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Baltimore, Maryland, December 14, 1996

Kristina watched him intently. She’d known several pretenders in her time but Natasha had made it clear Jarod was the best. He more than had the gene; he was a fountain of knowledge and could use it if the need arose. She was impressed just watching him, but how he received them was going to be the real test. Kristina tucked her red locks behind her ears as she watched the dark haired pretender through the binoculars. She had already caught on to his mission. He was going to prove the man called Christmas George was left to die. Kristina believed beyond a shadow of a doubt if there was anything to find, Jarod would uncover it.

Her cell phone rang in her pocket. She pulled it out and put it to her ear. “Kristina.”

Ryan was on the other end grilling her on whether or not she’d found Jarod or not, what the great pretender was up to, and what he was like. Kristina sighed into the phone. “Ryan, I found him, he seems to be fighting for the little people out here. He’s really very clever.”

Baltimore, Maryland, December 17, 1996

Kristina had been intrigued by all Jarod’s preparations but when he finally came down to confront the person who had left Christmas George to die, she was disturbingly impressed. When she watched him drug the coroner she felt the urge to save the woman but realized quickly Jarod wasn’t about to kill her. She actually laughed when she heard he’d given the woman a dose of what she’d put the homeless man through. Now she stood in the alleyway watching him stare up into the snowing sky. He was happy and she knew this had to be his first Christmas. She knew how long he’d been out in the real world and she also knew The Centre didn’t allow their subjects to experience Christmas or any other holiday. She was curious as to what had taken his so long to escape The Centre. ‘Maybe when I know him better he’ll tell me.’ She thought to herself.

“This time of year is beautiful, isn’t it?” She walked out and pulled her coat, as tight as she could get it, around her.

Jarod’s eyes blinked as he stared at her. He took in the red haired woman’s features. She was beautiful, but Jarod could tell there was more to her. He’d become an expert at seeing into a person. Something about her told him she wasn’t just a friendly face in Baltimore. He nodded and turned and started to walk away from her.

She smiled knowing he just wanted to hide so The Centre would never find him. “Jarod!” She called out to him and he immediately turned to face her. “It was a good thing you just did.” She pointed towards the orphanage. She smiled broadly at him, turned and started walking away.

Jarod looked around the street searching for the dark sedans but when he didn’t find one he started following the red haired woman. Who is this woman and how does she know me? Jarod’s mind raced with the possibilities.

Kristina knew he was behind her, which had been her goal. She wanted him interested enough to be the one to make contact. Sure she had to initiate things but now that it was done, she wanted him to feel free to come to her. She turned into the coffee shop on the corner and walked up to the counter. “Coffee please. I’ll take a donut too.” Jarod stepped up next to her. She looked to the man behind the counter. “Make it two.” Kristina took her coffee and donut and headed to the table in the corner. She sipped her coffee and watched as Jarod contemplated what he was doing before joining her.

Jarod slid into the seat across from her and set his coffee and donut on the table in front of him. “Who are you?”

She smiled. “My name is Kristina Blake.”

“Jarod Marley, but you knew that. Didn’t you?” He eyed her as she sipped on her coffee.

Kristina set the coffee down in front of her and leaned back. “I admit I knew your name was Jarod and that you are going by Marley, but you and I both know Marley isn’t your last name. You don’t know your last name.” She sipped on the coffee but keep her eyes on him.

Jarod sighed and took a second to think of running. “How do you know about me?”

“Because I’m like you.” Kristina smiled at him. “I know all about you. A friend of mine filled me in. She wanted me to find you so you’d know we are out there.”

“We?” Jarod was intrigued. His mind was in overdrive with the possibilities of who would know about him; one of which was another place like The Centre. He couldn’t fathom there being another Centre preying on him, but knew it could still be a possibility.

“Yes, pretenders and none pretenders.” She leaned across the table and whispered. “People against the Centre.” She got to her feet and tossed the napkin from her donut in the trash and walked out of the shop.

Jarod didn’t even care about his coffee or donut at that point. He ran after Kristina. As soon as she had stepped into the snow he decided he had to know more. “Wait!”

She turned to face him. “Walk with me.”

