethan had had a good three glasses of wine, and Mo was wondering if he'd taken after Miss Parker in that regard, who, he'd been told by Jarod, could certainly put them back, and whom he'd not like to get into a drinking contest with, as he was fairly certain that would be one challenge that he would not turn out on top of, but, in all likelihood, on the floor, and throwing up. Both of which would suck.
Across the table, Margaret had had enough wine herself, to be listing off names she thought would do nicely as those of her grandchildren, including Frances, Jeffrey, Edward, Olivia, Hannah, Meldon, Hugh, Melvin, Norton, and more, though, who exactly she imagined as having those grandchildren to fit all of those names, he did not think he wanted to subject his imagination to.
Charles, intent upon his meal, and seemingly oblivious to his wife's conversation, seemed, to Mo, to have a similar idea, but which detailed, rather than a painful expression, pretending not to hear what she was talking about, though he guessed that Jarod, talking to Zoe across the table, genuinely had not been listening to what his mother was saying, busy, instead, listening to Zoe.
"Excuse me, miss," a male voice spoke to Mo's right, and he turned, to see who had spoken, to find Emily standing, with her steak knife pointed directly and steadily at the man who'd spoken.
Who looked – a lot like Kyle.
Mo stared at the man who looked like Kyle, supposing that, were he Emily, he probably would be the one pointing the knife at the man right now.
A woman standing beside the man produced a gun, and Mo noticed that they were wearing uniforms, and that, by their uniforms, they probably worked for law enforcement.
He didn't hear what the woman said, because he was staring at Emily, who hadn't seemed to notice the woman, or the gun, at all, and was still holding the knife out in front of her, which Mo finally understood to be a defensive gesture, not an aggressive one, then all of the other conversation at the table stopped, even the teenagers at the other table were suddenly silent.
The man who looked like Kyle took a good step backward, and Mo watched him saying something, probably trying to assure Emily that, despite appearances – despite the gun his partner was now pointing at her – they would not hurt her, if she did not give them cause to; they'd not come to hurt her.
"Put the knife down!" the woman ordered, gun still drawn and firmly aimed, and not even Jarod said anything to this demand, perhaps merely wanting Emily to do just that, but afraid that if he should say something he might startle her, and inadvertently cause more trouble.
"It's okay," the man said, and the woman shot him an annoyed, angry look, perhaps for not having drawn his own gun, or for not simply frightening Emily into dropping the knife, as she might have been hoping to do. "Look, as soon as you put the knife down, and show us that you're not going to be a danger, my partner, Correlli here is going to put her gun away, too," the man explained to Emily.
"Put it down now!" Correlli shouted, and the man frowned.
"We're both standing right here, Correlli, I don't think either of us is going to be having any trouble hearing you, unless you keep shouting like that and send us deaf."
Correlli snickered nastily, offended, but did not take her eyes nor the gun from Emily.
"Emily," Margaret began, but, at a look from Charles, fell silent.
"Emily? Is that your name?" the man asked.
"It's just a knife!" Mo interrupted. "What, aren't you guys trained well enough to take a knife from someone without shooting them half a dozen times first? In which case would really constitute due force, don't you think?"
Correlli shot Mo a deathly glare, her hand completely steady on her gun.
"Don't tell me she's a loony!" Correlli cut in. "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to invite sources to dinner with your family and friends, Jarod!"
Amongst the group at the table, Emily was the only one not surprised that Correlli had known Jarod's name.
Emily dropped her arm to her side, eyes still focussed completely on the man in front of her, and the knife slipped from her fingers and hit the carpet with a dull, muffled thud.
"Correlli, for God sake, the term is mentally ill!"
"Shut up and get the knife, Harper, and make sure she doesn't choke you to death whilst you're at it!"
"The knife, Emily, may I have it?" Harper asked.
Emily pushed the knife across the floor toward him with one low-heeled shoe, her eyes fixed on the man as she did so.
"Detective Harper," Harper introduced, once he'd bent to retrieve the knife from the floor, "and this is my partner, Detective Correlli."
