Disclaimer: Any of the recognizable characters in this story (Peter Parker, Ben Urich, Joe Robertson, for example) belong to Marvel Comics — I'm merely borrowing them for the duration. (Of what, one might ask....) There has been no money made or another financial restitution received for the writing of this story. (Which is just as well — I pay enough in taxes as it is!)
Peter Parker peered around the corner of the cubicle that housed the Daily Bugle's web server and watched the controlled chaos of a newsroom dealing with a major breaking story.
Several days ago, the government had unleashed the huge metal robots known as Sentinels on the city of Los Angeles, reportedly to find and "remove" members of mutant terrorist organizations, according to officials. Several dozen people had been killed in the operation.
Now, this Saturday evening, the Sentinels had been spotted in New York City. The television stations had been carrying reports for almost an hour. Newsroom editor Joe Robertson alternated between directing the reporters' activity and watching the bank of television screens on the newsroom wall. Conversations were held in low, intense tones. Everywhere he looked, Peter could see staffers talking on phones, people typing, editors bending over reporters' desks for consultations. Even the sports department had gotten involved. Sandy Paget, who usually covered high school girls' sports, was interviewing someone on the phone; Peter could just make out the words, "giant metal foot crushed cars" on her screen.
A dozen paces away, reporter Ben Urich was shrugging out of his coat, his back to Peter; Robertson was turning away from the television screens showing various shots from the network news shows. Many of the screens featured pictures of the Sentinels.
"You were supposed to be off tonight."
"I was, until I got a front-row seat for the Sentinel attack." Urich tossed his coat onto the back of his chair and flipped open his notebook. "Official reports as of two minutes ago claim a dozen dead. Four of them are confirmed as having been mutants. I've got the information from the police media relations office, plus a sidebar story of one kid who was actually rescued from one of these things."
"Yes. I've got a call in to some of my sources for more information. I had to talk to half a dozen people to piece this together, but basically...."
Saturday night in New York City:
The ground trembles. People pause briefly, then continue on. The ground shivers again. Car horns suddenly blare in the distance. The ground shudders. Shouts and screams split the air. The pavement jumps, then jumps again. A massive head, shoulder and arm appear around the corner of a building. As the metal monster steps into the intersection, the ground shakes in time with its footsteps. Cars swerve to avoid the huge feet; pedestrians stand transfixed for a moment, then burst into motion, bolting in all directions, some into traffic. Motorists crash vehicles into street signs, other vehicles, some trying to avoid the robot, some swerving away from fleeing pedestrians. A carpet of glass and debris coats the street, crunches under the robots boot-like feet. A green beam of light erupts from the Sentinel's hand, and one of the running pedestrians, a little apart from the others, is lit by a halo, then winks out of existence. The people closest to him pelt on, unharmed. A second victim, lifting off from the sidewalk in an attempt to fly to safety, meets the same fate. The Sentinel's long strides carry it further than the fleeing humans can run. People scatter as the robot strides down the avenue. One small figure scrambles desperately for cover, slips and falls amid the glass shards and debris. The robot's head swivels toward the teen boy crouched in the street; the massive hand comes up for the killing blast – – And a woman leaps out into the street, flinging herself bodily on top of the teen. The Sentinel freezes. The woman, gasping for breath, gathers the slightly smaller form of the teen to her and kneels, motionless. The robot waits, as though considering its options. As it stands, it is joined by a second robot. Both tower over the two small people in the middle of the avenue. Two police officers run down the sidewalk, shouting at people to clear the streets. They stumble to a halt at the sight of the tableau in the middle of the avenue. One of them calls to the two people huddled together under the robots' malevolent gazes. At last the woman stands up, arm still around the teen's shoulders. She is speaking, but her words don't carry to any of the bystanders. Slowly she and the teen walk across the pavement to the police officers. The woman says, "This is Manuel. If the Sentinels tried to attack him, he's probably a mutant. He'll be all right as long as he stays with you. Please take him someplace safe." Then she turns and runs down the street, in the direction in which the original Sentinel had first been moving. The police shout after her, but she disappears into the crowd and is lost to sight.
