I'M DYING 4: FLU MISERIES

Chapter 12

Banner himself was not far away . . . The transformation was already starting.

The worst part of it was, he had no control over it. If only there were some way for him to keep his own mind during the transformation . . . but he couldn't get any further with that thought, because the monster took over. The same monster that had been created on that terrible day, when he'd been exposed to massive doses of gamma radiation.

It was a lab accident that had happened some time ago. He'd been measuring the effects of gamma radiation on the human body when everything had gone haywire. One of the safety seals had breached, and the room had been flooded with unusually high levels of gamma radiation.

The major changes didn't happen for months after that. But when they finally did happen, they made his life a complete nightmare . . .

He just wished that he could be around to see them, instead of waking up when it was all over and wondering what the hell he'd done now.

He did a quick check of his surroundings in his last moments of conscious thought. He was close to a school.... But unfortunately it was too late to move to a safer location. The change was well underway.

At that moment, Cerebro picked up the presence of something big heading towards the Institute,along with an unexpected surge of gamma radiation...

"What is that?" Logan demanded. "Is it a mutant?"

"Hard to tell," Xavier said. "Whatever it is, it's on a collision course with the kids."

"Oh brother." In a flash, Logan was suited up and out the door.

"What is THAT?" said one of the soldiers.

"I don't know," said another, "but if that thing's hanging around we'll need backup!"

"Forget backup! We'll need a couple of tanks!"

"RAAARRRRGH!" The Hulk ripped one of the Institute's front gates off and hurled it straight at the Sandoval mutant, who knocked it out of the air.

Who is this? the Sandoval creature asked Xavier telepathically.

I'm not sure. Try and keep him clear of the grounds.

That was easier said than done, however. Controlling the massive beast was next to impossible.

"RARRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHH!" the Hulk roared, lunging for the Sandoval mutant.

Meanwhile, the soldiers were just standing there watching.

"Wow, this makes 'Friday Night Smash-Up' look like a tea party!" one of them murmured as the two monsters grappled.

Jean watched anxiously.

"Can you get through to him?" asked Kitty.

"I'm trying, but . . . its mind is closed off somehow."

"We're all gonna die!"

Like I needed to hear that right now, Logan thought.

The two behemoths seemed not to notice them, however, being more interested in smashing each other to bits. And everything else that got in their way. Two police cruisers (which were fortunately empty by then) went flying through the air, one landing just inches from where the X-Men were plotting out their strategy.

"HULK SMASH!" a furious voice bellowed from the midst of the melee.

Jean made another attempt to reach the Sandoval mutant, and this time she got through.

You've got to get out of here while you still can.

And leave you with this . . . thing?

The Hulk lunged for the Sandoval creature's throat . . .

Secure file, secure file . . . oh, here we are.
Magneto was going through the remains of Michaela Sandoval's lab, looking for anything relating to her previous work. Most of it was incomplete, but there was one file . . .
This is it!

Now if he could just get it to Xavier . . .

This was potential dynamite, in the wrong hands. If he was reading this correctly, then Michaela Sandoval had been using staff DNA to create Project X.
Specifically, that of the mysterious Bruce Banner.

In addition, there were references to experiments in gamma radiation.
Magnus flew out of there, disk in hand, as if he were on fire.

Back at the Institute, it seemed like all hell had broken loose, and Logan wondered if it hadn't. This was really going to up their insurance rates . . .

The Hulk had already taken out a lamppost, not to mention half a dozen trees.

"We've got to stop him!" Jean exclaimed.
"How? We don't have heavy enough artillery!" Scott very helpfully pointed out.

"You're telling me!" said a soldier who just barely managed to duck out of the way of a flying chunk of sidewalk.

The Sandoval creature tried to make contact with Professor Xavier, but it was a little hard to do when pieces of the landscape were hurtling toward his head. And this green monstrosity didn't seem to have a mind.

Evan ducked just in time to avoid getting clobbered by a fire hydrant.
Great. Now they had water spurting all over the street to worry about.
It was just then that Mystique, Magneto, Kurt, and the rest of the Brotherhood showed up.

Magneto showed a rare look of astonishment on his face. "What is that?"

"It's that Hulk guy, yo." Toad said."And he looks mad."

"Ya think?" said Lance.

"I can take him down!" Fred insisted, and charged at the green behemoth.

