Portal – Chapter 64

“As I said, Lieutenant, I cannot clear Recruit Larson for duty until we clear up these test results.”

Preacher and Lieutenant Caldwell had spent the last fifteen minutes arguing about the medical report in Caldwell’s office after Preacher was called in to explain his conclusions. Michael maintained parade-rest as the two old warriors battled it out.

“I understand your concerns, Preacher, but I will not leave another man behind. Crawfordsville took a huge toll on my guys. We don’t have the replacements, even with the support from other units. With the Freemen uprisings, the other JTF offices are reluctant to commit Enhanced or armored agents to us while leaving their own units short-handed.”

Preacher pulled out Michael’s chart and flipped to the EEG readings from this morning and last week.

“Look at these neural readings, Lieutenant. He is going off the chart. You put him back out there, it could kill him.”

Preacher was not known for exaggerating. Lieutenant Caldwell knew the risk but he was desperate. Michael wondered if he should resign if the medical situation was really that dire. If he did, he would never be allowed to rejoin the JTF or legally use his powers. What could a washed-out Enhanced do in a world that did not trust his kind?

He finally said it. He was Enhanced, not human. He was forever separated from normal, mundane people. He would never have a normal life, a normal future, or a normal relationship with anyone again. His mom would never say it but she deserved a life away from Enhanced. They had already caused so many people pain.

“Yes, and he might also save the mission, like Crawfordsville. Recruit Larson is intelligent and adapts well to situations in the field. I don’t want him here when the call comes.” Caldwell looked at Michael. Although he wished Michael had physical or true offensive capabilities, the recruit had impressed him with his unorthodox tactics. The JTF needed more recruits like him, mundane and Enhanced. It had become a stagnant pond of government regulations.

“I am denying your appeal to release Recruit Larson. I’m sorry.”

“We are under threat condition two protocols. As the ranking field officer in Indianapolis, I am authorized to deploy any resource I find necessary to protect my AOR. Recruit Larson is staying with Bravo company.”

“Dammit John,” Preacher swore, something Michael heard he never did, “don’t do this. He’s barely more than a child. In my world, he is a child.” Preacher held his hands out pleadingly. The medical readings had confirmed what his power told him. If Michael was a mundane, he would be dead.

“Preacher,” Lieutenant Caldwell started apologetically. “I cannot risk the safety of everyone here at Butler and everyone in Indianapolis because a prototype is rewriting the Enhanced medical norms. He’s different, we all know that. Those readings could be normal for him. ”

Preacher only shook his head. The new readings were not normal for any Enhanced from the lowest category one to Judge. Something was happening to Recruit Larson.

He could only sigh in frustration. Caldwell would not back down.

“I’ll make some phone calls,” Preacher said. “Maybe one of my contacts downtown can help you find who killed the mundane. Once we are off level 2 protocols, Michael Larson is off your team.”

“Agreed,” Caldwell said nodding.” Larson, you are dismissed. Report to your hand-to-hand combat training.”

Michael snapped to attention. “Yes, sir,” he said before walking quickly out of the office.

Preacher watched Michael leave before he turned around to face Lieutenant Caldwell.

“Nice speech for the kid, John. Now, cut the bravado and tell me what is going on,” he demanded accusingly.

“Lehrer puts us at condition two and I have no idea why. I’ve tried to get more information from him but all he said was find the Enhanced responsible for crippling Russell. That little kiss-ass Thorton knows something but he won’t talk either. He’s gone from desk jockey to Lehrer’s right-hand man.”

Preacher laughed. “You know Thorton has been vying for a command position. Now that he has Lehrer’s ear, he’ll get his wish.”

Caldwell scoffed at the thought. “He’s a weasel. There is no way I’m letting him anywhere near Bravo.”

“You may not have a choice now, unless you want to oppose the Director.”

Lieutenant Caldwell slammed his fists down on his desk in frustration. “They’ll have to lead me away in handcuffs before I let that fool command my company.”

Preacher looked down at his friend. He knew this was a delicate subject with him. “John, I hope you are right. Many Enhanced are not happy with the JTF leadership. I’m hearing more and more accounts of brutality and harassment. The Freemen are gaining support. People can only be pushed so far before they break.”

Caldwell looked up while running his hands through his grey stubby hair. “Thorton’s a symptom of the bigger problem, Charlie. These younger guys, they don’t remember when the Enhanced made the streets safer, when they worked side by side with law enforcement because it was the right thing to do. All they learn is Atomic Power blew up Los Angeles and Orbital Strike burned down Detroit. Where the hell are the stories about how Atomic Power saved California from Epicenter or how The Old Guard saved everyone many times from Herr Metall?”

“Fear controls the masses, John,” Preacher replied somberly.