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The New Warriors #98 (June, 2002)

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  • Liam Gibbs
    THE NEW WARRIORS #98: The End is Near Part 2: Negative Reinforcement (June, 2002) Night Thrasher--Mysterious weapon against crime! Justice--Telekinetic fury!
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2002
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      THE NEW WARRIORS #98: "The End is Near Part 2:
      Negative Reinforcement" (June, 2002)

      Night Thrasher--Mysterious weapon against crime!
      Justice--Telekinetic fury! Nova--The Human Rocket!
      Firestar--Mutant mistress of radiation!
      Speedball--Bouncing bundle of energy!
      Silhouette--Shadow teleporter! Rage--Urban Avenger!
      Turbo--The human torpedo! Hindsight--Cyber geek!
      Multiple Man--Self-duplicator! Bandit--Electrocuting
      street fighter! Fireworks--Uncontrollable burst of
      flames! Together again for the last time!


      [ The Crash Pad. The fifth sub-basement. ]
      It was a tear in space, at least. Not a tear in
      time, because there was no time distortion involved,
      but definitely a tear in space. Some other dimension,
      one more powerful than the one in which humanity
      resided, was just on the other side, accessible except
      that it was jam-packed with energy that would force
      any solid object out. Rather, it would force anything
      out. Anything it felt didn't belong.

      It brimmed with energy. Brimmed with it so much
      that some was expelling into humanity's dimension. And
      it tore even more. Having been open for a few years
      now, it was gaining a considerable size, drawn here, a
      few meters underneath where its 'anchor', or at least
      the largest mass of itself, commonly resided now.

      Or some scientific thing like that. There was a
      reason why it was here, something that had to do with
      that superpowered individual upstairs. It wasn't
      sentient, but there were things at work more than
      simple chance that made it appear here in this
      basement, as if somehow it knew its future was
      entangled with this place.

      It wasn't sentient. No, not this kinetic energy.
      But it 'chose' this place.




      [ Ground floor. ]
      "Robert Baldwin," the white-cloaked man called
      Sayge began. Robbie's heart jumped as Sayge mentioned
      his name with that whispery voice of his. Robbie was
      scared and outraged at the same time. How dare this
      guy come in here and do this? How dare he say all this
      stuff about Robbie, and yet not tell him a thing about
      himself? Everything he'd known about himself for his
      entire superhero career, this... this rehab victim was
      challenging. What an utter surprise it would be when
      Speedball would start to wale on this guy, start
      trouncing him and his pansy cloak into the ground!

      Sayge turned to look at Robbie, or rather at the
      darkness shrouded inside his white hood turned, the
      one that drooped over his head as if he were hiding
      something important. "So much you do not know about
      yourself. So much you need to realize."

      "So get on with it," he found himself saying. Was
      that him? His knees were drumming some psycho beat
      against each other so loudly that he was surprised
      he'd said anything at all. He approached Sayge, moved
      away from his friends. The whole gang was here: Eldon
      (Rage), Rich (Nova), Dwayne (Thrashman), Angel
      (Firestar) and Vance (Justice), Sil and Bandit,
      Carlton (Hindsight), and Fireworks (David, the Mad
      Thinker's orphaned nephew). Jamie (Multiple Man) and
      Mickey (Turbo) weren't around. He had no clue and,
      frankly, no desire to figure out where they were right
      now. "What's goin' on?"

      "Robert, you are human no longer. Not since you
      were initially bathed in kinetic energy." He held his
      breath--well, he could do that indefinitely, he
      recently discovered. This whole cockalorum was making
      his head feel like a ping-pong ball constantly
      ricocheting between two paddles. His head was being
      stabbed with invisible knives, or at least that was
      what his headache made him feel.

      But this entire situation was a load of bull.
      There was no way, absolutely no way, he wasn't human.
      He refused to stress over this, refused to give into
      this cloaked man's stupid lies.

      The thing--this white, lying, floating
      cloak--continued, "Robert, can you remember a single
      thing about actually being bathed in kinetic energy?"

      Robbie said, coldly, "Yeah. Sure. Why?"

