LINES IN THE SAND
“What’s the kid’s name again?” asked Turbo into her wrist. The young face of Phil Urich was on the other end of the communications unit.
“He calls himself the Banger,” Phil said. “I swear, we were much more creative back in our heroing days, weren’t we?”
“I suppose his power is to blow things up?” asked Darkhawk. “Yeah, real creative kid we’re going up against…”
“How old is this guy again?” asked Ricochet. “Is he even, I don’t know, old enough to drive?”
“He’ll be able to get his license in a month,” Phil said through Turbo’s wrist. “The thing is, he’s a kid, he doesn’t know the extent or how to use his powers. I’d watch out. Oh, and Chris, his power is more like manifesting energy that…well, yeah, it boils down to blowing stuff up. That’s why we need him off the streets, no matter what kind of a hero he’s trying to be.”
“Is he a mutant?” asked Julie Power, known as Lightspeed. “If he is, how’d he survive that M-Day thing or whatever?”
“I can’t believe I survived M-Day,” Ricochet whispered.
“As far as we know, it was an unintentional experiment gone wrong. His father is a nuclear scientist. You’ve all heard the ‘how I got power’ stories, put the pieces together for yourself,” Turbo said dryly.
“Strangely enough, this ‘Banger’ kid has amassed a couple of friends with powers as well. He used to have more, but as Julie mentioned, M-Day wiped out all but one of his mutant friends,” Phil said. “His girlfriend calls herself Wavelength and she basically produces radio waves at high frequencies. His best friend Vince is a tech-geek and has electric gauntlets. Not cool, but we have to keep them in mind.”
“Let’s just go in and get this raid over with,” Turbo said. “Do we have to have this floating camera following us, though?”
“Complain to Rick Jones, not me,” Phil said. “He wants to videotape so new teams could possibly learn from what we do.”
“Oh, so now we’re supposed to be role models as well,” Ricochet said. “I guess we’d better stop going to R movies, too?”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Turbo said. She was anxious for it to be over with. “We’re going to make the raid now. Target is in the schoolyard.”
She could see the boy. Of course, she’d expected him to be a rough and tough looking guy. He’d have to be, Turbo supposed, if he was going to try to pull off a codename like “Banger.” Instead, the kid was more a skinny, pushover-looking kid.
“Let’s get him,” she said. Excelsior sprung into action.
Students scattered when they saw the group of former heroes approaching. Banger and his two friends were the only ones to stand their ground. Still, the look on Banger’s face was priceless.
Before Turbo could say a word, Banger screamed, “Ah! Super-villains!” His hand charged in a ball of energy and exploded in Darkhawk’s face.
“Not cool!” Chris shouted. “Kid’s got on my last nerve!” He started to use his Darkhawk powers.
Meanwhile, Lightspeed and Ricochet were nearly pulverized by radio waves. Julie finally managed to hit Wavelength. Surprisingly, she crumpled to the ground.
Julie put her hand over her mouth in surprise. “Oh! Did I do that?”
Ricochet took out Vince with a punch to the jaw. The electric gauntlets weren’t going to get anywhere near any members of Excelsior.
Banger backed down in fear of Darkhawk. Turbo tried to hold him back, but Chris’s anger had gotten the best of him.
“Don’t hurt me!” Banger shouted, sounding like a scared little kid. His body began to glow yellow. “Don’t…hurt…MEEEEEEEEEE!”
With that final shout, the area around Banger exploded in a fiery mass of light. It grew to engulf the school, the surrounding streets, and the neighborhood around the school.
When the dust faded, Banger was on the ground in the dust, facing all this destruction. His jaw dropped in absolute horror.
“What…what have I done…?” he asked, the imminent horror of the strewn bodies escalating into his voice. “What did I do to deserve this?”
One hour later…
“Oh, my gosh…what happened here?” asked Spider-Man, the final New Avenger to arrive on the scene. He was strangely left without a wisecrack.
“Rookie hero team meets kid with explosive powers,” said Captain America gravely. He pointed to a pile of rubble. “They need someone with your strength over there. There may still be survivors.”
“Do they know what happened?” asked Cyclops. “Was it a mutant issue? God knows we need more of those…”
“No, as far as we can tell he was another scientific-accident type,” Cap said.
“Where is he?” Cyclops asked. “Emma could take a peek into his mind to find out what happened.”
“He’s in that van. We’ve got him on suicide watch,” Captain America said. “We don’t need a telepath, though. Apparently Excelsior was videotaping this one. Tell your girlfriend her telepathy is best spent searching for survivors.”
Cyclops walked off. Cap was next approached by Iron Man.
“This is the moment that we knew would come, Steve,” said Tony. “This is when they’re going to try to shove it down our throats. We’re going to have to register.”
“Why?” asked Cap. “Excelsior was just trying to get this kid off the streets.”
