They had picked up Arthur a few minutes ago from the neighbors’ house and we’re now en route to the K-Chain, a fast food restaurant near the huge shopping mall a few minutes away from the house. The young boy was very excited at the prospect of eating a double cheese burger, he indeed had quite the appetite for his age, and getting one of the robot dinosaur toy that was offered with it. Night had fallen and only the tall lamp-posts on the sides of the road were now lighting the city. Maximilian looked out his window at the stars, still thinking about his visit of the house, he had barely left it but he already wanted to go back. There was so much to see and to discover about his parents there, but he knew he had to wait, at least the following week-end, to be able to go back. He had sent a message to Simon to tell him about what he had found there and what had happened but his friend still hadn’t answered. The engine stopped as Jeff parked the car in the parking lot of the restaurant, effectively shaking the teenager out of his daydreaming. They all got out of the car, Doris having to run after Arthur, who immediately jumped towards the K-Chain as he got out of the car. Jeff chuckled at the sight as he locked the doors and followed his son inside.
After having eaten his burger in a flash and not even opened his toy, Arthur was allowed to go play in the kids’ area, where he almost immediately joined a bunch of other children who were playing tag. Maximilian took his time eating his food, savoring the huge amount of sauce and chicken he had in his hamburger and the double fries ration he had asked. The teenager wouldn’t describe himself as a big eater usually, but whenever he had the possibility to eat food in a fast food type of restaurant he always enjoyed eating a lot more. When he had also finished he joined Arthur in the kids’ playground and played some video games that were available with him and the others, only stopping when Jeff came to get them after almost forty minutes of playing, telling them it was time to go. Arthur protested a bit, saying he wanted to stay more but finally agreed to go when Jeff reminded him he still had his dinosaur to open. As they climbed in the car to go home Maximilian finally received an answer from Simon. ‘Hey, just got your message! Well, that seemed to be an afternoon quite rich in discoveries! The house really sounds wicked, you’ll have to show me some pictures! I can’t call you right now ’cause I’m busy but if you’re free tomorrow we need to discuss that, I should be online on the chat in the afternoon so be sure to manage to be there, I don’t want to have to wait ’till Monday! Anyways, I really hope you’re finding what you’re searching for, see ya pal!’. Maximilian smiled and tucked his phone away after replying a short ‘I’ll be there, have a nice evening.’ and focused on the sky again. He was a lot more melancholic than usual but, strangely, he sometimes enjoyed being in that state, looking at everything with a more emotional eye than usual. The stars and the huge openness atop of the world seemed to invite him. He had no idea how long it had been when he was pulled out of his reverie by the car stopping in front of the house. Arthur who had stopped playing with his dinosaur a few minutes ago as he felt too tired jumped back to life, opening the door and running towards the house at full speed. This time Doris didn’t jump after him, knowing he wasn’t in danger and took her time to get out.
“Wake up sleepy head, we’re home!” Exclaimed Jeff with a smile as he passed by the teenager’s door. Maximilian locked up to the elder man and stuck out his tongue.
“I wasn’t sleeping, I was thinking!”
“Yeah, well please continue your brooding in the house so that I can lock the car and go in!” Replied Jeff with an unbvelieving scoff as he pointed towards the front door.
“Coming, coming…” Replied Maximilian, falsely exasperated. He picked up the cardboard box he had taken from his parent’s house and walked along the small path leading to the house, followed soon after by Jeff. He took off his shoes and walked up to his room after having wished a good night to the couple and his younger brother. As soon as he walked in his room he put the box beside his bed and sat on it, completely exhausted, without even checking his computer. The teenager took the picture he had brought back from his parent’s house and once more stared at it, almost hoping it would animate and his parents would smile to him. He then placed it on his nightstand and changed into his pajamas and lied down on his bed. He stayed there, his hands crossed behind his head and his eyes fixed on the ceiling. Thoughts of his parents, of how he imagined them living in the house, flowed in his mind. He wanted so much to have been able to see them, to talk to them, to know more about them. If only they were still here… He thought with a slight pang. Without even realizing it sleep took over and he fell into a deep slumber.
He woke up with a start, still thinking he was falling, before blinking as the sun rays were hitting him directly in the face. The teenager groaned and put his hand between the window and his face, it took him a few seconds to adjust his eyes to the bright light and then he looked at the alarm clock on the night stand beside his bed. It displayed 11:25. Maximilian blinked once before sitting up straight in flash.
“Oh shit!” He swore before getting up and starting to get dressed, mentally slapping himself for oversleeping like that, he apparently hadn’t heard his alarm ring. Not that he had anything planned that day but he liked to get up before 9 o’clock if possible to have the morning to himself. He walked down without even checking his computer to grab a quick bite so as not to be too hungry for lunch. The house seemed empty as he walked in the kitchen, there were no sounds other than the TV which had been left on, surely by Arthur as he always forgot to turn it off. He found a note on the kitchen table.
