"Max!” I yell his name across the room, mixed with surprise and joy, I run up to him and pull him in tight hug. “I missed you so much.” I whisper to him.
He acknowledges the hug tightly and whispers back, “Me too, Zoey, I never stopped thinking about you.” He pulls away.
“Come on, you have to tell me what is going on with you, I need to know everything.” I hold his hand and drag him to my bed. I sit on one side and usher him to sit on the spot next to me.
“I can’t wait to tell you about everything, Zoe; that’s the reason I’m here. You deserve an explanation.”
I stay quiet, waiting patiently for him to start.
“When I disappeared, I was held captive by the Xoliners. My days were shallow and hollow, completely empty, every move I made, everything I ate, everything tasted bitter, but it was fine, for I felt this way all the time in that cell. This had been my life for five whole years until I was adopted.”
“Who adopted you?”
“Marcilus Haunton, their leader.”
“What!” I exclaim, “That man is dangerous, Max. What did he do to you?”
He narrows his eyes at me as if I had just accused him of murder. “I don’t know what you’re talking about; he was the one who raised me up and looked out for me.”
As much as I can’t wrap my mind around this, I have to listen to everything till the end, so I nod urging him to continue.
“When I turned fifteen, he sent me to their military headquarters, and since then and I’ve been a part of their defence team. The thing is, this made my situation worse. I was forced to be against my own nation, and I couldn’t handle it. And that’s when I decided to expose their plan and sent an anonymous letter to Polina about this attack.”
“Wait, so you felt guilty and informed us to save this planet but you’re still working with them? Why would you do that?”
“Because after I did that, I regretted it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I did some research of my own on humans and couldn’t help but wishing I never did anything in their favour. They aren’t innocent harmless creatures, Zoe, they are a horrifying creed. Once they laid foot on earth and disasters happened; ozone depletion, global warming, animals going extinct, deforestation, wars, explosions, manslaughter, theft, all the ugliest of crimes that are ever committed, but the worst of them was first degree murder of peace and justice.”
I lean back on my bed, taking it all in. I think of how I always thought of them, like innocent little bunnies, of course I knew there was the bad and good, there has to be, but this extent is overwhelming.
“Look, I didn’t hesitate since what I found out, but then I found you, Zoe…” he pauses and I look him in the eye, just to see how clueless and confused he looks, as if trying so hard to figure something out. “I can’t stand the idea of being on the other side of battle. Zoe, would you please join me?”
I search for something in his expression, anything that implies he’s not serious, but there’s nothing.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Do I look like I’m kidding to you?”
“No, Max, you can’t be serious, you can’t be asking me this.”
“Why, what’s wrong with that?”
I rise up in fury, “What on earth could be right with this! How could you even think of asking me to ally with a bunch of selfish monsters against humans!”
“Is it not enough yet, Zoe? Everything I just told you is not a hell enough of a reason to do so?”
“Max! You are stealing their home, this is called invasion, it’s not just a game. Even if you’re right, Max, even this world is a horrible prison, there are people here who need protection, people who need to live and taste the feeling of pleasure. If this isn’t enough for you to see how wrong this is, then you need to wake up. I’m not saying all of them are pure creatures, there’s the good and the bad in each and every corner in the universe, in each city and each town, each country and each planet, even Polina, Max, Polina too has evil in it. That’s natural, you can’t change this fact.”
“We’re saving their home from them, that’s what’s right.”
“Max, can you please shut it and listen to yourself first. You sound horrible, you sound cruel, you sound just like them. That’s not what our parents taught you, they never raised you up as a heartless wretch!”
"Our parents? They’re only yours.”
I open my mouth to reply but stop way after really comprehending what I heard.
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying that the parents you’re so proud of never even considering looking for me, like I’m some useless child they’re happy they got rid of. And even if they did, then they gave up way too early on me.”
Controlled by fury and disbelief, I raise my hand and slap him, and it is only till I heard the smacking sound that I realise what I did. I stare back and forth between him and my own hand, even angrier now of how weak I am when it comes to rage, I ball it into a fist at my side and look up at him.
“Don’t you ever say that,” I say with clenched teeth, “They never gave up, Max, they never did, but they had to stop looking because-”
“Don’t you dare give some useless excuses, Zoe!” he yells in umbrage, turning his face away.
“I am not giving some useless excuses! How can you expect them to look for you after they received you death certificate?”