Every moment outside The Centre Jarod was looking over his shoulder afraid he’d been caught but this time he knew The Centre was far from him. He nodded and ran to catch up to her.

They walked as Kristina told him there were many others similar to him and some of them had joined forces to stop The Centre. They’d only walked a few blocks when Kristina turned into a building entrance. “This is my stop.” She looked at Jarod knowing he was skeptical. “I know you want to trust me. I know you want to be sure I’m not with The Centre. I can only tell you I’m not. If you don’t want to come up that’s fine. We’ll wait for you to come to us.”

“How could I come to you?” Jarod eyed her.

Kristina reached into her pocket and pulled out a business card. “When you’re ready one of us will be there. Just call us.”

Jarod took it from her and looked at the card. It only had a number embossed on the small card. He looked up at her. “What do I say when I call?”

“Just tell us your name and where to meet you. We’ll come to you.” Kristina rubbed her hands together and then put them in her pockets.

Jarod was having trouble noticing the cold. This was unlike anything he’d ever encountered in his short time outside of The Centre. He knew of other pretenders but he had no idea there was a group of them working to stop The Centre. “Can’t I just come back here?” He looked up at her.

She shook her head. “Do you stay in one place?”

He smiled and shook his head. “No. The Centre would catch up to me.”

“Same here, kind of, but we can talk about that more when we met again. Merry Christmas, Jarod.” Kristina smiled and then headed into the building leaving Jarod in the snow.

Jarod turned the card over. He wasn’t even sure he’d call them. He liked thinking there were others like him fighting The Centre but he didn’t want to trust anyone right now. Things were too hard as it was. He turned and walked off into the snowy night. He had other pretends to get to.

San Francisco, California, December 19, 1996

Kristina dropped her bag in the foyer of the San Francisco House. She’d been out in the world for a long time and she loved being out there but there was nothing like the seclusion of home. She loved being at the house. There she was free to be who she was without hiding her skills from the world. She loved that they were all about helping people like them. They’d stopped many things The Centre had been up to and she was determined to be one of the people stopping people like The Centre.

“Did you find him?” Natasha Hoffman stood on the opposite end of the foyer right in the hallway which led back to offices, the gym and the kitchen.

“I did.” Kristina hung her coat on the coat rack next to the front door.

“Well,” Natasha looked at her intently, “where is he?”

Kristina shook her head. “He was…” She searched for the right word. “Apprehensive. He was willing to listen… in public. I could tell he wasn’t sure he should trust me. I gave him the access number and gave him instructions. If he calls it will be on his terms. This way he knows were not forcing him.” Kristina grabbed her bag and walked to the staircase. “If he thinks were forcing him to come here, he’ll run and then what will we do? Send Michael after him? We don’t want to spook him. We want to help him.”

Natasha nodded to Kristina. “You’re right. I’m just eager to meet the man. He’s what all this is about. Get some rest.” She smiled at the young woman.

Kristina smiled back and then climbed the stairs slowly. The hurried life of the outside world always faded when she got back. They were safe at the house. They’d always been. Michael and Natasha made sure of it.


Natasha walked into Michael’s office fully expecting him to be immersed in some mission schematics or some intel they’d found on one of the many organizations or groups they worked to stop, but instead she found him standing next to the ceiling high book shelf with holding a large bible in his hand. “Need faith?”

Michael smiled slightly and briefly before taking the large book with him to his desk and setting it down. “I was viewing a passage one of our targets quoted in his letters to the police.”

Natasha nodded to him and closed the door. She crossed the room as sat in the chair across from his desk. “Kristina’s back. Jarod seemed spooked so she gave him the access number. I want you to monitor that line. Trace calls. If Jarod tries to get a hold of us I want you there to meet him. He’s important.”

Michael sighed slightly. Jarod would require all his skills if he were to track him. He knew a lot about the pretender. Jarod was the best. He thought of everything but Michael was the best at what he did. He dedicated his life to the things Jarod did as an afterthought. It might be his hardest task so far but he’d track down Jarod again. He’d tracked his location for Kristina, which had literally taken weeks. Jarod was a genius and while Michael possessed the pretender gene and while he was remarkably skilled he knew if Jarod put his mind to it… he’d never find him. “Of course.”

What was he like?

