“Uh huh...yeah...”, Kyra mumbled as she scribbled down notes while keeping the phone pressed to her ear, “OK...so it’s unusual but not impossible?... NO! For the last time I’m not suicidal! I’m just... doing research for a school project. A sick and really horrific project!”, she exclaimed before hanging up the phone.
‘These suicide counselors need to chill out!’, she thought to herself as she finished her notes. She sat up and sighed; taking a look around her. Sprawled out across her bedroom floor were an additional twenty pages of notes along with printed out articles about murders that were originally thought to be suicides.
Maybe she was being dramatic by jumping to conclusions so fast; but ever since Kyra learned that her mother died from a gunshot wound to the chest, she couldn’t get it out of her head. Something about it really bothered her and she didn’t know what it was exactly. So she started doing research. She looked up other stories about people who committed suicide with a gun and she called suicide hotlines to find out how people usually killed themselves. It was an unusual hobby, but it quickly turned into an obsession for Kyra.
What she learned was that most people who kill themselves with a gun will shoot themselves in the head. Sometimes they will shoot themselves in the chest, but it’s not as common. Her mother could have still very well killed herself with a gunshot wound to the chest... but it was the uncertainty of that fact that ate away at Kyra.
It’s one thing when your mother decides to take her own life; it’s completely different when another person made that choice instead to kill your mother. Kyra grew up believing that she wasn’t enough to make her mother want to stay alive. So she carried around a resentment towards her mother for as long as she could remember. This isn’t just about finding out the truth; this is about finding out that your entire life’s beliefs just might be built on a lie.
One thing Kyra concluded already though is that she was going to have to dig deeper. There were other factors to consider to find out if this was a murder or a suicide; angle of the gunshot, the size of the wound, where the body was found, gunshot powder on the hands, there are a number of things to find out.
She pulled out her laptop and opened it up. “Well I’m already started on this sick and horrific project, might as well keep going”, she said to herself as she did a search for “how to obtain an autopsy report”.
Max laid back on the thin, hard cot that was his bed tonight at the fire station. He wasn’t tired but there were only so many chores to be done around the station and paperwork to fill out before you had nothing left to do. Besides, it gave him more time to think.
Four Weeks Ago
“But I have conditions”, Max said to the now puzzled young women.
“Doesn’t surprise me”, Remus scoffed.
“What are they?”, Celine quickly asked, ignoring Remus’ comment.
Max crossed his arms, “You said that the Guardians have a base in Grandeur City, right? Well, I want to be assigned to that base. After you train me, of course.”
“...I’ll see what we can do Max but I can’t promise you-”
“And I need to be allowed to continue to work my job as a fireman/EMT” Max continued.
The three looked at him stunned.
“Max, I don’t think you’re getting this. You can’t continue on with your normal life if you come with us. You have to choose one or the other!”, Charlotte explained.
“I understand that”, Max responded, “And that’s not what I’m asking for. All I’m asking for to be allowed to have just one thing in my life that makes me human. And I’m choosing this.”
“But what’s so important about this?”, Celine asked.
Max reflected for a moment, “Because this is what I do, Celine. It’s who I am. I have the ability to help people, really help people. I can’t give that up. I’ll do anything else you ask of me, but you can’t ask me to give this up.”
Celine and Charlotte exchanged quiet glances with one another, while Remus continued to stare callously at Max.
“OK Max”, she said stepping forward towards him, “You have a deal. But the thing is we can’t decide on this. Our leader, Kreios, is the only one who can do that. I can’t guarantee anything, but I can promise that I will speak on your behalf”, she smiled.
Max returned her smile, “Thank you.”
“You have my vote too!”, Charlotte interjected, “But from the look of it, you don’t have Remy’s...”
Everyone looked towards Remus, whose cold expression towards Max remained unchanged. The only movement he made was to turn around and walk away.
Celine, Charlotte and Remus left Humbleton about three weeks ago now. Celine couldn’t give Max an exact timeframe, but she promised to at least give him an update within the month.
The two sides were at a stand-still; Max needed to join them just as much as they needed him. Max wasn’t afraid of them saying “no” to his conditions, but he was afraid of still saying “yes” to them anyways.
As more and more time went on, the more restless Max became with his current state of life. He couldn’t stay where he was at. He felt more useless with each day. He had an incredible power inside of him and he was desperate to know how to use it to protect others.
Was he desperate enough to give in and give up everything that made him human? He hoped he didn’t have to find that out.
“Is Kreios here yet?”, Charlotte asked as Celine entered the room.
“No but I just got off the phone with Vix”, she answered as she joined Charlotte on a hard leather couch, “He’s on his way now.”
Remus was standing across from them looking hard out the one, narrow window in the room.
“Kreios is going to say no to Oden’s demands. He would never put the mission in jeopardy over something so trivial”, he stated.