He turns around and opens his mouth to say something but stops.
“I’m sorry, Max. I wanted to say it in a better way but you wouldn’t let me.”
“And… how are they’re doing now?”
I swallow the lump in my throat and fight the tears to stay in place.
“They’re dead.” My voice cracks, and before I know it, I break down.
He puts his hand around my shoulder and brings me closer to him.
“Honestly, that’s not the family I was hoping to come back to.” He finally says, “This one is broken.”
I wipe away my tears and sit up straight. “But we still have each other, right?”
He nods, adding a broken smile.
The knocking on the door startles us, and he stands up fast. “I have to go, no one can see me here.”
“Zoey?” Peter calls out at the door, “Are you awake?”
“Yes, I’ll be out in a minute.”
I turn back to Max, just to see that he is gone. I walk to my opened window and look over at his figure climbing down and running away until I can’t see him anymore.
“Peter, get in.”
The door is pushed open revealing a leaning Peter on it.
“Jimmy is downstairs, he wants to meet you. Wait, were you crying?”
“Oh, no, I just didn’t have my coffee yet, so that’s how my eyes look like.”
“Are you sure you’re fine?”
“Yes, totally. Why does Jimmy want me?”
“He met us all, except you, that’s why.
“Oh, all right then.”
He nods and we both walk out. Glancing for one more time at my room, I shut the door behind.
“James Stevenson.” He introduces himself, stretching his hand out.
“Call me Zoey.” Smiling, I acknowledge his gesture.
Quite formal, I think.
“So,” I start, “how do you know our address?”
“We came here together, Zoey.” Jo answers instead.
An uncomfortable silence fills the air.
They are a horrifying creed, I recall Max’s words. I have to do something.
Out of the corners of my mind, an idea hit.
“Jimmy, would you mind me asking a few questions?”
Jo clears her throat and I turn to face her. She gives me a thumbs up and I get her sign.
What are you doing?
I can’t trust him, I mouth to her.
God! Do whatever you want, Zoey.
I give her a smile and get back to Jimmy.
“What made you think of befriending us, is it merely a kind step from you or did anything else motivate you?”
“I don’t have any friends, and you seem to be good guys, so I thought, ‘why not?’” he answers simply, not looking offended at all.
I connect with his mind to check the authenticity of his answer, and when I find what he said mirrored what he thought, I pass on to the next question.
“We have dangerous secrets, too dangerous that even me telling you about them right now is risky. If we share them with you, would you keep them at any cost, no matter what you’re offered in exchange?”
“Zoey,” Edward calls in a warning tone, asking me to stop.
“No, this is important, and once he answers this, we will tell him everything, and he’ll understand.”
Edward rolls his eyes and frowns.
“It’s okay,” Jimmy says, “I don’t mind, I completely understand. And no, I’m really good at keeping secrets, I guarantee you that I’ll keep yours safe.”
I smile, he’s telling the truth.
“Well then, that’s it.”
“Great, now, Zoey, would you mind accompanying me in the kitchen? I need to talk to you.”
“Sure.” I say getting up and follow him inside.
“Okay, what the hell just happened?” He asks crossing his arms over his chest.
“I had to make sure we can trust him, we’re not playing here, Ed.”
“That doesn’t mean you can interrogate the guy, that’s absurd. Plus, what harm can humans cause, anyway? They are helpless.”
“I know it doesn’t look good, but they can’t be trusted. They might not be as helpless as we think.”
He stands in front of me, not flinching even a bit, and raises an eyebrow at me.
“Look, I sound like a mad woman, but I’m sure you’ll thank me later.”
He scoffs, “A mad woman, that’s for sure. Now, let’s get back to them and finish what you started. But this is not over, and- why are your eyes red?”
I shrug. “I didn’t have my coffee yet.”
From the look on his face, I know he doesn’t believe me, but he lets it go and walks back to the living room.
“I think we should show him rather than tell.” Jo suggests.
“Me too, it’s a lot easier to explain this way.”
“He is just right here.” Jimmy says.
“Sorry.” We say in unison.
“I’ll go first.” Edward says and before we could even reply, he is already standing by the opened window in the living room.
“Watch this.” He tells Jimmy and back-flips out of the window.
Jimmy turns to us, paranoia all over his face, and runs to the window.
“Are you kidding me? How are you floating in the air like that?” he exclaims.
