The first thing Michael’s mind registered was the sound of a car engine struggling to run. As his eyes blinked, the blurry world slowly returned to focus. His brain counted the seconds out slowly. After a moment, he tried to move, but his neck felt stiff from the awkward angle, and his shoulder flamed with the burn of a thousand hot pokers. He tensed up out of reflex, guarding against the pain. The wind from several bullet holes in the windshield blew on his face.
The pain in his neck came sharply back as he jumped at the familiar voice that spoke next to him, “Well, look who decided to wake up. Welcome back to the living, snowflake.”
Michael looked at the man in the driver’s seat, but what he saw only made him more confused. He felt it was probable that he was hallucinating or dreaming.
“Judge Thompson?” he asked.
“Ronald Thompson is dead, boy,” the driver quietly responded without looking at Michael. “He died when his car was crushed in the battle of Indianapolis.”
Kill him! screamed a voice from deep inside Michael. He stabbed us and gave us over to the JTF. He betrayed us!
Michael clenched a fist.“Maze! Give me a good reason not to give Vengeance what he wants. I could crush your traitor ass all over the car.” Michael focused on his hands increasing their mass.
“Michael, do you remember our conversation on the rooftop that night?” Maze asked calmly. “I told you I can see the future.”
“What the hell, Maze?You saw yourself throw me off a building and hand me over to the JTF? Do you have any idea the crap you put me through?”
“I did what was necessary,” Maze said without any sign of remorse.
Michael felt the weight of his hands, his anger draining down to them, readying, but Maze continued to explain.
“I saw what would happen if I did nothing and waited for the JTF to arrive.”
Kill him now!
Michael feared the answer, but his curiosity was stronger and he asked, “What would have happened to me?”
“Not to you, Michael, to everyone. I saw a future where the JTF arrived, Vengeance took you over again, and you went on a rampage. You killed every agent quite easily, of course. Your teammates tried to defend them as the JTF and police retreated, but they didn’t stop you. Not even close. Everyone, including all your friends, died a violent death. I can tell you all the details, if you need to hear them. It would be a luxury for me to be able to forget them, but here you go: Justice lasted the longest, but eventually you crushed every bone in his body. Then you dropped a building full of people on him. And Archangel…”
“Don’t tell me,” Michael held up one hand and looked away, his mouth a tight line. “I don’t want to know.”
“Vengeance ripped Archangel apart as she tried to save innocent mundanes from your destruction. You lost it after that and destroyed half the city before Judge and Jury arrived. Everyone, and I mean everyone, JTF, criminals, even I tried to stop you.”
“Enough already, Maze! I told you I didn’t want to hear it.”
“No, I think there are some things that you need to know. You need to know them and not forget, so you know why you can’t let yourself lose control again. Vengeance knows how much you care about Miss Grayson and will do anything to destroy it. And her. She is the key for him to take control and get his revenge.”
Michael mumbled into his hands as he rubbed his face.
“What?” Maze looked over to his passenger.
Michael dropped his hands to his chin. “How many did I kill before they stopped me?”
“I don’t know, son, but more than I could count. I died before you stopped, it didn’t matter whether I attacked you or I did nothing. But I saw you destroy everything and everyone around.”
Michael rubbed his neck and looked away, afraid that Maze could see the fear inside him. If Vengeance killed Alaina, there would be nothing left for him. He would lose control and destroy the world.
“You’re healing quickly,” Maze nodded. “And, you proved a theory I had.”
“What? That I can be shot?”
“I was pretty sure of that already, but that’s not all. Now we know that the JTF is not as smart as it thinks it is, and we also know that Christian Harris is covering all his bases.”
“He’s playing both sides? You think Harris Industries is supplying Herr Metall and the other criminals?”
“I already suspected it, but this confirms it, Michael. You were shot by a new type of bullet called an Equalizer, they’re being supplied to the JTF, and they’re designed to kill Enhanced. Harris Industries revealed the prototype last year. Internal memos don’t always stay internal.”
“That really doesn’t prove anything, the design could have traveled fast. Everyone would want it.” As Michael shrugged his shoulder, a bolt of pain shot through his shoulder and he sucked air through his teeth.
“Not this design. The technology is based on the Nanoblade,” Maze said tapping his hip. Vengeance’s mind flared up inside Michael as he thought about the weapon. He could feel the creature’s fear of it.
“The Nanoblade – that’s the weapon you stole from Herr Metall?”