Ryan burst through Kristina’s door. “You met him? The pretender? What was he like?”

“Simple.” Kristina replied as she moved around her room putting clothing away.

“Simple? What does that mean?” Ryan almost looked disappointed. If that meant he was easy to reach then he couldn’t nearly be as great as all believed.

“He’s simple. Right and wrong. Good and evil. He is good. He does what is right. He changes what is wrong and fights the evil.” She smiled as she turned to Ryan. “You wouldn’t believe what he did to that coroner, the one on the news that hit the homeless man and left him for dead.”

Ryan was completely intrigued. Jarod was a legend in their world and Ryan wanted to know everything. “Tell me. Tell me.”

“He gave her a fruitcake laced with the drug she’d given the homeless man. He then sent her to the morgue just like she did to Christmas George, the homeless man, to be autopsied. He, of course, informed everyone at the morgue she was still alive and not to actually do the autopsy, but the coroner didn’t know that. It was great. He gave her a taste of her own nasty medicine.” Kristina laughed so hard she thought her sides would burst.

Ryan looked at her in shock. “Remind me never ever cover anything and always do the right thing. Wow. He’s a serious player. Kind of scary like Mikey.”

Kristina shook her head. “No, I don’t think Jarod would intentionally harm anyone. Michael on the other hand…”

“Enough said.” Ryan held up his hand.


William Akers strolled into the infirmary looking for the light of his life. He’d met Jolene in 1993 about a year after being with the group. She’d been abducted by a pretender named Christoph. At the time Natasha was concerned the pretender was unstable and would kill Jolene but it became evident his actions were to stop Jolene from falling into The Centre’s clutches. It was a respectable cause. Nonetheless, they were after the two of them to provide assistance. It had taken William a few days to locate Christoph and Jolene but once he had he was there.

Christoph didn’t trust him but William’s offer to keep them both safe from The Centre was far too enticing for Christoph to pass up. His primary reason was because he’d fallen in love with Jolene and her with him. William and Christoph went to pick up Jolene only to find The Centre’s sweepers moving in on her. William didn’t hesitate to go in after her but in the process Christoph took a bullet aimed for William.

William could still hear the cries of Jolene as she screamed over Christoph’s body, while he pulled her off and left his body. Jolene hated him for only a few months before she admitted it wasn’t William’s fault Christoph had died but rather The Centre’s. After her revelation, she started calling him Will and despite his protest she wouldn’t stop. He eventually gave in to her shortening of his name and they became good friends. It was another year before he realized just how much he’d come to love her and then several more trying to overcome obstacles that prevented them from being together. But in July they finally got married. Kristina was the maid of honor. Michael was the best man. Ryan was… there. Natasha paid for the whole thing which was unnecessary but she did it anyway. William’s father was even there, which was strange but his father was very happy for him. Jolene’s parents weren’t there, of course, so Natasha acted the part of the proud mother. William actually believed she wasn’t acting. Natasha seemed to think of them as her family, which really didn’t both him because anyone of them would have laid down their lives to save each other… they were a family.

William’s biggest concern was Natasha and his father talking. Apparently, his father realized Natasha was William’s “boss” and wanted to know what his son was up to. Natasha smiled at his father and replied. “Helping people who need him.” His father wasn’t content with the response but he let the subject go. Someday William would explain.

Jolene walked out of her office and into the main infirmary. “Will!” She exclaimed as she crossed the room quickly and wrapped her arms around his neck. “My love.” She kissed him passionately.

William’s arms wrapped around his beautiful bride and he returned her kiss with enthusiasm. As soon as the kiss broke he realized he’d picked her up off her feet. He set her down gently. “I wanted to see how you were.”

Jolene had turned to go back to her task when she stopped in her tracks. “Where are you going?”

“Hm?” He acted as if he hadn’t heard her and was more interested in what she was working on.

“You’re going on a mission. You only ever drop everything to see what I’m doing when you’re about to leave on a dangerous mission.” The pitch of her voice rose as she started to panic. “Tell me, Will.” Her voice went hard.

