Steel: Second Amendment Blues.
By Michael J. Pennington.
Part one: Return to Washington.
Metropolis, gleaming jewel of the coast. Some think of it as a modern-day utopia, but even this city of shining towers and pristine streets has an underbelly. Places people don’t go unless they have too. One of those places is known as suicide slums.
Despite many attempts to improve the neighborhood, there is little doubt it’s one of the worst in Metropolis.
Fortunately, the denizens of the slums have a guardian angel. Not Superman though he visits frequently, there is another hero who watches these streets.
In an abandoned factory is where he makes his home. It’s no secret he calls it Steelworks.
He maintains it with a modest fortune. He’s a good friend of Superman They were often seen fighting together. He is a member in good standing with the justice leag. Most people these days have forgotten about him.
His name is Steel. His not so secret identity is John Henry Irons. He’s what you might call semi-retired. These days he mostly works on his inventions. But to the people of suicide slums, he is Superman.
The hammer slams into the hot metal and a shower of sparks rains from the impact. The new recipe was holding up amazingly well. John was a genius with metal, he was a gifted engineer and inventor, but it was metallurgy where he shined.
“Odessa,” Said John Henry. He was a tall black man, He was wearing blue jeans and goggles to protect his eyes.
“Yes, John?” This was the voice of his computer. Named after his Aunt Odessa West.
“Run cohesion analysis,”
“Molecular cohesion at Eighty percent normal steel and rising. Ninty percent, One-Hundred percent, Two-hundred percent. Three-Hundred Forty Percent…”
“Now!” John said as he plunged the metal into a new superfluid that was colder than liquid nitrogen. John had developed it with a collage of his. This liquid was perhaps all that remained of their friendship. It was derived from Kryptonite. Liquid Kryptonite you might call it but unlike its solid counterpart, it gave off no radiation. Instead, it absorbed it. In this case, it absorbed the heat radiation from the metal so fast the molecules arranged themselves in a crystal-like structure.
“Molecular cohesion holding at Two-Thousand percent normal steel.”
“Ha!” cried, John. “I bet this is just as strong and tuff as old Clark himself!”
“Crime detected,” Odessa Replied.
John sighed heavily. “Location.”
“Steelworks,” said Odessa.
Jonh raised his eyebrow.
The senator was always a man of modest means. What money he did have he didn’t like to flash around. His rental car was a small unassuming hybrid. He didn’t know metropolis well, and he’d never been to suicide slums. So it took him some time to find the building he was looking for.
He parked the car and got out. He was a small man, but he was well known in political circles.
“Hey!” cried one of the many homeless people around. “You’re that guy!” A man in rags.
“Yeah!” Said his companion. “Th’ one who wants to give all the poor people money!”
“Well, I’m poor give me money.”Said the first one.
“Gentlemen,” said the senator. “I’m more than happy to take you two to get something to eat later… but what we really need in this country is to vote out all the conservatives and tax…”
“Look man!” said the first homeless man brandishing a knife. ” I don’t vote. It’s all rigged. Look what happened to you.”
“Yeah,” said the second one taking out a gun. “It’s all run by the Illuminati and the lizard aliens. Just give us your wallet and we’ll tell all our friends to vote for ya.”
“Excuse me,” Said John Henry in his Steel persona. He floated above them in a pair of Rocket boots. His armor covered him from head to toe, but it was not stiff and ridged it moved like it was a part of him. It was complete with a cape and a copy of supermans ‘S.’ “You know I live right across the street right?”
“Hey, your that guy who pretends to be Superman!”
Steel took out his hammer, his primary weapon. He activated a magnet in it. It pulled the knife and gun from the would-be robber’s hands. It also snatched the Senator’s car keys. “For the record…” said Steel, “I never once claimed to be Superman.”
“Illuminati!” Cried the first man, and he began to run.
“Lizard mind probes! Run for your lives!” He ran after the first.
“Terrible,” said the senator. “The state this country is in. Those men need professional help, and…”
“You are senator Burns right. You ran for president last year.” Said Steel.
“Yeah,” Said Burns, “too bad the other guy won.”
“I didn’t vote for him,” said Steel as he gave the senator back his car keys. “What brings you to the slums?”
“As it happens, young man.” Said Senator Burns taking the keys back. “I came to talk to you…”
“I don’t think so,” said Steel. “You want the other guy with an ‘S’ I can give him a message for you.”
“No mistake Mr. Irons,” Said Burns. “You are the one I want to talk too.”