The ground trembles. People pause briefly, then continue on. The ground shivers again. Car horns suddenly blare in the distance. The ground shudders. Shouts and screams split the air. The pavement jumps, then jumps again. A massive head, shoulder and arm appear around the corner of a building. As the metal monster steps into the intersection, the ground shakes in time with its footsteps.
Cars swerve to avoid the huge feet; pedestrians stand transfixed for a moment, then burst into motion, bolting in all directions, some into traffic. Motorists crash vehicles into street signs, other vehicles, some trying to avoid the robot, some swerving away from fleeing pedestrians. A carpet of glass and debris coats the street, crunches under the robots boot-like feet.
A green beam of light erupts from the Sentinel's hand, and one of the running pedestrians, a little apart from the others, is lit by a halo, then winks out of existence. The people closest to him pelt on, unharmed. A second victim, lifting off from the sidewalk in an attempt to fly to safety, meets the same fate.
The Sentinel's long strides carry it further than the fleeing humans can run. People scatter as the robot strides down the avenue.
One small figure scrambles desperately for cover, slips and falls amid the glass shards and debris. The robot's head swivels toward the teen boy crouched in the street; the massive hand comes up for the killing blast –
– And a woman leaps out into the street, flinging herself bodily on top of the teen.
The Sentinel freezes. The woman, gasping for breath, gathers the slightly smaller form of the teen to her and kneels, motionless.
The robot waits, as though considering its options. As it stands, it is joined by a second robot. Both tower over the two small people in the middle of the avenue.
Two police officers run down the sidewalk, shouting at people to clear the streets. They stumble to a halt at the sight of the tableau in the middle of the avenue. One of them calls to the two people huddled together under the robots' malevolent gazes.
At last the woman stands up, arm still around the teen's shoulders. She is speaking, but her words don't carry to any of the bystanders. Slowly she and the teen walk across the pavement to the police officers. The woman says, "This is Manuel. If the Sentinels tried to attack him, he's probably a mutant. He'll be all right as long as he stays with you. Please take him someplace safe."
Then she turns and runs down the street, in the direction in which the original Sentinel had first been moving. The police shout after her, but she disappears into the crowd and is lost to sight.
"Do you have names?"
"The boy is Manuel DiCamillo, fifteen years old. I couldn't talk to him – the police had escorted him back to their station by the time I got this much of the story. The officer I spoke to said the kid was pretty shook. I'll try contacting the family as soon as I get an address and see if I can set up an interview."
"And the woman?"
"My source said Manuel called her 'Miranda', but didn't give a last name."
"Not a relative or friend of his family?"
"No. Apparently he'd never seen her before."
"Good Samaritan, then."
"That's what it sounds like. Apparently, when the Sentinels saw the boy was under police protection, they backed off. A few minutes later several of them were spotted in Times Square, where they were involved in a confrontation with a group of mutants...."
Peter, who had been more than close enough to hear Urich's recitation, lost the thread of the conversation. Fifteen years old? That could have been me! If I'd gone home earlier tonight, that could have been me in the streets with those things!
Peter stared at the wall without seeing it. Would a Sentinel, designed to detect people with a mutant X-gene, be able to tell the difference between a natural-born mutant and Peter's artificially changed DNA? But those robots would have been programmed to recognize known terrorists, he told himself. I'm not on anyone's 'Most Wanted' lists. I should be okay—
"Peter?" Joe Robertson leaned over the cubicle wall. He held out a pair of folders. "Could you please run up to the wire room and see if anything has come in from Associated Press or UPI? Any kind of pictures goes to the photo editor; any text comes to me, okay?"
"Uh, sure, Mr. Robertson." Peter took the folders and trotted in the direction of the staircase.
I'm gonna have to look into this when I get a minute, he decided as he jogged into the newsroom a few minutes later, two photos and several articles tucked into the respective folders. Bad enough half the city thinks Spider-man's some kind of nutcase without having huge robots gunning for me, too—
Ben Urich's phone rang as Peter passed his desk. "Urich. Hello, Phil. Got something for me about Manuel—" Urich paused. "Oh." He called up a word processing program on his computer, cradling the phone against one shoulder. "I thought he was going back to the precinct... So what hap— Oh. The two officers... Do you have their names?"
Peter handed the folder of articles to Robertson, who nodded his thanks; the editor's gaze was fixed on Urich. Peter stepped to one side and listened.
