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Volume 1 -- Issue 7 -- Mother Knows Best Download Issue
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Mother Knows Best
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Born with amazing powers, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. The challenges they face are many and the most pressing to date has been their encounters with the Brotherhood of Mutants, a group founded by Xavier’s old friend turned rival, Magneto. They stand in direct conflict with the X-men as they seek to overthrow humanity rather than live peacefully.

Each team has been reaching out to a new generation of mutants. Some like Wolverine and Storm have joined the X-men while others like Avalanche and Toad have joined the Brotherhood. And the latest recruit to be caught up in the conflict is a young woman named Marie Anna Darkholme, better known as Rogue. But she is no ordinary mutant. She is the adopted daughter of Mystique, a member of the Brotherhood and one of Magneto’s most trusted allies.

Recently, her powers manifested in a major way. Her ability allows her to drain the life energy and mutant powers from anybody she comes into contact with. At first it overwhelmed her, putting several people in a coma and causing her to run away in a fit of confusion. But the X-men found her and despite a few mishaps, they were able to get through to her. Now she resides at the Xavier Institute where she hopes to learn to manage her powers. Mystique, however, has other plans for her adopted daughter. And none of them involve the X-men.


Biloxi, Mississippi – 10 Years Ago

“Can I go out and play now, Mommy? It’s not raining anymore,” said eight-year-old Marie Darkholme.

“Not yet, Marie. Finish your training exercise first and then you can play,” said her mother in an authoritative, yet caring tone.

“But I’ve been doing them forever! When is it going to be enough?” groaned the little girl.

“I know you don’t like them, Marie, but you have to do them. It’s not just for me or your Aunt Irene or your brother overseas. It’s for your own good.”

The little girl’s expression sank, but she did as her mother said. Every day she made her do these exercises. She would go through these movements that mimicked fighting moves like punching, kicking, and countering. It was kind of like the fighting she saw on TV, only much more serious. Her mother had her doing them for as long as she could remember. She didn’t always like them because it got in the way of her playing outside. She never saw any of the other kids doing stuff like this. It made her feel like a freak. Even for someone so young, that was hard for her to get around.

Raven Darkholme watched as her little girl went through the motions again. She could tell she was struggling after having gone through them several dozen times already. She was tired and short of breath, but she had to be pushed. These exercises were more than just activity for her adopted daughter. They involved a mix of stretching, strength training, and martial arts. They were supposed to help her defend herself against the cruel world she was destined to face. They were the same moves she picked up over untold years of fighting. And no daughter of hers was going to face the conflicts that awaited them without being prepared.

In the basement of their small house, the little girl trained. At the tender age of eight she was already a black belt level fighter, but that wasn’t enough in Raven’s mind. She already knew she was a mutant and a special mutant at that. She had been told her powers would be extraordinary when they manifested. Whatever they were they had to be coupled with toughness and vigor. Marie had to be ready for anything. She had to a cut above everyone else. Even if it meant cutting her off from the normal activities other kids her age enjoy, she had to be ready.

“That’s it, Marie! Poise and flow,” urged Raven, “Keep going.”

Little Marie panted hard as she went through the final round of motions. She pulled off a skilled roundhouse kick. Then she did a serious of punches topped off with a sweep kick. She then began some stretching and evasive maneuvers, none of which came easy for an eight-year-old body. She felt her mother’s critical eye on her the whole time. It always made her nervous, but she was determined not to disappoint her.

“Hyya! Aya! Hasah!” she exclaimed with each movement.

She was just about done, ready to finish it off with a jump kick. She pulled off the remaining sweep kicks that led up to it before beginning the final motion. But she didn’t get enough air under her and in mid motion she lost her poise, falling to the hard floor.

“Augh!”

Raven rushed over to little Marie and helped her up. She took quite a tumble, landing on her knee and scraping her arm. Where a normal mother would have been terrified, Raven remained stoic.

“You lost your poise,” she said with a touch of motherly scorn.

“Sorry Mommy. My leg was tired.”

Marie bowed her head in shame, but Raven knelt down and placed her hands on her shoulder. The authoritative look faded and instead she looked at her as a concerned mother.

“You’ll have to learn to fight through that, Marie. Part of training involves doing things even when you’re tired. Because if you ever have to use this, you won’t always get a chance to rest. You must be conditioned for that moment!”

“But I’ve never had to use it!” she complained, “Why do I even have to learn this stuff?  It’s hard! It’s pointless! Why can’t I just go out and play?”

“Because, Marie, you have to be ready!” said Raven strongly.

“Ready for what?”

The shape shifter sighed. Looking into those innocent little eyes, it was hard to describe the world she was being groomed for. It was a world that didn’t take kindly to people like them. She was too young to remember how she ended up in a rundown orphanage in New Orleans or how she had to live under an alias to keep some very bad people from getting her. She was so much like herself in that she was unable to establish a firm identity of who she was. That kind of torment was hard enough on a shape shifter, let alone a young girl. It was part of why Raven adopted her. She would be damned if her Marie was going to face the same hardship she had.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you.”

“But why?” asked little Marie intently, “I always hear you and Auntie Irene talking about it. Why can’t I know?”

“You’re too young to understand. There forces in this world that are hard enough for an adult to understand, let alone an eight-year-old girl. For now you’ll just have to trust me.”

“I don’t care! I’m tired of all the other kids looking at me like I’m some monster! It’s not fair!”