Steel invites the senator inside for a cup of coffee. While the coffee brewing steel takes off his suit returning in his blue jeans. The senator takes note of his many scars and remarks, “You’ve been at this superhero gig a long time.”
“Not as long as some, but longer than most.” Replied John, as he tossed the knife and gun he took from the criminals unto his pile of scrap metal. These weren’t the only weapons in the pile.
“You don’t like guns do you, Mr. Irons?” Said Senator Burns.
John got the coffee pot and pored him and the senator a cup. “I’m not a fan of guns. If that’s what you mean. I’m not against folks defending themselves mind you, but I’ve never seen anything but pain coming from the barrel of a gun.” He set the cup in front of the senator. “I hope you like it plain, I don’t have any creamer.”
“Wow!” said the senator. “This is what we use to refer to as sludge.”
“Sorry,” said John. “Superman complains about it too.”
“Don’t be,” said the Senator. “It’s been a long time since I had a good solid cup of Joe. You’re a rare man Mr. Irons.”
“Call me John,” It was getting a little too serious in here. Mr. Irons this Mr. Irons that John didn’t like formalities.
“Sure John, you can call me Sam. Now what I wanted to talk to you about…”
“Sam, before we get started…” said John, “I got to warn you I don’t do political endorsements. And I don’t follow politics much. I’ve met my fair share of billionaires some good some bad, and I’m not a big fan of the government. So if its a personal superhero you looking for Steel is unavailable.”
“John I don’t want Steel, the last thing I want is for Steel to return to Washington, given his history with the Washington monument.”
John was taken aback. “What could you possibly want from me?”
“You haven’t heard?” Asked Sam.
“Heard what?” Asked John.
“It seems I must be the bearer of bad news. Toastmasters are back John.” Said Senator Burns.
A chill ran down John Henry Irons spine and his blood ran cold. John’s superhero persona was the combination of two of his namesakes. The first he chose, the Man of Steel. Superman. The second was his given name, John Henry. He wore the ‘S’ and the cape for Superman, but he carried the hammer for the famed folk hero John Henry. Like his namesake John found himself battling a machine, but this one was one of his own makings. As a young man, John served as an engineer for the military. He designed a gun called the BG-80, he thought he was making a weapon for the ‘good’ guy’s but it wound up in the hands of terrorist.
They wiped out a small town, and upon witnessing the devastation John left the army. It was after the death of Superman that BG-80’s now dubbed ‘Toastmasters’ started showing up on the streets of Suicide Slums that John dawned the cape. He found the dealers, tracked them to Washington. He found their source and stopped it. He thought they were done.
“Whose dealing in Toast!” said John. “Is it the White Rabbit? Hazard? He promised me!”
“Everybody,” Said senator Sam Burns. “Least that’s the proposal. John if we don’t do something Toastmasters are going to be legal.”
“What?!” cried John, “They can’t do that!”
“Congressman Charleston has introduced a bill to Congress to just that. They already have all the support they need. John, I don’t need Steel the superhero. I Need John Irons the designer of these terrible weapons to testify to the Senate and tell them why they should not be in the hands of regular citizens…”
“Of course,” Said John. He had made more than his share of mistakes, but the one that haunted him the most was the BG-80. He blamed himself for every one killed by them.
It was a long flight to DC, John used to travel in his armor, not quite as fast as Superman, but it could keep up. Otherwise, he’s used Justice Leag jets. The computer experience was less than thrilling. Senator Burns insisted on it. He was clear that there shouldn’t be any signs of Steel. He requested John come in his military uniform, though John didn’t know if he was allowed to wear it.
It was his commanding officer that sold weapons to the terrorist. Steel proved it and excoriated himself, even got a full pardon, but he still left military service under less than ideal circumstances. The uniform felt itchy and uncomfortable, a feeling he used to. He felt the same way about the ‘S’ Clark insisted, but John never felt worthy, too much blood on his hands.
By the time he had returned to Washington the bill had already passed through Congress. It seemed government was swift when money was backing it. The rain was falling hard that day in Washington, and everywhere he looked Jhon saw ghosts of his past. He remembered DC as fondly as DC remembered him.
When he arrived at the capital, Senator Burns was in rare shape. He was known for his fiery speeches and he was pleading passionately with his fellow senators. “So you see my fellow senators we can’t let these ‘guns’ loose on the streets! But you don’t have to take my word for it. I’d like to call before you the inventor of these weapons. John Henry Irons.”