“If you’re so confident in that then why did Kreios need all this time to make a decision?”, Charlotte asked irritatedly.
“Because he needs to consult with the Council. He’s just following proper procedures but I know he made his decision long before talking to them.”
“Remus, why are you being so difficult about this?”, Celine questioned.
He turned suddenly, “I’m not being difficult. I’m just the only one in this room who’s realistic!”, he exclaimed.
“Do you even want this mission to succeed anymore?”, she continued.
Before Remus has a chance to reply, a tall older man entered the room.
The three immediately stood up, “Sir!”
The man quietly put out his hand, signaling them to have a seat. They all complied as they watched him move into the center of the room.
“Emera, how have you been my dear?”, Kreios asked gently as he cupped either side of her head as if she were only a small child.
“I’m good, sir!”, she smiled.
“And Aelia; how are you?”
“I’m doing well too, sir”, she replied.
“Sir, what have you decided?”, Remus interrupted.
Kreios turned, “Straight to the point as always, eh Remus?” He straightened up and returned to the center of the room, “But I suppose you’re right. Well let me be straight to the point then. We’re going to offer a compromise to Oden.”
Remus dropped his arms. “A compromise?”, he asked bemused.
“Yes. We’ve decided to allow Oden to stay in his human occupation as a firefighter. We’ll still monitor and set guidelines for him to follow of course.”
“But sir-”, Remus started.
“However, if Oden wants to be assigned to our Grandeur City base then he will need to prove something to me first”, Kreios continued.
“What does he have to prove?”, Celine asked.
Kreios smiled. “You need not to concern yourself over that Aelia. You and Emera will return to Humbleton and let Oden know what I’m willing to offer to him.”
“What about me, sir?”
Kreios turned to Remus, “A have a special task just for you Remus that involves you not going back to Humbleton. You’ll be staying with me in the mean time.”
Remus remained silent.
“...Sir, what if Oden says no?”, Charlotte asked.
Kreios sighed. “Then the Guardians will move forward without him.”
After being on-shift for 24 hours, Max would normally return home and fall asleep very easily but lately this has been difficult for him. The anticipation of a reply-back from Celine and the rest of the Guardians and having no idea when it would come, ate away at his conscience. So instead he found himself at Beans and Berries, drinking back a cup of coffee.
Alicia was on-shift but it had been a busy day and her energies were occupied with keeping up with customer orders and clearing tables. He looked over at her. From the sweat on her brow and the disorganized wisps of hair around her face, he could tell she was tired but she kept her energy up as she cleared dirty ceramic mugs and plates from tables and then went back over their surfaces with a wet rag all in a smooth, graceful motion. She made eye contact and smiled brightly with each customer who came into her presence.
Someone else was on-shift too but was not keeping her composure as well as her co-worker. Max observed Kyra also busily taking orders and clearing tables but she struggled keeping track of which order was which as well as clearing the tables without leaving another mess and having to run back a second time to finish the job. She was frazzled but she was trying. Just behind Kyra was the small wooden platform that served as a performance stage for karaoke events and amateur musicians.
Max remembered when Kyra sang on that stage just over a month ago and brought the whole place to silence. It almost perplexed him as to how someone as clumsy and outspoken as Kyra could transform into a form of grace and poise just through her singing. He had only known her for a few months but he had never heard her sing other times nor mention anything about the art. It was a depth inside her that was hidden and unknown.
Max was brought out of his thoughts by the cheerful greeting of Alicia who was standing beside him now.
He smiled back at her, “Hey!”
“I’m just about to get off-shift now. How do you feel about joining me for lunch over at the Beacon Grill?”, she asked.
“Hmm..”, he pretended to think for a moment, “I guess I can manage that”, he replied with good-humor.
She beamed at him, “Alright then let me just get my - Oh wait!”, she stopped and looked over at Kyra. The other girl looked back at her. “I have your money!”, Alicia called while motioning her over. Alicia fumbled through her purse as Kyra joined them.
“Shoot; my wallet is still in my apron. Could you wait here while I go get it?”, Alicia said while looking back up to Kyra.
“Sure!”, she replied.
“Be right back then!”
Kyra and Max were then left in a forced, awkward silence with one another. Max looked at her expecting a sarcastic remark of some kind from her but she remained silent, barely acknowledging him. The two hadn’t really spoken to each other much over the last couple of months. Kyra didn’t ask for rides or favors anymore from Max; in fact he hardly ever saw her in-town after school like he used to, even on the days when she wasn’t working. There was something different about her; something that seemed distracted.
“That was quite a performance you put on up there last month”, Max said to break the silence.
She seemed shaken out of her thoughts and looked over at him. “Thanks”, she replied briefly. She looked away and they fell back into silence.
Feeling uncomfortable Max continued with another topic, “You must be looking forward to graduation in May. Are you thinking about going to college somewhere?”
She looked over at him again, almost annoyed this time, “Isn’t everyone?”, she said sarcastically.
