Cemetery was quiet and dark, not surprising since it was after midnight.
Typical of California summer, the air was hot and dry, and the sounds of
lawn sprinklers could be heard faintly in the distance. The cemetery had
long since shut its gates, and the quiet green spaces were empty, save
for the marble and granite tombstones that dotted the landscaping.
In that darkness, a solitary figure moved between the graves, searching each one purposefully, though he carried no light. He didn't really need one- to his eyes, the darkness of night was easily pierced. And besides, a light would draw unwanted attention.
After a few minutes, he found what he was looking for. A large, unornamented slab of granite, it sat sparkling coldly, even in the minimal light that came from the sliver of moon.
McGrath. Two names, one stone. No bodies. Molly McGrath had died at sea, body never recovered. Her husband, Jim, had been killed two years later, in an explosion. Neither had left anything behind to be buried.
With a sigh, the figure moved to sit, gingerly, on the grass before the grave. His motions, normally impossibly fluid, now held the careful hesitancy of a man who has been banged around a bit more than is comfortable for a human being. Propping his chin in one hand, Max Steel stared at the stone before him.
"You're probably wondering what I'm doing here," he began. "To tell you the truth, I'M not even sure. But I'm so confused... I had to talk to SOMEBODY, even if they can't answer back.
"I had a bit of an accident three weeks ago... okay, so that's an understatement," the teen laughed, half-bitter. "My entire life got turned upside down. It was my own fault, I know... snooping around N-Tek where I had no business being, and got caught in a security breach. Now I'm a superhero... and addicted to a form of energy only three people on this planet really understand. If I don't get it, I die.
"I joined N-Tek... the private side. I have to, you know? Dad always says that if you've got the power to make a difference, you can't just walk away. Of course, he was talking about money and charity work at the time... he wasn't real thrilled when I quoted it back at him, either.
"These last three weeks have been insane. Batteries of tests, then training... and through it all, I've been fighting with Dad and having these nightmares about almost dying. He finally told me the whole truth about you... why you died, I mean... not to mention why you were never around. I think he was hoping to scare me off. He doesn't understand; it's not that I'm not scared of dying, it's just that I CAN'T walk away from this. This power's been dropped in my lap and I have to live with it. When I told Dad that he just sighed... and for the first time ever, he said I sounded like you.
"I had my first mission today-- well, probably yesterday now. It went off without a hitch. I did everything right, not that anybody actually told me so. But nobody chewed me out afterwards. God, it was such an adrenaline rush... to know I was making a difference, saving lives. Was it that way for you?
"I thought maybe joining N-Tek would help me find some answers, but really, it's only raised more questions. Was the job more important to you than I was? Or could you just not walk away? I wonder what you'd say if you were still here... would you be like Dad, dead-set against it? Would you support me, like Mairot? Would you even like me? I've changed so much, just in these past weeks... sometimes I'm more comfortable being Max Steel than Josh McGrath. I don't know who I am anymore, and I don't know if I like who I'm becoming. And the biggest question... would you be proud of me? I hope so. We never got a chance to know each other, but... I'd want you to be proud. I think Dad is. Sometimes."
From somewhere in the city, the faint tolling of a clock floated on the night air. Max looked up, cocking his head in the direction of the sound. "One o'clock. It's really Sunday now."
He got to his feet gingerly, still looking at the grave. "Thanks for listening, I guess... and Happy Father's Day." The teen bent over, placing a white chrysanthemum on the grave before him. Then he melted into the darkness and was gone.
In memory of Joseph Brand, 1943-1997. I love you, Daddy.