Jay stared at Sean, stunned. “Did you just say what I thought you just said?”
“Look for yourself,” Sean mumbled. He was looking straight ahead and hadn’t moved. He looked like he’d just witnessed an accident—or been in one himself.
The dwarf gently picked up the papers and opened them. As he reached the third in the stack of four, he whistled softly. “Drek...I was hoping maybe you were wrong, but this about clinches it, doesn’t it?” He kept his voice soft, unwilling to intrude on his friend’s shock. Silently he spread out the paper on the table, folding out the creases.
“My birth certificate,” Sean whispered.
Jay tilted his head. “But—haven’t you seen your birth certificate before? Didn’t you need it to—I don’t know—get into school and sports and stuff?”
Sean picked up the document and stared at it. “I’ve seen a birth certificate,” he said. “Electronically, I mean. I’ve never seen one on paper. I didn’t think they did that anymore.” He wasn’t even seeing the words or the two tiny holographic images on the sheet—his mind wasn’t functioning that rationally.
“Could it be a fake?” Jay got up and came over to the other side of the table, peering at the certificate. “Have you ever heard of these people...uh...Juliana Harvath and Terry Symonz? What kind of name is Symonz, anyway? Maybe the whole thing’s a joke.”
Sean shook his head. Even amidst the shock of this new discovery following so closely behind the tragedy of his parents’ (or maybe not his parents’) deaths, a tiny finger of understanding was scratching gently at the back of his head. “I don’t think it’s a fake,” he said. His voice still sounded numb in his ears.
“You know these people?”
Sean shook his head. He leaned in closer, examining the two faces in the holograms. They were institutional-style holos, the kind that never made anyone look good, and showed a woman in her early 30s with strong features, green eyes, and short white-blond hair, and a man perhaps a little younger with darker blond hair, the purposeful look of a predator, and ice-blue cybereyes fashioned to look like cats’ eyes. “I don’t know them...but look at the woman, especially. Juliana.”
Jay did as directed, then looked at Sean’s face. “You look like her,” he said reluctantly. “But it’s easy to fake pics like that. I could do it—”
“But why?” Sean demanded almost angrily. “Mom and Dad didn’t expect to be in that plane crash. They didn’t expect me to find this stuff. They hid it away for a reason! Why would they possibly want to fake my birth certificate?” The exclamation took the fire out of him and he lowered his head, burying it in his hands so his spiky hair stuck out between his fingers. “I don’t know what to do. The scary thing is, things are starting to make sense.”
“What do you mean, make sense?” Jay asked. He glanced at the other papers, which were thick with legalese. They did indeed seem to pertain to the adoption of a baby.
Sean took a deep breath without looking up. “Ever since I was a little kid, I never felt—quite right. I don’t even know how to explain it. Mom and Dad were always good to me, they loved me—I know that. But I always sort of wondered how I could have ended up as their child. You know what I mean?”
“No,” Jay said frankly. “But don’t let that stop you.”
Again Sean sighed, this time meeting his friend’s eyes. “What I mean is that Mom and Dad were...they fit in. They were successful in their jobs and respected in the community and they never did anything to step outside the lines. They followed the script, and were happy to do it. But me—ever since I was a kid I’ve been getting into trouble.”
Jay smiled at that. He remembered—most of the time Sean had dragged him along on his adventures: everything from climbing to the top of the tallest building in town (Jay stayed on the ground for that one) to hopping freight trains to distant cities to shoplifting items and then sneaking them back into the store to return them to running off at night to hang out with friends in the ork and troll parts of town—Sean had been a restless thrillseeker ever since Jay had known him. There was never anything malicious about it and his stunts were usually only at worst borderline illegal, but he seemed driven by the compulsion to constantly test himself and his limits. It was a trait very different from those of his staid, stable parents. “Yeah,” he said wryly. “I know all about that.”
Sean got up and paced the kitchen, still holding the birth certificate. “I never really thought about it consciously until now, but—I guess I always kind of wondered how parents like Mom and Dad could have ended up with a kid like me. That’s what I mean.” He stopped in front of Jay. “Hey, do you mind if I skip that trid tonight? I’ve got some things to think about.”
Jay nodded slowly. “You want me to stick around?”
“No...I think I just want to be alone right now, if that’s okay. And Jay?”
“Don’t tell anybody about this, okay? Promise.”
Jay gave him a look. “Come on, Hunter. You know me better than that.”
Sean nodded soberly. “Yeah, I do. Sorry. I’m just—a little preoccupied right now, you know?”
The dwarf gathered up his gear and gave his friend a look that might have been sympathy. “Can’t imagine why.” Sean followed him out and he paused at the front door. “Take care of yourself, Hunter, okay? And call me if you need me to look into anything for you.” He tapped his datajack.
“Thanks. I might just do that.”
After Jay left, Sean sent the next hour sitting nearly motionless at the kitchen table, poring over the four sheets of paper that had once again turned his life upside-down just when he thought he’d started getting it back in order again. Three of them were mostly legal boilerplate pertaining to adoption, or at least that was the conclusion Sean came to as his eyes glazed over trying to make sense of the lawyer-speak. The birth certificate occupied most of his attention: he was becoming more convinced by the minute that it was genuine. Terry Symonz and Juliana Harvath’s dates of birth showed that he would have been thirty and she thirty-three when Sean was born; the birthdate was right: July 27, 2060. It listed both of their occupations as “freelance security consultant.”
The place of birth was, oddly, Seattle.