"Fred, no!" yelled Kitty, but he didn't hear it.

The Hulk noticed the newcomer and swung a huge fist at him.
"HULK SMASH!!"

But even his might couldn't topple the Immovable Blob. Fred knocked him over like a bowling pin.

This did not make him happy . . . not that he was all that ecstatic in the first place.

"HULK CRUSH YOU!"

"Yeah? Go ahead and try!"

Two seconds later, Fred regretted those words . . .

Meanwhile, Brenda was attempting to make contact with the Sandoval mutant, who was hiding in the nearby brush. It was easier said than done, however, since the mutant's mind was a jumble after the relentless assaults of the Hulk.

But little by little . . . they were connecting.

It was like being in a vast, high-ceilinged room, where the creature and Brenda were face-to-face.

"Who are you?"

I'm Brenda.

"You can hear me?"

Yes. I'm a telepath too, she explained.

"Where's Professor Xavier?"

He's here . . . somewhere.

The soldiers, in the meantime, had forgotten about the Sandoval mutant in their desperate efforts to stop the Hulk . . . efforts which were, sadly, not enough.

The green behemoth hurled a dozen troops aside like rag dolls. Even two dozen tranquilizer guns fired at him at once did nothing to stop his rampage . . . or keep him from decking Lance and Toad.

"Hey!"

"That hurts, yo!"

Then they hit the ground, hard, and were knocked out.

Magneto, in a rage, whirled toward the Hulk and aimed several bolts of magnetic energy at him. That at least slowed him down for a bit.

All of a sudden, Jean shouted, "STOP!"

All eyes turned toward her . . .

"Don't you get it?"
"Get what?" Kitty was confused. Sometimes Jean forgot everyone else wasn't a telepath too.

"All I've gotten is one humongo headache."said Scott.

"We can't fight him any more!"
"Tell him that!" Lance groaned.

"With all due respect, Ms. Grey--" Magneto started to say.

"I was able to probe deep into his mind when you hit him," She started to explain.

"What mind, yo?" Toad quipped.
"Shut up, Toad!" Kurt snapped at him.

"This creature," Jean continued, "is really--"
Something came flying through the air and slammed into her, knocking her over. The something turned out to be Scott. Hulk had picked him up and thrown him at her in a crude attempt to distract the soldiers.The green colossus lumbered off....

"Stop him!"
"With what? A nuclear bomb?"

Scott turned to Jean as they both stood up and went after the creature, who was starting to transform back into ordinary (and somewhat exhausted) Bruce Banner.

"I tried to tell you," Jean said.
"You mean, the whole time we were getting our clocks cleaned, it was Banner?"

"Yes. He turns into that . . . thing when he's stressed or angry. It's been going on for months now."

And sure enough, when they followed the Hulk's trail of destruction to its end, they found Banner lying on the ground, semi-unconscious.

Brenda!  Jean called out telepathically. I think your friend needs to see this!

Brenda and the Sandoval mutant came over to see what was going on.

Who is that? the Sandoval mutant asked.
Jean didn't know how else to tell him. He's . . . he's your father.

My father? The Sandoval creature didn't quite understand. What is . . ." father"? Is it like Mother?

Sort of, Brenda tried to explain. He doesn't know he is yet.

Where is Mother?

"You mean no one's told him yet?" Jean said out loud.

I will explain it to him, Xavier said.

"Son of a . . ." Logan muttered.

The man on the ground stirred and started to get up. "What did I do?" he mumbled, over and over. "What did I do now?"

"At the very least, Dr. Banner, you gave the Bayville Public Works Department a perfect opportunity to test out its new road-paving equipment." Magneto quipped.
"My God." Brenda gasped as she saw Banner, who looked like he'd just been mugged by a snowblower. "What happened to your clothes?"
"Oh, they always rip when I change. That's why I never wear anything expensive now, because they never last." He was trying to make a joke of it, but failing.

"Man, it must bite to be him." Scott said to Evan.

"Yeah, I wouldn't want to be a monster half the--" Evan said, before Jean gave him a look.

Lance did a double-take at the sight of Banner. "Where'd you come from?"
"Like, try to keep up, okay?" Kitty said.

Mystique looked at Xavier. "What do we do with him?"

"You ask me, this guy needs to cut waaaaaaaay back on the caffeine," Lance said as soldiers rushed past him . . . and stopped short.