      "What do you remember?"

      "I remember--" He stammered. "I remember...
      well.... I was being bombarded by these coloured
      balls. Huge. Bigger than I've ever been able to make.
      Then a couple seconds later--" There was a gap in
      there. A kind of a lurch in memory, like a badly
      edited movie. "I ended up against the wall of the lab
      or something. I--I can't remember exactly." He looked
      up at his friends, at Nova, at Rage, at Thrash. They
      wore concerned expressions; he really wished he knew
      what they were thinking. Were they actually believing
      this prankster? Don't tell me. He clicked his tongue.
      "Gang, don't tell me you're actually buyin' into this
      whole rigmarole! C'mon--"

      "Robert, you don't remember that instant because
      your consciousness was in the process of transferring
      itself." The cloaked man paused. Robbie wished he
      could grab the guy's legs, pull them down, pull the
      legs off his body! But he had to allow this thing to
      continue. "Robert, your consciousness took a total of
      four seconds to transfer itself. What had
      happened--what you do not realize about when you were
      bombarded with kinetic energy--may be too shocking for
      you to know. But you must. You must realize the truth
      about yourself--"

      "No, you can't be serious. You can't--Just--just
      shut up! Get out--"

      "Robbie." The sound of that voice calmed him. It
      was Angel, and she put a hand on Robbie's shoulder,
      trying to make him remain calm, to 'maintain', as Nita
      would always say. "Robbie, please calm down." He
      didn't even turn around to see her, just shut his
      eyes, shut them as tightly as he could and put his
      chin against his shoulder, put his head down, took
      deep breaths. He'd let the cloaked thing continued.
      He'd let it continue... then bounce it all the way to
      the moon.

      "Robert, let me explain to you what happened. What
      you think happened--according to your own
      consciousness when you entered the laboratory, was
      that you were barraged with the tangible apparition of
      kinetic energy. Indeed, the kinetic energy in this
      dimension and the kinetic energy in the kinetic
      dimension are quite similar. They both possess the
      same properties: They give objects the ability to
      move, to be manipulated by forces around them. But
      they have one distinct difference: In the kinetic
      dimension, kinetic energy can be seen. It can be
      touched and felt. It can also be manipulated... but
      only by those that can properly interact with it.
      Those that have been endowed with that extra
      capability. Otherwise, trying to manipulate it would
      have the same effect as it has here: One would be
      repelled--bounced--away from the energy. He or she
      would be harmed, possibly killed, if too much energy
      struck him or her. And you were bombarded with the
      energy as it was entering this dimension, as it was in
      a state of flux, where it was semi-tangible, as it was
      energy-conductive.

      "But as it struck your body, Robert, you were
      killed. Your heart stopped, your skull was crushed.
      Robert, you were clinically deceased as of the time
      you perceived the energy to bathe you. But, as it was
      in that state of flux, it attracted your mental
      energies, in much the same way a telepath's energies
      are drawn to whomever that person seeks. Your soul
      entered the energy, as it was transformed, and it
      became you.

      "You cannot recall the few seconds between when
      the kinetic energy struck you and when you struck that
      wall simply because... Robert, your mind was being
      transferred into the kinetic energy."

      Robbie was suddenly aware of the open-mawed
      expression he wore, the stunned silence of the entire
      group. He was not dead, no way. He'd know. He'd have
      seen his body and--Yeah, he would have seen his own
      body. "Where was my body then? Why didn't I see it?"

      "Things would have been so much more facilitated
      for you had you seen it. But you simply were too
      distracted. If you recall, you entered the male's
      lavatory and suddenly realized that you had undergone
      a transformation: You were slightly taller, your
      muscle structure was more pronounced, you wore a blue
      costume with patterns of orange bubbles. Your hair was
      erected straight up from your head. You wore orange
      'goggles' around your eyes and your voice assumed a
      more echoed, metallic double-tone. Your voice was
      merely a side-effect of the kinetic energy manifesting
      itself as a noise, much like when you ricochet, but
      your body was a manifestation of a subconscious desire
      for you to be taller, more muscular. The hair--much
      like static energy, the kinetic energy caused it to
      stand up and wave in the air. The bubbles around
      you--the bubbles you leave in your wake--are residue
      kinetic energy that you are attracting, some that does
      not cling to your bodily form.

