Professor Charles Xavier, founder and headmaster of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, aspires for peace and understanding between humans and mutants. Together with his mutant team, the X-men, he fights for these goals in a world that hates and fears them.
But lately, these goals have encountered numerous obstacles. First, the X-men endured a crushing defeat at the hands of the Brotherhood in Detroit when trying to recruit a rebellious young mutant named Lance Alvers. Then they endured another harsh ordeal at the hands of Weapon X, who sought to turn them into living weapons. Through each of these encounters their old nemesis Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants have promised more conflict. But the X-men remained determined to fight them.
It hasn’t been all bad. Recently, the X-men were able to thwart the Brotherhood’s plans to cause further conflict at a concert staring an emerging mutant singer named Dazzler. Their actions helped counter growing anti-mutant sentiment. But they still have a long ways to go and Magneto has no intentions of letting up.
Magneto was not in a good mood to say the least. After a series of apparent triumphs, his Brotherhood endured a humiliating blow with the Dazzler debacle. He sent his Brotherhood on a mission that would put them front and center before the eyes of millions and they made fools of themselves. And to make matters worse, they made the X-men look like heroes. It was not the way he envisioned his plans developing. They were still on track, but their failure added a new layer of complications.
After their defeat, the authorities in Atlanta arrested the Brotherhood on a myriad of charges. The X-men helped keep them docile while they were processed like common criminals. Magneto could have easily come to their aid, but he chose to let them languish in police custody as punishment. They deserved to feel the shame. Eventually he did get them out, but he made his dissatisfaction clear. Pietro tried to cast the blame on Lance’s leadership skills, but Magneto made it clear they were all to blame. He also made it clear he would not tolerate such failure in the future as his plans took shape.
In the days that followed the incident Magneto and his Brotherhood regrouped. He forced more training on his young recruits while he contemplated a new strategy with Mystique. The Dazzler mission wasn’t just about stoking the flames of human/mutant conflict. It had a pragmatic objective. Now they were going to have to achieve it in a new way.
“How long are you going to make them run these drills, Erik?” asked Mystique as she and Magneto watched from an elevated platform as the Brotherhood train.
“I’ve yet to decide,” he said bitterly, “They will keep training until I’m convinced they won’t fail again like they did in Atlanta.”
“At the rate they’re going I imagine that may be a while,” smirked the shape shifter.
“Then they had best step up their efforts!” said the master of magnetism intently, “At this stage in our endeavor we cannot afford another failure.”
Magneto scowled down upon his Brotherhood as they struggled with the drills they were given. The ones they were doing now involved lifting heavy crates full of equipment and unpacking them one-by-one. For this they were forbidden to use their powers to aid them. It wasn’t so much a drill as it was a punishment.
“So how bad is the fallout from the Dazzler affair?” asked Mystique.
“Bad enough,” replied Magneto, “That mission was supposed to galvanize humans against mutants and rally mutants to our cause. That way we would have all the manpower we need for the final and most crucial part of my plan. Now we’ll have to find other means of getting more mutants on our side.”
“Why not just stage another event as you put it? It shouldn’t take much to turn human sentiment back against mutants.”
“That’s not what concerns me at this point. Right now we need to focus all our resources on mutants, not humans. And this equipment the Brotherhood is so generously unloading for us will help with that.”
“But that can’t be all, can it?” surmised Mystique, “I’m sure you have another plan for getting the word out.”
Magneto turned to his shape shifting ally and smiled. She had been working with him long enough to realize that he always found a way to improvises.
“You know me well, Mystique,” he told her, “Since the Brotherhood is still enduring their punishment, I’m going to trust you to take care of this.”
“I figured as such,” she said as she looked callously at the laboring Brotherhood, “What do you need me to do?”
Magneto turned away and started walking back towards the transport bay where all the transport orbs were stored. Mystique followed close behind, having had enough of watching the Brotherhood drone on about their misfortune.
“I’ll be sending you into the mutant underground so-to-speak,” he said as he activated one of his transport orbs, “You’re going to deliver the message Pietro failed to deliver himself, only you’re going to do it more directly.”
“Sounds easy enough,” said Mystique with an ominous grin, “I always favored a more personal touch anyways.”
“We may not get as many supports as we would have from the Dazzler mission, but we’ll get the forces we need,” Magneto went on as he programmed the orb, “I’m sending you to a number of secretive mutant communities. Use whatever means you can to spread the word. Try not to attract the attention of the X-men. And most importantly, don’t make the same mistakes as your subordinates.”
“No need to remind me of that, Magneto,” said the shape shifter confidently, “You of all people should know how good I am at getting my point across.”
“I’m inclined to remind you of Rogue, but I’ll take your word for it. I’ll send you more detailed instructions via radio. Just get the job done and get it done fast. Time is running out. We’ll be making our move very soon.”
Magneto’s tone was stern if not threatening. He could not understate how important this part of the plan was. Mystique understood as she got into the transport orb. This plan had already taken many turns. They failed to bring Xavier under their wing with the Weapon X plan and they failed to rally their supporters with the Dazzler plan. But they were too far into it to pull back now. Too many pieces were in place. They just had to make sure it all came together in the end.
Xavier’s Office – Two Weeks Later
It should have been a good time for Professor Charles Xavier. In wake of the Dazzler incident, he and his institute received some much needed good press. The deeds of the X-men that were captured live on TV for all to see resonated well with the public. While there was still plenty of anti-mutant rhetoric, more people were coming forward to contest them. It was a positive development for the most part. It didn’t improve the strife many mutants were facing, but it did help their image. Despite this positive turn of events, there were still plenty of reasons for Charles Xavier to be wary.
Aside from the affair itself, he was most concerned with what the Brotherhood attempted. Their actions were much bolder this time. They didn’t just disrupt that concert to cause more human/mutant tension. They had far loftier goals. He was sure of it. What stood out most to him was the speech Pietro gave after the Brotherhood took control of the stage. He was out to deliver a message to humans and mutants alike and he couldn’t help but worry what that message might entail.
For the last two hours, Xavier watched and re-watched recordings of the event. He scrutinized every word and every subtle action of the Brotherhood, looking for clues to their true intention. So far it wasn’t revealing much, but Magneto was up to something and he was determined to find out more.
“How many more times are you going to watch this, Professor?” asked Jean, who was with him in his office, “I know we’re supposed to be attentive to details, but this is pushing it.”
“I can’t afford to stop now, Jean. I must find out what Magneto and the Brotherhood are up to,” said the Professor intently.
“Nobody will argue with that, but I don’t think there’s much left to uncover.”
“I’d like to believe that, but I can’t help but feel there was more to this elaborate endeavor,” said Xavier critically, “Magneto wouldn’t just send the Brotherhood to disrupt a concert for the fun of it. There had to be an ulterior purpose.”
“Since when does their purpose change? Magneto wants to provoke a human/mutant war. Crashing a concert on live TV sure seems like a good way to start one,” shrugged Jean.
“It would be a start, but nowhere on the scale he desires. He’ll never be satisfied until every last human is at war with every last mutant. And suspect this was a prelude of sorts. I’m just trying to ascertain what it could lead to.”
