Chicago, Illinois Remy LeBeau opened the door to the apartment and with a dramatic sweep of his arm, motioned for his friend to step inside. Ben Reilly was stunned when he entered the room, the apartment alone was almost as large as the ground floor of the house where he was raised in New York. Remy smiled when he saw the joy on his friend’s face. Ben turned to look at him.
“Are you serious?” He asked incredulously. “This place is…well, it’s…amazing.”
“Least I could do, mon ami, you helped me when you didn’t need to.” Remy gently closed the door behind him and walked over to the middle of the apartment. “Let’s see…” he muttered. “We got TV, with a full and very discreet cable hack, one of dem big walk-in freezers, en-suite bathroom you could swing a cat in, if you be of de mind.”
He walked into another room, “Kitchen, as state of de art as I could get, on short notice, you need t’ings changed, jus’ let me know.” He smiled again. “Landlord not fussy eit’er so you can decorate if feel de need.”
Ben was like a kid in a candy store. “This is incredible, I just can’t believe you went to all this trouble for me, that’s all.”
“No trouble, like I say, I owe you, and Gambit be one to pay his debts.” Remy sat down on a sofa in the main living area. “Oh yeah, dere be a phone and ansa machine too.” He indicated the slim white phone that sat on a nearby cabinet.
“How the heck can you even afford this?” Ben asked. “I didn’t think being a mutant crusader for justice pays a steady wage, unless the X-Men are more like the Avengers, and if they are paying, any chance I could maybe get a job?”
“You gonna breathe at some stage?” Remy asked with a chuckle. “No, de X-Men didn’t pay me, and dey not be like de Avengers. As for why I happen to be well off, good investment about a hundred and twenty years ago, and de fact I’m still de head of de Guild of Thieves & Assassins.”
“Did you say a hundred and twenty years ago? You’re looking pretty spry for a…” Ben began.
Remy quickly interrupted, “It’s a long story, and no, I’m not dat old.”
As Remy flicked on the television, he spoke, “Welcome to your new home, mon ami.”
“Yeah, thanks,” breathed Ben. It had been a while since such generosity had been heaped on him, guess the Parker luck has left me for a while. Ben sat down; thinking about the man who he considered his twin, Peter Parker, although twin was such a loose term, genetic template was more appropriate but a little dry.
He was startled from his thoughtful reverie when Remy uttered a loud curse. Ben looked over at his friend, concern on his face, “What’s wrong?” He asked.
Remy didn’t say a word, just stared at the TV. Ben looked at the set and saw the news report. For several minutes, both men sat in silence, shocked by the images they saw. Paris was burning; at least twenty sleek black attack helicopters were systematically trying to demolish the French city. At the head of the helicopter group, a solitary figure was flying, wreathed in flames. The news camera zoomed in slightly and Ben noticed that the man, if you could call him that, was nothing more than a burning skeleton. As they watched, the fiery mutant tried to torch the Louvre. Ben watched as the entire building, along with the mysterious mutant, was encased in a block of solid ice. Ben hadn’t seen anything like it, and he looked over to see Remy smiling faintly.
“De X-Men,” he breathed quietly. “Good job, Drake.”
Ben returned his attention to the live news report and saw a blue skinned man, with a pair of large white feathered wings, dodging and weaving among the helicopters, a rocket launcher strapped to his back. The winged man fired, a single rocket tearing through one of the nearby aircraft, as a dark skinned woman flew gracefully through the air beside him, an unconscious man in her arms.
“The winged guy I recognise, but who’s the girl?” Ben asked.
“Monet St Croix, dey call her M.” Came the reply.
“Remy, this is…this is bad.” Ben said, a growing feeling of unease in his stomach, a group of mutants were attacking the French capital, while the X-Men fought desperately to stop them.
A voice began to speak over the live footage. “This is CNN, we are live over the streets of Paris, as a terrorist cell of mutants attempt to destroy the city. This attack was unprovoked and completely unexpected, civilian casualties are thought to be high and the property damage is astronomical.” The speaker paused as Archangel swept past the camera.
“There appear to be two groups involved here, the man you just saw was Warren Worthington the Third, a prominent businessman and confirmed mutant. It appears that Worthington, reputed to be a member of the X-Men, is trying his best to contain the damage.”
“No warnings were issued, and with authorities stretched thin, coping with casualties, it looks as if the people of Paris must rely on mutants themselves to end this altercation. Nevertheless, this tragedy will have lasting implications for human/mutant relations, with the relationship between both races already damaged by the destruction of the island nation, Genosha. Experts…”
Remy turned the set off. “Great. Let’s hope Warren and de others can deal with dis, as if being a mutant isn’t bad enough in dis world.”
