Identity Crisis


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The Centre

Broots stepped out of the tech room, file folder in hand. He reached back to pull the door closed, and just as he prepared to take a step into the corridor, he fell back against the door to avoid a caravan of women snaking their way past him in the hall. The woman in the lead, dressed in a lab coat, carried a clipboard and guided the group into an elevator. All the other women were dressed in blue hospital scrubs, their distended bellies confirming that they were all pregnant

That was something he didn't often see at the Centre. He forgot about them and took the stairs to the next floor, heading for Miss Parker's office by way of Accounting, where he was planning to share an e-joke he had received that morning. Pausing at a snack machine, he fished in his pocket for the appropriate change

A reflection in the thick acrylic panel on the front of the machine caught his eye, and he turned to watch another line of pregnant women in pink scrubs heading for somewhere else

"Wow. Twice in one day," he said to himself, and dropped the quarters in. "That's bizarre." He pulled the knob for a package of Funyuns, retrieved them and stuffed the package into his trouser pocket

After a brief delay in Accounting, he took the elevator to Miss Parker's floor and stepped out, right into the path of another line of pregnant women, this time wearing mixed pink and blue scrubs

"Jeez, they're everywhere!" he commented to himself. But curiosity was not a good thing in that place, so he tucked it away, put his head down and did his best to ignore them as he made for his destination

Miss Parker was sitting at her desk, her hands on her forehead, elbows on the blotter, apparently deep in thought

He knocked softly on the door he held open, to announce himself. "Miss Parker?" he inquired gently when she didn't move

"What is it, Broots?" she answered, her voice barely audible

"Are you okay? Want me to get you some aspirin or something?"

She lifted her head and went back to what she had been doing on her computer. "I'm fine. What did you bring me?"

He edged forward, still unsure if she needed help. "The only reference I found regarding a project named Fountain was that it was under the coding of Yellow Files, and that it was initiated by Mr. Raines over a year ago. It was moved when he... you know... and I don't have the security clearance to get to more information. It's under Mr. Lyle now. Dr. Cox is up to his armpits in it, too." He laid the report on her desk

"Thanks, Broots. I know I can always count on you."

That shook him. She never complimented anyone, him least of all. Something was definitely wrong with her

He sat down across from her desk. "Miss Parker, um, what's wrong?"

She met his curious gaze, her face expressionless. "Just a wave of nostalgia, I suppose. Nothing to worry about."

"Oh. Okay." That was a relief, and he smiled a little. "You're sure? Nothing I can help you with?"

For a moment, she studied him. Her lips softened into a half smile. "I miss my baby brother, Broots. But don't worry. I'll be fine." She sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I need more information on Fountain. Are you going to let a little thing like security clearances get in your way?"

His stomach clenched. This was so unlike her it was scary. "Um, no?"

She smiled fully and nodded her head. "Right answer." And turned back to her computer

He started to rise

"Broots... I've just... got a lot on my mind," she confessed. "Don't worry about me, okay?"

"Uh, sure thing, Miss Parker," he mumbled, though he didn't mean a word of it. Understanding that he had been dismissed, he headed for the door and pulled it open. Then he shut it, and turned back to her, taking a step closer to her desk

"Have you seen all the pregnant women out there lately?" he asked her

"I haven't paid much attention, frankly."

"I must've seen at least three or four dozen just in the last half hour. What's up with that?"

"Fountain, Broots," she reminded him coolly. "Let's stay focused here."

He bobbed his head in acknowledgement and eased out the door, leaving her to her work. Between her sudden alteration in personality and all the mothers-to-be wandering the halls, he couldn't help but be creeped out. All was not business as usual at the Centre, but he couldn't afford to be curious. He had a child of his own at home, and his work at that place was just to pay the bills to give Debbie the best life possible

That, and getting to play with all the cool toys the Centre could offer him, things that wouldn't hit the outside market for years to come. That was always a perk that he enjoyed. But he was also aware that one misstep in the wrong direction could get him killed. He was good, and he was careful. He would make sure that he covered his tracks well when he went snooping in the Forbidden Zone, because he so enjoyed breathing

