The man who had raised him since he was a small child was standing before a large French window when Maximilian came in the room. He had kept the same mop of hair since his twenties, though he had changed haircut a few times since then. The only difference was the streaks of grey hair that were visible on the sides. As the teenager walked in the room he turned around.
“Hello Max.” He greeted him. “Come, sit down.” Added Jeff, gesturing towards a set of comfortable looking armchairs standing in front of his desk after embracing the teenager into a hug.
“Hi dad, you wanted to talk to me?” Asked Maximilian, curious, as he sat down.
“Yes and no. I wanted to show you something, but now that you mention it I indeed have a question for you.” He paused while he and Maximilian sat down on a chair each, facing each other. “You know, your mother, Doris I mean, may not show it but she worries about you. You haven’t said a word about our little talk from yesterday and it worries her.” He was looking straight at the teenager as he said that.
“But before you say anything I want you to know that you have time to think about it and you can come with your questions anytime. My dear wife has always been overprotective, it’s always one of her few faults. I told her you needed time but she can’t stop worrying. You may want time and we respect that. Only she fears that you don’t talk to us because you are mad, because you resent us. It may seem ridiculous but she had some trouble sleeping because of that last night. She won’t tell you but she fears you may do something rash, like running away or something. I tried to convince you weren’t like that, and deep down she knows it too, but still… So, as I must ask I will, are you mad at us? I would totally understand if you were angry, don’t worry, I’d just want to talk about it with you.”
Maximilian looked flabbergastered at what Jeff had just told him. How could they think he could ever be mad at them for that? Of course it was a little surprising and not so easy to accept but that was all. He didn’t resent them for that, it wasn’t his foster parents’ fault.
“No way! How could you think that? I’m not mad at all. I just need some time to take it in, that’s all.” Protested the young man.
“I know that.” Retorted Jeff. “But still, Doris is worried about you even if she won’t say so. I told her that but he only half believes it.”
“But, you didn’t do anything wrong! Why would I be mad at you? And running away? No way! We may not be biologically related but you are the ones who raised me! You are my parents!”
“Thanks Maximilian, I knew you weren’t like that but Doris wouldn’t believe me… You’re sixteen, you’re not a child anymore.” Jeff smiled as he said that, Maximilian too. He could very well imagine Jeff and Doris having the exact same discussion the night before.
“I’ll go and talk to her, don’t worry.” Assured Maximilian.
“Thank you, that’s sweet of you Max, but I think that it will be enough if I tell her I talked to you about it. Plus you didn’t give her the cold shoulder this morning did you?”
“No, not at all!” Replied the teenager. “I have absolutely no reason to do that!”
“Good.” Nodded Jeff with a small reassured smile.
A comfortable silence took over. They could hear Arthur laughing in the living room and Doris trying to hush him by telling him even the neighbors could hear him. Doris had always been quite pessimistic, though she liked to say realistic, seeing the danger in everything. But with Jeff she had had to learn that not everything had to be bad. Jeff liked to laugh about that, saying that one day she would end up building a bunker under the house, just to be sure…
“So, you wanted to show me something then?” Asked Maximilian, curious about the reason his father had called him here.
“Oh yes! Wait a second, I’ll get it.”
The forty-five-year-old stood up and walked over to a shelf behind his desk and took a picture before coming back to sit down in front of Maximilian. He stretched his arm, presenting the teenager with the frame containing the picture. Maximilian took it and looked at the picture. On in one could see a group of people. Two couples and a woman with a little girl in her arms. She couldn’t have been older than a year old at that time. The young man didn’t know that red-haired woman nor the child in her arms, but it took him no time at all to recognize the other four. Jeff and Doris were standing on the left side of the picture. They looked much younger, somewhere in their early twenties, but easily recognizable. He then focused on the second couple in the middle. A tall man with brown hair, pale grey eyes and a big smile was standing behind a woman with raven hair and strangely familiar purple eyes, her belly was a bit swollen. He looked up to Jeff, asking a silent question. The man understood what he meant and answered.
“Yes Max, this picture is old, almost seventeen years old. We all went on a picnic that day. You should have seen them… Your mother was two and a half month pregnant with you and your father was so proud to soon be, well, your father.”
“Are… are these… ?” Maximilian didn’t manage to finish his question, he was taken aback by the unreal feeling that photograph gave him.
