An incessant knocking from their front door woke them early the next morning.
Zack was pressed against the wall beside the bed, a teddy bear in-between him and his curled-up sister. It was the same position as always. She wanted the closeness but hated it when anyone touched her while she was sleeping.
Grumbling softly to himself, he extricated himself from the bed and hurriedly pulled on a fresh shirt. The knocking at the front door continued.
“Who is it?” Zara asked incoherently, sitting up with drooping eyes as he left the room.
“Go back to sleep, I’ll take care of this,” He closed the bedroom door and approached the entrance to the apartment. The small looking glass set at eye level revealed a group of people in business suits arguing with each other. Each would take turns to rap their knuckles on the hard metal surface while maintaining the heated exchange of words.
Flipping the myriad of locks to the resting position, he swung open the door and glared at the men.
“What do you all want? Do you have any idea how early it is?” He growled at them. Zack had no idea what time it was, but he knew it was early enough that they had woken him before his alarm had gone off. Then he remembered that he had turned off the alarm the night before, since he no longer had to wake up for work.
The man closest to the door shook the sleeve on his arm, revealing a high-end crystal watch. A tiny sliver of magi-crystal was enough to keep the device running for decades, keeping perfect time. It was an extravagant display of wealth that had the other men frowning and tugging at their own sleeves to keep their cheaper versions hidden.
“It is several hours into the normal workday,” The man said, dropping his wrist and taking the opportunity to hand over his business card.
“If it is several hours into the workday, then why are you banging on my door?” Zack restrained the urge to snarl. “If this had been any other day of the week, then I already would have been gone!” He wasn’t about to let the matter go just because parts of what they said were making sense. A quick glance at the card revealed what he had already suspected. These were people from the other academies that had been sent his test results.
They blinked in unison and shared a look. It clearly hadn’t occurred to them that he would be working. Why would it? The vast majority of the kids they recruited weren’t struggling orphans.
“But you’re not?” One of them at the back protested.
He scowled and stepped back preparing to shut the door in their faces.
“WAIT!” They each shouted, hands reaching out to block the closing of the door.
He glared at them and decided to lay out the single condition he would not budge on. “I have a younger sister who I take care of, and who needs to go with me. If your schools are unable to accommodate that, then please leave. I’m going to get changed and then come back, any of you that are still here at that point had better be able to take us both.”
Zara had managed to crawl out of bed by that point and was waiting for him when he walked into the kitchen. “I told you more of them were going to show up.”
He grunted at her and went into his room to get dressed. A minute later he came back out, this time fully dressed. “I’ll make breakfast for us once I talk with any that are left.”
She shook her head, “I can do it, there are only a couple of options in any case.”
Zack nodded, and focused on the small looking glass in the front door. All the men from earlier had left, leaving the hallway beyond empty. He rested his head against the metal door and began flipping the locks closed. A small part of him had been hoping at least one of them would have stayed.
It was a long shot, and they had always known that. Despite what the compatibility test would have you believe, after a certain point on the scale having a better score just didn’t matter. So, while the score had been good enough to get him a full-ride scholarship to the academies, it wasn’t enough to let him dictate demands.
That was life for them, and he had more or less expected it to be the case. Disappointment of adults with power, and most people in general, was something both of the siblings had plenty of experience in.
Zara was reconstituting the last of their oatmeal when he went back to the kitchen. They would need to go shopping for more food later that day.
“They didn’t stick around?” She asked softly, her free hand moving unconsciously to where the teddy bear would have normally been.
“Nope. Do you want to go out shopping with me after breakfast?” She rarely went with him, but he still made it a habit to ask just in case. Occasionally he made her go with him, just so she didn’t go too long without leaving the apartment.
She rarely left on her own. School had been the sole exception for a while, and then some of the kids had begun to make fun of and bully her. She was poor, and always had a teddy bear for comfort in her arms. The other kids hadn’t liked that, or more accurately, they had decided that she was the easiest target at the school. None of their families could be considered well-off, but few of them were struggling as much as Zack and Zara.
“Can I bring George?” She asked softly. George was the teddy bear that left the house most often with her.
“Sure,” He had never had an issue with the ways she coped with what had been done to them. He was simply glad that she continued to try, even when people made fun of her. “Where is the list of everything we need?”
“I’ll get it,” She scampered away from the table, her dirty bowl empty and forgotten.
Zack smiled in relief and grabbed her bowl along with his, sticking them in the sink for later washing. His little sister came back a minute later, fully dressed for leaving the house, and George already clutched tightly in her arms. His fur was worn in places, and the underlying cloth had begun to fray.
“I’m ready,” She declared.
The unfortunate thing about them both leaving the apartment, was that they were limited to only using the locks that could be accessed from both sides of the door. Not that they truly had anything to steal. Those extra locks were there to keep Zara safe when he wasn’t there. Locking the door from the corridor outside their apartment took a matter of moments, and then they were on their way.
A man in a cheap suit approached them as they walked out the front door of the building. “Are you Zack and Zara?” His words were clipped and precise. There was something slightly familiar about the man that they couldn’t place.
Zara hid behind her brother as he nodded.
“Finally,” They heard him mutter softly to himself. “We’ve been looking for you for the last couple of years. There was a mistake made during your processing at the facility after your rescue.”
Zack blinked and leaned closer to the man, suddenly understanding why he looked familiar. “You were there! You were part of the group that rescued us that day.”
Zara tilted her head out from behind him and looked closer at him.
“I was. Back then the Major or rather at the time Captain, our company’s leader told you we’d look out for you and we failed at that. It was only when the results of your test came out that we managed to find you again. The two of you were never supposed to be thrust into the system and forgotten. Though, honestly, it may have been for the best. If that processing mistake hadn’t occurred back then, it’s possible you might have both undergone more experiments, except by the government this time. I remember the higher-ups were curious about how they had managed to force your awakening Zack. There is no telling what they might have done to learn more about how that was done.”
It was a possibility that the siblings had considered in the past. Without knowing that their entrance into the system meant for orphans was a mistake of epic proportions. They had simply assumed the government didn’t care. Now they learned otherwise. Maybethey had gotten lucky that day.