Broots made a bee-line for the elevator, and wedged himself uneasily into the car filled with women in pink and blue scrubs

* * * * * * * * *

Grace Valley

A city didn't seem like the place the boy would have stopped. While he could disappear in a crowd, there were simply too many people. He'd always wanted to avoid the busy places they'd go, Maj. Charles had told him. It was almost as if he was expecting someone from his old life to be lurking in the middle of a throng of people, waiting to snatch him back. Passing the outside city limits for Colorado Springs, changing highways as the woman at the last truck stop had suggested, Jarod kept an eye on the small towns along the road, the ones so small they wouldn't even be on the map.

He slowed down as he approached a small - well, town wasn't exactly the right word for it. A bar, a couple of small houses. He didn't see much more. There were a few cars parked outside a quaint Victorian, one a Mountaineer with out of state plates. Jarod drove past, something about the little town pricking his consciousness. He parked beside the bar, gathered his wallet and phone from the passenger seat of his Xterra, opened the door and hopped out. Glancing up at the sky, he crossed his fingers - something new he had learned -- for the briefest second before heading toward the front door of the establishment. It was the only place still open, and with a reasonable gathering of people he could ask about the boy

"Yes, he arrived last night. Said he was waiting for his father." Betsy smiled at the tall, handsome man in front of her. "That must be you. I can see the family resemblance."

"Yes, I'm his father," Jarod assured her quickly, not processing what he was saying, barely returning the woman's smile. "Is he here now?"

Offering him a key, Betsy nodded toward the stairs. "Top of the stairs, second room on the right. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you. The poor thing arrived here late, in the cold, all alone." Making a 'tsk' sound, she shook her head. "I just put dinner away. Would you like me to make you something, a sandwich maybe?"

Jarod took the key, and shrugged a shoulder as he headed toward the stairwell, trying to unload what he knew was a silent comment on his 'parenting skills' from the woman. "Yes, please. Thank you for the offer. And for keeping an eye on my... son," he said, hoping he rushed the slip enough to not be obvious. It seemed he had, as the woman's gray head bobbed in recognition. Tipping his head toward her, he moved quickly to the second floor.

Stopping outside the door to the room she'd indicated, Jarod tapped against the wood with a soft knock. "I don't need anything, Betsy," the sleepy voice from inside sounded muffled. Sighing, Jarod put the key in the lock, turning slowly.

The boy was already in bed, no doubt exhausted from his trip. He lay with his back to the door, but rolled over quickly to see who had intruded

"Jordan?" he called softly, closing the door as he entered the room, leaning against the wood panel

"What are you doing here?" Jordan responded venomously as he sat up under the covers. "You're the last person I want to see," he growled at the man blocking the door. "I look at you every day in the mirror. Isn't that enough?" He took flung off the covers and stood up, clad only in T-shirt and shorts, and took a step toward the door, trying to maneuver past Jarod. "Get out of my way."

Jarod's hand moved from his side to take a firm hold of the young man's arm. "No," he said softly, his gaze steely; jaw set. "We need to talk. This probably should have happened a long time ago, and I'm sorry that it didn't." His grip on Jordan's arm loosened, and finally released as he took in his young clone. "Have a seat. You're not going to just run away from this. It won't solve anything anyway."

A sullen expression was firmly painted on Jordan's face as he stood defiantly in front of the original he could never be. "It certainly would," he shot back. "I'd get out from under your shadow." Meeting the gaze of the man in front of him, a modicum of the fight left him, and he turned toward the bed, putting his back to Jarod as he did so

"I'm not keeping you in my shadow, Jordan." Jarod took another step into the room, moving to stand beside the nightstand next to the bed. "No one is doing that to you."

"You don't understand," the young man shot back angrily, his hands curling into tight fists at his sides

Aware of the incredible tension between them, Jarod shook his head behind Jordan's back. "No, I don't. You're right. I don't understand why you decided that running away was a solution. I don't understand why you decided that stealing from people was okay. You shouldn't be doing that. You know better."

