Michael rolled his eyes in disbelief. He walked right into it.
“Oh, shit. I’m so sorry,” he started apologetically. “I shouldn’t have said that…” Michael continued dancing but anticipating her leaving him there at any moment.
“It’s okay,” Alaina said quickly. “He’s been called a lot worse…” Alaina paused, unsure what to say next.
“Category 4 Fire Elementalist, right?” Michael asked, breaking the silence. Alaina nodded.
Orbital Strike, Valkyrie, Freedom Fighter, Maze, Judge, and Terminal Velocity made up the most powerful team in the United States. Judge left when he married Jury and the team never recovered. Like dedicated soldiers, they pressed on with the good fight but never scored any more big captures. They assembled for one last great raid on Herr Metall and only succeeded in killing hundreds of people and causing billions in property damage.
“Dad was one of the best Elementalists ever. He could manipulate the fire, creating everything from a dull red flame to a blistering white-hot inferno.” Michael noticed Alaina smiled when she talked about her dad. To her, he would always be a hero.
“What happened to him, you know, after Detroit?” There was little information about the Enhanced involved with the Great Detroit Fire with the passing of the Enhanced Public Safety Act and another blow to the American economy.
“He…he was gone for a few months,” Alaina said sadly, remembering her mother crying each night alone in bed. “Then one day, he was back home, on parole, he said. He told them everything they knew about the Enhanced, even tried to convince Maze to turn himself in.”
“He had to do whatever they said so he could get home to his family,” Michael said. He did not like the idea of an Enhanced turning on his former teammate but it is easy to criticize when you are not the one facing a life sentence at Leavenworth.
“It did not make us popular with family or friends. Valkyrie never forgave him. She thinks he is a coward and a traitor.” Alaina tried to hold back the tears.
“I’m sorry, Alaina. My family kicked us out when I was 9. My mom could not find a job but she could always find the vodka bottle.” Michael was thankful that she was pulling herself out of that hell hole.
“I have to prove myself more than anyone else when the press finds out I’m the daughter of a disgraced Enhanced.” Alaina looked down, afraid to show Michael the shame in her eyes.
“Scott and I only started dating when our parents encouraged it,” she whispered. “Our public image is more important than our actual deeds, they said.” Michael could hear her sniffle as tears fell on the dance floor.
Michael lowered his head so only she could hear him.
“Your future is your decision. Don’t let anyone take that away.”
Alaina breathed deeply several times to regain her composure. Luckily, she was not wearing any mascara like Mari or she would be a mess right now.
“Which is why I have to thank you for Crawfordsville,” Alaina said smiling up, unsure what Michael thought about her now. “I wasn’t sure about you when you started, but the mission wouldn’t have been a success without you.”
“Thanks, Alaina,” Michael beamed. “It’s means a lot coming from you.”
Alaina blushed. This was not supposed to go like this. She was supposed to build a relationship with Scott and Team Justice, not pursue his hated nemesis. This was a lot harder than she realized and she needed to change the subject. Unlike all the other recruits, she knew little about Recruit Larson, no, Michael. His files were still sealed by Director Lehrer.
“So why aren’t you enjoying the nightlife?” she asked. “No alcohol? No girlfriend?”
Michael hesitated before answering, a decade of embarrassment filling him up in that single moment/
“Well,” he started shyly,“children of alcoholics are likely to become alcoholics. If I don’t drink, that can’t happen. And mom’s…episodes did make finding a girlfriend difficult. When I left for school, I didn’t have any time for a social life, especially after my Reveal.”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone about your powers?” Alaina asked.
“Yeah, right. I was nineteen. If I said, hey, I just had my Reveal, the JTF would say I was unregistered and toss my butt in jail, which happened anyways, I guess. ”
“I can see your point,” Alaina agreed. “When I had my Reveal, I overloaded the electrical system and nearly burned the house down. Luckily, dad was there and put the fire out immediately.”
Michael laughed softly. Even the mighty Lady Justice had an uncomfortable Reveal day. “It worked out for the best. After my trial, she sobered up. She’s actually spending the evening with a fireman she met at church.”
“And you went home to check on mom,” Alaina smiled. “That’s so sweet.”
As Michael nodded, the pain hit. The voice roared inside at the thoughts of his mother, Crawfordsville, and the JTF. He pulled away from Alaina’s grip and grabbed his head, the fire burning through his brain.
Alaina stepped back, not sure what was happening. Michael bent over in pain and bumped into the couple next to him.
“Watch it, asshole,” the male from the couple said.
“Michael, Michael! What’s wrong?” yelled Alaina. She looked around the dance floor frantically for her team.
“Trauma! Trauma! Get over here, now!” Alaina yelled over the noise of the crowd and Marvin Gaye. Alaina leaned down to get closer to Michael as he breathing became labored, his jaw clenched tightly in agonizing pain.
“Get the hell away from me!” he yelled swinging his arms wildly.