"'And this is my partner,'" Correlli muttered. "Why don't you ever get to be my partner, huh, Harper?"
Harper frowned, and refrained from turning to face the woman, who was now putting her gun away. "What? You are my partner, Correlli, and I'm your partner. What does it matter how it's said?"
Correlli snorted. "Forget it, Harper. I know you struggle with the subtleties."
Harper choked. "You, Correlli, struggle with the pleasantries, and you accuse me!"
Correlli shook her head, brown eyes flashing menacingly. "Watch out the next time we're in a dark alley together, Harper!" she growled. "Alone, with no witnesses."
"Okay, that didn't come out right," Harper concluded.
"It came out just fine!" Correlli told him.
"Right, so it's just me struggling with the subtleties over here, hearing something that-"
"You're delusional, Harper," Correlli exploded, "and my firearm strongly suggests you keep your sick thoughts to yourself!"
"Clearly, I'm not the only one. At least, my-" He grinned. "No, you see, I'm onto you. You, trying to make me say things you can twist to your sick little will in that evil mind of yours!" He shook his head. "It's just you embarrassing yourself, Correlli. Give it up."
Correlli crossed her arms, triumphant. "I should have let Roberta have you."
"Who is Roberta?" Harper asked.
Correlli grinned knowingly.
Harper frowned, and shook his head.
"Excuse me," Jarod finally interrupted, and both detectives looked at him. "I think I'm confused-"
Nodding, Correlli quickly produced a purse out of her pocket and handed it to Emily. "I believe this belongs to the elder lady," she said, earning an amused glance from her partner. A sharp beeping sound began, and the woman made a face, turning to her partner with a scowl. "Thanks for ruining my break, Harper!" she growled, and turned and stalked away.
Harper frowned and glanced at Jarod. "Sorry, ah, I have to go… I'm, ah, work. I have to work." He turned quickly and followed his partner out of the lounge.
Jarod stared after the pair, confused.
"They're the police?" Mo asked incredulously, glancing at Emily, but keeping his worry hidden.
"I think so," Jarod agreed worriedly.
"Of course, they're fans!" Mo stated, rolling his eyes.
"I-I- what?" Jarod asked.
Mo shot Jarod an obvious expression. "Jarod Cross, FBI."
Jarod frowned. "Uh-hah. Yes, I see." He blinked. "Emily, are you alright?" He glanced at Emily. "Why did you point that knife at… Harper?"
"I'm just saying, but, is anyone else bothered by the fact the 'Harper' looks like Kyle?" Ethan interrupted. "By… any… chance, at all?"
Jarod nodded slowly. "Yes."
Ethan sighed heavily. "That's nice and cuddly to know. Do you think maybe he works for 'them'?"
"For who?" Jarod asked, suddenly confused.
"The Center!" Ethan growled loudly. "Kyle's dead, Jarod! So, what are our options? Logically speaking! The way I look at it, it's either: a) It's aaaaliens! Hooray!, or b) A clone!, or c) Plastic surgery!" Ethan laughed hysterically.
Jarod glanced suspiciously at the bottle of wine nearest Ethan. "Ah, you're right, obviously it's, ah, A, of course. The, ah, the aliens!"
Ethan stopped laughing and rounded on him with a glare. "How much have you had to drink, Jarod? Aliens aren't real!"
"I was thinking the same thing myself," Jarod answered.
"Then why did you say it was aliens?" Ethan demanded.
"No, ah, the thing before, about the alcohol," Jarod replied.
"Both of you just shut up!" Emily shouted, causing everyone at the table to glance at her. "Would somebody just go out there and get the knife back off Kyle before I have to pay to replace it!"
"Harper," Jarod corrected. "His partner said-"
"Ah, you'll probably want this back, at some point," Harper told the group, handing the steak knife to Mo. "I apologise for earlier, my partner's a bit…" He nodded. "She's fine now, I- Yeah, she's fine now."
Mo placed the knife down at the table, and stared at Kyle. "What's your name again?" he asked.
Harper frowned. "K-Kyle Harper," he said, as though thinking, but hoping that they wouldn't report him and his partner.
