Born with extraordinary powers, Professor Charles Xavier and the students of his Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters seek to use their abilities to protect a world that hates and fears them. As mutants, they are the next step in human evolution. It is only in the past half-century that the mutants of the world have been thrust into the public eye. For centuries if not millennia, mutants have been isolated and unorganized. With the birth of the modern age, the mutant population has exploded and the mutants of the world are becoming an inescapable social phenomenon.
While mutants may be a mark of progress for the species, many throughout the world are resisting that progress. Governments and societies all over the world face a growing controversy. There are those who seek to fight back against mutants, seeing them as a threat to human survival. There are those who seek to embrace mutants, seeing them as a key to the future. In recent decades fear has been winning out. In the ashes of the Civil Rights movement the attention has shifted to mutants and now they are the main target of bigotry. This is where Charles Xavier and his school have made their contributions.
While his institute may officially be a school, unofficially he trains his students to go out into this dangerous and bigoted world and show the human race that mutants can be a force for good. To protect their anonymity, his students dress up in uniforms with masks and use codenames as they fight crime, provide disaster relief, and save lives wherever they can. They call themselves the X-men and they took on the role of heroes. It has helped directly oppose the forces of bigotry and intolerance.
For years their heroics have worked well. However, the times are changing and the nature of the mutant conflict is evolving. The question remains…how will the X-men evolve with it? This is the story of one of the most pivotal moments for Charles Xavier and his students. This is the story of the revelation that would set the course for the X-men and much of mutant kind for years to come.
Xavier Institute – War Room
“Come on mothers and fathers throughout the land.
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly agin’.
Please get out the new one if you can’t lend a hand.
For the times they are a-changin’.”
The echoes of a singing Henry McCoy were not the most elegant sounds to fill the lower levels of the Xavier Institute. The residents of the mansion knew as Beast had always been better known for his intellect rather than his voice. Even if being a half-man, half-ape denied him a career as a musician it didn’t stop him from expressing his optimism.
As the prophetic words of Bob Dylan stated, the times were changing and so were the X-men. Since their inception by Professor Charles Xavier, they had become a large part of the ongoing mutant controversy. Fear and mistrust of mutants was approaching fevered levels and nobody seemed equipped counter it. That’s where they came in. For years now, the X-men had been showing the world that mutants could be a positive force in the world. They trained rigorously to be strong in body, mind, and mutation. With that training, they put on special uniforms and wore masks as they ventured out into a chaotic world to right wrongs, save lives, and be heroes. The impact of such deeds was anything but small and was continuing to reshape the mutant agenda.
Never one to make light of history, Hank had been gathering news clippings that documented the X-men’s exploits since the very beginning. Whenever the X-men made headlines, he cut them out and pasted them onto a wall in the War Room of the lower levels. It seemed fitting that in this place where they organized and planned their missions, the record of what they accomplished would be documented. Today was a particularly productive day in terms of news. He was just about finished with the final round of clips. Every headline and every picture of the X-men doing what they did best brought a smile to his face.
“So this is where those elegant vocals were coming from,” came the voice of Charles Xavier, “I was under the impression you had left with the others on their mission.”
“Things change as the wise Bob Dylan so eloquently stated. We had been talking about giving the students a chance to conduct themselves on a mission without our oversight. The present seemed as good a time as any,” replied Beast, not diverting his focus from posting the latest clip.
“You’re not worried that Cyclops, Angel, Iceman, and Marvel Girl won’t be too overwhelmed by the logistics of an earthquake relief effort?”
“If that were a concern, you wouldn’t be smiling when you asked that question, Charles. You know as well as I do that our merry band of mutants are not vulnerable youths anymore. They’re quite capable of handling themselves.”
“Indeed,” sighed the Professor, “I suppose I’m still getting used to the idea of the X-men not being teenagers anymore.”
“Oh don’t start feeling old already, Charles. Bear in mind young Bobby Drake is still a teenager and his maturity or lack thereof more than compensates for the others.”
Charles and Hank shared a good laugh. It was nice that they could smile and be so optimistic despite having so much to worry about. Mutant affairs were rarely an uplifting topic. There was so much fear and hatred from a breadth of humanity that did not understand. Combating those forces was an overwhelming challenge at times.
However, the sight of all these news clippings that Hank had been collecting was a testament to how the X-men had made such a profound difference. The collection was so vast that it nearly covered an entire wall. The clips on the far left were the oldest, highlighting some of their first exploits as costumed heroes. There were large shots of the first crime syndicate they broke up, the first disaster relief they provided in wake of a flood in the Midwest, and the first mutant riot they helped break up. Such acts earned them accolades and criticism, all of which contributed to a growing social movement involving humans and mutants.
“I see we’re running short on space, old friend,” Xavier commented, “While I never intended for the War Room to be an archive, perhaps I should invest in a few additions to our lower levels?”
“There are plenty of other walls in this mansion and far more worthy investments. If we run out of room, I would be more inclined to start a new wall documenting our exploits,” said Hank as he posted the final clip and turned to face his mentor.
“I hope that doesn’t mean relegating these older clips to the recycle bins.”
“Heavens no, I’m referring more to the changing nature of our missions. You know as well as I do, Charles, that playing the role of masked vigilantes can only go so far in aiding mutant affairs.”
“Yes, I know I’ve been bringing that up a lot more lately.”
“But you haven’t brought it up to the students,” Hank reminded him.
“I’m not yet sure the time is right,” he said in a more serious tone, “The X-men have become so adept at their hero role. They’ve come to embrace it. Even though our student body has changed somewhat, our fruits of their efforts have not.”
“You’re concerned that they won’t adjust as well to being more than mere costumed heroes?”
“I’m concerned a more complex mission will strain them in ways they’re not ready for,” Xavier clarified, “The dilemma I face is that mutants are becoming an increasingly powerful moment. Our population continues to grow for reasons I don’t fully understand. More mutants and a fearful human public creates all sorts of potential for danger, especially for those who seek to exploit it.”
“I assume our old nemesis, Magneto, is at the top of this list,” Hank surmised.
“He may not be the only one. A single misguided soul, mutant or human, can be confronted. But an entire society of fearful humans? That may require more than just heroics.”
It was a daunting notion. Charles Xavier had been pondering this for a while. He briefly wheeled himself along the wall, reading over some of the clips from the X-men’s exploits in the past. The headlines were striking.
“Mysterious super-powered vigilantes foil bank robbery.”
“Masked heroes revealed as mutants!”
“Mutant heroes have a name: the X-men.”
“The X-men. Heroes or threat?”
“X-men aid in rescue efforts in Pakisatan.”
“X-men help save hundreds of lives from Tusnami disaster.”
“X-men help Interpol break up drug ring. European mutant laws defeated.”
“X-men thwart mutant riot. A sign of change?”
The last article in particular caught Xavier’s eye. In it there was a picture of his team as it stood now, which included Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Warren Worthington III, Bobby Drake, and Hank McCoy. They were mere residents in a school, but when they were in uniform they were anything studious. They were Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, and Beast. In their masks they were icons more than they were mere individuals. That had carried them far, but only to a point. Going along with Hank’s singing, change seemed to be in the air.
“So what do you propose we do, Charles? If being masked vigilantes is not enough, how shall we adapt to the changing times?” asked Hank.
“That is what I’m trying to figure out, Hank,” said Charles distantly, “I hope to be proactive in this matter. Change always comes eventually and often faster than most would prefer. As much good as my X-men have done, they may be called upon to do an entirely different kind of good very soon.”
“HELP US! PLEASE! SOMEBODY GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
“MY MOMMY! SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP MY MOMMY! SHE WON’T WAKE UP!”
“IS ANYBODY OUT THRE?! PLEASE!”
The heartfelt cries of many continued to echo throughout the area. In wake of such a powerful earthquake, there were still many that needed to be saved. Buildings had collapsed, roads had been torn asunder, and fires had broken out in at least twenty different locations. Rescue workers, emergency personnel, and police were in full crisis mode. Yet still, there were many they could not get to. Time was running out for some people. They needed help and they needed it soon.
That’s where the X-men came in. Having just arrived via the X-jet, the masked mutant vigilantes were already hard at work doing what they did best. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, and Iceman thrust themselves into the thick of the crisis, helping out at ground zero where the city had been hardest hit. An entire office building had collapsed during the middle of the day, leaving plenty of people inside begging for help. Since the emergency crews had yet to make it through the rubble, it was up to the X-men to save these people.
In the skies above the debris the X-jet had descended over the area. From the rear hatch, the masked mutant team prepared to embark on their mission. Given the scale of destruction this earthquake had wrought, they had their work cut out for them.
“We’ve got a lot of scared people in that maze of debris, X-men!” proclaimed Cyclops, the always focused leader of the team.
“About three dozen if my telepathy is right,” said Marvel Girl, the team’s powerful psychic.
“About three dozen? You can read my mind when I swipe some of your ice cream, but can’t give us an exact number?” said Angel, the X-men’s winged ally.
“If you know how to sift through a few thousand panicked thoughts and work out an exact figure, I would love to hear it!”
“Do yourself a favor, guys! Leave the math stuff to the Iceman! Three dozen is still plenty to work with!” said Iceman, the member of the team who was always coolest under pressure.
“On top of that we have time working against us as always so let’s get to work!” said Cyclops assertively, “Iceman, you take care of the fires! Angel, try and fly as many people out to the paramedics as possible! Marvel Girl, help me with the heavy lifting! You’re also our tracking guide so keep our minds linked so we know where the survivors are!”
“I’ve already zeroed in on the people most in need, Cyclops! It’s not the worst disaster we’ve seen so we should be done in time for movie night!” she replied confidently.
Without fear or hesitation, the X-men began their ambitious rescue plan. Marvel Girl used her telekinesis to fly Cyclops from the rear of the jet down towards the chaotic scene below. Angel flew in close behind with his wings to guide him and Iceman forged his own path by forming an ice slide with his powers. Smoke from the rubble continued pouring into the air and the desperate cries of survivors grew more desperate. From the outer edges of the destruction, emergency workers and onlookers watched their arrival.
“Look! It’s the X-men! They can save my daddy!” cried a little boy.
“Oh great, the circus is in town and think they’re firefighters,” said an old man dryly.
“I don’t care if they’re full-fledged clowns! If they can help we’ll take it!” said a tired and overworked paramedic.
Hope seemed to finally arrive for those still trapped in the rubble. Many had fought their way to the surface, taking refuge in whatever gaps in the debris they could find. From there they waved their hands, trying to signal anyone they could to help them out of this nightmare. Angel was the first to answer the call. He flew at high speeds through smoke and dust, swooping in and picking up anybody he could. The first two he recovered were a young girl and her unconscious mother.
“An angel!” cried the little girl.
“Not quite, but close enough I guess,” grinned Angel.
“Have…have you come to help mommy?”
“I have. And don’t you worry. Your mommy will be okay,” he assured her, “I’ve got wings so you know you can trust me.”
The little girl smiled despite blood and dust covering her face. Angel smiled back as he cleared some of the debris and took them both his is arms. Once he took to the air, Iceman came in behind him and used his ice beams to put out the fires. While his winged friend took the girl and her mother to the nearest paramedic, he moved onto other larger fires. With these blazes out, their rescue efforts would be a lot smoother.
“Ha! Does the NYPD need me or what?” proclaimed Iceman upon squelching one of the largest fires in the area.
“Hey! Over here! Please get me out!” cried a young man not far from the area.
Iceman turned to his left to see the man trapped under a smoldering pile of concrete. He looked to be in a lot of pain and half his body was burned. Even though he was supposed to be on fire detail, saving lives always took priority with the X-men.
“Guess the NYPD will have to wait,” he said, “Hold on, buddy! The Iceman will save you!”
“Thank you! I…I think my leg is broken! I can’t…”
“Don’t try to move! I’ll have you outta there in no time!”
The young mutant went onto use his powers in a more creative way. Cracking his knuckles, he shot a beam over some of the debris near the man to clear some of the fires. Then from that beam he formed a thick column of ice that he could use as a winch to lift the pile. With help from a few reinforcing columns, he kept the heavy debris lifted so he could get the man out. He was even more badly burnt than he suspected. It was not a pleasant sight, but Iceman had seen far worse. Shortly after Iceman had the man clear of his confines, Angel came flying in.
“Hey! I thought Cyclops gave me the role of heavenly savior!” he said upon landing.
“What? You think that just because you have wings you have a monopoly on being angelic?” retorted Iceman.
“Does it look like I mind the competition?” said Angel with a grin, “Hand him over and I’ll get him to the burn unit on site! Try and get as many people as you can out of the rubble! We’ll kill two birds with one stone!”
“Coming from you, that euphemism is way out of place!”
The two X-men seamlessly coordinated their efforts. Angel took the man while Iceman went back to fighting the fires and pulling out survivors. It didn’t take long for the rescues to come like clockwork. As soon as Iceman had someone else free from the debris, Angel came flying in to take them to the paramedics. It was the kind of teamwork that had been refined through years of training and it proved instrumental for many grateful people.
“Oh thank you! Thank you for saving my son!” cried a tearful mother as Angel landed with a dazed little boy in his arms.
“I never get tired of hearing that,” sighed Angel with a wide grin.
While he and Iceman proceeded to get the scattered victims out from the danger, Cyclops and Marvel Girl were navigating through some of the most perilous parts of the wreck. Near the northwest side there was a large pile of support columns that had collapsed around one another, forming an exceedingly heavy barrier for the people trapped inside. It wasn’t a very stable structure either. With the fires still raging around the area it looked like it could collapse at any time.
Cyclops and Marvel Girl were not going to let that happen. Flying along a stream of telekinesis, the two X-men landed near base of the pile not far from some billowing columns of smoke. The air was thick with noxious fumes and the heat was intense. Relying on their training, they toughed it out and prepared to act. Cyclops analyzed the situation.
“How many do you sense, Marvel Girl?” asked Cyclops intently.
“Based on what my telepathy is telling me…eight or nine,” she said while clutching her temples.
“Which is it? Eight or nine? Because that would be useful information to have before I blow a hole in this junk.”
“Assume it’s nine,” said Marvel Girl more confidently, “Everybody seems to be huddled in what’s left of a stair well! If you aim high and right you should avoid any collapses over that area! That is if you hit it just right!”
“Sounds like my kind of shot!” said the X-leader as he adjusted his visor, “This would still be a lot easier if Thunderbird came with us.”
“John has his reasons. Don’t make me list them while people are crying for help inside! Make the shot like you always do and let’s get them out of there!”
“Since you’re so confident in my aim, you know I’ll never miss!” said Cyclops with a half-grin.
Cyclops showed that Marvel Girl’s faith in his accuracy was not misplaced. In a blinding burst of ruby energy, the young man unleashed a concentrated blast from his eyes. It struck at just the right angle with just the right level of force to blow a nice clean hole into the structure. The impact did not go unnoticed by the people inside and the cries for help were becoming much stronger.
“What was that?!”
“Is someone out there?”
“Please help us!”
It was difficult to hear for anyone powerless to help. But the X-men weren’t powerless. They had the skills and drive to save these people. Cyclops turned to Marvel Girl and smiled confidently. She smiled back, able to read the subtext from her long-time friend and teammate.
“I’ll take it from here, Slim. Hold on and clear the way! I’ll keep your shots clear of innocent people,” said Marvel Girl.
“I know you will. You always do,” he nodded, keeping a hand on his visor.
Lifted by a fresh round of telekinesis, Cyclops and Marvel Girl ascended into the unstable structure through the freshly created entrance. As soon as they were inside they were met with thick smoke and total darkness. There was no path to follow or map to go by. The only guidance they had was the psychic signatures being telepathically tracked by Marvel Girl. Between this and Cyclops’s optic blasts, that was more than enough.
Through the darkness and smoke, a steady stream of carefully aimed optic blasts cleared the way. Concrete, steel, and various office supplies were blown out of the way to allow the two X-men to make their way towards the stairwell. They had to navigate carefully because one misplaced blast and the whole structure could collapse upon them or the blast could hit someone by mistake. Their training and coordination were what kept them save and gave hope to the survivors. By the time they reached the stairwell, they could already hear the supports within the debris start to crack. It was an ominous sign that time was running out.
