As the day turned to afternoon, Michael put on the clothes he wore to orientation, noticing the arm holes were tighter and the waist looser. He was more muscular in the shoulders and leaner in torso from the exercise program of the last few weeks and using his powers regularly. He knew he would need to spend some money and buy new clothes that fit his new body shape.
After the team returned home from Crawfordsville, the dynamic duo gave the recruits a few days of leave. Agent Prescott and Agent Edwards flew down to Fort Leavenworth to introduce Jet Stream, Mother Nature, and the colony Flyer to their new accommodations. They wanted to make sure the criminals found a good hole to disappear in. They would be there a very long time.
Michael knew the others were going to do some sightseeing during the day with Scimitar, both hands still wrapped tightly in gauze, as their tour guide. Michael was invited but declined. He needed to check on his mother to see if she was okay.
Once he got outside the Butler campus, he looked for the JTF guards that had slammed him on the concrete the first day but they were not on shift. He did not want another confrontation, but he was not going to put up with their bullshit again. The Harris armor might give a mundane Enhanced-level strength, but it was bulky and slower.
Michael only had his backpack with overnight items and a change of clothes for his trip home. He decided to jog the two-mile trip rather than pay money for a taxi. He needed to stretch each paycheck out and the exercise was nothing compared to the morning runs.
Less than fifteen minutes later, he was at the apartment complex. After typing in the security code at the gate, he went to his mother’s apartment. He still had a key but since she did not know he was coming over, he probably should not just walk in. Hopefully, she was awake and not nursing a hangover.
When Michael knocked, a man in his forties answered. He was clean-shaven with brown hair and light flecks of grey. He was slightly taller than Michael but not as muscular.
“Can I help you?” he asked Michael.
“Uh, yeah, this is 2E, right?” Michael responded confused. This was his home for 10 years. “I’m looking for Susan Collins. She used to live here.”
Michael felt heartbroken. His mother had left the city without him.
“Who is it, hun?” asked a female voice in the background.
“Mom?” Michael shouted.
As Michael walked in the room, he felt a hand grip his shirt, trying to keep him out of the apartment. His training took over as he easily overpowered the mundane man, spinning his wrist, then his body, slamming him against the steel front door and holding him in an arm bar. The man groaned as Michael pressed against him. He had worked out a lot with Scimitar and Solid Copy so Michael knew he could easily break the arm if he wanted to.
“Michael?” cried his mother. “No, no, Michael. Let him go, dear. Please.” He heard the pleading in her voice again, the same voice he heard at his trial.
Michael looked at his frantic mom, her hands over her mouth. Michael quickly released the man and backed away. Michael saw him blink a few times and shake the arm he had pinned a few times before turning around.
“So, you must be Susan’s boy.” the man said, rubbing his arm. Michael noticed the man was wearing an Indianapolis Fire Department shirt.
“Yes, and you are?” Michael asked hesitantly.
“Yeah, I’m Rick Stalward, a friend of your mom’s.” Michael looked at his mom and back to Rick.
“Are you okay?” she asked, looking at Rick. When he nodded, she reached over to Michael.
“My baby is home,” she cried as she hugged Michael. He noticed she was not in the house robe she always wore during the day, instead blue jeans, a lightweight grey and white striped shirt, and makeup. It was not much but Michael could not remember the last time she actually wore lipstick. Her hair was dyed, not a single grey strand showing, and styled. This was definitely not the woman he grew up with the last 10 years.
“Rick and I met at a church dinner,” Susan started, “He works for the Indianapolis Fire Department and came over on his off day to spend it with me.” Susan smiled as she looked at Rick.
Michael looked around. The apartment was transformed, the stains on the linoleum floors and carpet were scrubbed away. There were no dishes in the sink and the trash bag was recently replaced. The walls were scrubbed, patched, and recently repainted. The apartment looked almost new.
“I started going to AA at the church down the street,” Susan explained as they toured the apartment, “I stayed and helped with setup and cleanup for other events for extra income. Rick was there for a retirement dinner for his Captain. He asked me out to dinner and we’ve been seeing each other on his days off.”
“Nice to meet you, Michael,” Rick said, holding his sore arm out. Michael shook it lightly. Rick would need to put ice on it soon to keep the swelling down.
“You too, Rick,” Michael apologized. “Sorry about that. I’ve been training with the JTF.”
“Susan told me you had joined the JTF. I thought as an agent. I didn’t realize you were Enhanced.”
Michael narrowed his eyes and looked at him accusingly. “Is that a problem?”
“Michael!” shouted his mother.
“No, no. I wish the Feds would let local departments hire Enhanced. A few fire departments in Canada have Elementalists and Tanks on the crews. They are saving a lot of lives. The Speedsters and Mentalists on the EMS crews also make a huge difference.”
Michael relaxed. This was the first time he had heard the impact Enhanced had in other countries. Enhanced had been classified as dangerous in the United States for so long, most people have forgotten all the good things they did before Apocalypse and Detroit.
“Yeah, I can see that,” Michael said approvingly. “I can make portals so you wouldn’t even need to leave the hydrant to fight the fire. I could put the water anywhere you want that I can visually see.”
“Damn, you would be perfect. I’ll talk to our Captain. Maybe we can ask the JTF for a waiver and borrow you.” The both laughed. The Feds would never relinquish their control over the Enhanced population.
Susan stepped forward. “Michael, we were about to sit and eat dinner. Come in and tell me what you’ve been doing.”
Michael felt nervous. Could he eat his mom’s cooking? The woman would heat and reheat leftovers in the oven over an entire week, never putting it back in the refrigerator claiming that the heat kept the germs away. Michael remembered vomiting afterwards many times from food poisoning.
When he walked to the table, a clean white tablecloth was draped over a tan-colored square table with real chairs. Previously, the dining room table was a round card table with a large knife slash through it and dented folding chairs. Things had definitely changed. On the real plates, not paper plates, was hot food and fresh vegetables.
“Let me get you a plate, dear,” Susan said as she guided Michael to one of the chairs.
He was in too much shock to argue.