“I know it’s not. But that’s how it is for us. You’re different, Marie. You know what mommy and Aunt Irene can do, right?”

“Yes, but…”

“And one day you’ll be different too…more different than you already are now. I know it’s hard to understand, but it’s for your own good. Please just trust me. Can you do that my little Rogue?”

Her adopted mother’s gaze was strong. She may have been young, but she knew enough to understand that their family was different. Her mother could do amazing things with her body. She saw her mimic others to such an extent she wasn’t sure who she was unless she returned her natural, blue-skinned form. She told her she was just like her. She didn’t understand how her why, but this woman was the only mother she knew.

Holding her head low, Marie Anna Darkholme stood obediently before her mother. She still felt her critical yet caring gaze. At times it was so hard to deal with, having a mother that cared so much yet pushed her so hard. But this was her life. This was all she knew.

“Okay Mommy…I trust you.”

“Good girl,” smiled Raven, “Now go outside and play.”

Little Marie’s face lit up.

“You mean it, mommy?” she beamed.

“Yes, I mean it,” she said, “Auntie Irene will be over later. Until then, mommy has some business to addend to. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“You promise?” asked Marie.

“I promise.”


Xavier Institute – Present

It was late Monday morning and class was in session at the Xavier Institute. Jean, Warren, and Bobby were all in the main classroom working on computers with Ororo watching over them, helping them along the way whenever they needed it. But so far only Jean and Warren were the ones focusing. Bobby wouldn’t stop chatting with Lorna throughout his lesson. Even when Ororo forced him to close his instant messenger program, they just started texting each other. It was starting to get on their nerves, but he wasn’t the only one not focused on his studies.

“Bobby, if you’re going to keep texting that girl, could you at least put your damn phone on vibrate or something?” groaned Warren.

“Yeah, some of us are actually trying to learn and there are only so many times I can hear Wolfmother ring tones!” said Jean.

“Sorry guys, but Lorna needs help with something. I can’t just leave her hanging!” he justified.

“What is it this time? Another incident involving staplers, paperclips, and a very disgruntled principle?” said Warren, referencing some of the many incidents Bobby had droned on about so far.

“Worse!” he said, “Something about these threatening emails she’s getting. Not sure if they’re from some jerk at school or worse, but it really has her worried!”

“I know I’m just your everyday alpha-level telepath, but is it at all possible that both you and Lorna are overreacting?” said Jean in a critical tone.

“Telepath or no telepath, I think it’s safe to say with all the time I’ve taken to actually get to know this girl that she’s serious and in all the right ways,” said Bobby, “You want to knock me for taking her word for it, be my guest.”

Another argument was brewing. Jean was going to go into how Bobby was just making excuses and Warren was going to go into how obsessive he was getting with this girl. It was a fight they had been having a lot of lately and it only looked to get worse. Ororo wasn’t psychic, but she could sense it so she stepped in.

“Bobby, if you’re not going to try and focus then please take it outside. If it’s important, take care of it, but understand you’ll be getting some extra work later.”

“Fine by me,” he shrugged, “Some things are more important than calculus quizzes anyways.”

“Bet you won’t be thinking that around mid-terms,” Jean pointed out.

“Says the girl who can’t resist checking Facebook before every exam,” retorted Bobby, “Besides, aren’t X-men supposed to reach out to fellow mutants when they need it? Far as I’m concerned, I’m just following what the Professor taught me.”

Jean and Warren rolled their eyes. It used to be Bobby would do anything to get out of doing extra work, but eve since Lorna came into the picture that didn’t faze him. It sounded like it was getting serious. Bobby was never shy about seeking out girls, but none had ever affected him like this. It was starting to worry them.

“Guess that’s one problem solved. Now I gotta catch up,” groaned Warren, “Tell me how Scott got out of this again?”

“He’s giving Rogue a tour of the institute,” said Jean, “The Professor excused him from class so he could help her settle in.”

“Now there’s an unfair deal if I’ve ever heard one,” scoffed Warren, “How did he get picked for that?”

“Guess Professor Xavier figured she would be most comfortable with him,” shrugged Jean, “Can’t say that’s not a reasonable assumption. Scott has been hanging around Rogue an awful lot since she arrived. I still can’t believe he stayed with her in the infirmary all night.”

“I guess that makes sense. He was the one that got through to her. If she goes off on another one of her episodes he might as well be on standby.”

“I know, but still…”

Warren couldn’t help but grin. Jean clearly wasn’t thrilled by Rogue’s presence. She was in good company too given that she’s Mystique’s daughter. Even though she didn’t seem to show the same deranged tendencies of her shape-shifting mother, she did come off as pretty harsh if not somewhat hostile. But Warren got the feeling that there were even more reasons for Jean to be worried.

“What? You don’t think he can handle her?” he asked.

“It’s not that. I just have a bad feeling about her,” said Jean musingly.

“Is it because she’s Mystique’s daughter?”

“That’s part of the reason. Part of being psychic is being able to sense things about others that most people don’t pick up on. Call it telepathic intuition or just plain judgmental, but I keep getting this bad vibe from this girl.”

“Bad vibe as in she’s someone who will hog the living room when you want to watch a movie or bad vibe as in she’ll unlock the door if Magneto comes knocking?” said Warren.

“I’m not sure it’s either. But it’s definitely something,” said Jean suspiciously.

“You sure that’s not just her different tastes in clothes?” teased Warren.