“They performed like vigilantes. They could have asked the school for compliance instead of rushing in like that. In reality, they made themselves look like fools,” said Iron Man.
“We have more survivors!” shouted Ben Grimm, the Thing. He hefted a slab of rock off the ground. “Bring stretchers and all that good medical stuff!”
“We’ll finish this later,” Cap said, lifting up a pack of medical kits. “Remember, this isn’t a done topic.”
Iron Man looked at the dead bodies around them. “No, it’s not,” he agreed solemnly.
Two days later…
“In a classic example of the law of good intentions, things went terribly wrong,” said the man at the podium. “Vigilantes wanted to get young Billy Werthen off the streets. They wanted to help him. By mistaking them for villains, Billy’s powers fluctuated, and exploded. The ruins around us are proof of that.”
“Great, a propagandist,” muttered Carol Danvers under her breath.
“What your mouth,” said the man next to her. “It was your damned kind that started this disaster!”
“My kind?” asked Carol. “Words like that spurred the War Between the States. Maybe ‘your kind’ is intolerant because they don’t have any powers?”
Before he could protest, Carol stood up and took off in flight. The memorial didn’t matter anymore.
“Why’s the boy in here?” asked Cap.
Maria Hill smirked. “He nearly blew up his entire town and you ask me why he’s in prison?”
“You saw the video! It wasn’t the boy’s fault!” Captain America began to shout.
“That’s for the courts to decide,” Maria said.
Cap looked at young Billy Werthen, the Banger. He was in a straightjacket, and the room was filled with power dampeners. They were obviously worried he would take his life because of what happened.
Something else caught his eye. The next cell over was blacked out.
“Who’s in there?” Cap asked.
“Just a special prisoner,” Maria said. She was unwilling to comment any further.
Ben Grimm walked down the street, trench coat and all. He saw the kids playing baseball in the street, and things like that made him smile. The rest of the world could still move on.
Or at least, some of it could.
“Hey! We don’t want your hero-lot hanging around us anymore!” shrieked an angry mother from her window before slamming it so hard that Ben was afraid the glass was going to break.
Ben suddenly whipped around, rubbing the back of his head where a brick had hit him. It was lucky he was made of rock.
“Who threw it?” asked Ben, suddenly realizing that the troupe of people was armed with glass bottles, rocks, and even a single, actual pitchfork.
“Hold on, folks,” said Ben, raising his hands in protest. “We’re heroes. We just try to help…”
“Get him!” shouted the leader of the group, and Ben knew that things had gone totally downhill.
“Look, Julie knew what she was getting into,” said Alex Power, the oldest of the formerly four siblings. “She knew that heroism is a dangerous job.”
He knew there was no way to comfort Katie’s tears and Jack was handling the news in his own way—silently.
“What happened to her powers?” asked Jack solemnly. As a member of the Power Pack, Julie was able to shift her powers with her siblings—at least, before she died.
“I knew when she died,” Alex said. “I knew, because all of a sudden I had her powers.”
Katie let loose on another loud round of bawling. “I want my sister back,” she whimpered.
“We all do,” Alex said, drawing his younger siblings in close to him. “We all do…”
“This is crazy,” said the Falcon. “We’re going to let them register us and tell us what to do? What’s next? A little number tattooed on our wrists? I don’t think so!”
Yellowjacket looked at Falcon. “Oh, yeah. It’s really going to go that far. Come on! We knew this was coming. It’s always been coming. We’re just lucky we survived this long without having this happen sooner!”
“I nearly got mugged,” said Ben. “I don’t think the world all that happy to see us, registered or not.”
“So we let this die down and then it’s over?” asked Carol. “That’s wishful thinking. If I’d stayed at that memorial five more seconds, I’d have been mugged, but this sort of thing isn’t just going to die out.”
“I don’t think identities should be revealed, at least,” said Spider-Man, dangling from the ceiling. “That information would become a little too accessible, and if we all remember the Identity Disc horror that happened awhile back…”
“Don’t remind me…” moaned another hero or heroine in back.
“Still, all we know is that things are going to change,” said Luke Cage. “I don’t know how or why or when, but it’s gonna be different from here on out.”
“So, Captain,” said Maria. “Tell me now why I shouldn’t toss you into one of these cells.”
Captain America was taken aback. “Tell me why I should be put inside one of those cells.”
“You know you aren’t going to comply with the president’s decision,” Maria said. “At least, I know.”
“Take me out of here,” ordered Captain America. “Now.”
He was rewarded with a sudden shock as he was clapped on the ears by someone behind him. Before Cap could regain his senses, Maria shot a tranquilizer at him, piercing his gloved hand.
“Thank you, Agent Jackson,” said Maria. “I’m so glad you decided to rejoin us.”
