The Centre: 1940’s
Catherine stared ahead at two people sitting down. Two grown women. They looked identical. She felt a connection to both of them. Was that her grandparent?
“Hello,” she and one of the woman said at the same time. “My name’s Catherine.”
“Excellent. Good job,” the doctor observed them said. “I am going to hold a card up-”
“Five stars.” All three of them already knew.
Catherine stared at the two women again. To one, she felt more distant, while to the other? She felt. Like she was watching some future of herself. She reached out to her.
“Don’t touch her, Cathy,” the woman said. “She’s dirty. She’s not real.”
Not real? The young Catherine didn’t understand. She could feel, eat, taste and smell. She had affection for others. Why was she not real?
Catherine looked at all of the counterpart children around her. There were four more, staring at her in just the same way. Like they were all mirrors of her. “Hello,” they all said at the same time. “My name’s Catherine.” They each pursed their mouth slightly, then they each held up their hands and waved at each other. Then they all looked out toward a window at a man making notes uttering ‘brilliant’.
Catherine didn’t see it as brilliant. She smiled, as they all did, and they all spoke again.
“Catherine 1, when I give the word, I want everything that is blue that you can think of. Catherine 2, I want the same thing except with the color red. Catherine 3, the same thing except with purple. Catherine 5, the same thing except with yellow.”
Oh. Catherine could think of some things. The sky. Water.
She heard that. She smiled at the Catherine that somehow shared that. That Catherine had the color red, so she would help her too. Roses. As they went, each of them seemed to share with each other their thoughts and ideas without ever uttering a word. By the time the doctor asked for the objects, they each had over fifty in a space of thirty seconds, each rattling off their lists.
“Big lists.” The doctor wrote down information. “Did you . . . find a way to exchange information among your . . . kind?” They all shook their heads. “Brilliant. It really was passed along.”
Catherine struggled as she was taken to medical. They told her that she had grown up enough to leave The Centre, but The Centre was her home! The doctor took care of her and her soul sisters. Not sisters, but clones, and so closely bonded that soul sisters seemed to fit. She didn’t want to forget them. She didn’t want to leave!
Catherine approached her soul sister. Although forced to forget each other, when she had cried out in the largest anguish any of them had ever felt, they had all reconnected through her emotion. Her soul sister was in a terrible state. Her husband was now gone at work. She approached her, playing with her child. Only she was not her child. She reached for her to hug her. “We are all here. Together, we will all get through this.” It wasn’t needed to say out loud but it sounded even more reassuring.
For at birth, Catherine had lost her son to The Centre’s ways at birth, but even worse. Her second child was now gone. The little toddler girl strolling around fell slightly. “What have you called her?”
“Miss Parker. I will call any of them Miss Parker. It’s fitting.” She hugged her tighter. “We had Catherine’s name. Everyone needs a name, and any they make will be my child. I don’t know how to get out. I can’t believe I was drawn back. I can’t leave.”
“They have my daughters. They are still my daughters. I can’t leave without them.”
“I know.” Of course they were. They understood that connection better than anyone. “We will help you. As long as a Catherine is here, that’s all they will know. We will share the physical burden. No matter what.”
Each Catherine held each other, mourning the loss of the feeling. They would never be the same. They had been tricked into being helped by Raines, and one of the Catherine’s died giving birth. At least, that is what they had to assume for the one who died could no longer be in their shared memories. She could have been killed too. It was risky to assume either way.
The one who had birthed the original Miss Parker needed the most help to keep it together. To her, it should have been her fate. Each Catherine had shared the duty of taking place over the other at The Centre, so that responsibilities could be taken to rescue the children. Those kidnapped by The Centre. Those made by The Centre.
Now there was no way, the current Centre Insider Catherine was dead, and Raines was aware of their schemes. To go after the child would put all the others in danger. This was not a simple task to undergo, it was simply too much for them. They did comfort the new baby as they could, with their own connections to him.
But there was nothing more they could do. The daughters would have to stay in The Centre, to corrupt the plan would send every one of them into danger. They could not risk a rescue of more than 200 lives safely.
They would keep an eye out for each other, and an eye out for their children. But they would never interact.”