“Warren, if you’re going to simplify this to girls and clothes you’re looking at a telepathic slap in the face and you know how good I am at those.”

“Fair enough,” he shrugged.

“Are you two done?” said Ororo with a bemused look.

“Yes ma’am,” said Jean, “Unless Warren wants to further tempt the wrath of a high level psychic.”

“No thanks. I know when I’m out of my league,” he said, turning back to his computer screen, “I have to finish up anyways. I’ve got shipping detail later today. The Professor ordered some new stuff for the Danger Room and seeing as how it’s coming from my family company, I have to be the one to bring it in.”

“I know how much you must enjoy that,” commented Jean dryly, knowing how Warren’s family company was bit of a sore subject.

“Well if you don’t want to keep them waiting, you’ll finish your assignment,” said Ororo firmly, “Excuses or not, this is still a school last I checked.”

Jean and Warren fell silent after that and returned to their studies. Ororo may have been a kind, caring woman, but she knew how to be strict. And nobody was going to tempt a woman who could form tornadoes and cause lightning without breaking a sweat.

Lower Levels

Scott was on the last leg of the tour. So far Rogue had seen most of the institute grounds. They started from the top levels and worked their way down with Scott making sure she knew everything the X-men had to offer. Professor Xavier specifically instructed him to show her the works. It was somewhat surprising given that was placing a lot of trust in the hands of a girl with ties to the Brotherhood, but he seemed to sense something in her that set her apart. Scott had yet to see it himself, but the professor had a way of judging these situations and was usually right about them.

For Rogue, it was quite a spectacle. She grew up in a small, two level house and hadn’t set foot outside the state of Mississippi in six years. Traveling to New York and walking through such an opulent mansion was a shock to the system. But she got over it fast and saw the many appeals of the institute. Plus, Scott Summers was good company. And it didn’t hurt that he was kind of cute.

“So this place is really a school?” said Rogue as they made their way through the metal corridors, “Sure doesn’t look like any school Ah ever heard of.”

“Yeah, we’re not exactly your typical school,” said Scott with a slight chuckle, “We are officially recognized and accredited though. We have classes. Some are taught in a traditional classroom, but most of them are online. Occasionally Hank or the professor will lecture, but we’re pretty much left to study our passions.”

“Sounds like a hell of a lot better Mississippi public schools. There you’ll be lucky to get a textbook that ain’t been half-ripped to shreds. Of course, Ah always cut class anyways. Ah always found it a waste of time.”

“You know, you’re the third person to say that,” grinned Scott, “Warren was the first and Bobby was the second. And believe it or not, they’ve found class here more meaningful.”

“Ah’ll bet. Must be easy when you get to take your classes in a mansion,” she scoffed skeptically, “Does this mutant circus even get ya anywhere?”

“Well we’re not Ivy League, but we do take state sanctioned tests and study for real diplomas. I, myself, am studying for a degree in engineering. I hope to one day be a certified flight mechanic. I’ll bet if you thought about it you could find something too.”

“Ah kinda doubt that. Ah never found much to be passionate about back home.”

“Hey, you never know. That’s why you have choices.”

Rogue rolled her eyes. This guy made school here out to be some grand educational experience. Given her history with school, it sounded pretty lame. But seeing as how this guy and his friends helped save her life she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Scott expected her reluctance. Dealing with Logan gave him a new appreciation for stubborn new recruits. But this girl was different. She was a little off in some ways, but it was minor in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully she would be swayed by the last leg of the tour, which they reached towards the end of the wing

“But class is only part of the X-men experience. We also work to hone our powers,” he said as he led her onto the observation deck, “We do most of our honing here. It simulates real environments for us to test our skills. We affectionately call it the Danger Room. And as you can see, we didn’t have to think hard about giving it that name.”

“Ah believe ya there,” laughed Rogue as she gazed down into the arena.

They happened to catch Logan in the middle of one of his runs. As the X-men’s official combat instructor, he ran more Danger Room sessions than anybody. He also left the biggest mess and ran the most dangerous scenarios. The run he was running now was the ever popular jungle mission. The objective was to destroy 100 deadly robots, each armed with plasma blasters and the strength of ten men, in under ten minutes. If at any point the participant got shot too many times or passed out, the mission was a failure. And at the level Logan was running, that was a real possibility even for him.

Rogue watched in awe as Wolverine leaped up into a tree, drawing three robots towards the base and pouncing down on them. His claws drawn, he systematically decapitated two bots with one swipe while impaling the last one before it could get a shot off. Upon thrusting it aside, a plasma burst hit him right in the back, blowing off a good chunk of his flesh in the process. But he didn’t even fall down from the blow. He just got angrier.

“Augh! So that’s the way you wanna play it, huh?” he grunted, “Hrrrrrrrrahhhhhhhhh!”

His feral roar echoed through the arena as he dove head first into ten waiting robots, each pointing at him with their wrist mounted plasma blaster. They all fired at once and a few round grazed Logan again, but it barely slowed him down as he tore into the mechanized humanoids with his claws.

Rogue watched as the feral man tore the unfortunate robots to shreds. She had to admit these people sure knew how to train. How many other schools allowed students to fight killer robots in a jungle setting? It sure was a lot more exciting than the training she got back home. The best she ever had was a punching bag and a couple of weights. It looked dangerous, but that never stopped her before.

“Dang, and that’s the school combat instructor?” she commented.