Xavier stopped the tape at the end of Pietro’s speech again. Just before the microphone was knocked out of his hand by Cyclops, he seemed to be addressing mutants. He was encouraging them to join the Brotherhood and was about to give them instructions on doing so. But he was cut off, leaving a vital piece of the puzzle missing. The Professor kept trying to fill in the blanks, but was only met with frustration at every turn.
“We’ll figure it out, Professor,” said Jean, giving her mentor a comforting gesture, “One way or another, we’ll uncover the Brotherhood’s plot and stop them dead in their tracks.”
“I hope you’re right, Jean,” sighed Xavier, “I just pray it isn’t too late. I’ve been getting reports from Cerebro that there’s been a lot of upheaval in mutant circles.”
“What kind of upheaval?” asked Jean curiously.
“I’m not sure, but there seems to be a great deal of anticipation and resentment. I suspect Magneto is behind it.”
“How do you know?
“Because it fits his tactics,” he said, “It’s just like when we used to play chess together. He would always make sure his pieces are just where he wants them before he makes his attack. It’s a technique that often wins with.”
“But we won’t let it get that far, will we?” said Jean.
“Not if the X-men have anything to say about it.”
His words were strong and reassuring. They had faced Magneto before and beaten him on numerous occasions. But with every defeat, he grew bolder and the X-men had to fight harder. It seemed to be getting to a point where there was only so much further they could go. Something had to give and if Magneto won out, then everybody lost.
It was still a point of sorrow for Charles Xavier. As bitter as his rivalry was with Magneto, there was no escaping the friendship they once had. On some levels they still respected one another. But his old friend had long since given into bitterness and hate. After what happened to him all those years ago, he couldn’t blame him. He wondered if he would ever be able to move past it. Only time would tell. By then it may be too late.
Jean managed a reassuring smile for her mentor.
“We’ll do our part, Professor. That’s all we can do,” she said, “Just let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
“You’ve done plenty my dear,” said Xavier, “But do remember to take some time for yourself every once and a while. I notice you’ve been working overtime in the classroom as well as the Danger Room lately. Is there any reason for that?”
“I’d just rather keep busy,” she shrugged, “Everybody has been a bit on edge.”
“Is that the only reason? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the recent development between Scott and Rogue, would it?”
Jean shifted uncomfortably, which more or less gave away the answer. Since the Dazzler incident, Scott and Rogue had become official. And while Jean didn’t speak up about it, that didn’t mean she wasn’t affected. It shouldn’t have bothered her, but it did. And she couldn’t stop dwelling on it. She tried to hide it, but that only went so far around the world’s greatest telepath.
“Am I projecting my thoughts that loudly?” said Jean sheepishly.
“Not too loudly, but let’s just say your shields are a bit shaky in some areas,” said Xavier with a half smile.
“Remind me to work on that,” she sighed, “But I guess it’s pointless to deny. It’s hard for me not to get worked up when something involves Scott. It happened when I started dating Logan. And now it’s happening again with Rogue. I just…I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about it.”
“Have you tried talking to him? Scott is still your friend, Jean. I’m sure he’ll listen.”
“He does. And we have talked. It’s just…complicated.”
She still seemed tense. The Professor offered her a comforting gesture, which seemed to help. He was tempted to further probe this matter, but this was a personal affair between his students and he had a strict policy about not getting too involved. It wasn’t always easy, especially when it involved relationships.
Scott and Jean were a special case. Having seen them grow up together, he sensed they shared a special bond. The extent of that bond was never clear, but they were both deeply involved in each others’ lives. And they had only gotten closer over the years. That’s why he was surprised when Jean started dating Logan and equally surprised when Scott got together with Rogue. But whatever the case, he was confident they would find a way to work it out.
“I see,” he told her, “Well if you want to talk about it, you know I’m here.”
“Thanks Professor. I’ll keep that in mind,” said Jean with a distant sigh, “But for now, you might want to stick to one daunting task at a time. Getting humans and mutants to live in peace is hard enough. Dealing with these issues is next to impossible.”
Xavier Institute – Foyer
Scott stood at the bottom of the staircase fixing his shirt for what felt like the hundredth time. This was a big night for him. He and Rogue were going on their first official date. Since the Dazzler ordeal where they first came together, it had been surreal. Things moved along quickly. Rogue was not one to beat around the bush. With ever-present prospect of her powers regressing to a point where the inhibitor collars wouldn’t help, she was bent on seizing the moment and Scott went along for the ride.
Scott still smiled whenever he thought about that first time they kissed. Rogue was unlike any girl he met before. She was rebellious and witty, yet had a good heart and a strong spirit. That said a lot about her, given that she was raised by Mystique. Having spent a lot of time with her when she initially arrived, he grew fond of her company. Now they had taken the next step. He still felt a bit of uncertainty. It had been a while since he dated anybody and Rogue was an intriguing woman. She pushed him in ways he hadn’t been pushed before and was eager to explore what they might be able to share.
It also might be good for him. He had been so hung up on Jean and Logan since they got together. He needed something to divert his attention. It wasn’t going to be easy. It seemed as though nothing he did could make him forget about Jean and his concerns for her. He had been trying without success to push it aside and accept it. Maybe Rogue could help him deal with this.
As he kept working on his shirt, trying to smooth out the wrinkles, Logan walked through the foyer from the kitchen carrying a beer.
“What’s with the getup, one-eye? That come out of your wardrobe or did you steal it from a bum?” he commented.
“So says the man who clothes so old even moths won’t eat them,” quipped Scott, “And for your information, I’m going out with Rogue.”
“Going out as in date or just wasting her time for a few hours?” said Logan dryly as he sipped his beer.
“It’s a date, Logan,” said Scott in annoyance, “Do I have to get you a dictionary?”
Logan just laughed and gulped down more of his beer. Aside from drinking and Jeannie, annoying Scott was his other favorite pastime. There was still a bitter grudge between them in how they functioned on the team and concerning Jean. But for once, he didn’t push the issue.
“What? No snide remark?” said Scott with a smirk.
“Nah, why bother? The way I see it, the more time you spend with Rogue the less time you have to bother me and Jeannie. I still see the way you look at her. And without mincin’ words it annoys the hell out of me. Face it, Summers. You had your chance and she’s with me now. Get over it. Take a shot with Rogue.”
“Are you actually trying to encourage me, Logan?”
“Call it whatever you want, bub. Just stick to your own thing so I don’t have so many urges to beat the shit out of you.”
Scott’s smirk widened even as Logan finished his beer and crunched the can with his fist. This wasn’t the first time Logan said something like this to him, but this was the first time he had been this blunt about it. It was kind of refreshing to see that he could get under Logan’s skin. But beyond that, it was telling he was getting so defensive about his relationship with Jean. That said to him more than he let on. So long as Logan was going to stick his nose in his personal affairs, he might as well do the same.
“Terminator 2,” said Scott as he went back to fixing his shirt.
“Huh?” said Logan incredulously.
“Terminator 2,” he repeated, “It’s Jean’s favorite movie. She knows every line of it by heart and she always gets a little emotional at the end. You’ve been dating her for a while now. Don’t tell me you didn’t know that.”