Jordan spun around, his face a mask of fury. "No. You know better. You wouldn't think to do this. Don't pretend that you know what I would do. I'm not you." His head shook, his expression mirroring the look that had graced his older counterpart's face moments ago. "I didn't know what I would do, so how the hell could you know?" Not waiting for an answer, he turned away again, stalking into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him

Staring after him, Jarod sighed, reaching into his jacket to pull out his phone. Dialing his father, he tapped his fingers on the arm of the corner chair as he waited for the major to answer.

"I found him. He's not happy to see me, but he's okay." Hearing his father's breath of relief, he continued. "I have a feeling we'll be back soon, but I can't promise how soon. He's going to have to calm down first."

"I understand. So long as I know you're together, I won't worry so much. Take care of him, son."

Eyes fixed on the bathroom door, Jarod nodded. "I will."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre

Parker rose from her desk and paced the room. She strolled slowly, her head down, deep in thought. She knew Fountain was important, but her mother's DSA was out there somewhere, and she had to find it. That was the key to everything, she was sure.

But where could it be? Where could her mother have hidden it?

She had been thinking for hours, recalling the chain of events of the last year of her mother's life. Catherine had been rescuing children from the Centre, sending them out to be adopted by families who would keep them safe and raise their special children with love. She had been planning to rescue Jarod and take her daughter with her, when she had found out she was pregnant with Ethan. That had changed everything, and Parker was sure that was when her mother had created the DSA

Catherine had set up her staged death in the elevator, and then gone into hiding at Mr. Raines' country house. She had not secreted the DSA in her office, Parker was sure of that now. Might she have hidden it at that house, the place where she had been murdered for real?

It was worth a look. She hadn't told Sydney or Broots about Raines' confession, about the DSA. And until she found it and knew what it said, she intended to keep that to herself. The fewer people who knew it existed, the better

She had not been back to that house since Jarod's startling revelation, the secret message her mother had given him to remember about Ethan. She could still vividly recall that clip on the DSA that had shown Ethan being born, and Raines murdering Catherine Parker on the orders of her father. She had not wanted to go back there, ever again. But she had to find that DSA her mother had left for her, and that house was the most likely place to look

An hour later, she stood on the threshold, her hand trembling as she readied the lockpick

"Come on, Morgan," she told herself. "You can do this. You have to do this."

She eased the device into the lock and moments later, turned the handle and went inside. Well into the night she searched the house, examining every crack, every seam, every panel, looking for some hidey-hole that might accommodate one of those tiny silver discs. Room by room, she tore the place apart, not caring if she left it in a mess.

Finally, she pulled open the doors to the last room, the one where her mother had died. Everything was still draped with dust covers, but she could see clearly the final scene on that video -- Catherine half sitting on that delivery table, staring at Raines, who had just handed her baby off to a nurse, now aiming a pistol at her head

Parker closed her eyes, trying to shut it out.

"Are you still here, Momma?" she whispered, her voice trembling, rough with unshed tears. "Is this where you left it?"

Her eyes popped open, but she didn't see that awful room. She saw the vision of her mother's face, damp with sweat from her labor, smiling at her. Catherine shook her head and mouthed the words, "I love you." And then she was gone

The room faded back into view, but now it wasn't as horrible as it had been a moment before

Miss Parker smiled. "I love you, too, Momma." She sighed. "Thank you."

She pulled the doors closed and returned to her car. The DSA wasn't there. She didn't know where it was yet, but the warmth in her heart was incredible, and she wanted to enjoy that sensation forever. It was as if her mother had given her a big hug

And she was going to find the DSA soon. Maybe not today, but soon. She was getting there, making progress at last, and her mother was guiding the way. All she had to do was listen

* * * * * * * * *

Grace Valley

Jordan was taking a shower. He'd calmed down a hair, enough to let Jarod know that he was hungry again. Jarod offered to go downstairs to see if Betsy would let them bring some food back to the room, if Jordan promised not to take off again.

Reaching a delicate agreement, the boy had gone to take his shower, as Jarod had wandered downstairs in search of supper.

