“Sally, you go on in one and a half. Focus, girl. You’ve got this,” a woman’s voice flooded into the ear piece of a young lady. She was the kind of attractive lady that would never have to pay for a drink at the club. She had a small pocket sized mirror in the palm of her hand, using it to examine her face and hair to make sure that everything was in its proper place. A young man walked up to her and fastidiously brushed her cheeks with some blush. She coughed a couple of times, which caused her perfectly made up hair to come undone. She brushed the stray locks of hair behind her ears to put them back in place. She looked as perfect as she was ever going to. Just then, through her ear piece, she heard the sound of her producer announcing that they were going live in thirty seconds. She drew in a couple of long, deep breaths to clear her lungs out. Her eyes were closed as she mouthed out the words she was going to say. She felt someone place their hand on her shoulder and she opened her eyes to see her camera man Greg standing in front of her.
“You ready, dear?” He asked, his southern drawl hanging thick in the air. He removed his hand from her shoulder and saddled a large camera onto his.
“Yeah, Greg, I’m fine,” She responded through a forced smile. Even though she would never admit it the truth was she felt like she was going to throw up. Never before had she been asked to cover such a high profile event. This was a far cry from her years spent covering dog shows and local festivals.
She heard a bit of static over her headset before the words ‘ten seconds’ sent shivers down her spine. Her grip on the microphone tightened and she could feel a bead of sweat hanging on the back of her neck. One final gulp was all she could afford herself to clear her throat before Greg put up his five fingers. The countdown began and she brought the microphone up to her lips.
“And now we go to our reporter on the scene, Sally Williams, who is covering the debate.” The voice of anchorman John Thomas sounded in her other ear.
3… 2… 1…
‘You’re on.’ She heard her producer say in her ear piece.
“Yes, thank you, John. As you can see behind me I’m at the AmericanAirlines arena here in beautiful Miami, Florida to bring you the debate between Republican James McKinley and Democrat Marc Johnson. It’s expected that tens of millions will be tuning in tonight to watch the debate. Every major news outlet is here, John, and I’ve seen dozens of local affiliates trying to get into this event for just a glimpse. Without a doubt this is the most talked about and anticipated event of the political season. We’ll be bringing you live coverage of the debate complete with post coverage analysis in less than an hour. Back to you in the studio, John.” Sally smiled into the camera and waited for the signal from Greg that they had stopped broadcasting. When it finally came she heaved a long sigh of relief and wiped the sweat from the back of her neck.
Greg ran up to her with a big smile on his lips. He still had the camera saddled on his shoulder. “Ya’ did great! Good job, girl!” The young man exclaimed jubilantly. He motioned to put his arm around her shoulder but she put up her hand before massaging her temples.
“We need to get inside. There’s no time to celebrate yet,” She said with a melancholy inflection. Sally gave Greg half a smile through the headache that was coming on. She turned and began walking slowly towards the entrance to the arena, waiting for Greg to catch up to her before quickening her pace.
The inside of the arena was an absolute mess. Some people had reserved their seats for this debate the day after it was formally announced over six months ago. There was a buzz in the air. Everyone was shuffling to their seats hours before the event was planned to begin. The waiting lines for regular ticket holders to get into the stadium were backed up all the way into the parking lot. The concession stand lines were completely packed with people trying to get something to eat before the main attraction began. The ticket booth had stopped selling tickets an hour after doors opened because demand was so great. It had the atmosphere of a rock concert.
“You’re going to do great. You remember all of your talking points right?”
The dressing room was aflutter with moving bodies running from one side to the other. This was the hectic dance that the aides played every time that Marc Johnson had gone into debate his opponents. This was the seventh debate that he had taken part in over the last year of campaigning.
“Yes, David, I can recite my fiscal policy in my sleep at this point. Thank you.”
This time was different though. He wasn’t going up against primary opponents or the representative for the Republican Party. This debate was against James McKinley, his most outspoken dissenter throughout the entire process of becoming nominated. McKinley had made the trek all the way to Miami from the 6th congressional district of Louisiana. There was no doubt in the Johnson campaign that McKinnley was coming at them with everything that he had.
“Yeah, but we both know that this isn’t about your fiscal policy. Are you ready to face him?”