Logan was silent, a rare reaction for him. He shot the X-leader an annoyed look, which only made him smile more. He then took it a step further.
“Figures,” said Scott with a half-grin, “What about her favorite color? Her favorite TV show? Her favorite books? Her favorite flavor of ice cream? And those are just the little things. What about the bigger issues? Do you know about her parents? Do you know what she went through before she joined the Institute? Do you know about the other man she dated? Do you even know what she wanted to be when she was little?”
“You got a point to this, Summers?” growled Logan in annoyance.
“You just made it,” said Scott in a more serious tone, “Even though you’ve spent plenty of time around her, you don’t know the first thing about Jean Grey. All those things I just mentioned? I know them because I’ve grown up with her. I’ve opened up to her and she’s opened up to me. But you haven’t. In all the time you’ve been with her can you honestly tell me you knew the answer to any of those questions I just asked?”
“Does her bra size count?” he quipped.
“I’ll take that as a no,” said Scott, not fazed by his remark, “Make all the comments you want, but the fact remains. You really don’t know the first thing about Jean Grey. You know her personality, but not the person. That tells me one of two things.”
“Is one of them about you bein’ a prick?”
Scott paused for a moment and turned around so he could address Logan face-to-face. He clearly wasn’t going to take this seriously unless he showed how serious this was. He was sick of how he made light of his relationship with Jean. Even now as he was preparing to go out with Rogue, it didn’t sit right with him. And if Logan was too stubborn to realize it on his own, he was going to have to spell it out to him.
“It tells me you’re afraid,” said Scott strongly, “You, the big bad Wolverine, are afraid of opening up. You’ll let her in your head to help with your nightmares, but you won’t let her in your heart. And before you make a comment about that, think about it for a moment. Do you even understand the feelings you have for her?”
Logan’s expression hallowed. Scott touched on some sensitive issues. He didn’t let it show, but they did resonate and Scott wasn’t done yet.
“The second thing it tells me is a bit more complicated,” he went on, “If you aren’t letting her in and it’s completely lost on you, then that could only mean something is holding you back. Something is keeping you from making her more than just some beautiful woman you’re attracted to. I don’t know you well enough to know what it is. But even you should know there’s only so far you can go with somebody if you hold back.”
“What are you trying to prove, one-eye? That I don’t feel anything for Jeannie?” said Logan strongly.
“No, I’m just trying to point out that maybe you don’t understand as well as you think you do. And the more you push it to the side the worse it’s going to get.”
Logan snarled at the young X-leader. But he didn’t counter with his usual snide comments. As much as he disliked Scott Summers, there was no denying that there was some truth to his words. It wasn’t the first time someone pointed it out. But it was the first time anybody put it in perspective. When he thought about it he really didn’t know Jean Grey that well. He knew her personality, her character, and her tendencies. But he didn’t know the why and how of who this woman was.
What really stuck out was the one question that lingered since he and Jean first hooked up. He didn’t know why he was attracted to her. He didn’t understand what it was that drew him to her. Part of it was physical. There was no mystery there. But there was something else that ran deeper. And he wasn’t sure what it was. If Scott Summers of all people could pick up on it, then maybe it was more pressing than he realized.
Scott had never silenced Logan like this before. He was tempted to rub it in his face, but he was not one to gloat.
“I’m not going to belabor this issue, Logan,” said Scott, “But Jean is an important part of my life. I can’t distance myself from her. I know my opinion doesn’t mean squat to you. But if you’re going to be involved with her, make sure it’s for all the right reasons.”
“You done, Cyke?” said Logan in a begrudging tone.
“For now,” he said with a half-grin.
There was no love lost between these two. But Scott made his point and Logan accepted it. They were both willing to leave it at that. Scott went back to fixing his shirt, which was finally smoothed out. Logan continued to linger, still caught up in his thoughts.
“There’s one thing you’re forgetting, Cyke,” said Logan.
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” asked Scott skeptically.
“If by your standards Jeannie and I are an uncertainty, what makes you so certain about Rogue? You probably don’t know her anymore than I know Jeannie.”
It was a valid question that Scott should have seen coming. Yet it still caught him off guard, showing that Logan wasn’t the only one dealing with these issues.
“I’m not saying I do,” Scott admitted, “But I’m willing to take a chance. And if spending more time with Rogue gives you more time with Jean, then at least we’ll both have plenty of time to think about this.”
It wasn’t the most satisfying response he could have given, but it got the point across. And it left them both with plenty to think about.
Before the conversation could continue, Rogue emerged at the stop of the stairs. She quickly drew Scott’s attention with her less than subtle dress sense. She wore a fairly revealing outfit that consisted of low-riding skin-tight black pants and a green halter top that hugged her womanly frame tightly. Along with her distinct taste in darker makeup, she looked every bit the rebel she made herself out to be. As expected, she also had her inhibitor collar on, which Hank re-designed to look like a necklace. It would allow them the freedom to get much closer tonight if things went well.
“Hey sugah. Ready to go?” she greeted as she descended the stairs.
“Uh…yeah, I’m ready,” he said, still taking in her appearance, “You look good, Rogue.”
“Aww, you’re such a gent,” she said as she locked her arms with his, “You look pretty good yourself. But what do you say we skip the fashion bit and get this night started?”
“You don’t waste time, do you?”
“Now that Ah can touch, Ah’m a gal of few words,” she said seductively, leaning in closer so he could feel her exposed skin.
That was all the convincing Scott needed. Rogue was a unique woman to say the least, but that only intrigued him further. With an affectionate smile he led her towards the garage where his car was waiting.
As they walked off, Logan watched Rogue slip a hand into Scott’s back pocket. He found himself snickering somewhat. That guy was in for it. But with the conversation they just had still fresh in his mind, he still found himself in a difficult position. Scott hit on a lot of things with his relationship with Jean. And ironically enough, seeing him hook up with Rogue like this reminded him of how he and Jean came together in the first place. It didn’t make sense, but he wanted to see where it went. Now he wasn’t sure where it was going. And at any rate, he was going to have a hell of a time figuring it out.
“I need another beer.”
Xavier Institute – Living Room
With classes over and the rest of the students off doing their own thing, Hank and Ororo spent the early parts of the evening together. Ororo caught up with Hank before he could sequester himself in his lab and lured him into spending some quality time together. There was nothing good on TV and Bobby and Warren had claimed the rec room so they gathered some snacks and just talked for a while. Then somewhere along the line, Hank suggested they play a game of chess. Ororo wasn’t much of a chess master, but she went along with it.
As it turned out, she was overmatched. Ororo didn’t think she would be able to top Hank in an intellectual game like this, but she was surprised by how easy he made it look. She tried to stay with him, but it was no use. Hank had already beaten her twice in the span of thirty minutes. Now he was working on a third win. For Ororo, it was hard not to get a little frustrated.
“Checkmate,” said Hank as he moved his bishop across the board, “I believe your king has fallen yet again.”
“So it seems,” sighed Ororo in defeat, “Looks like you win again, Hank.”
“Oh cheer up, Ororo. You kept me on my toes longer this time,” he replied, trying to sound encouraging.
“I appreciate the humility, but we’re going to have to find other ways of entertaining ourselves. It seems as though any game we play that requires brainpower, you win by default.”