Max nearly felt relieved that she finally gave him a more characteristic answer.
“Which schools are you interested in?”, he continued.
“Look”, she said calmly, “I know that you don’t actually want to talk to me right now. You’re just being nice. But you don’t have to do that - I’m honestly fine with just waiting here in silence.”
Max was surprised but before he could even think of a reply, Alicia returned.
“Here you go!”, Alicia said while handing over a crisp ten-dollar bill to Kyra. “Thanks again for loaning me that the other day - that was so embarrassing when I got to the cash register and realized I forgot my money!”
“No problem”, Kyra replied and smiled briefly at her. “I should get back to work but I think we’re working the same shift again tomorrow.”
“Great! I’ll see you then”, Alicia waved as Kyra went back to work. Alicia then looked over at Max and smiled, “Ready to go?”
“Yeah”, Max replied as he got up and followed her.
15 Years Ago
“There you are Max!”, Jackson exclaimed as he found his young son. They had all come to the county fair that day; the Trenton family, the Anderson family, as well as Darcy Kenton and her son, Lee. Just a few minutes ago, Jackson and Eve noticed that their five-year old was gone so they went looking for him. Jackson found the boy in the farm animal exhibit, by one of the goat enclosures.
Max didn’t turn around at his father’s voice; his fingers remained clasped around the metal fence that separated him from the animals inside. His bright, blue eyes gazed upon the dark brown goat just in front of him who was looking back at Max with his own curious, rectangular eyes.
“Daddy look at the goat! He has cool eyes!”, Max exclaimed to his father as if nothing had happened.
Jackson could only chuckle and he knelt down to his son’s level to look at the creature that had captured Max’s attention.
“It looks like he’s interested in you!”
Max beamed at his father and then turned back towards the goat. This was unusual behavior for Max. He was always such a cautious little boy - never wandering too far from the safety of his parents. He hardly ever walked off like this without saying anything to Jackson or Eve.
Max giggled as the goats started bleating playfully at one another. It perplexed Jackson as to why he was so fascinated by these animals in particular but he didn’t have time to dwell on it too long.
“Mommy and I have been really worried about you Max. Let’s go catch up with everyone so that they know you’re OK. We’ll come back to the goats later on.”
Jackson held out his hand and Max obediently grasped it without a word of protest. He took one more glance at the goats and the two went off to rejoin the rest of the group.
“Maxy! Where have you been!”, Eve said cheerfully as she bent down to hug her little boy.
“I was watching the goats!”
“You were? Well you’ll have to show them to me later! We’ve gotten something to eat; why don’t you go sit over there with everyone else?” she said pointing over to his friends. Alicia and Lee were waving them over.
The boy bounced happily over as Jackson walked up beside Eve.
“That’s very odd that Max would just run off like that”, he said.
She looked up at him and smiled, “He’s a little boy, Jack. Little boys get curious sometimes!”
“Yeah”, he replied as he gazed over at his son. The boy was laughing and eating french fries with his young friends. Eve noticed a distant look in Jackson’s eyes as if he were trying to see something beyond.
“Is something wrong?”, she asked.
“Do you really believe”, he hesitated a moment, “that Max has some huge latent power hidden inside him? That he’s so extraordinary that he wasn’t even born in the same world as you and I?”
Eve smiled at him again, her dark blue eyes holding a confidence.
“I don’t know but… what I believe in, is Max himself.”
Jackson sat alone in his quiet office as he reflected on this and many other memories of Max throughout the years. He had many moments of doubt in regards to Max’s true origins, but there was never any doubt that he was an extraordinary boy. Even now, Jackson couldn’t fathom everything that had been occurring in Max’s life over the last several months. But he did know that his role in Max’s life over the past twenty years would soon come to an end. Jackson did his best to raise Max to be a man of strong character and integrity. Now all Jackson could do was to let his son go off into the bigger world outside the safe confines of Humbleton, to discover answers on his own.
Jackson then heard the front door close downstairs signaling the return of his son from work. Jackson hurried downstairs to greet him; not knowing yet when this would be the last time he could do so.
“How was work Max?”, he asked.
Max looked up at him briefly and then set his keys down on a small table in the foyer.
“Fine”, he replied absently.
“Well that’s good”, Jackson replied not knowing what else to say.
Max seemed troubled with something but remained silent.
“Is everything alright Max?”
Max paused and then laughed as if he had just heard an ironic joke.
“Do you really believe all this, Dad? That all of this is real? Did you really spend the last twenty years believing you were raising an alien kid in your own home?”
Jackson could see that Max wasn’t angry; just doubtful. Like so many other times he had experienced himself over the years.
“Max”, he started, “I always believed in you.”
Max looked at him for a moment unsure of what to say next. They were then interrupted by the sound of a cell phone ring.
Max reached into his pocket to look at who was calling him. He hesitated and looked over at his father.