Two Weeks Later:
“Happy Birthday Ethan!” Ethan’s dad’s voice blares over the recorder. “You’ve officially turned fifteen! I’m extremely sorry that I couldn’t be at home, and I know any excuse that I provide wouldn’t be enough. I’m going to try and make it up for you, so I got you something that you’ll probably love. I don’t mind you having your friends over but try to remain civil and stay out of trouble. Love you Ethan!”
“Well…” Ethan said, looking over at his friends. “Looks like we have a lot of time to ourselves.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Charlie asked, straining to sit still.
“I don’t know,” Ethan replied, sitting down in a chair.
“Do you have the present?” Kevon asked.
Ethan frowned. “Yeah, but I have two, both with Dad’s name. But he said ‘something’ as in singular.”
Catherine gave an exasperated sigh. “Come on Ethan, no one’s perfect. He probably meant to say something else.”
“Okay, but can the presents wait?” Ethan asked. “Let’s go out. When was the last time we all went out together?”
It hadn’t been that long. No, they’d gone out yesterday, but they’d never pass up an opportunity to hang out.
“Let’s do it!” Charlie pumped his fist in the air and giving a hoot. “Where’re we going today?”
Ethan grinned. He went over to his closet and pulled out six tickets, giving everyone one. They looked over at it, their eyes unbelieving.
“No way,” breathed Kevon. “Obstacle 9000?”
“Yes, sir!” Ethan laughed.
“But they haven’t opened to the public yet,” said Catherine, disbelief in her face. “How’d you get tickets?”
“Take a look on the back.” Ethan laughed when he saw his friend’s reaction. “Yup, exclusive premium. Being a billionaire’s son has its perks.”
Ethan had more money than he knew what to do with, but he never misused them. In fact, he did things that helped people without their knowing. He’d smiled every time a kid went through the lunch line, knowing he didn’t have money, and the lunch lady passed him through.
Of course, these were extenuating circumstances.
“You know how dangerous the park is, right?” Catherina looked at them. “You could break bones or get seriously hurt or even killed.”
Ethan nodded, waiting.
“This. Is. Insane.”
They were standing at the entrance of the new park, Obstacle 9000, twenty acres covered with a plethora of different obstacle courses ranging from military runs to parkour to ridiculous “real-life scenario” courses, terrains ranging from hills to mud to water, all numbered depending on difficulty.
And the best part was that they didn’t need to wait in line.
Looking at the courses, Ethan couldn’t help grinning in agreement with Catherina’s statements.
They walked up to a lady and showed them their passes. She looked at them and then their passes and smiled.
“The courses are yours,” she said, making a sweeping gesture across the land. “Enjoy!”
She needed only to say the last word, and they were all running to the first obstacle course like a group of elementary kids.
They couldn’t begin to express the sheer enjoyment of running the course for hours on end, and the lady, Emilia, was shocked to see the group continuing for so long.
She was even more shocked at Ethan’s aptitude for such things. Though he started slowly and cautiously at first, tripping here and there, Ethan began moving faster and with more agility than the girls, and surprisingly outperforming the twin boys in brute strength.
She managed to corner him alone as he waited for the boy with the messy hair to run through a course.
“How do you do it?” she whispered.
Ethan, having heard her creep up, simply shrugged.
“Don’t be humble,” she whispered again.
Standing at a tad bit over six feet,
andnot as slim as the girls and not as bulky as the boys, she had expected him to be a spoiled and unfit brat.
“There is no way you’re stronger than those boys,” Emilia said again.
“Looks can be deceiving,” Ethan replied.
Ethan looked at her. “No.”
She took an involuntary step back as she saw his gray eyes, a perfect mirror to the fierce intelligence behind them.
“I had some spare time on my hands,” Ethan replied. He saw Charlie fall in again, and chuckled.
“For how long?”
“Studies?” she asked. This boy was very interesting. If only her own son was so.