“Yep,” muttered Scott, “He’s new here too, but he’s already made himself at home.”

“Looks like it. But what about you, sugah? How long have you called this place home?”

Scott paused for a moment before, his thoughts drifting to the past where he rarely dwelled. Then the expression on his face shifted.

“It’s the only real home I’ve ever known,” he said distantly, “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

“Really? Sounds pretty deep for a place with all these crazy gadgets and what not.”

“It’s the truth. And I’m not the only one to feel that way. Ask the others. They’ll say the same thing.”

It was still hard to believe. Maybe she was just being cynical, but this school as they called it was out of this world. It was amazing to see someone speak so fondly of it.

“Ah’ll trust ya on that. Of course, Ah wouldn’t know. Ah never had much of a home anyways.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Scott curiously.

Rogue looked back down at Wolverine as he ripped through another round of robots. As nice as this guy was, she wasn’t ready to tell her story. It was still too soon for her.

“Ah’d…rather not talk about,” she sighed.

“I understand,” said Scott with a reassuring smile, “You don’t have to talk until you’re ready.”

“Thanks Scott. You’re as nice as ya are handsome,” she said, returning his gesture.

Scott blushed. It had been a while since a woman flirted with him. And despite her intimidating demeanor, Rogue was a pretty nice girl. It was hard to believe she was the daughter of Mystique. It showed sometimes, but for the most part she was her own person. That gave him a good feeling about her. Despite what others thought, this girl had X-men material.

“Um…thanks,” he said, “So I guess that concludes the tour. The professor should be ready to meet with you in an hour or so. Want to grab some lunch while we wait?”

“Sounds great, sugah! Lead the way.”

The southern beauty leaned in closer to the X-leader as she followed him out, leaving Wolverine to finish his session in peace. She had to be careful not to get too close. One graze of her skin against his and they would have a situation on their hands. But she was careful enough to avoid it. It would have been nice if she could get closer, but Marie was going to have to get used to the idea that she couldn’t touch anymore. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but she tried not to think about that at the moment.

This was an exciting time for her. She toured the whole institute and liked what she saw. But she couldn’t think about staying here yet. She still had issues with her momma to work out and that was never easy.


Mississippi – 4 Years Ago

“What do you mean I have to leave my daughter behind?!”

“Were my words not clear enough, Raven? I meant what I said. If I am to grant you these profound requests, you must sever all ties with your family and serve me full time,” said a cold, menacing voice.

Raven Darkholm sneered angrily at the hovering figure before her. Standing alone in a vacant farm lot in the dead of night, she couldn’t believe what this fool was asking of her. She heard plenty of ramblings that Erik Lensherr, or Magneto as he now went by, was a reasonable man. But when it came to granting favors it usually came at a high price and this would most certainly qualify.

It didn’t help that she was in a very precarious position. She was at a dead end. Her daughter, Marie, was still young and vulnerable. Her whole family was vulnerable. For the longest time she sought to do what was best for them. She had so many endeavors she simply could not leave behind yet she needed to protect them. She had many enemies who were after her. Her shape-shifting talents were able to carry them through a seemingly endless array of threats. Now she was seeking a final solution, one that would allow her to protect her family indefinitely.

“You can’t expect me to just completely disregard my children, Erik! You’re a father yourself. You know how unreasonable a request that is!” spat the shape-shifter.

“Believe me, I understand. More than you’ll ever know,” he said in a less hostile tone, “Let me assure you that I would never ask this of you if I wasn’t certain it was necessary.”

“Somehow I think it’s just for your own convenience,” scoffed Raven.

“Think what you will, but bear in mind the plan I’ve presented to you requires a great many resources. Some of which, only a woman of your talents can acquire. I know your reputation among the mercenary world, Raven. As Mystique, you are the best when it comes to infiltration, sabotage, blackmail, and spying.”

“Flattery won’t make me abandon my children any sooner.”

“I’m not asking that you abandon them. You said it yourself. They’re young and inexperienced, especially little Marie. Her powers haven’t even manifested yet,” Erik pointed out, “What I ask of you is vital because this plan of mine cannot be done in a simple series of jobs. It’s going to take years of gathering resources, assembling manpower, and acquiring intelligence.”

“And you want me to spend those years away from Marie,” said Raven dryly.

“Think not of what you’ll be sacrificing. Think of what you’ll be gaining,” said the master of magnetism strongly, “When my plan is completed, you and your family will be sheltered and protected in a new world order. That order will have you at the very top of a very strong hierarchy. From what you’ve told me about the forces working against you, that’s a place you’ll need to be in order to ensure the safety of those like little Marie.”

Raven remained hostile, clenching her fists as she kept scolding the master of magnetism. At the same time, there was no denying the appeal of his plan. So much of it spoke strongly to the fighter in her. For too long, their kind had been oppressed. It was one of the many reasons why she and her family had to live such precarious lives. If she did this and Magneto delivered, then she could finally stop running. She could focus all her efforts on being a mother. It was that promise that proved too great to ignore.

Taking a deep breath, Raven Darkholm’s apprehension finally eased. She was still very bitter with this man. She didn’t like that she would have to just leave little Marie with Irene Adler for what could be a very long time. She could only imagine how this would affect the already rebellious 14-year-old. Marie may even end up resenting her. In the end, however, it was still best for her. That sealed her decision.

“So what will it be, Raven?” asked Magneto, “If I leave here, so does my offer. So tell me right now. Do I have your absolute loyalty or not?”

