"The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us." – Centauri emperor
One: Picked up off my behind I, hate, my life. Hate it. Stupid, stupid, stupid! And things seemed to be going so great, too!
Nominated for senior class president next year, living it up as Junior prez, football star quarterback, VIP in our rugby and men's soccer league, winning almost every game this year; just got started in Karate, doing fantastic at that; and then it all comes crashing down around my ears.
That stupid, Eric Gardener, thinks he's so great. He was my right hand, my ear to every trouble; he was going to be my roommate at Harvard in two years. That was, if he could get in, I was already being bribed to go by the superintendent. He was everything, my best friend for nine years, and he had to go and screw up my life.
He told everyone at school, the complete and total lie that I had slept with Sienna Craig, when in reality I haven't slept with anyone, let alone that punk. I have in truth, been dating Lisa March for three years, and she'd already asked me to prom, her being a senior. Now, she won't even look at me, let alone hear what I have to say about Eric's lies. Why can no one realize what a jerk he is?
I was a shoe-in to senior president, running for prom king next year wasn't even a question. I was the one guy in school that everyone knew I existed, and wanted to be near me. My match made in haven with lead cheerleader Lisa was just what everyone thought perfection.
I have nothing left. Nothing. No one talks to me, no one listens, and no one even looks at me. I'm now a taboo, or something. There is no girl in school who would go out with me now. No guy who would ask my opinion on anything, anymore.
About a week ago, it got to the point where I couldn't take it. I dropped out.
Now I'm sitting here, on the side of the road, my head in my hands. And here's where the story gets interesting.
"Are you okay?" I look up to find a tall, well-manicured woman, long blonde hair tied back in a tight bun. "You don't look well." She sounded very professional, but with an air of true concern. She carried herself with an air of hurry, as if she was late for something important.
"Umm, I'm alright, I guess." Bullshit. My parents heard the rumors, and got furious with me. When I told them it wasn't true, they got even angrier. They told me not to lie to them, I swore I wasn't, and then they kicked me out. Total overreaction, really, but that was what they did.
She looked me over, contemplating something. "No, you're not alright. Do you have a place to stay?"
"No," I told her honestly, though I couldn't imagine why. "I don't." I guess I just figured I didn't have anything left to lose. I had no roof over my head, nothing to eat for a few days and I think I was just barely starting to get the sniffles from being cold too many nights in a row.
She stood there, watching me for a while. "Then come with me, we'll see if we can't find you a job."
I looked confused, I'm sure, when she pulled me up by the arm and dragged me down the street. I could barely register anything through my confusion, other than she had an amazingly strong grip for her looks. When I asked where we were going she ignored me, continuing to pull me away from the spot I'd been sitting. I would remember that patch of sidewalk forever, even if there was nothing particularly spectacular about it. There may have been some chewed purple gum stuck to the ground a few inches from my butt, but otherwise can't think of anything.
"Here" She sat me down in a chair, in front of a huge cherry wood desk. Behind it was a man who looked about thirty-four, tall, thickly muscled, and extremely sharp in both looks and mind. He wore a crisp pinstripe shirt in two shades of grey. "I have a candidate. I didn't bother to ask him the basics on the street. Go ahead and test him, Kelly."
Kelly? He leaned forward and blinked at me. "What's your name, young man?"
"Richard Gleason?" I offered. I had no idea what this all was. Just that I was tired, hungry and one-hundred percent confused. My eyes wandered slightly, drawn to the incredible blankness of the concrete walls of this tiny concrete room.
"Hmm," Kelly tapped the desk in thought. "A question is not a proper answer when asked your name. Do you not know who you are?"
What? I looked at him again. "Richard Gleason, sir. But in truth, I only know my name. I'm not sure who I am anymore. Things got too complicated, and now I don't know why I'm sitting here, dragged halfway across town by a business woman and getting a lecture in proper-ness by a man named Kelly?" I said honestly. I didn't really care what it would get me into, or about my astounding lack of proper grammar, but I wanted answers.