Back to 2002
“Unless it became so bad,” Catherine admitted. “So bad, that we didn’t have a choice.” She looked straight at Jarod. “Inner sense Pretender clones. They’ve achieved each separately, but never together. This is their goal, and now that one of mine has got in their way. I am afraid all of my daughters are in danger.”
Jarod stared at Catherine for a time as she had explained. “This is bad.” They needed computer access right away. “Sydney, contact Broots again. Make sure he isn’t doing anything stupid.” Jarod had to think.
Miss Parker’s clones were all in the average range of intelligence. Average testing could be performed. But Pretenders? Experimenting was risking genius. The Centre most likely kept the PK’s safer after what happened with Gemini. It had taken so long to get Gemini though. If Miss Parker’s cloning had been perfected.
There was probably more than one of him out there too. It was likely that a clone or two might be next to hers. Cluelessly being studied still too. He rubbed his face.
“Jarod.” He watched Sydney come back toward him. “Broots was called in at five this morning. He said they had multiple ideas of where she had been kidnapped too.”
“Yes. The Centre put out the word you kidnapped the children and her,” Sydney stated. “So that a standard search and rescue Centre process would begin.”
Jarod felt himself sinking. “No.”
“Yes. Broots put in all the data.” Sydney rubbed his forehead. “All 234 locations. He says he sent what information he could. I need to get computer access.”
“What?!” That many? Jarod went back toward Catherine. “You only had five, how many clones of your daughter are there?”
“Oh, I was early work for The Centre,” Catherine reminded Jarod. “Very early. While the world was discovering computers, The Centre had already gone so much further, and I’m sorry.” She nodded toward him. “I tried. I tried to act like I didn’t know, but at the same time, I tried to stop the Gemini Projects.”
“You?” Jarod asked while Sydney went inside to use the computer. “Or another Catherine that you connected with?”
She almost glared at him. “What she felt, I felt. What she knew, I knew. When one of us died, we all felt the loss, rushing through us! What we experience is no different. Don’t talk to me like I’m an imposter. I was there, at The Centre. Yes, physically too. We all were.”
Jarod didn’t know what to say to that. “234?”
“They perfected it as well as they could so as not to waste as much with the next goal. The Gemini Project,” she reminded him. “I’m afraid the clone you found is only one of you. But you already guessed that, didn’t you?”
It made sense. At least it wasn’t hundreds.”They are right next to the clones of Parker, aren’t they?”
“It would save observation space.”
“How many of me?” Jarod asked.
“I think they had plans for five successes, but to say they are you is a stretch. I believe they were chimeras. Considering how close they kept Gemini, he is probably your only true clone.” She shrugged. “Either way after they lost him, those out in the field can’t be recollected as easily. They weren’t groomed in the same way. They didn’t want them groomed, they wanted to see them raised in different ways too. You . . . are different than us. Than the Catherine’s and the Misses. You stayed separate from their minds. There was no twinning they were cloned from?”
“Wait,” Sydney stopped her as he came out with a piece of paper. “Are you saying these pretender children all have twins?”
“Yes, and The Centre has already called them in,” she confirmed.
Hundreds of those pretender kids. They were coming. “Hundreds of pretender children.”
“Considering the technology advancement of the normal world outside The Centre, I am guessing more in the thousands,” Catherine corrected him. “Designed to think together, just like Centre twins. It doesn’t matter still though, you want to know where the Miss Parkers are that you knew? Physically? Don’t you?”
“There are 234.” Jarod didn’t want to say it that way. “Did they die and get replaced?” He had to know. Did every Miss Parker he really know, just . . .
“No, no. The ones that were the right ages would get ‘called in’, and then sent back,” Catherine said. “Watching them grow, progress, go through different events, have children, study their children, study addictions that sprang up, feelings that sprang up, it was worth all the data to The Centre.”
“I’ll save everyone I can,” Jarod said. “Rene?”
“She knows what she’s doing now and what’s at stake. You can let her go. She might not have the memories of Miss Parker, but she is still essentially trained to be Miss Parker. She will take care of her family. We need to help others, if we can. Not only that, we need to help Maggie.”
Maggie? “Who’s Maggie, is she another clone of Parker?”
“No. She’s a clone of Catherine Parker’s sister,” she admitted. “We are close to her. She is the mother of the PK’s. She is in an instituation, under Centre control.”
