Disclaimer: All characters used in the story below belong to their respective copyright and/or trademark holders. No infringement nor profit is intended by their use.
Fandoms: Too many to count, honestly, but major ones for this outing include the Buffyverse, Smallville, Superman Returns, Heroes, the X-Men movieverse, Mutant X, and others.
Author's Note: This story takes place in 2006, a little over three years after Chosen and two years after Not Fade Away. It takes place before the events of the first X-Men movie or any of the episodes of Mutant X, but uses their backstories to some extent.
Mohinder Suresh was finding that driving a cab in New York City was harder than it sounded. It wasn't so much a matter of memorizing the maps he'd bought when he first arrived in the US, but figuring out which streets were actually one-way, terminally congested, or under construction at the moment. His nearly eidetic memory didn't help him much there; only experience would allow him to navigate this city of cities in anything like an efficient manner.
He'd better get that experience quick, though. The strings he'd pulled with distant relations to get a hack license so quickly wouldn't help if somebody chose to report him for incompetence or taking an indirect route. He also hoped that abandoning his cab, however briefly, the other day wouldn't come back to haunt him. Certainly, he'd been more than a little freaked by the man with the horn rimmed glasses and his allusions to the Matrix, but Suresh couldn't let that deter him from continuing his father's quest. Maybe he should look into getting his credentials accepted at Empire State University again; even an adjunct position at ESU would be better than this, although it would keep him confined to one area of the city for longer periods of time.
Suresh decided he'd gotten enough fares overnight to warrant a mid-morning break. Coffee, donuts, and newspapers. He parked the cab abruptly at a corner deli, hoping that he was reading the parking signs correctly.
Suresh bought several papers, less due to an interest in current affairs, and more in hopes that there would be clues to the presence of new, evolved humans - humans with powers. He had yet to decipher how his father had been tracking their appearance and location, so in the meantime he was determined to keep his eyes open.
The Times, as usual, relegated any mention of the strange or unusual to the back sections, no matter how important or topical. Only a small article on the lack of physical evidence for the reported night of chaos in Disneyland some weeks ago and decision to drop any investigation. That, and an op ed about whether the US government should try to formally recruit Superman and his new sidekicks in the war on terror, or even use them in actual military operations in the Middle East. The writer couldn't seem to make up his mind what position to support.
The Bugle's headline was yet another of its rants about Spider-Man being a menace. Suresh had yet to see the web-slinger himself; even if Spider-Man had swung overhead, it would have been difficult to spot him from inside the cab unless the vantage was just right. Still, he studied the photographs - the Bugle always seemed to get the best ones - intently for a few moments. If Spider-Man was indeed a man underneath that mask, and not some kind of monstrous hybrid or alien, it was some of the most telling evidence for his father's theories that yet existed. Superman was an alien, the Fantastic Four were the result of a unique accident not likely to be widely duplicated, but who knew how Spider-Man had attained his incredible strength and agility?
The Daily Planet turned out to be more interesting still. There was a good-sized article on the front fold examining the very problem Suresh was interested in. He checked the byline - it was by Lois Lane, best known for her interviews with Superman.Jumping on the Bandwagon? The Troubling Rise of 'Superheroes' in the Real World
Everybody knows what a superhero is, even if the term is sometimes difficult to define. The amazing superpowers, the colorful costume, the secret identity, the vigilante justice. Not all examples display all of these features, but we know a superhero when we see one. We have since they first debuted in the pages of comics like Warrior Angel and Captain Avenger, many decades ago.
Superheroes soon invaded other media, such as movies and television. However, they remained strictly fictional, barring a number of probable hoaxes and urban legends, until the final years of the 20th century. It was at that point that the appearance of Superman changed everything.
Prior to Superman's advent, there were sporadic reports of people displaying costumes and powers as though modeled after the comic books, from the exploits of Captain America and Wonder Woman among others during World War II (now largely dismissed as deliberate wartime propaganda), to the Flash of Central City and the Meteor Man of Washington, DC in the early 1990s. None of these instances could ever be substantiated, however.
Superman was different. The very night he first appeared, he was credited with saving Air Force One from a disaster in flight, apprehending a gang of bank robbers, and rescuing this very reporter from a fall to certain death. There were eyewitness accounts from around the world, there were photos, and there was an openness on his part that was unprecedented. Within a week, Superman had submitted to an interview, in which he claimed to stand for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" despite his avowed extraterrestrial origins.
Superman was the very model of a superhero come to life. Powers, costume, vigilante action (although no one seemed to mind, particularly when he stopped a terrorist plot by Lex Luthor to nuke the San Andreas fault); even a secret identity, at least in the sense that he chose to stay silent about the name under which he grew up on Earth before assuming his Superman costume and identity. Very few could credit the idea that he actually lived a double life, considering the frequency of his appearances around the world.
If Superman had remained the only superhero in existence, unique in his costume, behavior, and extraordinary powers, he could have been dismissed as a single anomaly in our prosaic view of reality. Only scientists and philosophers would have paid much attention to the problems posed by his very existence. However, he was not to remain alone for long.