Sean’s eyes narrowed. Seattle? It was strange, wasn’t it, to bring a baby all the way from one coast to the other for an adoption? He supposed people adopted babies from all over the world, but still—
There were a few curious omissions from the certificate and the other papers, such as the name of the hospital where the baby was born, the attending physician, and the SIN assignment. Sean knew that babies were assigned SINs at birth, so it should have been on here somewhere. It wasn’t. “Why didn’t you tell me...?” he whispered to nobody, staring at the two small faces and then at one of the holos of his parents on the hallway wall outside the kitchen.
Without thinking, he snatched up the phone and punched in a number. When the party at the other end answered, he demanded, “Why didn’t anybody tell me?”
Gretchen Peck came over quickly after that, and to Sean’s shock she was every bit as surprised as he was. She examined the papers he showed her, her brow creasing with concentration. She looked up at Sean, shaking her head. “I didn’t have anything to do with these papers, Sean. I give you my word. If you’re adopted, I didn’t know about it. I don’t think anybody in town did.”
“This is crazy,” Sean yelled, once again pacing. “Are you telling me they adopted me in secret? How can somebody just show up with a baby and nobody notices they weren’t expecting?”
Ms. Peck watched Sean pace, glancing from the papers to the boy. “I think I can help you with that, at least. You see, I didn’t meet your parents until they moved here to Bainbridge. That was almost eighteen years ago. They arrived here and bought this house. At the time, they had a baby perhaps two or three months old at the most.”
Sean stared. “You mean...they showed up here with me as a baby? They were new in town?”
The lawyer nodded. “They settled in quickly, got involved in the community, and I guess it just seemed to everyone after awhile that they’d been here forever. Especially considering how often people move around. But no, they showed up about the same time you did.”
“Do—do you know where they came from?” Sean came back over and perched on the arm of the couch. “Could it have been Seattle?”
“I don’t think so,” she told him ruefully. “They claim they were from somewhere in upstate New York. Nobody checked—nobody thought to—but the accents were right.”
“So...” Sean paused, looking out the big picture window at the front of the house. The sky was darkening to a deep blue, birds calling to each other from the trees. “You think that they might have moved here to hide the fact that they adopted a baby instead of had one?”
“It’s possible,” Ms. Peck agreed. “Your mother, especially, loved children—I always wondered why she never had any others, but it wasn’t my business so I never asked. Perhaps she was unable to, and was ashamed about it. Or perhaps your father was unable.” She shrugged. “It’s all speculation now, of course.”
Sean shook his head in confusion. “I just don’t understand. They didn’t even mention it in the will. Were they just planning to let me go through the rest of my life without knowing?” His voice sounded more bitter than he’d wanted it to.
“I don’t know, Sean,” Ms. Peck said gently. “I can do some looking into it if you like, but after all this time I don’t know what I’ll be able to turn up. I will tell you one thing, though.” She held up the papers. “These aren’t standard adoption papers.”
Sean turned back around to face her. “What? Why not?”
“The language is...different than a standard adoption document. Certain bits of information that should be here are missing, such as the name of the agency. And you’ve already noticed that the SIN and the hospital and physician names are missing. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that this adoption was carried out with some degree of secrecy. It was certainly never registered with the authorities, or it would have come out after your parents’ deaths.”
Silence hung in the air for several seconds. When Sean finally spoke he didn’t want to ask, but he had to know: “Why...might they have done the adoption in secret?”
Ms. Peck looked uncomfortable. “I don’t think it would be right to speculate on that, Sean. Your parents—”
“—aren’t my parents,” he finished. “I want to know, Ms. Peck. It’s my right to know. In a week I’ll be eighteen—an adult. I have a right to know who was messing around with my life.” He paused and when the lawyer didn’t speak, he continued: “Let’s see. It could have been that Mom or Dad couldn’t have kids and were embarrassed about it, like you said. It doesn’t sound like I was kidnapped or anything, ‘cause if that was true we wouldn’t have the birth certificate—” He looked challengingly at Ms. Peck, as if inviting her to step in at any moment.
She sighed. “I’m sure it’s nothing like that, Sean. I don’t want to speculate, but if you force me to—I’d say that the adoption itself was illegal. As in, one or both of your natural parents didn’t have SINs, so they couldn’t go through the proper legal channels.”
Sean’s eyes widened. “You mean they’re criminals? Illegals?”
“I don’t know, Sean. It’s possible. It seems the most likely scenario. There are a lot of people without SINs out there.”
He nodded slowly. “Yeah...maybe that is it.” He leaned back against the soft couch, lounging perfectly but precariously balanced on the arm. “I’ll tell you this, though—I’m going to find ‘em. If they’re still alive, I’m going to find ‘em.”
Ms. Peck looked sober. “I can’t tell you what to do, Sean—not after you turn eighteen, anyway. But I can tell you I don’t advise it. You could be leaving yourself open for disappointment at best, and serious danger at worst. Remember, many people who don’t have SINs don’t have them for a reason—because they don’t want to be found.”
Sean bowed his head. “I appreciate the advice, Ms. Peck. But my parents—my adopted parents—did this for a reason too, and I want to find out why. And if my real parents are still alive, I want to find out why they gave me up.”
The lawyer nodded wearily as if she knew this would be his answer. “I understand your need to do this, Sean. I hope you’ll understand that I, in all good conscience, can’t help you. I can wish you luck and hope for the best, but that’s all.” She rose and picked up her leather briefcase. “But remember—for another week you’re still under my care, so keep that in mind before you do anything rash.”
“I promise.” Sean didn’t even hear himself saying the words. As he showed Ms. Peck out the door, he was already making plans.
Copyright ©2001, 2002 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of Wizkids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.