He stared at me. "I like him, Martha. You can go tell the boss we just might have someone. After some training, of course." The woman who dragged me here, Martha apparently, turned and left, her heels clacking on the hard linoleum floor. Kelly bit his lip in thought. "How old are you?"
"Where do you go to school?"
"West Hestern, I'm… I was a junior." I hesitated. I'd dropped out, I wasn't a junior anymore. I wasn't anything. I hadn't trained it out of myself yet.
That seemed to be the answer he was looking for, or at least something that would suffice. "And you dropped out? Where were you looking to go to college? Not that it matters, but I'm curious."
It didn't matter. I am the most brilliant minds in my high school; I have a full- oh yeah… "Harvard." I answered simple. I didn't need to tell him about the full scholarship for two years.
"Interesting, smart boy. Do you have any athletic training? You look to be in good shape for a future lawyer."
"Actually, I wasn't looking to be a lawyer, I just wanted a good background in law before I became a police officer. And the school practically begged for me, so I decided I would for the two years they'd provide." I sat there, wondering still, what was going on.
"Good, but I still want to know about athletics."
"Football quarterback for four years, soccer for seven years, rugby for two, karate for almost six months, and then my parents- karate for six months." I bit my lip.
"You've kept active, great job. Now, any history of drugs or anything? Any alcohol or marijuana? Anything illegal otherwise?"
"No sir, no drugs or steroids, but I can fight fine without them. Few months ago, I got in a tangle. Broke both his arms, one leg, bloodied his nose and gave him a concussion without a scratch." I reported mechanically. I'd given the damage report before. I just wished I'd killed him…
"Interesting. Sounds impressive, we'll have to test that…" he made a note on the paper in front of him. I only just noticed it was there, things seemed to be spinning less now.
The silence was killing me. "What exactly are you asking me so many questions for? I didn't do anything wrong, did I? Sure, I dropped out of high school and my parents kicked me out for something I didn't do, but I've already been-"
"Shush! I'm not done with you yet." Kelly made a few more notes, and then stood up. "Come, let's get a physical profile. I'll fill you in if you meet the requirements." He opened a nice wooden door behind him, and motioned me through.
I followed him, still confused, but also extremely curious as to what could be behind door number two.
We walked into a large, white room, with mirrors for a ceiling, and a bunch of weight training equipment. Everything looked mechanical, computerized or just too foreign to tell. And everything was so clean.
"Please stand here," Kelly motioned to a scale near the wall. It looked extremely clean, simple and everything, just a small glass plate with a display underneath. I did as he asked. "One-hundred… seventy-three pounds, very good. And here,"
He ended up putting me through almost twenty different physical tests, thirty or more reflex tests, and at least a dozen routines on courage and my ability to protect a certain object or target. After that, in came another woman.
This woman was short, well to do and quaint. She took my pulse, measured my breathing, checked my lungs, arms, everything. When she was done, she looked somewhat amazed, and reported a wonderful physique. "If I was into that, I might want you for myself, but as it is I'm not in need of your services. Now, let's find you some nicer clothes, these don't fit you at all." And she pulled me into yet another room.
After much argument, blushing and rejection of offers, I walked out into a large lobby-like area, full of bustling people, in a black suit. I wasn't quite sure why the formal (I didn't like it one bit) but I didn't ask any more questions. I got the feeling I wasn't going to get any answers.
I followed Kelly uncomfortably up a staircase and into an elevator. Up and up and up again, going to the thirty-ninth floor from the second. I didn't much mind an elevator, but the company wasn't too pleasing, and the music was horrible. Sounded like something my parents would have listened to in high school.
When we reached our destination, the doors opened and I gasped. What a fantastic view! You could see the whole damn city from up here, and the walls were all windows!
