3500 CE: Finch Laboratories
Theodore Finch could not sleep. He had been restless all day, flitting from room to room in the laboratory downstairs until his mother had sent him off to bed with a mild scolding. He tossed and turned for a few moments, but when sleep simply would not come, the ten-year-old slipped out of bed to go check if his parents were awake.
He was quite sure that they were. They worked all night sometimes. Theodore, who loved science and was good at it too, had resolved that when he inherited the lab, he would make sure that the working hours were reasonable.
The hallway between his bedroom and his parents’ was dark, but Theodore didn’t need the light, and so he quickly ran across to his parents’ door, pushing it open. Even in the dark, he could make out that they were both fast asleep.
When he received no immediate answer, he reached for the light switch and flicked it on. He wasn’t sure whether to scream or to cry. The darkness hadn’t revealed the blood that soaked the mattress a dark red. It hadn’t shown the stab wounds on his parents’ bodies. He stumbled forwards, too scared to touch either of them, but also too scared to leave.
His mind had stopped working. He tried to think. This was an emergency. What was he supposed to do during emergencies? He took a few deep breaths, and almost choked on the smell of blood. He reached for his mothers’ mobile, which lay on her nightstand, and called 1001.
“This is Agent Headquarters, what is your emergency?”
The mechanical voice at the other end of the line was no comfort for Theodore. “My parents are d-dead,” he stammered out. “I just found their bodies, in their room. You have to help me, I don’t know what to do.”
“You don’t have to worry, kid.” At least the voice sounded more human now. “Give me your address, and help will reach you in under a minute.”
“189, 110th Street, it’s the Finch Laboratories building. There’s so much blood, you have to come quickly!” Theodore did not want to panic, but this… the entire situation was too much for him to think through calmly.
“Breathe kid,” said the operator’s voice. “If you breathe slowly and calmly you’ll feel better. Can you do that?”
Theodore tried to do as the operator asked. His mum had told him that they knew what they were doing. These instructions seemed impossible to follow though, and when the Agents burst through the door a minute later, they found Theodore Finch unconscious on the floor, next to the corpses of his parents.
The Fletcher House
Genevieve Fletcher was eavesdropping on her parents once again. She knew that it was a bad thing to do, but she knew that she would be able to hear them through the walls when they started shouting, which she knew they would eventually, so why not simply go listen outside their door?
“Annette, don’t be ridiculous, this is a good opportunity. Those don’t come often, and we should take it. It’ll be good for Genevieve too.”
“You’re an idiot if you think that this is a good opportunity Harrison,” her mother retorted. “Government work is only calling trouble upon your head. This isn’t just work anyway, this is stealing livelihoods!”
“They’re asking me to take over an abandoned building and for us to move neighborhoods Annette.” Her father was clearly losing his patience. “An abandoned building. Which means that whoever was in that building isn’t there any longer.”
“And where do you think they would go, huh?” her mother demanded. “But it’s clear that your mind about all this was made up before you even bothered to tell me about it. I’m going out, don’t bother waiting up.”
Genevieve scuttled away from the door hurriedly, jumping under the blankets right at the same time as Annette opened the door. “Evie, love, it’s not good manners to listen through doors,” she scolded.
“Sorry mama, but you were going to yell again,” said Evie, staring up at her mother with an innocent smile. “I just wanted to listen before that happened.”
“Go to sleep, I’ll see you in the morning,” Annette said, leaning forward to kiss her daughter’s forehead. “Goodnight, love.”
“Goodnight, mama,” she replied, snuggling under blankets and closing her eyes.
A few hours later, it was her father who shook her awake. “Evie, there’s terrible news love. It’s your mum. Someone hit her car when she was out last night, and they found the body.”
Evie did not want to believe him, but the pain in his eyes and the tears on his cheeks were real. Her mother was gone. The thought of that was so incomprehensible that she slipped into unconsciousness and that was how her father carried her out of their house to hand over to her aunt to leave in her care.
September 5th, 3518 CE: The Academy
Theodore tried to duck the punch that was thrown his way, but it hit him square in the face. He cursed and stumbled away, clutching his bleeding nose.
“To the infirmary with you Trainee Finch!” yelled the supervisor from the box where he stood. “You have the rest of the day off, but I expect you to report for class tomorrow morning. That was a shoddy job.”
“Of course, it was,” Theodore grumbled. The trainee who had punched him stood in the center of the training room looking a little bit lost. He did not seem to know what to do now that his opponent had been ordered out of the room.
