Last Requests by KB
Summary: Let's put things into perspective.


Categories: Post IOTH Characters: Angelo, Broots, Debbie, Ethan, Jarod, Lyle, Miss Parker, Mr Raines, Original Character, Sydney, The Clone
Genres: Drama, Tragedy
Warnings: Warning: Character Death
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 9 Completed: Yes Word count: 25978 Read: 23113 Published: 01/06/05 Updated: 01/06/05

1. Part 1 by KB

2. Part 2 by KB

3. Part 3 by KB

4. Part 4 by KB

5. Part 5 by KB

6. Part 6 by KB

7. Part 7 by KB

8. Part 8 by KB

9. Part 9 by KB

Part 1 by KB


Although the individual story ideas are mine, the characters are not and nor is the central concept of The Pretender. They belong to TNT, MTM and NBC productions, as well as the fertile imaginations of Craig Mitchell and Steven Van Sickle. 

Original characters are mine and I would beg you not to use them without my permission.

Last Requests 
Part 1


She had just locked the car when she heard the footstep on the freshly fallen snow, turning to see a man step out of the dark shadows cast by the waning slit of silver moon. 

“Miss Parker?”

“Who’s asking?” she demanded, turning to face him, breath puffing out of her mouth in a cloud. It was then, and even as she was reaching for her gun, that she noticed the weapon in his hand, aimed directly at her waist. 

“I wouldn’t do that,” he warned her quietly. “Give me your car keys.”

She moved her hand towards her holster and the unknown man turned his hand slightly to the left and pulled the trigger. The bullet whistled out of the silenced chamber and buried itself in her car tire, which immediately went flat with a soft hiss. 

“I did warn you,” he told her in a calm voice. “Next time, it will be your hand. Now, give me your keys.”

She handed them over, allowing him to lean forward and pull the gun from her holster, deciding it would be better to do what he wanted than risk bleeding to death.

“What do you want?” she prompted, once he had pocketed her gun. “I don’t carry cash on me…”

“I don’t want your money,” he told her quietly. “You are to come with me.”

Considering making a bolt into the house, she heard footsteps and glanced over her shoulder to find two men blocking her path to the front door. 

“I’m afraid no one will hear you if you scream,” he said in a quiet but firm voice. “Your neighbors are out for the evening, and besides, their house has very thick walls.”

“What do you want with me?” she hissed, drawing herself up to her full height.

“I have my instructions,” he replied calmly. Stepping closer, he placed a hand on her upper arm, his fingers tightening around her bicep. Being so close, she could make out his blue eyes under the rim of the cap he wore. “I was told you would be unlikely to accept any invitation we might offer, so it was decided that this was necessary. If you don’t do anything stupid, we won’t have to do anything extreme.” His head tilted slightly to one side. “After all, it would be nothing new for a Centre employee to be found dead with no explanation, would it?”

She knew he was right and allowed herself to be guided over to a car parked near her front gate. The door was held for her and she found herself sitting next to a tall figure with a silver pistol lying on his lap. Another man took his place beside her and the others got into the front seat, the man who had thus far done all the talking sitting in the passenger seat.

“Who sent you?” she demanded when the car was moving.

“You will learn that at our destination,” she was assured. 

“And where’s that?” 

The man chuckled softly. “He did say you were demanding,” he admitted. “He can answer all your questions when we get there.”

Miss Parker guessed that this would be the standard response to anything she might ask, so she fell silent, instead looking through the darkly tinted windows, memorizing the way so that she could find her way to their mysterious destination again if it was necessary. It had occurred to her that the person waiting for her could possibly be Jarod, although why he had taken such extreme precautions was something she couldn’t understand.

They drove for several hours, using the main highways to travel some distance from Blue Cove. After the first period of silence, the men had occasionally exchanged comments. She gathered that one was a doctor, but beyond that they said nothing personal or that gave her any clue about her destination. 

Eventually the car pulled into the carpark of what Miss Parker was horrified to see was a hospital. Although she would never have breathed it aloud, for fear of the wrong person hearing it, she had occasionally, and particularly in the last year or two, been almost as anxious about Jarod's well-being as Sydney openly was. 

“Miss Parker?” The man broke into her thoughts and she focused on him. “You would never find your quarry in this massive building, so allow me to show you where to go, instead of forcing me to escort you there at gunpoint.”

She nodded silently and immediately one of the men opened the car door and got out, offering her a hand, which she accepted without comment. The only man who had spoken directly to her led her to the automatic doors, which slid open almost silently, a smell of antiseptic and flowers immediately surrounding them as they entered. 

“This way, Miss Parker.” 

He lightly touched her arm and guided her to the elevators. When the doors opened, four floors higher, he led her through a mass of confusing hallways, finally stopping outside a closed door, at which point he turned to her.

“Just a moment while I check whether he’s well enough to see you. And don’t wander off, Miss Parker. I’d hate you to get lost.”

Nodding acquiescence, she watched him enter the room, unable to see inside as he immediately pushed it almost closed. She couldn’t make out what was said, but felt her pulse quicken as she recognized Jarod's voice, although it was hoarse and raspy. Glancing around the hallway, she found herself almost alone, apart from a nurse who sat beside a desk writing notes in a thin booklet. 

She saw movement at the end of the hallway and thought she recognized the dark-haired woman who had hovered briefly in a doorway before going back into the room. The sound of the door closing was just audible to Miss Parker as she placed the woman as being in the car with Jarod's mother five years earlier when they had all been in Boston. It only reaffirmed to Miss Parker that Jarod had been the person who summoned her, and icy fear clutched at her heart as she wondered what was wrong with him. 

A continual hissing was audible from somewhere nearby, but she was unable to pinpoint the exact source of it, and even as she tried, the door in front of her opened again and her abductor returned.

“You can go in, Miss Parker,” he directed quietly. “But try to stay calm.”

He held open the door and she hesitantly crossed the threshold, stopping short when she saw the figure half-reclining in the bed, a pile of pillows behind his head and back. 

It was Jarod, but not as she had last seen him on the island, strong and robust. He was agonizingly thin, with black patches under his eyes and an oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. The bones in his face and hands protruded so much that the skin stretched over his knuckles was white. His lips were cracked and red under the clear plastic of the mask, standing out grotesquely against the lack of color on the rest of his face, although a faint pink flushed his cheeks.

The gasp she was unable to hold back produced a reaction as Jarod's eyes slowly opened and rolled in her direction. With an effort, he managed a weak smile.

“Miss Parker,” he breathed, his voice a soft rasp. “I’m sorry about the way you were brought here.”

For a moment she was speechless, before managing to take a step towards the bed. “Jarod, wh… what is it?”

“I’m dying,” he said simply. 

He was about to speak again when he choked slightly, and the woman was horrified to see flecks of blood appear on the inside of the mask as he fought to clear his throat. 

“I’m sorry you had to see me like this,” he went on, the effort it took to talk visible, “but I wanted to see you before I died.”

“But… o-on Carthis…” she stammered, “you weren’t sick there.”

“I was,” he gasped, panting slightly for breath. “But I didn’t know it then. I got pneumonia after the storm, when we got wet…”

He trailed off, struggling to breathe, and a wheeze and faint crackle were audible from his chest. Miss Parker moved to the bedside and sat in the chair that stood there without realizing what she was doing. Jarod lifted his head briefly off the pillow to look at her but was unable to hold it up and let it sink back against the crisp linen.

“I’ve always been sick,” he told her breathlessly, “ever since I escaped. It’s a virus – like a time bomb. It was designed to go off at a certain point.” He shrugged. “It has.”

“Raines,” she growled, and he nodded slightly.

“I was working with Marcus – the one who brought you here,” he began slowly, enunciating each word distinctly and inhaling after every phrase. “He brought me here after I collapsed. That’s when they diagnosed the pneumonia and found out about the virus.”

“But you – can’t you do anything?”

“It’s too late.” He panted slightly before managing to continue, and she saw that, under the mask, his lips were now white. “Beyond a certain time, it’s irreversible. That time’s passed.”

She stared at him in uncomprehending horror. That he could lie there and accept his own death was unfathomable. Had she been in that situation, she would have fought it to the end. 

He smiled faintly, as if understanding her feelings. “This is the right way for it to happen,” he told her softly. “I always knew the Centre would stop me somehow, and I’d rather die here than spend the rest of my life killing other people, like they’d make me do if I was taken back there.” He sighed, and there was a note of satisfaction in that sound, as well as exhaustion. “I’m free here, Miss Parker, and soon I’ll be completely free.” His eyes met hers. “I don’t think you can understand what a relief that will be.”

He was right; she couldn’t understand. She looked down at his thin hand, lying limply on the blankets, and suddenly wrapped both her hands around it, his skin cold against hers. If it had ever occurred to her to doubt that this was real, Jarod's condition would have driven away any skepticism. He would never play with his health for something that frivolous. He was dying, and although the thought was devastating to her, there was nothing she could do about it. And that was the worst part.

The sound of the door opening behind her made her start, and she looked up to find her abductor standing at the end of the bed. 

“Enough, Jarod?” Marcus asked gently, and Miss Parker turned back to the man lying in the bed to see that his eyes were closed and even the little color that had been in his face when she had entered the room was gone. For a moment he remained motionless, before nodding slightly. His eyes opened to focus on her face and he gently squeezed the fingers entangled with his.

“Goodbye, Margaret.” 

The sense of finality in his tones made her want to shudder, but the peace on his face somehow prevented it. For an instant, she understood his feelings, before her own reasserted themselves and, with a final squeeze of his hand, she let go, placing it gently on the bed before stepping away. 

In the doorway she stopped, turning back to the bed and, with a remembrance of one of Jarod's first pretends outside the Centre, saluted. It was a gesture of respect for an adversary who had fought a good fight, and who had won. She could see that now. It was not a defeat for her, but a victory for him, and that made his relief at his current state more understandable. Parker felt Marcus’s arm on hers, guiding her down the hallway, and she needed that assistance, blinded as she was by tears.


*~*~*~*~*



Jarod smiled in response to the salute and then closed his eyes in exhaustion as the door shut. A moment later he heard the door open once more, and footsteps approach the bed. A gentle hand smoothed his hair, and he opened his eyes to see his mother leaning over him. She picked up a damp cloth from the bedside table and lightly dabbed at the beads of sweat he could feel on his face, her voice murmuring softly and lovingly in his ear as his eyes closed again.

Margaret had appeared the morning after his admission to hospital, and the other members of his family had arrived within 24 hours. Marcus had repaid the favour Jarod had done for him by doing what Jarod himself had been unable to achieve in six years, and the dying man felt that nothing he had done could make up for this invaluable gift his friend had given him.

Pain stabbed at him again as he inhaled. This was the worst pain he could remember. Not even the worst of the Centre’s sims had been like this. Sometimes, like now, it was bearable. At other times, he could barely move, and even breathing was agony. If he hadn’t known that it would eventually end, he would have considered drastic measures to free himself of it. As it was, he could only wait until his body gave up. 

Another pair of feet crossed the linoleum and then Jarod felt a hand on his wrist, gently timing his pulse. Sydney had refused to leave when Marcus brought him to the hospital, and his presence was unspeakably comforting to the dying man. The psychiatrist gently removed the oxygen mask and Jarod heard the chink of ice in a glass, several pieces of which were spooned between the lips he opened to receive them. They were wonderfully cool in his mouth and, as the first began to melt, he could feel the cool liquid trickling down the throat that the conversation with his childhood friend had made sore.

“Anything else, Jarod?” Sydney's voice asked softly.

He was so tired now that it was difficult to speak, but he managed, at the same time forcing his heavy eyelids up to focus on the man standing beside the bed. “No. Thanks.”

The older man smiled and replaced the glass on the bedside table before softly and unobtrusively leaving the room. When he was gone, Margaret pulled up a chair beside the bed and took Jarod's hand, gently stroking the back of it, avoiding the IV that was plugged into his wrist to deliver fluids and painkillers.

“Mom,” he murmured, and she moved closer. 

“Yes, baby?”

“Can you… open the curtains?”

She immediately reached across and pulled the cord, before extinguishing the light that shone onto the bed. On this side of the building, away from the emergency entrance and the car park, with homes on the other side of the perimeter fence, as Jarod had seen before he became too ill to get out of bed, the stars shone brilliantly in the wintry night sky and the moon hung like a massive illuminated orb. 

“It’s… pretty,” he whispered. 

“Yes,” she agreed softly, taking his hand again, her voice revealing her inner pain. “The world is beautiful. It’s the people within it that ruin it.”

“Mom,” he reprimanded gently in a hoarse rasp, “we’ve talked… about this.”

She brought his hand up so that the back of it rested against her cheek, and he could see tears glistening in her brown eyes as she kissed the taut skin. 

“You have… Emily…” he reminded her, panting for breath. “And you’ll still… have me… sort of… And there’s Ethan… too…”

A warm, salty droplet slid out of the woman’s eye and onto his hand, but Margaret brushed away its mate and managed a watery smile.

“You’re always thinking of other people, baby.”

“Not… always…” he retorted thickly, and she picked up the glass again, spooning more ice into his mouth before replacing the oxygen mask. 

Jarod thought of the pain in Miss Parker's eyes when she had seen him and wondered if his desire to have one last view of her had been his ultimate act of selfishness. It seemed to him that most of his actions concerning his erstwhile pursuer had been for his own benefit, although he had tried to convince himself that they would be helpful to her also. Emotion rose in his throat and caused him to choke, having to cough with as much strength as he was capable, to clear his throat. His mother’s arm slid around his shoulders in support as she almost lifted him into a sitting position to allow him to breathe more easily. When he finally regained his breath, she lowered him to the pile of pillows and again mopped the perspiration from his face before replacing the mask. 

“No more talking now, Jarod,” she scolded, resettling the blankets around him and smoothing his hair. “Try to sleep a little, baby.”

He nodded slightly, turning his head towards the window so that he could see the silvery face of the moon, gazing at it for a moment before his eyes closed. 

He would die tonight, or perhaps early the following morning. 