For the past year James McKinnley had been on every news outlet he could find a willing audience at to spread his message of hate and intolerance. He polled remarkably well among both Republicans and Democrats in his district despite this message. The liberal states and media all tried to talk down what he was promoting, but he found a ready and willing audience that ate up everything he said like he was delivering an edict every time he went on the television. It seemed to everyone he was preaching against that as his audience grew their chances for representative equality diminished. All of their hopes were riding on Marc Johnson.
“I’ve been ready since the moment he opened his fat, bigot mouth. It’s the waiting that’s killing me.”
That’s why everyone was clambering to get a front row seat to the debate of the century, as it was being billed. Every major news outlet had been instigating this event even before it was officially announced. All of the station executives thought it was too juicy a story to not try to promote. Johnson and McKinley had clashed several times on live television and in opposing editorials countless times before but never had they been face to face. That night was shaping up to make political history.
“Then go get him, champ. Make all of us proud to call you our Congressman.”
A woman wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard opened the door to the dressing room and announced that there were only twenty minutes until the debate began. Marc got to his feet and brushed off his suit. He needed to look pristine. One of his aides saw that he was picking off strands of lint and ran up to him with a lint roller. His advisor, David, got to his feet as well. The taller, younger man outstretched his hand to Marc. Marc took it gladly and they shook each other’s hands for a good minute. Exchanging smiles, they were caught in a moment of mutual appreciation. For Marc it was one of owing a debt of gratitude to David for managing their campaign so beautifully from the very beginning up until this moment. In David’s mind he was looking at the best chance for equality for all people, everywhere. The pride he had in Marc’s character shown through his wide smile.
They finally broke their silent handshake and walked out the door. A gaggle of aides were following them. Some were carrying extra ties in various colors and designs. Others had talking points on clipboards that they were pushing into Marc’s face. He simply ignored them. He had been preparing months ahead for this debate. Looking at any of these interpretations of his stances on the issues would only prove to give him tunnel vision during the debate. He needed to be talking from the heart at this point. Last minute rehearsal would only make him second guess what he had already committed to his memory.
After walking for ten minutes from his room he finally got up to the side of the stage and stood behind the curtain. He looked to the other side and saw his opponent, McKinley, talking to his aides and looking over sheets. Marc smiled to himself without saying anything to the many needy voices airing their concerns around him. He simply shut them out. The only thing worth doing was studying his opponent and getting a feel for how prepared he was.
Marc never broke his stare. He kept his eyes locked on McKinley, who seemed to ignore his presence. After a good five minutes of trying to get Marc’s attention his aides eventually backed off and left him to his own devices. None of them dared to say a word, standing at attention with their hands either at their sides or folded across their stomachs. All of them looked on at the man they were supporting and putting their faith in with admiration.
An old man with black hair, streaked with gray lines, sat in front of two dozen video cameras just in front of the stage. “Hello and welcome to the Global News Network’s sponsored debate between Mister Marc Johnson, Democrat from Florida’s 21st Congressional district, and Representative James McKinley, from Louisiana’s 6th Congressional district. My name is Timothy Stern, correspondent for GNN, and I will be your host for the evening. This debate is being broadcasted commercial free on our station by the generous support of the American Civil Liberties Union. The network would just like to thank them for their contribution to tonight’s debate. Without any further ado please give a warm welcome to the participants in tonight’s debate, Mister Marc Johnson and Representative James McKinley,” The old man said into the cameras.
The curtain on the stage rose and revealed Marc and James standing on either side of the stage, all alone. Their aides had taken to hiding in the wings of the stage. There was no use for them now.
Johnson smiled widely at the audience, waving to them even though all of the lighting shining from the rafters and on the floor in front of the stage blinded him from seeing anything beyond Mr. Stern. He glanced down at his suit for a quick second to make sure it was still pristine. His feet kept moving forward though, and in seconds he found himself standing behind his podium.
His heart was beating faster than it ever had before. “It’s an honor to be hosting the two of you gentlemen in this debate. The format will be five minutes per response and rebuttal to every question. We will close rebuttals at the discretion of myself and then move onto the next question. This debate will last for an hour. The first person to respond to the question will be Mister Johnson, followed by Congressman McKinley. We shall follow this order for rebuttal opportunities for every question. Do both participants understand the rules of this debate?” Timothy Stern asked.
Both of them responded immediately with a direct ‘yes’. Marc kept his eyes glued forward. He didn’t look over at McKinley even once.