“Yes,” said the shape-shifter plainly, “You have it.”

“Excellent,” said the master of magnetism with a weak grin, “So we’re clear? Do you fully understand and respect the terms of this agreement.”

“I understand,” she said, “But still despise the idea of leaving my children behind.”

“I empathize completely. At least take comfort in the knowledge you’ll be doing a favor for your children and their kind. Who knows? If Marie’s powers manifest in a big way, she may be able to join us and contribute.”

“We’ll see,” said Mystique bitterly, “Just know that I’ll be damned if my own children will be on any other side than the one I’m fighting on!”


Outside Institute Grounds – Present Time

About half-a-mile away from the institute perimeter, a small metal sphere descended from the sky and landed in a clearing. It moved silently, guided by the invisible forces of magnetism. It was small so it was hard to detect, even for a system as advanced as Xavier’s. Inside the sphere was a lone occupant. Once powered down, it opened up to reveal a very perturbed Mystique.

The shape shifter was not in a good mood. Just being close to the mansion made her blood boil. She was so enraged when she heard that her daughter’s powers had manifested and the X-men had come in and picked her up. They had no right to drag her into their world. Marie was her responsibility. She adopted her and raised her. She was supposed to join the Brotherhood, not the X-men. And she would be damned if she was going to let Xavier brainwash her daughter.

“Raven…I know you can hear me. This is the third time I’ve contacted you and you’re testing my patience.”

The deep, menacing voice of Magneto through her earpiece failed to sway her as she stepped out and started making her way towards the mansion. Ever since she hijacked a transport sphere and flew it out of the Brotherhood base, the master of magnetism had been trying to contact her. She didn’t answer him the first time he called and she wasn’t going to start now. He may have been her superior and one of the most powerful mutants on the planet, but that was not enough to keep her from her daughter.

“I’ll tell you one last time…stand down. Do NOT approach the X-men. They are too strong for you to face on your own! I know you want to get your daughter out of there, but this is not the way to do it! Let us formulate a plan with the Brotherhood and…”

At that point, he was cut off. Mystique grew tired of his urgings and took out the ear piece. She tossed it aside, not caring how angry Magneto was going to be with her. She would worry about that after she confronted Rogue and got her away from this cursed place. It didn’t matter if it was safer to confront the X-men as a team. This was her fight. This was her daughter. She would handle it personally and if Magneto didn’t like that, she could show him where to stick that helmet of his.

“Sorry, Erik…but this is a family affair.”


Xavier’s Office

Professor Xavier sat alongside Hank as they went over Rogue’s test results from her physical. Not long after her arrival, Xavier went to work in trying to understand her unique mutation. He quickly found that there were some oddities. Her ability to absorb life energy and mutant powers was unlike anything he had ever seen before and he had seen some pretty strange mutations. The science aside, he knew what was going through the young woman’s mind. Could she control this power?

Rogue sat anxiously in a chair across from Xavier’s desk while he and Hank gathered the paperwork from her tests. She normally wasn’t inclined to trust anybody with health matters. Her mother never even took her to a real doctor growing up. But after all the damage she did, she needed some answers and since her mother was nowhere in sight these X-men were her best bet.

“So what’s the word, Professah? How bad is it?” said Rogue, not hiding her pessimism.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bad, my dear,” said Xavier. “You’re X-gene has manifested in a way I’ve never seen before. You’ve taken absorption powers to a new extreme.”

“First of all, don’t y’all call me dear. Ah ain’t one of your students,” she retorted strongly, “Second, just tell me what the hell is wrong with meh so Ah can start workin’ to fix it!”

“Please calm down, Marie,” coaxed Hank, “I know you’re anxious…”

“Don’t try to comfort meh! Ah don’t need comfort!” shot Rogue, “And don’t call me Marie either. It’s Rogue.”

“Very well…Rogue it is,” said Charles, maintaining a civil tone, “But please understand this mutation isn’t an ailment. It’s as much a part of you as the color of your hair or the tone of your skin. It can’t be fixed per se.”

“Tell that to the people Ah put in comas back home,” she muttered.

“Oh I checked up on that too. It turns out everyone you absorbed made a full recovery after a few hours rest. That confirms what the tests showed,” said Xavier as he looked over some papers, “You’re ability allows you to absorb life energy from others through skin contact. I use the term life energy loosely though because I’m not quite sure of the mechanisms involved, but whatever the case it gives you the abilities and memories of whoever you absorb, including mutant powers. But the effect is only temporary.”

It wasn’t quite what she expected, but it answered a few burning questions for Marie. At least she wasn’t going crazy or anything. She was just walking poison for anybody who came into contact with her.

“So Ah suck the life out of people,” she summarized, “Ah’m basically a vampire without the fangs.”

“I wouldn’t put it quite so crudely, but…yes, in some ways,” said Hank.

Rogue’s expression sank as she looked down at her hands. The part about skin contact was pretty telling. If it meant what she thought it meant, then she was in for some lonely nights.

“Is there any way to control it?” she asked, now not sounding so harsh.

Xavier cast her a reassuring smile.

“With training, I’m sure you’ll be able to manage the abilities you absorb. If you want I can help you. I can use my telepathy to train your mind to control your powers so they don’t control you.”

“But what about stopping it altogether? Am Ah just gonna have to not touch people anymore?”

Xavier and Hank exchanged looks. This was sure to be the hardest part of the discussion.