“Can anybody hear me in there?!” Cyclops called out through a pile of stony debris.
“Yes! We can hear you! Are you from the fire department?” came the frantic voice of a young woman.
“Better! We’re the X-men!” said Marvel Girl, “Just sit tight and we’ll have you out in no time!”
“But in order to do that, I’m going to have to ask you all to stand back! I’m going to blow a hole in the wall! If anybody with you is hurt, make sure you shield them.”
“I…I’ll try! This man is losing a lot of blood!” said an older sounding man, “I don’t know what to…”
“Just cover him! We’ll take care of the rest!” assured Cyclops.
After another quick adjustment to his visor, Cyclops followed Marvel Girl’s telepathic signals and aimed for a spot just ahead of him. Another powerful optic blast shot out from his eyes, shattering the stone and debris that stood between them and the survivors. It revealed nine figures, some of which were injured. Three were unconscious while the others looked scared and confused. At the same time they heard more supports from the structure buckling around them.
“It really is them…the X-men,” said one of the survivors.
“Then you know you’re in good hands,” said Marvel Girl with a reassuring smile.
“She’s right. Everybody gather around! We’ll fly you out of here! Just close your eyes, huddle up, and hang on! It may be a bumpy ride!”
The survivors didn’t need to be told twice. They rushed towards Cyclops and Marvel Girl with urgency that pushed them beyond fear and injury. For the three people who were unconscious, Cyclops helped two other men carry them the rest of the way. It seemed they were just about ready to leave when the structure seemed to finally give way.
“It’s going to collapse!”
“We’ll all be crushed!”
“No you won’t! Not while you’ve got a world class psychic on your side!” said Marvel Girl strongly.
The young psychic exchanged a look with Cyclops. A simple nod was all that was needed to communicate the vast array of orders that would go into their next move. The rubble around them was already collapsing, yet neither X-man showed a hint of fear. They knew what to do and they knew they were going to get out of this.
“Lead the way, pretty boy!” said Marvel Girl as she prepared her mind.
“Try and keep up, beautiful!” retorted Cyclops with equal confidence.
While shielded by a powerful telekinetic bubble from Marvel Girl, Cyclops unleashed another wave of optic blasts upward towards the falling debris. This time the beam wasn’t nearly as concentrated or accurate. This time it was raw, unabated force. When it struck the debris it plowed through as if it were made of glass. This power helped clear the way, giving Marvel Girl room to levitate herself and everyone around her. Once airborne, she followed Cyclops’s optic blasts up through the falling debris. Those still dazed from the collapse were too focused on holding on to be scared. They were just waiting for this nightmare to be over.
From the top of the debris, the powerful beam of ruby red energy shot out like an erupting volcano. As it did Marvel Girl and Cyclops ascended into sky, passing through the smoke and into the beaming sunlight. For the survivors who had been trapped, it was a heavenly sight and a clear sign that their ordeal was over thanks to the X-men.
“We’re out!” cried a middle-aged woman.
“Thank God,” gasped an elder man.
“And the X-men,” said one of the younger victims.
Cyclops and Marvel Girl could finally breathe a sigh of relief as well. Even though their mission was far from over, getting these people to safety had been the most difficult part of their task. They were able to carry it out with confidence and efficiency. It was a testament to their training and how well the X-men had developed.
While hovering in mid air, Angel and Iceman flew by with more victims in hand. They seemed to be doing their part with equal proficiency. Overall, it was a solid team effort that was sure to help their ever developing reputation as mutant heroes.
“Looking good, guys!” commented Angel, “Try to keep smiling! I saw some news cameras coming our way near the paramedics!”
“And you know our PR can always use a boost!” added Iceman as he followed the winged mutant towards the outer edges of the rubble where the media was gathering.
Cyclops and Marvel Girl smiled back and exchanged glances. This was another part of the mission that was always a secondary concern. It was somewhat annoying at times, always having to make sure they presented a good image for the news cameras. If they were to show that mutants could be a benefit to mankind, it was necessary.
“Great…another media circus begins,” said Marvel Girl dryly.
“You almost sounded sarcastic there. I thought you loved the cameras. Why else would you keep a fresh stock of lipstick and makeup on the X-jet for every mission?” Cyclops pointed out.
“It’s not that I don’t mind glad-handing the paparazzi. It just seems a little…uninspiring at times.”
The X-leader grew more serious as Marvel Girl started directing them towards the waiting paramedics. It was a valid point to make and it wasn’t the first time one of them brought it up.
“I know what you mean. I think we’ve all had that feeling…well, except for Bobby.”
“He’s young. The novelty hasn’t worn off yet,” she added.
“But it will. All novelties have to by definition,” Cyclops went on, “It’s something we have to manage as best we can for now. It’s going to change eventually. Never stop assuming that.”
“I never do. I just can’t help but wonder if it isn’t coming fast enough,” said the young psychic.
“You say that now, but I’ll bet you anything that when it does come you’re going to say it’s too fast.”
It was a friendly bet with serious undertones. They still had plenty of work to do. Their mission to aid in this disaster relief was just beginning, but already it was following the pattern of the many missions that came before them. They couldn’t rely on these missions being so predictable. Something had to give. It was only a matter of time and given enough of it, change was going to happen for better or for worse.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana – Four Seasons Hotel
News of disasters traveled quickly in the American media. The old adage of “if it bleeds it leads” rarely failed even in the modern age. So when an earthquake devastates northern California it naturally finds it’s way to every major news source. The only thing that could possibly make it more appealing was the addition of what some would call a fluff piece. These stories are just pitiful attempts to tug at the emotions of viewers so they will watch with the same awe that others may get at a wedding or funeral. The fluff in this case was the exploits of the X-men, whose heroics had once again made headlines.
“This just in from the developing story in California. City officials declare moments ago that rescue operations are complete. The damage at the epicenter was hindering efforts since the Earthquake struck early this morning. Then the famous X-men entered the picture. The mysterious masked vigilantes did in under an hour what rescue teams say would have taken three days at least. They used their mutant powers to sift through the rubble and find survivors, some of which were in critical condition. This brings the overall death toll of the quake to just 32 throughout the area, a far lower figure than the hundreds that was reported earlier. This marks another heroic exploit by the X-men among many in recent years. Despite the ongoing debate over mutant affairs, the deeds of the X-men continue to reshape the argument. One survivor had this to say…”
The broadcast shifted quickly from the studio to recorded footage from the scene in California. It showed a middle-aged African American man standing near an ambulance covered in dust and various wounds. He looked dazed, but not dazed enough to voice his opinion on the X-men.
“I never cared for mutants before. Then these X-people come along and save my life. Now I can go home to my wife and son in one piece. Far as I’m concerned, they’re heroes. There’s no way around it.”
This scene that was being broadcasted all over the world was a real feel-good story, especially for mutants. Once again, the X-men proved that mutants were not monsters. They could do good in the world. They could be heroes. That may be good news to some, but to Erik Lensherr it was another terribly frustrating development.
The master of magnetism always kept track of Charles Xavier and the exploits of his X-men. He had to because no matter where he turned, they were always standing in his way. This hero business was an insult to destiny of mutant kind. He dedicated his life to helping mutants realize that destiny and the X-men were making that infinitely more difficult with their petty heroics.
This story was doing little to make his trip to Baton Rouge enjoyable. He came here with his children, Wanda and Pietro, on what should have been a promising mission for their cause. This whole earthquake affair threatened to sour the potential of this ambitious task.
“How much longer are you going to watch this, father? You know there are some perfectly good reruns of the Simpsons on at the moment and they’re far more enlightening than anything the news has to offer,” said Pietro, who was pacing about restlessly.
“Not to support my brother’s immature tastes, but I do support the American sentiment that no news is good news,” added Wanda as she leaned over the couch where her father was sitting.
“There is never such a state where no news is possible, my children. Something is always happening in the world, most of which has no bearing on our affairs. Some of which we can’t ignore,” said Magneto in a stern tone.
“Like the X-men?” scoffed the speedster, “I’m not saying we should ignore them. It would just be easier to keep my lunch down if I didn’t have to watch these pathetic hero stories.”
“They can’t be too pathetic if they keep airing them. Plenty of people are clearly watching these stories and embracing them,” Wanda pointed out.
“Too many,” Magneto added, “Charles may be using pathetic means to shift public sentiment regarding mutants, but the public is foolish enough for it to work.”
“Like we need to be reminded that humans are fools?” groaned Pietro.
“These fools remain an inescapable part of our cause. It has been growing steadily since he opened that little school of his. His X-men have caused a considerable disruption in the unfolding course of mutant affairs.”
“But it hasn’t changed the inevitable, has it?” Wanda questioned, “Mutants are still outcasts to the vast majority of humanity. No matter what heroics they employ, the X-men would need multiple lifetimes to cause any real shift in human nature.”
“Human nature never changes, Wanda. It can only be influenced,” said Magneto, “So long as Xavier continues to influence the humans of the world, our task will be infinitely more difficult.”
More images of the earthquake blared over the screen. Shots of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, and Iceman dominated every moment, showing them lead grateful survivors to safety. It was a powerful message. Magneto understood the power of these deeds as well as Charles Xavier. They were a direct counter to the escalating conflict between humans and mutants. It was a conflict Magneto had based much of his life around and was not about to let anyone thwart his cause, even if it meant fighting an old friend.
Using his magnetic powers, Erik Lensherr forcibly shorted out the hotel TV in a fit of frustration. He rose up from the couch, his face hardening with the images of the X-men’s heroics still hanging strongly in his mind. Pietro stopped pacing and Wanda rose up as well, sensing their father was prepared to act.
“We’ve been too indifferent to this point. We cannot keep planning around Xavier’s antics. He must either step aside or be run over by the revolution I am preparing to bring,” said Magneto firmly.
“So what do we do? Kill him?” said Pietro in a tone that was half-serious and half-sarcastic.
Magneto turned towards his son and scolded.
“No, son,” he stated strongly, “We are not resorting to the tactics of barbarous humans. Besides, killing Charles and his X-men would be a horrible waste. There may yet be a chance that he joins our struggle against the human oppressors.”
“As much as I would welcome the assistance, I see that chance as remote at best. And I would know. Chance is my specialty,” said Wanda.
“Then you should also know that it’s a chance worth taking,” retorted Magneto, “Charles is not prone to intimidation or fear. He’s too smart for that. If we’re to inflict a mortal wound to his cause, we must demonstrate to him how fragile it is.”
“And how do we do that? Challenge him to a debate on Fox News?” scoffed Pietro.
“Actually, we need not do anything directly. We need only change the circumstances,” said Magneto ominously.
“I thought you said we weren’t going to plan around him anymore,” Wanda pointed out, “I was under the impression that this trip was to equip us with an edge as you called it so we can confront the X-men.”
“I was not being deceptive either. As we speak our old friend, Raven, is hard at work procuring this edge.”
“Mystique?” scoffed Pietro, “We’re still trusting that shape shifting bitch?”
“She’s delivered consistently since joining our cause and if she knows what’s good for her, she’ll continue to do so,” said Magneto, “This is one task I’m sure she won’t mind completing. She’s merely digging up an old skeleton from Xavier’s past that will prove to him how feeble his efforts are.”
“Ooh…Uncle Charlie has some skeletons? That could be an interesting spectacle!” grinned Pietro.
“And if my research is accurate…unstoppable,” said the master of magnetism, “Charles needs to be shown that it takes but one unforeseen spark to ignite a full scale reversal of fortune. His vision is a dream while ours has inevitability on its side. Once this dream is shattered, he and his X-men will no longer be a factor. And the fate of the mutant race will be back on course.”
Gulf of Mexico
The seas were fierce under the gloomy overcast of tropical heat. The winds were swirling in all directions, kicking up waves and surf that would send any half-competent sailor back to shore in a hurry. Only the brave and the foolish would dare endure these conditions.
Within these choppy waters, a lone fishing boat struggled with the surf. It wasn’t a terribly big boat, but it wasn’t small either. It was a mid-sized vessel, one that specialized in netting heavier loads of sea life from the sea. It had special nets that could drag along the surface of the gulf, picking up crustaceans and scavengers as it trailed along. These conditions were not ideal for a full fledged operation, but the captain and several skippers were doing just that at the behest of a mysterious woman.
“I’m telling you, we ain’t gonna get much bounty in this shit!” the captain complained from the deck, “This area is a dead zone anyways! You’d be lucky to catch minnows!”
“That’s fine with me because I’m not looking for minnows. I have much bigger game in mind,” said a dark haired woman with glasses and a heavy jacket covering a business suit.
“Well whatever it is, we better find it fast because I’m not keeping my boat out much longer! I don’t care how much you’re paying me! It ain’t worth shit if this thing capsizes!”
“All the more reason to stop complaining and focus! You want enough money for a better boat? Keep this piece of junk steady until you find what I’m looking for!”
“And just what exactly would that be?” asked one of the skippers operating the net.
“You’ll know when you find it. Now quit asking questions before I reconsider that generous bonus I mentioned earlier!”
The mysterious woman was not making any friends on this boat. She felt a hateful glare from everyone in sight. Nobody on this boat wanted to be here. Even the promise of a substantial sum of money wasn’t enough to overlook how deplorable it was to work in these conditions.
For Raven Darkholme, the woman who was behind this nasty little adventure, she could care less if they despised her. It wasn’t like they were ever going to see her again, at least not in this form. She was a shape shifter. She could take on any appearance she wanted. In order to convince an entire crew of men to come out in these conditions, she not only had to tempt them with a lot of money. She had to make herself appear attractive enough so that they would go the extra mile for this task. It was a task that she couldn’t exactly be honest about. If these guys knew anything about what they were looking for, they would have turned her down no matter how much money she offered.
‘You better be right about this, Magneto. Since I agreed to your little crusade, I’ve been stuck with one too many errands as you call them. I’ve had to leave my daughter behind. I’ve had to give up visiting my son. I don’t care if it’s for a noble cause. It just better be worth it for all the bullshit I have to put up with!’
Raven had to cling to a nearby rail as the boat swayed more violently. The seas still weren’t cooperating. It was as if Mother Nature and Magneto were conspiring to make her life more miserable.
For years now, she had been working for this man. It wasn’t because she believed in his cause or had any admiration for the man. Her cooperation with Magneto was merely a means to an end. She was willing to aid this elaborate revolution he so often ranted about, but because it served a purpose for her. He understood this. She made sure of it. Even so, he often took advantage of all the leverage he had over her. She needed him more than he needed her and he wasn’t afraid to exploit that.
That’s what led her to this rickety boat. Magneto said he had been tracking a special power source and somehow it was buried deep within these waters. The only guide Mystique had was this special hand-held device he configured into her cell phone. She had been using it as a compass to guide the boat and was checking it regularly, following a bright pinkish dot on a digital map. For the last half-hour they had been floating right on top of it. The next step was to retrieve it and this was where it got even trickier.
“Are you sure this is the place?” asked one of the other skippers, “Whatever gizmo you’re using, it must be busted!”
“It’s not busted. It’s working fine. It damn well better be!” said Raven as she held it up higher, “Just keep dragging those nets! You’re bound to catch it eventually.”
“And if we don’t? Do we still get paid?”
“That’s for my associate to decide! Now if you’re done worrying about your Mardi Gras fund, take this thing around for another pass! You’re obviously not catching anything so…”
Before the shape shifter could finish, the whole boat was rocked by some unexpected turbulence. This time it had nothing to do with the seas. It felt more like something from below was pulling on the boat…something big.
“Whoa there! The hell was that?!” said the Captain from the deck.
“It’s the net, sir! I think we caught something!” shouted the skipper over the winds.
“You sure they didn’t just get tangled again?”
The captain’s question was answered by another hard tug from the boat. This time it was even more severe, causing the bow to arch up at an angle that even the most experienced sailor would find uncomfortable.
“Ungh! Yeah…I’m sure!” groaned the skipper.
“Then what are you waiting for?! Pull it up! Get it on deck!” ordered Mystique.
“We’ll try! But you better have that bonus ready if this thing shorts out our gears!”
Every hand on the boat rushed over to the net controls and franticly went to work. The tugging continued while they pushed their gear to the limit. At first they wouldn’t budge. Some of the winches even started to warp. The captain helped by throwing in some extra torque with the boat’s engines. After a few impromptu adjustments, the nets started coming up. It was not smooth to say the least. Whatever they had caught, it was heavy.