Maze grinned. “You could say that’s who I acquired it from. But I could never pin down who made it. Now, I know.”
“Maybe Terrorvolt made it for Metall?” Michael asked. The mad genius had a long history of creating weapons of war.
“No, they might work together in the short-term, but their long-term goals do not include the other. Terrorvolt and Herr Metall hate each other as much as they hate the JTF. ”
“Terrorvolt tried to grab me and run before Metall captured me. That must be the reason why.” Michael said.
“If he had succeeded, you would bring a whole new level to the war. That much, I’ve seen.” Maze did not elaborate, but after hearing his earlier vision, Michael had no desire to ask for details about this one. He could guess easily enough that either criminal survived the encounter long before Vengeance exploded and tore everything apart. Hearing it confirmed would only make him feel worse.
A gust of air blew through the bullet holes in the window, and Michael looked around the car.It looked worse than a junker he would have seen people living out of in his old neighborhood. The seats, the window, and the dashboard had holes and rips through them. It was shot up good, for sure.
“So, it was you they were shooting at?” Michael asked.
“Yes. Four of Metall’s boys tried to murder me when I told them I was the park ranger. I showed them the error of their ways.”
“Yeah, you killed them, you mean?”
“Yes.” Maze’s face revealed no emotion.
“You really are the blood thirsty psychopath the JTF thinks you are. I guess we’re both monsters.”
Maze glared at him, “I do what needs to be done,” he said.. “The police are there to take a report and stuff your dead body in a bag. I can stop the criminals before it comes to that. I kill when I have no other choice. I pick the best alternative I have”
“But you’re a judge and you were a cop. You’re supposed to uphold the law.”
“Upholding the law only works when all parties agree to do it. When one side decides the law no longer applies to them, you either work outside the law or you fall prey to it.”
“So great, we all decide we’re outside the law. Then we’re no better than them.”
“I didn’t make the rules, boy. I just play with the deck I was given.”
“Sounds like a shifty way to exist, Maze. We should be better than that.”
Maze laughed softly. “Better than them, Michael? At one time, yes, we were better than them. But all of that changed when your dad blew up Los Angeles.”
Michael couldn’t help his eyes going wide with surprise. “You know about him?” This was not information that Michael was happy to share. History would not be kind to Thomas Collins. Most people blamed him for the events in Los Angeles.
Maze waved his hand, as if pushing their prior conversation into the past. “Let’s just say our time on the rooftop was very enlightening. But now we need to get into the present What are you doing in Michigan?”
Michael opened his mouth, but then hesitated. He was not sure if he should tell Maze anything, but considered Maze’s powers and figured that even if he teleported away, Maze would know where he was going, so he might as well explain. “I have to find Alaina. She came to me in my dream and I followed her here.”
Maze arched an eyebrow in surprise. It was an unfamiliar expression for him. “Bill Grayson’s daughter entered your mind?”
“Yes,” Michael replied firmly.
“That is not possible. She does not have telepathic powers. No member of that bloodline has that power set.”
“I know what I saw.”
Maze frowned in thought. “That doesn’t mean it was Archangel. What you saw in your mind and what happened in reality are often very different. More likely one of Metall’s telepaths lured you out. I don’t think they intended you to come here, though.”
“Why? What else could their plan have been?”
“I think that you were so focused on finding Miss Grayson that you did not follow their plan. I think they planned for you to come to them, but they ended up having to send a team across Lake Michigan to pick you up.”
Michael sighed, a mixture of weariness and confusion. “Now what do we do? I probably have my face on every JTF website and TV station across the nation.”
Maze gave him a knowing look. “Welcome to the club, son. First, we are going to finish what you started Miss Grayson could be the key to your problem. Bill Grayson’s home is not far from here, if this car will make it.” He gestured to the damage surrounding them. “The engine took a bullet to the radiator.”
“It’s beat up. We can get another car.”
“Oh, I have several of them generously donated by the criminal element, but the nearest one is in Grand Rapids. Look, Michael, be careful around Bill Grayson. He can’t be trusted, and I don’t want him to know who I am.”
“Wait, you worked together for years and you never told him your identity?”
“I know when it’s probably a bad idea for me to reveal myself, Michael. I worked with a lot of heroes over the years but only a few know my name. One of those who I have trusted with my identity is Bill Grayson’s sister.”
“Yes. We were very close for a time. I knew she would never give me up to the JTF. I can’t say the same about Orbital Strike.”