He hoped to see one last sunrise. His anticipation about Miss Parker’s visit meant he had missed the sunset that night, but he knew he had no more strength to survive another 24 hours for the next one. Those reserves of energy he had once had had been used in waiting for his family, Sydney and Miss Parker to arrive. He found it consistently harder to breathe and knew it was one of the final stages of the virus. His investigation had revealed the way it worked to slowly destroy his body and what would happen to him. That knowledge was something he appreciated, allowing him to plan for the future of those most dear to him. 

Now that it was so near, death didn’t scare him, and he wondered that he had been so afraid of it when it had been successfully used as a threat during his many years at the Centre. He hoped that those left behind wouldn’t suffer because of his death, but that was something he was unable to do anything about, much as he would have liked to. 

He thought about Broots and Debbie, leaving the country with the new identities he had helped to make up for them, and mentally wished them luck. He didn’t believe it was likely the Centre would ever find them and hoped that they would be happy. 

New identities were already arranged for his parents, Emily, Ethan and the boy they had cloned from him, as well as Sydney and Miss Parker. He had decided that his body should be returned to the Centre. When they had him, perhaps they would stop searching for those people who meant most to him. 

Best of all to Jarod, they would never be able to use his body for future cloning. His own research into the fatal virus showed that the cells would destroy themselves before they reached the stage of implantation, but he predicted it would take many attempts before this would be realized by the Centre, and by that time they would hopefully have lost the trail of all those they might still have been hunting. 

If there was another world beyond this, as his parents and Sydney believed, Jarod wondered if Kyle would be there, waiting for him. He tried to imagine his brother healed of the wounds, both mental and physical, that Raines had inflicted on him, and wondered if similar problems would be erased from his being. 

The image was a pleasant one, and Jarod dwelt on it as his thoughts began to grow hazy and he fell asleep.

 

Part 2 by KB

Last Requests
Part 2




A private courier had delivered the package several hours earlier, and now Miss Parker sat on her sofa with the contents strewed on the coffee table before her.

It was now two days since her 'abduction' and she had heard nothing more. Neither Sydney nor Broots had reappeared at the Centre, and Raines had set up a pursuit team. Both homes had been deserted when they had been searched, with some clothes and all personal papers gone. Raines had demanded that she be a member of the pursuit team, with Lyle heading it, but she had not yet given a response to what had been phrased as a request. She would do that in the morning.

Interestingly, there had also been no sign of Angelo since she had turned up at work the previous day. Of course, she didn't see or hear from him every day, but instinct, or perhaps her Inner Sense, told her that he had been taken somewhere safe, possibly with Sydney.

Her eyes roved over the objects in front of her: a cream envelope that she had not yet opened, a ticket for an airplane, a videocassette, wrapped in plain paper, and a sheet of details for a new identity that she could adopt, including an address for a house.

Beside these lay the photograph of Jarod that she had carried around with her for so many years, ever since his initial escape. She had been haunted by her final images of the dying man since her visit to the hospital; the thin, gaunt features and deep lines that marred his face a constant feature of her nightmares, in which she had again been a young girl in the Centre hallway in which her mother had faked her own death, running from that frightful scene into the arms of a young man with Jarod's features as she had last seen them.

She had already memorized the details for her possible future life, but whether she could take any advantage of the set-up Jarod had carefully arranged for her was unknown. She had her own plans for the following day and had little control over the outcome. If she lived, she said to herself, then she would open Jarod's envelope and listen to whatever he had put onto the video for her, but only then. If she lost her life, became just another Centre statistic, perhaps she would see him and he could tell her himself. Whatever happened, she hoped that Sydney, Broots and Debbie would remain safe from those who were mercilessly hunting them down.

Collecting the items, she took them into her bedroom and tucked them under her pillow before she lay down for her last night in her own bed. Somehow, now that the moment was drawing near, she was no longer afraid of her possible forthcoming death, wondering at the fear that had haunted her for so many years.

*~*~*~*~*



The note summoning her to the morgue was on her desk when Miss Parker arrived at the Centre the following day. She knew what it meant. Jarod's body had been brought here, perhaps by one of the sweeper teams who had finally found the hospital, or else by Marcus and his friends. But she understood his reasoning at having his body brought back here and the hope it would prevent any further pursuit of those Jarod had loved.

Maybe, she thought as she headed for the elevator, he had always planned that it would happen this way. That might have been the reason Jarod had had her brought to the hospital: so that she would have a chance to prepare herself for this sight instead of being forced to confront it at the place where every emotion she displayed was scrutinized. She schooled herself to appear at first surprised and then satisfied, knowing how hard it would be, but that it would endanger her life and those of Sydney and the others if she did anything else.

Raines was already waiting for her in the large, cool room with Jarod's body on the table between them when she entered.

"Well, Miss Parker," he rasped hoarsely, "it seems that part of your work here is done."

"My work," she responded, "was to chase Jarod."

She looked down at the body, seeing that the closed eyes appeared sunken into the skull, in which the bones were more prominent than she remembered from the hospital, but that otherwise he looked little different. The typical black clothes hung loosely from his obviously skeletal frame. On the floor beside the table, she saw a silver Haliburton case, which, she knew, would contain the DSA player and DSAs that Jarod had stolen from Sydney's house, apparently only hours after his initial escape, and had carried with him for more than five years.

"You were offered a new job," Lyle's voice stated from her right, and she looked over to find her twin perched on a stool against the wall. "What do you say, sis? Want to team up to find the rest of his family?"

"I'm still thinking about it," she snapped. "And I'll need to finish up Jarod's pursuit so that it can be filed away."

"Come to my office in an hour," the older man offered. "I'll hear your decision then."

Raines wrapped his fingers around the handle of his oxygen tank. Miss Parker's eyes briefly rested on the scar around the base of his thumb as she moved aside to let him leave the room, seeing Lyle follow with a parting wink.

When they were gone, she approached the high steel surface, allowing her eyes to roam over the Pretender's face.

"It's about time," she stated flatly, knowing that the words would be picked up the microphone that would doubtless be somewhere in the room.

Her meaning, however, would not be what Raines might assume: her thankfulness that the chase was finally over. She was pitying this man, who must have suffered so terribly during the last days and hours of his life. After being returned to her house, she had found details of the virus that had killed him, and knew how terrible it would have been.

Miss Parker's heart swelled with pity for what Jarod and those around him would have suffered as the last few hours of his tortured life drew to a close. She had become certain, during the long, silent ride back to her house, that Jarod's sister, and possibly also his mother, father, the clone, and perhaps even Ethan had been at that hospital with him. Even Sydney could conceivably have been there. It wouldn't have surprised her if he had refused to leave, particularly if he had been taken there in circumstances similar to hers. She knew how strong his love for Jarod was, and also how determined he could be to get his own way.

A note lay on the table next to the body and she picked it up. It was in a strange script, but the signature was familiar, albeit in a somewhat shaky hand.

I have won, it said. I am free. And nobody else will have to die as I am dying. Jarod.

She knew what it meant. He had been able to cure the virus that was presumably administered to his clone and to Ethan. Miss Parker only wished, as she put the note back and left the room, that he had been as successful with his own treatment.

In her office again, she gathered the last few red notebooks and details that remained in her files and slid them into an envelope that had been clipped to the note requesting her presence in the morgue. Taking out the sheet of paper that the envelope had contained when it was delivered to her office, she wrote in the approximate date of his death and a note to have the autopsy report added to the file before scribbling one last comment about the length and success of the pursuit before signing and dating it and adding it to the large manila envelope.

Standing, she walked over to the large cupboard in her office and unlocked the door, taking out a large gray box and opening it to reveal the gun with the circle of fire on the handle. She knew it was loaded and able to be fired. It seemed symbolic that it should be used in this situation. In all of her planning, this had been the only unquestionable step. It was something she owed to her mother, and to Jarod's father, considering how it had been used against them. It was convenient that the silencer from her gun fitted just as neatly on this one, and she attached it quickly, with only the faintest squeak.

Replacing the gun in her holster with the one in her hand was performed in such a smooth move that she doubted it would have been much noticed by anyone watching her on the camera in the corner of her office.

Calmly she went over to her desk, picking up the folder and pocketing her purse, which contained money, but no credit or identification cards, all of which were lying in the drawer of the table next to her front door. She had prepared for either possibility and found herself going over the details of her possible future home and identity that she had memorized the previous night. She cast a final glance at the photograph of her mother on her desk, knowing that the only other copy was in the glove compartment of her car, along with the remains of the package from Jarod, minus any details that might have allowed Centre personnel to locate the runaways, before turning to the door.

The next moments seemed unreal as she arrived at the door of the man who had turned out to be her father, pushing the heavy door open and seeing Lyle and Raines look up at she appeared.

"You've reached a decision?" Lyle suggested.

"I prefer to discuss it alone," she said coolly.

The two men exchanged glances before Raines nodded slightly and Lyle rose to his feet, leaving the office with barely a backward glance.

"What are you going to do?" the man demanded.

"Tell me exactly what my role would be if I accepted," Miss Parker responded.

Raines stifled a sigh before rising from the chair and strolling over to the large windows of what had once been Mr. Parker's office. Through the glass, the Atlantic Ocean spread out like a gray sheet, reflecting the sky.

As he turned his back, Parker reached for the gun, silently drawing and cocking it, holding it in her right hand. She knew that the office was soundproofed and that there were no cameras - so much Broots had once told her. Now she could use that information to her advantage.

Raines droned on for several minutes before turning to look at her expectantly.

"Well?"

"No," she said flatly.

He arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps I should remind you what happens to people who refuse in this place," he growled, taking a step towards the desk, but she raised the gun, aiming it at his chest, and he stopped short.

"Perhaps I need to make myself clear," she told him in a slightly mocking tone. "I said no, and that is exactly what I meant."

"You won't pull that trigger," he rasped. "You'll never get out of the Centre alive."

"Death used to frighten me," she replied evenly. "It doesn't anymore, now that almost everyone I ever cared about is dead. You made a mistake when you decided to inject Jarod with that virus. By killing him, you set up your own murder." She smiled. "And it's so poetic that this happens to be same gun, not only that you took from Jarod's father and supposedly used to kill my mother in the elevator, but that you really used to kill her after Ethan was born. Now, it will kill you. And I don't care what happens to me. If this office was lined with sweepers, I'd still do it."

"Yes." He met her gaze steadily. "I believe you would."

Her index finger tightened around the trigger and she felt the slight recoil as the bullet silently left the chamber, only a fraction of a second before she saw Raines take an involuntary step back, a red mark staining his shirt. A second and third bullet followed, before the bald ghoul dropped to his knees and fell on his face. Two bullets were embedded in his chest and the third had passed through his back and somehow managed to avoid smashing the window, sinking into the wooden paneling below it as blood poured out of the hole and onto the floor.

Still numb, she wheeled around, heading for the door. Her hand rested on the cool metal for a moment before she pushed it open and walked out into the hallway, uncaring what happened next.

Part 3 by KB
Last Requests
Part 3



Nobody tried to stop Miss Parker as she left the Centre and got into her car, although several sweepers seemed about ready to do so when they appeared to reconsider. It was only when she was out of the door that she realized the gun was still held firmly in her hand, and thought that that probably had something to do with it as she got into the car and dumped the pistol on the passenger seat.

Deactivating the tracking system, she left her Centre ID card on the ground in her usual parking place and drove out of the parking lot, heading for the state-line and the airport at which she would catch the first of several connections.

It was only when she had left her car in the airport lot and was taking her seat on the flight that emotion began to trickle back and her hands started to tremble. The gun that had killed Raines was now lying under the car seat and she didn’t care whether it was the police or the Centre that found it. If it was the police, several files that she had left in the back seat would ensure that they investigated the organization, and particularly Mr. Lyle, thoroughly.

A feeling of nausea swelled up in her throat, and she barely made it to the small toilet, once the seatbelt sign was switched off, before she retched violently. Kneeling beside the toilet bowl, she pressed the button to flush it with the feeling that she was symbolically purging herself of her past. Getting somewhat unsteadily to her feet, she splashed water on her face and scrubbed it clean of the make-up she had worn to the Centre, drying it on one of the paper towels.

Opening the door, she felt a gentle hand on her arm and looked up into the warm, brown eyes of a flight attendant, who was eyeing her in concern.

“Are you all right, ma’am?”

She nodded wordlessly and the woman’s eyes traveled over her face.

“Come back to your seat and I’ll get you something to drink,” the airhostess offered, slipping an arm around hers and guiding her back to the large, first-class seat.

Settling against the cushioned chair with a sigh and reclining it slightly, Miss Parker found it easy to give the woman a grateful smile as she returned with several dry crackers and a small cup of iced water. It was strange, she thought, how quickly people around her changed when she dropped the fašade she had used at the Centre.

“Let me know if you want anything else,” the woman, whose tag bore the name ‘Ann-Marie’, said quietly, before retreating to the back of the first-class compartment.

The flight only lasted two hours, and she had several connections to make before finally arriving at her destination: a small town nestled in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, which she had failed to find on any other map than the one included in the envelope with the details of her new identity. From there, she had been assured in a note containing the details, she would be picked up and driven to her new home by someone who would never tell the Centre her new address. Although the note was written in a strange hand, it bore Jarod's signature, and that was enough to convince her of its authenticity.

Ann-Marie checked on her several times, offering light food or drinks, before handing her over to another airhostess for the next part of her journey, after Miss Parker politely but firmly refused to be checked over by the airport’s medical staff.

Exhausted, she slept for most of the second flight and more than half of the third, waking not long before landing to be entertained by the antics of two small children in the seat in front of her. She was beginning to understand Jarod's fascination for the world outside the Centre, and particularly for the people within it. A game of peek-a-boo with a baby on the lap of the woman in the next seat cheered her even further and she waited with eager anticipation for the plane to land and for her chauffer to take her to her new home.

Having reduced the essential parts of her new life to a small bag, containing photos of her mother and Thomas, as well as a few pieces of jewellery with sentimental value, some underwear and a change of clothes, all of which had been carry-on baggage on the flight, she was one of the first people through customs and out into the arrivals hall.

At first glance, she saw no one who appeared to be there to collect her, but then her eyes met a pair of familiar blue ones on the far side of the massive space, hurrying over to where her half-brother waited and seeing, with a small pang, how similar he and Jarod were.

