As Justice continued his speech, Alaina observed the other recruits becoming restless. They were told by Agent Prescott and Agent Edwards to maintain an upright and proud posture in their seats but many recruits, especially Net, were no longer sitting squarely in the seat. If she had to guess, he had fallen asleep. She would have nudged him but she would not embarrass herself or Terrence. After her speech, the media would be looking for any excuse to criticize the daughter of Orbital Strike.
Michael had been acting strangely all day and appeared agitated. He was constantly shifting in his chair and staring off into space or directly at Justice. Alaina was not sure what he was thinking but his expressions were not friendly.
Alaina glanced at Justice standing at the podium with his back to her. He was flailing his arms around like a preacher on the television talking about the fires of hell and the coming armageddon. Some mundane fanatics actually believed the Enhanced were nothing more than demons sent to the Earth. There were times Alaina thought they were not far from the truth.
“And when I join my unit, I promise the people of the United States that I will fight for you and our way of life against the scourge of the Freemen and the Enhanced criminals ruining our cities.” As always, the crowd cheered, eating up every horrible cliche that Justice, or more likely a ghost writer Jury hired,used with a positive message of protection and goodwill.
Alaina looked at Michael but he was staring over her, where Jury and the Director were discussing the events after the speeches. The Director was telling Jury that she had to meet with the press first before photos with the mayor. Alaina did not envy that duty. It was known that the mayor had wandering hands and enjoyed chasing the fairer sex. She thought Michael was different, not shallow like most of the other men that worked around Elizabeth Jurgens, but she was wrong. Jury had him eating from her hand like a trained puppy.
Even so, she still wanted to ask him if he was okay. When Michael came back from his tutoring sessions with Jury, he was disoriented and exhausted. When asked, he said they discussed his powers and ways to work around his limitations.She pressed him for more answers but he left to take a nap. When he missed the assigned assembly time, Agent Prescott found him still in bed. His bunk had to be tipped over before he finally woke up. Whatever Jury did to him, it pushed him to his limits.
Michael was now smiling and waving. Alaina could not resist turning around and noticed Jury returned the attention with a wink. She was obviously enjoying flirting with him as she left for her press conference. And he was checking out her ass!
“We will rebuild this nation. We will defeat our enemies. We will have justice!”
Alaina knew that this was Scott’s big moment in the spotlight. As he finished his speech, he raised in arms in triumph as thousands of flashbulbs flickered and the crowd rose to their feet.
Michael tried not to laugh, he tried to behave but the corniness of that speech was just too much for him. Justice was a selfish, egotistical asshole and he did not give a damn about anyone but himself. He just wanted the attention and fame that his parents had earned, especially the beautiful Jury. Michael closed his eyes and remembered her smell, her laugh, her touch. It felt like it was a lifetime ago. Michael open his eyes when he knew someone was staring at him.
“What the hell are you laughing at, bitch?” Justice sneered.
“Just an idiot who thinks he will make a difference,” he shot back, angry at Justice for interrupting his private thoughts. If Michael had looked around, we would have noticed all the recruits staring at him in shock. He was intentionally trying to antagonize Justice. Michael ignored them and looked straight ahead.
“Ever since your dad became the big man on campus, everything has been going to shit. You’re just another dumb-ass tank that thinks you’re Superman.”
As Justice took a step towards Michael, his face contorted to an angry frown. Suddenly, the curtains closed and Michael could hear Director Lehrer begin his speech. He was the last speaker of the day.
Michael just continued to stare at Justice.
“What are going to do, big boy?” Michael asked in the mocking tone from the first day. He ignored Alaina’s pain on her face as she looked at him, remembering he was mimicking her voice.
Justice, the most powerful member of the class and the first category four, only smiled. Michael was insignificant but needed to be stepped on. Now he had his reason. No one in the JTF would fault him.
“Look at you, Larson. You’re just pathetic,” Justice said waving his hand around. “We are the Enhanced. You are just a freak and a weak one at that. You got lucky against Mother Nature. She would have killed you if Wei hadn’t saved your ass.”
“Scott,” Wei interrupted, “I only stopped the golem…”
Justice turned his gaze away from Michael quickly to Solid Copy. “Stay out of this, Wei, or you can forget finding your sister. You will get in line and do what I say or no more searches.” Wei turned around and walked away.