      "Robert, you will remember the one time you were
      able to manipulate the physical construct of your
      'costume', the one you wear now... when the appearance
      of your chest area, the bubbles you now wear over your
      eyes, were manifested. That was simply a desire of
      yours to create yourself a new costume, much like your
      previous one, but different. The kinetic bubbles were
      reconstructing you based on a desire. Robert, that is
      because you have no physical body except for what you
      perceive. Technically, you are not a physical entity,
      but rather merely a consciousness in the form of
      kinetic energy that assumes the physical construct of
      either Robert Baldwin or Speedball. You are nothing
      more than energy with a stream of consciousness."

      It hit him again. These last few hours were like a
      boxing match between himself and a convoy of buses,
      like a ten-car pileup with him on the bottom. He
      doubled over, he felt nauseous and his stomach clamped
      up like someone was twisting it with a corkscrew. The
      bubble--that was when he remembered it. He swallowed
      something--it was singing to him, calling to him, much
      like that kinetic tear in Room 5H was. It beckoned
      him, egged him, dared him to take it, to... to swallow
      it. And he did.

      And that was when....

      He was going to throw up again, had to stop
      thinking, had to concentrate on regaining control of
      his good ol' gag reflexes before he continued. He got
      that control and then processed his final thought:
      That bubble told him exactly what this thing was
      telling him. He was nothing more than kinetic energy
      made up to look like Robert Justin Baldwin. How had he
      forgotten? By exiting the kinetic dimension?

      That was why the kinetic dimension was doing all
      those kooky things to his body, why he appeared as a
      bunch of individual bubbles, why he could stretch
      himself, why he felt so at home with the kinetic
      dimension. He felt so at home... because the kinetic
      dimension was his home. Because that's where he came
      from.

      "But... what about Gideon?" Robbie unclenched his
      stomach as the sickening feeling receded. He uncurled
      as best he could, but the muscle cramps were still
      there. "He ended up stealing my power and he wasn't
      killed... but you can't tell me he was a kinetic
      construct, too."

      "He only stole the properties of your power, not
      the kinetic properties themselves. Robert, you never
      wondered how you could change your own physical
      properties? How you could survive a fall from a tall
      building and yet transform into Speedball only at the
      point you struck the ground? Why you could freeze
      objects merely by will when you were actually willing
      its kinetic energy to stop, for it to freeze in space?
      Why you did not need to breathe? Robert, is it now
      obvious to you... that you are human no longer?"

      He had to sit, had to get himself a barf bucket or
      something 'cause it was certainly gonna come out,
      wished he'd eaten now so that he did have something he
      could puke out, finally realized he hadn't eaten in
      hours, not since he found out about that double body.
      The double body that was now actually his own original
      body--his only body.

      This was absolutely impossible. It couldn't
      happen--but, then, how could a bouncing
      chick-magnet-turned-grade-A superhero be possible? He
      didn't know, wished again and longed immensely for
      this morning, when everything was so simple and he was
      still human.

      "And so--" Nova's voice. "--So Toothpick is
      really.... He's a bunch of energy collected together
      because it thinks it's Robbie?"

      "Correct, Richard," Sayge replied. "He is not
      actually himself, but misinformed, conscious energy."

      "That's absolutely whack," Rage replied.

      "So..." Robbie stammered, trying to keep his words
      out and the sickening tug of his mouth--the vastly
      weird sensation in his throat--from launching his
      innards out with them. "So what happened to my real
      body? How'd that end up floatin' in the river?"

      "Dr. Richauser was an associate of Dr. Benson,
      present with him when the experiments on the kinetic
      dimension were performed. He returned to the
      laboratory immediately, before Benson entered. He
      discovered your body as he examined the results of
      their failed experiment. He was afraid. He did not
      want to warn authorities of your death, and simply
      took your body before his colleagues could discover
      it, wrapped it up, and disposed of it in the water.
      You were not seen again, until four years later. Until
      now."