Mystique stood anxiously at the stern, watching as the nets steadily rose. She looked down at her cell phone and noticed that the readings were getting more erratic by the second. Usually when that happened on one of Magneto’s errands, that meant she was doing something very right or very wrong or both.
‘You never make it easy for me, Magneto. You never make it easy on your enemies either. Based on what you told me about this little ‘treasure’ as you call it, Charles Xavier is about to have the worst day of his life.’
The tension and excitement on the boat escalated. Every hand on deck fought to keep the nets and gears working. A few sparks started flying and some parts of the net actually started to snap, but inch by inch they drew their catch closer to the deck. More choppy seas added to the struggle. On two occasions they were rocked by a powerful wave that drenched the entire stern. By whatever miracle, the robust vessel still stayed afloat. The next five minutes seemed to drag on for an eternity. Finally, the nets reached the surface and the crew got a first-hand look at their catch.
“There! I see something!” said the crewman operating the winch.
“I see it too! Start reeling it on board!” said one of the skippers.
“Whatever it is, it sure as hell don’t look like any fish I ever seen!” said another.
The seas settled somewhat as the men adjusted the gears and pulled their catch onto the deck. It took some extra hands to get it up and over the stern. More ropes snapped and for a moment it looked like the winch would give out. The device held on just long enough to pull the nets onto the deck. When it finally did give out, their catch landed with a hard thud on the stern. It landed so hard it shook the boat almost as much as the waves. When they finally pulled the nets apart, the shape if their bounty took form and every hand on deck was shocked at what they saw.
“Well I’ll be damned,” said one of the older crewmen as he and the others gathered around.
“This is what you had is drag up?!” said another skipper.
“Just what the hell is it anyways?!” demanded the captain.
“Not what…who,” said Raven ominously.
The shape shifter fearlessly rolled the figure over, revealing their catch to be a man. Except this was no ordinary man…far from it. This figure was a massive hulk of a man, looking to be over eight feet tall at least and ripping with muscle that seemed too big to be human. Almost as menacing as his muscles, his attire was equally striking. He had on what appeared to be this exotic brownish body armor that looked like some advanced gear that the military would use. Topping it off was this dome-shaped helmet that covered his head, having only two slits for eyes and a hole for his mouth. Through this helmet the figure looked unconscious and nobody was too eager to see him awake.
“Is uh…is he dead?” asked one of the younger crewman.
“I’d like to know so I can start breathing again,” said another skipper.
“If he was at the bottom of the ocean, he damn well better be!” said the captain.
Mystique held back an amused laugh.
“Don’t be stupid. The bottom of the ocean can’t stop him. Nothing can stop him.”
The crew looked towards Raven with bewilderment and fear. Before they could even begin to ask what those words entailed, the figure’s eyes shot open and in an enraged gesture he rose up.
As he flexed his oversized muscles, he knocked nearly every crew members back as if they were paper dolls. A few of them even fell overboard while the boat rocked. Only Raven had been smart enough to keep her distance. She watched with a mix of fascination and relief as this hulking figure panted heavily, his body glowing with this mysterious pink energy.
“I’m…alive. The power…it’s real! I can feel it!” he seethed intently.
“Yes Mr. Marko. The Gem of Cyttorak has worked it’s magic…literally in this case,” she said as she calmly approached him.
“The gem…Marko…do I know you, lady?”
“That is your name, isn’t it? Cain Marko, former staff sergeant of the United States Army and volunteer to the now defunct special X-16 investigations division,” the shape shifter announced, “You’ve been out a while. You were even declared dead.”
“I’m not dead!” he said angrily.
“Of course you’re not. The Gem of Cyttorak saw to that. It’s made you something else…something more than human. You’re a force now, Marko…a juggernaut.”
“Juggernaut…yeah, I like that!” he grinned.
“You know what you’ll like even more?” said Mystique mischievously, “Getting back at the man who declared you dead in the first place. You already know him. He’s your uncle if I recall…Charles Xavier.”
A burning anger consumed Cain Marko upon hearing that name. The glowing pink energy intensified, as if fueled by his raging emotions. The muscles in his arms and neck bulged, hinting at a vast and unstoppable power behind him that seemed ready to inflict a terrible wrath on anything that stood in his way.
“So you do remember and quite bitterly it seems,” said the shape shifter with a wry grin, “That’s good because you’re not the only one who has a grudge against that self-righteous buffoon. An associate of mine is looking to settle a score with Charles and he would be more than happy to help you in settling yours as well.”
“A score, huh?” said Cain with sinister intent, “I’m listening!”
Xavier Institute – The Next Day
A day had passed and the X-men were flushed with confidence from their successful rescue efforts in California. The mission had gone better than they could have asked for. They were coordinated, they saved lives, and they did so in front of a national audience through news cameras. It was sure to further help the public perceptions of mutants, which was always tenuous. The Professor even rewarded them by letting them finish class early that day.
However, a successful mission with the X-men did not mean they could let their guard down. There was always more class and more training to be done. That meant more rounds in the aptly named Danger Room, the advanced holographic environment that the X-men used to hone their skills. Having been so successful, Professor Xavier insisted on making them run through high level scenarios. They were often much more chaotic than any disaster scene they encountered in the real world and that’s exactly how they needed it to be.
“Let’s pick up the pace, guys! I want to top our high score before mid terms!” said Marvel Girl, who was using her telekinetic talents to full effect.
“Hey! I thought I’m supposed to be the one who barks orders!” teased Cyclops as he engaged in some high level target practice.
“Sorry to steal your thunder, Slim! But a new high score counts as extra credit and that’s something we could all use!”
“Yeah, I’m sure that B-minus you got on Mr. McCoy’s biology test has nothing to do with it!” said Warren wryly as he flew by overhead at high speeds.
“Careful Angel! Hell hath no fury like a woman in need of straight-A’s!” warned Iceman playfully from his end of the arena.
“You guys would be giving me much fewer reasons to yell at you if you stopped talking and focused!” Marvel Girl shouted.
Iceman and Angel exchanged grins. Even Cyclops found it mildly amusing since he was so often the one playing the role of uptight leader. Marvel Girl could be just as demanding and unlike Cyclops, she was a lot harder to argue with.
Incentives aside, the four X-men handled themselves skillfully through the scenario. It was nothing too elaborate. In this timed session the mission was to destroy all incoming obstacles without being forced out of a specified boundary. It was meant to hone skills in protecting civilians and holding back an attack. It was good target practice for Iceman and Cyclops, who stood at opposite ends of the boundary hitting each projectile that came their way. In this case the projectiles were these small hovering disks that delivered a nasty shock if they got too close. It was further incentive to take them all out and do so accurately. Another obstacle that often came their way were small laser cannons that popped up from the ceiling and floor. This was where Marvel Girl’s telekinesis came in. Her job was to put up shields and hit these obstacles with some extra force to take them out. For those that were on higher ground, that was where Angel came in. He did a number of high speed passes overhead, drawing the fire of some lasers while sneaking up behind others and deactivating them by pulling out the wires. They always popped up randomly, so he had to be on his guard along with everyone else.
This session has been going on for a good ten minutes already and was nearing the end. Cyclops and Iceman were cleaning out the last of the projectiles and Marvel Girl had taken care of the final turret on the ground level. Now all the danger was coming from above. This was where Angel was hard at work, taking out a few more blasters that tried to surprising. One even emerged right behind him, but he sensed it just in time to fly around and take it out before it started shooting. Cyclops helped by providing some extra firepower of his own while Iceman and Marvel Girl shielded him.
“Thirty seconds, Angel! We’re almost done!” announced Cyclops.
“That’s twenty more than I need!” said Angel confidently, “My father’s company made these things so give me a chance to enjoy busting them up!”
“And they say I have daddy issues,” commented Marvel Girl dryly.
Angel picked up speed, not allowing Cyclops to hog all the action. He plowed through three more blasters and not in a very subtle manner either. He went so far as to kick a few right off their hinges, venting a mix of determination and frustration. These things had the Worthington Industries logo etched all over them. That was more than enough reason to be a little extra thorough.
It seemed as though they were going to make their time and set a new record. Angel was almost done with the last remaining blaster. However, as he was destroying them with Cyclops’s help another unexpected obstacle emerged. This time it was one they weren’t prepared for. All the damage he was doing to the ceiling was causing some cracks to form in the donut-shaped supports that were holding up the blasters. They were made of metal so they didn’t give much thought to them. It wasn’t until some of the supports started buckling that Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and Iceman noticed.
“Whoa…that sure doesn’t sound right!” said Iceman.
“It isn’t! That thing looks like it may…” began Marvel Girl.
It already did. The hinges holding the supports up failed and in a series of loud ruptures. Within seconds, the whole thing started shaking.
“Angel stop!” Cyclops yelled out.
The winged mutant failed to heed these urgent warnings.
“And the new high score is official!” he proclaimed as he destroyed the final blaster.
“Ooh boy,” groaned Iceman.
As soon as Angel finished off the blaster, the final support failed and the donut-shaped apparatus fell. Since it was hovering directly over them, it was seemed ready to crush them. The three young mutants were just beginning to react. This time someone beat them to the punch.
Sprinting in from behind, Hank McCoy entered the scene and used his ape-man level strength to push all three of them out of harm’s way. He made it with only a few seconds to spare, getting them just outside the boundary despite having to tackle them to the hard metal floor. At this point it finally dawned on Angel what had happened and when he saw the scene below he was naturally unnerved.
“Oh no! Guys!” he exclaimed as flew down towards his friends.
“We’re okay, Warren…except for my spleen,” groaned Iceman as he, Cyclops, and Marvel Girl gingerly picked themselves up.
“Your quite welcome, Bobby,” grinned Hank.
“Thanks Beast. That was some quick thinking back there,” said Cyclops.
“I couldn’t allow my students to have all the fun. Especially after I missed out on the previous mission,” he said.
“I thought your mission was to manage the firing systems to make that…you know, stuff like this doesn’t happen,” said Angel.
“I could make the argument that this is one of those unexpected circumstances that we must always be prepared for, but since there’s a telepath among us I’ll spare you the indignation.”
“What is he talking about, Jean?” asked Cyclops as he helped his friend up.
Marvel Girl grasped Cyclops’s hand and rose to her feet. She was still a bit dazed, but when she looked at her teacher she knew what he was talking about. He wasn’t even trying to guard his thoughts. He wanted her to figure out the reason behind this apparent mishap.
“Wait…this was a lesson?” she said upon surmising the truth.
“A lesson in what? The structural defects in Worthington Industry hardware?” said Angel.
“Oh it’s much more pertinent than that, my boy,” Hank assured him, “There’s a reason why I did not replace those badly worn hinges. It was a reason that Charles and I both discussed earlier.”
“Wait…the Professor was behind this too? You guys are conspiring against us now?” said a bewildered Iceman.
“Only to the extent by which we can make a point,” he elaborated, “I know you wanted a chance at topping your high scores. That’s all well and good, but not every Danger Room session can be about improving your stats.”
“So I guess that mean the extra credit bonus is null and void,” sighed Marvel Girl.
“You’ll have other opportunities, Jean. There are always opportunities, the circumstances of which are constantly changing. You can’t always account for everything, even if you do have a psychic on your side.”
“Is that what dropping a big hunk of metal on us was meant to teach us? Because I can think of at least a hundred less subtle ways to get the point across,” said Cyclops.
“It worked, did it not?” shrugged Beast, “It demonstrated how sudden changes can take place and how being in the wrong place could be a grave detriment. This brings me to a little announcement I said I would relay for the Professor.”
“I hope this doesn’t involve dropping something even bigger on our heads,” said Angel.
“Not this time,” he assured, “As of now, we’re cutting our training period short to make room for a special lecture. Charles has something very important he wishes to discuss and he wants you all to be part of it.”
“Sounds serious,” said Marvel Girl, “Should we be worried?”
“I’ll save that for Charles to explain. But if I were to offer a sneak preview as it were, I would say it never hurts to be prepared.”
Hank left his students to digest that. He had preparations of his own to make. He still felt some worried gazes from his students. He suspected there was still a touch of surprise that he would plan such an extreme lesson. They should have been used to it by now, but there was always room for surprises in the X-men. That’s why they trained them to be strong. It was for this reason that Hank was confident that Scott, Jean, Bobby, and Warren would be able to handle whatever changes would bring, expected or otherwise.
The Hamptons, New York – 40 Year Ago
“UNCLE CHARLES! YOU FUCKING EXCUSE FOR A FREAK! I TRUSTED YOU! I LOOKED UP TO YOU! I SWEAR I’LL GET YOU BACK FOR THIS! I SWEAR!”
20-year-old Charles Xavier tried in vain to shut out those harsh words from his 13-year-old nephew, Cain Marko. It was not easy when he had psychic powers that only added to the torment. What the enraged young boy was saying paled in comparison to the murderous thoughts projecting form his mind. He could shut out the voice, but not the thoughts. Such graphic hatred weighed heavily on his soul.
Standing beside him was his frail, ailing mother. Like Charles, Sharon Xavier watched this scene play out with a heavy heart. She had already undergone some painful procedures as she battled an advanced stage of cancer. All the painful and invasive treatments in the world paled in comparison to what she was feeling now. Here she was standing at the doorway to one of many opulent homes owned by the Xavier family, watching as four well-equipped officials from social services and the police wrestled Cain away from their estate. It was a powerful blow that struck an already devastated family to the core.
The angry voice of Cain Marko continued to echo through the cold winter air even as the officials shoved him into a waiting car. At one point he slipped away and tried to run back towards the estate. He only made it two steps before being tackled again. At this point, Sharon Xavier had to look away. The life this boy once knew was over. Nothing would ever be the same. Already limited by her cancer ravaged body, she had little strength to endure such hardship.
“Cain…how could you?” she cried through her weakened voice.
“Please mother, don’t strain yourself. It wasn’t your fault,” said Charles, doing his best to support his mother.
“No…I could have done something. I could have done anything. I let Cain into our house after his father fell ill. I knew he was still bitter about what happened between him and Brian. I just had no idea he would…”
“I know. Neither did I,” said Charles, quickly stopping her before she could go into the grim details, “We both underestimated the damage his father would do to him. I should have sensed it sooner. I knew his Curt Marko became a very different man after my father cut ties with his company and turned him over to the authorities. Between the loss of his money, the rampant drinking, and the beatings he inflicted on Cain I should have seen the signs.”
“Don’t you start taking the blame for this, son. I may be dying, but I can still scold you like any able-bodied mother,” she said in as strong a tone as she could manage, “You’re not responsible for knowing everything about everybody. Even if you can read their thoughts…”
“That’s just it. I promised Cain years ago that I would never read his thoughts under any circumstances. My powers always made him feel…weak by comparison. I tried to honor that promise as best I could.”
“Considering that he tried to kill me, it’s a good thing you didn’t,” she said, offering her son a comforting gesture.
It was easy for his mother to forgive him. Sharon Xavier was probably one of the most forgiving human beings on the planet. Charles wasn’t so sure. This whole affair was a nightmare of the worst possible kind.
His nephew, Cain Marko, had been living with them for the past four months. Since his father was abusive and ailing from liver disease, he and his mother welcomed the growing young boy into their home as they so often had in the past. They never would have imagined that Cain blamed them for what happened to his father. He was ready to take it out on Sharon Xavier, the woman who loved him like a second son.
It still made him shiver, sensing these angry thoughts so early in the morning. He sensed they were Cain’s, but he was still bound by his promise not to intrude on his thoughts. Until this point, he never had a reason to do so. It was the graphic projections that put him in such a difficult position. He could sense that Cain was in a very angry state, much more so than he had shown at any point since he moved in. So Charles made a fateful decision and read his mind. That’s when he discovered Cain’s intentions. He had a knife in his hand and was prepared to murder his mother. Charles acted quickly, psychically stunning Cain and waking his mother so she could call the authorities. As if his mother’s cancer wasn’t bad enough, his nephew crossed a line for which there was no going back.
“What’s going to happen to him?” asked Charles, breaking his distraught silence.