Theodore chuckled, but that only made more blood spurt out of his nose. He groaned in pain and quickened his steps in the direction of the infirmary.
The nurse tutted. “You’re lucky that it isn’t broken,” she scolded. “I’m going to bandage it, and then you go rest for what’s left of the day. You got that?”
Theodore did not nod because he was scared that it would just cause more blood to spill out. He gave her a thumbs up, and tried to smile, but he did not think he succeeded.
She made him swallow a painkiller and sent him on his way after she bandaged him up. Theodore didn’t want to spend the rest of the day sleeping. Free time had been rare in the two days he had spent at the Academy so far, and he wasn’t going to waste the opportunity he had been given.
The quadrangle between the residences and the training building was empty. The air was so fresh outside, so unlike the murky city air on which Theodore had grown up. The nearest exit was three storeys down, and he was out of breath by the time he stepped outside.
“You aren’t supposed to be out here at this time of the day.” Theodore looked up towards the sound of the voice. A trainee sat on top of the porch roof, looking down at Theodore.
Theodore shaded his eyes against the sun and glared at the stranger. “What the bloody hell are you doing up there?” he asked. “How did you even get up there?”
“Zipline,” the boy replied, “Catch it.”
Theodore’s reflexes kicked in when a black handheld contraption was thrown at him, and he managed to catch it before it hit the ground. The zipline was the standard one that they had been practicing with during training, and so he had no problem joining the other boy on his perch.
He pulled the zipline back in and handed it to the boy. “If we’re not supposed to be out here, then what are you doing up here?”
“Seeing how far I can bend the rules before my father loses his patience with me,” the boy replied cheerfully. “I’m Matthew Parker, who are you?”
Parker. Theodore knew the Director of the Agency was called Director Parker. “I’m Theodore Finch,” he replied, his words slightly distorted by his injured nose. “You’re the Director’s son?”
Theodore noticed that Matthew’s jaw clenched the moment his father was mentioned and some of his cheery demeanor vanished. He nodded. “I am. What about you Theo? Who’s son are you?”
Theodore started slightly at the nickname, and then shook his head. “No one important.” A lie that he had practiced in front of the mirror too many times to count. “If someone catches us up here how much trouble will we get into?”
Matthew’s smile returned. “I’ll keep you out of trouble if you don’t tell anyone that this is a good spot to escape class. No one thinks to check up here, so if you see or hear people all you need to do is lie flat and hope they go away.”
“And what if someone from one of the classes right by the windows decides to look down?” Theodore asked. “What do you do then?”
Matthew froze halfway through his laughter. “I didn’t think of that,” he admitted. “You’re a smart one, Theo. I’ll come up with something. What happened to your nose?”
Theodore stared at Matthew blankly for a few moments, not quite understanding how the conversation had jumped from hiding spots for skipping class to his nose. “Training. I’m quick, but not quick enough apparently.”
“That usually happens on the first few days to a lot of people,” Matthew informed. “I’ve spent the first two weeks of September here for the past few years, and it’s quite funny to see all these trainees who expected glorious things walk around with their noses half broken.”
“Not as much fun for them, I bet,” said Theodore darkly. “So, do you know hard the training gets? If your father is the Director then you must have some idea?”
Matthew’s jaw clenched again, an obvious telling sign that he wanted to avoid the subject, but he nodded. “It gets harder as you go on. Especially if you’re good and get yourself noticed. It’s a competitive job to get into. The best rise to the top.”
“I’ll be one of the best,” said Theodore confidently. He had to be, if he wanted to accomplish what he had set his mind to when he had found his parents’ corpses on that night so many years ago.
Matthew shrugged. “I’m sure you will be. I’m not so sure it’s going to be worth it.”
Before Theodore could utter even a word of protest in answer, Matthew dived and rolled right off the porch roof, waving at Theodore and leaving him sitting alone.
Theodore looked at the spot where Matthew had been sitting and saw that he had taken the zipline with him. Idiot.
September 10th, 3519 CE: The Academy
It had been a whole year of hell. Theodore had never thought that the path he had chosen was an easy one, but he hadn’t realized it would be quite so hard. He excelled at studying, but when it came to field exercises, the ruthlessness that was expected of them took a lot out of him and left him wondering if this was really what he wanted.
Matthew tried to fail dismally at everything, but Theodore thought that his friend was naturally smart, because he wasn’t very good at failing. His father might have had something to do with that, but Theodore did not dare to discuss that connection with Matthew. The first time his friend even brought up the Director was when Theodore found Matthew on the porch roof with a bloody nose.
