New York City…
“They kicked you out?!”
“They threw you in jail?!”
Captain America and Luke Cage had just told each other their stories and reacted simultaneously. Both were in shock.
“As you can see,” Cap explained, recovering first, “I got out.”
“Well, I’m still out here, and nobody’s forced me to write down my name or anything,” said Luke.
“Yet,” scoffed Namor, Prince of Atlantis. He had joined Captain America’s cause because his cousin, Namorita, had been imprisoned by the same jailors who had put the good Captain in the Raft.
“What’s Scuba-Boy doin’ here anyway?” asked Luke. “Doesn’t he have some third-world country to raid?”
“Enough!” said Captain America, before anything could erupt between Luke and Namor. “We’re working together here—we need to stop Tony before things get worse.”
“Oh, I’m the problem?” asked Iron Man. He landed on the scene in his armor as Reed Richards stretched around the corner and Henry Pym stomped up, giant-sized.
“I’m sorry,” Tony continued, “but it seems to me like you guys are the ones causing problems.
Cap stood in front of the other two, prepared for the others to strike. “That’s bull, Tony, and you know it. You’ve been planning this, expecting this for years.”
If the armor could smirk, it would have. “Can you prove any of this nonsense?”
“With time, yes,” Captain America said, though he wasn’t certain he could do that.
Iron Man looked to the two others. “I do believe you’ve run out of that. C’mon, boys. We have to arrest an American traitor.”
“How are our two prisoners?” Maria Hill asked, walking in for her daily briefing.
Agent Brent Jackson, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. control within the maximum-security section of the Raft, looked up. “We have Namorita dosed on three different types of tranquilizer. Darkhawk isn’t giving us any trouble. I think he’s inclined to let us leave him rotting.”
“Let me in there,” Maria said. “I need to talk to him.”
Jackson looked at her in slight alarm. “Are you sure, Director Hill? We haven’t assessed what kind of damage he could cause, especially in his current mental state. I think it’s a bad idea.”
Maria grabbed Jackson roughly by the collar. “Are you the Director, Agent Jackson?”
“No, Director Hill.”
“Do you wish to continue in service at S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
“Yes, Director Hill.”
“Do you want to stay out of jail for the atrocities you committed as head of Weapon X, Agent Jackson?”
“Yes, Director Hill,” he said meekly.
Maria gave him a searing look. “Then you will let me in that cell to speak with Darkhawk or you can imagine the consequences yourself.”
Immediately, the cell was unlocked and the doors slid open.
“Hello, Chris,” said Maria. “How are they treating you?”
Darkhawk looked up. “Will you people kill me already?”
“Change into your human form, we’ll get you out of those shackles,” Maria said soothingly.
Chris complied, his Darkhawk armor fading away. “Take it,” he said.
“Take the amulet,” Chris clarified. “I never want it again. I don’t want the responsibility hanging around my neck like that ugly amulet anymore. I’m through.”
Maria reached up and took the amulet, placed it in her saddlebag, and then hit the controls for the shackles. “You’re just Chris now,” she said. “No more Darkhawk, just as you requested. There’s just one thing you can do now. One thing you can do and you can atone for the deaths you cause at Stamford. Do this and you can prevent another Stamford.”
Chris rubbed his arms from the shackles.
“I’m listening,” he said simply.
Xavier Institute, 198 Encampment…
“We got the order, Ms. Cooper,” said Colonel Miguel Reyes, a strongly-built Puerto Rican in a military outfit.
Valerie Cooper adjusted her suit as she walked toward the set of tents. “Which order?”
“The chips, for tracking,” Miguel explained. “The White House wants a jumpstart on our mutants since they’re already registered in their book. We start with these in the camp and work into the mansion.”
“They won’t go easily,” Valerie said. “Not a single one of them will.”
“I know,” Miguel said. “We just have to go in and make sure we get them all. Otherwise we’ll never end up getting any of them.”
Behind the two leaders of the Office of National Emergency were a squadron of armored and trained soldiers, equipped with chip injectors and tranquilizers.
“Maybe we should offer it to them in the right hand or forehead only, just to see if it makes it go over any easier,” Valerie joked.
Miguel looked at her sternly. “Did they hire you just to come up with the bad ideas?”
Valerie grimaced, but didn’t respond to that. “There’s our first mutant,” she said. “Tag, then bag, tranquilizing. There’s no telling if they’ll fight back, even after being implanted.
“What the heck…?” asked the mutant. It was Sally Blevins, codenamed Skids.
Valerie cursed. “She’s one that we can’t get yet! She’s got a force-field! Tranquilize them all and then we’ll administer the chips, but we have to move, move, move! Otherwise she’ll warn them all!”
The soldiers rushed forward, making their assault. Mutants began to fall left and right. Valerie counted some of the major players, like Johnny Dee and Erg among those taken out at the beginning.
Very soon, there was little more fighting to be done. Only Skids remained standing.
“No!” she shouted. “This isn’t going to end like this!”
Like a madwoman, she slid, frictionless, across the grass, knocking over two lines of soldiers. Then an unforeseen player came into the game.