Great, another person to help. “I will do what I can.” He already had way more than he could take care of, he knew that.
“I have the list,” Sydney said coming toward Jarod. “Broots could only stay on for so long to type. Lyle is hanging around him mostly, he gave me what he could.”
Jarod looked at the list. Hundreds of different names. Different places. Which one did he grow up with? Which one was on the island? Which one did he give the flu too? “All over the country.” He could get some. “My dad could try to help.” But he doubted it would be all.
“A good idea,” Sydney agreed. “I’ll try and get in touch with Broots again.”
“Sydney.” Maybe it did offend that Catherine but he’d say it anyhow. “Find her.”
“Too many hers.” He heard the stigma in ‘Catherine’s’ voice. “Is Rene not her? Weren’t you shocked with how much time you spent with her, not knowing she was not her?”
“Whose physical body was at The Centre as your daughter?” Sydney said it for Jarod.
“Many,” she said again. “They liked bringing them in and out, to see if the adaption to the main role was completely accepted. Especially as children.” She covered her bottom lip with her top lightly.
“Who had the ruptured ulcer?” Jarod asked more clearly. Moving into physical ailments.
Catherine took a deep breath. “I don’t know. I love 234 people, but I don’t know who was who and where at what time.”
Jarod shook his finger at her. “But you are confident you need to save Maggie.”
“She connects with my daughters,” Catherine admitted. “I hate to say it, but? The. The reasons they are going after them, it may be less of just the kids. Their minds. She is changing that connection, making them a burden to The Centre.” She breathed deeply. “She is sacrificing them to give her children time to escape The Centre.”
What? “You want to me concentrate on saving a woman, who is making everyone lose their cover?” Now it made sense. Rene was fine as Miss Parker, but then she started to become like Rene Grossberg. She wanted her old life back before becoming Rene Grossberg. Interference in however they worked.”
“She had her children taken,” Catherine said again. “She isn’t all there. She’s been trapped for years by The Centre. You need to save her eventually, she’ll know more. You’ll need her access later on. Don’t forget her.”
“I don’t buy this, this isn’t right! Miss Parker cried for you all the time, and you were never there! No one heard her cries. No one soothed her. You soothed Ethan but not her? Not her, not Rene, not any of your so-called daughters, but the sister who is responsible for all of this? Oh don’t leave her behind!” Jarod was angry, he was seeing right through to her. This was not the clone that had Miss Parker. This was just the nearest one to intercept. She cared more about keeping this Maggie safe than any of the Parkers.
She traveled all that way, for this Maggie. Not Parker.
“Jarod, there were four Miss Parker’s at The Centre during the time of chasing you,” Sydney said toward him. He was on the phone again, getting more details. Broots was looking into it as deep as he could. All things even, they wanted to save the women they knew. Everyone deserved to be saved, but if there was only certain options. If everything was even. They wanted to make sure Miss Parker was saved.
Good. “Four.” Okay, it was a start. “Name and location?” Jarod asked.
“To go after them, even if they are far away?” Catherine responded. “Will you honestly play favorites?”
“Oh, I honestly will!” Jarod was getting tired of it. “I don’t really know if you yourself were at The Centre taking turns as Catherine. I don’t know who the woman was that I talked to personally last night like Parker! And I don’t know how connected everyone is, but I do know, that I am going to rescue the women I knew all those years as Miss Parker!” That was a damn fact. “Name and locations, Sydney!”
“Then you forsake any of the young dears you could have saved around here,” Catherine reminded him. “The young dears at school? All the Little Misses, still so innocent out there?”
“Rene Grossberg of course,” Sydney said to Jarod, “she was changed to her right after the incident with Mister Parker and the Scrolls. The note Broots found said the other was having a mental break as Parker and should take time off.”
Mental break. More like coming to terms with her soul after that time together with him. “She always wore the world on her shoulders.” How she ever survived. Not alone.
“Jarod.” Sydney laid his hand on his shoulder. “I know this is difficult. For now, let’s just focus on what’s important. The Centre may be snatching or perhaps eliminating these women that are clones of Miss Parker. I don’t know what they will choose or do. We should do what we can and not waste time, but all things even, we should grab the Miss Parkers we know.”
“And Maggie,” Catherine added.
