“I’m so proud of you!” Susan Larson proclaimed as she hugged Michael. He was several inches taller than her so he leaned over to let her wrap her arms around him.
“Thanks, mom,” Michael said smiling as he closed his eyes and held his mother close. She was wearing a simple floral dress, probably from Goodwill, but it was clean and did not smell like cigarettes or vodka.
“Congratulations, Michael,” Rick added. He was wearing a grey Indianapolis Firefighter shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals . Michael looked at his mother’s date and smiled. This was a much better introduction than their last time. Michael glanced at Rick’s arm but it appeared fine.
“Thanks, Rick. I’m glad you both could make it. I wasn’t sure if Director Lehrer would allow non-family members to have VIP passes.”
“It was no problem, he said,” Susan answered. “The Director’s staff was very helpful. A lot of Rick’s firefighter buddies are jealous because Jury is here.”
Rick laughed. “Yeah. She’s quite popular with a lot of the guys in the fire house, a picture on every floor.”
Michael lost his smile. He did not appreciate the mundane firefighters treating Jury like an object of lust. She was an invaluable asset to the JTF and he was lucky she chose him.
“That doesn’t seem very professional, Rick,” Michael said. “Jury is an amazing woman and has risked her life for all of us countless times. Don’t you think that gawking over her photos is a little demeaning, especially for the man dating my mother.”
Rick put up his hands. “Whoa, there tiger. She’s the one that puts out a calendar and does a magazine shoot every year. And you’re not the only one that risks your life constantly. Fire is not exactly good for the health, especially when our budget keeps getting slashed. We don’t have the unlimited funds like the JTF.”
“You have no idea what our job is like, Rick.” Michael growled.
Rick bit his lip trying to curtail his anger. “I think this celebration is going to your head, Michael. Who do you think arrived to pull those people out of the club? We do that type of work everyday. Most of the buildings in the city are so out of code, hell, they were built out of code because we don’t have the resources anymore to build anything properly. We have to salvage, reuse, repurpose. And you know why? Because of the Enhanced. The economy is in shambles. The Enhanced still destroy our infrastructure and terrorize mundanes all over the country.”
Susan grabbed Rick by the arm and pulled. “That’s enough, Rick. None of that is Michael’s fault.”
Rick glanced back at Susan, then at Michael. “No, it’s not. But he needs to realize what the Enhanced have done to us. When the Enhanced are out having fun, knocking the shit out of each other, mundanes are dying. We are dying. And my brothers and sisters have to dig the dead bodies out. Have you ever pulled a dead baby from the rubble, Michael? Do you have any idea what that is like?”
Michael pushed his chest against Rick, bumping him backwards. “Yes, I have Rick. I saw dead babies with the back of their heads blown off by mundane parents. Don’t you lecture me on the nightmares!”
“Oh my God,” Susan muttered.
“Then remember that when you think that your power makes you important. Try saving the life of some Enhanced that just butchered a family of mundanes for fun. It is easy to destroy, Michael, especially when you are Enhanced. I’m just a normal guy trying to protect and save the people I love,” said Rick looking at Susan, “and the people I don’t even know.”
Michael stepped back and looked down ashamed. Ever since his mentoring session with Jury, he was angry and frustrated. He felt cheated because his Reveal was so late. Only now could he barely understand his powers thanks to Jury. The mundanes were holding him back but that was not Rick’s fault. He wanted an Enhanced on his fire crew. He was a gentleman to his mother and kept her on the right path to recovery.
“I’m an idiot,” Michael admitted. “I’m sorry, Rick, mom. I just thought I was finally special, someone who mattered.”
Susan grabbed Michael’s hand. “Oh honey, you are special. You have always been to me. I’m the one that failed you.”
Rick smiled at Susan. “She’s right, Michael. From what I hear, you took care of her even when she was an angry..” Rick hesitated. He did not want to offend Susan but Michael needed to hear this.
“Bitch?” Susan asked self-mockingly.
Michael shook his head. “You were desperate and lonely, mom. You lost everything in Los Angeles and then the family kicked you out here, blaming you for grandpa’s death.”
“I was going to say a drunk,” said Rick apologetically. “And you are pulling yourself out of that hell now. It’s not how many times you get knocked down that matter, it’s how many time you get back up.”
“Who said that?” Michael asked.
“Supposedly General Custard,” Rick replied.
“The Little Bighorn guy?”
“That’s him,” Rick replied smiling. “There are some knockdowns that are a little more permanent, I guess. Anyways, Michael, you took care of your family before all this.” Rick waved his arm around. “That makes you more of a man than any bad-ass Enhanced agent.” Michael noticed that Rick was looking directly at Justice.
“Excuse me, Michael,” a new voice said from the crowd. “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure yet of meeting your family.”
The crowd around Michael, Rick, and Susan parted as Jury approached. Someone let out a wolf whistle as the dark-haired beauty came closer.
Michael could only smile at her. “I’m glad you are here! Mom, Rick, you know Elizabeth Jurgens, obviously. She’s now my mentor and friend. She has already shown me so much. Oh, this is my mom, Susan Larson and her friend, Rick Stalward, an Indianapolis firefighter.”
Jury put her hand on her chest as she giggled. “It is the least I could do for such a wonderful addition to the JTF. It is not often I get to work with a Prototype.”
“Prototype?” Susan asked.
“I’ll explain later, mom,” Michael answered.
Rick put out his hand to shake the famous Jury’s hand. “Ma’am, it’s an honor.”
“And an honor for me too, Mr. Stalward,” Jury replied shaking his hand. “We can’t do our jobs without the mundane fire departments.” Jury’s smile became wider as she turned to Michael’s mother. “I can see where Michael gets his handsome looks. Thank you for such a wonderful man. I’m very hopeful for his new life as an Enhanced. I know he can change the world.”
Hello, Sue Collins. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for a long time. We have so much to discuss.