Welcome to the Wasp's nest.
Motioning his companions to step outside the room, Adrian continues the conversation, "I don't want to bring this up while Sam is with Paul, but has there been any attempt to find out who did this?"
Shuttleworth shakes his head. "I don't think so. Paul's pretty visible, so Connors just can't pretend nothing has happened, but that doesn't means he's actually doing anything, either."
"And Sam here," Adrian motioned with his head to indicate Stern, "said he saw some sort of press conference with a costumed idi...vigilante working with the police. Do you know anything about that?"
Shuttleworth flashes his smile again. "Don't worry, Adrian. Idiot is perhaps a good description of the Wasp. I know what the public's been told. Connors and the White Citizen's Council are concerned that all of us outsiders are only making a bad situation worse. Wasp and some other fellow called Fasces, along with at least a dozen locals, have been deputized to help keep the peace. They patrol the streets, especially near the Black sections of town, especially at night. So far, nothing's come of it, but just about everyone I talk to -- White or Blackare scared."
The old man nods, digesting this information. _The nightly patrols should make them easy to find, but right now I don't know if there's any point in directly confronting them. They are an arm of the law, duly deputized, no matter how misanthropic. Besides, if they haven't actually hurt anyone we don't have a cause to intervene, and just showing up on the other side could act as a flashpoint._ Adrian's somber thoughts reflect on his face, and in response to Shuttlesworth's questioning look he voices some of them.
"You say Conners is planning something: do you have any idea what?" Adrian doesn't really expect an answer right awayif Shuttlesworth had one, he would have given it unpromptedand continued without pause with his next question, "And has anyone actually seen Wasp or Fasces do anything to support their claims of super-humanityother than wearing really garish clothing? That might give us an idea what Conners is planning to use them for."
Shuttleworth shakes his head. "I'm not certain what's up with Connors. He's obviously itching for a fight, but he doesn't want to be the one to start it. Not with all the press down here. He keeps pushing, but he doesn't hit. That's all arresting Martin was. Just another push, trying to get one of us to lose his cool. But Wasp and Fasces aren't just for show. I've seen Wasp fly. Most amazing thing I ever saw. Fasces I'm not so sure about. Scuttlebutt is that he -- uh, what'd they call it -- a force field."
"If Wasp and his cronies are just patrolling but not actually hurting anyone, I don't think we can count on any sort of federal quelling of the situation. As friendly the Kennedy administration is to the civil rights movement, and as much a change in the balance of power super-humans would be, I don't think he can call in assistance until something major draws substantial public attention."
Shuttleworth shrugs. "We are pretty much on our own down here." He pauses. "Don't want to sound thankless. Kennedy's an improvement, but I suspect he's a politician first and foremost."
Stern sips his coffee and nods gravely in assent to Adrian's commentary on the situation. Feeling a little out of place and jumbled from the morning's events, he elects to keep his involvement in the situation at hand to a minimum until he regains his footing.
"Do you have any idea of where we can nose around about all this?" he ventures to ask his companions.
Shuttleworth doesn't smile this time. "I don't know if that's a good idea. There's a lot of blood crying out from the earth down here. Almost all of it has come from people who can't keep their noses out of Birmingham's business. Connors is up to something. The police have been buying dogs, extra hoses, preparing for a riot." A far away, frightened shadow passes quickly across his eyes.
Stern raised his coffee cup to his lips again, but spoke before he took another drink.
"Well, maybe we should look around anyway." He didn't hear the defiant tone in his voice, the sense of outrage. If someone had pointed it out, he would have been surprised at himself. "It's wrong. It's all wrong and people can't just keep their heads down and pretend it's all going to go away!"
Then it did hit him. Before anyone could say anything, a brief wave of panic washed over him. God, he thought, what's happening to me?
Stern closed his eyes, trying for an internal calm that was slow to come.
"Excuse me...I'm sorry." And he made for the exit. He had to get outside, to some fresh air. The ceiling was pressing down on him and if he didn't get outside, he knew something would happen.
Adrian watches his lanky teammate exit, surprised as anyone by the emotional outburst. He turns his head back to the Reverend, hoping to prevent and concern on his part, "We understand, and don't worry, we'll keep our noses clean."
He gestures with his paper coffee cup towards his exiting companion, "Sam's just the type of person who wants to know what he's up against, and I agree with him. I have a real hatred of surprises in circumstances like these, because they're very seldom in our favor. When I was working with Paul in New York we'd spend a lot of late nights trying to figure out what the adversary had planned next. It's been more than 10 years, but I doubt the tactics have changed much."
"I think I'd better go and check to see if he's OK"
Adrian follows Sam out of the hospital into the sunny Alabama morninghoping that the emotional man won't re-assume his Dark Angel form and incite another panic. As he heads down the stairs he's turning their oppositions code names around in his mind. _Wasp could mean anythinghe might just be using it as a play on the acronym, since I'm sure he is one. On the other hand, he may be poisonous, or fly, or turn into one, or control them, or whatever. Fasces is Latin for A Bundle of Sticks. It's the base word for Facsism, which is probably it's context here. It's supposed to denote the strength of the populace when working together, as opposed to working separatelyone stick is easily broken, a bundle of sticks is not. It probably means some form of heightened strength and durability,_ Adrian shakes his head, _which seems to be unfortunately common. Unless it means some sort of mind control, or even self replication. I'd doubt such things are possible, but I have seen a sixteen-year old lift fifty tons of river water with his mind, so who knows what's possible. I need more information. It's getting to be a familiar refrain, but at least this time I'm not saying it in the middle of a fight._
Not too much later, Eric and Janet are aboard a small, private jet, winging towards Birmingham. Janet reminds Eric of the crude schematics found in Hank Pym's abandoned lab. He studies the drawings for several minutes, turning the papers this way and that, frowning...