“At this point, I’m afraid we have no means of holding back your power,” said Hank, “The mental part can be managed. The physiological part however…may take some time.”

“How much time?” asked Rogue intently.

“I don’t know,” said Xavier, “But I’m sure there’s a way.”

“Yes, I myself am a testament to that,” said Hank, “It may seem out of your hands now, but with patience and work you can gain control.”

“Forgive meh if Ah’m skeptical after hearin’ that from a big blue stuffed animal,” she said in a low tone.

Hank’s expression sank. This girl was pretty harsh, not unlike Mystique. But he could hardly blame her. He remember sitting in that same chair dreading the same news that he may not be able to stop the beast inside him. But he placed his trust in Professor Xavier to help him. This girl might not be so accommodating.

“Rogue…” Xavier began.

But she didn’t even let him start. She just got up from her chair and turned away.

“No Ah…Ah don’t wanna talk about it anymore,” she said in a melancholy tone, “Ah think Ah need some space.”

“Rogue please…” said Hank.

He was about to go after her when they heard it.

A deafening bang erupted throughout the room as one of the main windows was blown in, sending shards of glass and wood all over the place. It even caught Xavier off guard, who nearly fell out of his chair while Hank was forced to take cover. Rogue was equally shocked and fell back towards the door. But through the confusion, a figure flew in and changed shape in the middle of the room, revealing a new figure.

“Good lord!” exclaimed Hank.

“Xavier!” came a booming voice, “I believe you have my daughter!”

It took a moment for Rogue to register, but through the damage she saw her. It had been over four years since they last stood in the same room together, but she knew it was her.

“Mama?!” said Rogue in bewilderment.

“It’s me, Marie,” said the shape shifter sternly, “I’m here to take you home.!

Xavier, having recovered from the initial shock, pulled himself up and wheeled out to confront Mystique. He had a feeling their paths would cross sooner or later, but not like this.

Suddenly, the door to his office burst open and Scott, Jean, and Logan came bursting in.

“Professor! We just heard there’s been a…” began Scott, but then he saw who was standing in the room with them, “Mystique?!”

“Oh this must be my lucky day,” growled Logan as he drew his claws.

The three X-men were poised to attack, but Xavier immediately stepped in.

“Stand down, X-men! I repeat, stand down!” he ordered.

“But Professor…” began Scott.

“Do as he says, boy. You don’t want this to get ugly,” threatened Mystique.

“A little outnumbered to be making threats, aren’t ya?” countered Logan.

“Don’t test me! I came prepared for all your tricks!”

Wolverine was ready to tear into this woman. After the fight they had in Detroit, he was itching for a rematch. But once again Xavier stepped in.

“Enough!” he demanded, “While I don’t appreciate your method of entry, I insist you explain yourself, Mystique.”

“There’s nothing to explain. You have my daughter and I’m here to take her back!”

Ignoring the penetrating gazes of the X-men, Raven turned to her adopted daughter. The look on her face was still a mix of bewilderment and distress. She hadn’t seen this woman in years and the next thing she knew she came crashing in through the window saying she was taking her back.

“Let’s go, Marie. Come with me.”

She reached for her arm, but Rogue abruptly pulled away.

“No! Ah’m not goin’ anywhere until Ah get some answers!” she shouted.

“Marie, we don’t have time for this!” said Mystique impatiently, “I have to get you out of here! It’s for your own good!”

“Give meh one good reason why Ah should believe ya when you haven’t so much as written me in the last four years?!”

Rogue was getting pretty worked up. Being in her mother’s presence after all these years was overwhelming. Xavier and his X-men watched nervously as Rogue resisted her mother’s demands. She tried to move in closer, but she wouldn’t let her. They were on a hair-trigger. There was no telling what the shape shifter would do.

“I can’t tell you here,” said Mystique in a calmer tone, “You’ll just have to trust me.”

“Trust you?! You leave meh and expect meh to just up and trust you?!”

“I’m your mother, Marie. All you need to know is that I do whatever is best for you.”

Rogue still didn’t let her near her. But through the anger, she still saw the eyes of her mother. Absence or not, this was the woman that adopted her and took care of her. She couldn’t forget that. But was that enough to just up and trust her? She had a decision to make and Mystique wasn’t making it easy for her.

“Marie…Rogue,” said Professor Xavier, “Don’t make any rash decisions.”

“I told you to stay out of this Charles!” yelled Mystique.

“Sorry, Mystique, but we can’t do that,” said Scott, stepping up next to Rogue, “Your daughter was in trouble and we’re the ones who helped her. Like it or not, we’re a part of this. You can either be reasonable or let this get messy.”

His words were bold and assertive. But knowing Mystique it did little to dissuade her.

“Oh this won’t turn out well,” muttered Logan.

Mystique looked at Cyclops and then back at Marie. She was still visibly upset. Irene told her about how reckless she had become since she last saw her. Her darker dress sense alone was proof of that. Then there were the stories she heard of her sneaking out, skipping school, and experimenting with drugs. She was an out of control teenager. Gaining her immediate trust was a long shot at best, but this was no time to hold a grudge. And if she wasn’t going to listen she was going to take more extreme measures.

“Fine…we’ll talk it out,” said Mystique everybody’s surprise.

“Thank you Raven,” said Xavier.