"Were there witnesses?" Urich's fingers flew over the keyboard. The words "Six blocks from site of rescue, DiCamillo in street, where Sentinel's lasers killed" scrolled across the computer screen. Joe Robertson's eyes closed in sympathy. Apparently oblivious to the emotional impact of his words, Urich kept typing. Peter shuddered and turned away.
God, that guy was my age! It could have been me—
"Peter? Are you all right?" Robertson reached out and put a hand on Peter's shoulder.
"I – yeah, it's just – I heard Mr. Urich talking about that boy, and –" Peter gulped "—that could have been me! I mean, he was my age, and –"
"Peter, stop and take a deep breath." Peter complied, his breath almost a sob. "Good. Take another." Peter inhaled and exhaled, a little more steadily this time. Robertson watched him closely. His hand still rested on Peter's shoulder. "Okay. Listen to me. It wasn't you. You're safe. The Sentinels were only after mutants. The attack is over, and the Sentinels are gone, or destroyed. It's okay."
Peter squeezed his eyes closed. "Yeah. Okay. It's just – he could have me, or one of my friends from school. He was only fifteen, and now he's dead."
Robinson steered him to a chair. "Sit down. I'm going to get you a glass of water. You keep taking deep breaths and reminding yourself that it's all over, all right?"
"Okay," Peter replied. Numbly, he watched reporters and photographers striding from desk to desk, or bending over to collaborate with a colleague. Ben Urich had hung up the phone, and was still typing steadily, a look of determination on his face. Robertson returned with the water.
"You doing all right, Peter?"
"Yes. Thanks, sir."
"Maybe you should call your aunt to come get you."
"Yeah, I will."
Robertson offered him a reassuring smile and turned away to talk to another reporter. Peter placed his call, then sat sipping at the water. He watched Urich stand up and wave Robertson over. They consulted for a minute, and Urich sat down again. Peter could just see his finger press the Send button, forwarding the story to Robertson's computer terminal for editing. Then Urich slumped into his chair and sat staring at the now empty screen. After a moment, he sighed, turned and reached for his notebook. Peter stood up and eased his way across the corridor.
Ben Urich opened his notebook, his eyes on its pages. "Yes, Peter?"
"You know that fifteen-year-old boy you were talking about? He's — he's dead now, isn't he?"
Urich's voice was weary. "Yes. He died less than half an hour ago. According to one witness, the police officers escorting him back to their station apparently flung him up against a building several times, and then threw him out into the street, where a Sentinel was following them. One laser is all it took."
"What was he guilty of?"
Urich peered at him through his glasses. "I'm sorry?"
"What did he do that made the police throw him out where the Sentinel could kill him?"
Urich gazed at him steadily. "I don't know as he did anything."
"Nothing?" Peter gripped the top and side of the cubicle's wall. "He didn't attack anyone, or burst into flames, or blow something up? Did the police think he was going to hurt anyone?"
"According to my source, no one else has come forward yet who was close enough to see what really happened. The police had no warrant out for Manuel's arrest, or any suspicion that he was involved in any crime or terrorist activities."
"Then why did those officers do that?"
Urich's gaze slid to the computer screen for a moment, then back to Peter. "I suspect that they just didn't like mutants very much."
Peter stared. "That's it? They killed him just because he was a mutant?"
"That's the way it seems. I expect there will be an investigation into what happened."
"So...they'll be charged with murder, right? And sent to jail?"
Urich looked away suddenly and drew a deep breath. Finally, not quite meeting Peter's eyes, he replied, "I don't know. It seems to be just the one witness. Internal Affairs will investigate it, but unless one or the other officer confesses...." Here he sighed, and his gaze came back to Peter. "It's possible that no charges will be filed due to insubstantial evidence."
Peter stared at him for a moment; then he dropped his gaze, and for several heartbeats stood staring down at the floor. Maybe, if I had left earlier, I could have been there, done something.... Finally he raised his eyes. "How do you stand it?" he asked Urich. "How do you deal with, with all the wrong things people do, with all the bad things that happen?"