      "And so this Richauser know who I am, knows that
      I'm Speedball?" Robbie lookd up, stress stretching his
      voice and his face. Oh, no.

      "For a while he did. It was not until months
      later, Robert, that Richauser saw you around the
      laboratory, identified you as the dead youth he'd
      found whose body he disposed of. He realized Speedball
      burst onto the scene only that very day, and made the
      connection. Unfortunately for him, he died of a heart
      attack only months later, before he could reach anyone
      with this information."

      Robbie calmed. At least there was some good news.
      He couldn't hold his breath, found it laboured, but he
      tried to slow it down so the others wouldn't hear. His
      heart was thumping so hard he could feel it, which was
      rare. "How do you know so much about me?" And even
      Robbie could perceive the drudge, the disdain in his
      voice.

      "Robert, I know the truth about you simply because
      I am the truth. And, yet, there is more. Much more
      that you can never know."

      "No!" He felt a complete reversal of opinion. A
      second ago, he didn't want to know a thing, didn't
      believe anything this feeb had to say. Now he found
      that he was eating everything up like it was gospel.
      "I need to know! You're sayin' I'm a human mind
      trapped in a complete kinetic body, that it's not just
      a wrapping, that the entire through-an'-through is
      kinetic energy! You tell me that I don't need to eat
      or breathe or probably even sleep, that I can freeze
      motion, that my powers aren't 'cause I'm a human that
      controls kinetic energy, but I'm kinetic energy
      itself! You come in here, tell me all this... and you
      won't tell me the rest?"

      "The one final ounce of knowledge. That is what
      you must never know."

      "Tell me!" Robbie launched himself at Sayge, tried
      to grab hold, tried to strangle the life outta this
      guy, find his neck underneath that cloak and squeeze!

      "Oh no, you don't," Rage said and grabbed his arm
      with a meaty, chain-adorned arm. He felt another clasp
      around his other arm and--No. Energy. Telekinetic
      energy used by Vance to hold him back.

      "I have him, Eldon," he heard Vance say, and Rage
      withdrew his arm. Vance circled around Robbie, looked
      him in the eye and the force field or whatever it was
      that Vance created made his face looked a little
      distorted through its semi-invisible texture. "I can't
      let you hurt him, Robbie--"

      "Lemme go!" Robbie screamed, struggling to escape
      even though he knew it was futile.

      "Even now, Robert," Sayge continued, "you exhibit
      characteristics of the truth you do not know even when
      given the truth you should know. It is a dangerous
      thing." And he turned to the others, he addressed the
      room. "And with that, New Warriors, I must take my
      departure."

      " No! No!" Robbie struggled to get away, struggled
      to free himself of Vance's teke-field, to stop that
      cloaked guy from escaping, to force him to tell Robbie
      more about who he really was, what he'd become! But a
      sweep of his hand, and Sayge was completely gone, not
      blipped from existence or in a puff of smoke, but just
      faded away!

      Vance dropped his teke-field and Robbie fell the
      half a foot to the ground. Immediately, he scurried to
      his feet and dashed to where Sayge had stood--or
      rather had floated. He whipped his fingers through the
      air, trying to feel a thickness or something solid,
      something that would indicate he was still there but
      just invisible. No. No! He wasn't anywhere, but Robbie
      had to know the rest! Why wouldn't he tell him the
      rest?

      "Where are you, you cloaked punk?" Robbie
      screamed, slowly turning in a semicircle to survey the
      room. He clenched his fists, could feel the heat
      rising in his face, all over his body. Where did he
      go? "Get back here! Tell me the rest!" Sayge wasn't
      responding! "Tell me the rest of it." Robbie could
      feel the energy sapping from him, dripping out of his
      pores like sweat on a hot day. Could feel himself
      getting tired now that Sayge was gone, now that his
      anger was subsiding, now that the 'truth' had been
      forced to the back of his mind, letting his drive to
      find Sayge take the fore. His legs wobbled. He could
      feel them turn to paper, could feel--everything was
      black--




      [ Two hours later. ]
      Bandit sat on the couch, wrapping his arms around
      Silhouette's upper body like shoulder seatbelts. They
      huddled together on the old leather sofa like two
      cuddling cats.