Within a year, New York City had acquired a superhero of its own, although some would question whether Spider-Man truly deserves that title or is more properly considered a menace, the first supervillain. Still, he displayed superhuman powers, albeit on a smaller, more local scale than Superman, wore a colorful costume, and the preponderance of reports seem to indicate that he has always acted to fight criminals and rescue civilians, whatever our distinguished competitors might opine in their editorial pages. His battles with figures such as the 'Green Goblin' and Dr. Otto Octavius, nicknamed Dr. Octopus, seemed straight out of the comic books. Nor could Spider-Man's existence be dismissed as an urban legend, given the photographic evidence, although there have always been those willing to dismiss him as a hoax devised to increase circulation figures for a certain tabloid newspaper. Those of us reporters who have taken the time to interview eyewitnesses to Spider-Man's exploits know better, however.
Still, two examples do not a pattern make. More heroes failed to appear (at least verifiably), even when a black-clad trio with powers comparable to Superman's briefly took over the Oval Office and threatened the world with their terrorist tactics. Superman identified them as aliens hailing from the same world, Krypton, of which he had thought himself the sole survivor, before defeating them and returning them to their extradimensional prison. Where one alien has been accepted, it is not too difficult to believe in the existence of more. We could still pretend that our world was a normal one, except. Except for the existence of Kryptonians, and of Spider-Man.
With Superman's departure from Earth some five years ago, it seems there was a void to be filled. Perhaps the idea of superheroes in the real world had taken root too firmly in our minds.
The urban vigilantes appeared, first the Daredevil in New York City, and then the Batman in Gotham. Although dismissed as urban legends at first, evidence of their existence and activities quickly mounted. More recently, a figure called the Angel of Vengeance started to be sighted in Metropolis.
Then, just over a year ago, Dr. Reed Richards and his three companions decided to turn their mutations from an accident in space into an opportunity, and announced themselves as the Fantastic Four. While eschewing secret identities, their unique powers and colorful uniforms mark them clearly as superheroes in the public eye.
This process seems only to have accelerated with Superman's return to Earth this summer. Within weeks of his reappearance, he was joined first by Superboy, then by Supergirl, who are apparently further Kryptonian survivors despite Superman claiming to have found only a dead world on his journey to Krypton.
But it's not just them. During the course of the Cyberman invasion, there were sightings of superpowered individuals, some in costume and some not, fighting the invaders from around the world. Heretofore unknown figures joined the battle in locations as diverse as Los Angeles, Singapore, London, Paris, and even Westchester, NY.
Most descriptions do not fit with these people being more members of Superman's clan. Rather, they seem to be like Spider-Man or the members of the Fantastic Four, human beings native to this planet with added powers and abilities. The origin of these powers remains, for the moment, unknown.
This reporter's research indicates that such 'superhumans' existed before the invasion. There have been sporadic reports of people displaying such abilities for years, if not decades. Such reports have tended to be dismissed in the past, but now we must acknowledge that there is some truth to them.
We must also acknowledge that they have been increasing in frequency. For example, in just May of 2003, there were dozens of reports from around the world of teenage girls suddenly displaying extreme strength, although most such stories were quickly buried or thought debunked at the time. To cite another example, there are web sites claiming to be forums for an entire community of 'metahumans' in and around Metropolis.
Many questions remain. How many metahumans or superhumans are out there? Have they always been with us? If they have only arisen recently, how did this come to pass? Are they the victims of freak accidents? The results of natural evolution and genetic mutation? The products of scientific experimentation, perhaps on the part of our own government? The answer to all of these, for the moment, is that we simply do not know.
More importantly, how many of these superhumans will actually choose the role of the 'superhero', and how many will be selfish and use their abilities for their own benefit, if not become outright supervillains? Superman was followed by the Trio; Spider-Man by the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus; the Batman has been busy with insane criminals such as the Joker since he began his career; and more recently, Superman has twice had to fight a bizarre, imperfect duplicate of himself, dubbed Bizarro by some. The evidence seems to indicate that you cannot have one without the other. For anyone who has personally seen the aftermath of a battle between superhumans, that should be a very sobering thought.
Suresh was impressed. This reporter had managed to pull together many threads of information, and identify them as indicating a global phenomenon. Lois Lane had come to many of the same conclusions as his own father, although she interpreted them somewhat differently. The possible roles of freak accidents and deliberate experimentation in creating superhumans, as opposed to natural mutations, for example. He'd have to think about that one.
Suresh had never been a big believer in conspiracy theories, but the encounter with the man with horn rimmed glasses had him doubting whether that was a valid stance. Certainly his father's notes had contained references to possible factors other than evolution alone; references to rumored projects called things like Rebirth, Wideawake, and Lot 6, and to a reproductive health facility called the Breedlove Foundation. Perhaps he should pursue those leads, rather than simply poke around looking for individuals with strange powers. Although he feared that might lead to greater danger for himself, once certain parties realized he was poking around.
He should also get in touch with his father's colleagues - the ones who would not simply dismiss his theories out of hand. Why, right here in New York State lived Professor Charles Xavier, an expert on human mutation and frequent correspondent. Hmmm... Lane's article had mentioned Westchester as the site of some sightings. Probably just a coincidence.
Right here in the city was Dr. Curt Connors, expert in biophysics. He'd been referenced in the folder on rapid cellular regeneration. Maybe he could be an 'in' for Suresh at ESU.
Not to mention Dr. Richards. Now there was a man who was not likely to dismiss the idea of people with superpowers, given his own experiences.
Now if Suresh could just avoid getting turned away as a crank in the lobby of the Baxter Building...