Eric continues to examine the drawing and finally gets a idea as to it's purpose, "It's some sort of circular device, probably about the size of a dinner plate. The wiring suggests that it is meant to broadcast a signal of some kind, but there is no information about its power source or specific purpose. That's all I can tell from this Janet. Any idea as to what Henry or Simon would do with such an item?"
"I know Henry was working on controlling insects for crop production, maybe it is something for that. Like a bullhorn, 'Hey you ants, get back to work, no loafing!'" Janet giggles quietly at the thought of Henry standing over a field of corn, with millions of ants, each carrying a kernel to a waiting truck.
Eric smiles briefly but seems distracted. He contemplates the damage that Simon or Henry could do with such an item. Controlling insects? There must be a means to counteract this!
If only Eric knew more about the device. What is it's power supply? What kind of signal is it meant to broadcast? He supposes it could in fact be some rough sketch of a device meant to control insect behavior, but how?
"Mr. Williams," the pilot's voice comes over the intercom. "We're over Birmingham. We'll be on the ground in just a few minutes."
A few minutes later, the private jet touches down and taxis to a halt near the terminal. A few more minutes, Eric and Janet are stepping down onto the pavement. It is nearly two o'clock in the afternoon, and the day is bright and oppressively hot.
Janet pulls her wide brim hat down a little, to shield her eyes from the glaring southern sun. "My, its hot here. I hope we don't need to stay long." As they wait for their bags to come off the plane, she says. "Henry's last message was from the Terrace. We need find a place to stay. But I would suggest some place other than the Terrace, unless you want to run into Henry right away. I think it would be better if he didn't know we were in town for a while."
Eric smiles as he places on a pair of sunglasses, "Already done Janet. We each own reservations at the Hyatt Hotel. It's not far from the Terrace, but far enough away to keep hidden." With the bags placed in the rental car, Eric helps Janet in and drives off for the hotel.
The drive to the Hyatt is brief. Eric and Janet immediately notice the ubiquitous segregation of the city. Aside from the obvious WHITES ONLY and COLORED ONLY signs, there are more subtle signs. Like the way Blacks always step aside for Whites while walking down the sidewalk. Like how almost all of the automobiles are drive by Whites. Like how even a casual group waiting at a bus stop is also segregated. The division is unconscious, assumed, traditional. And, both Janet and Eric realize, disturbingly familiar. New York City too is segregated by unconscious assumption and tradition. Eric wonders how tolerant Northerners would be if the militants in Harlem moved into the quiet suburbs.
Janet watches the crowds of people go by. She shakes her head in disgust. "I never realized it the differences were so blatant. And I know that its my fault. At home, I chose to ignore it, but here, here its right in your face. You can help but notice the separation." She thinks to herself, as she looks at the 'second class' black citizens. _I wonder if that could be me, if I was born black, it would be obvious, but I'm different on the inside. No one knows about DustStorm... yet_ She thinks about the costumed heroes back in New York, and how she imagined herself as one of them. _Are people going to think of me differently?_
She turns to Eric as they pull into the motel parking lot. "I didn't realize it would be so different." She pauses for a moment. "But its still the same." she muses. "What is our plan? are we going to try and find Henry and Simon"
Eric, his eyes still on the road states, "I thought we'd separate and try to see if either of them appear at the latest rally. Those hate groups have become rather public these days." Plus, he thought, if Simon or Henry attempt anything violent I'll be there. Or rather Ghost Rider, the spirit of vengeance will be there to stop them.
"That is probably a good place to start, I'm sure the Hyatt has a newspaper in the lobby. The last few days have been hectic, I don't know much of current events. Especially the ones here in Alabama." Janet unbuckles her seatbelt as they stop in a parking space around the building from the lobby. She checks her watch. "It's almost 2:30, we can check in, then meet in the hotel restaurant for a late lunch, to decide our next option.." As Janet opens the door, the oppressive heat again reminds her she is not normal. A gentle breeze begins to blow, cooling the area around Janet and Eric. _That's much better_ Janet smiles as Eric opens the trunk. "We should probably check in separately, the less people know, the less they can put together."
Check in at the Hyatt goes smoothly. An embarrassingly obsequious black man, probably older than Janet and Eric both, sees Janet to her room. The bellhop that totes Eric's bags is younger, and equally obsequious, yet there is some barely noticeable hint of sarcasm behind his "Yes, sir."
Once in her room, which is nice enough, Janet is able to peruse the newspaper. It doesn't take her long to find what she is looking for. There, front page, top story:
WASP VOWS VIGILANCE
In between four columns of text is a photo of a man in a costume, with exaggerated shoulder extensions, perhaps meant to look like wings, patterned obviously to resemble a wasp or bee. His face is covered, but not well enough to fool Janet. The man behind that mask and goggles is none other than Henry Pym.
The story itself details how "local authorities" have allied with two "concerned citizens" who operate behind "a mask of secrecy" in order to protect their loved ones. The Wasp and Fasces, who is not pictured, lead a squad of deputies responsible for monitoring "outside elements" that have come to Birmingham to cause "civil disorder and incite acts of violence."
Looking at the clock, Janet notices it is nearly 3:00. Time to meet Eric for a late lunch.
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© 1999 Mark L. Chance et al