      "I don't see what the huge deal is," he said as he
      watched Madrox walk past the doorway. "He's just a
      young punk. All he does is bounce around, and here
      they are milking around him when we just found out the
      Folding Circle has some huge New York takeover
      planned. Beat it out of your brother for sure." Should
      forget about that blubbering idiot, get onto more
      important stuff.

      Silhouette looked up at Bandit, at the glaring
      yellow lightning bolt tattoo across his left eyebrow
      and cheek, the one he'd gotten just after finding out
      his entire childhood had been stolen from him by that
      cad, Dwayne. He hated sharing half his blood with that
      butt-wipe. She clicked her tongue. "Donyell, Robert is
      their friend. They do not know what's wrong with him,
      and they have an emotional interest to find out. I
      know you may not understand the value of human
      companionship, not having had parents when growing up,
      but that does not excuse you from being so callous at
      such a time."

      He looked down at her, realized he'd hurt her, the
      only person who'd ever meant anything to him in his
      entire life. "I'm sorry, babe," he said, placing a
      gentle kiss on her forehead. "I'll try harder." And he
      would. Not for anyone but for her. Because she meant
      everything to him. Dwayne could have his stupid
      fortune and corporation. But Bandit had ended up with
      the girl.




      [ Some time later, although Robbie didn't know how
      long. ]
      He woke up. The pounding knifing in his head had
      degenerated to nothing more than a fading throb. His
      vision was blurry--where was he? What had
      happened?--but he'd be able to see soon enough. And
      already a formless face hovered over him, blocking a
      heat lamp from view.

      "Robbie?" the face's voice asked, a little echoey
      and distant. But he knew it as Mickey's. It was
      unmistakable, even when his vision was swimming like a
      thousand distorted, broken television sets with no
      horizontal hold and a wavy picture.

      He stood up and squinted, the light still too much
      for his waking eyes. He rubbed them, encrusted sleep
      in the pits of his sockets. He flicked it out and
      opened his eyes again. "What happened?" he said. He
      couldn't think of something appropriate to say--just
      that maybe Mickey could join him in the bed he'd lain
      on--so just settled for that stupid question.

      "In one of the infirmaries we found in the
      subbasement. A little cold down here with the heater
      broken, but we found a heat lamp and a couple of
      blankets to keep you warm. Cup of water?" she offered,
      holding out a mug of steaming water.

      "No thanks," he said, finally hearing his own
      voice normally. His hearing was returning. "How about
      somethin' with an alcoholic punch to it?"

      "Not much for bartending, but I can mix a mean
      Coke and ice."

      "S'okay." His voice was still throaty. He swung
      his legs over to the side of the bed,moving aside the
      thick blankets. He wanted to hop off, but the dulling
      throb in his head returned just a little. In a couple
      of minutes his stomach would stop doing the backstroke
      around the room, then his head would work on the pain.

      "I'd better call the others, tell them you've
      woken up." She pecked her comm-badge with a slender
      finger and spoke into it. "Dwayne, he's up." She
      turned back to him. "How are you feeling?" She took a
      seat on the bed next to him, but he didn't feel like
      making any comments about it anymore.

      "Heads hurtin' a little, but other than that, the
      only thing hurt is my concept of what the heck it is I
      am. Where is everyone?"

      "Well, Jamie's off upstairs checking up with Dr.
      Richards on whatever information they have on the
      kinetic dimension. And Hindsight is doing the same
      with scientific Internet news groups. Rage is brewing
      you what he calls 'the meanest chili Granny Staples
      ever made', and the rest of the team is just worried.
      Apparently you took a nasty spill when that Sayge guy
      left."

      He felt his head, and a painful bruise had swollen
      itself there. But, apparently, it didn't really
      matter. He groaned, thinking about what Sayge had told
      him. It wasn't really a bruise on his head, but more
      him thinking that he should have a bruise on his head.
      Hard to get his mind around that.

