Portal – Chapter 76

Cloak slipped through the crowd as Dagger watched from the shadow nearby. He appeared as an old man, a subtle change in perception and enough to stay hidden. He purposely avoided getting too close to the stage, the traitor Jury was a danger to him. The JTF also had a roaming mentalist in the crowd, but she was arrogant, probably a new agent. She projected her power like a beacon in the night. She was easy to avoid.

The crowd roared at something that pretty red-head traitor said and then the camera flashes started. Cloak had to dodge a few elbows but he was still unhindered. The Director believed Maze would be at this event, but his employer disagreed. He had faced-off against Maze enough times and did not believe he would be stupid enough to attend a JTF function. Cloak was still not sure what the relationship was between the two of them, one ruled the Enhanced criminal underground and the other was in-charge of the JTF.

It was still better than his homeland. In Russia, an Enhanced was considered State property. There was no choice but to enlist with the Russian Special Services. Dimitry watched his own brother butchered by the Enhanced secret police. It was then he decided to leave his home, his family, and join with others like him. They would rule the world and subjugate the mundanes after a few scores were settled with the JTF Enhanced, like Judge and Jury. Then he would return home and kill every Russian Enhanced that did not swear allegiance to him.

As Cloak continued to sweep through the crowd, he saw a face he recognized. Every Enhanced knew this man, Judge Ronald Thompson, and feared seeing it across the counsel table. Cloak remembered an open contract to kill the Enhanced court judge several years ago, a bounty offered by an Enhanced crime lord named Spartan. The tank wanted retribution after several lieutenants were captured by the JTF and given life sentences to Fort Leavenworth by Judge Thompson. Before anyone could assassinate him and collect the money, Spartan was killed and pieces of him were found floating in the White River. The JTF had no idea who did it, theorizing a new Enhanced had moved into town, and his assets were stolen by the remaining members of the gang. Whatever happened, the contract was unfunded and criminals were not the charitable type, at least, not usually. As Judge Thompson stood up from his chair, Cloak decided to follow him. He would fulfill Spartan’s contract and help the cause. They could find Maze another day but this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Before he reached his destination, the judge stopped to talk with someone. Cloak could not see who it was, the judge was a large man and his companion was not. As he reached out to mentally learn more about Judge Thompson, he noticed the other party. It was the other mentalist who called herself Nightmare. Cloak quickly retracted his power, hoping the JTF Enhanced was too distracted to notice his near-catastrophic mistake.

“I hope you understand why I removed you from the court, Miss Miller,” Judge Thompson said in his trademark deep-baritone voice.

Nightmare tried but could not hide the anger she felt on the day Michael Larson was ordered to serve his sentence with the JTF. The Director held her responsible, blaming her for creating sympathy with Judge Thompson. Every opportunity for her since then to transfer to a front-line unit was denied or suddenly withdrawn. When she was sent to the Director’s home after another threat to his life, she thought maybe her penance was over. But instead, he ignored her, when he was actually there, and she was told that she would stay on night-shift for the immediate future. Working at the celebration was actually a reward of sorts. She actually saw regular people instead of the raccoons and opossums in the Director’s neighborhood when she patrolled the residence.

“He asked a question and I answered him,” Nightmare responded carefully. Judge Thompson was well-connected. She knew he had many friends and enemies in high places.

Judge Thompson shook his head in disapproval. “You violated a basic right, Miss Miller. The Supreme Court has already ruled that telepathy has no place in a court of law. I could have called for a mistrial.” Nightmare looked down embarrassed. “Why did you join the JTF?”

Nightmare shrugged her shoulders. She did not know exactly why she signed her life away, but it was better than pretending she was a normal woman just trying to survive life. She was a mentalist, the most-feared type of Enhanced. She would never have normal relationships with the mundanes or even the other Enhanced around her when she knew all their secrets, all their lies. She might be weaker in other areas, but she was an excellent telepathic. She had greater range than anyone, even that new kid, Cortex, and the legend, Jury.

“Because I don’t want to spend my life looking over my shoulder each time I used my power. I want to be more than just little Amy Miller.”

The judge understood that sentiment well. It was often used in his courtroom. “Bettering ourselves is a noble goal, but not at the expense of others. One day, you might have to make a choice – to follow what is easy or what is right. Don’t worry about what others think about you, worry about what you think of you. Remember what makes you human and not what makes you Enhanced.”

Amy tried not to but smiled anyways. The judge almost sounded like her father before he was murdered by mundane vigilantes. The family bought a local grocery store after her father retired from the hero business when the Enhanced Public Safety Act was passed. During the first anniversary of Apocalypse, several mundane-first groups rampaged across the big cities looking for Enhanced supporters. The neighborhood all knew about her father’s previous occupation thanks to that damn law. When the vigilantes arrived at their store, he provided cover for her mother to escape. The firefighters found his burned corpse locked in the remains of the freezer. They did not need to kill him, smoke inhalation did it first.

“You should try to get to know the recruits. You might find you have a lot in common with them. And come by the office any time you want to visit. Perhaps I’ll even share some of my better stories about the Director,” the judge said smiling with his hand extended.

“Thank you, sir,” Nightmare responded returning the smile. “I’d like that.” Nightmare extended her hand and made her peace with the judge in a handshake.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for the meet and greet. I would like to congratulate Mister Larson for exceeding my expectations of him.”

Nightmare nodded. “Yes, for a baby Enhanced, he has done well,” she admitted.

The judge continued along the path as Cloak continued his leisurely stroll behind him.

Dagger, meet me at the south restroom. We’ve got a pig to gut.