“Yours parents ? Yes, Sophia Weiss and Alexandre Desrhodes. You look a lot like them you know…”
The young man had a hard time believing his eyes. His father looked familiar but he knew that because he looked a lot like him, same face and same build, he had the impression of looking at an older and taller version of himself. But for his mother it was more than that, it was like he really knew her. She was the one from his dream, the same woman with the same bright smile and the same sparkle in her eyes. The same remarkable irises that populated his dreams were now before his eyes. So these two people, so far and so close to him at the same time were really his parents? What a strange feeling to see them for the first time but to have such a strange impression of familiarity. He was interrupted in his thoughts by Jeff who placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. He was standing right besides Maximilian and looked at the picture with humid eyes.
“I didn’t think about showing it to you yesterday but I thought that you might appreciate to have a souvenir of them, even though it’s just a photograph. It’s been lying on my shelf for so long I had almost forgotten I had it. You can keep it if you want, I have stared at it so much when we learned they were gone that I can recall every detail, like it’s engraved in my mind now.” Jeff said before going back to sit in his chair.
“Thank you.” Answered Maximilian after a few moments of silence, only filled by some laughter coming from the living room. He looked at the photograph for bit longer before turning back towards Jeff. The older man was looking at him with affection and kindness. The young man thanked him once more with a tight hug before getting up and starting to walk out of the room, but he stopped once at the doorstep.
“Don’t worry, I’ll go talk to mom later.” He added before stepping out of his father’s foster father’s office. Jeff smiled at him and nodded.
Maximilian walked through the corridor towards the living room, as he passed through, walking behind the couch, he saw Arthur standing up right in front of the TV and mimicking his favorite hero’s movements displayed on the screen. Doris looked up from her magazine to see the young man disappear up the stairs, she turned over to Jeff at the other end of the corridor and saw him looking at the teenager as well. He saw her looking at him and nodded slightly with a small reassuring smile spreading on his lips. This seemed to indeed reassure her as she went back to reading. There was an interesting article about a failed robbery thanks to the intervention of a “vigilante” apparently cloaked in red. No severe injuries were to be reported, the robbers had been found tied up in the center of the vault where they had planned to steal money and no trace of the mysterious individual was found.
Maximilian was looking attentively at the picture as he went up the stairs, letting his feet guide him to his room. It was really strange how much he looked like his father, same lips, same chin, same eyes. His hair on the other hand was his mother’s, dark as the night. His parents looked so happy, almost alive on this picture. He was almost ready to see them move, pop out of the photograph and embrace him. If only they were still here… He would have got to know them, they would be a family, a happy family… His family… At that thought he shook his head. No, he had a family, Jeff and Doris, they had raised him like their son, they were as much his parents as the couple on the picture. And Arthur. No, he was happy already, he had people to care for and who cared for him. He shouldn’t be regretting things that only a few days ago he would never have thought to be true. Yet the young man couldn’t help but imagine what life would have been if… So much ifs. He desperately needed to know who they were, who really were Alexandre Desrhodes and Sophia Weiss. Mom, Dad. Why did you have to leave so soon?
He was so focused on the picture that as he walked in his room he didn’t immediately notice the screen of his computer was on. Only when he sat down on his chair and he put the frame on his desk did he notice something was wrong. Maximilian looked at the screen and was taken aback by what he saw. His game project, Age of Castles was opened on the main page. It took the teenager a few seconds before processing what it meant. He slowly reached for the mouse, fearing that if he did any sudden movement it would crash or shut down. Maximilian dragged the cursor to the start button, as he did so a crazy hope took over him. What if it worked? What if by some miracle it had fixed itself and now it worked? He clicked, knowing very well this could never work without him even starting to solve the problem. But to his astonishment the game launched itself and didn’t crash at all when he started to play a bit to test it. He opened the compiler and the debugger that he had used the previous night, nothing in the analysis reported any error or correction applied to the code. He verified this by looking himself at the source code.
He couldn’t believe it, just when he had lost hope and had surrendered to the fact that he would have to start over his program started to work again, as if it had simply thrown a tantrum earlier. A true miracle he thought. A miracle? An idea flashed suddenly. No, something wasn’t right, no program could fix itself just like that. Not without some kind of magic involved, he thought, right?