Jarod glared at her, trying to keep his feelings in check. “Address of where Maggie is, Sydney can watch over it.” Maggie was safe inside of a building, Sydney could watch people come in and out. Most likely since she wasn’t even Miss Parker, she would stay safe. “I’ll have my dad and Gemini help. Wherever they are right now, they can get the closest ones to them.” Jarod tried to think logically with his mind instead of just his heart too. “Catherine said they were all capable of defending themselves, so let’s concentrate on the younger versions a little more.”
They couldn’t save them all. There was no chance they could.
But they would save who they could from whatever fate The Centre was planning.
And Jarod sure as hell was saving the Miss Parkers he knew. “Keep your eyes open on Rene too.”
He just hoped The Centre wasn’t moving too fast. If it was set for a quick elimination with a reward? Fast. Efficient. Enticing.
Even trying to save just one . . .
It Begins . . .
Fran checked her fare. She waited for the next person to come in. “Where-”
“Seriously? You just called me for dinner!” Clarissa whined. Her parents were interrupting her game again. At least it was only one more year of high school and-
“Whoah there, that is not how much I pay for groceries,” Jillian complained as she looked at her grocery ticket. “What is this, highway robbery? What in my groceries cost-”
Florence stared at her wallet as she waited for her friends to arrive. Hopefully none of them asked for extra money. She heard the man yell ‘tickets’ and she went up to the ticket man. “Three for-”
“Hi there,” Mabel welcomed the teenagers coming to her Ice Cream Truck. “What would you like?” They didn’t look happy. “What is it?”
“Where’s the sexy one with the legs?” One of them asked. “The hot one’s always working at this time. Not you.”
Oh. Her nose wrinkled only a minute. “Not everyone is gifted with Kimberly Davis’ looks.”
“Yeah, you’re telling me. One snowcone, Tigers Blood.”
Oh, Kimberly so owed her! Mabel bent down to get the cup ready for the snowcone. When she looked back up-
Kimberly Davis took off her tennis shoes for some softer shoes when she came into the diner she worked in. It was so stupid, one of those teenage punks she worked with decided to flake on her. So who had to come in? Her, and that was bullshit. It was late and kids were out playing around. Those brats needed cold treats. The kids and the teen boys that came around to stare. She usually charged their butts double since they were only there to linger at her. She was an attractive woman but looks weren’t enough to get by in the world. Well, unless you wanted to do something unscrupulous with those looks. At least she got Mabel to cover for her.
She rested in the back room for a little while before her shift began. The TV was on a special report. Probably weather. The weather always sucked. She looked toward it, eyewitnesses to whatever local weather problem was going on. People overreacting too, downright crying.
“The ages are all different, yet the synchronicity of this horror can’t be ignored. These victims with what families say all share the same kind of features so much with each other, they practically look-”
“Hey!” Kimberly complained as her ‘mini-boss’ came in. Manager’s favorite pet. “I was watching that.”
“You’re on duty,” he said. “Get out there.”
“I had two minutes and you should be thankful,” Kimberly said as she tied her softer shoes. “I should be making money off brats and leering teens.”
“You know as much as you hate people, you’d think you’d find something else different,” the Manager’s pet neighed to her.
“I take these stupid people jobs so I can make enough to . . . find something else.” To get the hell out of there, but she couldn’t go too far. She’d get fired, and she didn’t want that again. Her last job reference swore she left and never came back. That didn’t rub her employers the right way. Proven hospital stay records of an accident? Oh no, she just left with no excuse. Stupid bastards. She went out toward the front, waiting for the orders to come in.
Clarice ignored the notes being passed by her in school, trying to concentrate. She moved her feet back and forth by her desk. There was nothing more horrifying than geography. She felt a note landing on her chin, bouncing to her table. She rolled her eyes and looked at who did that.
“Clarice? Are you passing notes?”
“What?” The teacher was blaming her. “No, it was Terrence.” She gestured toward Terrence.
“Uh huh.” The teacher didn’t believe her. “Why don’t you give us an interesting state fact of anywhere other than Tennessee, hmm?”
“Stand up and speak loud and clear,” the teacher insisted.