“Unfortunately, there aren’t many games that don’t require such skills. But if you have alternatives I’d be more than happy to give them a try.”
“I’ll start looking,” he said in a light-hearted tone, “But it really is no big deal. We all have our talents. It’s just a matter of keeping up with them.”
“That’s just it, Hank. It’s hard keeping up with you at times.”
Ororo shifted as she picked up the pieces from the game. Hank’s usually jovial expression after a victory in chess quickly faded. This wasn’t the first time they encountered this issue involving activities they did to pass the time. But it was the first time Ororo brought this up.
“I’m sorry if I was being tactless, Ororo,” said Hank , “I’ll try to be more mindful.”
“Don’t apologize for being brilliant, Hank,” she said, managing a half-smile, “But try to keep in mind that I’m not as smart as you. I don’t hold that against you, but you are a hard act to follow at times. You can’t expect me to relate to that.”
“I don’t expect any such standards,” he said sincerely.
“I know you don’t. But that makes it hard for us to be on the same page, you know?”
Hank fell silent as Ororo put away the chess board. As brilliant as he was, there was only so far his intelligence could go. When it came to relationships, he understood the importance of being able to communicate with someone on a personal level. He understood it better than Ororo probably realized.
“You’re not mad at me, are you?” asked Hank.
“Of course not,” said Ororo, still looking distant, “We just…can’t expect everything to fall in line between us all the time. Relationships aren’t like that.”
“I am well-aware of that, but I hope this doesn’t mean you’re starting to have doubts about us,” he said, showing more concern.
“I never said I had any doubts,” she said with a reassuring gesture, “I was voicing some uncertainty.”
“But that can also imply as such, you know. Believe me, I know the signs.”
Ororo fell silent and looked away for a moment. Hank got up from the table and walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder. She clearly didn’t mean to lead on as much as she did. Ororo couldn’t always stop herself in that regard. She was too honest a person. But Hank tried not to show concern. His feelings were strong for this woman and he sought to remind her of that.
“Ororo, I don’t want this to be an issue with us,” he said, cupping her chin affectionately, “We’re both different. That is a given. Just because we don’t share the same aptitudes doesn’t mean it has to cause tension between us.”
“I know it doesn’t,” she said, smiling at his gesture, “But sometimes it will whether we like it or not.”
“Then we’ll just have to work through it.”
“I know we will. I just hope we can. Not everybody can share your sense of optimism.”
“I suppose I’ll just have to make sure I compensate,” he joked.
That earned him another smile and an affectionate gesture from the African beauty. It was still somewhat half-hearted, but it showed she was trying and that’s all he could ask of her. He loved Ororo’s sincerity, but sometimes he wondered if she was too sincere for her own good.
Ororo didn’t push the issue any further. She already pushed it enough. It seemed to take the fun out of a casual board game. She didn’t need it causing any more tension. But it was something she had to get off her chest. Things had been good for her and Hank. She didn’t want to lose that. But she still had her uncertainties at times. And she was never one to just brush them aside. She hoped that wouldn’t be a problem for them.
“I need to tend to my plants,” she told him, “Maybe later we can watch a movie together?”
“Certainly, that sounds nice,” said Hank, “Would you like me to help?”
“That’s okay. I can handle it,” she assured him, “Just as you can handle any game involving elaborate puzzles and trivia, I can take care of plants. Like you said, we all have our expertise.”
He smiled as he watched Ororo walk off. He was still a little solemn though. He got the sense that this issue wasn’t over. In fact, it could very well be the beginning of something more. His intelligence was a part of his personality and if they had problems relating to each other then that could only cause tension. It was a feeling he knew all too well. It happened to him with his last relationship and he refused to let it happen again.
Sighing to himself, Hank began contemplating his situation. He could perform complex chemical and mathematical equations in his sleep, but he couldn’t find a logical way to deal with women. It was right up there with the other great mysteries of the universe. Perhaps this was an issue he should expand on later. He owed as much to Ororo.
“Oh Ororo, why must we do this? I should find some way to make it up to her. Perhaps something non-academic is in order…something more meaningful than a movie. If only women were as simple as quantum mechanics.”
Sighing to himself, Hank packed away the chess board and stored it away in one of the closets. So long as Ororo was tending to her garden, he might as well tend to his lab. There were a number of experiments he had been working on he meant to check up on. If nothing else, it should get him thinking. He made his way over to the coffee table in the living room in front of the couch where he had been working on his laptop earlier. But just as he was about to close it and put it on standby, he noticed something on the screen.
“An unmarked message from an unknown sender?” he said, “This is most curious.”
Sitting down on the couch, he decided to open the message. Traditional logic told him it was probably just junk mail of sorts. But this message didn’t carry the normal indicators. For one, it had some strange encryption surrounding it. And most messages of that sort weren’t encrypted. But it didn’t appear to be the kind he couldn’t crack. It was almost as if it was made specifically for him to decipher. Always up for a challenge, he began working on it.
“Tessa huh?” he read as he started decoding it, “Very well, Miss Tessa, let’s see what you have to say.”
Morlock Lair – Three Days Ago
The domain of the sewers was an unforgiving environment. To visitors, it was an intimidating place to be. The dark, cramped, dingy corridors of the sewer were unforgiving and wrought with dangers. If the putrid smell didn’t dissuade would-be visitors, the hardened mutants that made up the Morlocks, a secretive subterranean society of mutants, were often most convincing. They had all endured hardships on the surface world. They had been rejected due to their less-than-human appearance, but they banded together to form a powerful and cohesive unit that looked out for one another and if necessary, fought for one another.
But every so often, someone braved all of these dangers to confront the untrusting Morlocks. Sometimes they were homeless people who went astray. Sometimes they were sewer workers who went outside their usual domain. Other times they were authority figures investigating mysterious activities. Most if not all were repelled, sometimes with force. But today was different. Today the Morlocks faced someone much bolder than the usual trespasser.
She came in unexpectedly, having slipped past their usual sentries and entered one of the main lairs. Here, dozens if not hundreds of Morlocks called this place home. It was just one of many hubs in sewers across the country that these inhuman looking mutants dwelled. But this intruder did not mind being out-numbered or surrounded. She wore only a long black cloak, concealing most of her face and figure. She had a message and Morlock leaders that included Marrow, Callisto, and Healer listened.
“Let me see if I understand this,” said Marrow skeptically as she paced about in front of the cloaked stranger, “Your leader, Magneto as he calls himself, is staging an uprising that he wants the Morlocks to be a part of?”
“Not just the Morlocks,” said the figure, “Magneto wishes for all mutants to join in.”
“All mutants? You expect us to work with everybody? Including those who threatened and fought our society in the past?” said Callisto strongly, “Do I even have to list the issues we have with that?”
“Calm down, Callisto,” said Healer in a more reasonable tone, “These conflicts you speak of are in the past. These forces have not threatened us in years.”
“Some of us have long memories, Healer,” retorted Callisto.
“And clinging to those memories won’t do our people any good,” reasoned Healer, “Our numbers are swelling. As the mutant population grows, so too does the population of the Morlocks. These sewers have served us well, but even you must agree we’re approaching our limits.”