Timothy Stern shuffled some papers around in front of him and then looked up at the stage. “Good, then let’s begin. Mister Johnson, I want to start this debate with the question that everyone around the world who is watching is waiting for you to answer. What is your stance on the issue of superhuman rights?”
There was a moment of silence throughout the entire arena. Marc didn’t respond right away. Rather, he took that moment to formulate the proper response. “Whether or not you have special talents or abilities are actually irrelevant at the crux of this issue. What we’re really talking about here is whether or not every human being should be afforded the same rights. Some people have the ability to move Earth, others to fly. Myself, I can manipulate my energy into electricity. That doesn’t make me any fundamentally different than a person without those abilities. We’re all people who deserve to be given the same proper rights and representation by the government as any other minority group. I would go as far to say this is an economic rights issue, as well as social. I met a man who lives in Georgia named Robert Thompson. He has the amazing ability to make fire from absolutely nothing. I think that’s incredible, and so do the people at Georgia Electric Power Company. He’s now a full time employee there, working at a power plant outside of Atlanta with over two dozen other people just like him to produce steam to turn turbines to make electricity. It’s stories like that which give me hope that society won’t be prejudice and discriminate against people with abilities.” He wrapped up his answer with a few extra seconds left on the clock. Those few seconds were taken up by nearly the entire audience hollering and clapping in support of Johnson. His smile had faded away into a look of absolute seriousness.
There was a stark contrast between Marc and his opponent. McKinley was a much older, shorter man, already into his late fifties, with a large belly and jowls that hung down past his chin. His staff had done their very best to mask his sunken eyes with makeup before the debate but they still shown through. His white hair had sprinkled dandruff on the shoulders of several black suits he had worn on television, so now he only wore grey. He had been reelected six times in a row, so it was obvious that his appearance connected with his constituency well. Marc Johnson, on the other hand, was completely new to the political scene. He had been a lawyer for the past two decades, representing financial firms in downtown Miami and New York. He had graduated from the top of his undergraduate class at New York University and attended Yale Law School, graduating Magna Cum Laude. He looked the part. His suit was Giorgio Armani, a navy blue piece that brought out his equally dark blue eyes. He kept his shortly cut black hair parted to the side. He got a hair-cut before every debate that he went into. Marc was nearly a foot taller than his opponent.
Nearly the entire time that Marc was making his points McKinley was openly chuckling. He wore a grin on his lips. When Marc had finished speaking McKinley audibly cleared his throat next to the microphone. “Representative McKinley, I pose the same question to you. What is your stance on the issue of superhuman rights? You may respond directly to the points raised by Mister Johnson in his response,” Stern addressed McKinley.
McKinley cleared his throat once more, still grinning. “To begin I’d like to thank you by referring to ‘people with abilities’, as Mister Johnson calls them, properly. They are superhumans; that is exactly how they should be defined. They are beyond normal human beings. As Mister Johnson made perfectly clear they have the ability to do things like make fire, like make electricity. That makes them a danger to you and me, people who can’t defend ourselves. As much as we’d like to believe that someone like Mister Johnson will always be there to save the day, that’s not the case. That’s why we have a government and police force, though. We can’t depend upon vigilante justice to protect the public from lunatics who use their powers to break the law. I don’t argue that superhumans aren’t a great asset to society, like Mister Johnson said. I do think that if they want to use those powers they should be regulated just like any other weapon. We need ways to track, monitor and protect the public from the use of those weapons. The government needs to know who is using these weapons and where they are at all times to ensure public safety. They deserve rights, but to say they’re just like a normal person is ridiculous.” When McKinley finished talking there were significantly less people applauding, but they cheered as loudly as they could. He shot a coy smile over at Marc Johnson before staring back forward.
Stern took a moment to let the crowd die down before turning back to Marc Johnson. Johnson had an air of disgust lingering on his face when he was asked for his rebuttal. “Thank you, Mister Stern, I appreciate the opportunity to rebut the outrageous implications that Representative McKinley just made. You can’t really be saying that because we were given these incredible opportunities we should be discriminated against. That’s treating anyone with ability as less than human. Everyone deserves equal opportunities to take advantage of their talents; whether that’s being exceptionally good at math or being like Mister Thompson. It’s all relative. You have to remember, we didn’t choose to be like this. It was forced upon us. You can’t penalize and segregate because of god given differences. That’s against the law. We’ve come too far as a society to take such a large step backwards into the dark ages of intolerance and discrimination. If elected I will fight to ensure the kind of laws Representative McKinley has proposed will never be passed.”