William immediately gave into her. He wasn’t about to end up in the dog house over a mission. He just hated that she always got so upset about his job. She’d never worried so much before they became involved. “It is not as dangerous as you assume. I have to do a bit of reconnaissance on someone The Centre is trying to keep quiet. I’m not yet sure of the identity of the person, only that they seem to think their important enough to start wiping files at different annexes we’ve already infiltrated. I promise to be careful.”

Jolene let out the breath she’d been holding. “All right. I know what we do is important and you’re good at your job. I know. I know.” She crossed the space between them again and pulled him close to her. “Come back to me.”

William smiled at her and then gave her a quick kiss. “Always my objective.” He kissed her again and then quickly left her to her work.

Oakfield, Maryland, February 1, 1997

Jarod had just stopped the Fax Bomber who was really Daniel Carlson, a bomb squad officer, who was planting bombs and then defusing them for the glory. Now he was on to helping a death row inmate receive justice. As he took out everything he’d shoved into this pack and placed it around his room he stopped as a card drifted to the floor at his feet.

Jarod set his pez dispensers and files on the bed and grabbed the card from the floor. The embossed numbers seemed to call to him. Kristina had seemed pleasant enough. She didn’t seem to want to harm him or even force him to call them. She just gave him the option to do so whenever he felt ready to. He could wait until the new millennium if he wanted but something nagged at him to call now.

Jarod went to his computer and set up all the routings. He didn’t want it to be traceable. He then dialed the number. The line clicked over to a messaging system with no message or prompt of any kind. Anyone who got the number by mistake would have no way of knowing what they’d reached which was fine. Even people against The Centre needed to lay low. “Um…” What had Kristina said? ‘Name,’ “This is Jarod.” ‘And location.’ He instantly felt wrong about giving up his location. He severed the connection quickly.

Michael In Motion

Michael sat at his desk working over what William had brought back from his last scouting mission. The Centre was definitely trying to keep something quiet and he would make sure it was exposed. He wasn’t going to let The Centre hide anything. He still searched for Lily which they’d managed to hide from him all these years. He’s instant attachment to her all those years ago was something that kept him going.

Michael computer blinked as a message came into the access numbers voicemail system. His eyebrow rose as he accessed the information. “This is Jarod…” There was a pause and then the line went dead. Jarod had hung up. Michael knew he was having second thoughts about contacting them and Michael was determined to prevent that from keeping them from Jarod. He was an essential piece in their fight against The Centre. They needed to make contact.

Michael saved the message to the computer and deleted it from the voicemail system. He rose and headed out of his office and down the hallway where he walked into Natasha’s office. “Jarod called in. He seemed hesitant but I’m going to track him and make contact.” Michael didn’t wait for her response. He closed her door and continued out into the foyer where he grabbed his jacket and headed out. If he planned to find Jarod he would go to the Hoffman Foundation offices and use the tracking software there.

Hoffman Foundation

Michael walked into The Brain of the Hoffman Foundation. Many who worked for the foundation called it The Brain only because it was the source of everything at the foundation. All computers were jacked into the main system which resided on the top floor of the Hoffman building. Gaining access to that part of the building was next to impossible, which was just the way Michael wanted it. There were no windows, despite the appearance of some from the outside. The walls were literally feet thick of steel to keep everyone out that shouldn’t be there and to keep anyone who was supposed to be there in. Only two people worked up there and Michael knew both of them. They actually lived in the building on the top floor. Both operatives had access to a chopper and often went off site to stay at one of their houses. Everyone else in the building worked for the cover foundation which had a good cause but wasn’t the major goal.

Michael closed the giant security door behind him and crossed the scanners which could literally stun him if he weren’t permitted to be there. Tyson and Elizabeth both met him at the other end of the security corridor. “Michael nice to see you.” Tyson nodded to him.

“And you.” Michael nodded to both of them. “As I told you on the phone. I need to trace a call that came into the voice system approximately one hour ago.”

“You know how it’s done.” Elizabeth gestured for him to go to the system and start his work.

Michael nodded to her and went to the system. It was a little over three hours later when he rose from the station and went to find Tyson and Elizabeth again. “I found what I needed. See you both soon.”

“See ya.” They both called after him. They were busy dealing with other situations and he wasn’t about to bother them. He turned and headed out of the brain the only way he could… the same way he’d come.


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