Portal – Chapter 1

Michael Larson’s alarm clock rang loudly, echoing in the entire living room. He used an old style wind up clock with a real bell that he found at Goodwill instead of a digital clock. Too many times the power had been shut off over the last year because his mother would not pay the bill. He had already been expelled from his local community college for his arrest but today was more important than a simple college class. He had a 9 a.m. court appearance at the Marion county courthouse in downtown Indianapolis. His court appointed lawyer had called the apartment manager yesterday, who left a message on the apartment his mom rented.

The apartment manager had always been sympathetic to Michael before he was arrested. Before Michael left two years ago, everyone knew his mother as the apartment complex drunk. She was always intoxicated and screaming at the world and the people that inhabited it.  Although she irrationally screamed at Michael for the smallest mistakes, she never hit him. After Michael was arrested, kicked out of college, and lost his job, he was forced to return to his mother’s apartment with his tail between his legs. He had been living there the last eight months as his case worked it’s way through the legal system. His arrest was a little different than most so the legalities tended to go faster.

Fighting was something Michael knew well thanks to his mom. He never could keep his mouth shut and mom never seemed to find a decent man. The story always was the same. Mom and her boyfriend would get drunk. They would argue and yell. They would fight. Mom would lie about or hide her injuries for weeks or months until Michael caught the boyfriend in the act or Mom was so injured he had to drive her, even before he had a license, to the Emergency Room. Michael would go find the boyfriend and remind him that men do not hit women. The boyfriends never came back for his mom after that. Twice he had to fight the ex boyfriend and his friends looking for revenge but the results were the same.

Michael adjusted his GPS ankle band as he slid on the best pair of pants he had, some old khakis that he bought from Goodwill for his high school senior picture. The GPS tracking device was a condition of bail and he knew any attempt to remove it would alert many angry armed police officers. He found the cleanest white button down shirt he had and slipped on. He put on Steven’s brown leather belt and shoes that actually fit his 6 foot frame and size 12 wide feet. He noticed they fit him while burning the rest of Steven’s clothes in the dumpster out back. Michael had liked Steven, at first,  but his mom did not deserve to get hit by him.

His mom’s desire to live in a clean house had declined over the years. As Michael opened the refrigerator in search of breakfast, the smell of cheap vodka bottles and rotting food  in the overflowing trash turned his stomach. He had a mandatory court curfew at 7 p.m. but the police seemed to be okay with him staying in the apartment complex laundry room until 2 a.m.. There was small area to the side of the washing machines that had his old blanket. He brought it down from the apartment a few months ago after another night of alcohol and fighting with his mom and one of her boyfriends. He knew some of the residents would wash it with their clothes if it would fit so it was usually cleaner than most of the sheets in the house.

Michael gathered up all the late night party souvenirs including half a bottle of vodka and tossed them in another garbage bag. He grabbed both bags and left out the front door. The dumpster was in the parking area in the middle of the complex directly behind his mother’s apartment. As he tossed in the trash, he heard the homeless sifting through one of the other dumpsters. They would probably find the vodka in his bag and have a good time tonight and be back at it tomorrow. Michael knew that his mother was lucky even to have an apartment in this economy. Without the monthly check that came from the government each month, they would probably be on the streets.

The Greater Depression was starting to ease slightly according to the politicians up for reelection, but after a decade of miserable economic outlooks, most people were not very optimistic . Charities and social programs were tapped out for the most part. Tax revenues continued to decline as the number of unemployed went up and the number of business went down. Certain segments of the population were doing well but most people were struggling in some way. People did what they could to survive. The vast majority were honest and hardworking, performing whatever task needed that would put food on the table but more and more people turned to the criminal trade. Police departments, already strained from budget cuts, were now facing far more people willing to break the law. They also had to deal with more Enhanced criminals.

After Apocalypse, the use of powers by all Enhanced was forbidden, punishable by prison time at Fort Leavenworth, the converted military prison that now held all Enhanced prisoners in the United States. In the interest of public safety, new laws were enacted to restrict Enhanced that were not government approved. They were no longer allowed to combat crime without a government agency sponsor.  All Enhanced were to unmask and report to the government all their powers and abilities under the Enhanced Public Safety Act. Several Enhanced including Freedom Fighter, Maze, Terminal Velocity, and Valkyrie of the Enhanced team, The Old Guard, sued the government and took the law to the Supreme Court. The Judges ruled Enhanced powers were not protected under the 4th Amendment or the right to privacy. Freedom Fighter, Terminal Velocity, and Valkyrie were apprehended and unmasked by the F.B.I. on national television near the steps outside of the Supreme Court. The talking heads were in scandal mode for weeks as Terminal Velocity was revealed to be a Congressman from Utah. Anti-Enhanced sentiment was still very high at that time and the Congressman was forced to resign his seat. Maze never showed up to the Supreme Court decision press conference with the others. He knew the decision had already been made behind the closed doors of Washington D.C. before the trial started. He was able to elude the U.S. government for a few more years before finally disappearing completely. The Old Guard was dead.

The Marion County courthouse was only a couple of miles from the apartment complex so Michael decided to walk instead of waiting for the bus. He might as well be early for his trip to Fort Leavenworth. As Michael walked down the street that divided Indianapolis into East and West regions, he noticed every door had what was commonly called ghetto glass, thick heavy bars that were supposed to protect the homeowners inside. They might prevent the average junkie or home invader from getting in but they would not stop a determined E-junkie. Heroin, meth, and cocaine had been replaced by artificial Enhanced stimulants called E-Stims, drugs that gave mundanes minor Enhanced abilities. E-Stims could provide Enhanced strength, speed, or even the ability to fly but were notoriously unstable. The duration of the effect would last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours and wear off in a few seconds without warning. More than a few people had plummeted to their deaths from several thousand feet or were crushed by a 1000 lb weight they were lifting when the effect wore off. Taking more than one E-Stim would either cancel the powers out or burnout the brain. E-Stims were very addictive psychologically and physiologically. Many addicts turned suicidal or criminal when their supply of cash and E-Stims ran out. Tank robbery, using a strength E-Stim to rob a bank or business, was by far the most common crime involving E-Stims.

Enhanced had never deterred  the criminal community. Violence was increasing among the criminal gangs as the economy had worsened and no longer centered around Chicago, Detroit, or Washington D.C., it had spread to every major city and surrounding communities. Many wealthier cities began constructing border fences and walls, something straight out of East Germany, to keep the violence out of their community. Unmanned drones patrolled the major cities and provided surveillance for the Joint Task Force. The JTF was the federal agency created after Apocalypse to enforce the Enhanced Public Safety Act, prosecute Enhanced crimes, and act as a counter-terrorism unit that integrated Enhanced with federal law enforcement. The most famous and successful JTF group was led by a husband and wife team out of Chicago, callsigns Judge and Jury. Michael remembered seeing them once, years ago, at Military Park as part of a grade school field trip during their ‘Make America Safer’ tour.

The streets of Indianapolis during the day were always crowded due to the fear of being outside at night. Michael noticed the people around him but his glances were mostly ignored by other residents that knew looking around too much would invite problems with the wrong people. This area of Indianapolis had once been primarily poor African-Americans but now was packed with every race and color courtesy of the Greater Depression, the steep economic decline that resulted from the destruction in Southern California years ago.