The young man checked and double checked every input and output in the last few days but found nothing suspicious, he had thought Arthur or someone else could maybe have used it and tampered with it but everything said the contrary. And what’s more who would access a computer and simply fix a broken program before leaving? Plus, on second thought, a six-year-old boy would never have been able to pull such a feat. No, no one apart from him had accessed his computer, which didn’t clarify the situation one bit. But Maximilian decided to drop the matter for now, he had a working program and he wasn’t going to let that opportunity to catch up slip away. There was still so much to do. He looked at the time: the internal clock displayed eleven o’clock. Already two hours since he had woken up. The young man decided to proceed to make up a bit for the time he had lost until it was time to have lunch. He would need that advance (avance???) soon since school started in two days and his free time would thus shorten a lot.
The sun was already way past noon when Maximilian decided to stop his programming. His watch told him it was almost half past four. Since it seemed to be quite enjoyable outside the young man decided to go out and take a walk. He compiled the new functions that he would add soon one last time to check if they still worked and saved his project, closed all the windows and put the computer to sleep. He changed, swapping his black and white pajamas which hadn’t left him the entire day for a pair of brown Capri pants and a black tee-shirt. Once downstairs he told Doris he was going for a stroll and put on his sneakers and his headphones before going out to the calm neighborhood. He almost didn’t hear the blonde woman telling him to not come back too late and to enjoy his walk from the living room as he closed the door.
They had both talked after lunch and the young man had managed to reassure her, explaining that he would never leave because he resented them and that he wasn’t mad at them at all for hiding his adoption all this time. It didn’t change the fact that she had raised him as his mother and that he loved Jeff and her very much. He just needed some time and if he ever had questions about his real parents he would want to ask them. His steps guided him to the nearby park, up to the bench where he liked to sit and look at the sky. The day before he had come here after learning the truth and today it was simply to spend some pleasant time, time sure seemed to fly. What a strange week this is.
He thought about the shock that this revelation had been for him. Of course he had had doubts for some time now but it didn’t dampen the knowledge that his parents had abandoned him when he was so young. (Well, not entirely true, his mother hadn’t wanted to disappear after all…) Maximilian loved Jeff and Doris very much but learning that he wasn’t their son was not as easy as he had tried to make them believe it was. He felt sad and angry. Angry at Jeff and Doris for not telling him sooner (though he could understand very well their reasons) and at his parents for leaving him when he was still a baby. He felt sad because he knew it wasn’t the Bell’s fault they hadn’t told him anything, they couldn’t, he was too young, but still he was angry at them, and because he knew practically nothing about his real parents and he had no hope of meeting them one day. This thought hurt, never being able to meet them, ever… He would never talk to them, hug them nor would he never be able to show them who he had become. He lied down on the bench, letting his face drown in the sun light.
He wanted to know who they were, what kind of life they had lived before definitely leaving. But the only link he had with them was this strange box that he couldn’t even open. That damn box. He felt so frustrated. The day before he had tried to search for any mechanism that might be activated to open it both with his eyes and his mind. But even though he could “see” the box, he couldn’t “feel” it like all these other devices. His ability got all blurry and he couldn’t focus. He couldn’t get past that metallic surface and the engravings despite his numerous tries, over two hours had he tried again and again but to no avail. He had given up to his fatigue and had decided to go to sleep but since then it bugged him. It had been quite some time since he had really used his “power” but he still felt trained enough to see through small objects like that. What he called his “power” was nothing really fancy, he could somehow sense any metallic object around him and thus he could “read” and understand their mechanisms and the way they worked. But last night he couldn’t even get past that scratched surface.
Maybe if he tried again that night he would have more success. He remembered how much effort it had taken the first time he had tried to use it consciously after he had noticed what he could do. Over time it had become easier as he used it more often so maybe all he needed to do was train his “power” a bit to see through that box ? Oh well, we’ll see. He thought.
That strange ability to feel anything metallic; he had had it as long as he could remember but he had noticed it only recently, about two years earlier. He was at school and couldn’t open his locker, he had and old lock that didn’t always work and that time it had broken and refused to open at all. That was when he had had his first “happening”. It was a bit like he had fallen asleep, he had felt his mind leaving his body, floating out of his chest towards the lock. Maximilian had even had the feeling that he had become the lock for a few seconds. When he had come back to his senses he was standing before his locker and it was open, he was holding the lock in his hand. It had taken him a few seconds to realize what he had done, but only during his second “happening” did he understand what had happened to him and what he could do. He could “see” any metallic object around him in his mind and easily understand how they worked. He had tried to reproduce these experiences a few times after that but without any success. Only the third time did he find out he had to concentrate really hard on the object he wanted to picture to make it happen. He had tried to do it again on his lock, but at home that time, and after a few long minutes he had a very detailed image floating around in his thoughts. He had then repeated the process on several of his toys, on his door knob and on a spoon.
