Paradox – Chapter 25

“Yes?” the red-haired woman asked through the small crack in her door.

Michael squirmed. This is not how he intended to visit. Although he wore a new clean shirt from Maze, the older Enhanced was much more broad-shouldered than him and the shirt hung down loosely off his body. He did not look like most mundanes even though his time in prison did not allow exercise, but he had lost some of the muscle  weight he gained during training. Maze did not have any pants that would fit him so Michael rolled down the prison jumpsuit and wrapped the long sleeves around his waist. The bullet wound on his shoulder healed completely during the drive, but he was filthy with dirt, grime, and blood still smeared over parts of his body. He was lucky the woman even answered the door instead of calling the police first.

“Yes, ma’am,” Michael said stumbling on his next words. “I’m looking for Alaina Grayson.”

The woman’s expression immediately shifted to the disapproving stare of an angry parent.

“Listen here, you little shit,” she snarled, “my husband has already called the newspapers and websites to complain. He’s also called the JTF  to file charges against you lousy bums harassing my daughter. Alaina has nothing to say to gossip mongers like you. Get off my property or I’ll force you off.”

“I’m not with…”, Michael said as the door slammed shut and the dead bolt locked. He looked behind him with a frustrated glare at Maze, but he was alone. When they arrived, Maze immediately dialed his phone and told Michael to knock on the door while he made this call. Now the crazy Enhanced had wandered away.

“I don’t have time for this,” Michael mumbled as he turned to focus on the door. A small grey portal appeared in front of him before it shifted to show the lock on the other side of the door. Michael unlocked the door and swung the deadbolt free.

“He’s Enhanced! Help!” the woman screamed from inside the house as Michael opened the front door.

Michael pushed open the door to a large living room filled with handmade wood furniture and custom upholstery. The room was immaculate, not a single chair was out-of-place and the white carpet looked spotless. The now screaming woman at the door obviously took great care of her house. He was thankful that the Grayson’s lived in a secluded area of the town with no neighbors nearby.

“Please, ma’am,” he pleaded as he remained at the door. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m trying to find Alaina.”

The crackle of electricity filled the room as bolts of energy whipped out at Michael before he stumbled backwards to the open doorway. As he slowed time, the whips of lightning slowed down but still roared at him with each bolt angrily twisting and striking like an electric snake. He had never seen an elementalist with this kind of control. As one bolt roared inches from his face, Michael felt the searing heat slash across his skin.

“You picked the wrong house to break-in,” roared the newcomer. Electricity enveloped her upper torso extending down air arms to her hands as her red hair blew wildly behind her.

“Alaina! Wait!” Michael pleaded as he dropped the time dilation and returned to real-time. “It’s Michael.”

Electricity flared from the Alaina’s body before the hint of recognition appeared on her face. “This is not possible”, she said, “you’re in jail.”

“It’s me, I promise,” he cried again when the angry red-haired Enhanced did not power down. “I teleported out.”

“Prove it,” she demanded. “It better be good or the hospital will have a mess to clean up before the JTF hauls both of us to Leavenworth.”

Michael tried to think. Alaina was dangerous when angry and she was extremely pissed now. He understood her reasons. He would risk everything, even going back to jail for life, to protect his mom from danger.

“The night Justice plowed me through the wall,” Michael began, “he was jealous that you were dancing with me.” He noticed that Alaina hesitated to attack again but lightning still arced between her extended arms.

“That’s it?” she replied. “Any morpher in the JTF could have read the case testimonies.”

Michael remembered the endless days of interrogations by Secretary Lehrer and Agent Thorton. They forced him to remember every event of the battle while under the influence of Nightmare’s powers until he could recall the smallest details including the faces of everyone slaughtered by Vengeance. Nightmare even begged to leave after the repeated mind scans, but the JTF did not relent. The Enhanced were tools to be used to protect the American people from all threats, foreign and domestic.

“You were thinking the JTF was a mistake because your parents arranged the relationship with Justice to improve the image of Orbital Strike’s daughter.” Michael walked towards Alaina keeping his palms up and open.

“What?” the older woman gasped from the other side of the room. “Is that why you got yourself kicked out of the JTF? You blame for trying to help you?”

Alaina shook her head as the lightning retracted into her body. “We’ll talk about it later, mother, after Michael and I have a long discussion about why he is here.”

“I needed to see you,” Michael began as the sound of boots stomping on the gravel driveway became louder.

“Carolyn? Alaina?” a man said appearing the doorway. He wore overalls and work boots covered in sweat, dirt, and some sort of feces, but he was not breathing hard. “What’s wrong?”

The man did not finish his question as he stared at Michael. The temperature in the room spiked as the man’s blue eyes emitted flames in various hues of red and orange.

“What the hell is going on?” the man demanded.

Michael knew immediately the man was Alaina’s father from the news stories about The Old Guard. He had put on twenty pounds and his light brown hair had thinned and greyed, but there was no question the man was William Grayson, Orbital Strike.

“Are you two okay?” William asked glancing at his wife and daughter as the flames continued to burn.

“We’re fine, Dad…” Alaina responded before she was cut off by her father.

William put up his hand in the universal sign to be silent. “I don’t know what you are doing here, Michael,” he said staring at the young man standing a few feet in front of him, “but I want you out of my house and away from family.”

“Daddy, please, I’ll handle this…,” came a plea from behind Michael as he faced the elder Grayson.

William’s frown did not disappear. “No, Alaina, he is the most wanted man in the country since he escaped last night. Eventually, the JTF will track him here. He has to go, now, before they think you’re an accomplice.”

“Orbital Strike, please, let me explain,” Michael began.

Alaina’s father only shook his head. “The name is William. Those days as a hero are over, and so are Alaina’s, no thanks to you.”

“You haven’t change at all, Bill,” said a familiar voice from behind Orbital Strike, “you’re still late to the party and always blaming someone else for your mistakes.”

The room temperature suddenly spiked again as blue flames erupted from William Grayson.