“Ethan!” she sighed in relief, as she returned the hug he gave her, before drawing back to look at him closely, this being their first meeting since he had disappeared from her house. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” he assured her with a smile that brought faint dimples to his cheeks. Slipping his hand through her arm, he guided her out of the airport. “We’ve got a bit of a drive from here to get back home.”

“Who else is there?” she asked curiously as they headed into the parking lot.

“My dad,” he responded, smiling slightly, “and his wife and their daughter and,” his voice trembled a little, “Jarod's clone.” After getting into the car, Ethan paused for a moment before continuing. “And Sydney and Angelo are in a house next door, where you can live, too, if you want.”

She looked around as they left the small airport, seeing as the landscape became more hilly and rugged. Opening the window slightly, she inhaled the crisp, fresh air, seeing the snow covering the slopes as she tightened her jacket around her, snuggling her chin into the warm scarf that the coldness of the season made necessary, even as Ethan turned on the car’s heating.

“What a wonderful place,” she murmured, and saw her brother smile.

“He thought you’d like it,” Ethan responded softly. “He described it to us during the last few hours, and hoped we’d be happy and safe here.”

Andrea Stevens, as she had become since crossing the Canadian border with the new papers and passport that had been sent to her, gazed out of the window so that her brother wouldn’t see her lips trembling. As if he understood her feelings, he put his hand on hers.

“I know what it’s like,” he murmured, his voice only just audible over the car motor, pain audible in it. “We all miss him, probably Ryan most of all.”

“Ryan?”

“Jarod's clone,” Ethan told her. “That was the name he chose when Jarod was preparing all this and treating the virus in us.”

“So you had it, too?” She turned to look at him. “How far did it progress?”

“Not far,” he assured his sister. “Jarod managed to treat it, and the last tests showed no signs of it in either Ryan or me.”

She nodded, wishing still more fervently that Jarod had managed to treat himself as successfully, before the car steered onto a large freeway and Ethan increased the speed to equal that of other cars around them. Conversation languished for a moment, before the woman suddenly spoke.

“What’s your name now?”

He smiled. “Tyler Anderson.”

She studied him for a moment before nodding. “It suits you.” Reaching into her jacket pocket, she withdrew the slim booklet that was her new passport and opened it, eyeing the new birth date and other details. “I’ll never remember all this.”

“You will.” He cast her a confident glance. “They’ll school you in it until its second nature.”

“Who?” she demanded. “Who’s ‘they’?”

Her half-brother shot her a sideways glance. “You don’t think we started up a whole town on our own, do you?” He grinned. “It’s a great set-up there, but you don’t have to stay unless you want to. They gradually organized a whole town over the past forty years. When you get there, they give you a new identity and treat you if you’re infected with the virus. They’ve got churches for the different religions, libraries, schools – it’s a whole society.”


The woman turned in her seat to glare at him. “What are you talking about, Ethan?”

“Tyler,” he reminded her with a smile. “I can’t afford to reply to the old name now. Neither can you still think of yourself as Margaret Parker. You’re – who are you, anyhow?”

She looked down at the passport again. “Andrea Catherine Stevens, apparently.”

The man shot her a startled looked. “That’s Sydney – er, I mean Patrick's surname, and Angelo’s – Paul’s – too,” he corrected instantly.

Her eyes widened as she realized what Jarod had done, perhaps aware of what she would do and believing that she would survive her murder of Raines to join her newly created family. She wondered what Sydney's reaction to the situation would be and whether he would be willing to go along with the fantasy.

She was still dwelling on this fact, despite the light conversation she and her half-brother had had during the drive, when the car turned up a steep road. The road veered sharply away to the right, and then, as they turned another corner to the left, she saw a checkpoint a short distance ahead.

“Do you have your letter from Jarod?” Tyler asked, and she nodded, getting it out of her bag.

When they pulled up at the small building, the driver extracted a thin card from his shirt pocket and offered it and her letter to the man sitting in the small white booth. The guard slid the card through a small white machine, which beeped and a light on top of it flashed green. Giving back Tyler’s pass, he scanned the letter under another device. Obviously satisfied, he produced another pass and handed it to the man in the car, before opening the boom gate.

Handing the card to his passenger, Tyler drove along a broad, tree-lined avenue, while his sister looked around at the houses tucked into a fold of the Rocky Mountains, craggy peaks towering, white and glistening, above the rooves.

“What is this place?” she breathed, awed by the stunning scenery.

“You’ll find out,” the man smiled. “Marcus or someone will explain it to you.”

“Marcus?” She stared at him, wide-eyed. “He’s here?”

Tyler laughed as he turned onto a small street. “He’s one of the people who run this place. Kind of like the Mayor, although there’s more than one person in charge.”

“You still haven’t told me where ‘this place’ is,” she retorted sharply.

“Give it time; you’ll find out,” the driver assured her somewhat mysteriously. “For now, I know that Sydney's been anxious about you, so let’s allay his fears first.”

Without giving her time to answer, he turned into a small, dead-end street and stopped outside a house, lightly honking the horn. Within a few seconds, the door opened and Sydney, or Patrick, as he was known here, hurried down the few steps to the snow-covered path, wrapping a scarf around his neck.

“Parker,” he sighed in obvious relief as she got out of the car. “Thank goodness you’re okay.”

For some reason, the sight of him caused a sob to rise in her throat, which escaped before she could stop it, and he slid an arm around her shoulders in a gentle squeeze. The tears kept coming and she turner her face to his chest, feeling his other arm around pass around her back as he held her tightly and she silently sobbed.

One hand released its gentle hold and then she heard the car beside them start up and drive off a short distance. When she looked up, she could see, through blurred vision, as Tyler drove the car up a driveway cleared of snow that belonged to the neighboring house and into the garage and as she looked down, she saw that her former colleague held her bag in his free hand.

“Come on, Parker,” Patrick urged gently. “Come inside out of the cold and we can get you settled in.”

She followed him blindly into the small house, feeling the warmth of the open fire that she could see through the door to the living room as soon as she entered. Wiping her eyes, she removed her jacket and scarf before following him into the spacious area, seeing that it contained a sofa and two armchairs, as well as a coffee table and bookcase. Photos of Nicholas and Michelle sat on the mantel, as well as a framed image of Jarod. Her eyes were fixed on it for several seconds, before Patrick lightly touched her arm, getting her attention.

“Sit down, and I’ll get you something to drink. Tea or coffee?”

“Tea, please,” she requested, after clearing her throat.

He nodded and disappeared into a room that she could see was a small kitchen as she sat on the sofa. Then she felt a hand lightly touch her arm and looked down to find Angelo on the floor at her feet.

“Margaret,” he murmured, and she started in surprise, realizing that he must have felt a shift in her emotions and was showing her that by using her first name instead of the surname with which he generally addressed her.

She looked up as Patrick returned, carrying a small tray on which stood two steaming mugs, a sugar bowl and a jug of milk. After he had poured the drinks and she had wrapped her cold hands around the warm ceramic surface, she turned to him.

“What is this place? Where are we? And why isn’t it on any other maps apart from the one I got with the address and new passport and everything?”

The man smiled, sipping the hot drink. “Tyler didn’t tell you?”

“He said I’d get told.”

“So you will, but I can tell you a little – the history, anyway,” Patrick responded. “I’ll leave the rest for Marcus or one of the other organizers. They know the best way to introduce people to this environment.” He sipped the tea again before putting the cup onto the table, and when he looked up, Andrea could see that his eyes were tender. “Your mother was responsible for the founding of this town and its establishment as a sanctuary for ex-Centre projects and staff. She took the first steps to it being what it is today.”

“Momma?” Andrea whispered. “She started this?”

Patrick reached out to cover her free hand with one of his. “She wanted somewhere safe for you and the other children she planned to rescue from the Centre, a place where you would be looked after, even if she didn’t survive to see you grow. Using her experience of the Centre, particularly as Head of SIS, she went about setting up a new town here in the Rocky Mountains and ensuring that it wouldn’t appear on any maps by paying off as many people as necessary, as the Centre has done to keep Blue Cove a secret for so many years. Nowadays, because nobody flies over here unless by accident, and because intruders are stopped at the gates, really only the people who live here know it exists. If anyone thinks about it, they probably believe it’s a government facility or something. Various escapees and ex-staff have built it up into this township. You’re likely to meet some old acquaintances here.”

“Broots? And Debbie?”

“They live about two streets away,” the man responded with a smile. “Jon works in the security sector and Kelsey attends the school nearby.”

“And you?”

“Nominally, I’m retired, but I do the occasional psychiatry session.” He picked up his mug and sipped at the tea again. “They’ve already got some possibilities in mind for you, if you stay.”

“Do I have to?”

“Of course not.” He smiled. “This place might be made up of ex-Centre staff, but it doesn’t mean it’s the Centre reincarnated. The Board is too careful for that. People are screened before they come here, and all residents have a choice about whether newcomers should be accepted or not. Arguments are put to a meeting and if the reasons are considered important enough, no invitation is extended.”

“Some invitation,” she murmured, thinking of the night when she had been confronted by the men outside her home.

“They have to be careful,” he told her. “They would jeopardize everyone in this entire place if they were rash in making their decisions, and there’s more than two thousand people here that the Centre would love to get their hands on, including us.”

She accepted this in silence, thinking how ironic it was that Jarod's death had resulted in her being as hunted as he had once been.

“Let’s get you settled in,” Patrick said suddenly, standing up, and she did likewise. “Marcus will be here in a few hours to show you around, and you’ll need to have come to some sort of decision about your future here by then.”

Following him down a short hallway, she found herself in a basic but attractive room, with a large bed tucked away in one corner and shelves lining half of the opposite wall. From the bed, she could see out of a massive window that looked out onto a mountain range that was now turning pink as the sun began to descend to the horizon. A small sofa stood facing the view in the middle of the room, piled high with cushions and just waiting to be reclined on. A large wardrobe filled the remainder of the wall next the bookcase, and Patrick smiled at her.

“You’ll find,” he began in a teasing tone, “that although there isn’t quite the same range of clothing stores here as there was in Delaware, you can still get a wide variety…”

Andrea turned and tapped him lightly on the arm. “Stop it,” she ordered. “That was there; this is a whole new life.”

“I’m glad you can see that,” he responded, suddenly serious. “I’ll confess that I was anxious you would try to bring all of that emotional baggage and tension here, and you’d find it frustrating if you were unable to let it out as you did at the Centre.” A small pucker appeared in his forehead. “When Jarod was telling us about how he pictured the future, during that last night, I wondered if you’d be willing to play along with the role he assigned you.”

She looked up into his concerned brown eyes for a moment, before reaching up to lightly kiss his cheek. When she pulled away, she could see the relief in his eyes and smiled.

“I wondered the same thing about you,” she told him softly. “But I’ll play along if you will.”

Still smiling, he guided her gently out of the room and showed her the other rooms that made up her part of the house: a large bathroom with a massive spa bath and a room set up with a desk and other typically office equipment. After she had seen all this, he led her through the rest of the house, including his rooms, and finally the kitchen, where she helped him prepare dinner while the sun sank below the mountains and lights were switched on around the town that was spread out below them.
Part 4 by KB

Last Requests
Part 4




Patrick and Andrea had just finished cleaning up after dinner and were settling down in front of the fire when the doorbell chimed and the psychiatrist rose to open it.

"Marcus," he announced, holding the door wider open. "Come in."

"Thanks, Patrick," the familiar voice responded, and then Andrea could hear the stamping of feet on the mat before she rose to see Marcus move into the living room doorway.

He was in his mid-forties, with piercing blue eyes in a tanned face and dark hair, graying at the temples, cut short in a flattering style. A heavy coat blocked out the cold air, and the icy wind had blown color into his cheeks. His welcoming smile showed straight, white teeth and a dimple in his left cheek, as he stepped forward with his right hand outstretched.

"Andrea," he greeted her. "We're so glad you made it."

She responded with the smile that had seemed so easy since leaving Blue Cove and returned the handshake, her eyes widening slightly at the feel of his cold lips on her cheek.

"Come out and have a look around," he invited, guiding her to the door. "I can tell you something about this place."

"Gladly," she replied. "And maybe you can answer a few questions."

"I bet I can," he smiled, helping her on with her coat as Patrick retreated to the living room and sat down on the sofa, picking up a book from the coffee table.

Knowing his preference for early hours, Andrea wished the older man goodnight, ensuring that she had the key he had given her before following Marcus out into the cold night air. Taking in a deep breath, she exhaled a cloud of steam before getting into the luxury car, seeing the man smile.

"We all feel a little like that, coming back here, even after only a short time," he told her. "It's like getting out of prison. Probably a little ironic that such a small place can give us the only real freedom we'll feel for the rest of our lives."

"Did Jarod feel like that, too?" she asked suddenly.

"Jarod was never here," Marcus answered, and she picked up a sad tone in his voice. "We took him photos, so he knew what it looked like, but he was too ill to travel by the time we found him." He sent her a half-smile. "He could be a hard man to find."

"You're telling me." She gently stroked the soft leather of the armrest before looking around at the well-lit streets, lined with houses, admiring the more attractive buildings, before looking back at the driver. "So why is this place so safe, when the rest of the world isn't?"

"We keep an eye on the Centre from here, and we know that they've never found out about us."

"I thought they knew about everywhere," she suggested. "It certainly seemed like it when I was head of SIS."

"And yet you didn't know about SL-27," he offered with a grin. "It took Jarod to tell you about it."

She smiled acquiescence, before seeing that they had traveled from a residential area to one that appeared to be more industrial.

"Canning and bottling plant," Marcus told her, pointing at one of the largest and most impressive looking buildings. "We bottle and sell our own drinks and as many of our groceries as we can. We tend to buy wholesale from nearby cities and towns." He slowed as they passed another. "This is one of our clothing factories - mostly jeans and t-shirts. We have a lot of teenagers and younger people here," he added in explanation, "and they make up a large proportion of our market."

"This really is a complete city," she murmured in surprise and he nodded.

"We try to be as self-sufficient as possible. That way we make less of a blip on the radar - either of the Centre or anyone else who might be interested in us."

At the next lights, he turned right onto a strip containing offices and various other assorted large buildings.

"That's our main high-school," Marcus stated, pointing to an attractive brick multi-storey complex. "It teaches more general subjects. The others are more specific, mostly for students who want to study medicine or law later."

