Michael was alone again. He watched his mother and Jury, arm and arm like old friends, walk away with Rick trailing dutifully behind. Susan was born and raised on the beaches just south of Los Angeles while Jury lived in the San Diego area for many years, so they were busy chatting away about their adventures throughout Southern California. His mother just surprised him with her eagerness to share about her past but Jury was one of the best psychiatrists in the country that specialized in post-traumatic disorders. The criminal Enhanced made sure there were always new horrible experiences, just like Rick had said.
The other recruits were busy talking to fans and family. He looked over at the two largest crowds, one surrounding Justice, the other around Net. His best friend and his arch enemy both appeared to enjoy the spotlight and the groupies. Michael was sure Net would tell him, and everyone else, all about it on the ride home. Archangel and Turbulence also had numerous fans that fell into two categories, preteen girls and young men. Scimitar and Trauma were busy talking with a large group of people, likely Khaleel’s family and friends by their appearance. Cortex was also with them but he was paying more attention to the pretty dark-haired woman next to him as she looked at him with hesitant but adoring eyes. If he had to guess, they were deciding if they should hold hands.
“Hello, son,” a deep voice echoed out of the darkening shadows. Michael looked over his shoulder to see Judge Thompson walk closer into the light.
“Judge Thompson,” Michael said excitedly, “sorry, Ronald, long time no see.” Michael could not hide the grin on his face as he remembered last time they spoke in his office after his trial. His entire world changed that day when Judge Ronald Thompson sentenced him to the very agency that arrested him and wanted to incarcerate him for a long time.
“Not too bad for a petty thief,” Michael boasted.
“You have done well,” Ronald stated flatly. “I was worried you would make it back to my courtroom again someday. Most Enhanced are too stubborn to ever change their ways.”
Michael raised his eyebrow and quickly glanced at the dick.
“Yes, I’m talking about him,” Ronald affirmed nodding in Justice’s direction. “Unfortunately, Judge is in for a rude awakening when he opens his eyes to see what his son has become. Jury, well, not much gets by her.”
“She’s only human, Ronald. She’s put her duty even before her family in mentoring me,” Michael said protectively as Ronald turned his head inquisitively. “Justice and I don’t exactly get along.”
“Did she now?” Ronald asked. He paused for several moments as if he was daydreaming.
“Ronald?” Michael asked quietly.
“I’m here,” Ronald replied softly in return. His face was contorted as if he just found out his best friend died and he was having difficulty forming coherent thoughts.
“Something wrong?” Michael asked concerned. Ronald relaxed and smiled.
“No. No. You just reminded me I have to leave soon. I have another engagement later this evening and I cannot afford to be late.”
Ronald looked over his shoulder at Cortex and his date as Michael stared at him. The Judge was holding back something. His body was tense as he continued to watch Jason and the woman. Did Ronald know Cortex?
“I am very proud of the man you have become, we all are, especially your mother. She is a wonderful person who has sacrificed and suffered to get you here. Don’t forget that.”
“Of course not,” Michael responded puzzled.
“Remember who you are and why you are fighting the good fight. A storm is approaching and we will all be swept up in it.” Ronald never took his gaze off Cortex. “Some will have to make the ultimate sacrifice to save everything and everyone we love.”
Michael nodded. Ronald was testing him on his dedication to the JTF and his service to his country. He wanted to be sure he made the right decision. “Of course. I am here to protect the innocent and follow the orders of my superiors. I will gladly lay down my life to save others.”
“I know you will, son. I just hope it will never come to that or we are all doomed.”
Michael turned to watch Ronald walk away but he only took a few steps before stopping. “Sometimes, rebellion is needed when you have no other options left.”
Michael pondered on Ronald’s last statement, unsure what he meant as he disappeared into the darkness. He was sure the judge was telling him something important. He would look it up later on the web or ask Net.
“Hey Michael,” a voice called behind him but he was still lost in his thoughts. “Hello, Michael!”
Michael slowly turned around to see Jason and the woman who was with him in Scimitar’s group standing in front of him. Jason had finally decided to hold her hand and was obviously not going to let go again tonight. He also had a huge smile on his face.
“Was that the infamous Judge Thompson? I’ve heard so many stories about how badass he is. He’s one of the few mundanes that even the strongest Enhanced fear,” he said laughing as he looked as his date. She only looked down.
“Shit. Shit. Shit,” apologized Cortex. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s okay, Jason,” his date said softly. Michael could tell she was shaken by the almost-chance meeting with the judge. Most mundanes idolized the man. Why did Ronald frighten her? Maybe he could make her feel better.
“Ronald is a really nice guy, actually,” Michael said definitively. “He could have sent me to Leavenworth but I get to serve my time with the JTF instead.”
“See. Michael knows the man behind the robes,” Cortex laughed before stopping suddenly. “Sorry, I forgot that Michael was at his mom’s place during the dinner. Michael meet Amira Sadeeq. Amira, this is Michael Larson.”
Michael looked down as Amira looked up. When their eyes met, he smiled at the pretty Arab woman. Jason was a lucky man.
Amira only recoiled in horror.