“I’ll have to give that some thought,” his mother said solemnly, “He can’t stay here and I would hate to send him to a group home of sorts. After everything our families have been through, it would be too cruel.”
“That’s saying a lot for a boy who tried to kill his Godmother,” said Xavier with a touch of bitterness.
“Don’t judge him like that, son. He’s not a killer. He’s angry and misguided. Anybody can walk that dark path if pushed hard enough. It may help if he regained some stability in his life. I have a few friends at the Junior Naval Academy who might be willing to take him on.”
“You think military school will make Cain any less angry with us? What if he never gets over his anger and comes after us again?”
“We still have to try, Charles. It’s an unfair world and we need not make it any more unfair. That’s why we must never give up on lost causes. Otherwise they become just that…lost.”
Charles pondered his mother’s prophetic words. It was difficult to have such compassion for a boy who tried to kill his already ailing mother. Watching the police car drive away, he could still see Cain Marko’s angry expression. He sensed in him a boy willing to exact all sorts of havoc on a world that wronged him. He even managed to pick up one last menacing thought.
‘I’ll make you pay for this! Your mom may be dead soon, but you’re still breathing so expect to see me again! Nothing will stop me. Be sure of that, Uncle Charlie.’
It was an ominous thought from a disturbed soul. It would have been easy to shut him out, but the solemn eyes of his mother wouldn’t allow him to do so. She was not long for this world and if she wasn’t around to have hope for boys like Cain, who would? He was going to have to shoulder this burden eventually. When that time came, who knew what form Cain’s anger would take? Whatever it was, he would be the one to confront it.
Outside Xavier Institute – Present Time
The thirst for vengeance was one of the most powerful motivating forces. When someone did something so atrocious that forgiveness was not an option, there was little that could stem this insatiable drive. It was an overwhelming power…an unstoppable force…a juggernaut.
Cain Marko was vengeance personified. In him he didn’t just have desire for vengeance. He had the power to pursue it in a way that negated everyone and everything standing in his way. The Gem of Cytorrak had given him a gift and with that gift he was poised to settle a score that should have been settled years ago.
‘I’m coming, Uncle Charlie! Now you’re the one who’s powerless and weak! I don’t care how much good you’ve done in 40 years! Today you suffer for the sins of the entire Xavier family!’
It was almost time. Cain Marko landed just outside the main gate to the Xavier Institute within a specially constructed transport sphere, courtesy of Magneto. After fishing him out of the Gulf of Mexico, he was kind enough to fill Marko on what Xavier had been up to since his extended deep sea diving trip. He barely even listened to the stories of Charles surviving cancer, starting his own school, and putting together the X-men. The only parts that resonated for him was where Charles was and how best to hurt him.
Once the transport sphere settled, the top part opened and Cain eagerly stepped out. Already, his fists were clenched and ready to plow through anything that stood in his way. From within the sphere, a small speaker system activated and the imposing figure received one last message from Magneto.
“I know you’re eager, Mr. Marko. I’ve been in your position and I understand how it feels to have vengeance in your grasp.”
“Don’t waste your time playing the empathy card, old man. You don’t know shit!”
“I’m not trying to be empathetic. I’m trying to help you and myself in the process. Need I remind you that I’ve gone to some length for you? I didn’t just pull you from the sea. I set you up to hurt Charles in a way that brute strength alone cannot manage.”
“If you’re looking for a thank you, you’ll get it once I have my dear uncle’s mangled corpse in my hands.”
“The only thanks I’ll accept is you following the plan I so generously laid out. That will require a very minimal amount of coordination.”
“Whatever,” scoffed Marko, “Now do you mind? I’ve got some family affairs to short out!”
“Then by all means, do what you need to do. Keep in mind, though, that vengeance is a dish that is best savored. If you want to cherish this moment, you’ll stick to the plan.”
“Quit worrying about your precious plan. Now that I’m an unstoppable Juggernaut, Charles Xavier and his bullshit dream are as good as dead!”
Xavier Institute – Classroom
Upon finishing their Danger Room session, the X-men changed out of their uniforms and back into their regular, non-superhero clothes. It was always a strange feeling, going from a costumed here to just another student. As Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, and Angel they faced plenty of daunting challenges. As Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Bobby Drake, and Warren Worthington III they faced challenges of a different kind…namely tests, homework, and lectures.
Among these all-too-common concerns, lectures were the least stressful. Every so often Professor Xavier would gather everybody in the main classroom and give in depth talks about certain subjects. Sometimes it was purely academic. The man was a professor after all and he never lost his passion for teaching. Other times he used lectures as a means of making big announcements. Because of this, every active member on the team was expected to be there. It was almost time to begin and there was one notable absence.
“Come on, John. You’re not going to miss another one, are you?” groaned an exasperated Jean Grey as she stared down at her phone.
“Give it a rest already, Jean. He doesn’t like texting anyways,” Warren pointed out, who was sitting in front of her in the lecture hall.
“He usually doesn’t mind when I’m the one who sends them. He promised to check in while he was visiting the reservation,” she said anxiously.
“Why would he promise that? I was under the impression you two weren’t even dating anymore,” shrugged Bobby, who was sitting next to Warren.
“What’s that supposed to mean?!” said Jean apprehensively.
“Whoa, take it easy! I didn’t mean anything by it. But seriously, can you blame me or anyone else for thinking that?”
The young woman continued to scold her younger and less mature classmate. Sad as it was, he did have a point. She and her boyfriend of over a year now, John Proudstar, weren’t exactly giving off the aura of being a happy couple. The mere fact he was taking more and more trips back home to the Apache reservation he grew up in would certainly quality as a troubling sign. He used to be the X-men’s main combat instructor. Then for a while he played an active role on the team. Now he was stepping back lately and not just from his duties. He seemed to be stepping back from her as well.
Sitting next to Jean, Scott Summers offered more serious support. He knew all too well the difficulties Jean was going through. He recently broke up with his girlfriend and it had caused some significant drama to say the least. He didn’t mean for it to affect Jean’s relationship with John, but it did. The reasons for this were too complicated to even contemplate. Now was not the time to address them anyways.
“He’ll call back when he’s ready,” said Scott, placing his hand atop hers, “You know better than most people how Thunderbird can be at times.”
“I’ve been dating the guy for some time now. I damn well ought to know,” she muttered with a touch of lingering bitterness, “Have we really fallen that far? Do we even act like we’re still together anymore?”
“That’s none of my business and if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather keep it that way. All I can say is that John Proudstar is nothing if not an honorable guy. Whatever his reasons for pushing us all away, I’m sure they’re valid. They have to be. He’s got you as a girlfriend. What guy in his right mind would give that up?”
Jean smiled and blushed at her friend. Scott always knew just what to say to make her feel better. He had been doing it a lot lately and it was a good thing to. She needed it and so did he. It’s part of what gave them such a special bond. They had enough to worry about in their lives as X-men. They didn’t need personal dramas making it harder.
Such affairs would have to wait though. Professor Xavier had arrived with Hank and the lecture was ready to begin. Scott, Jean, Bobby, and Warren shifted their attention away from John Proudstar’s absence and now focused on their mentor.
“Thank you all for joining me this morning. I understand you must be disappointed about cutting your morning training short,” said Xavier with a light-hearted tone.
“You make it sounds like such a loss, Professor,” said Warren dryly.
“As long as this isn’t another one of those lecture/pop-quiz deals I’ll take it,” added Bobby, “I’d rather not fall for that trick again.”
“I assure you this is no trick….this time anyways,” said the Professor, “I summoned you here to discuss what I sense to be an increasingly pressing matter. I wish John was here to share in the discussion because this will certainly affect him as well.”
“You’re not the only one,” sighed Jean.
“With or without his presence, we cannot afford to ignore it any further. Now before I go any further I feel it’s worth commending you once more for your efforts in California. Even without Beast or Thunderbird present, you were able to conduct yourselves flawlessly. It shows you have grown a great deal as a team. I take great pride in seeing my X-men routinely exceed my expectations.”
“We’re just doing what you trained us to do, sir. We never would have been able to succeed as we did without your guidance.”
“Yeah, between training and the occasional spat with guys like Magneto, I’d say we’re fairly well-equipped,” added Warren.
“Indeed,” Xavier agreed, “Which brings me to the matter at hand.”
The Professor turned to Hank and nodded. His furry associate proceeded to turn on a special digital projector via remote control. This displayed in a large image on the wall a series of news clippings that had come out in the past 24 hours in wake of their exploits in California. So far most of the stories they had read were positive. These were the exact opposite. They told a story of a different nature by displaying far more ominous headlines.
“X-men: Heroes or a Ploy?”
“Pew Poll: 59 Percent Still Fear Mutants and Believe They Must be Regulated.”
“California Earthquake Survivor: I Still Hate Mutants.”
They weren’t too flattering. Suddenly that pride and accomplishment the X-men felt for their efforts the other day took a major hit.
“Dude…when did pessimism become an official X-men policy?” said Bobby.
“Why are you showing us this, Professor?” asked Jean, “You say our mission in California was a success.”
“I still stand by that assessment, Jean. In fact, the vast majority of the X-men’s exploits have been successes. You should all be very proud of that,” said the Professor with pride in his voice.
“Except…” said Scott, knowing a caveat was coming.
“The fact remains that mutant affairs are still evolving and not necessarily for the better,” said Xavier, taking on a more serious tone, “These articles are just one of many that remind us how far we have to go in fostering peace between humans and mutants. There are still over 80 countries in this world where being a mutant is considered illegal. Some even have the death penalty for those exposed as mutants.”
“To be fair, most if not all of those countries are not first world countries,” added Hank, “There are plenty of other draconian laws that these same societies condone.”
“Even so, that should give us all some idea of what we’re up against. Every recent poll has come to the same conclusion. The public is still very fearful of mutants and many do support some notion of regulation.”
“Regulation as in throwing mutants into prison for just being mutants?” asked Bobby warily.
“The concept is vague, but because of that all measures no matter how extreme are still on the table. What the X-men have done through their heroics is make this a real debate. Before you all put on your uniforms, these polls were much worse. Over 80 percent of the population was looking for some action against mutants and nobody was even questioning whether or not this was a just notion.”
“So what’s the problem? So long as we keep doing what we’re doing, shouldn’t those polls continue to shift in our favor?” asked Warren.
“I wish that were the case Warren, but my research says otherwise,” said Xavier as he signaled Hank to turn off the projector, “With Cerebro’s new upgrades, I’ve been able to gauge the psychic sentiment of large populations across the world. Think of it as a deeper kind of polling. What I’ve found is more than a little distressing. Heroics simply aren’t enough to convince people that mutants can be a force for good. Our exploits do convince some, but only to a point. The problem is that people don’t see the X-men as mutants. They see them as costumed heroes who just happen to be mutants. Because you wear masks and conceal your human identities from the world, the human element gets lost in the spectacle.”
It was a harsh truth. Scott, Jean, Bobby, and Warren exchanged concerned looks. This was striking news because they never separated their heroics from their mutant status. For any number of reasons the people they were helping weren’t making that connection. It was an obstacle that they never tried to overcome because they never acknowledged that it was there. If what the Professor said was true, and they never had any reason to doubt his research, then everything they were doing wasn’t as effective as they hoped.
“So what do we do about this, sir?” asked Scott, “If our current strategy isn’t going to accomplish what we want, then I assume we’re going to make some adjustments.”
“But why? What more can we do?” asked Warren.
“That’s what I want us to discuss today. So long as society keeps changing, we must change with it,” said Professor Xavier, “The nature of our missions will not stay the same and neither should our approach. We must be open to as many options as possible. From expanding our ranks to doing a way with masks, we are going to have to make some difficult decisions.”
“Whoa wait…ditching the masks?!” said Warren, “Professor, some of us don’t have that option. I’m already in a bad position because of my lousy excuse for a dad!”
“I understand there will be some personal difficulties with any decisions we make, Warren. There’s always a price to be paid for something that’s worth having.”
“But are you sure we’re not jumping the gun here, Professor?” questioned Bobby, “With all due respect, why should we sacrifice the hero angle when it still works pretty darn well?”
“Aside from those vocal detractors, of course,” added Jean.
“I wish we had the luxury to take our time on this matter, but this is a case where we must be proactive. If we wait too long, we risk losing the fragile progress we’ve already made. We have to remember that the side of peace is always more fragile than that of conflict.”
It was difficult to argue with the Professor when he used this kind of reasoning. He always took the high ground, which was also often the hardest of whatever position he could possibly take. It would have been easy to just keep wearing masks and playing hero, but the X-men weren’t about taking the easy way out. They had trained for far greater challenges.
“Man, talk about a buzz kill,” groaned Bobby, “My stomach is starting to churn just thinking about this shit.”
“That makes two of us. I am so not looking forward to the backlash that would happen if Warren Worthington III was discovered to be a mutant,” said Warren.
“Quiet! You guys are making my stomach do summersaults as well,” said Jean.
A strange feeling had come over the team. It seemed this discussion the Professor wanted to have was making them all feel a little uneasy. For some, it went beyond an unsettled stomach.
“Wait…this doesn’t feel right,” said Scott suspiciously.
“I hear you, man,” said Warren, “This is…”
“No! I mean something else is wrong! I don’t think that feeling is our stomachs!”
“Hmm…you’re right, Cyclops. I feel it too,” said Hank, “It almost feels like…”
While Hank was sifting through his vast vocabulary for the right words, that churning turned to all out shaking. The whole room was now rumbling with these strange vibrations. They only came in spurts though, as if they were footsteps of sorts.
Soon even Charles Xavier felt it. His telepathy had not alerted him to any danger, but his instincts were often just as good and they were telling him something was very wrong.
“Professor?” said Jean, sensing his anxiety.
Before another word could be spoken, a deafening bang ripped through the classroom and an enraged voice echoed through the Xavier Institute.
It was like a high speed train crashing straight into the wall. A massive hole was blown open in the wall right behind from where Professor Xavier and Hank McCoy were standing. In what was a mere punch from the overwhelming power of Cain Marko’s fist, a punishing shockwave knocked Xavier out of his wheelchair and caused Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby, and Warren to fall back from the blast. This sudden burst left the Professor and his X-men stunned and dazed as his menacing figure entered the classroom.
“Cain…” gasped Charles upon taking in the sight of his wayward nephew.
“Whoa…who ordered the walking dump truck?” groaned Bobby.
“I…I don’t know! I didn’t even sense him with my telepathy!” said a dazed Jean Grey.
“X-men! Get to the elevators now!” Xavier shouted urgently, “You must…”
The bewildered telepath was quickly silenced. Cain grabbed him with his oversized hand and picked him up by the head, grinning sadistically as he watched him struggle and squirm.
“That’s enough outta you, Uncle Charlie! I’ve had to listen to that whining you call a voice enough for one lifetime! Now it’s time you listen what I have to say!”
“But how…” he coughed from within his grip.
“Don’t waste your breath! You ain’t got much left so save it! I know I look a little…different since you last saw me. There’s a damn good reason for that and I’d love to share all the gruesome details with you! But first, we’re going on a little trip!”
By now the X-men recovered from the initial shock. It wasn’t every day that an eight-foot hulk of a man came bursting into their home, catching them by surprise even though they had two powerful telepaths in their midst. It was moments like these where years of training showed its worth. There was no time to be overwhelmed by something so seemingly bizarre. The X-men were used to the bizarre and when their mentor was in trouble, all levels of confusion and fear took a back seat.
“Ungh…Professor!” groaned Scott as he pulled himself up.
“Let him go, chrome dome!” exclaimed Jean, who rose up as well via telekinesis.
The two X-men fearlessly rushed the imposing figure. Scott lifted his ruby quartz glasses, unleashing a beam of raw force while Jean unleashed a telekinetic onslaught. Cain Marko barely flinched. When the beam and psychic waves hit him, he was only knocked a few measly feet. He brushed it off like a minor itch, grinning as he rose his arm to directly counter the force and push back.
“Ooh stop! You’re so powerful!” mocked Cain, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “School’s out, kiddies! This is a family affair so go back to your litter box!”
The oversized figure clenched his fist and in one forceful motion, slammed it against the floor to trigger an earthquake-like shock. The shaking coupled with the shockwave knocked Scott and Jean back even further, causing them to crash right into a desk near the back of the room. The blow also caused huge cracks to form throughout the room, demonstrating just how much power was vested within this monster of a man.