The reporter studied Peter; his expression shifted from one of weariness to something a little more like compassion. "I write about it." Urich took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with the fingers of his right hand. Then he tossed the glasses onto his desk and turned back to Peter. "That's all I can do, Peter. I'm not Iron Man, or, or Spider-Man, or any of the other superhero types out there. I just happen to be a pretty good writer. I get information. I write my story, and I hope that enough other news services pick it up and enough people read it and get angry enough to want to change things. I can't stop a Sentinel by myself, or save people from so-called supervillains. All I can do is write. It's the only weapon I have against the bad things that happen."
Peter froze. Ben Urich thinks Spider-Man is a hero? Aloud, he asked cautiously, "You think Spider-Man in a hero? A lot of people don't."
"He stops muggers and thieves. He rescues people who can't defend themselves. He does it all without getting any form of payment or recognition." The side of Urich's mouth twitched into a smile. "Yes, I would say he's a hero. Despite what J. Jonah Jameson might say to the contrary."
Peter actually smiled back. "Yeah, okay. Thanks." He turned away and started down the walkway. Then he stopped and came back. "Mr. Urich?"
Urich's hands were poised over the keyboard. "Yes, Peter?" There was a note of impatience in his voice this time.
"Uh, maybe you don't want to answer this, but... when you were writing the stories on the Kingpin, did you – did you ever get any, you know, death threats?"
Urich froze, still staring straight ahead at his screen. For a few heartbeats he did nothing. Finally, without looking at Peter, he said, "What would make you ask that?"
"I, uh, just wondered. I mean, you said you're not a superhero or anything, but you had someone really powerful after you who had already murdered someone, and you were going to write a story exposing him. Weren't you afraid?"
Urich's gaze shifted from the computer screen to his hands, still resting lightly on the computer keys. "Yes, I was," he murmured in a voice Peter could just hear over the background noises of the newsroom. "I kept thinking of Veronica Guerin. Ever heard of her?" Peter shook his head. "She was a journalist in Ireland who was murdered in 1996 because of her stories about drug lords and what they were doing to her country. Journalists have been killed in a lot of places around the world for writing stories that powerful people want censored."
Urich took his hands off the keyboard and turned to Peter, resting one elbow on his desk. "But more than afraid, I was angry. This man and his organization were hurting and killing people. Some of them might have deserved it, but most of them didn't." Urich's eyes narrowed and his lips thinned. "Teens dying because of drug sales. People shot and killed during hits because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Storeowners put out of business or roughed up because they wouldn't pay protection money. We got rid of a president of the United States back in 1974 because no one was supposed to be above the law. No one."
Peter almost backed away from the Urich's expression. In the short time he'd worked at the Daily Bugle, he'd seen humor, concentration, and determination on Urich's face, but this was first time he'd seen the dark, intense anger that showed there now.
Then Urich drew in a deep breath, and the look vanished, to be replaced by a much gentler expression of sympathy, and hint of sheepishness. "A good journalist isn't supposed to get emotionally involved in his story, you know."
"I guess," Peter replied. "But you have to believe in your story, don't you?"
Urich actually smiled. "Yes, you do. You have to go where the story takes you. When I was in college, I read a statement like that from someone who wrote fiction. But it's just as true in journalism." He sighed and turned away to reach for his glasses. "Manuel's story won't be finished until the police officers responsible for his death are brought up on charges or cleared. And I don't know about you, but I want to find and talk to that woman who jumped out in front of that Sentinel to save a boy she apparently didn't know. Now that took courage."
Three days later, Ben Urich's wish was granted. One of the city news reporters pointed out Urich's desk to a short, sturdy woman with dark hair and glasses. She passed Peter's computer on her way down the corridor between the cubicles.
"Mr. Urich? I'm told you want to talk to me. My name is Miranda Evans. I – was with Manuel the night of the Sentinel attack."
Peter, leaning over the keyboard of the web server's computer two desks away, sat bolt upright. He watched Ben Urich stand up. "You were the woman who rescued him from the Sentinels?"
"For all the good it did," Evans replied, a bitter edge to her voice. She wore a pair of gray slacks, a matching jacket, a red blouse and low-heeled shoes; her hair was short and curly, and she was holding a manila envelope in the bend of her elbow.
"I – ah, yes, I do want to talk to you. If you don't mind." Urich stepped across the walkway and moved an empty chair into his cubicle, then motioned to Evans. "Please sit down, Ms. Evans."
