Peregrine Falcon Baxter Turns 40
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“The big Four-Oh, huh?”

“Ah, you must be the new one!”

He smiled as the new gate guard handed back his ID badge. For a moment she held it between both their fingers, suspended in the gap between her outpost and the open window of his car.

“Wait, I- I’m sorry, can I ask you something?”

“What’s that?”

“Is this your real name?”

He followed the question with a practiced chuckle.

“Sure is.”

The guard flushed in embarrassment, releasing his card to him and nervously punching a few buttons.

“Ha! Uh, well, happy birthday, Agent Baxter!”

“Yup, thanks.”

The gate rolled open and he had finally arrived onsite.

Agent Peregrine Falcon Baxter had a strange name. Usually he was just called Perry. Today was August 1st, which meant it was his eighth fortieth birthday this year. Coincidentally, it was also his actual birthday. And he wasn’t forty. He was thirty five.

It started after his seizure at training camp when he was 23. The first of every month was always his 40th birthday, according to anyone who spoke to him in person. There were congratulations on a new decade and apologies for forgetting, met for the first few months with various “I’m not 40, I’m 23”’s and “It’s not even my birthday”’s before Perry realized it was easier for everyone if he just smiled and nodded. So he smiled and nodded.

A few rounds through the parking lot confirmed his aching suspicion that the only remaining parking space big enough for his vehicle was right next to the one person who hated said vehicle the most.

Dr. Maxfield stared in unveiled horror at Agent Baxter’s car as it pulled into the space beside his red 1968 Mustang. Perry hated to inconvenience or upset his coworkers, but he also wouldn’t apologize for his choice in cars. His Honda Odyssey was bulky enough to remind him of his mail van. And being always a frugal man, he was proud that he had scored it from his neighbor for 300$ after she regretted her decision to rattle-can it matte black.

Perry dodged Dr. Maxfield apologetically on his way into the facility, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets and watching the ground from under the brim of his baseball cap. But if anything was the real gauntlet of today, it wasn’t the judgemental stares in the parking lot, it was the following journey from one end of the crowded building to the other.

“Hey! Isn’t today your 40th birthday?”

“Happy 40th, Agent.”

“Oh, shit! I totally forgot about your 40th birthday!”

Everyone around him became an unwilling well-wisher. It was standard procedure for the first of the month, routine by this point. And he would never mention it, but part of him wanted recognition for his real, 35th birthday, even though he knew that was a selfish thing to want.

But they couldn’t help it, he knew that. And his effect was, in fact, the entire reason he was here in the first place. Every first, every 40th birthday, he was to report to Site-87, check in with HR, and return to his apartment to twiddle his thumbs until midnight. According to veteran residents of Sloth’s Pit, it didn’t really matter if civilians came under his effect, because they were far too acclimated to weirdness to care, but it was standard protocol. And Perry Baxter was certainly not about to break standard protocol.

He was not the only Foundation employee with this type of… affliction. There are a lot more anomalous people in the world than the numbers would lead you to believe. The vast majority of them would be a waste of resources to properly lock up, so the Foundation did the next best thing to containing them: hiring them.

There was Dr. Hill, who teleported three feet due South every time he sneezed. Miss Burgess, in the cafeteria, whose voice always sounded like it was coming from directly behind you. Researcher Patton, who had to come to work in flip flops because every pair of closed-toed shoes he ever wore turned into a pair of light-up Sketchers with the laces tied together. All lovely people, as delightful as you could expect from folks constantly under a strict set of surveillance rules.

And there was Perry Baxter, who dodged the birthday greetings with forced smiles and nods, and focused heavily on his single-minded goal to reach HR, check in, and leave as soon as possible. He had a cupcake at home that he had bought yesterday. It was tradition to spend his real birthday alone.

There was a loose thread in his jacket pocket that he couldn’t keep himself from pulling. Every time another acquaintance wished him a happy 40th birthday, he felt the string silently pop from the seam. He may have to sew up the pocket again, but better that than snub or snap at a coworker. It wasn’t their fault, after all.

So when the HR office finally came into view, Perry picked up his pace from a shuffle to more of an amble. He knocked, even though he didn’t need to, and pushed the door in slowly with his usual accompanying “Hullo! It’s that day again!” but with noticeably less pep than normal. Ms. Sander breezed across the linoleum with all the adept ease of a woman who rarely left her rolling office chair, stopping perfectly behind the desk in front of him. She pushed a clipboard and a ballpoint pen into his hands, quipping about how she would never have forgotten his birthday (even though she had) and that she would be happy to give him a much-needed haircut, and he thanked her (even though he rather liked his hair the way it was). Perry scribbled his signature onto the same place in the paperwork that he did every month, and stood to leave.

On the back of the door to the HR office, hung up at his perfect eye level, was a flyer.

“DR. SMITH’S BIRTHDAY! COME CELEBRATE IN THE BREAKROOM, TUESDAY, AUGUST 1!”

Perry’s relaxed smile soured to an anxious grimace.

What if he pretended he hadn’t seen it? He could duck out as quickly as he could, feign ignorance to anyone who asked. But what if people did ask? What was he supposed to do then? Lie? He didn’t know Dr. Smith, but what kind of coworker would he be if he didn’t wish one of his peers a happy birthday? Even if it was on his own birthday, which everyone else forgot? But he would have to be in that room, with all those people, all telling him “happy 40th birthday” on his 35th birthday…

The string in his pocket popped another seam, and Perry fought off the words gnawing at the back of his mind; “worst birthday ever.”

It took so much energy not to turn on his heels toward the exit. It took so much willpower to smile back at everyone who smiled at him. It took so much effort to drag himself toward the breakroom. But what was the life of a Minor Anomalous Person than a string of sacrifices made for the good of those around you, a life with your chin up as you gave and gave and gave with no promise of reward other than the preservation of society as it was. Accommodation of everyone else, with none left for yourself.

With a deep breath and a brief hesitation, Perry Baxter pushed open the door.

“HAPPY FOURTIETH BIRTHDAY!”

A handful of his coworkers, most of whom he knew in passing, some of whom were a little anomalous like him, stood under a butcher paper banner reading “Happy 35th Birthday.”

Perry stood like a statue in the doorway, too surprised to do anything other than stare as his acquaintences cut into a grocery-store cake with a garish 35 on the top. They hollered and laughed and poured cheap cider into paper cups and they loudly and confidently wished Perry a very happy 40th birthday. Perry took a cup of cider from a grinning Dr. Hill, who sneezed and teleported backward, and he smiled.

And it wasn’t that Perry’s other smiles were dishonest, it was just that this smile in particular was especially honest.

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