Good morning my dear sloth! Arthur and I went to do some shopping and depending on the time you chose to wake up, dad should be either in the garden or gone running. If you need anything, I presume you are old enough to manage alone but you know where we are if ever something happens. Kisses, mom.
Maximilian scoffed lightly as he read the note and looked outside the large windows of the living room, the garden was empty so that meant Jeff had gone for a run. Nice, I have the house to myself for a bit! He thought with a smile as he poured cereals and milk in his bowl. He put the milk back int he fridge and the cereals that had been left on the table in their respective cupboards. He then sat on the couch in the living room and ate while looking outside, half listening to the TV. A bird was searching for seeds on the grass, pecking the grass now and then, then it suddenly flew off. The teenager thought about what he had decided to do that day, he had to continue working on his programme a little, call Simon and try to test his power again. As he though about it, something which he hadn’t thought about until now dawned unto him. How was he able to do it? How could he possibly have made that coin move the other day? How in all the laws of physics that he had learned about at school was something like this possible? Okay, two magnets can produce this effect, that much he knew, but how could he do it with his body? Suddenly he panicked. Had he dreamt all of it? Had it really happened? He ran upstairs and grabbed one of the coins he had used and went back to sit in the sofa before closing his eyes and focusing on the small circle of metal. To his relief the strange feeling he always had kicked in almost immediately as his ability allowed him to ‘see’ the coin with his eyes closed.
He felt his heart beat slow down a bit and then focused on the coin, mentally ordering it to move. After what seemed like an eternity he opened his eyes and saw the small piece of coppery metal hover slowly over his hand. He sighed and let his mental grip on it go, it fell back into the palm of his hand, the usual feeling of exhaustion settling in, even though it was a bit diminished this time. Okay, so I really can make it move. He thought. But that doesn’t explain how. He thought about all those comics he had read when he was younger, with all those super heroes and their super powers, did he really have something like that? He looked at the coin again and a small smile crept on his lips. If he really had an ability like that he would have to see up to what point it could go, were coins all that he could move? He was about to try on his spoon when he heard the sound of a key being turned in the front door. He put the coin in his pocket and took his bowl back in his hands and started eating the rest of his cereals again. No one could know about it, if comics had ever taught anything to him it was that he had to be extremely careful with this. The door opened and Jeff walked it, huffing loudly and drying his sweat with a towel. He noticed Maximilian on the couch and smiled.
“Well, finally up I see!” He exclaimed.
“Yup. I woke up a few minutes ago. I wanted to get up at 9 but I guess I overslept…” Replied the teenager, a small ashamed smile.
“Bah, it’s not that serious, you can oversleep as much as you want as long as it’s during the week ends.” Remarked Jeff as he took off his shoes and walked towards the bathroom. “Well, I hope you slept well at least. Anyways, I’m sweaty and exhausted so I’m off to take a nice hot shower. Enjoy your breakfast!” He added as he walked off with a little wave towards Maximilian.
“Thanks!” Shouted the teenager to his adoptive father as he had already shut the door behind him. He ate another spoon full of cereals and once more looked outside the window as he decided to try to use his power again later that day. I’ll have to work on the code and call Simon before that though, or I won’t notice the time pass. He thought. The familiar buzz of the TV then changed slightly, distracting him as he looked at it.
“Yes Karen, as you explained earlier the situation here is quite tense, the troops from the Balkans are not retreating under the pressure that the east Asians are creating. Since the assassination of two Russian residents in the small village of Teskaya near the border the Russian authorities are asking for explanations, which the Asians are not willing to give them, stating that the terrorists, who have yet to be apprehended, have not crossed the border on their side and are therefore not their problem. The global council was supposed to meet today to discuss the possible solutions and to try to put an end to the escalation of violence but it has been called off a few hours ago due to a bomb threat. It has been rescheduled sometime during the next three days at a more secure location while this threat is being investigated. For the moment the shocked citizens of Teskaya are hoping for a quick resolution of the problem but some of them are ready to leave in the next few days if it is needed. The next hours will therefore be decisive and we can only hope for a positive response from the eastern governments this time.”
“Thank you Michael for this update on the situation over there. Tomorrow, the vice president will be here to answer our questions on the matter and to discuss the eventual solutions and the immediate ways of action to help. Next tonight is the surprising story of the eighty year woman who almost…” Jeff walked in the room as the journalist was changing subject.
“Talking about the conflict in Eurasia again?” He asked while putting on a white shirt.
“Yeah, it seems like things are getting more tensed by the hour.” Said Maximilian. The older man sighed as he walked towards his office.
