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 7th, 3518 CE: The Academy
“Today’s lesson is on the law that you will be upholding as Agents.” A collective groan went around the classroom at the lecturer’s words. Theodore didn’t know why. It was better than being punched around in the training room.
He looked over his shoulder. Matthew sat in the farthest row, earphones in his ears. He seemed determined not to do well in class. Theodore was determined to make sure his friend didn’t get himself kicked out. He turned his attention back to the lecturer and caught the last few words of the man’s question. “-punishment for not following the laws regarding childbirth?”
Not one person raised their hand. They all the knew the law. They had grown up in its shadow. Theodore had seen it carried out mercilessly. He raised his hand. “The punishment for having a child without prior permission from the government results in the child’s death upon discovery if the child is under 10 years of age, and the parents’ death if the child is over 10 years of age.”
“Perfectly memorised, trainee.” The lecturer gave him an approving smile. “And do you know how soon the death has to be carried out?”
“Instantly,” he replied, wishing now that he had not spoken up at all.
The lecturer let him be after that, satisfied that he knew everything he was supposed to. The lecture went on, and Theodore made notes without paying real attention to what was being said. He was after justice and revenge, but killing innocents was not something his conscience could stomach yet.
The sharp announcement that declared they were dismissed for the day could not have come at a better time. Theodore was going to go back to his room without dinner when he found Matthew blocking his path.
“I hope you’re here to apologize for leaving me stranded on the roof without a zipline to come back down,” he tried to joke.
“Theo, I have to show you something.” Matthew looked so earnest that Theodore didn’t have the heart to refuse.
“What is it?” he asked. “I was going to catch an early night. They said we’re going to start handling guns tomorrow. It hasn’t even been a week.”
“It’s to weed out the weak candidates.” Matthew started to lead the way to wherever he wanted to go. “They’re trying to scare people off, the ones who don’t have the stomach to do what’s necessary. Are you sure you do?”
Theodore glared fiercely. He hadn’t worked so hard for nothing. “Of course,” he said firmly. “An Agent is what I want to be. I don’t care what you or anyone else thinks. An Agent is what I will be.”
Matthew smirked at him over his shoulder. “The determination will see you through training at least.” He stopped in front of a closed door and entered a code into the keypad on the wall outside.
The door slid open a moment later to reveal the largest archive Theodore had ever seen in his life. Data pads lined every single shelf, and there was a single laptop in the center which probably housed the cataloguing system.
“This is the biggest record in the country right now. I found out the code because I saw my father right it down after a phone call. We can look up anything we want to here and we’ll know the truth.” His eyes gleamed with excitement.
Theodore found the opportunity intriguing. There was so much he could look for to help him find what he wanted. But he wasn’t ready yet. If he found out now who had killed his parents, he would be able to do nothing with that information. It was best to wait a bit longer. “We shouldn’t be here.”
Matthew glared at him. “You’re no fun,” he said. “There’s a world of information at your disposal here Theo. Are you trying to tell me you don’t want to look for anything?”
Theodore had quite a few things, and people, that he wanted to search for. He had only known Matthew two days though, and that wasn’t enough to talk about his life story. “No,” he lied. “I don’t want to look for anything. We should get out of here before someone comes looking. You might be the Director’s son, but not all of us got in here because of our father’s connections.”
Hurt flashed in Matthew’s eyes, and he clenched his jaw. “Not all of us think so little of our friends either.”
It was a bad comeback and Theodore hated that his friend- because he did think of Matthew as that- was hurt enough that he lost his cheerful sarcasm.
“I’ll leave?” He was good at this, at pushing away friends and ruining what he had with them. Sometimes, he wished he wasn’t. “You can come back whenever.”
Matthew ignored him entirely. Theodore decided to take that as a yes, but he heard the soft echo of his friend’s words as he stepped out of the room. “I’ll find out all about you too, Theodore Finch.”
Theodore couldn’t tell if it was meant in a joking way or a serious one. He wouldn’t be baited to stay though. “Try your worst.”
September 15th, 3518 CE: The Academy
Theodore couldn’t sleep. It was too hot with the blanket and too cold without it, the worst kind of weather. He reached under his bed for the zipline he had nicked from the training room earlier that week and made his way outside.
The porch roof was colder at night, and Theodore knew he wouldn’t be out for long. In fact, he was ready to go back inside and spend the rest of the night catching up on classwork when an unwelcome figure jumped up onto the porch roof beside him.
“I didn’t think that you’d be here this late.” Matthew stood awkwardly on the edge of the roof. “I should go?”
Theodore shook his head. “I should go, it’s your place not mine. You can stay here. I’ll go.”
“Are we going to avoid each other forever then?” asked Matthew, sitting down and swinging his legs over the side of the roof.
Theodore was good at avoiding others, but he had a feeling that Matthew wouldn’t give up so easily. “I suppose it’s too late for that now.” He sat back down, swinging his legs over the edge as well.
“So, I looked you up,” Matthew announced, not sounding like he regretted it at all. “I’m sorry about your parents.”
“I’ll find out who killed them,” Theodore replied. It was more important to focus on that. He’d have peace then. “What else did you find?”
Theodore couldn’t resist hoping that those massive archives contained something more than what he already knew.
Matthew shrugged. “Nothing important. Name of the orphanage where you lived, address of your parent’s former lab. Why don’t you own the lab? You’re eighteen.”
“They didn’t leave it to me,” Theodore said bitterly. “I was ten when it happened. I guess they thought they were safe. It’s government property now, I have no claim to it.”
Matthew didn’t offer any consolation. “The laws are messed up,” he said instead. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a flash drive. “They have a file on me. This is it.”
Theodore recognized a peace offering when he saw one. His foolish pride had cost him a friend before, and he wasn’t going to lose one now.
“I don’t need the file,” he said, pushing it back into Matthew’s hand. “Information about everyone’s always going to be right in front of us. I think getting to know people is better than reading about them, yeah?”
Matthew pocketed the drive with a grin. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I know I’m an idiot sometimes, but I’ve got your back.”
“I’ve got yours too,” Theodore promised, and then left Matthew sitting alone on the roof. Given how much the Academy already wanted from them, Theodore had the feeling that having a friend would be the only thing that’d get him through the next four years.