Brenda and the Sandoval creature were kneeling beside Dr. Banner.

One of the soldiers turned to his commanding officer and asked, "What do we do now, sir?"

"We need to get him into a hospital under heavy security..."

"Leave him here," Xavier said. "We have all the security you'll need."

The soldier looked at him as if he were insane. "But . . . but our orders--"
"You know what you can do with your orders! We'll take care of this!" Wolverine snarled.

My . . . father?
Brenda tried to comfort him. It's all right . . . you don't have a name, do you?
No, should I?

It does help, Brenda pointed out.

What name should I have?

"Why don't we all go inside and work this out?" said Storm.

The soldiers looked at their commanding officer. "Sir?"
Fortunately the C.O. was a master at thinking on his feet. "The creature and the Hulk ran off in different directions," he improvised. "Not knowing which one to follow, we decided to head back to base for further instructions. Aside from some collateral damage, there were no casualties, and no shots fired."

What the subordinate didn't know was that the CO was a former pupil of Xavier's, from his college teaching days.

Once everyone was safely inside, Brenda and Jean set up a dialogue with the still-bewildered Sandoval mutant.

What happens to me now?

The professor's going to try and help you, Brenda said.

You can stay here with us, Jean added. It's the safest place for you.

What about Dr. Bann--my father? the creature wondered.

We can always use another instructor, Xavier said. And the Danger Room's thick walls will contain any . . . outbursts.

Dr. Banner himself, meanwhile, was talking to Wolverine.

"My . . . son?"

"Yeah, near as we can figure, Michaela took your DNA, combined it with her own, and . . . did some stuff."

Banner was in shock. "I never thought I'd have children," he said. "Well . . . maybe at one time, but after the accident, it was pretty much out of the question." He looked over at his son again. "What did she do to him? He doesn't even look human!"

"It's all in here." Magneto handed him the file he'd taken from Michaela's lab. "She brings obsession to a whole new level . . . designing a living weapon."

"But he has a mind, though?"

"Of course he does," Logan said. "Jean and Chuck, and Blondie there," he said, referring to Brenda, who was showing the new arrival around, "got inside and found him as human as you or me."

"Maybe not me," Banner said.

"No," Magneto said, "you're more than human. If you could harness the raw power of that beast inside you—"

"No way! I'm not letting him out again! I can't control him!"

"You can learn to," Logan said. "We do a lot of heavy-duty training here. Look at it this way: if he's gonna come out anyway, wouldn't you rather he be on our side?"

"He's not really a team player . . ."

"As soon as he learns the team isn't going to shoot him or try to rip his head off, he'll defend them. Believe me, Doc," Logan said, lowering his voice, "I know what it's like to have to harness the raging beast inside you. You shoulda seen me when I was growing up."

"I still don't know—"

A shadow fell over them—a big shadow. Banner looked up and saw the Sandoval mutant standing over him.

"Hello . . . father." He was not designed for human speech, but he had learned much through hearing other people talk. His voice was low, growly, but just understandable.

"Hello . . . son."

Magneto left, on his own, and Banner went to have a private word with the Professor and Logan about his remaining concerns.

"Are you sure it's safe?" he asked.
"No one here will hurt you. They're a good bunch of kids, even if they get a little rambunctious sometimes. They'll know enough not to annoy you." Xavier sounded almost amused.
"I meant for him."

"What do you mean?"

"Look, I don't know what Michy did to him, but . . . he can't go anywhere like that! They'll put him in a zoo! Or another lab."
"Don't worry," Logan said, "we got it covered. Kurt, show Doc your watch."

"Ja, Wolverine." Kurt said. A second later, he teleported over and thumbed the button on his holowatch that controlled the illusion of a normal human appearance.

"That's amazing," Banner said.
"Mind you," Xavier told him, "it's only an illusion. Anyone who touches him . . ."

"I get the picture."

"It could work . . ." Logan said.

By the end of the day, the students had accepted their new classmate, who had been named Nathan, after Bruce's now-deceased uncle.

"They'll be fine," Logan said. "And best of all, we've got a healer now, for when the next epidemic hits."

Kitty shuddered. "The last thing we need is another epidemic . . ."

"You know it'll come. All it takes is one sniffle, and everyone's down for the count."