Edward laughs and jumps back inside. “That’s my secret.”
“My turn!” Jo shouts in excitement.
She goes to her room and comes back with a rope.
“Where did you get that?” I ask her.
Shrugging, she says, “It was in the basement.”
Without any more discussion, she untangles the rope and starts spiraling around Jimmy at the top of her speed, tying him with the rope. Honestly, I’m astonished myself, I never knew just how fast she was. Everything around her moves and we’re hit with a rush of wind. She stops and changes direction and the rope around his body is loose again.
“Wow.” We all chorus in amazement, and she flips her hair dramatically.
“I don’t even know how to react to that,” Jimmy mutters with wide eyes, “Anybody else has yet another deadly surprise?”
Peter nods, “Two more are left, mate.”
He clicks his fingers and the sound of rushing water hits our ears. Moments later, water slowly flows in the direction of Peter’s index finger. He balls his hand into a fist and it collects right above Jimmy. He lets loose, and I think it’s safe to say that Jimmy just got a free shower.
Snickering, I get ready to show my little surprise.
I can’t believe this! How is this possible?, he thinks.
“It’s possible because we are not humans.”
His eyes widen even more.
Did I just say that out loud? I must have.
“No, you didn’t.”
“Okay, now I’m officially freaking out.”
I snicker at the pure astonishment of his.
“My secret is telepathy and mind reading.” I explain.
Edward hands him a towel. Muttering a ‘thank you’, he wraps it around himself and sits down.
“But there’s something else. You said that you aren’t humans, then what are you?”
“Aliens, to you.” Jo answers immediately.
“Poliners, if we have to be more specific.” I add
His eyebrows furrow and he seems really deep in thought.
“Do you happen to have enemies called Xoliners?”
I exchange glances of utter surprise with the rest of them and they all seem just as surprised as I am.
“How did you know that?” I ask him.
“My goodness! So that’s true.”
“It’s just that I made some research about the existence of aliens and found about you. I kept telling everybody but none of them believed me.” He gets up suddenly. “But now, perhaps I can prove it.”
“Jimmy, no you can’t.”
“We’re on a secret mission here, you expose us and all the plan falls apart. We need to be hidden before it happens.”
“Before what happens?”
“The attack.” Peter answers.
“The Xoliners’ attack on earth.” I elaborate.
“What!” he exclaims. “Why haven’t you told me we’re in danger?”
“Because we can’t tell. We’re planning on putting it down by ourselves, and we believe that our only weapon is secrecy. But if things go out of control, we’ll call for your help.”
“Yeah, sure. I got to go now, good luck.”
“See you.” I shout to him before he heads out.
“What now?” Edward asks.
“I say we go to sleep and figure it out later.” Jo suggests and climbs up to her room, Peter following behind.
“I say, I must drink coffee.”
“No coffee, it’s past midnight.” He argues.
“Since when and I drink coffee only in the morning?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“We are talking right now.” I say as a matter of fact.
“You know what I mean. Something is wrong with you, Zoey, your isolation and bad mood don’t seem good to me. What changed?”
“Nothing is changed, really. It is just that a lot of things I’m both familiar and unfamiliar with, started popping up all of a sudden, whether it’s dead memories that are once again alive or the changes that have been going on in our lives. The unsettlement is driving me crazy, it’s killing me, and I don’t know what to do. I hate this, all of this, what brought us here, what orphaned me, what changed my life. The morning before any of this happened, the only thing I was worried about was being late for school, but now we’re trapped in a different world hiding in the shadows to protect a nation, an entire nation. I’m living my worst fears right now, Ed, you know I hate sudden changes. I can’t wait to get rid of this mission and go back, I want it so badly.” I take a breath, “I better go to sleep now.” I say before turning to leave, but he holds my wrist and stops me.
“Look, I know you’re having a hard time, even harder than all of us, but I also know that you’re strong enough to deal with it. Try to be positive, I mean, maybe all of this happened to teach you something, or to reveal something important to you? And once this happens, you’ll never regret coming here, you’ll get back to teasing and hitting us unreasonably. Your old cheerful self will be alive once more, just never give up, okay?”
“Okay,” I say flashing him a smile. “Thanks, Ed, you made me feel a lot better.”
“Don’t mention it. That’s what friends are for, right?”
I nod and head back to my room. The moment my head touches the pillow, I fall into a peaceful slumber for the first time since I came here.