“Well, I just hope it doesn’t degenerate for them…” The newscaster was making a quick recap of the day’s news as Maximilian finished his bowl and got up to put it back in the kitchen. He placed it in the sink and walked towards the sofa once again, taking the remote to turn the TV off.
“…and for the second time in two weeks, the mysterious stranger clad in a red hood made an apparition…” He turned it off as the images of a young woman crying in relief could be seen on-screen and climbed back up to his room. As he entered he looked at his phone, no message and no calls. Okay, at least I haven’t missed anything. He thought as he sat down at his desk. He was about to turn on his computer when he noticed it was still on and remembered he had left it to run the test on his programme. As Maximilian turned on the screen he noticed that the search for anomalies was finished. There was no sign of suspicious activities coming from the outside, so at least he could be reassured on that side, but the graphic results of the search showed strange activity spikes. Two time, once during the previous evening and once during the night the computer had apparently worked at full power for a few seconds. How come? He thought as he clicked to obtain more details. A long list of processes appeared and as he looked for the one that had caused the spikes, the name “Age of Castles” came up. How? Was the first thought that popped into his mind. He hadn’t been working on the game at that time and it should not have been active, so how was it possible that it found itself on that list and what’s more, to be the reason for abnormal reactions? The teenager had no idea but he would investigate and find out how it was possible and why. He opened the directory where he stored the files of the game and picked up his phone, still trying to figure out the mystery. He dialed Simon’s number. It was half past twelve already but he knew that his friend would not be eating at that time, usually he and his family ate late in the afternoon, so he waited patiently as the phone rang out. Finally, after a few long seconds, the redhead decided to pick up the phone.
“Yep! Simon here.” Simon greeted him.
“Hey Simon! How is it going?”
“Fine, fine! I was playing a bit of piano just now, I feel inspired today! And you Max, slept well?”
“Yeah, too well I guess, I woke up an hour ago…” Replied the dark-haired teen with a chuckle.
“Wow!” Exclaimed Simon. “That’s rare! You must’ve been either really tired or momentarily deaf to not hear your alarm ring…” Laughed the redhead.
“I don’t know, I guess I must’ve been tired from yesterday…” Said Maximilian.
“So, tell me, how did it go then?”
“Well…” Started the dark-haired teenager. “It went quite well, though I have to admit it was really strange. We arrived early so we had some time to go around the house before the notary got there. It’s really huge, it’s an old house with a large garden that my parents were apparently renovating. There was a swing in the backyard and a huge tree, it was really cool. The house itself is a bit old but it feels comfortable and I could easily imagine my parents living there, it only has two floors but the surface is huge. And it’s quite close to the school so I’ll be able to take you there sometime if you want.”
“Oh cool! Yeah I’d like that!” Exclaimed Simon, Maximilian could sense he had large smile on his face. He continued describing the house to his ever curious friend, the garden and the neighborhood, the strange atmosphere he had felt in the house and the impressive number of rooms that he yet had to go through.
“The lawyer said that it would officially be mine when I turned eighteen, it’s already the case but since I’m not an adult yet it’s Doris and Jeff who are responsible of it. I took back some things that belonged to my parents, mostly letter and pictures, but it’s nice to have something to help me know them better.”
“I can imagine. And so, did you find out what that key opened?”
“Oh, yeah, no. I didn’t. Jeff thought it could be the key to the house, and it’s true that it’s very similar, I looked at the one the notary used, but it’s not, I tried. I still don’t know what it opens but I’m sure that if I search a bit I’l find the answer.”
“Okay.” Replied Simon. “Well I can’t wait to go there, to see what it looks like. If you’re okay with it of course!” He added quickly.
“Yeah, no problem, I’ll ask Jeff if I can get a double of the key to go there, I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”
“Nice!” Exclaimed the redhead once more before becoming silent for a few seconds. “So, what are you gonna do today?” He then asked.
“Well I don’t really know, I’m going to work on my programme I think. You know, Age of Castles.”
“Oh yeah! So is it coming well?”
“Well I’ve made some progress but it’s still not close to be finished.”
“Okay. And, by the way, did you find out what the problem was with your computer the other day?” Simon asked.
“No, I didn’t. I’m looking at a possibility, it might be coming from the game itself, but I can’t be sure until I check everything. I was actually doing that before I called.”
“Well I hope it isn’t anything important, it’d be really bad luck if you had to restart everything from scratch…”
“Ah come on Simon, don’t say that!” Chuckled Maximilian. “It should be fine, all I hope is that it didn’t mess with anything important on the computer. And you, what are have you planned?”
“Well, I decided to play some music until lunch, my parents went to the mall and they still aren’t back so I guess I’ll have to survive a while longer.” He let out a small laugh. “But after that I think I’m going to go and skate a little, I need to get out of the house, I feel restless.”
“Strangely, I have no problem believing you.” Commented the dark-haired teen with irony.