Now stunned again, the X-men watched helplessly as the figure casually turned around and exited through the hole in the wall he just made. He still had the Professor in hand, holding him up by his head. He was still clearly conscious, but utterly helpless.
“Charles…no!” groaned Hank, his head ringing even louder after the second blow.
“Do yourselves a favor and stay down!” said Marko, “You won’t stop me. Nothing can stop me! I’m the Juggernaut bitch!”
To reinforce his point, he slammed his fist against the edges of the opening he just passed through. This caused the entire wall to collapse so that the X-men would have even more difficulty going after him. They were in no condition to do so anyways. Scott, Jean, Warren, Bobby, and Hank were still on the floor recovering from the punishing blows this Juggernaut as he called himself just inflicted.
Through the pain and a touch of humiliation, the team pulled themselves up from their defeated state. Bobby and Warren were the first to rise, having to dust themselves off a bit. Bobby went to help out Hank while Warren flew over to help Scott and Jean.
“Whoa…someone has been taking his vitamins,” commented Warren as he rushed to help his friends.
“I sincerely doubt there was anything healthy about what we just saw,” groaned Hank as he accepted Bobby’s assistance in returning to his feet, That power couldn’t have been natural!”
“Great…another renegade mutant with an axe to grind,” groaned Bobby.
“It may be worse than that, Robert. If this Cain Marko is the same Cain Marko I suspect he is, the Professor is in a great deal of trouble!”
“Ugh…please tell me you know this guy so we don’t have to figure out how to kick his ass!” said Jean, who could barely stand after the impact she just endured.
“I know the man, but not the power. Whatever the case, he seems intent on hurting Charles in the worst possible way! With that kind of strength, I shutter to think what he has in mind!”
It was not a pleasant thought. This strange but insanely strong guy just waltzed into the mansion, took the Professor, and didn’t break a sweat in the process. It was a scenario that the X-men never trained for. How could they? It was a far crime fighting and disaster relief. Yet if what Hank said was true, then the man behind the X-men needed them now more than ever.
Ignoring the shock and pain of this sudden attack, the five bewildered X-men gathered in the ruins of their classroom. The Professor had just spoken at length with them about the importance of adapting to an ever-changing mission. This seemed to be one of those times.
“Don’t waste your mental energy, Mr. McCoy! That overgrown brute isn’t going to get that far!” said Scott.
“Please tell me this means what I think it means,” said Jean.
“Is it even worth debating? We’re going after that thing and we’re going to save the Professor!” proclaimed the X-leader.
“Against a guy that big and strong with a temper that bad?” said Bobby breathlessly, “Yeah…should be a piece of cake.”
“I’m not going to support the sarcasm this time, Bobby. This is worse than any natural disaster!” said Warren, “How in the hell are we going to stop that to save the Professor?”
“By doing exactly what Charles was hoping to discuss…adapting to change,” said Hank.
It was a simple-sounding concept with ominous undertones. Hank and Scott essentially negated the debate by leading the team out of the room so they could prepare for this impromptu mission. Their mentor needed their help. There was no consideration towards public sentiment or polls. They needed to stop this guy and save Professor Xavier. In order to do that this time they were going to have to be more than just heroes.
New York City – The New York Times Headquarters
“Damn it! That’s the third dead lead this morning! Who does a reporter half to hump for a decent story these days?!” exclaimed a very frustrated Louise Spalding, an aspiring reporter with a less than spectacular record.
“Hey Spalding! Other people can hear, you know!” said a man on the phone in the cubicle next to hers.
“I may not give you much of a story, but you can hump me anyways,” said the mail guy as he passed by.
“Shut up, Bob! I’m having a hard enough morning as it is.”
The middle-aged woman unceremoniously slammed her phone down and braced herself for another migraine. It was getting late and she had absolutely nothing. The document on her computer screen was completely blank. That may have been okay when she was working for Lockport Local News, but this was the New York Times. If she didn’t deliver a story worthy of that title, she would be back to writing recipe reviews for a local bake sale.
It wasn’t fair. Everybody else on staff had their connections. They were the ones who got the real juicy stories complete with inside information. When ever a hot topic came up, the window closed very quickly. For someone like her, she needed connections or luck and right now she didn’t have either. It was starting to wear on her and it would wear on her editor too if she wasn’t careful. It was infuriating. The aspiring reporter opened her drawer and reached for a fresh dose of aspirin. If she couldn’t get a lead on a story, she could at least get one on her migraine. She was so pre-occupied by her lousy luck that she didn’t notice someone approach her desk.
“Excuse me, are you Louise Spalding?”
Louise looked up to see an average-looking woman about her age with sunglasses wearing a business suit.
“That’s me unfortunately. Can I help you?” she said, trying to sound somewhat professional.
“If that’s not your first dose of pain killers today, I’m not sure,” said the woman wryly.
“If you’re going to greet people like that, then don’t expect me to extend the same professional courtesy,” quipped Louise.
“Given your current disposition, I’m willing to let it slide. In fact, I may even be able to help. I couldn’t help but overhear your little outburst a moment ago.”
“You and everyone in the greater New York area,” she muttered, “I’ll be getting crank emails for the rest of the week.”
“Not if you put something together that makes the front page over every other fluff piece these amateurs can churn out. Then you’ll be the one talking down to your cohorts.”
“I’m usually pretty quick on the uptake, but I’m not following you.”
“Wow…you’re pretty under confident for a New Yorker,” the woman laughed, “Okay, let me be a little clearer. I have a lead for you…one that will give you a jump on the story of a lifetime.”
Louise’s interest was officially sparked and so was her suspicion. Either this was a cruel prank by her co-workers or she was finally on the receiving end of some luck. This being such a lousy day and all, she was understandably skeptical. Something about this woman seemed off to say the very least. She looked like one of those secret agents or something and not the phony kind either. A good reporter could tell the difference between someone who was just trying to seem knowledgeable and someone who actually had something to say. Louise liked to think she had pretty good instincts and every one of them was telling her that this woman was telling the truth.
As Louise studied this woman, she grinned mischievously and gestured towards the hall that led towards the restrooms and elevators. It was as if to say “follow me” without having to draw much attention from her co-workers. Louise looked around, noticing that everyone around her hadn’t really picked up on the woman’s presence. They were all focused on their own affairs. Being more curious than cautious, the eager reporter grabbed some of her things and went after the mysterious woman. She met her in a quiet corner between the elevator and the storage room, clear from any prying eyes.
“So…are you interested?” said the woman.
“That depends. Who are you?” asked Louise intently.
“A messenger and nothing more,” she replied.
“Between custom sunglasses, clothes without tags, and no defining identification on your visible person I would say that’s pushing it.”
“Ah, so you do know a thing or two about reporting.”
“I like to think so. Now can we quit the innuendo and get to the point? If you have something big you’re only hurting us both by sitting on it.”
The woman paused and stared down the reporter. She seemed pretty fearless. She was brave enough to follow her and foolish enough to hear her out. This was going to be even easier than she thought.
“There’s going to be an attack,” she told Louise bluntly, “In the heart of Time Square within one hour…something terrible is going to happen.”
“How terrible? What kind of attack are we talking about here? Terrorists?” said Louise, her intrigue overwriting any sense of shock or urgency.
“Even better…mutants,” she grinned.
“Mutants?! What kind of mutant would…”
“Do you want to keep asking questions? Or do you want to be the first on the scene?”
“Do I look that stupid?! If there’s an attack somebody has to call the police or something!”
“Trust me, they already know. They just haven’t pushed the panic button yet. Now you can either be part of a big moment in history or you can get in line behind every other reporter once it becomes too big to stay local. I know you’ve got a camera in your car and can get to Time Square before it’s too late. So what are you going to do?”
This woman was playing her. Louise knew it. Already she could feel sweat forming on the side of her face. It was like taking her college exams again and being frozen while time was working against her. Common sense and gut feelings waged a war within her. If what this woman said was true then she may be on the cusp of a career-making story.
“Go,” the woman said firmly, “I’ve got my own role to play in this affair.”
“Do I even want to know?”
“Do you think I would even tell you? If you leave now you may just make it. Trust me when I say it’ll be a sight worth reporting!”
There were any number of reasons why Louise Spalding shouldn’t give this total stranger the benefit of the doubt. She was withholding details for a reason. She seemed like the kind of person who would keep secrets and taunt others with them. Even with all this incentive to push her away, the ambitious reporter shut it all aside and ran off at full speed towards the elevators. She didn’t even take a moment to thank her. She had a feeling she probably wouldn’t even see her again. The mutant issue was always fodder for a front page story. An all out mutant attack would be nothing short of historic.
Once Louise was out of sight, the woman grinned menacingly. Still safely out of sight, she lifted her sunglasses to reveal a distinct pair of yellow eyes. With a strong sense of accomplishment, she made her way towards the opposite end of the hall. Along the way her figure shifted, revealing her true form as that of Mystique. Once halfway down the hall, she pulled out her communicator and delivered a fateful message.
“It’s me. Our little rat is in place,” she announced.
“Excellent. That officially concludes our active participation in this affair. Now all that’s left is to watch it all come together.”
“I’m sure you, Wanda, and Pietro have your popcorn ready. I’ll wait for the papers tomorrow. I’m sure it’ll be a fascinating story.”
“It’ll be more than that, Mystique. By the end of this day the war between humans and mutant will never be the same. And Charles Xavier would go down as its first casualty.”
The mood amongst the X-men was understandably tense. They were still slipping into their uniforms when they gathered in the X-jet and took off as soon as the engines were ready. There was still a lot of confusion in wake of Cain Marko’s attack. Just when it seemed the X-men were doing so well, something like this came along to remind them they were still vulnerable. Once they took off and were in the air, they finally had time for it to sink in.
Scott, Jean, Warren, and Bobby had their share of questions and Hank McCoy was the only one who had anything close to answers. They did not bombard him the moment they got on the jet. They sat by silently while he and Scott worked the controls of the X-jet, getting them high into the sky so they could track the whereabouts of their mentor. There was no telling what state he was in. For all they knew this Juggernaut had snapped his neck already. That was an outcome nobody wanted to contemplate so they focused on other pressing issues.
“Man, my head is still ringing!” groaned Bobby, “How the heck does a guy get that strong anyways?”
“I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to. I couldn’t even find out if I did,” said Jean distantly, “I’m supposed to be a high level psychic and I didn’t sense a thing. A guy that big who hits that hard shouldn’t be too hard to pick up.”
“Don’t start doubting your skills, Jean. There was a lot about that guy we don’t know,” said Warren, who was setting next to her while Bobby sat in the seat in front of them, “At the very least, the guy did give us his name.”
“Cain Marko,” said Scott from the cockpit, “And I think one of us has heard that name before.”
The attention shifted to Hank, who was sitting in the co-pilot seat next to Scott. He had been more focused than usual, working extra hard to get every instrument working at full capacity so they could track Charles. He felt their suspicious gazes. Even his brilliant mind couldn’t formulate a way to get out of this. They had a right to know the truth or at least the small share that he harbored.
“No need for insinuations, my students. I’m not going to hide from such scrutiny,” said Hank, not taking his eyes off the instruments.
“Then help us understand, Mr. McCoy. Who is Cain Marko?” asked the X-leader, speaking with the urgency from the rest of the team in mind.
Hank lowered his head solemnly. This was a revelation that Charles should be telling, but extenuating circumstances placed the burden on his shoulders.
“In simplest terms…he’s Charles’s wayward nephew,” said Hank.
“Nephew?! When did the Professor have a nephew? Did we not get that memo?” asked Bobby in a bewildered tone.
“Try not to be too outraged. We all have our secrets, even Charles Xavier. This happens to be one that he doesn’t like sharing. Cain Marko in many ways was one of his earliest and greatest failures. He was the son of Curt Marko, a trusted friend of his father. All the money and technological marvels you see at the mansion…much of that is a result of Curt Marko and his ability to turn great ideas into something viable and profitable.”
“I’m guessing something went wrong and it wasn’t pretty,” said Scott.
“Indeed it did. If anything, it was an early lesson in human nature,” said Hank solemnly, “The Xavier family already came from a fair amount of money. With Curt’s savvy that money turned into a far greater fortune. Thanks to their background, they were better at handling it. Curt, however, came from far lesser means. When he gained access to this money, he handled it quite poorly.”
“By poorly you mean MC Hammer poorly?” said Bobby.
“Poorly as in he always wanted more. He went so far as to go behind Xavier’s back and use his resources to develop weapon, something that they agreed early on was a line they would not cross. For more money, Curt crossed that line. It left Charles’s father with a very difficult decision. He had to cut ties with Curt Marko. In doing so Curt lost his partner and the resources he desperately needed to keep his success coming. I believe this is where the MC Hammer becomes pertinent because he squandered much of his earning away. He became frustrated and angry. The one who had to bear much of this burden was his young son, Cain Marko.”
Hank didn’t go into further details. It was probably for the better. Scott, Jean, Warren, and Bobby could fill in the blanks. Curt Marko sounded like a man who wasn’t afraid to abuse his child in a fit of anger. They could only speculate the kind of things they did to the poor boy. Knowing that this is what they were up against, their mission just got a lot more complicated.
“Poor kid,” said Warren, “And I thought my old man was bad.”
“It got worse,” Hank went on, “Curt’s irrational temperament and chronic alcoholism quickly caught up with him. He contracted liver disease and died unceremoniously. Yet the Xavier family took pity on young Cain and offered him a chance to stay with them. Charles was a teenager at the time and Cain was still a boy. They thought they could save him. Charles’s father fell ill during this time so he took much of the responsibility for Cain. It didn’t work out nearly as well as he hoped.”
“How bad was it?” asked Jean.
“I’d say catastrophic would be an appropriate term. Cain was so embittered and enraged from years of abuse. Now that his father was gone, he looked to take it out on someone else. So he tried to kill Charles’s mother. He was going to stab her in her sleep. Since his mother was ill too, he probably would have succeeded had Charles not stopped him. But it wasn’t so much that he stopped him as it was how he did so.”
“What did he do? Break his arm or something?” asked Bobby, “I know I wouldn’t have been all that gentle if someone came after my mother like that.”
“Worse…Charles used his growing telepathic talents to attack his mind.”
“That’s it? A little telepathic shock?” said Jean skeptically.
“It may not sound like much, but factor in Charles promising Cain that he would never read his mind and you’ll get an idea as to how damaging this was. In his young irrational mind it was the ultimate betrayal. He never forgot it and as we saw earlier, he’s still not over it.”
“Obviously,” groaned Scott.
“So it’s all about revenge, huh?” surmised Warren, “That shit always bring out the worst in people. What ended up happening to him? I’m asumming it wasn’t pretty.”
“I’m afraid that’s where my knowledge of the affair ends. Charles never said much about what happened after Cain left. I know he was shipped off to military school and stayed active within the United States Navy, but that’s about it. I’m sure Charles tried to reconcile a few times, but I think we can safely conclude his efforts were unsuccessful.”
“Is that where this power of his comes in? I’m guessing he’s a mutant too or something,” said Scott.
“That’s an even more perplexing quandary. If Cain was a mutant I’m certain Charles would have kept a record of it. To my knowledge, he was never shown as being X-Factor positive.”
“Could that just mean he’s a late bloomer or something?” said Jean.
“That’s highly unlikely because in addition to not having any powers, Cain Marko is supposed to be dead.”
The four young mutants shifted at such a revelation. It was one thing to have a long lost nephew that the Professor never talked about. It was quite another mess altogether when that nephew was supposed to be dead. It was little wonder as to why Professor Xavier never talked about this. He probably thought it was over. Something very strange clearly happened that even he may not have been aware of. It added even more unknowns to this daunting task before them.
“Great…I guess that means we’re officially going to be fighting a super powered zombie,” commented Bobby.
“That makes no sense though! If the guy was dead, how could he have come back?” wondered Warren.
“Magic maybe? We know that stuff is real,” said Marvel Girl, “Remember that Shaman guy that John knows? He’s done some pretty amazing things with the mystic arts.”