"Of course you have your own medical and legal schools," Andrea suggested knowingly and was unsurprised when he nodded.

"And the graduates are quietly added to the Canadian medical and legal registers so that our students could practice outside the town if they wanted to," he finished with a proud smile.

A block further on, light streamed onto the road from a massive building that covered the whole length of the street. Marcus turned into the carpark and removed his card from his shirt pocket, swiping it through the security lock for the boom gate, which rose immediately.

"Our security center," Marcus announced. "Like to take a look?"

"Sure," she agreed, beginning to guess that the Board of this town planned to use her expertise in security to benefit their own cause. The idea appealed to her. She had enjoyed the organization and the occasional adrenalin rush that went with the job when she did it for the Centre, and it had to be easier here than it had been under the Triumvirate.

The building was bright and airy, with high ceilings giving it a feeling of space and large windows adding to the affect. Marcus showed her through the ground floor, which contained offices, all of which were dark at this hour apart from guardrooms located near the emergency exits. It was the floor above that buzzed with activity.

The room's ceiling was twice as high as the floor below had been, and massive screens on all four walls jumped every twenty seconds between camera vantage points in and around the Centre. Andrea recognized that the four screens showed scenes from the four separate security systems that controlled the cameras in the entire Centre complex, and which she had advised to try to avoid external sabotage.

"Impressive," she murmured, and saw the man beside her smile in satisfaction.

The room was partitioned into four sections, each close to the screen that, she guessed, they had responsibility for overseeing. Within those partitions, security staff with their own computers could view any room or hallway in the entire facility. At the same time, they shared messages and other information. There was a low undercurrent of speech, but it wasn't loud enough to distract anyone from his or her work.

Her eyes slid from person to person, seeing them taking notes and zooming in on particular parts of an office or cell to examine something more closely.

Then she saw the brightly colored shirt and the balding head, covered by a sheen of sweat.

"Broots!"

The name burst from her before she could stop herself and she saw the man start, before turning to see her, his eyes lighting up as he hurried over.

"Miss Par -- Stevens," he corrected hurriedly, as Marcus sent a mock glare at him. "I'm so glad to see you got here okay."

"Debbie?" she asked anxiously.

"Babysitting," he replied, after glancing at his watch. "When Mike and I finish in an hour, I'll get a lift home with him and take her home with me."

"Mr. Morris," the call came, and he half-turned before glancing back at her.

"I'll probably see you around soon, but right now..." he edged away without finishing the sentence and she had to smile at how familiar it seemed.

"There's a lot more to see," Marcus told her, drawing her back through the doorway, "and you two can catch up tomorrow or the next day."

She glanced back over her shoulder as the door closed, thinking that it would be pleasant to work in an environment without the constant stress that had been present at the Centre. She had been able to feel the undercurrent of warmth and comradeship that was apparent in that room.

"So what else is there?" she asked as they ventured out of the building into the cold night air and got into the car.

"Just one more stop for tonight," he replied with a grin. "I don't know how much you'll like this one."

"I like everything I've seen so far," she responded. "It's a very impressive set-up you have here."

"Thank you," he replied lightly. "We think so, too."

The headlights reflected off the snow as the car drove along a cleared road away from the offices and headed up into the buildings built higher into the mountains. Andrea's eyes were fixed on the sparkles against the white background, but her mind was thinking of other things.

"As you know so much about the Centre," she began, so suddenly that the driver jumped, "why don't you close them down, or expose them publicly?"

"Because any exposure would necessarily expose us as well," came the immediate retort. "There aren't just Pretenders and computer techs here. The Centre was playing with a lot more than that. Ryan is just one example of a project that could have us being as attacked as the Centre itself would be. Most of the people who worked on the Gemini project have been brought here because they were to be killed so that they couldn't tell anyone about it. There are plenty of ethicists who are so against the idea of human cloning that we possibly wouldn't be safe. Do you remember all the fuss about the Raelian sect a few months ago?"

She nodded, understanding what he meant, allowing him to continue.

"And then there's the possibility of us being exploited by some other group for financial gain just as much as the Centre ever did. Every adult in this place, and several of the younger people, are able to remember what it was like being forced to do things they didn't want to do or didn't believe in. None of us want to go back to that." He sighed before glancing at her. "We also had one of our men clean out your car. I can imagine what you were planning with the information you left in the trunk, but for the reasons I just told you, we couldn't risk the authorities finding it."

There was a slightly uncomfortable silence as the car made a final turn and a massive building loomed into view ahead of them.

"Our hospital," he announced, "as well as a medical research facility, where I'm afraid you'll have to spend the night. We need to test you for the virus ASAP so that we can start treatment."

Her eyes were wide as she turned to him. "I what?" she spluttered.

He smiled understandingly. "The Centre seems to have infected everyone who was ever tested for anything in their facility, and we know that you were tested as one of the Red Files, so the likelihood is that you will have been given it. As long as you were at the Centre, you were receiving something during your monthly medical that would keep the virus from beginning to develop. As soon as you leave there, it starts growing and attacking your immune system. The sooner we start treating it, the fewer treatments you'll have to have."

He pulled the car into the parking lot, choosing a space near the door, and then turned in his seat to face her.

"Figures Jarod drew up for us show that the virus is most violent during the first forty-eight hours, while it weakens the immune system, so the sooner you start the treatment, the more quickly the virus will be destroyed and the fewer days you'll have to have the injections. Have the first one tonight, stay here in the hospital to be monitored in case you have any allergic reactions to any components of the treatment, and possibly you'll only need one more shot tomorrow and then a blood test to check that the virus was destroyed. If not..."

"Okay, okay, I get the idea," she snapped. "Fine, we'll do it now."

She got out of the car and grumpily followed him into the building, submitting to have a hospital-style band attached around her wrist, but relieved when told that she could remain dressed. Then Marcus, who had left while she was being checked in and having an initial blood sample taken, returned with a bag in his hand, which he put on the bed of her private room.

"These are things you might need," he offered. "Night things, toothbrush and paste, a change for tomorrow..." He broke off as she glared at him and innocently raised his hands, the corners of his lips twitching. "What?"

"Where did you get my things?" she growled.

"From your house in Blue Cove," he admitted. "We had two people go there after you left for the Centre. Jarod had guessed that you wouldn't stay after we had his body taken back there, so we had a pretty good idea of what you'd do - though shooting Raines went above our expectations."

His eyes were twinkling in obvious delight and she wondered, her curiosity replacing her anger at the invasion of her privacy. "Did you work under him?"

"Unfortunately, yes," he admitted. "For nearly twenty years. I got out about four years ago and was brought here almost immediately. I was about to have to give up my position on the Board because of the virus, but fortunately Jarod managed to come up with a treatment just in time to save me from that."

"A lot of people have died from it?" she suggested gently, and he nodded.

"More than any of us really want to think about," he replied. "And the hardest part was knowing that, until Jarod managed to come up with something, we couldn't do anything to help those who had it, except help them die in as little pain as possible and, as we did for Jarod, bring families to have a chance to say 'goodbye'."

"So that was his sister," she murmured, thinking back to the woman she had seen in the hallway of the hospital.

"Yes," he agreed. "We were glad to be able to do that for him, when he'd done so much for us. It's given the people here a future, instead of the ticking time bomb most of us were sitting on before. And he was urgent that you receive it, too. Anyone he cared about dying that way was obviously something that haunted his thoughts during his last few days."

She nodded, twisting the ring of plastic on her right wrist and trying to think of a way to change the subject, but suddenly Marcus shook himself and the sad expression was gone from his eyes when he looked up again.

"I'll leave you to get some rest," he told her. "I'll come by tomorrow morning and show you around some more."

Andrea saw a nurse and doctor appear in the doorway as Marcus stood up and quickly left the room before she could respond. The doctor began an explanation of her blood test results and the necessary drug she would receive. Allowing them to administer the injection, she waited for them to leave before changing into the nightclothes that the bag had contained and getting into bed.

Part 5 by KB
Last Requests
Part 5



Ryan lay on his back, staring at the ceiling, his hands tucked in behind his head. During the two weeks he had spent at the hospital while Jarod was dying, he had become used to spending the nights with his progenitor, and it was taking time for him to return to his old sleeping habits. Those long hours, when the hospital had been almost silent, but pain prevented Jarod from sleeping, had brought Ryan to a deeper understanding of what it meant to be a copy of someone else, as well as knowing more about the man from whom he had been created. He was determined that, although he would become his own person, he would do his best to retain some of the best parts of the man he had gotten to know, albeit for such a brief period.

When the door softly opened, he raised himself on his elbows to see the woman he called ‘mom’ enter, smiling slightly when she saw he was awake.

“Still can’t sleep nights?” she suggested softly, and he shrugged as he lay down again.

“I’m getting better,” he offered hesitantly. “Nearly three hours last night.”

She smiled. “I can’t really criticize you. I didn’t manage that much myself.”

He couldn’t help grinning at that, relieved not to be receiving a lecture about his behaviour. His mother’s brown eyes suddenly lit up as an idea struck her.

“The fire was still burning a little when I went past,” she proposed. “Why don’t we make ourselves some hot cocoa and play scrabble or something.”

“Sure,” he beamed, throwing back the covers and grabbing his robe as he slid his feet into the furry slippers lying beside the bed. “And maybe some of those cookies Marisa,” this was Emily’s chosen new name, “made last night?”

Kim tousled his hair with a gentle fist as they headed into the kitchen. “You only had a snack a few hours ago and you’re hungry already?”

“Yup!” He poured milk into the saucepan and put it on the stove while his mother got out two cups and a large jug. “I’m a growing boy, remember!”

“Not for much longer,” she smiled, putting several cookies on a plate. “You’ll stop growing soon enough and then maybe we can get you some clothes that’ll last you longer than two months.”

Ryan looked down at his pajamas, which revealed several inches of his lower legs, and laughed as the milk began to boil. After he had been rescued from the Centre, he had begun a belated puberty growth spurt, which a long-term sim he had been given at Donoterase had halted, and he was now as tall as Jarod had been.

Pouring the milk into the jug, he put the cups and plate onto a tray and carried it into the living room, putting it on the coffee table before adding a log to the slowly dying fire. Scrabble was in the front of the cupboard and he fished around for a pad of paper and two pens before returning to the coffee table. Sitting on the floor against the sofa, he helped set the game up and then accepted his drink, sipping the hot, sweet concoction that warmed him down to his toes.

Kim shared out some letters and they began the game. Although they only spoke softly, it wasn’t long before the three other occupants joined them in the living room and the game was restarted to include everyone. Nothing was said about the frequency with which this was occurring, being an almost nightly happening now, but as the following day was Saturday, and thus not a workday for either Kim or her husband, and with no school for Ryan to attend, they continued to play until light was visible over the mountains and a thud on the front porch announced that the newspaper had arrived.

*~*~*~*~*


“This should be the last one,” the nurse announced cheerfully as the doctor gave Andrea the shot. “As you were told last night, the virus had barely started to develop, and even if you should need another, you won’t need to come in as a patient.”

“Well, that’s certainly something to be thankful for,” the patient responded pleasantly, feeling refreshed after a night of sound sleep. “I don’t like needles any more than the next person.”

The doctor smiled as he dropped the used syringe into the dish offered by the nurse. After drawing a small amount of blood to be tested and checking her chart, he left the room. Andrea waited for the nurse to leave before getting out of bed and heading for the bathroom. In addition to her nightwear, the bag Marcus had given her also contained a bottle of her shower gel and her favorite shampoo.

As she slid under the streaming water, she thought longingly of the large tub in her bathroom at Sydney's house and made a mental note to have a good soak in it that evening. She had seen that there was a supermarket and other stores not far from her new home and guessed that she could get anything she wanted from there. She was almost surprised at how natural this whole environment seemed to her, and how easily she seemed to fit into it.

Stepping out of the shower, she toweled off vigorously and then put on clean underwear before dressing herself in the clothes Marcus had provided. They were still stylish and well cut, but warm enough for the season and less formal than her usual attire. Leaving the room, she packed her clothes into the bag and then sat down in the armchair to stare out of the window at the city below her as she brushed her hair.

“Good morning,” a voice announced from the doorway, and she looked around to find Marcus standing there, his hands in the pockets of his jeans and a grin on his face. “Looks like you’re up and ready for the day.”

“Well, as I don’t know what I’m in for,” she teased lightly, “I thought it was as well to be prepared.”

Marcus chuckled. “We need to talk about your future here,” he began, “and specifically whether you’d be willing to take over as head of our security department. You’ll find a lot of organizational similarities to what you had at the Centre in SIS.”

She met his gaze steadily. “Do I get time to think about it?”

“Of course,” he agreed. “We wouldn’t do anything definite until we’ve got the latest test results anyway, but take your time and let me know what you decide.”

Andrea nodded and then, when his expression remained expectant, raised an interrogative eyebrow. “What else?”

He sighed. “Probably the most important part of your life here,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to tell you last night, because otherwise you wouldn’t have stayed here in the hospital, but it’s a big thing.”

Her eyes narrowed instantly. “What are you talking about, Marcus?”

The man rose to his feet. “Come with me,” he directed. “I’ll show you.”

Andrea could feel something clenching in her stomach as she rose to her feet and followed him from the room, although she couldn’t understand what she might be scared of, other than the man’s solemn tones. They got into an elevator that carried them down to the ground floor and Marcus directed her down a long hallway too quickly for her to read any of the many signs they passed, before finally stopping outside a door and waving at a sofa that stood against one wall.

“I have to tell you something,” he told her, as they sat down. “Three years ago, several children of some of the first subjects your mother rescued perpetrated a deception against the Centre. We had to use people that the Centre had no knowledge of, because they were forced to spend time being tested and checked to ensure their suitability for the job we needed done. We also had to remove all competition to ensure that we were successful in gaining this project. When it was handed over to the people we had used, they brought it here, and it’s remained here ever since.”

Her mind was playing with the timeframe he had presented and as he finished, the final piece fell into place and her mind was full of the image of the baby to which Brigitte had given birth, as well as the fact that it had disappeared so soon after its birth. She’d imagined that the child had been given out to an adoptive family, as Timmy had been, because his father had no time for it. Part of her had wondered whether, when he reached the age of four or five, he would be brought back to the Centre and put to work. That concept had been painful for her to accept at the time, and she had considered working out a way for that future to be altered, but her workload had become heavier and she had thought about the baby she once believed was her brother less and less. Now she looked up at the man beside her, her eyes blazing.