At the far end of the room, was another large, wooden desk, (this one was ebony) and behind it yet another man in dashing clothing. This man didn't look nearly as nice as Kelly did. He was much older, possibly in his forties, fifties, and his hair was halfway to grey. His eyes were sharp, though, extremely focused and it gave him an eerie, almost immortal look.
"Aah, Kelly!" The man stood, opening his arms and smiling warmly. "What have you brought me today?" He looked me up and down, looking quite cynical while at the same time friendly. "What is your name, son?"
"Gleason. Richard Gleason." I told him.
"Here is his report on the physical and mental evaluations. Look them over and you'll find he's quite a satisfactory catch. Martha deserves a bonus sometime soon for this one." Kelly handed a familiar clipboard to the man, the one I'd seen all day during the tests.
"Thank you, Kelly. You may sit, Richard." The older man waved at a chair near one large window and went back to sit down. "Kelly, why don't you get a drink or a meal for our guest?"
"Yes, sir. Is there anything in particular you would like, Richard?" Kelly asked me.
"No, just a glass of water and some answers."
Kelly left without another word, bowing to the older man as the doors to the elevator closed.
I gazed around the room in curiosity. There wasn't much, a few shelves, a few tables and some interesting chairs. The room looked to be a whole floor in total, just wrapped around a large square of support through the center, where the elevator and perhaps a bathroom were located.
"So, Richard," I jumped, startled as the old man's voice interrupted my analysis of a photo on one wall on the inside, a few kids playing in a sand box. "Come over here,"
Kelly came in just then, set two glasses of water on the desk, and then bowed again before leaving.
"Sir," I began, but didn't know if I should continue or not.
"Hmm? Oh, go ahead, speak." He looked kind, old and aged, experienced and busy, but kind. Warm, too. He was warm.
"If I may, what is your name?" I didn't just want to refer to him as 'the old man' forever. He was too nice for that.
He blinked, and then laughed. "Hah! I'm so very sorry! I should have introduced myself at once! My name is Hailey Osborne. I'm referred to as 'boss' here, though. Now, have some water while we go over these sheets." He set down a few large pieces of paper and smiled. "You have an amazing record, and a fantastic physical exam score. Your mental abilities are amazing, but I think your protective instincts should be honed a bit. Overall, I think you're a fantastic candidate, good show boy! Kelly was right; Martha deserves a bonus or something."
"Candidate for what?" I had to know, this was just too much.
He stared blankly at me. "You mean you applied for a job and you didn't even know what it was?"
"No, I mean Martha, I think, found me on the street and dragged me here, Kelly looked me over and pulled me through hundreds of tests, some woman put me through more and then dressed me by force, and then Kelly brought me up here and now you're talking about being a candidate and no one's given me the slightest idea what I'm here for. I'm actually highly frustrated right now." I snorted quietly for good measure.
He blinked. "Fantastic breath support…" he noted on the sheet. " I'm so sorry, Richard. I'll tell you what's going on. I run this business, we find kids who need help, evaluate them, and then train them for any number of jobs. You, my friend, fit under the category of physicals, and that includes one thing we've been ridden for a while about, a bodyguard. If you sign a few pieces of paper, we will then send you into training in more karate and other forms of evaluation. When we're satisfied, we send you for evaluation by the customer."
I thought it over. "I guess. Do I get paid, or something?"
He smiled. "We feed you, water you and pay for most of your clothes, and you also will receive a steady paycheck into a bank account either you give us the information for, or we create for you. Your pay will be two hundred dollars a month for as long as you work under subcontract with us under another contractor. Usually, they will also pay you, but if not we will raise our fraction by some. If, for any reason, they send you back, we will find you another job. As long as you are not under contract with another business or family, we shall pay you by week, at one hundred dollars cash to do with as you choose. You understand this?"
It all sounded too good to be true. I work a simple job as a bodyguard or something, and get tons of money. "I'm in," I said.
