Chapter 41: "The Life And Dreams Of James Ultron — Genius, Terrorist, Revolutionary"
"You ready, Bill?" Christine asked as she put her earphones in. "We need a good angle on this."
"Ready." her cameraman answered. He had a good view of the Memorial Stone and the podium up on the front. They were just waiting for President Melnyk and Dr. Ultron to arrive.
"Good." Christine said. "This could turn into a huge piece. I think we are the only ones here from the American press."
"They were keeping it hush-hush, apparently. Not that many of the locals or the Europeans, either." Bill said, having observed the other camera teams around them. "Do you think we'll be good? With just this and the press conference?"
"Maybe." Christine said. "My source was right about Ultron getting political asylum from Sokovia, so I'm going to keep following up on this man until we have everything. It's not everyday you get news like this. Asylum, Bill! And then citizenship! For an American terrorist! There's a lot more to this story. I can feel it. This could be my chance."
Bill laughed. "Gunning for that Pulitzer, aren't you now?"
"Oh, stop laughing." Christine said, pushing down the flicker of embarrassment. Because she knew, she knew there was more to Ultron. The US government's response by declaring him a terrorist although little had happened in US soil and the fact the Avengers kept following him and those robots across the world… Not to mention the weird stop to most conflict world-wide… There was a conspiracy here, centered around this man, and she had to find out what exactly it was.
Three black cars with dark tinted windows showed up on the road.
"Here they come." Bill said.
They saw the president and Ultron get out of the car, greeting the press and the officials waiting on the stage, before they finally walked to the podium. The Sokovian president took the stage first, repeating a lot and adding little to what he said at the post-ceremonial conference back at the Presidential Palace.
"We have some time for questions." The English translator said after the President finished. Not many reporters jumped at the chance since they had already gone through this a couple of hours ago.
"Mr. President, Christine Everhart with WHiH World News from the American press." Christine spoke once her turn came. "Dr. Ultron is the first American recipient of the Sokovian Medal of Honor. Considering his position with the US government, what does this mean for Sokovian-American relations?"
"As you have all seen," President Melnyk said, "Dr. Ultron gained Sokovian citizenship this morning. As such, it was my pleasure to award this Sokovian patriot the highest honors our country can give for his efforts in securing our borders and ensuring our people's safety." Obviously, he didn't count Ultron as American any longer. Smart bastard. Dodging the question like that. "That will be all for questions. Now, let us hear from the man himself, Dr. James Ultron."
Ultron took to the podium.
"Thank you, Mr. President. Allow me to say one more time what an honor it has been to be here and how thankful I am for the warmth and comfort this country has been giving me in the past two weeks." he said. "I shall not repeat my words of gratitude. I am sure a lot of you are tired of hearing them from the conference earlier."
Thank god, Christine almost said out loud. Hearing how thankful they were for everyone's help, bla bla bla… was the part she hated the most about ceremonies. They were nice and all, but the words seemed to blend together and became tiring after the 20th time.
"At first, this was meant to be a more private affair, but I understand there is a lot of confusion amongst you regarding me and my intentions. For that purpose, several of the foreign press have been baited—," he coughed and smiled. "I meant invited, my apologies, but I ask that you hold your questions until the end." he hurriedly added after a lot of the foreign journalists jumped at his words, Christine included.
So, her anonymous source had been Ultron himself? But why? What was the purpose?
"For this, I address, all of my people, not just Sokovians, but the people of Earth. I have spoken with you before, but failed to introduce myself. My name is James Ultron. Currently, I have been called many things, by several governments, but in my heart, I am an engineer and a philosopher. The robots that you may have seen flying about, such as in Nepal and Tibet, are my invention. I assure you, Tony Stark is not the only one with cutting-edge toys in this world." he said, and some of the audience laughed politely. "I am, also, an orphan. War took my childhood home, and an alien invasion took the home of my adulthood. If there is something I understand well, it is pain and loss. And many across this world have suffered similar or worse pain because the greed and fear of the few above us led to wars that destroyed and ruined and continue to destroy and ruin, with never an end in sight."
The man took a deep breath before continuing.