"Now, I normally don't like to do this," Betsy admonished him, as she set out turkey, cheese, and homemade bread on her counter. "I serve a proper dinner, and you should have been here early enough to share a meal with your son. He's got a hearty appetite," she added with a chuckle. Slicing the bread, she slathered it with mayonnaise before stacking turkey on top and adding cheese. Eyeing Jarod, she sliced the sandwiches in half. "You had a good reason for missing dinner, I'm assuming?" He nodded once, and she smiled. "Catching up with your boy?" Again, his head dipped. "Well, then that's an excuse I can support. You enjoy these, and I'll expect to see you two for breakfast."

Putting her sandwich-making supplies away, she smiled again, and left the kitchen. Jarod gathered up the sandwiches onto a paper plate and covered them in plastic wrap. Carrying the food back to the room, he opened the door and set the plate down on the bedside table. The sound of running water alerted him that Jordan was still in the shower, and he settled down, taking a bite of his sandwich. A thud from the bathroom startled him. As he opened his mouth to call out to the boy, there was another thud.

Jarod moved quickly, yanking the bathroom door open. Jordan was curled on the floor in the back corner of the room, putting up a fight as Cox knelt over him, a hypo in one hand, the other crushed against the boy's mouth. "Get away from him!" Jarod roared. He dashed into the room, securing a tight grip around Cox's neck before the smaller man fully realized he was there. Holding tightly against the struggling man, Jarod maneuvered his body, turning, slamming Cox into the wall. The hypo fell from the man's hand as they continued to struggle, carrying the fight out into the bedroom.

Cox twisted himself against Jarod's grip, causing both men to tumble to the floor. Cox landed first, and groaned at the impact. The men fought against each other for another few moments, before Cox began to slow, finally slumping to the floor.

Keeping a secure hold on the man, Jarod moved enough to see what, exactly, was going on. Turning Cox slightly, Jarod couldn't contain the ironic chuckle at seeing the hypo sticking out of the now-unconscious man's shoulder. Dropping him back to the floor, he sat back, looking at Jordan. "Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"

"No." Moving carefully, obviously shaken, Jordan stood, darting past the men on the floor, to stand in the bathroom doorway. He looked young and vulnerable standing there in his underwear. "Who is he? Do you know him?"

Standing, Jarod placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Get dressed. Get your things. We have to go." He squeezed Jordan's shoulder. "I'll explain what I can once we're out of here."

Watching him for a moment, Jordan decided it was better to listen than argue. Hurriedly, they gathered up the room, left some of Jarod's cash on the nightstand for Betsy, and slipped out into the stillness of the night.

* * * * * * * * *

Marsala Restaurant
Blue Cove

Daddy had invited her to dinner at their favorite restaurant. She knew what his agenda was. He wanted to smooth her ruffled feathers, salve her hurt feelings since his orders to keep her away from Gabriel. And she had agreed, hoping he would change his mind and let her visit her brother again. That was the way it had always worked between them

She sat waiting at the table, toying with her drink rather than sipping it. He was late, as usual, but at least he hadn't called to cancel. She was half expecting that when he appeared at her side, bubbling over with good humor

"Angel! Good to see you," he told her, smiling broadly. He sat down opposite her and signaled the waiter. He placed his drink order and then turned to face his daughter

She was staring at him. "Daddy, have you colored your hair?" Unable to stop herself, she reached out and stroked the gray hair at his collar that had recently been snow white

He chuckled. "Naw, naw, nothing like that," he assured her with gruff glee. "I'm not a vain man, angel. You know that."

"Then, what? You look..." She studied him. His face was thinner, and there were fewer lines around his mouth and eyes. "You look ten years younger."

His eyes twinkled. "Why, it's Gabriel, of course! He's making me young again!" He chuckled. "I never thought being a father at my age would be easy, but I feel marvelous, simply marvelous."

"So you've been spending more time with him?" She was hopeful. If he was growing closer to his son, then perhaps he would see her point, that family was far more important than education at his age

"Don't you worry about Gabriel," he answered evasively. "He's doing fine. Spunky little tot. Just a ball of fire, sometimes."