“Why?” she demanded. “What use is he to you?”

“The use doesn’t come into it,” he reprimanded. “We don’t force anyone to do anything here. But the Centre certainly would have used him as soon as he was old enough to complete the sims.”

“I don’t understand,” she began impatiently. “My f… Mr. Parker had no skills worth exploiting, and I can’t imagine the troll who married him did either, so…”

“That baby wasn’t theirs biologically,” Marcus interrupted. “Bridget was artificially inseminated. If the child inherits his father’s skills, or his mother’s, and we’d left him with them, the Centre would have had another very powerful tool in their arsenal. If it should happen that he displays both attributes and had been still accessible to them, they would’ve found some way to ensure that he never escaped,” he paused briefly, “the way his father did.”

Andrea felt a lump form in her throat as realization hit her like a fist in the stomach, knocking out the air and making her gasp for breath. Jarod's son was on the other side of that door: the boy she had helped deliver and fought to keep Raines away from was the son of the man she had pursued and rebuffed from the emotional attachment he had sought from her for years. An image of Jarod as she had last seen him, cold and dead on the autopsy slab at the Centre, hovered at the edge of her mind’s eye, and, even as she shuddered, she wondered whether he had known about this last, and most terrible, curse the Centre had placed on him. Then her thoughts went in another direction and she looked up.

“So if he belongs to Jarod's family,” she suggested, “why is he here, and not there with them?”

“We were waiting,” Marcus said softly, “to see what happened to his mother.”

There was an extended period of silence following this statement, although it took Andrea only a fraction of that time to understand what had been meant. Rather than breathless, she felt a pain in her chest that seemed to get heavier with every passing second. Feeling almost helpless, she looked up at the man beside her, who slid a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“I know it’s hard,” he murmured gently in her ear. “But your son knows – has always known – that you’re his mother. We showed him your photo with several others when he was only about a year old and he knew which one – you – was his mother immediately. When Jarod died, he was totally distraught. Last night was the first time since that day that he’s slept properly, so for his sake, we couldn’t leave it until you’d had more time to settle in before you were introduced, although that was the original plan.”

Tears had begun massing in her eyes, but at the idea of the baby – her son – being upset, she resolutely drove them back and almost bounded to her feet.

“I want to see him,” she demanded.

“Of course,” Marcus agreed, standing also and stepping over to the door, which he pushed open. “In here.”

The sound of babyish babbling and giggling filled the corridor as soon as the door was open, and Andrea’s eyes widened as they hurried down the hallway.

“How many children do you have here?”

“Only four that live here permanently, either because their parents have died, or else because we were able to rescue them from the Centre’s grasp. That’s three, now that you’re here. But we also have daycare for children of the nurses and doctors, as well as for those patients who might need it.”

She nodded, glimpsing very young babies through a window being fed and playing with various soft toys.

“We have one staff member per child for the babies,” Marcus went on. “This increases to figures of five to one for children who are getting close to going school. We also arrange babysitting for those who work nights, like Jon Morris. Most of the teenagers in town are on a roster and we call them up to offer them work when needed.”

Andrea nodded again, but her mind was becoming more focused on seeing her son and wasn’t paying more than superficial attention. As if understanding this, Marcus fell silent, guiding her to the closest doorway and opening the brightly painted door. A group of children, all approximately three years old, sat on the floor around a woman who was reading a book. One little boy’s head turned immediately, and Morgan found herself staring into the child’s dark brown eyes as they lit up and he leapt to his feet, hurling himself across the room to her.

“Mama,” he shrieked in delight.

She froze for a second, before sinking to her knees and gathering him to her, feeling his little arms clinging tightly around her neck. Andrea had never pictured herself as a mother, but was surprised at how natural the feeling suddenly became. Her son’s little visage held only a faint resemblance to the baby she had helped deliver, but she could see her own features in his face, although the hair, eyes and tiny dimples in his cheeks were clearly from his father. Marcus helped her to her feet and guided the mother and son down the hallway to a room in which a kitchenette, tables and chairs had been set up.

The woman sank into an armchair and Marcus took a seat opposite, his eyes traveling from one face to the other. “Andrea, this is Jason,” he told her. “That’s the name he was given when he was handed over to our people, and we find it less confusing for the child to retain that choice.”

She nodded somewhat numbly, feeling that her cheeks were damp from the baby’s moist kisses, and suddenly bent her head to kiss his flushed face. The delight in his eyes made her feel slightly choky and she clutched him more tightly as he continued to babble in his high-pitched voice, telling her all about his favorite toys and books. Her head was whirling with the revelation that she had a son, and her heart was a tangle of emotions so great that it almost hurt to have her son so close to her.

Marcus had watched this scene with a smile. Before he could speak, however, the door opened and Andrea looked up to find Patrick in the doorway. The man’s brown eyes were soft as he took in the scene, before stepping over the threshold.

“It’s all set up,” he said quietly as he sat down next to Marcus, and the other man nodded.

“What is?” Andrea demanded, suddenly suspicious as she clutched her son slightly tighter and felt him cling to her.

Patrick smiled. “We’ve been doing a little… rearranging at home,” he admitted, his eyes twinkling in a way that Andrea had never seen them before. Then his smile became more tender as he watched her. “After all, you wouldn’t want to leave him here, would you?”

As if in answer to this, Jason put his head on her shoulder and snuggled close to her. She felt his heartbeat through the pale blue turtleneck she wore and knew that Patrick was right. She couldn’t leave him now, even though it would take her time to untangle all the emotions his very existence caused in her. Nodding, she rose, her son still in her arms, turning to Marcus.

“I’m interested in the work you wanted me to do,” she told him firmly, “but I won’t be able to start right away.”

“Of course not,” he agreed, standing also. “But a certain amount of the basics – learning about the system and choosing your staff, among other things – can be done at home, and we’ll get the information delivered to you within the next week or so. Still, there are other things you’re going to need. Your new car is waiting for you down in the carpark. There’s also a catalogue of clothes for you to choose from – both work and casual clothes. You can either use it or go shopping. Patrick can tell you details about opening hours and all the other etceteras. There’s also a list of phone numbers including mine, so you can call when you want to start work or if you have anything else you want to ask.”

The group left the room and headed back down the hall while Marcus finished telling her all this, the younger man only stopping to pick up two bags that stood outside a room, through the partly open door of which Andrea could see several small beds and guessed that it had been her son’s room until today. As they continued past it, the child again lovingly kissed her cheek, nestling up against her neck with a sigh. She gently rubbed his back and felt his hands tighten around the collar of her top.

“You can follow me back home,” Patrick told her as he packed the baby’s bags into the trunk of the dark-colored Mercedes-Benz convertible that Marcus had said was Andrea’s new car, before he got into his own vehicle and left the carpark. Andrea nodded as she strapped the boy into his car seat with a somewhat worn teddy bear that he told her gleefully was his ‘fav’rit’.

The trip was only a short one, but it gave Andrea a chance to appreciate the attractiveness of her new surroundings. Soon, she was following Patrick into the double garage beside their house and getting her son out of his car seat. He cuddled her around the neck so tightly that she was able to hold him with only one hand and carry one of his bags into the house with the other. Patrick led her down the hall to her set of rooms and opened the door to what had been her office. The desk, bookshelf and other furniture had been rearranged in one corner of the large room, leaving space for a small bed and change table, chest of drawers and large toy-box.

Andrea stopped short in the doorway, staring at the new objects in the room, before stepping in to put the bag she carried down beside the small bed. Patrick placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and she turned to look at him.

“I prepared something for lunch before I left for the hospital. Want to come and have it? You can unpack everything afterwards.”

She was startled to find that it was already after one o’clock in the afternoon, but nodded as they turned back into the hallway and headed for the living room, Jason still cuddled securely in her arms. In the kitchen, she put him into the highchair that was standing in one corner and drew it up to the table, taking a seat beside it.

“Jarod's family have invited you, me and Jason for dinner tonight,” Patrick told her as he stirred a pot of soup on the stove. “They want the chance to be a part of Jason’s life, although they realize that you’re his mother, and as such have the right to have him live with you.”

Accepting the small bowl of plain tomato soup that he handed to her, with a small spoon, having firmly tied on a protective bib, Andrea began feeding her eager son, considering the offer. It would be the first time she had seen most of those people, and she could only guess at the feelings they had for her, suspecting that if her son was not also related to them, they would have ignored her completely. Understanding that, this offer caught her slightly off-guard.

“Did they really invite me,” she began skeptically, “or did you…”

“Please, P – Andrea,” he corrected himself quickly, “I’m not going to force anyone into a situation that difficult. No one would be able to deal with something like that being foisted onto them right now.” He sat down opposite her. “They – we – are all still trying to come to terms with everything that’s happened. We’ve all lost someone important to us, and who played a major role in all our lives. We need a chance to get over that without more emotional turmoil”

She looked up to meet his gaze. “Did you tell him that?”

“Yes,” he responded quietly. “Fortunately, I had that chance.”

He stood again and poured some juice into a baby cup, which he put on the tray of the highchair, smiling as Jason immediately picked it up and thirstily began drinking the contents.

“How… was it?” she asked jerkily.

“Peaceful,” Patrick replied somewhat unsteadily. “He died in his mother’s arms, just as the sun rose, the day after you saw him. I’ve sometimes wondered,” he added in a firmer voice, turning back to her, “if he was only waiting to see you before he let go.” He smiled again. “I think he was.”

Her gaze dropped to the bowl in her hands, and she spooned the last of the soup into her son’s mouth before accepting the more seasoned substance in the bowl he placed in front of her. There was silence in the room for the rest of the meal, apart from soft comments made to Jason, the two adult occupants immersed in their own thoughts.
Part 6 by KB

Last Requests 
Part 6



The night had been a long, difficult, and at times awkwardly silent one. It was only when Jason – his name seemed more appropriate, the longer she spent with him – began a whimper, which only reduced in volume when he was handed back to her by the older woman, whose eyes and smile reminded Andrea almost painfully of Jarod, that Patrick suggested they leave. As it was obvious to the child’s mother that Jason would only sleep when he was tucked up in his new bed in the room beside hers, Andrea willingly agreed, starting to collect her son’s things. Ryan brought her the toys he and the baby had been playing with and packed them into the carry bag Andrea had had the foresight to bring. His genetic similarities to the man they had lost was obviously difficult to more than just her, and the pain in Ryan’s eyes on the single occasion they had mentioned Jarod showed that the clone was finding it as difficult as any of the others to cope with his loss. 

Fresh snow had covered the tracks the two adults and the stroller had made between the houses earlier in the evening, but it wasn’t deep enough to hinder their progress.

“Christmas next week,” Patrick said suddenly, his breath coming in white clouds from his mouth, and she turned a startled gaze on him.

“So it is.” She looked down at her son to find him gazing up at her out of his dark brown eyes and suddenly smiled. “We might have to go shopping for gifts in the next few days.”

“Should we invite the neighbors for Christmas dinner?” the man proposed as he unlocked the door, nodding in the direction from which they had come.

“Maybe,” she murmured, wanting more time to mentally evaluate the evening before committing herself one way or another to the idea. 

Finally maneuvering the stroller into the house, the two adults closed the door behind them and Andrea immediately leaned over her son, cradling him against her shoulder and smiling as he snuggled up to her with a satisfied ‘Mama’. 

“Take him to bed,” Patrick suggested, pushing the stroller into the free corner that was set aside for it, “and I’ll bring you something hot to drink.”

“Tea, please,” she responded somewhat absently. “Black, with no sugar.”

“I do remember,” he chuckled. “It hasn’t been that long since we were at the Centre.”

Smiling acquiescence, she carried Jason into his room and changed him into a sleeping suit. His big brown eyes were already drowsy when she picked him up again, carrying him into her room and sitting down on the sofa facing the window. Through the massive window, she could see the outline of the mountains against the cloudy sky and the occasional light from a house in the city below. 

Her son was a warm, heavy weight in her lap, and she suddenly bent her head to kiss the top of his head, feeling his breath, warm and regular, against her throat. A footstep in the doorway made her look up to find Patrick with two steaming mugs in his hands, one of which he put on the small table beside the sofa. 

“I’m going to bed,” he told her quietly. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Sure,” she agreed. “See you then.”

As she stretched out an arm for her mug, her movement disturbed Jason, who wriggled slightly before settling again. A soft rustle of paper in her shirt pocket as he did so reminded her that, just before Marcus had arrived in her room at the hospital that morning, she had been about to read the note Jarod had included with the information about this hideaway and how she was to get there. She hadn’t even had a chance to get the note out of the envelope, and had put it in her pocket when Marcus had announced his arrival, feeling that it was private. 

She cast an eye at the drawer in which she had placed the rest of the package’s contents, gently laying her sleeping son against a sofa cushion and, after switching on the lamp on her bedside table, getting up to rescue the rest of the objects, with her own addition, carrying them back to the lounge and gently sitting down. 

Jarod's face smiled at her from the photograph and she managed a smile in return, feeling a pain in her chest that forced her to inhale deeply before averting her eyes. Picking it up, she carried it to the bookcase and reached for one of the boxed frames that Patrick told her had come with the house when he had been allocated it for the three of them. A picture of Catherine was already housed in one, and now she found another in which Jarod's photo would fit and carefully inserted the rectangle of photographic paper. Standing the frame on the shelf, she lightly touched the frame containing Catherine’s photo before returning to the sofa.

The folder that had held her airplane ticket was empty, but a feeling approaching sentimentality stopped her from throwing it and the sheet containing her address and new identity details away. Tucking the paper into the folder, she stood up again and returned to the bookcase, sliding the thin booklet under Jarod's framed photo. Turning, she saw the last two items lying on the cushion beside her son. 

Picking up the videocassette and removing the paper cover, she gasped as she saw the note attached to the case, which was in Jarod's familiar handwriting. ‘For my son’, it said, and Andrea felt tears prickle the backs of her eyes at the realization that Jarod knew about Jason, able to guess how much the knowledge of that project would have hurt him. She would show it to Jason when he woke up the next day, she decided, looking down at his baby features. Gently lifting him into her arms, she carried him into the next room, managing to turn back the covers and place him on the smooth sheet, his teddy bear tucked in beside him. Leaning over the bed, she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek before switching on the small nightlight and leaving the room. 

