Michael quickly showered and dressed after the workout. He did not have time for Justice’s showing off, he needed to get to the infirmary for more testing. He enjoyed his time with Preacher and Trauma. Preacher was usually out in the field, but when he was in the office, he kept Michael updated on the happenings around the city. He even visited Michael’s mother once to see if she was okay.
“We have to do something about those people,” cried the woman on television during one of the 24 hour cable news shows. Michael could not read her name but her group, Mothers Against Enhanced, was blazoned brightly on-screen. She was on a split-screen with Freedom Fighter, who was not in costume and looked tired with streaks of grey though his hair and beard. The lighting at his location made him look sinister.
After he was arrested and jailed for two years for failing to register, Freedom Fighter became an advocate for Enhanced rights and lobbied state governments to nullify the Enhanced Public Safety Act. Since the Enhanced was only a small percentage of the population, polls indicated most mundanes were happy to keep Enhanced leashed and his efforts were often fruitless. Freedom Fighter did win in Alaska and Montana, where Enhanced could use their powers openly outside of city limits. The federal government claimed supremacy clause but so far, no one had challenged the laws in court.
“Those people are Americans, ma’am,” shouted Freedom Fighter angrily. He was well-known in the Enhanced community, before the Enhanced Public Safety Act, as a hot head, fight first then parley, and he did not change when he was forced to hang up the suit. The talking heads loved bringing him on shows to antagonize him because he never disappointed. Many in the Enhanced community believed the networks were working with the politicians to drum up anti-Enhanced rhetoric to deflect blame for the economic collapse and recovery failure.
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t see you come in,” Trauma said as she pushed the power button, turning the TV off.
Michael enjoyed talking to Trauma, her soft Kentucky accent was cute and she always smelled like flowers. He did not know if it was her power or soap she smuggled into training, since they all were given the same toiletries the first day. Her small round glasses always slipped down her lightly freckled nose. She was constantly pulling them up and trying to rub her fingers through her blond hair. which was no longer there. Whenever she caught herself doing it in front of Michael, she turned away embarrassed. She hated that he saw her like this.
Kim watched as Michael removed his issued olive drab shirt, noticing the well-formed muscles in his arms. She knew the guys liked to workout at the same time, some sort of male bonding ritual. Everyone knew Justice could out-lift every other Enhanced in the group combined, but he participated anyways. She just did not understand men. She had tried to get Michael’s attention since the first day without much luck. She begged and pleaded with Preacher to be allowed to help him after Michael collapsed during the simulation. She was sure he knew her reasons, but he shrugged it off as eagerness to develop her powers.
Like all the other guys in the training class and even the male agents, Michael looked at Alaina. Kim couldn’t blame him. She was beautiful, intelligent, and very powerful. Kim had treated one of the JTF agents that got hit by Alaina’s lightning during a training session two days ago. Even though he was in Harris armor, the wattage was so high, it overloaded the dissipaters in the suit that could, theoretically, withstand any known Enhanced electrical attack. The agent only had minor burns over his body when the armor was peeled off but a second hit would have killed him. The suit was shipped back to Harris Industries, who promised an upgraded version that could withstand the new threshold of Enhanced electricity.
Michael sat at the table, ready for testing. For now, they had given up on making his portals larger. Each time they tried before, Michael would become dizzy and the testing would have to stop. Now they were working on control. He had performed this test the last time, using his powers to keep a ping-pong ball moving by dropping it through one portal, bouncing off the table and through the sister portal. As the ball increased in speed, Michael had to adjust the second portal’s location when the ball would bounce higher. They seemed impressed by his reaction time but Michael thought it was easy. When he focused on the task, it seemed like time itself slowed down.
Preacher wanted Trauma to make it more difficult this time. She was to try to distract him by talking with him during the tests. Previously, they Michael was left alone in the room, periodically observed for progress. This was good timing, she had something to ask him anyways.
