When they first met, Connor stared at Tyler for the length of five heartbeats, his gaze flying from Tyler’s shoes to his shirt, his tie and ending on his face. The scrutiny felt unpleasant, and Tyler couldn’t help but wonder what Connor Saw when he observed him. His clothes were brand new but nothing special: a white button-up shirt, a dark blue tie with two white stripes to indicate he had two years to go after this one before graduation, black slacks and a black blazer with the Academy’s insignia, the stylized profile of a woman’s face, embroidered over his heart. Connor’s clothes were similar, although he wore a navy blue sweater instead of the blazer, and his tie merely peeked at the collar. Where Tyler’s short brown hair was carefully parted and combed, Connor’s blond locks stuck out at odd angles, as though he’d been raking his fingers through them.
Tyler tried to smile despite feeling a little intimidated. It was rather silly. He was a few months older than Connor and it wasn’t like meeting him should have fazed him, even if Connor was a couple of inches taller than him and looked at him like he was an insect to be examined and pulled apart. There was no denying that Tyler was nervous, though. It was the first time he’d met a Prophet. Even in his own head, he could all but feel the capital P. Not just any Prophet either, but the youngest of three in the United States at the moment. The most promising one in at least four generations, the people at the Department of the Future said—if only he was finally paired with the right interpreter. No need for the uppercase there. Some people thought interpreters were special, but Tyler knew what he could do; he knew his place.
He only hoped this could truly be his place.
Being enrolled in the Academy was already an amazing opportunity for him, and whatever happened with Connor, Tyler had been guaranteed he would be allowed to study here until he graduated. A diploma from the Academy would open many doors that would otherwise have remained closed to him. It was a chance too good to pass up. But if he ended up a washout as Connor’s interpreter, he would feel like a failure in his own eyes; he knew others, back home, would feel the same.
When his smile wasn’t returned, he offered his hand to shake. Connor had already been told his name, but Tyler supposed he might as well introduce himself properly.
“I’m Tyler. Or Ty, whichever. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Twin lambs,” Connor said, then turned away abruptly, never having shaken the hand Tyler proffered. He navigated around the desks toward the back of the room.
The three adults standing at Tyler’s side looked at him expectantly. Or rather, two of them did. The Secretary of the Future, a graying man with sharp eyes, had already made it clear that Tyler was to inform him in the best possible haste of anything of importance that Connor uttered.
“Even if you have to wake Miss Carrington in the middle of the night,” he’d said.
Miss Carrington, the Headmistress, had nodded at that as though it were completely normal. Even now, she looked as eager as the Secretary to hear what Connor had just said. Only the third person, a severe-looking woman in a crisp pantsuit and long wool coat kept her eyes on Connor. She’d been there during each of Tyler’s interviews and tests but had never said a word, and Tyler didn’t know her name although he thought she worked at the Department of the Future. Connor had stepped as far away from them as he could and he was now standing by the window, his forehead pressed to the fogged glass.
“Twin lambs?” the Headmistress repeated, a little breathless. “What does he mean?”
Tyler’s throat tightened. His first Message. Did it really have to be this one? There was no doubt in his mind that he was right. He could practically feel the meaning of Connor’s words as though it had been carved into his skin, could hear it like music composed for his ears only. His interpretation scores had been good, but he never dared hope it’d be so easy. Two words only, and already Tyler knew he and Connor were a great match.
“He means I’ll be his interpreter for two years,” he said quietly.
The Headmistress and Secretary looked at each other, disappointment obvious in their matching frowns. Prophets and interpreters were usually paired up for life. Connor, however, was anything but usual. He’d run through five interpreters already since being identified at the age of ten, six years earlier. If Tyler lasted two years, it’d be twice as long as anyone else, but still not what he’d hoped for.
By the window, Connor huffed. That sound, too, Tyler could interpret, although he didn’t say anything.
That huff meant, “Either you’re another idiot who only understands half of it all, or you’re too scared to tell them what I actually meant.”
Tyler wasn’t scared of Connor or of the adults around them. But he was scared of this Message. He was scared he’d be there, right next to Connor in two years, watching and unable to do a damn thing when he died.
Because the true Message had been, “Don’t expect to make a career out of this interpreter thing. You’ll watch me die in two years.”
For the first time, Tyler wondered if taking the Cassandra Tests had been such a good idea.