She found herself breathing slightly faster as she returned to her room, leaving her son’s door a little ajar so that she would hear if he woke up. Returning to her seat on the sofa, she saw that her name adorned the envelope, in Jarod's script, and turned the cream object over, loosening the flap and raising it to reveal a folded piece of paper. Gingerly extracting it, she found that it was written on both sides in handwriting that, at times, became increasingly shaky, and guessed that it had taken Jarod several sessions to complete. It was dated almost a week before his death and she half-smiled at the realization that he had prepared for the time after he was gone in so far as he was able. Knowing him as well as she did, that preparation didn’t come as a surprise. Closing her eyes briefly to compose herself, she opened them once more, gazing blankly at her reflection in the window, before turning to the letter she held.

‘Dear Miss Parker,

I’ve tried to start this several times, using your first name or the name we – that is, Sydney and I – decided was the most appropriate for you, but ‘Miss Parker’ is the name I’ve used for forty years, and somehow it fits now. Force of habit, I guess.

If you’re reading this, you’ll already know what it means. Although I can’t be sure, I’d guess that you waited until you were safe in the home Marcus provided for you, Sydney and Angelo before reading it. If not, I’d suggest that you wait to read further until that happens. There will be things there that you need to confront, and any advice I have to offer before you know the truth will only confuse things. I know that confusion is not something you need in your life right now.

I don’t like goodbyes, as you might have noticed, but I can’t slip away without one last chance to say some things to you that I’ve held off saying for a long time. I hope to see you once more, and maybe tell you them in person, but I can’t guarantee that that’s going to be a realistic possibility, so this is the most reliable form of communication.

If you don’t already know, now is the time to ask Marcus about Project NG – New Generation. Although it was only activated four years ago, it’s been in the planning for decades – ever since they first tested both of us as Red Files. Then it was temporarily put on hold. They, Raines, Mr. Parker and the Triumvirate, had to wait until the technology was at a level that they could guarantee the result. That happened four years ago. To ensure that it was a success, they impregnated Bridget, and Jason, our son, was the result.

I’ve known about Project NG ever since I escaped. It took me a week to work out all the details, and was the main reason I didn’t immediately begin my pretends in the real world. As much as anything, I had to cope with what they’d done to me. To both of us. I have to confess that it was hard not to immediately expose the Centre, but that would have threatened too many people I loved there. I will confess that you weren’t one of those people at the time, but discovering you were the mother of my son rapidly changed my views.

I tried to stop NG, but various projects were set up as methods of distraction, transferal orders were faked, and security was tightened to an incredible level, beyond anything you would ever have seen. If I’d known that Bridget was to be such a vital part of it, I would never have allowed her to gain the power she did after Mr. Parker disappeared the first time, a year after my initial escape. She was always the weak link in the chain of command, and everyone involved was aware of that fact. Her marriage to Mr. Parker tied her to the Centre, and she knew it.

The reason I’ve spent so long discovering the truth about your family and feeding it to you in the way I did for the previous six years was because I felt I had to prize your loyalty away from the man you believed was your father. I don’t flatter myself that it was painful for you: I can guess how much it would have hurt you, and for that I’m sorry, but I was thinking mainly of our son and the fact that I might not be around to help him get away from the Centre and grow into the man he deserves to become. I knew the Centre would be unlikely to let me live for too long. I was always a liability while I was free, and if the virus hadn’t killed me, I have no delusions that I could have permanently avoided a fatal bullet. Now, they have succeeded.

This leaves you to give our son everything he needs. Please, help him grow into the man he has the potential to be. As the Centre planned, he’s likely to develop not only my skills as a pretender, but also the inner sense you inherited from your mother. All you can do is help him learn how to deal with the information that will provide him with. Sydney and Ethan will be able to help him learn the basics, and you can provide him with the love he will need. 

I have made him a video, with a personal message for him, so that he at least knows what I look like. Believe me, it’s agony that I will never see him, beyond the photos that Marcus brought to show me, but I couldn’t let him see me the way I am now. I wouldn’t want his only memory of his father to be the image of me as I see myself today. I’m only grateful that he has the chance to grow up out of the shadow cast by the Centre. 

I know that my family want to be a part of his life, and I can imagine that any meetings that might occur between you and them could be somewhat tense. I wouldn’t expect either you or them to act in ways that go against your inherent natures. All I would ask is that you give them a chance to get to know Jason. My death will leave a gaping hole in their lives, and I hope that my son will, in some way, fill that empty space. 

Miss Parker, I’m not going to burden you with any of my emotions – your own will be enough. All I ask is that you don’t let my son forget me. If the dead watch over the living, be sure that I will do my best to always take care of my son, the rest of my family, Sydney, Angelo and you. I don’t know whether you consider that to be a comfort or a burden. 

Have a good life. Be happy. Love our son. Goodbye.

Jarod.’

Andrea blotted away the tears that had dimmed her eyes and reverently returned the letter to the envelope, rising to tuck it under the man’s photo. Switching off the light, she lay on the sofa, one of the cushions held against her chest, gazing out over the city below, seeing as lights were switched off one by one, leaving whole areas dark, apart from the occasional streetlight. Only the section of the city in which the security building was located remained illuminated. She would work there in a few months, once she had become used to having a son and adapted to the many changes that her new environment would present. 

But for now, in company with the others who had lost such an important figure, she would mourn: for the son whose father had been taken before he could know him; for the mother and father who had regained their son, only to lose him again; for Sydney, who had lost the person in whom he had put so much of his life and energy, and who he had loved like a son; for Jarod's sister, brother and clone, who would never really know the person they had lost; and for herself who had spent so long denying Jarod a place in her life, only to discover what she had lost when it was too late. 

Going over to the wardrobe, she chose a nightgown from the selection that had been delivered to the house during her first afternoon there, and which a team had apparently taken from her home in Delaware, and headed into the bathroom for the long soak she had promised herself earlier that day. Half filling the tub, she thankfully shed her clothes and was about to slip into the faintly scented, steaming water when she heard a voice calling from the next room. 

“Mama!”

Sighing, she took the robe off the hook on the back of the door and wrapped it around herself as she left the room. Jason was standing in the doorway of his room, rubbing one eye as he looked around. When she appeared, he held out both hands, and she picked up him. Her son snuggled against her, looking up at her out of his dark eyes, so like those of his father.

“Mama, can I have a baff with you?”

She looked down at him in astonishment. “How did you know what I was going to do, baby?”

He giggled, clutching at her robe. “Daddy telled me.”

Andrea froze, staring at him, and then saw movement at the end of the hallway, looking up to find Patrick standing there. The man’s expression told her that he had also heard what the boy had said. The psychiatrist moved to stand beside them and looked down at the child.

“What do you mean, Jason?” he queried gently, seeing that Andrea was still too shocked to talk. “How did Daddy tell you that?”

The small boy beamed at them and tapped the side of his head. “In here,” he stated proudly. “He talks to me all de time.” His smile dissolved into a sad expression as he looked up at his mother. “Ever since he goed far away.”

“When was that, baby?” Andrea prompted. 

Jason thought for a few seconds, before replying. “Free sleeps ago.”

“The day Jarod died,” Patrick murmured, half to himself. 

Andrea nodded curtly. Silence extended for several moments, before the psychiatrist spoke once more. 

“Have your bath,” he suggested. “Then we can talk about this.”

She turned into the bathroom, adding some cold water to the bath so that it would be safe for her son, and removed his sleeping suit before taking off her robe. Jason squeaked with delight as she lowered him into the warm water and began to splash vigorously. She got in beside him and he immediately climbed onto her lap, continuing to gurgle happily as he splashed water onto the cream tiles. Andrea made a mental note that she would have to buy some bath toys when she went shopping, before soaping the soft loofah and rubbing it over Jason’s body. When he was clean, she scrubbed her own skin and then got out of the tub, taking the child with her. Wrapping herself in her robe, she dried and redressed her son before attending to her own needs and then carrying him out into the living room.

Part 7 by KB

 

Last Requests 
Part 7




Patrick was already waiting in the living room with a pot of coffee and two mugs. He took the now-drowsy boy while Andrea settled herself in the corner of the sofa and then looked up at him expectantly, raising an eyebrow as she sipped the hot drink.

“Come to any conclusions, doc?”

He smiled. “Just one. You need to talk to Jarod's mother tomorrow – today,” he corrected himself as he glanced at his watch. “I can’t help wondering if there’s a biological connection somewhere in the two families that allows Jarod to speak to his son through the inner sense.” 

She looked skeptical. “So you think he really is talking to Jason that way?”

“Don’t you?” he returned.

Andrea shrugged noncommittally. “I don’t know. But, if that is it, why did it take so long?” she asked. “I mean, Jason’s been here all day. Why now?”

“It had to start some time. And besides,” he added with a tiny smile, “Jarod always liked late-night messages, remember?” 

She nodded, but without really paying attention to this. Instead she was remembering what she had read in the letter, about him watching over them if it was possible, and wondered if this was Jarod's way of letting her know that he was. Andrea fixed the man on the sofa with a firm gaze.

“Did he write you a letter?”

“So you got one, too,” he responded. “I saw him writing it and thought it was yours. It took him a long time,” he reminisced. “I offered to help, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He was determined to do it all himself.”

“Who wrote the one for the Centre?” 

“His mother. She finally refused to let him exhaust himself on them, as you can probably imagine he was doing, and took over as his secretary, apart from the letter he dictated to me for her. I was going to do the one he planned to have sent to the Centre,” he continued, “but Jarod reminded me that people who read it who knew my writing, which would let them know where I was, or rather, who with, so I let Kim do it.”

Andrea nodded, seeing that her son was asleep against Patrick’s shoulder. Her mind dwelt briefly on the notes, but rapidly returned to the fact that her son heard his father’s voice. Then another point struck her and she looked up sharply. 

“How did you know?” she demanded. “How did you know Jason was saying what he did?”

“Ang – Paul woke me,” Patrick responded readily. “He said it was important.”

“How did he know?” she persisted, a thought occurring to her, and the man turned a startled gaze on her.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” he admitted. “Why?”

“Well, I can’t help wondering,” she began slowly, “if he somehow gets told things, too.”

The man shot her a startled looked. “You mean he’s somehow related as well? He has the inner sense?”

“It makes sense, doesn’t it?” she prompted. “He’s always been uncovering the Centre’s secrets and giving them to use. I’m sure he was sneaking out long before he saved Broots and we found out he had that key. If he’s only what Raines always thought – a sponge for absorbing emotion – he’d have no reason for doing that sort of thing. But if Momma or someone was telling him to find out things and tell us, that would explain a lot.”

Patrick looked thoughtful, and then glanced at his watch. “I wonder if someone could have got to the tests and switched the results somehow.” 

He picked up the phone, checked a number in the directory that stood on the table beside it, and then dialed. It was answered within moments.

“Jon? It’s Patrick. Have you got a minute?” 

He fell silent, listening to the response, before agreeing with whatever was suggested and then hanging up. As Andrea opened her mouth expectantly, he jumped it.

“He’s finishing work in twenty minutes and will come over to discuss it then.”

“Is it so late?” She glanced at her watch and was startled to discover that it was four o’clock in the morning. Then her gaze traveled to her sleeping son and she stood up. “I should probably put him back to bed.”


*~*~*~*~*



Patrick handed the child over and then headed into the kitchen to get out another mug for their visitor. Once that was prepared, he took down the tin that stood on the shelf above the bench and opened it, gently extracting the envelope that lay on top. Opening it, he gently withdrew the folded sheets and flattened them out, running his eyes over the first few lines, written in Jarod's familiar, if very faint and shaky, script, and then the others, in Kim’s hand. 

Remembering the chalky, almost gray, appearance of Jarod's face, and the visible pain in his eyes as he had struggled to make the pen shape the letters on the page, before the woman had forcibly removed the pen from her son’s hand, the psychiatrist was thankful that she had come into the room. It had amused Patrick to find that she was as obstinate as her son, and that her concern for his welfare meant that she had won most of the battles they had had over what he could and could not do for himself. 

His eyes traveled swiftly over the paragraphs, arriving at the last few words, in which Jarod had promised to protect them all, as far as he was able, after his death. Looking up, his eyes fixed unseeingly on the opposite wall, Patrick’s lips pursed slightly as he wondered if speaking through his son in this way was the proof that he had managed to fulfill that promise. If so, he wondered whether Tyler would also be able to hear him. And if he could, why had Jarod waited so long before saying anything, when he must have known how much they were suffering because of his death?

The questions piled up and, as there was no way for Patrick to get the answers to any of them, he also felt his frustration mount. Expelling his pent-up breath in a loud sigh, he returned the letter to the tin, which contained the few papers he had felt he couldn’t leave behind, and replaced it on the shelf. 

Carrying a clean mug into the living room, he checked that there was sufficient coffee in the pot and then looked up at Andrea came back into the room. 

“Any problems?”

“He never even stirred,” she assured him, returning to her seat on the sofa and staring at the fire. After a moment, she looked up again. “I couldn’t find Angelo.”

“Paul,” he corrected. “Remember?”

“Same thing,” she retorted dismissively. “I went looking for him after I put Jason to bed, but I couldn’t find him.”

“He’s always liked hiding,” Patrick reminded her. “I set up several places – cupboards, and a spot in the attic – where he can hide himself if he wants to.” He sat down in an armchair and eyed her somewhat sadly. “No matter what we do from now on, he’s been pushed into that behaviour by Raines for so many years that we can’t change it.”

“I guess so,” she agreed, before her brow lowered. “I’m almost starting to wish that I hadn’t just shot him. Raines, I mean. He really deserved some other, more painful punishment first, to make up for all the things he’s done and the lives he’s ruined.”

“People rarely get what they truly deserve,” the man replied quietly, with a rueful sigh. 

The sound of the doorbell interrupted the silence that had fallen after this statement, and Patrick jumped up to let in their former colleague. After a warmer greeting of his former boss than had occurred at their earlier meeting, Jon sat down, accepted the drink Patrick offered, and then considered the problem they presented to him.