Bishop snatched up the unconscious body of Leech, grabbed a fallen soldier’s gun, and tossed Leech lightly at Sally. By being near the boy, Sally’s force-field faltered, and Bishop fired off a tranquilizer, taking out the final threat she posed.
“Well done, Bishop,” Valerie said, walking up to the X-Man. “If only your teammates saw things the way you do.”
“Do they know about this, or did you only call me?” Bishop asked.
Valerie gave him a smirk. “What do you think?”
“Good,” Bishop said. “But I guarantee when they do find out, they’ll be jumping down your throat faster than the public jumped down heroes’ throats after Stamford.”
“What’s up, Sue?” asked Johnny Storm, walking up on her in Reed’s lab.
Sue looked at her younger brother. “I can’t reach Reed. I think he turned off his comm-link.”
“Why does the world need him now?” Johnny asked. “Meteor storm? Invasion from the Negative Zone?”
Sue looked angrily at her brother. “This isn’t a joke. Get Ben. The first few reports we’re getting is that Thor’s hammer is gone.”
“Oh,” said Johnny, taken aback. “In that case, you get Ben and I’ll get Reed.”
“How will you…?” Sue began to ask, but it was useless, he was gone.
“What the bloody hell is Bishop doing?” Emma Frost asked angrily, turning into her diamond form. “Is he going to advertise the X-Men are okay with this? We most certainly are not!”
“Calm down, Emma,” Cyclops said. “I’m as angry about this as you are, but we have to handle this sort of thing rationally.”
“Understandable, Scott,” said Emma. “Still, under the circumstances, should we not round the X-Men together and make a group decision? A united front is better than providing a divided one for the public to pick at.”
“With Bishop here going public like this, as I’m sure it will be public after the evening news, I don’t think we can present a united front, Emma,” Cyclops said. “Bishop can’t make things easy on us.”
“He’s destroying the very things we’re all working for right now!” Emma said. “If you don’t find a way to deal with him, then I will.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, Emma. I sincerely do,” Cyclops said, shaking his head.
Alleyway, New York…
Captain America blocked another of Iron Man’s repulsor beams with his shield. “Stop this, Tony! You know that all you’re doing is help spread the dissension!”
“The pot calls the kettle black. Imagine that,” Iron Man said, his voice still robotically modified. “I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t already ‘spreading dissension!’ You forced my hand. This is damage control!”
“Ha! The only damage is being done to the heroes of America!” shouted Luke Cage, dodging Mr. Fantastic’s elastic body, trying not to be ensnared.
“Really,” said Reed, looking at Luke amusedly. “You really think that? We’ve been heading for a doomsday like this for ages. The registry is the only way to regain the public’s approval, and then we can start doing things right!”
“Enough talk!” shouted Namor. “My blood is held captive by those who support this nonsense!” He flew up like a cannonball, fists stretched in front of him, and clobbered Yellowjacket in the jaw.
“We should be on the same side!” shouted Pym, reeling from the blow. “This is all blowing up in our faces!”
“Now there’s a bad metaphor after Stamford,” Luke remarked.
“I hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” Iron Man said, reaching into a hidden pouch in his armor and producing a cylinder. He attached it to his wrist. “I created this with the full knowledge that your shield would block my repulsor rays, Cap. It’s set to heat-seek, but dodge anything made of your shield’s material. So it focuses on you, but dodges your shield in the process. You can’t avoid it.”
The others were too wrapped up to do anything. Iron Man fitted the miniature rocket onto his wrist. “I’m sorry, Captain, but you’re about to see what happens to bad heroes.”
“Bad heroes my @$$!” shouted Falcon, swooping down and slicing the rocket in half with his wings. He turned on a dime and grabbed Cap under the arms. “Where to, Cap?”
The confusion was coupled suddenly with a burst of flame in the air in the direction of the Statue of Liberty. It was a flaming number four.
“My family needs me,” Reed said suddenly. “I’m sorry, Iron Man, but compared to this, they need me more.”
Iron Man looked from Reed to the sky in the opposite direction. Namor carried Luke Cage and Falcon carried Cap. He fired up his foot-boosters, but Yellowjacket stopped him.
“Let them go,” he said. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
Inside his armor, Iron Man fumed. Nevertheless, he knew that he had to do something to make it seem like he knew what he was doing. He complied.
One week later…
“What’s going on, Luke?” Cap asked, stepping up to the computer in the safe house. Nick Fury had kindly lent it to them after they had run from Iron Man and the others. Since then, the Super Hero Registration act had gone into law.
“Our scanners throughout the States picked up those kids from Los Angeles,” Luke said. “They’re fighting some creep who pilfered the old Porcupine suit from the ruins of Avengers Mansion. S.H.I.E.L.D. has its team, so-called Cape-Killers, nearly on the scene already.”
Captain America nodded, and sprinted off in search of the only person who could get there fast enough.
“Cloak! Dagger!” shouted Cap.
“Over here!” came the reply. Tyrone and Tandy, originally teenagers who were given their powers by drugs, stood at attention for Cap.