"Yeah, Harper!" the teenagers at the other table suddenly piped up in loud, excited voices.
"Looks like de woman's finally gonna make good on dat demotion dreat!"
Harper rolled his eyes. "Thank you for that, Duane," he replied.
The teenagers jeered.
"She trigger happy," Duane commented. "If I was you, I wouldn't leave her alone! She unsafe, you know what I'm sayin'."
A girl beside Duane punched him in the arm.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"You duuuumb!" the girl replied, with finger talking marks.
"Tell me it ain't true! Next, she be keyin' people's cars herself."
"Next, I be bitch slapping you, bitch!"
Duane leant away from the girl. "What for?"
"You think we all dumb, with your dumb speak, but we ain't half as dumb as you!"
"Here we go!" one of the other boys said. "Think we gonna be needing that police backup now, Harper."
"Hey, hey, I wasn't sayin' that you were dumb, babe!" Duane assured the girl.
"No, you was saying that we all dumb, all us girls!" the girl bit back.
"That ain't what I said, at all, babe," Duane defended. "I never said none o' that."
"No, never. 'I'm innocent, off'cer!' Take him down to the station, Harper!" the girl told Harper, shoving the boy out of his seat with a massive push. "And keep him there!"
The boy picked himself up off the floor and turned to Harper. "She gon' be a cop when she's older," he said, laughing.
The girl jumped to her feet, glaring. "Then I'm gon' cop yo ass, Duane!" she shouted.
"Kids," Harper interrupted in a firm voice, "kids, just remember this is a public place."
The girl turned and saluted and then stalked away.
Duane dropped his shoulders. "Man, what is wrong wit dat girl?"
"What is wrong with you both?" the boy who'd spoken earlier asked.
"What?" Duane questioned. "It was all her! She did it, not me!"
The other girls at the table cracked up laughing, and got to their feet. "We outta here, me homies!" one of them chimed.
"Hey, remember those traffic lights," Harper told them as they filed past.
The girl in front rolled her eyes. "You think we wanna be jerky? No, that's Duane!" She turned on her heel, back to the table. "After Lyssa done with your ride, boy, it gon' be beef jerky!" she snickered, and the three girls strutted away.
Duane turned to his friends. "What, man?"
The boy closest sighed and shrugged. "I dunno, man."
"Bobby! Hey! You don't mean that!" Duane called after the girls, and the one in front tossed her head back.
"Lyssa mean that, cute boy, not me!"
Duane sighed heavily. "Aw, crap."
Harper shook his head. "What are we doin'?"
"Goin', man," Duane told him.
"Yeah? Are we gonna be okay?"
"We fine!" all three boys chorused.
"We'll take de bus," Duane answered.
There was a loud honking from outside, and the taxi that had pulled up in front of the hotel drove off with the four girls inside.
"Run, man, she knows where you live!" Duane's friend said.
"Nah, man, no running inside, remember?"
Duane's friend sighed. "Man, that sucks! Why you gotta be so weird?"
"It's cos 'is mom's one o' dose teachers," the other boy explained, and received a dirty look from Duane.
"My mom's da best! She da bomb!" Duane told him. "And if she's a bitch, it's cos she gotta deal with you!" he said, laughing.
Duane's friend sucked in a breath, but ended up laughing too.
The third boy made a face.
"See ya, Harper," the three boys called back to the detective.
"Yeah, see ya," Harper replied, and sighed. "Oh, I can see it now." He sighed again, and turned back to the table. "Here's my card. You want to call me when I'm off duty, complain, corroborate alibis, you see something, or hear something, you got an alien spacecraft sighting you want to report, you know the number," he said, handing Jarod a card about the size of a business card. "I apologise, once again. Do have a… good day." He turned and walked out after the teenagers.
Mo turned to Jarod.
Jarod shrugged. "Ethan's right; Kyle's dead." He looked at his mother. "Kyle didn't have a twin, did he?"
"No," Margaret replied.
"No. No twin."
"If he was a clone, for real, he'd be my age, or younger," Mo told them. "So, he's not a clone."
Still, the question remained, if not a clone, then what?