"Thank you." She settled into the chair, placing the manila envelope in her lap.
"How did you know I wanted to talk to you?"
"Someone in my department at work pointed out your request printed in the paper."
"Did you know Manuel DiCamillo?"
Evans shook her head. "I didn't even know his last name. Things were a little too intense for formal introductions."
"Can you tell me what happened that night?"
Evans related a story that covered most of the same points Urich had told Robertson the night of the attack. "I thought he'd be safe with the police," she concluded, rubbing her forehead with one hand. "He should have been safe." She held up a hand to refuse the handkerchief Urich offered her. When she looked up, Peter could see an expression of anger, rather than grief, on her face. "It was a horrible loss of life that should never have happened."
"Ms. Evans, did you know that the Sentinels wouldn't attack you before you ran out into the street to help Manuel?"
"Yes, I did. Don't make me out to be a hero, Mr. Urich. I just happen to know more about these monstrosities than most other people."
"But you acted on that knowledge."
Peter clicked the Refresh button to command the computer to display the changes he had made on the newspaper's website; then he stood up to stretch, moving a few steps closer to the conversation down the corridor.
There was a twisted smile on Evans' face. "Sometimes it's best not to think too much," she responded.
"How did you know the Sentinel wouldn't attack you?" Urich asked.
"By reading the documentation on the Sentinel Project. I work for a government repository library – I have access to everything the state, city and federal government publishes that is rated below a certain security clearance level. The bottom line, Mr. Urich, is that the Sentinels are able to scan human tissue down to the genetic level. They can identify what's called the X-gene; it's—"
"—Not really a gene at all," Peter broke in. Both Urich and Evans stared at him, startled. "It's really a, a cluster of genes that signify activity in sequences of DNA that are outside the areas normally replicated by the average non-mutant human's messenger RNA...." He trailed off, suddenly aware of the expression of surprise on Evans' face and that of exasperation on Urich's. "Um, oops."
"'Oops' is right," Urich remarked, although to Peter's relief, amusement replaced the exasperation.
Peter blushed. "Sorry."
Evans actually smiled. "Well, he's right, at any rate. That's a pretty good layman's explanation." She turned in her chair to study Peter. "Do you write science articles for the paper?"
"No, uh, I maintain the paper's website."
In a resigned tone, Urich said, "Ms. Evans, this is Peter Parker. He's, shall we say, interning here at the Bugle."
"I see. Nice to meet you, Mr. Parker." Evans held out a hand, which Peter shook.
"Hi. Uh, I'm sorry for interrupting." He pointed over his shoulder. "I'll, um, just go back to the computer. Uh, nice to have met you, Ms. Evans." Hunching his shoulders, he all but ran back to his desk.
"Likewise." Evans glanced at Urich and smiled. "It never hurts to have a science enthusiast around."
Peter winced at the dry tone of Urich's voice. "Sometimes a little over-enthusiastic, but...."
At least he doesn't sound too angry. Peter winced as he reached for the computer mouse.
A moment later, Urich continued. "So, the Sentinels can recognize the difference between humans and mutants at the genetic level?"
"Yes. They are programmed to target only those people who would be considered mutants." Evans leaned back in her chair; her face lost all traces of humor. "Those of us with the usual human DNA are supposed to be perfectly safe. That's the reason I could protect Manuel by stepping between him and the Sentinel — the robot would hold its fire to keep from hurting me."
"In spite of the fact that there was a mutant right in front of it?"
"Yes. Any non-mutant can protect a person with mutant DNA this way. I suspect Sentinels' programming was modeled after the late Dr. Isaac Asimov's first law of robotics: 'A robot shall not harm a human, or through inaction, allow a human to come to harm'."
"According to several government officials, these robots can be programmed to target specific, individual mutants who are proven terrorists."
"Those government officials are correct." Evans steepled her fingers in front of her, elbows resting on the chair's arms. "And that would be downright impressive if that were really what was happening. Perhaps those government officials could explain to you what terrorist act a fifteen-year-old boy could commit just by walking down the street. Perhaps the government officials should be giving us evidence that every single mutant that's been killed in these 'surgical strikes' has had proven links to terrorist organizations like The Brotherhood. I don't know about you, but I have yet to see evidence that any of those killed were known terrorists, or had any connections to terrorists. And since when do we execute people in this country without any form of trial or due process?"