Callisto was still apprehensive, but she took Healer’s words seriously. She rarely agreed with the old man’s pacifist viewpoints. Maybe it was his age that made him like this. He was, after all, one of the founding members of the Morlocks. He was the one who made much of their underground society possible. But his age was also a liability. He wasn’t as assertive as he used to be and that could prove dangerous for their people.
“I think you would all agree that the sewers is not the long-term solution it once was,” said the figure in the cloak, “And it doesn’t have to be this way.”
“What exactly are you asking of us?” asked Marrow.
“What we are asking for is simple. Gather your battle-hardened forces and prepare them for a battle. We’re aware that your network is large and you can reach many mutants. They are all equally welcome to join. We’ve already gotten the word out to many and our forces are growing. With the Morlocks, we won’t just be strong. We’ll be overwhelming. The uprising will be taking place soon and we want you to join as so many others already have.”
“Say we do all this and it succeeds,” said Marrow, “What kind of compensation can we expect for the toil of my people?”
The figure in the cloak grinned ominously.
“Oh I don’t think I need to elaborate on that,” she said, “Simply put, if we succeed then your people will never have to live in the sewer again. It’ll be only the humans who will be relegated to these despicable conditions.”
“That’s quite an ambitious goal,” said Callisto, still sounding skeptical.
“Indeed, but that doesn’t mean it won’t succeed. Believe me when I say you’ll never get another chance like this. One way or another, Magneto is going ahead with this. You can either go along and reap the rewards or get left behind where your people will continue to suffer. The choice is yours.”
The three Morlock leaders were silent for a moment. They were still not entirely convinced, but they were not completely dissuaded either. It was a powerful notion, finally rising above the oppression of the surface world. But they had been down that road before. And all too often it came back to haunt them.
“Very well,” said Marrow, “I assure you, we’ll take it seriously. But keep in mind we Morlocks do not trust easily. Do not expect us to just go along without reservations.”
“I can’t say I blame you,” said the figure, “Believe me, I do empathize with the predicament of your people. I know all too well how hard it is to live in a human world when you don’t look human.”
“And we should believe that, why?” said Callisto, always the skeptical one.
The figure then smiled and pulled back the hood of her cloak, showing her true appearance for the first time. And it definitely helped convince the three Morlocks. She revealed herself to be Mystique, the shape shifting mutant whose reputation was well-known among mutant circles. The Morlocks were no exception. They didn’t know her personally, but upon seeing her blue skinned appearance they had their assurance.
“I’ll leave you to consider your options. But if you wish to join, please give us a call,” said the shape shifter as she placed an unmarked phone on the table, “But I encourage you to decide quickly. This battle is going to take place very soon. Once it does, the world will never be the same. And that includes your world as well.”
Mystique left the three Morlocks to contemplate their actions. There was a lot to consider. What she was suggesting was a major shift from Morlock tradition. For years now they had been playing a defensive policy, protecting their brethren and avoiding direct confrontation with surface forces. It helped maintain peace among their people, but there was always a militant wing that sought more radical change. This would require every one of them to take that position. It was something their wary people may not be ready for.
Marrow walked over and took the phone from the table. Clutching it with a grit of determination, she turned back towards Healer and Callisto. As leaders of their people, it was up to them to decide what was in the best interest of the Morlocks.
“So what do we do?” asked Callisto, “Should we go along? It sounds like too good an opportunity to pass up.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Healer anxiously, “You two may not remember our last attempts at confrontation, but I do. I know what this sort of violence leads to.”
“If it pays off this time is it not worth it?” argued Callisto.
“Nothing is worth risking the lives of our whole society,” reasoned Healer, “If we are to go about this, we should exercise the utmost caution. I suggest contacting Charles Xavier and his X-men. He helped us before two years ago. Perhaps he can help us again.”
But Marrow scoffed at that notion.
“You’re were a fool to blindly listen to Xavier two years ago and you’re a fool to listen to him now,” she said, “But perhaps getting in touch with him and his X-men would be good strategy. While I find the offer of this woman intriguing, I do not have a good feeling about her. If we could get the X-men to support us, we’ll have an insurance policy.”
“I see your reasoning, Marrow. But I don’t think Xavier and his X-men would ever support such violent actions,” said Healer.
“Oh they will,” said Marrow ominously, “Given the right incentive, of course.”
“What are you suggesting?” asked Callisto.
Marrow kept looking at the phone Mystique left for them and grinned ominously. Her people had suffered long enough. The old traditions that kept them going d
“Perhaps we should pay the X-men a different kind of visit,” she said, “They may be more reasonable if we make sure we have the proper leverage.”
The night was settling in over the city. The usual traffic filled the streets and rivers of people flowed over the sidewalks. Among the crowd were Scott and Rogue. They had just finished dinner and were moving along nicely with their date. Their spirits were high as they went about enjoying this special night together. This wasn’t just another one of their normal outings. This was a real date and so far it was going well.
They started off simply enough. They ate at one of the nicer diners in the area. It wasn’t too fancy, but it wasn’t too casual either. Scott made sure it still had Rogue’s favorite barbeque and southern style dishes. It helped ease the usual tension that went along with any first date. They made small talk through much of their meal, not getting too personal or intimate. They talked about classes, current events, and the mundane. The idea of this being a date was still sinking in, but they were starting to warm to the idea.
It was important to keep things simple for this first go-around. This was all happening very fast for them. Even for Rogue, who wasn’t afraid to take chances, found it a little intimidating because she really was attracted to this man. And she could tell he was attracted to her. That kiss they shared at the Dazzler concert was proof of that. But they still didn’t know each other that well and this date would hopefully change that.
“So what happened after that?” asked Rogue as Scott told her about his early days at the institute.
“Plenty,” laughed Scott, “After Beast tried to reason with the creature, it nearly doubled in size. Believe it or not, giant parasitic plant creatures have a bit of a temper. The bigger it got, the angrier it got. And at this point it was so angry it was actually starting to eat through it’s surroundings. And with this being close to a small town, we had to act fast.”
“So how did ya beat it? You get Bobby to freeze it or something?” asked Rogue.
“We tried that. It didn’t exactly work out. Bobby will be the first to tell you that,” said Scott, “We actually got lucky. Warren and Jean were trying to draw it away while I was shooting it when it just so happened to knock over a fully loaded fuel truck. We then found out it wasn’t nearly as resistant to fire as it was to ice.”
“Dang! That must have gotten pretty messy!”
“You have no idea,” said Scott, shaking his head at the memory, “But when lives are on the line you have to take whatever opportunities go your way. Jean and Bobby helped wall it off while Warren flew me up high so I could attack the head. Once we beat it down enough, the fires took care of it. Still left quite a mess though. I can’t even begin to tell you how pissed the chemical plant manager was.”
“Serves the bastard right!” said Rogue strongly, “It was his junk that made that thing anyways. Ah mean how many illegal chemicals do ya gotta have to create a giant, 30 foot, parasitic plant monster?”
“I don’t know, but I think he learned his lesson. They closed the plant shortly afterwards and that manager ended up going to jail.”
“For using illegal chemicals?”