“But none of them involved bringing a guy back from the dead and making him an unstoppable Juggernaut!” said Scott, “Whatever we’re dealing with, it’s clearly very powerful and we need to find a way to stop it! There’s no telling what kind of damage he could do if he gets ambitious!”
There was a brief pause as the X-jet descended from the clouds and flew lower over the outer limits of New York City. As soon as the landscape below was in sight, Hank McCoy adjusted the scanners and his expression grimaced.
“My heavens…I’m afraid that time may have already passed, Cyclops,” he gasped.
“What do you mean, Beast? How bad is it?!” asked Warren warily.
“Look out your windows and see for yourself.”
Warren, Jean, and Bobby quickly undid their seatbelts and gathered at the nearest window. Scott didn’t even need to get up. He could see exactly what Beast was referring to by looking out the window of the cockpit. What he saw filled him with the same level of dread.
Down below, it was a nightmarish scene. A devastating path of destruction had been carved through the streets and buildings of the city. It wasn’t the normal kind of destruction caused by a storm or any natural disaster. It had the mark of malevolent heart behind it. There were actually footsteps in the streets, clearly marking the course that Cain Marko was taking. With each step there were cruel acts of destruction. It wasn’t the kind that just tore down buildings either. This was destruction with murder in mind.
“I think I’m going to be sick for the rest of the year,” groaned Bobby.
“All those people…he’s going on a goddamned killing spree!” exclaimed Jean, “I can sense from the people down there!”
“How many?” asked Scott, gripping the X-jet controls with more urgency.
“Too many…it’s too many to even try and make out!” she cried.
As they flew lower, the gruesome scene became clearer. They saw mangled bodies lying helplessly on the streets. Crowds were filling the streets, crying out in horror as they took in this scene. Among them were children and loved ones of the victims, filled with dread at the sight of such a terrible scene. Even from the X-jet they could see splatters of blood and entrails strewn across walls, cars, and any standing structure. They even saw heavy objects like pipes and news kiosks having been used to bludgeon people to death. It wasn’t just a war zone. It was a killing field in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world.
Cain Marko was going all out. He was not just looking for revenge on Charles Xavier. He was looking to make a point and somehow that involved mindlessly slaughtering innocent people. Usually, it was the X-men’s mission to stop a disaster or save lives in wake of one. This was something very different. They were going into a battle having already lost to an extent. They had already failed to save these lives. All they had left at this point was to save the Professor.
“Okay…any idea on how we’re going to stop this and not make it look like a complete disaster?” said Warren.
“I think Beast is right. That time has passed,” said Scott solemnly.
“So we don’t have a plan?” surmised Bobby.
“Oh we have a plan alright! Stop this Juggernaut and save the Professor!” said the X-leader, “Only this time, the whole hero element is pretty much gone! We’ve already lost that chance! We can only pick up the pieces!”
“So if we’re not going to be heroes, what are we anyways?” asked Jean, still struck by all the death she saw and sensed.
“We are what we’ve always been…X-men!”
The carnage below awaited them. Cain Marko and their mentor, who may already be dead for all they knew, were heading into the heart of New York City with millions of people ahead of them. So much was at risk and so much had already been lost. The implications were vast. The challenge before them was daunting. Yet heroes or not, the X-men were going to confront it.
“NO! NO! PLEASE, I HAVE A WIFE AND-AHHHH!”
“STOP! DON’T! I DON’T WANT TO-AUGH!”
“MOMMY! DADDY! PLEASE WAKE UP! PLEASE!”
“GET BACK! NYPD! STOP OR WE’LL-AHHHHHHHH!”
The terrible cries of horror and death filled a city faced with an unstoppable force. Such a force acted with complete impunity and no remorse. This was the chaotic scene that Charles Xavier awoke in. He had been rendered unconscious shortly after being taken from his institute by Cain Marko, the angry nephew he thought he would never see again. He was still being held firmly within his oversized left hand. There was no way he could possibly escape, even with the use of his legs. What he saw and sensed when he came to shocked and horrified him. The distraught nephew he once knew was now a monster, inflicting unspeakable atrocities on everybody that got in his way.
“What a bunch pussies! You seeing this, Uncle Charlie?” taunted the Juggernaut.
“Cain…what have you done?!” gasped Charles.
“It’s not what I’ve done! Hell, I’m still doing it! I could have easily snapped you in half back in that dump you call a mansion! But that wouldn’t make you suffer nearly as much as you deserve! So a little birdie told me that if I’m really gonna kill you, I have to kill your dream first!”
With a sadistic smile, Cain Marko stood in the middle of a very busy and very damaged Time Square. He had already left plenty of victims in his wake. There were still a few bodies in the path he had ripped through to get to this fateful point. It was here where he would deliver the final blow and in front of the world no less.
Flying above were a fleet of news and police helicopters. There were dozens of cameras focused on him. Among them was Louise Spalding from the New York Times, who had arrived on the scene first and helped signal in the media coverage. She was also filming from an alley across the street, trying desperately to stay out of sight. This was one of the most dangerous places to be on the face of the planet at this moment. It seemed nothing was going to stop this creature from unleashing more destruction.
A couple of SWAT vans sped through the fleet of parked cars that had long since been abandoned by terrified motorists. One sped straight towards Juggernaut at full speed, stopping within a few feet so that the back could open and a fleet of heavily armed police could pour out and take on this creature.
“No warnings this time! Open fire men!” exclaimed the squad leader.
“Can’t you pigs take a hint?” laughed the imposing figure.
Gunfire rang out, but the bullets didn’t so much as scratch Juggernaut. A mysterious pink energy halo completely protected him, leaving him annoyed rather than hurt. While mocking their feeble efforts, he stepped forth and grabbed the parked SWAT van with his free hand. His fingers dug into the thick metal skin of the vehicle as if it were made out of mud and he lifted it with such ease that some of the SWAT officers stopped firing and ran away. They didn’t end up getting far though. Using the SWAT van as a plow of sorts, he swiped across the street and cleared the armed men away with brutal efficiency. A few died on impact from the blow. Most were thrown through the air like rag dolls and sustained serious injury upon impact. They didn’t even have a chance to cry out in pain.
Not content to stop with the officers, Juggernaut looked up at some of the police helicopters hovering overhead. Since the SWAT van was still in his hand, he put it to good use. He threw it straight up into the air as if it were a baseball. It flew with such speed that the helicopter didn’t have time to get out of the way. When the mangled van hit, the tail of the helicopter was shredded and it plummeted to the ground along with the hapless souls inside. Even as they cried out in terror in falling to their deaths, Cain Marko merely laughed.
“Hahahahaha! So much for the strong arm of the law!” he exclaimed.
“You…you killed them!” gasped Xavier, “Cain, how could you…”
“Can it, Uncle Charlie! Can’t you see that we’re on camera?”
Looking up and around him, Professor Xavier realized what he was doing. Cain was making a spectacle. Every news camera was pointed at him, documenting all the carnage he was unleashing. He didn’t stop with deeds either. He backed up his atrocities with equally powerful words.
“YOU SEE THIS YOU PESKY HUMAN? I AM THE JUGGERNAUT! I AM A MUTANT AND SO IS MY CHARMING UNCLE HERE! HE MADE ME WHAT I AM! HE’S RESONSIBLE FOR SHOWING ME THIS POWER! SINCE I’VE GOT ALL THIS POWER, I MIGHT AS WELL USE IT TO KILL EVER ONE OF YOU PUNY WEAKLINGS! FORGET THE DEBATE! MUTANTS ARE HERE TO STAY AND WE’RE GONNA KILL EVERY LAST ONE OF YOU HUMANS STARTING TODAY!”
It was a bold announcement and one that was being beamed all over the world. It wasn’t done as a threat. It was an outright attack one everything Charles Xavier had been working for. All those tireless efforts towards making mutants a gift to the world rather than a threat were being shattered in an instant. All this death being wrought in the name of mutant kind was destroying any potential for human/mutant peace and Cain Marko was well-aware of it.
“I made that last part up,” he snickered under his breath to Xavier, “Well…not the killing part. The mutant part mostly. See, I’m not even a mutant! All this power is courtesy of the Gem of Cyttorak, a pretty magic gem that I never would have found if you hadn’t stuck me in the military!”
“Are you trying to make me feel responsible for all this death that you yourself are inflicting?!” exclaimed Charles Xavier, now more outraged than upset with this man.
“Trying? You are responsible, Uncle Charlie! You brought this on yourself! You betrayed me and thought you could make up for it by sending me away! All you did was give me more reasons to hate you and the entire Xavier family! That fancy military school was no picnic! They were just as strict as my asshole father! Then I graduate and I can’t even get into the same time zone as you!”
“You were angry and irrational! I tried to reach out to you!”
“Bullshit! You were just trying to make you feel less guilty! Hell, I bet you laughed when the best job I could get was with the freakin’ coast guard! I bet you were even relieved when you found out I was lost at sea during an undercover operation! But death couldn’t hold me! Nothing was going to keep me from making you suffer!”
“Then focus your anger on me! Leave these innocent people alone!” shouted Charles Xavier angrily.
“Why should I when doing so is destroying you in so many ways? Look around, Uncle Charlie! I’m killing your dream! With all the people I’ve killed and all the damage I’ve done, nobody in their right mind will trust mutants! You won’t just be feared! You’ll be targets! All those poor little freaks you so care for will suffer! War will break out and more lives will be lost! Blood will flow through the streets of every city! The world will be consumed! And I’ll still be there at the end, watching as your worst nightmare becomes my ultimate vengeance!”
Cain Marko had gone mad. He had lost any semblance of humanity. He was so enraged that he was willing to watch the world destroy itself just so he could get back at his greatest enemy. Even if it was the power that was partially driving him mad, it was still the deeds of Charles Xavier that led him to this horrific deed.
Charles Xavier could only gaze into the hate-filled eyes of the nephew he once so loved. He saw through the small holes in his helmet a look of pure rage. Cain so despised him for what he did that he was truly lost. There was no reaching him. He had to be stopped and this time it wouldn’t be as simple as watching him get hauled off in a police van.
“You’re a monster, Cain,” said Charles Xavier, his words laced with pain and scorn, “This power that’s consumed you…the nephew I once had is truly dead.”
“Spare me your tears, Uncle. I’m still that same boy. I just got a shit ton of power on my side now!” laughed Juggernaut.
“It’s a power that will destroy you! I can tell that it already has!”
“You can’t tell shit!” he scoffed, “This special helmet I’m wearing is keeping that nosy mind of yours out! This way you can’t break that promise you made me even if you tried!”
The unstoppable figure tightened his grip on his hated Uncle, causing him to wince in pain and gasp desperately for air. It was a pathetic and fitting sight for one of the most powerful mutants on the planet.
“I’m the one with the power now! All those years living under your wing, I was weak! You just had to flaunt that mind of yours! You were special because you were a mutant! But you were just as weak! If you had any kind of strength you would have realized that the powerful can never be on the same level as the powerless. All these people you’re whining over…they’re like bugs to me! I can crush them with the same ease as you would crush a fly! That’s what all power does! That’s what you never learned and never will learn for that matter! Because now that I’m ending your dream, I’ll make sure the last thing you see is just how miserably you failed!”
Professor Xavier’s world was spinning. His once beloved nephew was ready to end him and his dream on the spot. Then in what should have been his moment of triumph, an angry voice rang out from above
“Hey Marko…dream on!”
The oversized mutant turned around just in time to see a concentrated optic blast from Cyclops hit him right in the wrist, causing him to loosen his grip on Professor Xavier. Following the X-leader on a stream of telekinetic energy were Angel, Iceman, Beast, and Marvel Girl. The X-jet was hovering right above them in an invisibility cloak, which took Marko by surprise just long enough for the X-men to make their move.
Flying out ahead of the others, Angel soared down into Time Square at high speeds and swiped the Professor from his grip. Once in his arms he flew his dazed mentor away from the powerful figure’s grasp, leaving him even more enraged.
“Augh! You again?!”
“Don’t tell us you’re surprised!” said Iceman, “You kidnap our mentor, go on a killing spree, and expect us not to try and stop you?”
“Guess I gave you punks too much credit! You’re as dumb as those masks you wear!”
“At least we don’t need to be ridiculously muscled to kick your ass!” quipped Cyclops, “Let’s show him, X-men!”
With news cameras still broadcasting every detail of the event, the X-men attacked the powerful figure head on. Cyclops and Iceman landed in the middle of the street and took aim with their powers. In a coordinated strike, they fired a full powered assault of optic blasts and ice beams. The ice blasts formed some thick ice around Juggernaut’s feet and body while the optic blasts hit him in the head right between the eyes. It caused him to stumble, but didn’t leave much of a mark.
“Ungh! Is this what you call kicking ass?” laughed Juggernaut, now repelling the blasts with his massive arm.
“Wait for it…” said Cyclops ominously.
Up above the imposing figure, Marvel Girl and Beast were still hovering steadily within a telekinetic bubble. From this bubble, the young psychic concentrated harder and formed a wave of force behind her teacher.
“Hope you’re not going to give me detention for this, Beast!” said Marvel Girl.
“Aim carefully and I may consider giving extra credit instead,” said Beast as he tucked himself into a ball.
“Say no more, teach!”
Closing her eyes, Marvel Girl made a powerful gesture with her hands and flung her teacher and teammate directly at Juggernaut. She aimed carefully, making sure he landed right behind the figure so he avoided Iceman and Cyclops’s blasts. Once he landed, Beast used his ape-like reflexes to grasp onto Juggernaut’s shoulders. Since he was still disoriented from the ice and optic beams, the powerful figure was not in a position to shake him off.
“The hell are you? An oversized cat?!” roared Juggernaut.
“I prefer primate. Cat’s don’t have the common courtesy not to do this!”
With almost a playful grin, Beast perched himself atop Cain Marko’s massive shoulders and jammed both his fingers into the eye-holes of his helmet. When Juggernaut saw this, his natural reflex was for his eyes to widen with shock. This was a mistake because even with his invulnerability, being poked in the eyes was still painful and disorienting.
“Ahhhhhhhh!” he howled.
“Now X-men! Hit him with full power!” exclaimed Beast.
“Finally, I get my shot!” said Marvel Girl.
“Here we go!” said Cyclops, adjusting his visor to the maximum level.
Beast skillfully leapt off Juggernaut’s head, doing an acrobatic back flip in the process so he could get out of the way. He had to take cover behind an abandoned truck because the force unleashed in this attack would be unlike anything the X-men had ever tried before.
Summoning the vast power within, the three X-men concentrated the full force of their abilities on this imposing figure. Cyclops and Iceman struck force, unleashing bursts of energy far more powerful than before. This time they weren’t meant to stun. They were meant to take this guy out. Along with their blasts, Marvel Girl contributed with a telekinetic onslaught of her own. She expanded the powers of her mind, unleashing the psychic equivalent of a building falling upon a single point. Her nose actually started bleeding from all the force she unleashed. When it all came together against Juggernaut, it created a shockwave that ripped through the already decimated Time Square. It shattered windows in buildings, caused cars to flip over, and triggered a miniature explosion that caused some of the news and police helicopters hovering overhead to destabilize. It was by far the most potent attack the X-men had ever unleashed.
“Ha! So much for the unstoppable!” said Angel, who flying safely overhead with the Professor in his arms.
“Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to stop him,” said Xavier grimly.
“No way! How could anything…”
But Angel’s confidence was shattered before he could even finish his sentence. From the dust and debris kicked up by the attack, a booming voice erupted from with in. Only it wasn’t anger or frustration that emerged. It was a taunting laughter.
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! YOU’VE GOTTA BE SHITTING ME!”
“No way!” gasped Iceman.
“By stars and garters…” said Beast in horror.
“THAT’S the best you can do?! HA! What part of unstoppable don’t you dip-shits understand?!” exclaimed Juggernaut.
Shaking off the impact and the ice shards still covering his body, Juggernaut grabbed the nearest car he could find and casually threw it right at Cyclops and Iceman at speeds so high it started breaking up before it even hit the ground.
“Get down!” exclaimed Cyclops, lunging and pushing Iceman out of the way.
When the incoming car hit the street, it hit with enough force that the gasoline inside actually ignited and triggered a sizable explosion that knocked the two X-men back hard. When Marvel Girl saw this, who was still hovering gingerly above in wake of her telekinetic attack, she gasped in horror and flew down after them.