"Wonderful, now, sign here, here and here…" He pointed out a few blank lines. I took the thin black pen he offered and scratched my name onto them. I didn't care to read, if there was a fine print than I'd bother later. I was too hungry to do much anyway. "And you are under the age of eighteen, so we will need your parents–"
"What's wrong, Richard?"
"My parents. They won't do a thing. They disowned me on a rumor, a lie." I bit my lip.
"What kind of rumor?" He leaned forward slightly.
"I…" I looked down. "Look, they won't do a thing, they won't recognize authority over me, so that doesn't help much. Plus, my birthday is a few months anyway, I'm almost free."
He looked at me silently for a few moments. "Well, this business isn't entirely legal anyway, so we'll just skip the parents." He took the pen from my hand and crossed out the line for parental agreement. "Better?" I nodded slightly. "Okay then, thank you very much Richard. You are now officially one of ours." He hit a button on the phone near him on the desk. "Kelly?"
"Yes sir?" Kelly voice crackled over the line.
Hailey pressed another button. "Now, Kelly will come in here and take you next door and show you your room. It's small, but you'll find it has everything you need. I hope you enjoy your arrangement and training should be easy for you." The elevator dinged, and Kelly walked in again. "Now, I should have you know, that you are free to quit whenever you feel it is necessary. If you are unsatisfied with our services or staff, come directly to me, Kelly or Stephan and let us know. You shall meet Stephan tomorrow when your training starts."
"Come on, I'll show you the dojo on the way to your room." Kelly gestured to the elevator. I walked in, and so did he, but he turned and bowed again to Hailey. I nodded back too, out of what respect I already had for him.
"I hope you enjoy your time here, at Osborne security." Hailey called as the doors closed.
Turns out the dojo was huge. It was underground, and the entire thing was full of weapons and the floor was only mat. It was similar to my old dojo, but the size was nothing compared to this cavern. I was informed that it doubled as a bomb shelter and a daily meeting spot. It fit everyone.
My room also wasn't what I was expecting. It was in a large warehouse next door to the one where Hailey was, and there were five floors.
The bottom floor was half-open free space, half-training equipment and language systems; the second floor was a huge dining hall, with a kitchen taking up about a quarter of the floor. The other three floors were full of rooms, one hall down the center and rooms lining. There were about sixteen doors to a hall, and well far apart, my room was on the top floor. Kelly walked me down, showed me door number 58, and handed me a small key.
I stuck it in the knob and turned it, pushing open the door into a room twice as big as the one in my parent's house. There was no furniture, save a sleek leather couch two small round chairs, a TV, a small fridge, and two doors. I opened the first one, and wow. Sparkling bathroom, marble everything. Clean grey towels on the racks.
The second door was a bedroom. Simple, white walls, two bookshelves, a chair, a dresser, and a flat rectangular bed with sleek black covers and comforter.
"I hope you find everything to your liking, this is the standard room for beginners like you. Fully equipped bathroom, simple yet customizable, every possible television channel at your disposal, as well as on Demand, movies available, recordings are free for you. If you want to spend anything, check the 'My orders' list first, it might be there. Anything you do spend will be siphoned off your paycheck. Don't delete anything off that list. Relationships with other employees are fine, but don't expect them to last long around here. Outside relationships are not allowed, for the express reason of top security. Any information leaked is easily traced and severely punished. Fraternizing in your room is allowed, but any pregnancies are to be terminated without complaint and no exceptions, so be careful. Any questions?"
I stood in the front room again, overwhelmed and excited. "No, I think I've got it…"
"Good. Breakfast is at 6:00, you have until 6:50 to do whatever you need to get ready for the day. Training begins at 7:00 sharp, all contractors in the building will be moved to the dojo before seven, and lunch will be at around noon. I suggest you do not stay up too late tonight watching TV; it will rot your brain, despite what the others say. Get some sleep, see you in the morning." With that, Kelly turned and left, closing the door behind him and left me alone.
In all my confusion and excitement, I forgot how hungry I was.