“Nope…tax evasion,” smirked Scott.
Rogue looked at him strangely at first. But when she saw the look on his face she got it and burst out laughing. The early years of the X-men sounded pretty eventful. Scott spoke fondly of the times when it was just him, Bobby, Hank, Warren, and Jean. It sounded like a much simpler time for the X-men, just playing the part of heroes. And this was just one of the strange encounters they had. She couldn’t begin to imagine how many others there were.
She thought her teen years were crazy, but Scott one-upped her with just one story. Being raised by Mystique and being an outcast in a small southern town was hard enough, but at least she didn’t have to worry about giant plant monsters attacking her.
“Sounds like you had some excitin’ teen years,” said Rogue as the laughter died down.
“That’s one way of putting it,” mused Scott, “But compared to where I was before the Professor found me, it was still a step up.”
“Ah’ve never seen a giant plant monster mutated from illegal chemicals so Ah’ll have to take your word for it. But was it really that bad?”
“It was worse,” said Scott in a distant tone, “Losing my parents in that plane crash was hard enough. But the orphanage was even harder, especially when you’ve got brain damage. Not many people want to adopt a kid like that. Guess my brother and I were damaged goods in that respect. Even though we looked out for each other, we were still helpless and vulnerable.”
“Must have been hard,” mused Rogue, trying to wrap her head around such a notion, “Whatever happened to your brother? Do you still talk to him?”
Scott was silent for a moment. His expression shifted as his thoughts drifted to this very sensitive topic. He already told Rogue a number of personal issues surrounding his life such as the plane crash that killed his parents and growing up in an orphanage. But there were still some issues he wasn’t ready to discuss.
“That’s another story,” he answered, “And one I don’t think I’m ready to tell.”
“That’s okay. Ah don’t blame ya,” said Rogue moving in a little closer to him as they walked, “Ah’m not pushin’ to know all your secrets on the first date. But if ya ever want to talk about it, Ah’m here to listen. You’re not the only one who’s had it rough.”
“You don’t have to convince me of that,” said Scott with a half smile, “It’s just difficult to talk about, you know? Not a lot of people understand. The only one I’ve ever felt comfortable opening up to about it over the years is Jean.”
“Why am Ah not surprised,” muttered Rogue, rolling her eyes.
“Come on, let’s not get into that issue again,” said Scott with more serious tone.
Rogue shifted slightly. The issue of Jean being so close to Scott bothered her, especially now that she was on a date with Scott. He already told her how close they were, but she promised herself she wouldn’t make a big deal of this. She heard how it had already caused problems with Jean and Logan.
“Fahne, but you’re the one who brought it up,” she reminded him.
“I can’t help it sometimes. But regardless of who I talk to, there are some things that no amount of talking can change. I’m sure you’ve learned this too, but there are just some parts of our lives we can never escape.”
“Ah hear that,” sighed Rogue, “When you got so many issues you can’t even begin to make sense of them, it just really messes with you. Heck, it’s kind of like bein’ a mutant.”
“I guess it is in some respects. But being mutant was actually my way out. If my powers hadn’t manifested I may have never left. But it didn’t get any easier. I know growing up an orphan and learning how to survive on your own sounds like a good made for TV movie, but there’s nothing glamorous about it.”
“Ah can only imagine,” said Rogue, her tone getting more serious, “Ah may be an orphan too, but Ah never had to deal with anything like that. Mah mama always made sure Ah had a roof over mah head and food on mah plate.”
“That’s easy to take for granted,” sighed Scott, “Even now with everything I’ve worked for in the X-men, there are times I feel as though I haven’t escaped where I’ve come from. I still carry that same burden along with all the other responsibilities I have.”
“And yet you manage,” she said, giving his arm an affectionate squeeze, “You have any idea how tough that makes ya?”
“Tough enough to go on a date with you?” he said, enjoying her intimate touch.
“Ha! And they say you have no sense of humor,” said Rogue with a sensual grin, “Keep it up and you’ll get more than just a date.”
Scott smiled back, the mood lightening up despite such difficult topics of discussion. He didn’t usually talk about his past, but Rogue had opened up about hers and shown that she could understand on some levels. It was nice being able to talk about it with somebody who could really listen. The only other person he really opened up to was Jean Grey, but that was another issue. He promised he would give Rogue a chance and so far it was working out nicely.
With his arm secure around her waste and her arms locked with his, they continued to make their way down the busy streets of Westchester. After about ten minutes, they arrived at a local mini-mall that had some good shops and a mid-sized movie theater. It was a busy area for this time a night, but not too busy like the bigger malls. It was a good place to keep things steady. Plus in a place like this they could get more intimate without having to deal with crowds.
The date seemed to be on track for Scott and Rogue. Dinner had been good and they were able to talk and listen to one another. They were slowly getting a feel for one another and so far they liked where this was going. Hopefully it would stay that way through the movie so this new relationship could really blossom.
Sewers – Under The Mini-Mall
The sewers under Westchester were like the sewers of any city. They were dark, dingy, dirty, and cramped. From every direction the putrid smell of sewage and garbage permeated. Rusty pipes lined the walls along with old flickering lights. The only life down here that thrived was rodents and bacteria. It was a significant contrast between life up top and life below. It was an integral part of modern society that most took for granted. But life in this overlooked area was more active than most people realized.
In these sewers, the reclusive Morlocks thrived. This was their territory and they made sure they ruled this hidden world with authority. They looked after each other and protected each other. Any outsider that entered without their permission did so at their own risk. They rarely ventured outside and were extremely untrusting of surface dwellers as they called them. But tonight, they were making an important journey to the world above them.
“Do you have a lock on them, Caliban?” said Marrow, a pink-haired young woman with boney spikes protruding from her body like armor.
“Yes Marrow,” said Caliban, a bald chalky-skinned mutant, “I can sense their presence above us. They are no longer out in the open. They are approaching the Lexington mini-mall.”
“Excellent! Let’s make sure we’re in position,” said Marrow in a commanding tone.
She then turned around and addressed her fellow Morlocks. For this special mission she brought only her strongest and most trusted brethren.
“Callisto, you and Sunder head towards the opening just below the parking garage near the movie theater. Berserker, I need you come with me and Caliban. We need you to create a distraction in case other surface dwellers decide to interfere.”
“Again? Why do I always get stuck making the distractions?” complained Ray Crisp, a teenage mutant with a distinct yellow-orange Mohawk with advanced lightening powers, “There’s a lot more I could do with my lightening powers, you know?”
But Marrow wouldn’t hear it.
”I won’t have this argument with you again, Crisp!” said Marrow sternly, “You’re still new and living off gratuity! You have a long way to go before earning my trust and questioning my orders isn’t helping!”
“Fine! Okay, I get it!” said Ray, immediately backing off, but not without a touch of resentment, “Sheesh, do you always have to be this defensive?”
Before Marrow could answer, Callisto, an older woman with short black hair, pale skin, and an eye patch stepped in and stopped him.
”Don’t push it, Ray,” she said under her breath, “Trust me, Marrow is not the kind of person you want to argue with in a situation like this.”