“Of course it’s possible the results were tampered with,” he said finally. “I mean, it takes 24 hours to run a DNA test, and then the results have to be checked. The report came through from the lab on an official form, which has to be double-checked, so that provides a lot of occasions when it could have been switched for something else.” He sighed, rubbing his balding pate with his hand. “I didn’t know how easy it was until I got here, but I do now.”

“And would the results from every stage still be available?” Andrea demanded.

“I guess so.” The technician picked up the bag he had carried into the house and pulled out a new laptop, which he opened onto the coffee table. “I’ll check the paperwork first. If the figures on that are consistent, there’s always the chance that both samples were swapped for others, if someone knew what we were trying to find out at the time.”

“Both?” Andrea looked skeptical. “Why both?”

“Because – have you seen what the DNA testing process looks like?” he interrupted himself to ask. 

When she shook her head, he pulled a pad of paper and a pen out of his pocket and drew a long rectangle with two small squares at one end. 

“The samples are put in here,” he told her, indicating the squares with his pen. “The box contains gelatin. When an electrical current is run through it, the samples begin to separate into long lines. DNA fragments of different sizes move at different rates – the smaller ones are quicker. At spots along the lines, various fragments of DNA settle, with the heavier ones closest to where the DNA sample was originally put in. The fragments are then compared, and those from the same places in lines of the same length that contain the same genetic pattern must be from people who share the same genes.”

“Is there a point to this?” Andrea demanded, and Patrick had to smile at the familiarity of it.

“Well, the samples separate at the same speed. If you took out one and replaced it with another, it wouldn’t be at the same stage and so it would be obvious that something had happened. But if they swapped both, nobody would be able to tell.”

“If that happened, though, we could see who did it on the security footage,” the woman surmised, and Jon nodded. 

“I don’t think it’s likely they did it, though,” Patrick offered. “Doing all that is a lot more work than swapping one page of results with another. 

Jon brought up the pages of data and began to visually scan them, while Patrick refilled the mugs from the coffeepot. Finally an exclamation from the technician made the other occupants of the room look at him.

“This is totally different!” he declared, turning the screen so that the others could see it. “In the first table, the data was the same in the first two columns, but now there’s a big difference, which couldn’t have happened during the process.”

“How do you know so much about it?” Andrea asked as she read the details.

“I started asking questions when I talked to Jamie once – he was one of the guys who worked in the Centre’s lab,” Jon replied. “He told me how the process worked and guided me through the program they use to classify results.” He pointed at the discrepancies he had noticed. “He told me that the figures in these columns would have to remain the same throughout the test. They’re like the control in a science experiment.” 

“So that tells us someone tampered with them,” the woman remarked as she handed back the laptop and sat down again on the sofa. “But how can we find out what they were?”

“Do another test,” Patrick suggested. “From what we’ve found tonight, you can only guess that there’s some big secret being revealed, and my guess is that it was intended to hide the fact that Angelo really is your twin brother and Lyle probably isn’t. Otherwise it makes no sense to go to such deceptive lengths. Of course,” he added thoughtfully, “the real reason is why it had to be done at all. Ideally, I suppose, Raines and Mr. Parker would have preferred to keep it all quiet – the fact there was another baby, that Raines was the biological father, and the fact that they – Mr. Parker and Raines – were related. Maybe when they realized that secrets weren’t being kept, they went into damage control mode and chose options that would keep everything hidden as long as possible.”

“Kind of,” Jon offered, and the other two people looked at him sharply. 

“What do you mean ‘kind of’?” Andrea demanded.

The younger man sighed deeply, his shoulders slumping slightly. “It’s something I found out when I joined security. I wasn’t going to tell you about it. Didn’t think it mattered that much anyway, not now…”

As he trailed off, Andrea slapped her hand down on the coffee table, making the pot jump and the mugs leap into the air, sloshing their contents over the timber surface.

“Lyle was hired to spy on us,” Jon burst out, before she could say anything. 

“By whom?” Andrea growled back, after she had exchanged startled glances with Patrick and had managed to regain her breath.

“The Triumvirate.” Bringing up another file, Jon handed over the laptop. “They were the people who appointed Lyle. But Raines and Mr. Parker didn’t know about it. They chose their own guy to keep an eye on us all.”

“Cox?” Patrick suggested, as the man’s sudden appearance at the Centre occurred to him. 

“Right.” The technician closed down the file once Andrea had finished looking at it. “Bridget was a possibility for the job, early on, but then they realized she was playing both sides against the middle when she tried to kill Mr. Parker, so they sent her back to the branch where she’d been working before they got her transferred.”

“And then transferred her back when they needed someone for Project NG,” Andrea murmured. 

“Yeah,” Jon agreed. “They’ve got samples of every Centre employee in labs at various Centre offices, and it was easy for them to find someone with a tissue match. The fact that Bridget could take up her spying role again was a further benefit.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Andrea demanded rhetorically, as she stood up and began to pace. 

“Nothing that place does should surprise any of us,” Patrick responded quietly. He paused as the clock on the mantel chimed six and then spoke again. “I think we all need to get some sleep. We can discuss it later, maybe on the weekend, when Jon’s not working.”

“Good idea.” Andrea knew that they wouldn’t get definite answers to the question of the identity of her real twin until they had a chance to carry out DNA tests, and besides which, she was starting to feel weary. 

Jon left the house and Patrick watched from the front door as he drove away before turning the key in the lock. He stifled a yawn as he returned to the living room, halting in the doorway. “I’m going back to bed,” he told her. “I dread to think what time Jason will wake us up.”

She smiled in response. “I’ll try to keep him from disturbing you.”

“I never said I’d mind,” he responded in teasing tones. “G’night.”

 

Part 8 by KB

Last Requests 
Part 8



Andrea had just laid her head against the pillow when she suddenly made sense of a thought that had been circling in her mind for hours and she sat bolt upright. 

“Jarod,” she began firmly, “I don’t know if you can hear me – although something tells me you can – but if you ever – ever! – watch me in the bath again, I’ll… well, I don’t know what I’ll do, but you won’t like it!”

The walls faintly echoed her voice and then there was silence. Glaring around at the empty room, she lay down again, snuggling into her pillow as her eyes closed. Then she heard the sound of a faint chuckle in her ears, which expanded to a deep rolling laugh that filled her ears and made her skin prickle. It was a sound that she knew she had never heard, but it was familiar, all the same. Her eyes flew open as she propped herself up on her elbow, keeping the covers tucked in firmly around her to stop the cold seeping in, and stared around the room. 

“Jarod?” she called, somewhat hesitantly. 

“Right here,” his voice responded softly in her ear, and she recoiled instantly against the bed. The soft chuckle was once more audible, before his voice spoke again. “First you want to talk to me, then you don’t. Make up your mind, woman.”

She pulled herself into a sitting position and gathered the covers around her. “Are you really here?”

“I always have been,” he assured her warmly. 

Suddenly, the moon slid out from behind a cloud, brightly illuminating the room so that she could clearly see the various pieces of furniture. There was a blurry place on the sofa in the middle of the room, which seemed to solidify, as she stared at it, into the man’s long form reclining on the piece of furniture, his legs stretched out in front of him and his hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket. He looked as he had on Carthis: muscular, strong and full of life. 

“How the…” she gasped, and saw his dark eyes dance as he smiled. 

“You’re asleep, Miss Parker,” he told her. “This seems like the only time you can hear me. I’ve been trying to talk to you all day – for several days, in fact – but you haven’t heard.” He shrugged. “It’s not ideal, but if it lets you hear me, that’s all that matters.”

“But… did you know before – that you could talk to me, I mean?” she demanded, having changed the subject of her question as this occurred to her. 

“I was told, after I died, that I could try talk to you, but that you probably wouldn’t be able to hear me. I’ve been trying anyway, though.”

“Who told you?”

Jarod glanced over his shoulder, and Andrea followed the direction of his gaze, seeing two blue eyes twinkling at her out of the shadowy gloom near the door, which materialized into the beloved figure of her mother. Catherine crossed the room and sat beside her on the bed. Andrea felt the mattress bend and the light touch as Catherine brushed the hair out of her eyes, but there was a sense that she was just out of reach. The younger woman had the idea that, should she try to return her mother’s embraces, the woman would vanish. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jarod rise from the sofa and leave the room. Some part of her knew he was going to see his son.

“Momma,” she murmured, as Catherine bent forward to lightly brush her forehead with her lips.

“Oh, baby,” Catherine whispered, her breath warm against her daughter’s skin. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Andrea leaned into the embrace for a long moment, before suddenly looking up. “Why, Momma? Why can’t I hear you – your voice or Jarod's – except for now?”

Catherine smiled. “You need to learn how to focus, baby. You can’t block out everything else well enough yet. But when you can, then you’ll hear me – us. Ask Ethan, or even your son. Maybe Sydney can teach you the right methods for you to achieve that. It’s not easy,” she admitted. “I had a long time on my own to learn it all, in the sort of solitude where I could focus more easily. You need to find a place where you feel comfortable, so that you can achieve that.”

Andrea nodded, leaning into her mother’s embrace, feeling the woman’s arms tighten around her back. 

“Not much longer,” Catherine whispered. “But we’ll be here all the time, watching you, helping you. Never forget that. All you have to do is ask.”

Nodding again, silently, Andrea felt the woman begin to draw away, before a small voice and a pair of cold feet that wriggled into bed beside her shattered the peace in the room. She sat bolt upright, looking down to find her son snuggling in next to her. 

“Mama,” he greeted her eagerly, with a wide smile, before reaching up to plant a warm kiss on her cheek and hugging her vigorously around the neck. 

She returned the hug almost automatically, sighing inwardly as she realized that she could never be really sure whether the previous conversation was purely imagination, or whether her mother and Jarod had really spoken to her. 

“Mama,” Jason said in expectant tones, and she looked down at him.

“What is it, baby?”

“Daddy commed when I was sleepin’,” he beamed. “He gived me a big hug!”

“Did he?” she murmured. Then the meaning of his words crystallized in her brain and she looked at him sharply. “What do you mean, baby? Did you see him?”

“Uh huh.” The boy nodded vigorously, his brown hair flying. “When I’s asleep, den I can feel him an’ give him hugs an’ stuff. When I’s awake, den I can just hear him.” He dimpled at her. “He said he commed to see you wiv Gramma, too.”

“Yes,” she agreed softly, kissing his round cheek. “I think he did.”

Seeing that it was almost nine o’clock, she got out of bed and chose some clothes before carrying her son into the bathroom. While he played with a toy she had fetched from his room, she slid under the shower and quickly washed herself before drying and dressing. Carrying her son into his room, she changed him into clothes that had come in the bags from the hospital and took him and his teddy into the kitchen. 

She would have to talk to Jarod's mother, and preferably that day. She had to know about the connection that had seemingly allowed Jarod to talk to her that night, and she thought through those parts of the conversations with him and Catherine that she could remember. The most important comment was the suggestion by her mother that she needed to find a place she felt comfortable so that she could learn to listen to the voices inside her. 

When Patrick came into the kitchen, almost an hour later, he found mother and son playing on the floor with several plastic cups and a bowl of water. Jason ran over to hug him as Andrea gathered the objects together and put them into the sink. Then she made him a mug of coffee as he got himself some breakfast and they sat down to talk.


*~*~*~*~*



Tyler lay in bed and stared hard at the ceiling. The Voices were nagging at him, trying to get his attention, but he had finally learned to block them out and could ignore what they were telling him, only listening to his mother’s voice. For the moment, though, she was silent, as if letting the other Voices speak. But he didn’t want to listen to them again. They were what had driven him almost to the point of breaking down. Only the fact that he had found his father, who in turn had brought him to Jarod's mother, who had helped him listen only to Catherine’s voice, had kept him from a complete collapse, or worse. He could never help thinking of that time on the train without wondering if he would have bothered to jump off, had Jarod not been there, or just let himself die when the bomb exploded to finally silence the Voices in his head.

But keeping the Voices away when they were as strong as they had become since Jarod's death was tiring, and he sighed as he threw back the covers. As he was reaching for his robe, he heard the door open and looked over his shoulder to find Kim entering the room. She sat on the bed and looked up at him, her eyes soft and full of understanding, as they had been during the long months of discussions they had had about his gift. 

“Catherine always used to say that, when they get this bad, then maybe it’s time to listen to what they’re telling you,” she suggested quietly.

He sank onto the bed beside her, his shoulders slumped. “But I can’t,” he protested wearily. “You remember what happened last time, when I was doing that.”

“You need to block out those – the ones Raines trained into you – and try to tune in to the others.” She reached out and gently touched his knee. “If it’s really important, you don’t want to miss it.”

‘Yes.’ Catherine’s voice suddenly echoed in his mind, and the other Voices momentarily fell away. Tyler momentarily relaxed his vigil against them, letting his mother’s voice fill his mind. ‘Listen to her, son.’

“But how do I know?” he asked tiredly, unsure whether he was directing the question at Catherine or Kim. “How do I know whether the Voices are saying things I should listen to or not?”

Kim’s arm slid around his shoulders and she moved closer to him. “We realized that those Voices Raines had trained you to hear were saying the same things, over and over, remember? If they’re saying those things, you know not to listen. But if it’s something else…”

“…then I should listen,” he finished, leaning his head, which was starting to ache, against her arm with a sigh. “I’m so tired, though.”

“I know.” Her voice was gentle and soft. “Have a nap now, and we can work on it later.”

He turned hopeful eyes in her direction. “I don’t have to do it alone?”

Kim smiled at her stepson. “Of course not.” She watched him wriggle under the covers and gently drew them over him before sitting down on the bed beside him. “I’ve told you before, you aren’t alone now, and, God willing, you never will be again.”

Tyler nodded drowsily, his eyes closing almost against his will. He felt her lightly kiss his forehead before his eyelids became too heavy and he let them fall.


*~*~*~*~*



Andrea shifted the bag she carried to her other hand and wiped her hand, damp with nervous perspiration, on the blue jeans she had only ever worn once before coming to this place, before reaching out to press the doorbell. After a few seconds, she heard light footsteps approaching the door, which swung open to reveal Jarod's mother. Kim’s expression changed from surprise to slight wariness, which was quickly quashed to polite neutrality as she looked at the younger woman enquiringly.