"I did not introduce myself before, for what use have you of the name of another man, another politician that merely talks and promises and lies, with no actual results ever in sight? I introduce myself to you today because I am not that man."
Christine rose her head in surprise. No way. She had heard about Afghanistan and had seen the news about dictators abdicating all of a sudden, but… everywhere? Had the conflict stopped everywhere?! The US alone had 15 different wars going on at this time. World Peace was a nice catchphrase for Miss USA to throw left and right. It wasn't something… real. Was he lying? But the news… and…
How? How could one man achieve this?
"For those of you who live away from the front lines, you may have not noticed, but as of today, there is no more war. All current fighting has been placed on pause and all armies, of every country, have been ordered to retreat. Today, is the day when humanity achieved World Peace."
"Holy fuck." Bill cursed on her side. Christine wanted to curse too. She couldn't understand. How was this possible? No government and no military would ever agree to this. War was cruel, but war was useful for a lot of governments. No one could convince the US Senate and Congress to stop wars, let alone those power-hungry military dictators in Africa. But she had seen those dictators abdicate… and with the start of peace talks in all the regions where US kept its 'forever wars' going…
This meant… it had to be real. World Peace was real.
Christine stood up with questions at the tip of her tongue, dozens of reporters doing the same at her side. Ultron did something to the microphone and a loud sound reverberated across the area. She covered her ears. It, then, became quiet.
"Please, hold your questions until the end." Ultron said. "But yes, the unthinkable dream has happened. Our soldiers are not dying on foreign fields and our men and women are not killing their fellow people for reasons that none but our rulers, our owners can explain. I know you are curious as to how I have achieved this. Some, who have not known the suffering of war, may even be enraged. What of organized crime, they may ask? What of the non-military genocides and drug cartels that now have little to stand against them?
I'd answer that they are thinking under a false premise. The structure of the world has yet to change. It takes time even for cartels to run amok. But as we speak, my Legion, the robots you have all seen, are currently rounding up these individuals, at greater efficiency even. But that is not the point; greater change must be done in the coming months to remove crime entirely from the human equation.
Saying all this, I know many of you believe your leaders when they call me a terrorist, a tyrant, a monster. You are right to believe, and they are right to call me such names. I have confessed my methods. But it is not my methods our rulers rage against. For I have committed the greatest sin of all. Treason.
I betrayed the selfish interest that has seeped into the human nature. I betrayed the cancer of greed that has plagued our political and ruling classes. I betrayed the worthless security theater that those in power engender to grow the imaginary fears they themselves have fed us for decades. If you accuse me of such treason, then I plead guilty.
I plead guilty to having the dreams that every man and woman, every being of this planet has had in their youth, when their hearts and minds are filled with hope still unquelled by the ruinous reality of our systems.
I plead guilty to taking action to realize those dreams that could help the lives of so many of us, and not giving in, even when I and many others found ourselves lost— sacrificed to the lies of the rich and powerful.
I plead guilty for daring to say: 'Enough!' I tried to do things slowly. I tried to find a way in which no one would get hurt. I was wrong. Johannesburg proved me wrong. My dream was too great, my actions too determined, such that I became a threat equal to an alien invasion. To capture one man, the United States government sent the Avengers, these Western superheroes! They sent them, they tricked them, and people died. They lied, and 157 people died. Over five hundred wounded. But do they care? Did our leaders read over these innocents' names and wonder? Wonder about 157 lives? About 157 families? Did they lose sleep after they had their media personnel send their "thoughts and prayers" under their Twitter accounts? We can never verify this, but I think we all know the answer."
Christine almost snorted. This man knew his audience and knew how to work it. And not a word he spoke was a lie even. The confidence and the dramatics… She knew, and history knew the type of man needed to lead a movement. She knew the type of man needed to turn a movement into a cult and a cult into elected office. Was she witnessing that happen right before her eyes? No, she thought later. An elected office, even if it was that of the US President, was too small of a goal. This was the man who made World Peace possible. There was more to this.