Ray wisely took her advice. He hadn’t been with the Morlocks long, but he quickly came to know Marrow’s personality and status. She was the headstrong leader of the Morlocks. He didn’t know much about her, but he knew enough to know she was street smart and untrusting. He had been with the Morlocks for a few months after having run away. At first he was just lost and hungry, but he was still confident enough he could make a name for himself here like he never could in on the surface. Marrow was showing just how hard that was, especially with her leading the way.
“Get moving!” she ordered, “I want this done quickly and efficiently! The less time we have to spend on the surface the better.”
Callisto and Sunder followed her orders, rushing off towards the other end of the sewer path. Marrow stayed with Caliban and Ray, making her way to a sewer entrance near the parking lot where Scott and Rogue were heading.
“Tell me again why Marrow is so bent on bringing the X-men into this?” asked Sunder, a hulking muscular figure with greenish brown skin.
“She’s under the impression that they can assist us with the coming battle,” said Callisto, “I’m skeptical, but I agree with her in one area. We need all the help we can get for what’s to come.”
Lexington Mini-mall – Parking Lot
Scott and Rogue were weaving their way through the maze of cars towards the movie theater. They could always see a line forming near the front desk, but they weren’t too concerned. The movie was secondary to this date. What was important was that they would have some more quality time together. It wasn’t just about talking and getting to know each other. It was about being around each other and feeling that comfortable level of chemistry. That would help them find out if this relationship was right.
“So do ya know if this movie is any good?” asked Rogue, who was still clinging to his arm.
“It’s supposed to be,” answered Scott, “It has Anna Paquin and Rebecca Romijn in it so it can’t be too terrible.”
“Always had a soft spot for those two,” she smiled, “So long as it ain’t a chick flick or a downer, Ah’ll be okay. Ah’m perfectly fahne with mindless violence, sex, and special effects. Although after running courses in the Danger Room, it may lose its punch.”
“Yeah, Bobby pointed that out too,” said Scott, “He calls it the ‘chilling’ effect.”
“How original,” said Rogue, rolling her eyes.
“I know. But he makes a valid point. Since we as X-men deal with impossible situations all the time, going out on missions against the likes of Magneto, the Brotherhood, or giant monster plants we’re somewhat desensitized from the thrills in movies.”
“Makes sense,” she shrugged, “Kinda takes the fun out of it, doesn’t it?”
“Somewhat, but not too much,” said Scott, “It’s still a nice escape from all the issues we have to deal with. Even if they aren’t as thrilling as you’d like them to be.”
“Tell meh about it,” sighed Rogue, “Ah never got to go to the movies much back home, but Ah’m all for an escape from reality. Just don’t be insulted if Ah don’t get into it.”
“That’s okay. It’s just a movie. If it sucks we’ll just have to find other ways of enjoying ourselves,” said Scott, smiling as he pulled Rogue in closer.
Rogue smiled back with another suggestive gesture. It was amazing how Scott could make the best of any situation, especially after all the hardships he endured. She wished she had that kind of strength. Bad situations to her usually meant confrontation or frustration. And all too often she dealt with them by running off on her own or smoking. Maybe getting to know this man a little better will show her how to better cope. At the very least, it would save her money on cigarettes.
“Ah like the sound of the way you think, sugah,” she purred softly, “Keep it up and Ah may re-think certain rules Ah have about first dates?”
“Oh? What kind of rules?” asked Scott as they neared the curb.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Rogue reinforced her point by leaning in closer and gently kissing down his neck. It sent shivers down Scott’s spine, but he couldn’t help but enjoy it. Rogue made no secrets about her intentions. She was very up front and forward, something he hadn’t come across in a lot of women. It made it a lot easier for him because he always had issues opening up. With Rogue he didn’t have to worry about it. He was still adapting to her tendencies, but he liked where this was going with her so far.
Scott and Rogue continued to stay close as the neared the theater. But just as they passed an ally near the parking garage there was a strange rumble in the ground. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to trigger Scott’s instincts.
“Did you feel that too, Rogue?” he said, stopping cold in his tracks.
“Feel what? Is this your way of being coy?” said Rogue, still in a playful spirit.
“No, I’m serious,” said Scott in a more assertive tone, “I swear I felt the ground shaking.”
“Oh relax, Scott. It’s probably just that prime rib you ate.”
Rogue tried to drag him along when suddenly they felt the shaking again. This time it was more obvious. It wasn’t like the shaking they experience around Avalanche. This was more like footsteps or someone pounding on the ground beneath them. It was so intense they noticed cracks forming in the street. Then in a sudden flash, a huge bolt of lightening shot out from a sewer duct and hit the surrounding lights. As soon as it hit the lights, it arced over to through the lines and along every store in the area.
“What in the hell?!” Rogue exclaimed.
“Get down!” yelled Scott, his instincts taking over as he pushed Rogue out of the way to avoid the shattering class from the street lamps above.
With sparks flying and the electricity throughout the area flickering, the people walking along the sidewalk and standing in line near the theater started to panic and run. Scott and Rogue lingered, staying close to the ground near a van. But before they could start making sense of what was going on, a nearby man-hole was literally shot up into the air and two imposing figures shot out from inside. One was Callisto and the other was Sunder. And neither of them looked friendly.
“What gives? The circus in town?” said Rogue, taking on a defensive stance.
“We don’t have time for pleasantries, X-men!” said Callisto sternly, “The Morlocks would like to have a word with you.”
“So make an appointment,” shot Rogue, “Don’t come up in here and ruin our date!”
“Take it easy, Rogue. I know these people,” warned Scott, “They don’t make time. They take it.”
“Good memory!” grinned Sunder as he cracked his knuckles, “Then you won’t be surprised when I do THIS!”
With a determined grunt, the oversized mutant charged Scott and Rogue head first like a ram. The two X-men leapt out of the way, forcing him to charge right into a van. He made a huge dent in the side, nearly knocking the van over in the process. But without missing a beat he pulled out, showing no damage to his body whatsoever, and attacked again. This time Rogue was ready for him.
“Ain’t you a catch. Is this how you introduce yourself to every gal?” taunted Rogue.
“Hold still and I’ll make this quick!” grunted Sunder.
“Ya don’t even want me make a comment on that,” snickered the southern mutant.
Sunder charged Rogue again, this time taking a swipe at her. But she was able to nimbly avoid him and cause him to crash into more cars, drawing him away from the crowds that were still rushing through the streets.
While Rogue was leading Sunder away, Callisto eyed Scott with a menacing leer. Scott’s hands were on his glasses, ready to fire an optic blast. But he hesitated at first because she didn’t attack. He and the X-men encountered the Morlocks before. They fought before and he knew from experience they never picked a fight without a good reason.
“What’s this about, Callisto?” demanded Scott, “I thought the Morlocks weren’t making incursions on the surface anymore!”
“This isn’t an incursion. This is personal,” said Calliso strongly, “You’re coming with us! We can either do this quietly or we can let this get messy!”
“Is this always how it has to be, Callisto? Just tell me what’s going on!” urged Scott, “The X-men aren’t your enemies! Please let us help!”
“I’ve heard that from surface dwellers before! And I know what it leads to,” she said in a dark tone, “Well not this time!”