“Can I help you?” she asked, in the same formally polite tones she had used the night before.

“I… I think I need to talk to you.”

“Think?” Kim raised an eyebrow, her expression very similar to that of her elder son. “You aren’t sure?”

“Well, it… it depends on your answers, whether I needed to talk to you or not.”

The older woman’s still expression relaxed slightly, her eyes suddenly dancing. “I suppose you mean you want me to tell you about your mother.” The corners of her lips lifted. “All right, on the condition that Jason comes in with you.”

Andrea moved aside to reveal the stroller, in front of which she had been standing, hearing her son’s little voice call out “Gamma!” in delighted tones. The two women maneuvered it into the house and the warm living room, with a fire dancing in the grate. Andrea shook the snow off her jacket out the door and then hung it on a convenient hook before coming into the living room and feeling Jason’s hands to check that they were still warm.

“I’m starting to believe I was wrong about you,” Kim said quietly, as she stoked the fire. “When we were talking about this whole scenario at the hospital, Jarod said he was sure you’d be different here from the way you were at the Centre. I’ll confess I was skeptical.”

“I wouldn’t have believed it before I arrived, if anyone had told me the way I’d feel here,” Andrea admitted honestly, feeling that only the absolute truth would persuade the other woman to tell her everything. “But something changed when I found out that the Centre had designed and put into operation something that would kill your son – sons,” she corrected herself. “I used to convince myself that the work people did at that place – even my own work – was beneficial. Jarod's been trying to show me that it wasn’t ever since he escaped, but I think I only really believed it when I saw him at the hospital. And that he could just accept it…”

“I could never understand that, either,” Kim confessed softly, as she picked up the toy Jason had knocked under the sofa and gave it back to him. “But I finally realized that I was making him fight for me, not for himself, and I could see what a struggle it was for him to live during those last few days. And although it hurt to let go, I know I did the right thing. To make him keep living just so I had more time with him would have been as cruel as what the Centre did to him.”

“But he would have understood the difference,” Andrea replied gently. “Jarod had a great ability to understand the smallest differences in motivation.”

“I know.” Kim nodded, blinking away tears. “I learned a lot about my son in the last few days of his life.” She looked at the woman opposite. “He told me a lot about you, too. I suppose now I have to find out whether he was right or not.”

“He probably was,” Andrea smiled. “He knew me better than just about anyone. He even knew what I’d do before I did it, sometimes.”

Kim examined her for a moment before speaking again. “Will you tell me what you did before you left the Centre?”

“Why?” Andrea asked curiously.

The older woman smiled slightly. “Jarod guessed what you’d do after you were brought back to your house from the hospital.”

“And you want to know whether he was right,” the other woman finished for her. She described her actions from the time she was brought home until leaving for this place, occasionally seeing Jarod's mother nod, as if to agree with some act. “So,” she asked finally, with a half-smile, “how’d I do?”

Kim smiled. “Almost perfect.”

Andrea raised an eyebrow. “What did I do wrong?”

“Jarod thought you’d kill Lyle, not Raines.”

“I thought about it,” Andrea was forced to admit. “Ideally, I’d have probably killed both of them, but I doubt I could have gotten away with that. I didn’t care about dying at the time,” she went on, with a sideways glance at her son, who was watching her, “but knowing everything I do now, I’m glad I didn’t just throw my life away. I have too much to live for now.” She watched Jason turn back to his toys, and then a thought suddenly struck her. “I think maybe Jarod hoped, rather than really believed, I’d kill Lyle,” she remarked. “Lyle made many of my working hours, which weren’t that pleasant to begin with, pure hell, but he never really affected my life in the way he did Jarod's. I’m not sure Jarod ever got over Lyle killing Kyle when they’d only just found each other again.”

“Perhaps not,” Kim said softly, turning her gaze to the fire. 

The two women sat in silence for several minutes, broken only by the occasional minor crash and victorious crow from Jason as he knocked over a tower of blocks he had built for the purpose of destroying it, from bricks Andrea had brought with them. 

“What do you think will happen with the Centre, now that Raines is gone?” Kim asked finally, her tones somewhat fearful.

Andrea sighed. “I’ve been trying not to think about it,” she confessed. “I suppose the Triumvirate will put Lyle in the Chairman’s position, unless they think Cox is better suited to it. But I guess whichever isn’t in power will spend most of their time scheming how to get it, in between trying to find all of us.”

Kim was unable to suppress a visible shudder. “If they find us…”

She stopped short, either unable or unwilling to finish the sentence, or, Andrea suspected, a little of both. 

“We’re supposed to be safe here,” the younger woman put in, trying to inject certainty into her voice. “From what I’ve seen, the security people are keeping a pretty close eye on the Centre and everything it’s doing. That will at least give us some warning.”

“That’s better than nothing, I suppose,” Kim said softly. “And better than we’ve had for the past forty years.”

“I was just doing my job,” Andrea murmured, and the other woman glanced at her apologetically.

“I know. And I know what happens to people who don’t do what the Centre wants them to. I’m just glad that you don’t feel like that any longer.” She shook herself and then smiled in the brunette’s direction. “But that wasn’t what you came here to talk about today. You want to know about your mother …”


Part 9 by KB
Last Requests
Part 9



“Catherine was my half-sister.”

Kim’s gaze had been directed at the fire, but now she turned to look at the woman opposite, her blue eyes soft.

“You’re my niece, and also my namesake.”

Andrea felt her eyebrows lift in astonishment. She had been expecting some sort of connection, considering what had been said the previous night, but that it was such a close bond was surprising.

Standing, Kim went over to the mantel and took down a framed photo, which she handed to her niece. Looking at it, Andrea saw that it was the same image she and Jarod had received of their mothers together.

“That was taken just before she started working for the Centre,” Kim explained as she sat down again. “It was the day we decided that if we ever had children, our first daughters would be named for each other.”

“But I thought Jarod’s sister was named Emily.”

A sad expression crossed Kim’s face. “Yes, she is,” she agreed. “But my first pregnancy was twins. Jarod's twin sister was stillborn at 35 weeks. Her name was going to be Catherine.”

The redhead crossed to the mantel again and took down another framed picture, which she gave to her niece, who saw that it was a small baby, wrapped in a thin pink rug. Her closed eyes were framed by dark eyebrows, and a tuft of dark brown hair poked out from beneath the rug. Her skin had a dull, waxy appearance and was pale, with blue-gray lips.

“That’s my older daughter,” Kim murmured. “My Catherine Jane.”

She sighed deeply, while Andrea remained silent. It had always seemed to her that her life was full of tragedy, but this woman seemed to have suffered even more, having lost three children, as well as being forced to separate from her husband to keep their other child safe.

“Catherine and I shared the same father,” Kim went on, when she could speak again. “Your aunt Dorothy was Catherine’s full sister.”

“So do you have the inner sense, too?” Andrea asked eagerly.

“No.” Kim shook her head. “That ability came through her mother. But I often talked to her about it, and she told me what it was like.”

Andrea nodded, somewhat disappointed by this news, but still hopeful that this woman could help her make sense of what she had been told the previous night.

“Catherine quickly worked out what kind of a place the Centre would be,” Kim explained. “She knew what kind of a man she had married, and something, possibly one of her voices, convinced her not to ever mention me to her husband. But she didn’t expect them to go as far as to kidnap children. When that happened, and she saw what had really been started, she did everything she could to protect the children, including trying to get them out.” Kim’s expression became one of disappointment. “From what Catherine told Eth – Tyler, she was hoping to get him out and bring him to me before rescuing my children and hers, but she never got that chance.”

At this juncture, Jason got up off the floor and scrambled up onto Kim’s lap, snuggling against her chest, kissing her cheek.

“Don’ be sad, Gamma,” he said mournfully. “Daddy don’ want dat you be sad.”

Kim cuddled him close for a moment before looking down into the boy’s dark eyes, an expression of delight in her own.

“Can you hear your Daddy, Jason?”

“Uh huh.” He nodded enthusiastically. “He talks to me, an’ when I’s asleep at night, den he comes an’ gives me big hugs an’ fings.”

“You lucky boy,” Kim murmured, kissing his rosy round cheek.

“I… maybe I hear him, too,” Andrea put in, a little shyly. She told the woman about the dream she had had the previous night. Then she asked the question that had been irritating her since Jason had woken her. “Do you think it was real?”

“There’s no reason why it wouldn’t be,” the older woman replied, as her grandson snuggled down in her lap. “Before your mother learned properly how to listen to them, she could only make sense of them when she was asleep.” Kim smiled. “We shared a room for several weeks, and I’d hear her replying to things they’d said to her. It was a little freaky at first,” she admitted. “I tried to ask her about it, but she’d say she’d been told not to discuss it with anyone. Finally, though, she was willing to tell me about it.”

“She said to me last night that she found a place where she felt comfortable and learned to listen to the voices. Where was that?“

“It was when she went to the St. Catherine of the Hills convent. During the hours of prayer and contemplation, she learned to focus enough that the voices became clear.”

Andrea nodded and then looked up. “Does E – Tyler hear him, too?”

Kim looked thoughtful, and then her eyes widened in obvious realization. “Of course! That’s why he’s been having such a hard time with them lately! Jarod's trying to talk to him, but I taught him to block out every other voice except for Catherine’s. He’s concentrating so hard on not listening to them that he probably doesn’t even recognize his brother.”

“I suppose Ryan can’t hear him?” Andrea suggested somewhat hopefully, remembering the youth’s woebegone face from the previous evening.

“How could he?” Kim asked reasonably. “Jarod couldn’t have heard your mother when he was alive. Neither he nor Ryan have inherited the inner sense.”

“I’d forgotten that,” the young woman confessed. “It would have made things easier for him if he’d been able to.”

“But if he knows Jarod’s still around, if Tyler can talk to him and tell Ryan things, that would have to help,” Kim suggested, before enlarging on the feelings of her son’s clone. “When Ryan found out who – what – he was, he resented it fiercely. After he was rescued from the airstrip, my husband brought him to me, the same way he would with Tyler later. I’ll confess that I thought of him as a younger version of my son. I even called him ‘Jarod’ one time, by accident. Of course, I could understand why he was angry, but every time I looked at him, I saw the boy who had been taken from me, and it was almost impossible, at first, to see him as his own person.”

Andrea nodded silently. She could understand why Kim would feel that way. It had been almost impossible, when she had seen the boy in the room at the Centre, to see him as anything except a young Jarod. And for someone who had spent years waiting to find her son, it would have only exacerbated the difficulty.

“I think it was Jarod who finally made him realize that, despite being genetically identical, they’re still two different people,” Kim continued. “He made me understand it in many conversations we had at the hospital. And I know he talked to Ryan about it, making sure he knew that, although people who had known Jarod would unavoidably think of him every time they saw his clone, he could still be his own person.” She smiled fondly at the fire. “I know that, towards the end, Ryan absolutely idolized Jarod. Although he knew it was inevitable, Jarod's death was probably harder on him than the rest of us. He’s lost a role model, the one who could have led him through his life and shown him the man he has the potential to become. I think Ryan’s going to feel lost for a long time without him.”

“Could I help?” Andrea offered, after a long moment of silence. “After all, I knew Jarod at the time of life Ryan’s going through now, and I don’t have the negative connotations S – Patrick does. He and I only met once – when I was trying to get him out of the Centre.”

Kim’s blue eyes met those of her niece, a startled expression in them. “You did that?”

“I tried to.” Andrea sighed. “I tried to imagine him being trapped in the Centre for another twenty years – or the rest of his life. The idea made me feel sick. I felt like I couldn’t do anything except try to get him out. Of course, I failed, but only because Patrick had his own plan, which was more likely to succeed than mine, so he came in time to stop me putting both of us in a potentially fatal situation.”

“He did?” Kim’s expression was full of wonder. “Of course, Ryan can only ever see that time from his perspective, and it seemed to him like Patrick was trying to keep him in the Centre, not help him escape. He can’t forgive Patrick for that.”

“I wondered about that myself, at the time,” the younger woman put in. “I thought that was what he was trying, too – to replace Jarod with a younger version, and secure his own place at the Centre. After all, every day Jarod was in the outside world, our positions were more tenuous. If Patrick had had Ryan, it would have given him more certainty of staying alive. But when I heard what had happened, then I knew he’d planned out the safest way for Jarod to be able to take him away somewhere safe.”

“I’ll tell him,” Kim vowed softly. “We try not to talk about the Centre too much, but that’s something he should know.”

“How did Jarod think of Ryan?” Andrea asked suddenly.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, is he Jarod's brother, his son, or what?”

“Oh, I see.” Kim looked down at the baby on her lap. “Ryan calls me ‘Mom’, but I think he looked up to Jarod as a father.”

“Then he should be able to see Jason as a brother,” Andrea responded firmly. “It will be another link to Jarod.”

Kim smiled. “I was definitely wrong about you,” she admitted. “I wouldn’t have believed that you could have thought about any of us like that.”

“Before I left Blue Cove, you would have been right,” her niece informed her.

“That’s not strictly true,” a quiet male voice from behind them stated. “You worried about me.”

Both women turned to find Tyler in the doorway. He smiled and then came over to lightly kiss his sister’s cheek before tickling Jason’s tummy. The boy giggled, reaching out both chubby hands for his uncle, who picked him up and then sat down on the sofa, looking from one woman to the other.

“What were you talking about?”

“Us,” Kim told him. “And we need to talk. I think I might know why things have become so difficult for you lately.”

“And I need to get Jason home for a nap,” Andrea put in, starting to pack away her son’s toys into his bag. Strapping the boy into his stroller, she and Tyler lifted it down the few stairs to the ground, before her brother and aunt went back inside and she pushed her son over the path that had been cleared between their houses, seeing from the gray clouds hanging threateningly in the sky that more snow was likely.

Although Patrick had gone out, the fire was still glowing and throwing out warmth. Andrea felt her son’s hands and face, before lifting the boy out. He cuddled close to her as she removed his outer layer of clothing.

“Mama,” he murmured drowsily, and she smiled at him.

“What is it, baby?”

“Daddy says ‘fank you’,” he said, and then snuggled up against her neck.

Andrea smiled at her son and then at the empty room, which already felt like home, as she picked up his bag. “You’re welcome, Jarod.”


The End
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