“Doing well,” Ethan replied. Catherine looked over at him and gave him a quizzical look. He gave her a shrug, and she rolled her eyes.
“Not as smart as them?”
Ethan chuckled. “If you say so.”
“Do they follow you around because you’re rich?” Emilia asked, unabashed.
Ethan tensed, his face darkening. “Don’t let them hear that, and never say that again.”
Emilia swallowed hard at his change in tone. Though his face hadn’t changed, his tone was a warning.
“I apologize,” she said. Ethan relaxed. Emilia tried to change the subject. “Don’t you ever smile?”
“Oh, I smile alright,” Ethan said, not smiling. “Just not in public.”
“Stone-faced, huh?” Emilia asked, grinning. “That should be your nickname. Stone.”
“It is,” Ethan replied. He thumped his chest. “For more than one reason.”
Emilia looked at Charlie as he fell into the water again, his fifth time on the course.
“Does anyone else in his family have extra arms or legs?” Emilia asked jokingly.
“No, ma’am,” Ethan replied. “I assure you, they all have the recommended number of limbs.”
Emilia left him alone after that witty remark. A few hours later, they cleaned up, thanked Emilia, and left the park.
“That was awesome,” said Catherina. “I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun.”
“I agree completely,” said Kevin, grinning. He still had a spring to his step. “We should do that again sometime.”
They returned to Ethan’s house a little after dark, tired from a day of nonstop fun and stomachs bloated from eating.
Now it was time to open the presents.
“Open, open, open!” they chanted as one.
Ethan smiled and conceded, making a placating gesture with his hands. “Okay, okay. Let’s open the presents.”
Ethan came back a few moments later carrying two packages, both covered in a silky paper, both bearing the name of William Sanders.
It took a total of two seconds for everyone to rip open the beautiful papers into tatters, revealing an ordinary box. Inside it was a beautiful pocket watch.
“Incredible,” Ethan breathed. He looked closely at the cover. It had a green glow to it. “Is this jade?”
“Looks like it,” said Catherine.
Ethan carefully put the timepiece on the dresser.
Catherina gestured to the next present. “Open the next one.”
Another two seconds, and then confusion hit everyone.
“What is this thing?” Kevin asked.
They were looking at a weird contraption. No, contraption isn’t the right word. Its shape and form were too exact and obviously calculated for it to be a contraption.
In the center was a cube, polished silver in color, and surrounding it were three, very thin disks of the same color. On the top center of the cube was a slight depression. The entire thing was about the size of a palm, and Ethan saw no obvious function to the…object.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Ethan, picking it up. It was surprisingly heavy for such a small object.
“Maybe it’s your dad’s latest invention?” offered Charlie. He gingerly took it from Ethan.
Ethan shook his head. “No, he wouldn’t have given it to me. He would have tested everything first, and by that time, I would’ve known about it.”
“There’s a card in here,” announced Kevon. He handed a red rectangle to Ethan, a card, as Kevon said.
“There’s writing,” said Ethan. The symbols were awkward, like someone had gone through the trouble to make it stylized and elaborate but tried to keep the basic lettering the same. “’ This was purposeful.’”
“That’s it?” Catherine asked, thoroughly confused. Ethan nodded.
Ethan took the object and examined it again. That depression in the middle called to him again. He gently ran his thumb over it.
And that’s when the thing responded. The circles expanded outwards, breaking up into four chunks, and started revolving around the cube.
Stunned, Ethan quickly put it down. The cube, of course, ignored that it had been put down a bit forcefully and decided that it was going to break up into many chunks, like the squares of a Rubik’s cube. It started pumping up and down and moving from side to side.
“Anyone else starting to get nervous?” Ethan asked, slowly backing away.
“Way past that,” Catherina announced. “Scram?”
“Seconded,” Kevon and everyone else turned to run.
But they didn’t get a single foot outside the door before the cube spoke.
“Alpha MST Program Initiated.”