Ben was silent because he honestly couldn’t think of anything to say, why did they attack? Who was behind all this? And behind the questions, the fact that he could do nothing about it, with great power comes great responsibility and all that, but in this case, he really could do nothing. It hurt him more than he would admit.
Remy was angry, angry that so many people were suffering, angry with Warren and the team who allowed this tragedy to occur. But his anger was directed inward too, because here he was, divorced from the X-Men, floating from city to city, while his former colleagues were actually out there doing something.
Should never have left, he thought. Should never have let Xavier force me out of my home, cut me off from my family. A cynical inner voice balanced his accusations, face it LeBeau, you wanted to go, you didn’t exactly fight to stay, did you? He silenced his internal struggle and stood up.
“Too late now, mon ami, dere be not’ing we can do to help dose people.” His voice was full of pain, he was shocked by what had happened, even after all he had seen and done. Remy stood up quickly and grabbed his jacket, he looked over at Ben, “I’d better go, have to get in touch wit’ some friends in France, check up dat dey be okay.”
Seconds later, Remy was out the door and away. Ben stood silently looking out the window in the apartment, wishing he knew what to do next. Watching the news report, he had felt the urge to do something, anything to help those people in Paris. The question is, do I have what it takes to be a hero again? His expression was grim when that thought passed his mind; he had been comatose for a couple of years and then spent the last few months as the Green Goblin. Ben had always assumed that he was better than his enemies were, that he wouldn’t kill, he always showed mercy, and he risked his life to save others. He was a hero, no denying that, he just couldn’t back down from his responsibilities. The Green Goblin was everything he hated, everything he fought against, but for a short while, Osborn twisted him, made him his servant. Ben realised he was no better than Osborn, he had the capacity for great evil if he put his mind to it, but he desperately wanted to be good, to be just.
But what if that was impossible to achieve? Had Osborn’s conditioning tainted his soul? He had been purged of the drugs that Osborn had used to control him, and had been purged of the Goblin persona that manifested in his fractured mind. Nevertheless, the fear remained, what if one day he lost control, would the darkness in him rise up and consume him, could he resist?
His first thought was that yes, he could resist, in many ways, he was Peter Parker, and he had that legacy, the devotion to duty. Then an ugly thought crept into his mind, and an image lodged there, of a tall and powerfully built man, with long brown hair, covered head to foot in a matte black costume, with a random pattern of silver veins that crawled over the costume. Ben felt his heart sink when he remembered the first clone of Parker, Kaine, who was rejected by his creator, Miles Warren. Kaine grew more powerful than Parker or Reilly combined and set out into the world, bitter and completely twisted.
Kaine had cut a swath of death across America as a serial killer, following in the wake of Ben’s travels; he had sought to kill Ben, to keep him from New York, to protect Peter and his family. Ben was sickened when he recalled all the times during his years on the road that he had faced Kaine, each confrontation more brutal than the last. He couldn’t stop Kaine, couldn’t reason with him. His fellow clone had begun to degenerate, but the process only made him stronger, his wall-crawling abilities were augmented to the point where he could pull down buildings with his bare hands.
Kaine had finally began to redeem himself and fought alongside Peter and Ben against the Jackal, when he had resurfaced. Several months later, during Ben’s tenure as Spider-man, he encountered Kaine again, and this time finally redeemed him. Kaine willingly surrendered to the authorities and to Ben’s knowledge, was still incarcerated somewhere in the American penal system.
It was an interesting contrast, both Ben and Kaine were cloned from Peter Parker, and occupied different ends of the moral spectrum. Kaine had been a killer, pure and simple; Ben had been dedicated to saving lives, protecting innocents. Ben belatedly realised that it would take just one incident, one traumatic experience too many to push him over the edge, and he would become more like Kaine. He had already taken the first steps down that dark path, forced along by Noman Osborn, he may have fought against the programming but he had still been the Green Goblin.
And now, he was simply Ben Reilly again. Free for the first time in years, he still didn’t know his place in the world. He had been left behind, a shadow man, mourned and forgotten by those who had known him in New York.
Peter was still there, and had his own fair share of problems, since according to the tabloids, Peter and Mary Jane had split up. Ben wondered what had happened to little May, their daughter, she was due to be born when Norman Osborn made his comeback, the night Ben was rendered comatose. She should be about three now; maybe MJ is looking after her.
Still, here he was, in Chicago, standing in a new home courtesy of the Thieves Guild of New Orleans, and he honestly had no idea what to do next. Do I start making a new costume? He wondered silently, I can’t be Spidey anymore, and there is no way I am going back to being the Scarlet Spider. He shook his head when he recalled the costumed identity he had used in New York, what was I thinking?