As he lost consciousness, Maria stood over him. “Sorry, Captain, but you are the biggest opposition to the greater good.”
“This is going to split us right down the middle,” said Cyclops. “I can already pick out which X-Men are going to stand for this.”
“Then we need to do something to stop them,” said Spider-Man. “Something that could, I don’t know, force them to shut their mouths. I suppose I could pay your girlfriend to do that…”
“Not funny,” said Cyclops, his face as unreadable as stone.
“What about you?” Falcon asked Reed Richards. “Are you for or against registration?”
Reed took a deep breath. “I am in favor of registration, yes. Registering would not hurt the Fantastic Four because we have always been public. We’ve never hidden our identities.”
Ben looked at Reed. “Yeah, good luck that brought me on good ole Yancy Street.”
“This isn’t going to go away overnight,” said Iron Man. “This is going to be something we will deal with in the long run. We have to do it right. To do that, we have to start registering now.”
“When is the decision for registration final?” asked Carol Danvers.
Tony smiled under his armor. “Why, the president aired his decision ten minutes ago.”
“What is with all of these protestors?” asked Emma Frost. “We just got rid of Reverend Stryker and rebuilt from that, and now we have some controversy over an explosion in Connecticut that mutants had no part in!”
“Get used to it,” said Bishop. “Things are different now.”
“They’ve been different ever since we lost ninety percent of our population, Lucas,” said Emma with disdain. “We knew it wouldn’t just go away.”
“Then what is the problem with registration?” asked Bishop. “We’re under the eye of the Sentinels every day. Why should it matter if they know our names, too?”
“Because, Lucas,” Emma started, sipping wine from a glass, “I will not force my students to register their names and faces just so they can use their powers. That is not the world they will grow up in. They have lost their friends and on many occasions, nearly their lives. This is not going to happen again.”
“Registration will help—” Bishop began.
“No,” Emma said firmly. “It will not help. Are you going to ask the villains who threaten us to register themselves? Will they need a badge to carry out villainous deeds? The only thing that will change is that we’ll have to clock in every time we want to punch Mystique in the face!”
“Need I remind you that she is one of us now?” Bishop asked.
“So?” Emma asked. “That doesn’t stop one from wanting to hit her…”
“Screw this!” said Spider-Man. He was tired of listening to Tony, Reed, and Hank Pym make their so-called justified arguments.
“Do you know how many villains are out there right now killing people?” Spider-Man asked, his voice nearly hysterical. “I don’t care about that, I’m going to go save some people right now…and maybe snag some chicks…but I’m going to go save people, you hear me?”
With that, he was gone, moving as quickly as his Iron Spider costume would allow, which happened to be very, very fast.
Luke Cage smirked. “I’m with the web-head. Screw this meeting.”
One by one, the heroes left the room until only the three advocates of registration stood. “Well, I wonder who’s on our side?” asked Tony with a small laugh.
New Warriors’ TV Show HQ…
Night Thrasher walked back and forth. “This is wrong. We should be out there filming.”
“We can’t,” Speedball said. “As much as I’d like to do this, people aren’t too keen to watch our show, or even let us tape. The show’s dead, Thrasher.”
“Good riddance,” said Namorita. “I was getting a bit tired of makeup.”
“So…does that mean we aren’t famous any more?” asked Microbe. He took a bite of a large sub sandwich.
“We’re still famous,” Speedball said. “Or rather, as heroes, we’re infamous.”
A sudden knock on the door alerted them to a new visitor.
“Excuse me, guys,” said the New Warriors’ agent. “There’s some guy who wants to see you. He said he’s a Warrior? Alex Power?”
“Let him in,” Night Thrasher said. “His sister died in the Stamford explosion.”
Alex came in, looking rather harried. “Guys, I need your help,” he said.
“Why? What happened?” asked Namorita.
“I went down to the Raft. I wanted to see the kid who killed my sister,” said Alex, though they would now refer to him by his codename, Zero-G.
“What about it?” Speedball asked.
“I was about to walk in when I saw them knock out Captain America and throw him in a cell!” Alex exclaimed.
“Wait…you mean the Captain America?” Microbe asked.
Alex nodded. “They’re holding him in the Raft.”
Speedball stood up. “I think it’s time for a breakout.”
Luke Cage ran in the room, looking for the first Avenger he could find. It was Jessica Drew, known as Spider-Woman.
“Did you hear, Jessica?” asked Luke. “Things just got worse.”
“What?” Jessica asked, dropping the magazine she’d been reading.
“They’ve arrested Rick Jones and Phil Urich for backing Excelsior,” Luke said. “This is bad.”
“Why?” Jessica asked in alarm.
“Because,” Luke said. “They just decided it was the heroes’ fault. They’ve decided that registration is imminent. Say goodbye to the good ole days of bein’ a hero.”
The End…For Now