Urich gave her a sympathetic smile. "No argument here, Ms. Evans."
Some of the anger left her face. "I'm sorry," she said ruefully. "I just feel as though I woke up one morning and found myself living in the Nazi States of America." She laughed humorlessly. "My tax dollars at work. Charming." She reached into the manila envelope she had brought in with her. "I have this for you. This is a copy of the paperwork on the Sentinel program. It's pretty dry reading, but I've highlighted some of what I think is the most pertinent information. Use it as you see fit." The sheaf of papers she showed him was nearly an inch thick.
"Thank you." Peter thought Urich sounded a bit dazed as Evans slipped the papers back into the envelope and handed it to him.
She smiled grimly. "Don't thank me, Mr. Urich. It's a pretty dull document, for the most part. But some of it constitutes the most horrifyingly dispassionate proposals for human execution I've ever seen. By the way, do you know what if anything is going to happen to the two officers who were supposed to be escorting Manuel to safety?"
Peter couldn't see Urich's expression, but the regret in his tone was clear. "The officers are claiming Manuel ran away from them. At the moment, only one witnesses says he knows for certain what happened and that the officers threw Manuel out where the Sentinel could get him. One other witness says she knows there was some sort of scuffle, but by the time she could get a clear view, Manuel was already out in the street. Apparently no one else is willing to step forward to testify. Right now, no charges are pending against the officers. The whole thing might be written off as an accidental death."
"I see," Evans said grimly. "That makes this article more important than ever, I'd say." She leaned forward to tap the manila envelope with a forefinger. "This information will see print, won't it? People need to know how to protect themselves and their neighbors. The Sentinel program needs to be stopped, or severely altered."
"This will be in the paper as soon as I can get it finished," he assured her.
Evans nodded. "Thank you." She leaned back in the chair. "Is there anything else you wanted to ask?"
"Not at the moment. After I've looked this over, I might need to speak to you again, if you don't mind." Evans nodded her approval. There was a pause. "I... would like to ask you about something unrelated, however. If you don't mind." At her nod, Urich continued. "You said you work for a government repository library. Just out of curiosity, have you ever run across any government documentation on, ah, anything that might be living down in the sewers?"
Peter almost laughed out loud. Ben Urich's interest in the possibility of monsters in the New York sewers was the stuff of newspaper staff legend. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Miranda Evans blinking in surprise. "Things living in the sewers? As in the urban legend of alligators living in the sewers?"
"Or something alligator-like. Monsters of any sort?"
She stared down at Urich's desk, a puzzled frown on her face. "I can't say I've ever seen anything like that, except for maybe an old episode of The X-Files." She glanced back up at his face, as if to reassure herself that he wasn't having a joke at her expense.
"Well, at least you're not laughing at me."
"I guess I'm a little too surprised to laugh. Are you serious?"
"Yes. Believe it or not, I've interviewed more than one person who is convinced they've seen something down there." A smile tugged at the side of Urich's mouth. "People here at the paper think I'm a little obsessed."
That's the understatement of the decade, Peter thought, keeping his eyes deliberately trained on his computer screen. Most of the staff thinks he's a lot obsessed.
"I... see," Evans said slowly. "Well, I'm not aware of any kind of official government paperwork on that particular subject, but I'll keep my eyes open." She hesitated a moment, then reached into the pocket of her jacket. "Here is my card, if you have any other questions." She passed him the rectangular piece of paper.
Urich studied the card, then looked up at her. "May I call you with questions that aren't about the Sentinel program?"
"If you like. I can't promise immediate answers, but I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you." As Evans stood up, he rose to his feet as well and held out a hand. "Thank you for speaking to me, Ms. Evans. You've been very helpful."
"It was little enough, really, Mr. Urich. I'm glad you found it of some use."
As she passed Peter's computer, she offered him a warm smile and a nod. Peter hesitated, then blurted, "Ms. Evans?" She turned, a look of polite interest on her face. "Do you — do you happen to know if the Sentinels could tell the difference between natural mutations and artificially created ones?" He added, "I'm doing a paper on it for school."