"Generations of pain and loss have taught us: Stay quiet and suffer. Take action and die. Once, our rulers had swords to our sticks, guns to our knives. Today they have enhanced supersoldiers to our weak, mortal humanity. I am guilty of treason, and our owners say that treason never prospers. But my friends, remember: that if it does prosper, none will dare call it treason. Today, we have prospered. Today, we won. Today, our crime is no longer that of treason, but of revolution."
Revolution? This was amazing. This was news. This was what news had to be about. She could write so much about this. So many articles. So many scoops. Her eyes stuck to the blonde man speaking on the podium. This was her chance.
"I am here to ask that you join me. I am here to tell you that I am listening. I am here to let you know that the time to stay quiet has passed. For Johannesburg was a reminder that the sacrifice of innocents is not something that the rich and the powerful will ever care about. It was a reminder that if we dare rise against inequality, against prejudice, against injustice, we will be cut down, and so will those beside us.
Our revolution will be deemed terrorism. Our dreams, madness. But if my crime, if our crimes bring change, if they free us from the oppression of our rulers, of the unjust system they perpetuate… Will it be worth it?
Our rulers find the meaningless death of hundreds worth it if we are stopped. But I am not amongst them. We are not amongst them. Revolutions require sacrifice. I understand that. But why must it be ours? Why must it be the innocents to be sacrificed? Let it be those that oppressed us. Those that enslave us. Those that cull our children. Let their power, let their riches, and yes, if need be, let their lives be the sacrifice of change. Of peace. Of freedom.
That is why I am here today. To make another promise. To reveal another dream.
One week to achieve World Peace. Imagine what we could do in a month. In a year.
World hunger. Thirst. Epidemics. Corruption. Discrimination. Injustice.
I dared to dream. Do you?
Another loud sound rang amongst the crowd. It wasn't the mic. That was…
"A gunshot." Bill whispered, but Christine didn't hear him. She couldn't hear him. She couldn't make out his words, for the sight of empty eyes and a bleeding temple burned itself on her eyes and the sound of Dr. Ultron's body falling down the podium, onto the floor screeched at her ears.
And then… Someone screamed.
"Protect the president!" a man shouted. People ran away from the stage, terrified. Shouts and yells and screams covered the place.
"Bill!" Christine yelled, as she was being pushed away from the stage by running men and women. "Take a shot of the stage! Take a shot of the stage, Bill!"
"You fucking run when someone is assassinated, Christie!" Bill yelled back, but tried to move a few steps forward. It was useless. He clashed with someone and his camera fell on the ground, probably broken. "Goddammit!"
Christine ran near the stage the moment she saw her chance. A few other reporters did the same. "Is he alive?" she asked a man, who had been bolder and gotten closer, even as President Melnyk's security had started to surround the area. "Is he alive?"
"Shot to the head!" the man said, British accent thick on his tongue. "Wasn't moving! No one can survive that!"
She was about to yell her thanks, when she saw a man in a ridiculous blue colored costume, carrying a round shield, race to the podium. Was that—?
"Captain America!" the British reporter shouted. "What is he doing here? Weren't the Avengers—?"
She didn't hear the rest of his words, for she ran forward, recorder ready, just as the superhero jumped down the stage.
"Christine, we have to go!" Bill grabbed her.
"No, we have to get this scoop—!"
"We have the fucking scoop!" he shouted. "The Avengers are here, the assassin is somewhere in the area. Think, Johannesburg! I am not about to become part of the collateral damage for those freaks!"
"OK, but we should stay close." she said. "Just in case."
They left just as she saw the President's car hurry away from the place.
So much had happened, she couldn't wrap her head around it. Just minutes ago, she saw this man as the leader of a movement, and… And now he was dead. As was his movement. She would have the article finished within the hour once they reached the hotel. The death of a terrorist— no. Her eyes widened as a sudden thought occurred to her. The movement wasn't dead. The revolution wasn't dead. If Ultron had a trusted second-in-command…
After all, nothing could rally people faster than a martyr.
Just an article? She was thinking too small. She could write a book about this. About the revolution that did not happen. And the one that may happen as a result of visionary's death.
She could see it now. The cover. The title. "The Life And Death Of"— No. Not quite right.
"The Life and Dreams Of James Ultron — Genius, Terrorist, Revolutionary"