The crowd erupted into a roar even louder than when he had first spoken. People in the audience had gotten to their feet and were clapping. A few were even crying. Marc Johnson had never publicly made such a powerful statement of opposition against James McKinley’s policies before. The ACLU had pushed for him to be more open and direct before. Johnson had protested to being so blunt about his stance opposing the proposed Superhuman Monitoring Act. McKinley had sponsored the legislation every year that he had been in office. Every time it had failed miserably. Even his party had taken a stance against it.
McKinley was laughing and smiling throughout Johnson’s rebuttal. “Representative McKinley, would you like to make a rebuttal?” Stern asked.
The audience was still applauding when McKinley began to speak. It had died down enough for his voice to be picked up by the television, though. “Mister Johnson, I envy your vindication in your stance. Being a superhuman I wouldn’t expect you to take any other stance. I find it selfish, though, that you would put your own interests ahead of the American people. Just because you like to play superhero, and ‘fight crime’ in your spare time, doesn’t mean that the public should suffer the tyranny of wild superhumans. You can’t punch every problem superhuman in the face. People have died because of your inability to protect them. No one’s ever been killed by someone’s math skills. I trust the government of the United States much more than I do your unreliable electricity powers, Mister Johnson.” The audience was silent. All eyes turned to Marc Johnson.
Johnson did not look visibly shaken by McKinley’s comments. He drilled into the older man with a furious glare. “I take offense to that statement, Representative McKinley. There are thousands of brave, courageous men and women just like myself who work with the police all over this country, putting their lives on the line, to protect and serve the public. I am proud of them.” Marc didn’t blink the entire time he was speaking at McKinley. The audience rose to their feet and applauded once more.
“Okay. Thank you both for your passionate responses. Let’s move onto the next topic,” Stern said nervously. He had been caught off guard by their exchange. The producers of the event were screaming into his earpiece that he needed to get them back in line before things got out of hand.
“It’s that pride that will get people killed, Marc Johnson! Are you proud of what you did to poor Martha Genevieve?” They turned off McKinley’s microphone after that. He continued to yell over at Marc despite that. “As long as I live I will make sure you don’t ever set foot in Congress!” He yelled over the sound of booing from the audience. Marc could barely make out what he was saying. McKinley reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and grabbed onto something.
Marc Johnson wasn’t always the darling of Miami. Once he was just a young man looking for his place in the world. After his powers manifested he ran into some trouble at his job working at a large law firm. He had worked his entire life to rise up the ranks to become a junior partner and all of his work had finally paid off. The realization that he was a superhuman shook his foundation. One day, while he was reading over some papers, his new powers came to life and they went up in flames. He almost burned down his entire office. After that his bosses sat him down to tell him that he needed to take some time off.
After that he sunk into a deep depression. He had never been much of a drinker, but that lawyer’s paycheck turned him into an alcoholic pretty quick. Instead of going out and enjoying the night life of the town or spending time with friends he stayed home every night, drinking, and experimenting with his new found ability. Despite the fact he was almost always intoxicated he became very adept at controlling his powers. It got to the point that he could direct tendrils of electricity around his apartment without setting anything ablaze or shocking himself. While he held a hatred of his powers for interfering with his work and personal life he did find them to be interesting at the least.
One day Marc was going to a local bodega to buy more booze, when he saw a robbery taking place. People were running out of the small shop and taking cover when they noticed what was happening walking past. A gunman wearing a ski mask was holding a pistol to a little girl’s head. He kept shouting demands to empty the register and safe to the cashier behind the counter. Something within Marc compelled him to do something to help that little girl, whatever he could. He ran over to the door of the bodega and hid next to the entrance. He was out of sight from the robber but could hear the girl crying. The man with the gun sounded like he was disturbed. Even though the cashier continued to plead forgiveness for not knowing how to open the safe the gunman demanded he did. Then Marc heard the distinct sound of a gun’s hammer being cocked back. The girl screamed out as a gunshot rang through the air. Johnson moved out of hiding, threw the bodega door open and saw the cashier bleeding out on the floor behind the counter. The robber had the pistol pointed at the girl’s head. He turned to Marc and screamed something inaudible. Marc felt the adrenaline pumping in his veins like never before in his entire life. Time slowed down in that instant. He saw the robber cock the hammer of his six-shooter again with the muzzle of the pistol still pointed at the girl. Marc raised his hand as the robber’s trigger finger tensed. He pulled the trigger but no bullet exited the gun. The girl screamed out in pain. A streak of white hot lightning shot from Johnson’s fingertips and tore straight through the robber. Both he and the girl collapsed to the ground, only the robber had a smoldering hole through his chest.