      He got off the bed and wobbled, taking a quick,
      lurching step forward before catching himself with his
      foot. "I gotta get upstairs."

      "Oh, no you don't," Mickey responded. She gently
      tugged on Robbie's arm and guided him back to the bed.
      "You stay here until your mind eases."

      The doorway blackened over. Robbie couldn't see
      from the extreme glare of the heat lamp, but it looked
      like Night Thrasher's silhouette blanketing the door,
      blocking the light from outside the room. "Rob?" he
      spoke. Was no one going to call him Speedball anymore?
      Dwayne never called him anything else! Were they
      afraid or something? Robbie could see him come into
      the room, noticing he wasn't wearing his armour at the
      moment, was just wearing training pants and a heavy,
      hooded grey sweater. "You okay?" He sat down on the
      bed next to Robbie.

      "Yeah. Course. What's with the mellow attitude all
      of a sudden?" He noticed that Mickey walked out of the
      room, watched her leave and then looked over at
      Dwayne.

      "Just.... We're just taking things easy with you
      right now. That's all. This is a pretty big thing to
      swallow all at once."

      "Wait, wait. You're not believing this guy, are
      you? I'm right here! I'm flesh an' blood!" Robbie
      padded his chest with spread fingers. "C'mon!"

      "Rob." Dwayne breathed out, closed his eyes, and
      pinched his nose at the bridge. He opened his eyes and
      turned to Robbie. "I've met Sayge before. He helped
      show us--show everybody--that the world we once lived
      in was fake, that it was a construct put up by the
      female Sphinx. He helped us get our necks out of some
      pretty deep stuff. I think you should listen to what
      he has to say."

      "No. No, it's not true--"

      "Rob--" He put up a hand, silencing Robbie. "We're
      here for you. We always have been. We're going to help
      you get through this thing. Finding out you're not a
      human being anymore, well... that's a big thing. It
      was tough for us to swallow as well. Eldon is still
      choking up."

      "But none of it's true! That's just it! There's
      nothin' to be choked up about!" He believed it when
      Sayge told him. What was so different about it now?
      Who cared? Sayge was wrong, wrong, wrong! What was so
      flippin' unbelievable that he was still human? He
      wanted to punch a wall if it would finally make sense
      to Thrash!

      "Robbie, just consider it for a little. At least
      until we get some word back from Dr. Richards, maybe
      run some tests, take a blood sample--if we can--" And
      then he whispered... "--if you have blood."

      "Thrashman, what--what do the others think?
      Upstairs. What do they think about the whole thing?"

      Dwayne sighed. He looked up at the wall, looked
      around a bit. "They think that Sayge has a lot of
      truth to say." He looked over to Robbie, and Robbie
      could tell he felt a stinging pain as well from all
      the information. "I'm going to leave you alone with
      this for a little," Dwayne said and stood up. He
      walked out, the clicking of his footsteps unusually
      absent now with his armour not on. Robbie lied back,
      let his head hit the soft bed. He couldn't help
      feeling torn about this, one moment thinking he was
      human, the next doubting even that. But which was it?

      He was human. He knew he was human. Felt it! Felt
      everything a human was supposed to feel! So why wasn't
      anyone believing him? Why couldn't he figure this out
      himself?

      And what was that missing part of information that
      Sayge refused to tell him?




      [ Room 5H. ]
      It still throbbed, now was growing. Not bigger,
      but longer. Higher and lower, almost piercing the
      floor. It was taking a shape that it never could
      before now that time was drawing closer and closer. It
      felt it. Again, the energy was not sentient, but there
      was a certain logic it used. It was like a plant,
      non-sentient and yet reactive, stimulated by
      environment and circumstances that people of this
      plane couldn't understand.

      It throbbed wildly, watching as those scurrying,
      four-legged creatures came in contact with it more and
      more, how when they did they would bounce back
      uncontrollably, be temporarily endowed with kinetic
      characteristics. Only temporarily, though. None of
      them was the one the kinetic energy was being drawn
      toward. None of them was the human that was endowed
      with the power permanently.

      None of them was Speedball.




      NEXT ISSUE: PART 3.

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