"May I start visiting him again? I know he misses me." She didn't want to push, but she had to have his answer

He frowned. "Let's not get into that right now, angel. We have other things to talk about besides the baby."

"But, Daddy, I thought--"

The waiter brought his drink and set it down, then disappeared again

"Daddy, I--"

"Not right now," he ordered, flashing her a warning glare. "I wanted to get an update on how things were going in the search for Jarod. We haven't talked in a while, and though I've been reading all your reports, I wanted to get firsthand stuff that you might not put into a document. So, where are we with that?"

Defeated before she began, she gave him a quick, impersonal run-down of the most recent facts, leaving out just enough to keep in concert with what she had written down in the records. She knew he wasn't going to give her what she wanted, at least not anytime soon. But she couldn't afford to engender any more animosity between them. She'd have to play politics with him, like she did with everyone else in the Centre, only the stakes would be higher. She was playing for the love of a child she adored, who needed her as much as she needed him. And her father's approval was the key

She was going to have to find a way to make some progress with Jarod. If she could bring him in, she was sure she could do whatever she wanted with Gabriel and her father would have no objections. If she could catch their runaway Pretender, she might even be able to quit her job and take him home to raise. Her father could see him as much by dropping in at her house as he did now, dropping into the nursery when he had a moment

That would be the best thing for all of them

But somewhere, way down deep inside, she knew that would never happen. The world was changing yet again, and part of her knew that things were going to be far worse than they were now

* * * * * * * * *

Starlight Motel
Rural Colorado

Sighing at the news report of the young woman who had turned herself in for attempting to kill a police officer, a woman whom he suspected was taking the fall for her boyfriend, Jarod turned the television off, casting a glance at Jordan. The younger version of himself lay asleep in the motel bed. Shaking his head, Jarod reached for his phone. This was more important; he was simply unused to putting personal issues above those of strangers. Family came first, even if he was just learning that now

"This is Sydney."

"If you could go back, and talk to yourself as a teenager, what would you say?"

Sydney switched ears on his phone, leaning back in his chair. "I have a feeling what I'd say to myself, and what you'd say to the boy are very different things."

Silence hung heavy over the line for close to a minute, as Jarod stood from the couch, striding to the window to look out at the nearly-full moon. "I don't know what to do. Jordan doesn't understand anything I've tried to tell him. He doesn't want to understand. How can he not understand me?" Jarod's voice revealed how lost he felt at the lack of understanding between Jordan and himself

"How have you approached this, Jarod?"

"What do you mean?"

"I know you would never mean to do this, but Jordan is, despite the idea behind his creation, a different person than you. You have to remember that he was raised in almost the antithesis of the environment you were, within the same agenda."

Jarod's mouth twisted as he considered these words. "I'm aware of that, Sydney," he replied, sounding hurt that the older man spoke as though he hadn't been apprised of Jordan's upbringing

"You are, but are you acting like it?" Knowing instantly the words were phrased wrong; Sydney rushed to correct what he'd said. "What I mean to say... Jarod, while you were both brought up within the walls of the Centre, you had contact with those who were compassionate." Clearing his throat around the lump forming, he continued softly. "Or, at the least, who tried to be."

"You were," Jarod interjected in a whisper, falling silent again to allow his mentor to continue

Not vocally acknowledging the comment, knowing he wasn't expected to, Sydney swallowed hard, trying, again unsuccessfully to clear his throat. "Jordan was raised by Raines. He didn't have any form of positive reinforcement, unless you consider stoic approval at properly-executed sims positive. He reacts differently to things, Jarod. You look at him, and you see you, right?"

"He is me, Sydney. I... can't help it."

"Which is perfectly understandable. You just have to remember that when he looks at you, he sees what he'll never be; what I can only imagine he believes is what everyone expects from him."

Pulling the sweatshirt he'd been wearing off over his head, Jarod returned to the couch, pressing his bare back against the cool leather cushions, contrasting with the heat in the room. Jordan had been cold when he'd finally gone to bed; the thermostat was now set too high for Jarod's liking. With a glance at the bed, he settled back rather than turn the heat down. Jordan was sleeping under a heavy quilt, wrapped up tightly as if still chilled. "You're right," he murmured into the phone. "It's so hard to see the differences on the surface. And I don't remember to make myself look past that. We just should be the same."