Clarice looked at the geography map. She didn’t know the world that well at all. Somewhere besides Tennessee. Her eyes went over toward Delaware. It was always an interesting state to her. “Delaware gets a lot of rain each year.” She watched her teacher. She wasn’t impressed, but not denying it either.
“Sit down, Clarice and pay attention.” The teacher went back to teaching.
What a crone. Geez. She didn’t even do anything. Clarice looked toward the door though. A boy was lingering out the door. Staring at her. He looked familiar. He looked a lot like the boy Brandon she knew from science, but his hair was different. Brandon had cool different colored hair. Different colored eyes too. No, he was clearly someone different.
Her eyes drifted to the clock. It’s where everyone’s eyes were settling. Almost time for school to get out.
Gemini moved away from the schoolroom door and dialed on his cellphone. “I found her. What should we do, Major?”
“Hope we are extremely lucky. I’m coming. Watch out for anything suspicious. You sure you are up to this?”
“Yeah. She’s a clone, like me,” Gemini admitted. “There’s no way I can just leave her out here to be killed off. Not this time, we have to make this one.” He was taking some heat and some chances. Gemini knew it. The attempts were moving fast, and no one cared about the ages of anyone involved. Major Charles and him had found the nearest clone of Miss Parker and she was taken out. So was the second. The third was a teen, like the one now. She was already gone too.
He didn’t want to mess around again! The names on the list were getting shorter, and the news were doing their fair share of the name dropping too. This wasn’t just The Centre, it was like a bunch of groups assigned to kill asap! They’d be lucky if any of them saved just one. Even Jarod hadn’t managed it yet.
He kept his eyes on the empty hallway. At the end of school, it would probably happen. They didn’t want a big commotion in the way, they were wanting just their target. While the older ladies were being warned by the media now, there were significantly less younger ones. The last ones to be born. Only four according to the full list so there was no warning for them at all. When the bells rung, everyone started to pour out. He watched as she came out and walked to the left. He quickly tried to catch up. Schools were huge, people really poured out of them once it was over.
He wouldn’t lose her though. He moved, twisted and bent around everyone trying to catch up with her. She was heading out the front doors. He picked up the pace, practically dashing. Please! They could be anywhere. “Wait up!” He called.
She was moving along the sidewalk, looking at it as she walked.
He finally caught up to her, out of breath. “Wait.”
She stared at him, but didn’t stop walking. “You look familiar. Have we met?”
Wow. Even not being triggered to be a ‘Miss Parker’ she recognized him as Jarod. “My name’s . . .” Catch up on his breathing. Crossing the street didn’t help.
“Jarod.” She said it like it was a certainty. “I mean, I think it’s Jarod? You look like a Jarod. That was horrible of me. Sorry.” She shrugged. “Your related to Brandon, right?”
“Gemini,” he spoke. “My name’s Gemini. How do you do.”
“Oh. Hi.” She gestured to the road. “Do you walk home this way too?”
No. She needed to get out of such an easy spot. “You shouldn’t walk home by yourself right now.”
“I live like four blocks away,” she said. “My mom and dad come to pick me up, but most times they are so late. It takes less time to just walk home. Oh, wait.” She smiled and waved at a car. “There they are.”
Gemini watched the car come close to the road and park. She tried to get in. “No, don’t go.”
“Don’t talk that way to my daughter,” the driver said. Clearly her dad.
“Don’t talk that way to the nice boy,” the passenger said. Most likely her mother. “He just wanted to talk longer.”
“She doesn’t need to be talking to boys,” her father said. “Get in, Clarice.”
Gemini would have protested again, but he saw it. Coming up from behind. He grabbed and pushed her down to the ground. Shots rang out above them. He held on tightly to her, she was trying to get up on instinct to get away to safety. “Don’t move!” From the angle and the speed it was an attempt at a drive-by. That should give them just enough time before they could pull back and try again. She screamed, scared and traumatized. Hopefully he made her duck down fast enough to miss her family’s end. Gemini pulled her up slightly and moved to the right as the Major’s car came careening around the side. As it stopped, he got the door opened and kept her ducked down still.
The Major pulled away just in time as shots rang out again. Gemini made her duck her head.
“Sonsofbitches!” The Major yelled. “You get her, she okay? You okay too?”
“Yeah.” He got her. She was crying, emotional, and screaming.