As he did he noticed it took him less time and a lot less effort to project these objects in his mind. He had even managed to visualize every object in his room at one time but it had drained him out. His father’s box was his first failure since he had discovered his ability but he wasn’t going to get discouraged just by that. Maximilian decided to suddenly try something, he closed his eyes and relaxed himself. He focused on the warm feeling of the sunrays on his cheeks. He was trying to let his mind get free of any other thought than this feeling, that is how he usually managed to get in the right state of mind to use his gift.
The young man had no idea if what he managed to do was scientifically possible or if it was a matter of pure science fiction, if it was some type of magic or if it had a logical explanation. He didn’t know if anything of this was real or if he was just becoming crazy. But the doubt about his sanity flew away the instant where he felt his mind leave his body, he could now “see” the metallic structure of the bench he was lying on as clear as he had seen it with his eyes open when he had arrived. The sunrays had been a good idea he thought. Using is power was always a strange experience because it wasn’t like anything one could have ever seen or felt except in his wildest dreams. When he said he could “see” the bench’s metallic structure that meant not that he saw it but rather he felt it and it allowed him to take in the whole object from any possible angle at the same time, not from just one side. He could see each curve and each little design fault clearly and at the same time.
He had been studying the structure for a few minutes , engraving each detail in his mind, when he noticed a movement on his right. A slight glint on the right side of his vision. He had to resist his curiosity to open his eyes and lose his concentration, instead he chose to slowly concentrate on the origin of the movement. Maximilian took some time to realize it which made him think that maybe he had imagined it but after two minutes of intensive search he found the origin of the glint. It was shining but so weakly that he could easily have missed it if he hadn’t been searching for it. It seemed like hundreds of thin threads were shining and moving very fast at the same time. He had to double his efforts just to keep focused on it. Never in all the time he had tried to use his power had he experienced anything like this. When finally he manages to focus enough on his target to start making out its shape it startled him so much that he almost fell off the bench. This short moment of clarity vanished as he reflexively opened his eyes to prevent his fall. As he turned his head around towards the spot he was sure that thing was the only thing he saw was a small scared squirrel climbing hastily the nearby tree. A living being! He had managed to “see” a living being with his power!
The young man didn’t understand, how was it possible? Never had he been able to observe anything else than objects, and metallic ones at that, so how… How had he… A living being? He absent-mindedly took a look at his watch. Half past six. An hour and a half had already passed since he had decided to go take a walk! He hadn’t noticed time had passed so fast. Maximilian stood up wanting to stretch his legs, he was starting to feel like he had pins and needles piercing through them after lying down like that for so long. He walked over to the spot where he had felt the little animal. It had nothing special, a few fallen leaves but nothing out of the ordinary. Had he really “felt” the squirrel? Or was it another trick of his imagination? It could have been anything small and moving… But yet his guts told him it was true, he had never “seen” anything like that, metallic objects were always full yet what he had experienced today was a shape made of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of small threads. He couldn’t understand why and much less how but he had done it. But did he fully understand his power after all? That thought reinforced his determination to train and try to have a better control over it. He wanted to see where he could take this “third eye”. And who knows, Maybe it could be of some help later? He had many reasons to think that this event was only the beginning…
The teenager took his time to walk back home, making the most of the last sunrays on his back. He walked up to his room and sat at his desk, still thinking about all the different possible explanations of his power. He placed the box he had received the day before and the picture of his parents next to each other on the right side of the screen and looked a long time at the two objects. Maybe he was hoping that something would happen. He was about to try once more to pierce the secrets of the mysterious box when he heard Arthur call for him.
“Dinner’s ready !” Yelled the young boy from the bottom of the stairs.
“Coming !” He shouted back.
He left the box and the photograph for now, knowing he would have time to observe them later. Instead he turned his computer back on and launched his program and the debugger so that it would be ready when he came back up. He stood up and walked out of his room towards the staircase without noticing the message that had popped up under the home page of Age of Castles.
“Welcome to you, Max0.”