“Hey shut up!” Replied the redhead.
“Hey! Are you talkin’ to me? Hmm? You talkin’ to me?” Exclaimed Maximilian with a large smile.
“Huh?” Replied Simon, not immediately comprehending the quote, before laughing loudly. “Aw, come on man! Don’t make references to films I have seen so long ago!”
“Hey, it’s classic, I can’t do anything for you if you don’t know your classic movies…” Replied Maximilian in a falsely accusative tone.
“Meh…” Responded Simon with a pout. “Oh! By the way, have you heard about that guy on the news? You know, the one in red that beat up thugs to help a young woman this week.” Maximilian remembered the crying woman on the new earlier in the morning, he had already seen the interview the day before.
“Yeah, I heard. They say he dresses in a red hoodie and attacks people who commit crimes. Did he do anything new?”
“Yah, him. Nah, not that I know of at least, but isn’t he cool? He’s like a super hero, defending others for the sake of justice.”
“Yeah, makes me think of marvel characters. But it’s dangerous, he may get in trouble soon…”
“Aw come on Max! Don’t ruin my fantasies!” Complained Simon.
“Hey, someone gotta keep you in the right tracks you know!”
“Yeah, right, don’t tell me. That person is you? The guy who wanted to become a super cop until not so long ago and who tried to beat up a group of bullies who were picking on the girls in high school? Hmm?”
“Never mind, as long as you don’t go out batmaning during the night, I have no reason to play the overprotective mother.” Replied Maximilian with a smile.
“Don’t worry, I’m not doing anything of the sort… yet!” Maximilian could feel the smirk on his friend’s face on the other side of the phone, he shook his head.
“Yeah, well Mr Wayne, it’s not that I don’t respect what you dream to do but I have work to do so, I’m going to let you think about beating up bad guys and I’m going to go back to work on more important stuff, if you don’t mind that is… Well even if ou mind, I don’t care.”
“Tch, no respect for your elders, Bell! I’ll have to report that to your parents!” Replied Simon. “Anyways, I too have things to do so I’ll wish you a nice day, see you in school Monday then!”
“Argh, don’t talk about that! I curse you and your family for generations for having uttered that damned word!” Exclaimed Maximilian as he started to laugh.
“Uh, what ev’s, see ya!” Answered Simon whom, Maximilian could tell, had difficulty not laughing along.
“Yeah, see you later!” Said Maximilian as he hung the phone, still laughing lightly. He put down his cellphone on his desk and focused on his computer again. The directory he had clicked on earlier was open and he could see the sub-directories that composed the game. He was about to click on the main one when something attracted his attention. He looked closer to be sure his eyes were not deceiving him, but they weren’t and what he saw caught him completely off guard. He opened the properties of the directory to be sure but it had not been an error, the numbers were correct.
“How is that possible…?” He murmured as he looked at them again. The newly opened window that displayed the size of the whole game, taking into account all the directories, the sub-directories and the files, was telling him the game had a size of fifteen gigabytes. The last time he had checked, the whole project did not amount for more than one gigabyte, and that was including all the saves and the backups, which he had cleared or placed in another directory a few days ago. How could it have grown so much in so little time? And what had he done to make it so big? But as he asked himself these questions he could not find a valid answer. He had not advanced so much that it took that much space and he hadn’t played so much that the accumulated data would be that humongous. Something is wrong, he thought as he checked each sub-directory one by one. He quickly noticed that it was the ‘saves’ one that had grown out of proportions, it now amounted to a bit more than fourteen gigabytes on it’s own. Yep, definitely wrong. He opened it to discover more than a thousand files, full of code and each around four megabytes in size.
“What the…?” He was about to ask as he couldn’t remember creating any of them nor doing anything that might have made it happen. Could it be a bug? Was there really an intrusion in his data like he had thought int he beginning? Maximilian was trying to figure that out by checking the creation dates of the oldest files and by starting a virus check on his computer to verify that it didn’t contain anything resembling a Trojan horse, when a window popped open. The main menu of Age of Castles appeared before his eyes with a message he had never seen on the bottom. ‘Welcome MaxO.’, it said. The teenager closed the window, uncertain of what was going on but starting to worry, but it opened again. He closed it and once more it opened. What is going on?! He thought about clicking closing it a third time but he had a feeling it would open once more so he simply put it in the background and opened a webpage. But the game came back in front of the webpage. Maximilian groaned in frustration. What was happening? He decided to start the game to see what would happen and as soon as it started a new text box appeared.
‘Welcome back Max0, it’s been a long time! Are you ready for adventure?’
He vaguely remembered adding this to the code but he hadn’t implemented it to the new version of the game yet, so how had it ended there? He had no idea, but this was definitely strange. He typed in ‘yes’.
‘Good, let’s go then!’ responded the text box before starting the game.