“What did you do?” asked Theodore. He reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and held it out. “We need to get you to the nurse.”
“No need.” Matthew’s voice was slightly garbled by his injury. “I’ll be fine. Just a little tiff with one of the trainers. I guess the man doesn’t like dad very much. What you can’t take out on the Director, you take out on his son.”
That sounded horrific, the sort of horror that Theodore didn’t want to acknowledge existed at the Academy. “Do you tell him?” he asked.
Matthew scoffed, and that sent blood spurting out of his nose. “I don’t bother,” he said. “Let him think that I get myself into trouble. Nothing gets his attention faster.”
He pressed the handkerchief to his nose, and the white cloth was instantly soaked with blood. “Don’t look so glum Theo, I’m fine.”
Theodore didn’t know how not to look glum about the entire thing. If a broken nose was the only way to get his father’s attention, then Theodore decided that he did not envy Matthew his family connections. “Does he not know you are at the top of every programming class we have?”
“He expects nothing less,” said Matthew, stuffing the bloody handkerchief into his pocket. It hadn’t done much to help his face. He was quiet for a moment- all seriousness and none of his usual cheerful sarcasm- and then he asked, “Can I introduce you to him?”
Theodore was speechless for a moment. “You want to introduce us? Why? I’m not exactly the best trainee there is.”
Matthew scoffed again and then groaned at the fresh spurt of blood. “When was the last time you looked at our scores in any of the science classes? Your field score is in the top five too. Don’t underestimate yourself.” Then he grinned. “don’t overestimate yourself either, I just want you there so that he can question you and not me.”
Theodore laughed. He was not offended, glad to see that his friend seemed to be regaining some of his humor. “I’ll come with you. Just let me know when.”
September 15th, 3519 CE: The Director’s House
Theodore tugged at his tie for the fifteenth time in ten minutes. This sort of life was not one he would ever be comfortable with. His discomfort had cost him once, but he would not let it do so again.
“How badly is your father going to interrogate me?” he asked Matthew. “Or actually how badly is he going to interrogate you? I don’t want to sit through that.”
Matthew looked thoroughly at ease, but Theodore could tell that he was hiding a nervous edge. “I don’t plan on being questioned. This’ll be over quicker than you’d think. Be ready to hightail out of here on my heels.”
Theodore followed Matthew into the house without a word. The Director was there to greet them at the door. He was a middle-aged man who looked far younger than Theodore knew he was. “Son, Trainee Finch.”
“His name’s Theo,” Matthew said coldly. “Where is dinner?”
“I thought we might have a drink first,” the Director suggested. “Of course, I trust that you will not go announce that I endorse underage drinking occasionally.”
“I think I’ll pass, sir,” said Theodore politely. He wasn’t going to antagonize the Director, who held the reins to his future career, but he wasn’t going to be taken advantage of either.
“You know that I don’t,” Matthew replied, staring his father down without blinking.
The tension in the room thickened, if that was even possible anymore. The Director poured himself a glass, accepting that this was not a battle he would win.
“I’ve heard that you are at the top of every science class the Academy offers, Trainee Finch,” the Director said as they ate.
Matthew glared at his father, but Theodore ignored his friend for the moment. “I am,” he confirmed. “It is just something that I am good at. My field work still needs improvement.”
“The science must come naturally to you, given your parentage,” the Director remarked. “You should learn from your friend, son. The Academy needs to produce better Agents to run the system in the future.”
Theodore glanced at his friend out of the corner of his eye. Matthew had an unrecognizable expression on his face, but if Theodore had to guess it was a mixture of envy, hatred and guilt.
“Matthew is actually at the top of some of our code breaking classes,” Theodore informed. He felt the need to prove that he wasn’t here to bask in the Director’s praise.
“A fact that is offset by the amount of time he spends getting into fights with other trainees over trivial things,” the Director replied, indifferent to whatever defense Theodore had to offer.
“Well Matthew is right here in the room, but he doesn’t want to be here any longer. He’ll let you two enjoy your dinner.” Matthew stormed out of the room without another sarcastic word.
Theodore sighed heavily. He had expected this, but not barely five minutes into the conversation. He hadn’t even had a bite of his food yet. “I’d better go make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish.”
He didn’t wait for an answer. The Director could hate him for that if he chose, but Theodore was not so desperate for a career that he would put finding favor above looking for his friend.
He hadn’t always thought of it that way, but the future could fluctuate constantly, and it wasn’t worth losing a friendship over.