John’s throat was dry and his mind was blank. He had no idea what he was going to say, but as soon as he got to the microphone he found the words pouring out of him from a deep well of pain.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate I come before you today as the inventor of the BG-80 otherwise known as the Toastmaster. I come here to tell you I made a mistake.
“I created those weapons to protect our troops. I thought… I believed the best defense was a strong offense. As a young man, I only thought about making the weapons as efficient and powerful as possible. I didn’t stop and consider what that meant for the person on the other side of the barrel. The chared smoldering bodies of the gun’s victims haunt me to this day.
“They are not gun’s, they are inhuman. Mama’s didn’t know what corps to cry over because they all looked the same. Children buried in closed caskets becue they were unrecognizable. Urn’s were less than half full because most of the remains blew away in the wind long before they could be collected, and cremated. These weapons don’t belong in anyone’s hands, not the military, and certainly not the hands of regular people!
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, I made a mistake. Please don’t compound my mistake by making another one. I don’t think I could live with that on my conscience.”
A clapping began, as many of the house were moved my Johns words. One woman stood up, making a show of her clapping. John didn’t recognize her. “Let’s hear it for John Irons and his moving words.” Cried the senator.
“Mr. Irons. Thank you for coming out today and speaking with us on this controversial subject. Then you are no stranger to controversy.” She said. This was it Burns warned him of this, that the opposition was going to try and drag him down. They were going to drag out every dirty and unsavory thing from his past. He was ready, he would stare at the truth unwavering and answer every question. What happened was not what he expected.
“I mean, when we heard you were coming back to Washington DC most of us though ‘hide the monuments!’ am I right?” This joke got a few laughs. “Most senators wouldn’t risk taking a stand on your exploits.” She paused for dramatic effect. “But I’m not most senators.” She walked up to the podium where John was standing. She haded him as a small thin box. He opened it up a metal was inside. “That’s a congressional medal of honor. This is not a ceremony and I’m not the president but I think you should have it.”
“I don’t understand,” said John.
“Mr. Irons. As we have always maintained we are not anti-metahuman. There are plenty of good meta’s out there. The Flash, Wonder Woman. You work on a daily basis with one of the most admirable meta’s out there. Superman. They are shining examples and we are lucky to have them, but not all meta’s stand for Truth, Justice, and the American way.
“Some of these meta’s are a threat to the public, and not even Superman can be everywhere, Toastmasters, as they are called, are one way for the average American to level the playing field.
“You see mister Irons, we are not anti-meta we are pro-citizen. And nobody exemplifies that value more than this man here!
John was ready for an attack, but this had thrown him off.
“Mr. Irons you were dealt a bad hand. Your General betrayed you and this country. He made you the fall guy for it. But you didn’t give up. You found a way to prove your innocence. You found a way to stop a disgusting arms dealer who was selling guns, and drugs to our nation’s children. You are a hero.”
“I did what I had to do,” said John. “I still don’t think those guns should be legal.”
“And he’s modest too!” Said the senator. “Mr. Irons, there are lot’s of stories out there where the men and women to have a hand in creating something later feel regret for it. Winchester, Oppenheimer, Hamilton, just to name a few. But I think if those people could see the reality the tune might be different. I think statistically speaking weapons have saved far more lives than they have taken, but I’m not here to debate hypotheticals.” As she was speaking men wore moving a large TV screen onto the Senate floor.
“Please consider the following footage.” The large flat screen came on and an image of John as Steel came on he was caring what looked like a large gun. He was battling the metahuman teenagers. He pointed the weapon at them and fired. The seemed to be disintegrated.
“That’s not what it looks like!” cried, John. But he bit his tongue.
He could say no more. The meta’s in the video were working for a man named Hazard. They wanted out, they came to John and asked for help. In exchange for information, he’d help them fake their deaths. The gun was a teleporter. It fooled Hazard but if he ever knew he’d find his lost disciples and kill them. He couldn’t reveal their secret. Not now not ever.
“I’ll tell you what it looks like Mr. Irons.” Said the Senator. “It looks like a concerned citizen standing his ground. How many people could those metals have killed if you hadn’t stepped in that day? As you have undoubtedly demonstrated years ago the only thing that can stop a dangerous meta is a hero with a gun. You are a gifted man Mr. Irons. A hero in my book. All we are asking is that you give another hero’s a chance to shine as you did so long ago.”
John had no words. He was speechless this woman had disarmed his words, not with an attack but with praise.
The senet voted. The bill was passed. Toastmasters were one step closer to being sold legally in America. The president was expected to rubberstamp it. John’s worst nightmare was coming true.