Rogue let out a sigh of relief. As much as she resented her mother, she didn’t want an all out fight. She finally let her get closer. The rest of the X-men backed off too, but Wolverine didn’t withdraw his claws. He wasn’t convinced that Mystique was ready to talk.

“Forgive me, Marie,” she said under her breath.

Suddenly, the shape shifter shoved Scott away from her and grabbed Rogue by the neck. Before she knew what was going on, a paralyzing shock surged through her body and knocked her out cold. Mystique caught her before she fell over and then sprang into action.

“Back off!” she yelled.

With her free arm, the shape shifter drew a custom made Glock 9 millimeter from a holster on her thigh and fired at Wolverine, hitting him right in the eye.

“Augh!” he howled, clutching his bloodied face.

“Logan!” exclaimed Jean.

While Jean caught Logan, Mystique turned towards Scott and fired three rounds at him. Time slowed as his training took over. He dove behind a nearby chair, narrowly missing the bullets. She then set her sights on Xavier and fired a couple of rounds towards him, but Hank had already sprung into action, tackling him to the floor and taking cover behind his desk.

This gave her the window she needed. Once Xavier was down, she bolted towards the door with Rogue in her arms. Jean, who was still aiding Logan, tried to put up a telekinetic shield to keep her from leaving.

“Oh no you don’t!” said the redhead menacingly.

“Forgetting someone?” grinned Mystique.

She then turned her gun back towards Scott, who emerged from behind the chair, and fired another two shots at him. This forced Jean to let down her shield over the door and put one up in front of Scott. She successfully deflected the bullets, but by then Mystique was already out in the hall.

“Charles! Are you okay?” asked Hank as he helped him up.

“I’m fine. She was just trying to distract us,” said Xavier short of breath.

“Could’ve fooled me,” groaned Logan.

“Logan your eye…” said Jean, looking worriedly at his eye.

“It’ll grow back,” he grunted through the pain, “I knew that bitch would pull a fast one!”

“So much for being reasonable,” muttered Scott, “We have to stop her!”

“I’ve already summoned help,” said Xavier.

Out in the hall, Mystique struggled to keep her daughter’s limp form steady as she darted towards the stairs. By now Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and Wolverine should have recovered and were already after her. If she could get to the ground floor and out the window, she had a chance. Rogue just had to stay out.

“Hnn…” she groaned.

“It’s almost over, Marie,” said Mystique, “I promise I’ll make everything right for us.”

She turned down the main hallway with Scott, Jean, and Logan already catching up with her. The stairwell was in sight, but in her way was a new obstacle.

“Going somewhere?” said Bobby in full Iceman form.

“What are you going to do, freeze me?” scoffed the shape shifter, “Ice me and you ice Marie!”

“Who said anything about icing you?”

Bobby then channeled his powers and formed a thick barrier of ice in the middle of the hallway, impeding her path. Now she was officially boxed in. Scott, Jean, and Logan were closing fast and weren’t going to fall for her tricks twice.

“Give up, Mystique! You’re trapped!” yelled Scott.

“Like hell I am!”

The shape shifter quickly ducked into the nearest room, which happened to be Bobby’s. She drew her gun again and shot out the window with two shots. While the second floor was not ideal for an escape, she didn’t have a choice. But being a shape shifter gave her options. She shifted into the form of a large, seven-foot tall gorilla. Hitching Rogue over her shoulder, she leapt out through the window, grabbing onto a nearby tree branch and shimmying down to the ground.

“Oh man, my room!” groaned Bobby.

“She’s outside! I’m goin’ after her!” exclaimed Logan, his eye still bleeding.

“No need,” said Jean as she sensed something with her telepathy, “It’s already under control.”

Outside, Mystique maintained her gorilla form and made a beeline for the perimeter. She sensed Rogue stirring. That shock she gave her with the mini-tasers was wearing off faster than she thought. She raised her daughter to be too tough to be taken out by a simple shock to the system.

“Ugh…momma? Momma! Let me down!” she exclaimed.

She began struggling in Mystique’s gorilla arms. But the shape shifter wouldn’t listen. Her goal was to get her Marie out of this place and she didn’t have time to fight with her. But just as she reached a clearing, she was hit with a sudden gust of wind. The next thing she knew, that gust turned into a tornado and it surrounded her and Rogue in an impenetrable bind.

“That’s enough, Mystique!” proclaimed Storm as she flew down from above, her eyes white hot with intensity.

Grunting in frustration, Mystique returned to her normal form with Rogue still in hand.

“Out of my way!” she demanded.

“Stop it, momma! Just STOP!” exclaimed Rogue.

The training she spent years learning kicked in and in a true act of defiance, she slugged her adopted mother across the face with the hardest right hook she could muster. It caught her completely off guard and she fell to the ground, releasing Rogue in the process. It was the first time she ever struck her like that. Circumstances aside, it hurt and it caused the shape shifter to stop in a ways even Storm’s powers couldn’t.

“Marie…”

“Get away from meh! Just stay away!” exclaimed Rogue.

The young woman crawled away from her in disgust, tears forming in her eyes as she struggled to collect herself. Whatever Mystique hit her with earlier really hit hard. How any woman could use something like that against her own daughter was beyond her. Whatever the reason she was through giving her chances.

“How could you do this to meh?!” she cried, “First ya up and left meh for four years! Then you’re not there when Ah start puttin’ people into comas! And now you’re tryin’ to kidnap me! What kind of mother does that?!”