"Ah." Evans fixed her gaze on the wall thoughtfully. Then she looked back at Peter. "I don't know. I'm not sure if that's ever even been considered." Her eyebrows rose. "An intriguing question; I'll have to look into it. Shall I leave word with Mr. Urich when I find the answer?"
"Uh...." Peter's voice trailed off uncertainly.
"Yes. You can leave him a message with me." Urich had come up behind Peter's chair as they were speaking.
Evans smiled. "Very good, then. Gentlemen." She inclined her head slightly and walked away. As the newsroom door closed behind her, the reporter settled himself on the edge of Peter's desk. Peter braced himself for a lecture.
"You realize it's not a good idea to interrupt an interview like that," Urich remarked.
"Enthusiasm is a good character trait, but it needs to be kept in check, all right?"
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted. End of lecture." He shifted his position to face Peter, resting his hands on his knees. "You're doing a paper on this subject for school?"
"Well, on genetics, mostly." Actually, he wasn't, but it sounded plausible.
"Think you could explain the rest of what you know about it at some point? There's a reason I went into language arts instead of science in college. Genetics might as well be Greek as far as I'm concerned."
Peter looked up in surprise. "Oh, sure, I can do that. You're really going to write an article on the Sentinel program?"
"I think it needs to be exposed as much as the Kingpin did, don't you?" Urich rose. There was a light in his blue eyes that Peter recognized — it was fueled by the same enthusiasm he himself felt when he was trying to decipher and improve on his father's science notes.
"Yeah, I do." Peter grinned, then sobered. "But aren't you kind of taking on the federal government this time?"
Urich gazed off across the newsroom, a sly smile spreading across his face. "Peter, there's an old saying: The size of your foe doesn't matter at all; the bigger they are, the—"
"—Harder they fall?" Peter finished.
"Exactly. I may be taking on the federal government, but if a kid with a slingshot can bring down a giant, so can I. You just have to know where to hit him. Knowledge, not superpowers, will always be the ultimate weapon." Urich grinned, drew his glasses off the top of his head and placed them firmly in place on his nose. "Time to find my slingshot and a nice hard rock." He gave Peter a nod, squared his shoulders, and strode away down the corridor to his desk.
Three months later: Excerpt from a Daily Bugle article, page 3:
The United States' Sentinel Peacekeeping program will be re-evaluated early next year "in response to concerns voiced by both civilian and military leaders", according to J. Anderson DiVinci, spokesman for the Bureau of Homeland Defense. The announcement followed a three-day series of marches and protests in Washington D.C., which drew an estimated 85,000 human and mutant rights activists from around the world.
The head of the Congressional Finance Committee has also announced an audit of the Sentinel Program's budget.... ...In a related development closer to home, New York City Police officers Adriano Corsairs and Thomas Bettancourt were re-instated to their former positions when an Internal Affairs investigation revealed insufficient evidence to bring charges against them. Both men were being investigated in the case of 15-year-old Manuel DiCamillo, a mutant teen who died while in protective custody during the Sentinel attack on New York....
The head of the Congressional Finance Committee has also announced an audit of the Sentinel Program's budget....
...In a related development closer to home, New York City Police officers Adriano Corsairs and Thomas Bettancourt were re-instated to their former positions when an Internal Affairs investigation revealed insufficient evidence to bring charges against them. Both men were being investigated in the case of 15-year-old Manuel DiCamillo, a mutant teen who died while in protective custody during the Sentinel attack on New York....
Author's Note: I may be making total hash of the Ultimate Universe timeline with this story. I can't tell from the timelines I've seen on various websites whether the Kingpin arc in USM comes before or after the Sentinel attack in UXM. If the Sentinel attack comes after the Kingpin arc, just pretend it doesn't, okay?
I realize that for many people, Ben Urich is hardly the most exciting character in the Marvel Universe, but for me, he's one of the most versatile. A journalist has what my Newspaper Editing professor at Syracuse University called "a license to ask pretty much anyone why they do what they do". Therefore Urich has an excuse to go almost anywhere and talk to almost anyone. He'll be appearing in at least one more of my stories.
Veronic Guerin is actually a real person, an Irish journalist who was indeed killed in 1996 because of her articles on organized crime in her country. A brief biography can be found at http:www.freemedia.at/IPIReport/H...00/20Guerin.htm.