"It would be easier for you if you were. But not for him. The world doesn't need two Jarods. It needs Jarod, and Jordan, two people with their own personalities, their own lives." Shutting his eyes, Sydney exhaled slowly, forcing his emotions as far from the surface as he could. "We'll all be better for it."

"Thank you," Jarod whispered hoarsely, "for being the one who showed me there was more than the dark walls inside that place. I hate to think of my where my life would be without that." His eyes scanned the room, and came to rest on the sleeping form on the bed. "That's what he is, isn't he? Who I would have been, without you."

"That..." Sydney's eyes squeezed tightly shut, and he rested his forehead against his fingers as he took a breath against his shaky voice. "That would be one way of looking at it."

Fighting his own emotions, Jarod bent his legs at the knee, drawing them against his chest. He curled slightly, adjusting his body into a sitting version of the fetal position. "Have we been trying to correct past mistakes with him? My father, in raising him. Me, in everything I do with him?"

"I wouldn't be that hard on you. But yes, I think that there has been more of that than anyone has stopped to actually consider. Your father should have been able to prove, to both his sons, what a wonderful parent he would have been. He wasn't allowed that chance. Naturally, he's got to look at Jordan the same way you do -- as you. Try as we all might, the fact remains that Jordan is genetically you. That, as you said, makes it hard to see the differences under the surface. It takes more work to see that, and vigilance to see that we look. Jordan has to be lost as well, Jarod. None of the adults in this situation understand it. He can't possibly."

"Knowing that you raised me is a comfort for my father, Sydney." Jarod paused for a moment, blinking at the stinging sensation of tears pricking the backs of his eyes. "As it is for me," he finished in a barely audible whisper

"And seeing the man you grew into has made me proud," the older man admitted softly. "Jarod, you'll know how to deal with Jordan, so long as you look past what you can see, to what makes him who he is." Tamping down the urge to react more strongly to the conversation, Sydney sat up in his chair. "It's late, Jarod. Go get some rest. I hope this will be easier for you in the morning."

"Goodnight, Sydney." Uncurling himself from the corner of the couch, he hit the button on his phone to end the call. He slowly stood, stretching out his muscles as he moved. Walking past the bed, he paused to look down at Jordan, gently tucking the blankets more snugly around the sleeping boy. Jordan moaned softly in his sleep, turning over, putting his back to Jarod even in sleep

Forcing himself not to take the movement personally, his hand retreated from the bed quickly as he turned to continue on his way into the bathroom

Not bothering to turn on the lights, the streetlight outside casting enough illumination for visibility, he turned the shower on. Stripping, he slipped under the hot water, his forehead coming to rest against the cool tiles. Too tired to fight them now, he let his tears fall, the salty drops getting lost in the cascading streams pouring against his head and shoulders from the showerhead

He knew the hot water would run out before his tears did

* * * * * * * * * *

The Centre

Sitting back in the darkness of his office, Sydney held a small plastic monkey in the palm of his hand. His fingers curled around the toy, pressing it into his hand deeply, leaving an impression in the flesh. His eyes focused on a dark spot on the ceiling, eyelids blinking rapidly before stopping, closed against the tears. Jaw set, he slipped the toy back into the metal box, sat up and opened his eyes. Replacing the box, he stood and walked quickly out of the dark, empty building into the cold night, brightly lit by a large moon. Staring up at the orb for a moment, his shoulders squared against the chill as he made his way to his car

He could not afford to give in to his emotions. Jarod needed him to keep a clear head, to keep focused so that, whenever the Pretender called on his mentor, he would be able to give him the answers he needed. But once, just once, he wished he could say what was in his heart, to cast off the impersonal professional and be..

No. Jarod had his family. He didn't need Sydney at all

He heard his own footsteps crunching on the fallen snow, clenched his teeth, and slipped the key into his car door.

On to Act III

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