“Cyclops! Iceman!” she cried out.
“No Marvel Girl! Don’t!” cried Beast.
Marko grabbed another vehicle, this time opting for a heavier pickup truck. With just as much ease as earlier, he threw it up into the air right towards Marvel Girl. She was coming in at high speeds so it was difficult to avoid. She tried putting up a telekinetic shield to deflect it, but the truck was coming in with such speeds that she couldn’t deflect it entirely and it ended up causing her to fall right out of the sky.
“Augh!” she cried out.
“Oh dear…” gasped Beast as he sprang into action, “I have you, my student!”
Jumping up top the roof of the cars and leaping across at full speeds, the ape-like mutant made a diving effort and caught the falling young woman before she hit the hard pavement below. Even after he had her in his arms, Juggernaut still wasn’t done. Opting for something a little less heavy, he grabbed a nearby sewer cover and flung it towards at high speeds.
“Beast…look out,” gasped a dazed Marvel Girl.
That was all Beast got out. He instinctively braced himself, tensing every muscle in his body and doing his best to avoid the brunt end of the impact. It ended up hitting him off-target, grazing his shoulder and upper right-hand part of his back. He could feel the bones inside his body cracking and the muscles tearing. It was agonizing, even for someone of his enhanced reflexes. It caused him to tumble to the street in a way that was anything but acrobatic.
“Augh!” he yelled out, his voice mixed with beast-like roars.
He still managed to protect Marvel Girl, even as he tumbled along the pavement. By the time he came to a stop, both he and Marvel Girl were in a dazed and pained state. The impact from the truck knocked off a good portion of Marvel Girl’s mask and tore her uniform. Beast’s mask was partially scraped off by the pavement. It was not a very heroic look for them nor did it bode well for their efforts against Juggernaut.
While Beast and Marvel Girl were trying to enduring their share pain, Cyclops and Iceman pulled themselves up from the ruins of the exploding car. Like their teammates, the blast charred their uniforms. Cyclops’s mask was practically burned off and the ice shell that Iceman usually had around his body was partially melted. All this in addition to a body throbbing with any number of aches showed just how overmatched they were.
“Come on, Iceman! We need to get up!” urged Cyclops as he helped his friend up.
“Ungh…just five more minutes, mommy,” groaned Iceman.
“No time for a nap! We need to find another way of bringing this guy down!”
“How do you bring down the unstoppable?! I’m starting to think that this guy wasn’t exaggerating earlier!”
“There has to be a way! Now pull yourself together! We have to regroup!”
The X-leader helped Iceman up to his feet and stammered over towards Beast and Marvel Girl. All the while, Juggernaut was standing without a scratch and looking as confident as ever.
“You pipsqueaks are even dumber than those costumes you wear! Guess Uncle Charlie ain’t much of a professor! Otherwise he would have taught you the definition of unstoppable!”
“Ugh…that guy’s voice is almost as painful as his strength,” groaned Marvel Girl.
Up above, Professor Xavier watched helplessly as his students struggled valiantly against his enraged nephew. They were throwing everything they could at Juggernaut and it wasn’t even close to being enough. He was invulnerable and his X-men clearly were not. Their bodies had limits and they weren’t even given a chance to test them.
Angel was more enraged than worried. His job was to protect the Professor, but he could not stay out of the fight while his friends suffered. He didn’t have firepower or enhanced strength. What he lacked in attack though he made up for with guts.
“That son-of-a-bitch!” seethed Angel.
“My students…” dreaded Xavier as Angel flew him up towards the jet.
“Take five, Professor! I’m getting you to the jet and then I’m going after Jug-head down there!”
“Warren don’t! He’s too strong!”
“What else do you expect me to do? Run?!” scoffed Angel as he reached the X-jet, “This man is destroying everything we’ve fought for! I’d rather be overmatched than run away in defeat!”
It was one part brave and five parts foolish. Angel didn’t give the Professor a chance to talk him out of it. As soon as they reached the jet, he set him down inside the open hatch near the rear. Then he flexed his wings and set his sights on the overpowered figure down below. He boldly soared towards him at high speeds, leaving Xavier behind to watch helplessly as his students threw themselves at this unstoppable force.
‘They’re not going to stop. I…I trained them too well. They’ll keep fighting until Cain slays them. I cannot allow that to happen! But what more can I do?!’
The world’s most powerful telepath remained a distant observant while Angel zeroed in on Juggernaut with determined anger in his eyes. He hadn’t stopped gloating and the rest of the X-men hadn’t yet recovered. He seemed ready to deliver the final blow.
“You punks are annoying me!” he scoffed, “I could spend all afternoon tormenting you in any number of ways, but I’d much rather be tormenting my uncle. So since I’m in such a giving mood, I’ll make this quick and painless!”
Juggernaut flexed his muscles and grabbed two nearby cars. By now Cyclops and Iceman had reached Beast and Marvel Girl. They were right within his sights and he was poised to hit them with one last punishing blow. That’s when Angel came flying in, entering right into his line of sight.
“We’re not done yet, Juggernaut!” proclaimed the winged mutant as he came in at high speeds.
He was right in line to collide with the imposing figure, but at the last moment he pulled up. In the process he roughly flapped his wings, kicking up a large cloud of dust and debris that blinded and disoriented the powerful figure.
“Go ahead! Take a nice deep whiff of New York City air!” Angel taunted.
“Ack! What are you trying to do? Make me sneeze myself to death?!” grunted Juggernaut.
“It’s a start!” he grinned.
While Juggernaut was disoriented, Angel did a quick U-turn in mid-air and flew in for another attack. He tried going for the eyes again, just as Beast had done earlier. This time when he flew in he led with his feet and tried to kick him in the eye holes or at in the mouth area. He missed the first few times because Juggernaut kept thrashing about, trying to use the cars to swat him out of the sky. He grazed him at one point, but not nearly enough to take him down. Angel made several more passes, coming within inches of his target.
“Ha! You think you can win like this, bird boy?” taunted Juggernaut.
“I’m still breathing, aren’t I? I must be doing something right!” he reminded him.
Angel kept up this tactic for a good few minutes, further infuriating Juggernaut while allowing Cyclops, Beast, Marvel Girl, and Iceman to get back into position. He was running out of chances so he tried to make one last bold attack. This time he went straight for the mouth. He flew in much faster and harder, looking to land a punishing blow to at least stun this monstrosity of a man. Juggernaut turned his head at the last second, causing Angel to miss his eyes. But he ended up hitting something else instead. His foot impacted right on a small square-shaped latch on the back of his helmet. As soon as he struck it, a strange series of sparks shot out from the latch. They were the same color as the energy aura that had been making this man so unstoppable. As soon as they shot out, something strange happened that surprised even Makro.
“Ahh! The hell?!” he exclaimed, dropping the two cars he was holding and swiping at Angel.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Angel, equally shocked by the sparks and stumbling over as a result of his momentum.
Up in the X-jet, Professor Xavier sensed it too. For a brief instant he was able to sense his nephews mind, something he had not been able to do since he showed up. He assumed that had something to do with this Cyttorak power he had absorbed. That didn’t seem to be the case anymore. By hitting those latches, whatever was keeping his mind out had faltered. It led him to a significant conclusion that could very well change the course of this battle.
“His mind…the helmet!” exclaimed the Professor, “That’s it! That’s what’s been shielding his mind!”
Ignoring the limitations of his paralyzed legs, Xavier frantically crawled back into the X-jet and towards the cockpit. Along the way, he delivered a telepathic message to his students below.
‘X-men! I believe I just figured out a way to defeat Juggernaut!’
Down below, Cyclops and the others got the message and were suddenly re-energized with the promise of a plan.
‘We’re all ears, Professor! Or minds I guess! Tell us something that’ll make my head stop throbbing!’
‘It’s the helmet! Just as Magneto uses a helmet to guard his mind against my psychic probes, Juggernaut has one as well! When Angel hit that latch, he disrupted some kind of mystical safeguard from psychic intrusion. If you take out the latches and remove the helmet, I should be able to finish this with a telepathic attack!’
‘I count four latches including the one that Angel took care of. Shouldn’t be too hard!’
‘Be careful, X-men! If Cain knows he’s vulnerable, he’s going to get more desperate!’
‘We can handle it, sir! This is what the X-men do!’
With renewed confidence and a clearer plan, Cyclops led Marvel Girl, Beast, and Iceman through the maze of cars towards where Angel had landed. He had just picked himself up as well, looking to begin another attack. This time he had the full force of the X-men behind him.
“You guys heard the Professor! The unstoppable isn’t invulnerable!” announced Cyclops.
“Tango with a super-strong, hot-headed madman long enough to get that helmet off…sounds like a pretty simple strategy!” said Iceman, wincing as he talked.
“Your ribs still bothering you, Iceman?” asked Beast.
“Just when I breathe! I can always rest during class!”
“We can deal with injuries later! Let’s do this!” said Marvel girl, wiping the dirt and blood from her face.
“The cameras running and the world watching…I say it’s show time!” grinned Angel.
Their training once again kicked in and the X-men attacked. While they were getting into position, Juggernaut was still struggling to make sense of what was going on. He kept trying to reach the latch that Angel hit. He could sense through the power he wielded that this was not good.
“Damn it! How the hell do you work this thing?!” he grunted in frustration.
“Hey Juggernaut! Need a hand?” taunted Marvel Girl.
The young psychic delivered the first blow, forming a fresh wave of telekinetic force and sending directly towards the struggling figure like a speeding freight train. Since he was too caught up in trying to fix the latch, Juggernaut was unable to stand his ground like he had earlier and was slammed to the ground so that he was flat on his back.
Once in this prone position, Beast made his move. He skillfully leapt across the roof of abandoned cars, pulling off various acrobatic feats in the process. Once he was within range of Juggernaut, he jumped up with all his might and timed his fall perfectly so that he landed right on the overpowered man’s helmet.
“Perhaps you should invest in a less cumbersome type of magic next time!” he said before pounding his gorilla-like fist into the front-right latch.
“Ack!” grunted Juggernaut as another round of sparks erupted from the latch, “You freaks are really pushing it!”
Cain Marko shot up angrily, shoving Beast right off him. The nimble mutant tumbled a bit through the air, but managed to land near some of the mangled cars that were decimated earlier. He managed to stay on his feet. He needed to because now Juggernaut set his murderous sights on him and looked prepared for a full-powered charge. He ended up only taking a few steps before the next attack came.
“Now Iceman! Let us push this monstrosity a bit further!” announced Beast.
Off to his left, the still only half-covered Iceman stepped up and clenched his fists.
“This is for my ribcage!” he announced.
The young mutant concentrated his power as best his sore body would allow him. A punishing beam of ice shot out, engulfing the unstoppable force completely. Within seconds, a thick layer of ice engulfed Juggernaut from the chest down. His charge was effectively halted. This allowed Angel another shot at the helmet.
“You’re up, Angel! Go ahead and do the honors!” ordered Cyclops.
“Strikes two and three coming right up!” said the winged mutant confidently.
Angel took to the air again and soared towards Juggernaut at full speed. The ice was already starting to crack. He wasn’t going to hold him for long. They didn’t need it to. Juggernaut just needed to stay immobilized long enough so that he could take out the last two latches. He landed on his helmet with little danger compared to last time. Clenching both fists, Angel slammed down upon the back left latch. Another round of pinkish sparks erupted. Now there was only one latch left.
Angel had the final target in sight, but Juggernaut wouldn’t let him land that final blow. Seething with growing frustration, a new wave of the pinkish energy engulfed him and he felt a burst of new strength. It allowed him to break his ice shell and fight back.
“ERRRRRRR! FUCKING BUZZARDS!” roared Juggernaut, using his large hands to roughly swat Angel away.
“AUGH!” he exclaimed as he went flying through the air and crashed through the window of a nearby store.
“Angel!” exclaimed Beast.
“Iceman, you need to hit him again!” yelled Cyclops.
“OH NO YOU DON’T!”
Fueled by this new anger and strength, Juggernaut slammed both fists onto the ground and caused a powerful tremor that went straight towards Iceman. He tried to form an ice slide to get out of the way. His lingering injuries and only half-bodied ice shell made that impossible. His only option was to brace himself as the ground beneath his feet cracked and he stumbled into a pile of rubble.
“Ungh!” he cried out.
“Iceman!” Beast exclaimed.
He quickly ran over to his student’s aid. Juggernaut struck again with another fist to the ground, forcing a second round of tremors. Beast braved the coming onslaught, weaving through the cars and debris to reach Iceman just before it hit. Taking the wounded boy in his arms, he shielded him with his body and leapt up with all his might to avoid the attack. He was still caught by seismic wave and went tumbling through the air, landing roughly atop a nearby taxi cab.
“Hnn…that is going to require some substantial bandaging,” groaned Beast.
“Speak for yourself. I’m going to need a full body cast,” said a very woozy Iceman.
With two more X-men out of his way, Juggernaut set his sights on Cyclops and Marvel Girl. He didn’t hesitate or even try to aim. He just slammed his fists on the ground again, triggering another shockwave that turned paved streets into a treacherous onslaught.
“We have to move!” yelled the X-leader.
“Cyclops, get behind me!” exclaimed Marvel Girl.
The young psychic was already drained from her earlier psychic feats. She still managed to muster enough telekinetic strength to put up a tough enough barrier to guard her and her teammate from the onslaught. When it struck, it was weak and slow enough for them to jump out of the way. They landed roughly behind a toppled-over van. Knowing that Juggernaut wasn’t going to wait long before launching his next attack, the two X-men put together a plan.
“We need to end this! He’s not going to let us get close again! I’ll have to hit that final latch from a distance!” said Cyclops.
“Not to question your aim, but can you really hit it when the man is throwing a full-blown tantrum?” questioned Marvel Girl.
“I can if you hold him in place! I know your mind must be tired and I wouldn’t ask you to push yourself again if I didn’t know I could make it!”
“You don’t have to. I trust you,” she said strongly, “I’m just making sure you know that.”
There was a brief pause as the two X-men shared a meaningful glance. In each others’ eyes they saw a complete and implicit trust. It was the kind of trust that went a long way if not beyond this battle. There wasn’t much else that needed to be said. A simple nod was all the assurance they needed.
“Let’s end this!” said the X-leader boldly.
“I’m ready if you’re ready, Slim!” said Marvel Girl with a confident grin.
“You know it, Red!”
Their plan of attack was ready and not a moment too soon. Juggernaut had re-energized and was preparing for another ground-pounding attack. This time when he slammed his fists, Cyclops and Marvel Girl were already moving out of the way. This was one of Juggernaut’s strongest attacks yet. It caused a huge rip in the streets that went so deep it revealed the sewer lines below. It was a close call, but the two X-men managed to get clear of the damage and set themselves up atop a couple of cars.
Cyclops adjusted his visor again, making sure it was on the most accurate possible setting. Marvel Girl took to the air on a fresh wave of telekinesis. She had to ignore a mind that was throbbing with strain. She was going to have to push herself one last time.
“Hey Juggernaut! Bet you can’t manage one more of those!” she taunted.
“Doll face, I could go for days!” quipped Marko as he raised his fists again, “You want another shot? I’ll sink this whole damn island if I have to!”
“Not before you get a quick lesson in the dangers of an overgrown ego!”
Once his fists were over his head, Marvel Girl made her move. She summoned forth all that was left of her telekinetic power and focused it around Juggernaut’s wrists, binding them as if they were restrained with super-strong handcuffs. His sudden inability to move threw the powerful figure off balance and left him completely vulnerable for a split second. That was all the time he needed.
“What the?! You little…” he began.
“Hold that thought!” said Cyclops as he took aim.
A single concentrated shot was unleashed from the X-leader’s eyes. It was narrow and focused, heading straight for the final latch. There was no room for Juggernaut to evade. His hands were literally tied due to Marvel Girl’s telekinesis. He could only watch as the beam hit the final latch, shorting it out in another burst of pink energy. Since this was the final latch, it didn’t stop there.