Marc ran over to the cashier, who was clutching the hole in his chest. Blood was pooling on the ground around him. “Let me see,” He said, panicked. He had never seen so much blood before. Had he just killed a man? He pushed that thought out of his mind and looked at the wound. It was a clean hole through and through. “Looks like the bullet passed through. Ambulances should be here soon, but we need to stop this bleeding,” He said as calmly as possible. Marc looked around the room for something to stop the blood. He noticed that there was barely any blood around the robber. He turned back to the cashier. “You need to stay still. I’m going to cauterize the wound, okay?” The cashier nodded his head. Marc put his pointer finger above the hole and concentrated. A streak of light shot from his finger tip and tore through the hole in the cashier’s chest. He let out a terrible howl in pain and the smell of burning flesh made Marc fall back. The bleeding stopped though. Paramedics arrived in a matter of minutes to take both the little girl and the cashier to the hospital.
Marc had, indeed, killed the robber. Witnesses were interviewed and corroborated his story. He had created a net of energy at the end of the gun barrel. It had been dense enough to absorb the kinetic energy of the bullet and stop it before it killed the girl. Sadly the robber had smacked the gun into the girl’s head, shocking her. The next day Marc found out that she had some permanent brain damage. He didn’t know how to deal with killing a man or causing an eight year old girl brain damage any other way than to turn to the bottle. He was drunk when he got a call from the police commissioner. At first he was convinced that they were going to come arrest him for killing that man. When he was told that they were going to award him with a medal commending his bravery he was shocked. He didn’t say anything for a good thirty seconds before gladly accepting the award. The family of the little girl, whose name was Martha Genevieve, had gone on national television to formally thank him for saving their daughter’s life. That week he was awarded a medal of valor by the police commissioner, the key to the city from the mayor and offered a full time position as a consultant for the police force. He accepted the offer the next day, left the firm and put down the bottle. He spent his days on the shooting range, practicing with his ability. He adopted the name ‘Living Lighting’ as his superhero alias and was offered a contract with the Miami Heat to affiliate with them.
He was the prodigal son of Miami, and soon the entire superhuman community.
Now he was on global television, representing the hopes and dreams of his fellow superhumans to finally have someone who is open about their abilities serve in Congress. Johnson froze up as McKinley took a few steps towards him with his hand inside the breast of his jacket. Time slowed down as the adrenaline began to pump through his veins. He saw security begin to rush the stage as McKinley got closer. He saw McKinley begin to pull something black out of his jacket. In the chaos of the moment, with security swarming them both, Marc did the only thing he could to protect himself. A streak of white light shot across the stage and in a split second McKinley was on the floor. Security swarmed around Marc and pulled him off the stage. Paramedics rushed to the stage. The last thing Marc saw were the paramedics trying to resuscitate McKinley. The last thing he heard was the collective shrieking of the audience.
“I’m sorry to have to relay this horrific news, but to everyone around the world who was watching tonight’s debate we have all been witness to the murder of Representative William McKinley. The news we’re getting now is that Marc Johnson believed that Representative McKinley was going to pull a gun from his jacket. It certainly did look that way from where we were sitting. These are just initial reports, but it appears that it was not a gun, but a picture of young Martha Genevieve; a young girl who was involved in an robbery where Marc Johnson caused her serious brain damage while protecting her from being murdered. It’s been confirmed that Mr. Johnson has been taken into custody and will be charged with the murder of Representative McKinley. We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the McKinley family,” Sally Williams looked shaken as she stammered through the quickly written synopsis of what had just taken place less than twenty minutes before. People in the background were running from the seats, trying to get out of the arena. Greg turned off the camera and sat down in the seat he was standing in front of. Sally walked over and sat down next to him.
The two didn’t speak for nearly five minutes. They just sat there, staring at the stage where McKinley had been shocked. The paramedics had taken him away. “What do ya’ think is going to happen next?” Greg asked her.
Sally shook her head. “I don’t know. Whatever is going to happen, it can’t be good.”