Michael created the two portals, one against the wall and the other angled towards the table. He bounced the ping-pong ball off the table and moved the wall portal to meet it. The ball disappeared in the wall portal and reappeared in the angled portal bounced off the table and disappeared in the wall portal again. The pattern repeated until Michael adjusted the portals until he no longer had to move them. The ping-pong ball would not stop now, until the table moved or the ball wore down from the repeated compressions.
“Michael,” Kim started hesitantly, worried about his answer, “we have weekend liberty coming up and I’ve been planning a get together for the group. Most of us have never been to Indianapolis and we have yet to see the city.”
Michael was a little surprised when Trauma, Kim as she preferred to be called when they were alone, started talking. He lost concentration on the ping-pong ball and had to adjust the portal slightly again. He preferred to use their real names when not out in the field as well, something friends would do, and not use callsigns, which were for strictly coworkers and assholes. He never had many friends so he wanted to make good impressions.
“You should stay on the north side of the city. The east and west are gang territory and the south is well, dangerous.” Michael was sure everyone was informed about the city situation when they arrived but it was always a good reminder. When he worked at the airport on the west side, security was always carrying. Armed officers always rode on the UPS shuttle after the gangs started forcing vehicles going to the airport off the road and robbing the occupants.
“I am planning to go to Broad Ripple on liberty Saturday,” Kim continued. “ I’ve heard from some of the medical staff that it has the best nighttime entertainment. Khaleel recommended this Arabic restaurant for dinner and the club next door.”
Michael knew the restaurant Khaleel suggested. It was a popular hookah bar with the university crowd and had an attached grocery store. The club was a great place to meet the fairer sex. Some of his classmates would walk there every other weekend and brag about their successful sexual conquests. He knew most of the stories were complete bullshit.
“Would you go with me as my date?” she asked nervously. She said it quickly so she would not chicken out at the last moment.
Michael hesitated before answering. “Sorry Kim. I’m going to visit my mom that weekend.”
Michael regretted his words the second he spoke them. He would like to go out with friends, especially with a chance to go dancing with a pretty woman like Kim, even if she thought she was ugly with no hair. Justice and Cortex might hate him and Lady Justice thought he was a jerk, but he hated being alone more. But after his trial, his mom had tried to turn herself around. He could not miss the opportunity to see her and make sure she was okay.
“Oh, okay. I’m sorry. I should have realized you had family you would want to see. If you’ll excuse me,” Kim said quickly as she raced out the door. She barely made it to the restroom before her eyes started turning red.
After some time to collect herself and resume the testing, Kim returned to the testing room to see how Michael was doing. In the restroom, she chided herself for crying over Michael turning her down for a date. He was just one guy she tried to tell herself.
“Michael?” she called as she reentered the room. She could not hear the ping-pong ball hitting the table anymore.
She noticed Michael staring at the portal against the wall, the other portal and the ping-pong ball missing. When Kim looked at the portal, nothing was visible through it. This one appeared unconnected, but instead of the typical swirling grey and black mosaic, it was a perfect solid black, darker than anything she had ever seen.
He seemed unresponsive as Kim nudged Michael and shouted.
Michael started blinking again. Kim did not notice the portal turning grey before disappearing, leaving a fist sized, perfectly spherical hole in the wall.
“That was quick. Did you get out the door and forget something?” he asked.
Kim was confused. “Michael, I was gone almost 20 minutes. Where is the ping-pong ball?”
“Really? I guess I lost my concentration and the portal moved. I was thinking about my mom and started daydreaming. I thought I saw the ball turn red and just disappear. All this training is making me see things, I guess. My brain is finally tired of me pushing the power.”
“That I understand, “ Kim laughed, feeling better. “I don’t think I’ve slept more than four hours a night since we got here.”
“When we get a chance, I’ll take you …”
The intercom became alive with static and Agent Edward’s voice.
“Attention. Attention. All recruits return to the barracks and suit up. Report to the motor-pool in 1 hour for roll call.” Agent Edwards always had a serious voice that got your attention but this time, Michael knew it was the real thing. The recruits were going on their first mission.
“I guess we have to go push them some more,” Michael said as he and Kim raced out the door.