“Remember those kids you met in California?” he asked.
Dagger nodded. Her long, blonde hair flowed down her back. “The Pride’s kids, those runaways.”
“Right,” Cap said. “S.H.I.E.L.D. has them in a corner. Cloak, you have to get there, sneak in, and teleport everyone back.”
“Understood,” Cloak said. No more words needed to be said. He swept his cloak around Dagger and they dwindled from sight.
“Why won’t these powered freaks get out of this city?!” shouted Victor Mancha, firing off another electromagnetic burst toward Porcupine.
“Yeah, it’s not like they’re any more immune to this stupid law than we are,” said Karolina Dean. She rose into the sky on a multicolored pillar of light. Light beams poured from her hands.
Porcupine retaliated, sending off a burst of spikes toward the kids.
Nico Minoru waved her magical staff. “Return to Sender,” she whispered, and the spikes reversed in midair, flying back toward Porcupine. The lame villain ran scared, dodging spikes.
“Forget this freakin’ loser!” said Molly Hayes, delivering a finishing blow with her mutant strength. “There’s a bunch of losers up there—and their uniforms don’t look cool.”
Two members of the group had been silent. The first was the Skrull trainee named Xavin, Karolina’s betrothed. The other was Chase Stein, with the dinosaur Old Lace, inherited from his girlfriend who had just been killed by a sadistic madman not a week before. He hadn’t said much of anything lately.
“RUNAWAYS—STAND DOWN!” shouted a Cape-Killer through a microphone. Before the kids knew it, they were surrounded on all sides by men with tranquilizer guns.
Nico grimaced. “Figures, we didn’t know how long we’d be able to go without this crappy law heading our way.”
Just then, in the middle of everything, Cloak and Dagger materialized. Cloak opened his cloak wide. “Run in, hurry!” he said deeply.
The Cape-Killers fired off their tranquilizers. They were long gone before a single tranquilizer reached the spot where they had all stood.
Brent Jackson stepped up. “It isn’t a total loss,” he said, surveying the situation. “Take in the vehicle,” he said, pointing to the Runaways’ Leapfrog.
“What about him, sir?” asked a female Cape-Killer, pointing as Porcupine.
Jackson grinned evilly. “Take him in, but don’t send him off to Forty-Two. I hear Zemo has particular interest in this one.”
The depowered mutant formerly known as Rictor left the X-Factor building in a hurry. There had been no progress on the search for Quicksilver.
He’d made sure of it.
Rictor wanted his powers back, and Quicksilver was the only chance he had at it. Tonight, finally, he had a lead.
The alleyway was dark. In fact, it was perfect for a setup. If someone was out to kill former mutants, they would have an easy time with Rictor. He wanted to be found, and he needed to be found by Quicksilver.
In the end, it was easier than Rictor thought. Quicksilver was just sitting there, knees huddled to his chest, in the middle of the alley.
“Hello, Rictor,” Quicksilver said. “I see you’ve heard the rumors.” He sat there, not looking up.
“Is it true?” Rictor asked in amazement. “Can you give mutants back their powers?”
Quicksilver looked up. “Yes. Permanently.”
“What do I need to do?” Rictor asked, practically begging.
Pietro stood. “Follow me. I have to know you’re in. The others, they were bait. I need names and faces. I need people that will be recognized. I need to be sure you won’t run back to X-Factor once your powers are back.” He turned to the door behind him and opened it. “Follow me.”
In the room, lit by a single lantern, were two men. The first was bald, and his clothes were ragged. The second had white hair, and an uncanny resemblance to Pietro himself. As Quicksilver’s fingers, laced with the Terrigen crystals that restored mutant powers, sank into Rictor’s back, he realized what it meant.
“May I introduce you, Rictor, to Michael Pointer, the man in charge of the collective power of all depowered mutants? As I restore mutants, he grows slightly weaker each time, but that matters not. The other man here is the one who will lead the revolution. I don’t believe you’ve met my father, have you, Rictor?” Quicksilver asked, smiling for the first time in ages.
Rictor whispered a single word.
The Safe House…
“Cap! Everybody come quick!” shouted Black Goliath, looking at the television screen. “Hill’s on camera! Something’s happening!”
There was a press conference. Maria Hill stood at the podium.
“As you all know,” she began, “a group named Excelsior was the cause of the tragedy in Stamford. We now can release that a single member of the group survived. To protect him, we’ll use his first name only. Chris?”
The man formerly known as Darkhawk walked out on stage.
“I’m truly sorry for what happened. Part of the reason the public lost its faith in heroes is my fault. This Registration Act is partially my fault. I want to urge all heroes to sign the act before they are hunted down for disobeying the law,” he said simply, as if it had been scripted.
“What about you?” asked a reporter. “Aren’t you a hero?”
“Not anymore,” Darkhawk said. “I have relinquished my powers to S.H.I.E.L.D. to be used for the greater good of the world.”
In the safe house, Captain America held his breath. “Damn,” he cursed. “They got another one. With Darkhawk’s amulet on their side, the bad guys just got a lot stronger…”
The End…For Now