Callisto attacked with super-human speed, going right for the finishing move with a flying kick. The X-leader was able to avoid it, rolling off to the side and leaping over the hood of a nearby car to take cover. Scott, having faced her before, knew he couldn’t match her in a one-on-one fight. She had enhanced strength, speed, agility, and reflexes. One blow from her was like being hit with a cinderblock. He had to keep his distance and find some other way of neutralizing her. With the car as cover, he began unleashing a barrage of optic blasts.
“I see your aim hasn’t improved since last time!” said Callisto as she easily evaded the blasts.
“That’s because I’m trying not to hurt you!” said Scott, “Talk to me, Callisto! What’s this about?”
“Something you X-men won’t understand!” said Callisto as she did a nimble back-flip on top of the car Scott was ducking behind, “But you will…under the right circumstances.”
Callisto moved in for another attack, forcing Scott back on the defensive. He had no choice but to fall back and keep shooting. Callisto leapt from car to car, avoiding each shot. Metal and shards flew throughout the parking lot. Many onlookers were still watching the scene, mesmerized by the display. Scott urged them to take cover.
“Everybody clear out!” he yelled, “Get as far away as you can!”
“You’re compassion for surface dwellers is sickening!” spat Callisto.
“So is your hatred for us!” said Scott, “Let’s stop this before someone gets hurt!”
“Our people have been hurting long enough! Do NOT attempt to thrust your compassion on me!”
Callisto clearly wasn’t listening. She continued her attack, relentlessly pursuing Scott with burning intent. While Scott tried to keep her at a distance, Rogue was trying to get close enough to Sunder to drain him. He wasn’t making it easy though. He kept punching and thrashing with his oversized muscles, grabbing entire cars and trying to use them to crush her. Rogue was narrowly avoiding him. But this hulking brute was wearing thin on her nerves. This was supposed to be a nice romantic night with her and Scott and these two were ruining it.
“Errrr! Hold still!” yelled Sunder as he grabbed a nearby pickup truck and held it over his head.
“Trust me, big fella. You don’t wanna do that!” warned Rogue with a mischievous grin.
But Sunder didn’t listen. With a determined grunt he heaved the truck right at the young X-woman. Rogue then made her move. She pulled of an agile summersault on the hard pavement, narrowly avoiding the truck as it flew overhead. As she did this she turned off her inhibitor collar so that her powers were active. Then while she had her chance she shot up and lunged towards the hulking mutant before he could grab another truck. He was about to hit her with a right cross, but she was able to grab onto his exposed torso and start draining him.
“AUGH!” groaned Sunder as he felt his energy and strength drain away from him.
She held onto him for a good ten seconds, draining away most of his resolve. When she let go he fell back against a nearby van, holding his head in pain. For Rogue, the rush of super strength and durability was just what she needed. But it didn’t come without a price.
“Blegh! Ever hear of deodorant?” said Rogue, getting a good whiff of his body odor as she drained him.
But she shut that aside for now and turned towards Callisto, who was getting too close to Scott for comfort. She had since ripped off a parking meter and started using it as a staff. She continued to duck and dodge Scott’s blasts as he kept trying to lure her away from the sidewalks with the people. But he was making himself very vulnerable by putting himself out in the open.
“You X-men are too predicable!” Callisto proclaimed.
Just as Scott got off the next blast she lunged forth, using the parking meter like a pole vault to spring herself up into the air and come right down over top the X-leader. He tried to shift his gaze and hit her with another blast, but it was too late.
She landed a kick right against his chest, knocking him onto the hard pavement. Scott let out a paint grunt, getting some of the wind knocked out of him in the process. He stayed conscious though, staying keeled over as Callisto approached.
“You disappoint me, Cyclops. You should have seen that coming,” she said.
“And ya should have seen this coming,” came a voice from behind.
Callisto’s heightened reflexes kicked in and she attacked behind her, but was met with a punishing counter by Rogue, who was now armed with Sunder’s strength. Her punch hit nothing but air and left her vulnerable long enough for Rogue to make her move. She grabbed her arm as it passed over her and then with an effortless motion, she threw her up across the parking lot. She went up at least twenty feet until she came down on top of a car, causing a sizable indent and leaving her in a world of hurt.
“Ugh…” she groaned as she struggled to get up.
With Callisto and Sunder beat, Rogue rushed to Scott’s side. He looked a little bruised, but no worse for wear.
“You okay, sugah?” said Rogue as she helped him up.
“I’ve survived worse,” he groaned, “We better get out of here. If the Morlocks are after us, they probably sent reinforcements.”
“Dang, so much for our date,” muttered Rogue as she let Scott lean on her for support, “What kind of reinforcements we’re talking about?”
Scott was about to answer when suddenly a sharp bolt of lightening shot out from nowhere and struck them head on. Everything that followed was a blur. Their whole world froze and they were consumed with a painful surge that assaulted all their senses.
“AUUUGHHHHH!” they both cried out.
Sparks and lightening bolts flew as Scott and Rogue’s body went ridged. Whatever the source of this shock was, it wasn’t meant to be lethal. It was just meant to take them down. And it worked. They each let out a pained groan as they fell to the pavement, falling unconscious in the process. Rogue managed to stay conscious a little longer because of the powers she absorbed, but that didn’t last long. As her vision faded, she saw three figures approach them. Then everything went dark.
Standing triumphantly over the two downed X-men, Marrow, Caliban, and Berserker carefully checked them to make sure they were out.
“Nice shot, Berserker,” said Marrow, “You’re more useful than I thought.”
“Told you,” he grinned, his eyes still sparking from the bolt he unleashed earlier, “But what about Callisto and Sunder? These two gave them quite a beating.”
“They’ll be fine,” said Marrow flatly, “Caliban, take Cyclops. We’ll return to the lair with him.”
“What about the girl? Won’t she call for the others?” asked Caliban as he took the unconscious X-leader in his arms.
“Of course she well. I want her to lead the rest of the X-men to us,” said spiked mutant with intent, “This way we’ll be able to address them all at once. Having dealt with the X-men before, I know they’ll be hesitant to hear our proposal. But with their leader in our hands, they’ll be sure to take us more seriously.”
“Cool,” grinned Ray, “But do you think they’ll really go along with this? I saw them in the news. This kind of battle isn’t exactly their style.”
Marrow’s gaze narrowed as she looked down at Cyclops and then back at Rogue. She had past dealings with the X-men as did many of the Morlocks. They knew all too well the principles they adhered to. In the context of a surface dweller they were admirable, but to those who had been relegated to a life in the sewers it was outrageous. These people were trying to protect the very people who were oppressing them. They thought they could reason with human society. But as any Morlock would know, that was impossible.
But this was different. For once Morlocks and X-men had a chance to be on the same side and fight for something better than the life of an outcast. It was a risky proposition that would pit their opposing ideologies together, but if it could bring them all together it was worth taking a chance. Marrow and the other Morlocks had only their people’s best interest at heart. While the X-men may not understand it, they would learn to respect it.
“They’ll go along. They better. Many lives depend on it, the least of which their dear leader,” said Marrow menacingly, “Now come…wake up Callisto and Sunder. We have a lot to discuss with our new guest.”
Next Issue: Underworld Part 2
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