As Michael’s face hardened, Vengeance woke up. It was becoming restless.
I don’t need justice. I want annihilation. I demand retribution.
“Will you shut the fuck up?” Michael yelled angrily. The voice was not helping. He could deal with Justice. Jury had freed him from his limitations.
Scott grabbed Michael’s shirt. “What did you say, worm?”
Voices in the background became louder as newcomers arrived shoving their way on stage from the rear stairs.
“Get out of here, recruits, and wait outside…”
“What the hell are you doing standing around?”
“Move it or we’ll send your asses back to day one. We can still recycle you…”
Michael grinned at Justice who was still holding his shirt.
“Worm?” said the voice from Michael’s lips. “Is that the best you got? I will show you who is the worm.”
After years of training with Judge and Jury, Justice instincts told him to flee. Something was not right and Larson was different..changed. He let go and tried to step away from Larson, but was unable to move. In the blink of an eye, Larson grabbed his arm and held him there. Justice tried desperately to find a way to loosen the hold on him. He attempted to pry Larson’s grip off him but his hand would not move. He clawed at the flesh holding him but he was helpless like the ant before the boot stomped down.
Justice, the greatest Enhanced since Judge, could not get away from a category one prototype. But that was it, Larson was not a category one. The sniffers screwed up or his power masked his true strength, even if that was not possible. His Reveal was only a year ago. Justice looked up at Michael. His face was devoid of all compassion and kindness. It was dark and seethed with hatred and anger.
“What the hell are you?” Justice asked weakly as he felt his arm near the breaking point and going numb under the massive pressure of Michael’s grip. He was so damn strong. And his eyes, they were glowing redder than the fires of hell. He was looking at a demon, a creature of the damned.
“Larson! Larson! You power down immediately!” Michael heard someone screaming.
“Goddammit, Recruit. You will follow orders, now! Let him go or you are going to Leavenworth. Do you hear me?”
Time was a blur to Michael. He had no idea how much had passed before he moved again.
“Why are they shouting at me”, Michael thought as he looked around. Justice stared at him wide-eyed as he walked away holding his arm. He grimaced in pain each time he tried to move it.
“You with us, Larson?” Agent Prescott asked.
Michael blushed. “Yes, sir. Sorry, I must have dozed off. Jury really worked me hard this morning.” Michael looked across the room. “What happened to Justice?”
Agent Prescott glanced at his partner as he checked over Justice. Michael did not permanently damage him but Agent Edwards performed a field check anyways before sending him out to the other recruits. He would keep his mouth shut, his ego demanded it. His arm would heal rapidly but the damage was far greater than the bruises.
Michael’s sudden surge worried Prescott. The old man had told them this would happen. Like always, he was right.
“He’s fine,” Prescott replied. “Go join the others and find me if you feel…sleepy again. Understand? We can’t have you nodding off during an interview.”
Michael nodded. “Yes, sir.”
As Michael walked away, Agent Prescott dialed his phone.
“It just happened…”
“His eyes started glowing…”
“Justice saw it…”
“We can’t keep this quiet…”
“What do you mean we don’t have to?”
Agent Prescott put his phone away. If the old man was confident things would be okay, he knew better than to ask. He just had a bad feeling about this.
When Justice finished his speech, Director Lehrer made his way up to the podium. As he glanced sideways, he noticed Justice and Larson staring at each other. He encouraged rivalry among the recruits, it tended to fracture friendship and prevent Enhanced from grouping up later, but he did not need Justice and Larson trying to kill each other, especially in front of the cameras. Both would be necessary in his upcoming administration.
“Close the curtains, now!” demanded the Director over his radio. “Prescott. Edwards. Get up to the stage before your recruits do something stupid!”
When the curtains closed blocking the crowd’s view of the recruits behind him, the Director’s expression changed to a brilliant smile. This speech would launch his political career, his destiny. He was born to lead the country out of the darkness.
The crowd started chanting ‘U.S.A’ again with the Director leading the chorus – all except the man putting his phone in his pocket as he returned to his seat. He watched the Director gleefully wave his arms like a maestro of a ten-thousand strong orchestra. The curtain could not protect the wizard of Oz for much longer. Emerald City was about to come crashing down.