As soon as the sparks faded there was a powerful burst from under the helmet. Like a cork from a bottle, it blew right off his head. Now the entire face of Can Marko was exposed. His head was just as muscled as the rest of his body with bulging veins throbbing in and around his neck and face. He was still enraged, but now he knew he was vulnerable. For the first time in this fight the unstoppable didn’t look so unstoppable.
“Whoa…and I thought steroids were bad for you,” commented Marvel Girl.
“YOU LITTLE MAGGOTS! I’VE HAD IT WITH YOU!” exclaimed Juggernaut.
The powerful man flexed his muscles again and broke free from Marvel Girl’s telekinetic hold. This caused the young psychic another round of pain, causing her to cry out and loose her balance.
“Ahhhh!” she exclaimed.
“I’ve got you!” said Cyclops, catching her before she fell.
Now with no telekinetic protection, Juggernaut was free to attack.
“NOW YOU’RE DEAD, X-MEN!”
‘No Cain…this madness stops NOW!’
Cain Marko knew that feeling well. He knew it and he dreaded it even with all his strength. It was the unmistakable telepathic voice of his uncle. He was now free to attack his mind, the one part of his body that wasn’t invulnerable. Not only that, his Uncle Charles was throwing in another kind of attack for good measure.
Juggernaut looked up to see the roaring X-jet re-appear from its invisible stealth mode. It was already moving fast, descending towards the street below in a downward arc with the nose of the aircraft pointed right at him. The unstoppable man had only a split second to brace himself. It turned out to be a split second too long because the nose of the jet dug right into the ground just a few feet in front of him. As soon as it did this, it literally plowed him into a pile of rubble. The jet tore through the street a good ten or twelve feet before coming to a stop. As it did, Cyclops and the rest of the X-men used it as cover to get out of Juggernaut’s sights and allow their mentor to deliver the final blow.
“Ungh…Charles! You dare…break your promise…again?!” grunted Juggernaut.
‘You leave me no choice, my nephew. You’ve decided your path and so have I.’
From the front of the X-jet, a special opening emerged. A small ramp extended from the cockpit to the ground. From this ramp, Charles Xavier wheeled down in a spare wheel-chair he always kept in the X-jet. Once he was on the surface below, he fearlessly gazed into the eyes of his deranged nephew and unleashed a telepathic onslaught the likes of which was only possible through the world’s most powerful telepath.
“No…Uncle Charles….I will make you pay for…AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
Juggernaut’s pained cries echoed all throughout the city as his mind was decimated by Charles Xavier. He tried to get up and fight back. Even with all his strength, he only made it a few steps. His face contorted with pain and rage. His sights were still set solely on Charles, the man he wanted to make suffer more than anyone. It seemed fitting that he would be the last person he saw. Before he passed out, he reached out to his saddened uncle in one last desperate effort. He never got that far. His massive form went limp and he passed out amidst the bloody ruins of Time Square.
When it was all said and done, the mangled city streets fell silent. It was an unceremonious end to a very bloody day. The damage had been done. Even though the destruction was over, it did not feel like a victory for Charles Xavier and the X-men
“I’m sorry, Cain. I truly am,” said Professor Xavier sadly, “I wish it didn’t have to be this way. Perhaps I could have done something different, but it’s too late now. I accept responsibility. Even with this new power clouding your judgment, I hope you can too one day.”
Cain didn’t hear those words. Charles didn’t expect him to. They were a more a confession of his own transgressions. As horrible as Cain’s massacre was, part of it was because of his actions or lack thereof. The terrible destruction he had wrought could not be undone. It was sure to mean drastic changes for a world he had fought so hard to protect.
While Charles Xavier was lamenting over the deeds of his nephew, the other X-men emerged from behind the jet. Marvel Girl was leaning on Cyclops for support as they gingerly met up with their mentor. Beast and Iceman followed closely behind with Iceman needing support as well, having almost fully de-iced and struggling to breathe due to his injured ribs. The only one still recovering was Angel, who was still picking himself up in the store Juggernaut threw him into. His recovery would have to wait though. Charles and his X-men had ended one mission, but another far more pressing concern now awaited them.
“Is it over? Please tell me it’s over,” said Iceman, wincing as he spoke.
“For Cain Marko, it is,” answered the Professor, “I’ve subdued him telepathically in a way that will keep him unconscious for the next twelve hours.”
“What about for us?” asked Beast, “The damage has been done. Cain has slain so many innocent people and the whole affair was caught live on national TV.”
“His little announcement about this being a mutant attack sure won’t help either,” dreaded Marvel Girl, “Somehow I don’t think us just saying he’s a liar is going to tide people over.”
“It most certainly won’t,” affirmed Xavier.
“Now I get what you said earlier about the changing nature of our mission and having to change our approach,” said Cyclops, “I don’t see how heroics will be enough this time.”
“Even if that is the case, the question remains…what do we do in response to this carnage?” asked Beast.
The scope of this challenge was daunting. Looking around at the destruction wrought by Juggernaut, the state of mutant kind was in a precarious position. So much death and destruction was going to be associated with mutants. There was no way around it. Even if it was proven that Juggernaut’s powers were magical, he carried this out as a mutant attack. That was going to resonate in the minds of many. Unless they did something drastic, this day would mark the beginning of a much bloodier conflict between humans and mutants.
While the X-men pondered the tragedy that faced them, a lone figure emerged from the decimated city square. Louise Spalding, the reporter from the New York Times who braved the destruction for a first-hand account, emerged from her hiding place in the alley with her camera still in hand. She had witnessed the fight close up from start to finish. She had only heard bits and pieces of what was said, but since she was the only reporter present she had a rare opportunity to get the first real scoop in what was sure to be a historic day in news.
Having recognized the X-men from their various exploits, Louise braved the damage to get in closer. She had to avoid overturned cars and huge ruptures in the street. She recognized the X-men from their many newsworthy heroics, but right now they didn’t very heroic. They looked battered, bruised, and demoralized. There was clearly more story here than the destruction and she was determined to be the first to get it.
“X-men! Over here!” she called out as she ran up to them with her camera still on, “Louise Spalding, New York Times! Please…a minute of your time!”
Professor Xavier and his X-men turned towards the woman as she approached. The announcement that she was a reporter did not lift their spirits.
“Oh great…the media frenzy begins,” groaned Iceman.
“There are news choppers everywhere. Within twenty minutes there will be news vans and reporters choking every street surrounding this area,” she said, now standing within several feet of them, “All I’m asking is for the first word. Tell us what happened here! Who are you and what is this all about?”
“Miss, I appreciate your bravery and your curiosity, but I’m afraid we’re in no position to…” but Beast was abruptly cut off by Charles Xavier.
“Wait…Miss Spalding, is that camera uplinked to live feed?” asked Professor Xavier.
“Sir, what are you doing?” asked a confused Cyclops.
Despite this apparent disagreement, Louise answered.
“Um…I can patch into our affiliate’s network feed, why?” she asked.
“I need you to broadcast this to the world. The X-men have something to say.”
The ambitious reporter didn’t ask any further questions. As far as she was concerned, she was about to get the biggest scoop of her life. She went to work using the networking abilities of her camera to uplink to their affiliate, which included one of the many helicopters hovering overhead. This was going to be a news event to remember.
While Louise Spalding was working, Professor Xavier turned to his X-men. They were all looking at him with bewildered faces. They had no idea what he was doing. He may not have had a complete understanding of what he was doing either. These were desperate times within a fearful and traumatized public. If they were to have any hope of salvaging peace, they had to make a few desperate moves of their own.
“Professor…” began Marvel Girl.
“It’s time we stop hiding, X-men. The world needs to know who we are. That means no more masks…no more hiding. We need to be both heroes and mutants,” he said strongly.
“No more masks?!” exclaimed Iceman, “But…”
“We don’t have time to debate this. In a few moments this story is going to go out to every corner of the planet. Fear and hatred of mutants is going to surge. Our work is going to become far more difficult. As such, we cannot keep conducting ourselves in the same way. We have to sacrifice something if we’re to gain anything. I’m ready to make that sacrifice, but only if you stand with me.”
It was a scary notion, removing their masks and telling the world who they were. Their anonymity would be gone. There would be no more sanctuary. That sliver of normalcy they had when they weren’t in costume would be gone forever. They would be X-men both in and out of uniform. Their lives would never be the same. Their world and how they strived to make a difference would change. Looking around at each other and then back at their mentor, the choice became clear.
“We’re with you, Professor,” said Cyclops strongly.
“I second that,” said Marvel Girl with a weak smile, “These masks were getting cumbersome anyways.”
“Ooh my parents are going to hate this,” groaned the still pained Iceman.
“Take comfort in the knowledge that it’s going to be much harder for us,” said Beast, “But as the song goes, the times are a changing.”
It seemed like a done deal. The X-men were ready to face the world. There was only one notable absence. Angel was still standing in the ruins of the shop. He was on his feet and ready to join his friends. However, Professor Charles Xavier dissuaded him.
‘You guys are really going to do it, aren’t you? Hold on! I’m unmasking too!’
‘No Warren. I need you to stay out of this.’
‘What?! But Professor, I’m part of the team! I’m not letting you do this alone!’
‘You have far more to lose than the rest of us, my boy. Think of your family and the backlash it would cause to you and everything they’ve built.’
‘I could care less about my family or Worthington Industries! My dad will learn to deal with it!’
‘I’m sorry, Warren. But I cannot allow you to pay that price. I made your father a promise when he first brought you to me. I said I would keep your mutant status a secret to the world. I’ve already broken enough promises today. Please don’t make me break another.’
Angel froze where he stood, conflicted about what to do next. Every part of his being wanted to stand with his friends and face the world. Only Professor Xavier’s psychic coaxing was holding him back. It would have been the perfect way to get back at his father. For years he had been living under his scrutiny, always making sure he didn’t do anything to hurt the family name. It may not have bothered him, but Charles Xavier wasn’t going to let him make a potentially dumb decision that would come back to haunt him. Whether it was his wisdom or the trust he had in the man, Warren Worthington III stayed put and watched from a distance as his teammates faced the world.
The news helicopters flew in lower. Louise Spalding made a few more adjustments to her camera before sending a quick text message with her phone. She was just about ready. The biggest broadcast of her career was upon her.
“Okay X-men, I’ve got us linked up to all the major broadcasting networks through an affiliate with the Times,” she announced, “We’re officially live!”
“So…the world is literally watching us,” said a still dazed Iceman.
“Yes! You’re officially on!”
There was a brief pause. It wasn’t every day just a handful of individuals were the center of every major news broadcast in the world. After everything that transpired with Juggernaut, the moment seemed appropriate. Professor Xavier looked up at his X-men and then into the camera.
“Greetings,” he said to the world, “My name is Professor Charles Xavier. I am a mutant and these gifted youngsters you see behind me are the X-men. You know them as the masked heroes who use their extraordinary abilities to make a positive difference in the world. Today, they have once again put their lives on the line to stop a devastating attack. However, this time we do not wish to carry out such deeds as heroes. We are mutants, like so many others. In wake of this terrible day we wish to confront this tragedy with our real faces and names.”
With that announcement, Professor Xavier turned it over to his students. Despite their injuries and disheveled states, they boldly looked into the cameras and removed their masks to reveal their human faces to the world.
“My name is Scott Summers. I’m 20 years old, I’m from Alaska, and I’m a mutant,” said Cyclops.
“My name is Jean Grey. I’m 19 years old, I’m from New Jersey, and I’m a mutant,” said Marvel Girl.
“My name is Robert Drake…or Bobby I guess. I’m 16 years old, I’m from South Boston, and I’m a mutant.”
“My name is Henry McCoy. I am 26 years old, I’m from a beautiful community in Livermore, California and I am a mutant,” said Beast.
There was a strange sense of liberation. All this time they had been hiding behind masks. Now they were exposed to the world, not as heroes but as real people. It was a strange yet comforting feeling. There was no telling if there was outrage or understanding within those watching this broadcast. That was another challenge altogether and one they were going to face, this time without masks.
Smiling proudly at his students, Professor Charles Xavier stood ready to support his X-men every step of the way. He could sense anxiety in them. There was sure to be plenty of anxiety to go around after an event like this. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another. With or without the masks, the X-men were going to be part of it.
“Professor Xavier…” said Louise Spalding from behind the camera, “Could you please tell us what happened here?”
“I’ll tell you everything,” he replied strongly, “I understand there is going to be a great deal of outrage and fear. We are ready to confront it in the name of peace. With that goal in mind, it seems fitting to begin with the complete and honest truth…”
Every major event in history was inevitably followed by a period of recovery and reflection. Even events that triggered all out wars needed to be processed. Erik Lensherr, a man who was no stranger to war, understood this better than anyone. So he wasn’t too surprised to see the cleanup of Times Square begin quickly after Juggernaut’s rampage.
Charles Xavier and his X-men were still on the scene, surrounded by reporters and news cameras. While they were introducing themselves without masks to the world, they assisted in hauling the unconscious Juggernaut away. The X-men’s other instructor, John Proudstar, even showed up with a few old friends from his military days to help out. The authorities coordinated with the X-men to get him into a transport helicopter that would take him to a secure military base where he could be contained.
The biggest story remained the destruction and the death toll of Juggernaut’s attack. There were a lot of tragic scenes for the news cameras to cover. They had most certainly evoked outrage from viewers all over the world. There were even some protests breaking out along the path of destruction. However, they weren’t all out riots by a long shot. Much of this event was being turned into a tragedy rather than an attack. The X-men were putting a human face on the conflict while explaining all the facts they knew about Juggernaut and the human/mutant conflict. They certainly didn’t come off as heroes anymore. They carried themselves much differently. It seemed they had completely changed their ways to make way for a much more complicated world.
“I don’t get it. Juggernaut went on a total rampage and the X-men haven’t even been arrested!” said an outraged Pietro Maximoff.
“You were hoping for too much, Pietro. You really didn’t expect for Charles and his X-men to let it get that bad, did you?” said Magneto.
“I thought that was the point! We turn Juggernaut loose, Xavier takes the blame, and the X-men fall apart. That was the plan, was it?”
“Honestly Pietro, did you actually listen to the plan? Or can your nanosecond attention span not handle it?” said his very annoyed twin sister, Wanda.
“I’m sorry. I was under the impression that this was supposed to get Xavier out of our way! Am I so wrong for thinking this wasn’t a bit more ambitious than making them ditch those goofy masks?” said Pietro dryly.
Pietro and Wanda shot each other their usual spiteful gazes. Magneto remained focused on the scene below. Ever since this affair unfolded, they had been watching from afar on nearby rooftops. They kept their distance so as to stay out of sight from news cameras. It was their way of monitoring this plan and watching it unfold. Magneto wasn’t completely satisfied with how it came together. He wasn’t disappointed either.
“I admit, I was hoping for a bit more backlash against Xavier and his X-men,” said the master of magnetism, “But the core of this plan was never to destroy him. Charles Xavier is too resilient a man. I never expected Juggernaut to subdue him. If he had, that would have just been a tragic surprise.”
“So does that mean we still succeeded?” asked Wanda.
“We certainly didn’t fail,” Magneto pointed out, “What I wanted to accomplish with this ploy was to reshape the nature of the human/mutant conflict. Charles and his X-men were making too much headway, using their heroics to stem the path to war. Now that path is back on track, although not as firmly as I would have liked.”
“Maybe getting Mystique to send that reporter out into the field did more harm than good,” muttered Pietro.
“I doubt that would have made a difference. Charles would have still found a way. He always finds a way. We’ve just made it much harder for him and much easier for us. Now that they cannot hide behind masks, they’ll be forced to face the world as mutants rather than heroes. With deadly affairs like this now engrained in human consciousness, the hate and fear within humanity will be much stronger. Sooner or later it will consume them. Hopefully before that happens, Charles will realize the futility of his efforts and join us.”
“And if he doesn’t?” questioned Wanda.
“Then that he’ll suffer the consequences. Like everyone and everything else that lays before us, he won’t stand in our way,” said Magneto with ominous intent.
The master of magnetism narrowed his gaze on the events unfolding below. Mutant kind had taken another vital step on this day. Charles Xavier had a new host of challenges before him and so did he. The future wasn’t big enough for both their visions. The X-men were sure to work harder than ever to see theirs through. Magneto was prepared to work just as hard, ready to forge a new path for the future of humans and mutants alike.
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