"Tell me about it." Toad groaned behind them.

As for Marco himself, he was settling into the room he would share with Scott.

"Hope you don't mind sharing space with my Daleks," he said.
"What's a Dalek?"
Marco rolled his eyes. "Don't you ever watch Doctor Who?"
"I think I've heard of it."
"Oh, man, are you in for a treat." Marco started unpacking his videos. "These are the emergency supply," he said. "The rest are being shipped here Fed Ex. I hope we have room."

"How soon?"

"Couple of days."
"How many tapes are we talking here?" Scott asked warily.

"About twenty or thirty--"

"Well, that's not so bad."
"Dozen," Marco finished.
Scott gaped at him.
"I'm waiting for it to be released on DVD, but that might be a while."

Scott groaned.

Up in Xavier's office, the professor and Dr. Banner finished the last of the paperwork making Banner an official member of the Institute faculty. 

"We should give Nathan a code name," he said to Xavier. "Something a bit more positive than 'the creature' or 'that thing'."

"What did you have in mind?"

"I wasn't sure. I mean, it's not his fault he's how he is."

Xavier pondered Banner's question for what seemed like forever. "He was created," he said, "to be a weapon."

Banner thought back to his days at Stark Industries. "We didn't even know we were working on Weapon X. They called the project . . ." He struggled to remember.

After a minute, he said, "Project Minotaur."

Stark Industries, as Banner recalled, had been tapped by the Defense Department to create a human/mutant hybrid that could be used as a weapon.  Banner hadn't known that at first, but Michy had known from the beginning. She did her best keep both Banner and Stark Industries from discovering the true nature of what she was doing.
But in spite of it all, Banner and his chief assistant, Betty Ross, had uncovered the true goal of the project and alerted Stark Industries executives to Sandoval's activities. When the company CEO, Tony Stark, had learned what Michaela was up to, he had terminated her lab privileges and sent her packing.

As for Banner, he had ended up working for the Defense Department directly . . . until the gamma ray explosion that literally changed him completely.

He'd been on the run now for almost two years now, and it was good to finally have a place to call home.

"Minotaur? I'm not sure most people will make the mythological connection. What do you think of 'Calaban'?" Professor Xavier's voice abruptly broke in on his thoughts. 

"Hmmm . . . isn't there a mutant in your files with that name?"

"So there is. Perhaps Nathan should choose for himself. Why don't we ask him?"

So Banner and Xavier went to find Nathan.

He was in the common room, watching a video.

"Nathan?"

He looked up. "Professor . . ."

"We were wondering if you could spare a minute."

He looked confused. "Is something wrong?"

"The professor and I were thinking about . . . whether you'd like a code name to go with your powers."
Nathan looked confused. "Powers?"

"Yes,your mutant abilities..." Xavier explained.

Nathan didn't understand. He didn't know that the things he could do were special abilities. He just thought everyone could smash through walls and throw cars fifty feet. He didn't know otherwise.

Nevertheless, he told Dr. Banner, "I don't want to fight any more."

Xavier said, "You don't necessarily have to--"

"How can you be sure?"

"As a student, you will learn how to control your powers. You may use them in battle simulations, but we really don't do much fighting. In any event, we'd keep you out of it as long as possible."

Nathan pondered the professor's words. "Okay," he said.

After some more thought, he finally settled on the code name . . . Rend.

The Brotherhood all went home, once they had been given a clean bill of health . . . unless you counted the black eye Toad had gotten from Lance for the whole tire thing.

"I said I was sorry already! Ow!"

"Not half as sorry as you're gonna be when I stop the car."
"Maybe we shoulda stayed with the X-Geeks," Fred said.

"Both of you be quiet." Mystique was not in the best of moods right now . . . and she could cheerfully ripped all  their heads off, but for the fact that she was starting to feel sick. Really sick.

"Hey, boss lady, you okay?" Toad asked her. "You look kinda green."

"The hospital food doesn't seem to agree with me," she groaned.

"When did you eat hospital food?"
Something connected deep within Fred's brain. "That's why I didn't get any lunch! I thought the nurses were on strike or something! You ate my food, Mystique?"

"And I wish I hadn't."

"Should I go back?" Lance asked.
"No! Just take me home, before--"

BLEAH!
"Too late."

THE END?

(Mystique: God, I hope so!)