First things first, he thought, have to get a job of some description, can’t live out of Remy’s coffers for the rest of my life. Ben went through his wallet, and counted that he had a thousand dollars, donated again by Remy LeBeau. Let’s get these babies into a bank, shall we? He grabbed a denim jacket from one of the wardrobes in the bedroom and left the apartment.
Minutes later, he was standing outside the apartment building, looking up and down the quiet street. Ben was tempted to call a cab or catch a bus but then a sneaky little thought crept into his mind. Making sure he was completely alone, he ducked down the side of his apartment building and began to climb the side wall. He reached the rooftop in seconds, and just stood, looking out over the city. With a burst of action, he threw himself off the roof towards the building next to him. He covered the distance easily and landed lightly in a crouch.
He laughed, enjoying the feeling of wall crawling and leaping across rooftops. The memories flooded back to him, the many times he donned a costume and swung out over the city streets on a webline, but he had no web shooters now, he wasn’t Spider-man and never could be again. Still, it didn’t stop him from using the rooftops. With a shout of exhilaration, Ben launched himself from roof to roof, using his greatly enhanced speed and agility to overcome any obstacles. He felt the wind tugging at him as he leapt through the air, felt the satisfying crunch of gravel as his feet landed on another roof.
It only took Ben ten minutes to reach the centre of Chicago, and as he neared the city centre, he quickly scrambled down a fire escape and resumed a gentle walking pace among the other pedestrians. Ben knew he couldn’t risk being spotted running across the skyline, otherwise people would start getting nervous, or worse, someone might work out it was Ben, and he was rather enjoying his anonymity at the moment.
He strolled casually towards the nearest bank, and pushed open the large glass door at the entrance. Inside, the bank building was cool and relaxing, the air conditioning whirred gently in the background, and the tinted windows filtered out the strong sunlight from outside. Ben walked over to the reception desk and spoke to the woman there.
“Hi,” he said cheerfully. “I’d like to open an account. Who do I see?”
The receptionist treated him to a professional smile, “I would be happy to help, I can arrange a meeting with one of our assistant managers.”
“Thanks.” Ben replied as the woman picked up her phone and dialled an internal number. “If you’d like to take a seat, sir, someone will deal with you shortly.”
Ben sauntered over to a bench that was sitting near the reception desk. He sat down and cast his gaze over the bank. The building was very impressive, it was bright and airy, with high ceilings and modern counters. Some desks, obviously for bank employees, were dotted around the floor. Ben looked over at the counters as the men and woman there dealt with people’s enquiries. Behind the counters was a security door, no doubt leading to the bank’s vault. Ben squinted at the security panel, thinking wistfully how easy it would be to crack the electronic lock.
He looked back at the reception desk as he saw a man in a dark blue suit walking towards him. Ben stood up as the man approached and gratefully shook his offered hand. “Good morning,” the man said, “If you’d like to step this way, we can deal with your request.”
Ben fought the urge to copy the man’s walk, which was stiff and somewhat self-important. He was led to a desk near the corner of the main floor, a wide slab of mahogany, unadorned except for a computer and some sheets of paper. The man booted up the computer and then turned his attention to Ben.
“I am Nigel, one of the assistant managers.” Nigel began. “Glory tells me you are interested in opening an account, Mr…”
“Reilly, Ben Reilly.” Ben finished the sentence.
“Okay, Mr Reilly, I’ll need to see some ID first.” Nigel asked.
“No problem,” Ben answered confidently as he reached into his jacket and retrieved his passport and drivers licence. The credentials that Ben had were fake, created by Remy LeBeau’s people in the Thieves Guild, but they were very convincing forgeries.
Nigel studied the cards for a few moments. “There should be no delay with setting up you account then.” He looked up at Ben again. “Can I have your previous account details and I can transfer your money?”
Ben shook his head, and placed a brown envelope on the desk in front of him. “Here’s all my money.”
Nigel gave him a dubious look. “This is all you have?”
“Yes,” Ben replied. “I’ve just moved to the city and this is all the money I have left.”
“I’m afraid there may be complications then.” Nigel looked slightly uncomfortable. “You see, to open an account, you need proof that you have a regular income.”
“As I said,” Ben began, “I’ve only just got to Chicago and haven’t had time to go job hunting just yet.”
“Then I am sorry, I cannot give you an account until you can provide a record of employment.” Nigel started to stand up.
“That’s it?” Ben asked.
“Yes.” Nigel replied. “This bank cannot give accounts to just anyone, certainly not someone who has walked in off the street with his life savings in an envelope.” He gave Ben a stern look, “Come back when you have a job.”