“You don’t understand,” said Mystique, still clenching her face, “I’m only doing what…”

“What you think is best for meh, Ah know!” spat Rogue, “Well if this is your idea of what’s best, count meh out! Ah don’t wanna see you anymore!”

“Don’t talk to me like that, Marie!”

“Shut up! And don’t call meh, Marie! It’s Rogue to you!”

Her venomous tone hit hard. Mystique was seldom phased, but the raw anger in her daughter’s left her utterly speechless. More tears filled the eyes of her daughter. This hurt her much more than it she could put into words. Mystique remained numb, hiding away every emotion that consumed her as she stared down her adopted daughter.

By now, the rest of the X-men caught up to them. Bobby joined up with Scott, Jean, and Logan and ran towards Rogue’s aid. Ororo joined them, maintaining a vigilant eye on the shape shifter in case she tried anything. If she went for the gun, she would get hit with a full fledged lightning storm. But from the looks of it, the fighting was over.

“Rogue! Are you okay?” said Scott as he and the others gathered around her.

He and Jean helped her up. She was still wobbly from the shock, but that pain was nothing compared to what she was feeling inside.

“Ah…Ah don’t know,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

Mystique stepped forward, but then Wolverine, Iceman, and Storm got in front of her. She caught them off guard the last time, but they weren’t going to let her get away with it again.

“Nice parenting, Mystique. Is this how you settle disputes with your children?” scorned Ororo.

“Shut up!” she replied, “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Maybe not. But do yourself a favor and quit while you’re behind. You can keep trying if you want. It’s all the same to me,” growled Logan, drawing his claws.

Raven looked at the three X-men blocking her and the other two helping her daughter stand. They all looked equally determined to protect her. It was another slap in the face to her as a parent, but there was nothing more she could do. She was outnumbered, outgunned, and overmatched. No trickery would get her to her daughter now. She had to face the cold hard truth.

“Fine…you win this round,” she said bitterly, “But like it or not, you’re still my daughter, Marie. Sooner or later, we will be together again. That I promise you.”

“You’re crazy, Mystique,” commented Bobby.

“And you’re a fool. You’re all fools. The X-men’s days are numbered. You’ll see.”

Some were inclined to laugh at such a clichéd threat, but they had enough excitement for one day. They watched as Mystique shifted into a falcon and flew away, leaving her daughter in the hands of the X-men and a tenuous future.

Rogue still had tears in her eyes, but she wouldn’t show the true extent of her distress. It hurt four years ago when Mystique up and disappeared. It hurt even more to see her do something like this. Her own mother tried to kidnap her. She would rather fight her enemies than sit down and talk to her. It spoke worlds of her priorities. Whatever it was she was fighting for, it was clearly more important than her.

Scott and Jean cast sympathetic gazes. This girl was clearly hurting. Not only had she found out she may never touch another human being again, her adopted mother went out of her way to hurt her like this. It must be a bitter pill to swallow. But her ability to reject her spoke volumes for her character.

“I’m sorry, Rogue,” said Jean.

“Don’t be,” she said softly, “She’s a bitter old woman and Ah’m her daughter. That’s all there is to it.”


Later

Once things settled, Rogue met privately with Professor Xavier again. It had been an emotional day for her. This was a dark time in her life. She found out she was a mutant with the power to drain the life out of anybody she touched and she severed ties with her adopted mother. It was a lot to take in for a teenage girl who was already an outcast. The world seemed out to get her. It was all happening so fast and even for someone as tough as she was, it left her reeling.

For Professor Charles Xavier, it was a unique situation. He never could have imagined the kind of complications he would face in helping this young woman. She had so many issues going on in her life that went beyond mutant powers. There was nobody for her to turn to. She was all alone in the world now that she had pushed Mystique away. And even now with so much bitterness, he doubted this was the last of her family drama. He sensed in her a certainty that Mystique would stay part of her life. But that was one in a sea of unknowns. She was at a true crossroad in her life and had to make some major choices.

“I know this has been difficult for you, Rogue,” he said in a soft, caring tone, “I can’t pretend to know the kind of pain you’re going through. I know Mystique is your mother. And on some levels, I’m sure she still loves you a great deal.”

“Sure has a strange way of showing,” she said bitterly.

“Never-the-less, I believe you did the right thing. You chose to go a different path than your mother wanted. And now that she’s gone, you have another decision to make.”

Rogue had a feeling where this was going. It was the same as before, only Mystique interrupted them before she they could settle it. Here was another chance to make a life-changing decision.

“Look Professah…Ah appreciate all you and the X-men have done for meh. Hell, Ah hate to think what would have happened if y’all hadn’t stepped up and helped meh like ya did. But Ah’ve caused ya enough damage. It might just be better for all of us if Ah left.”

“I don’t believe that,” said Xavier strongly, “I don’t think you believe it either. This school was founded for people like you. You think nobody understands what you’re going through, but you’re wrong. If you just give us a chance I know we can help you.”

“Ah don’t know. After everything Ah’ve done and all the damage Ah gal with mah power can do, Ah don’t know if Ah deserve a chance.”

“Everybody deserves a chance, Rogue. And I’m giving you one. Stay with the X-men. Join us and learn how to use your powers. There’s a whole world open to you if you’re just willing to try.”

It was quite an offer, especially from a man whom she caused some major property damage. But he looked serious. He genuinely wanted her, a rebellious outcast from Mississippi as part of his school. Rogue never found a place where she really fit in. She gave up trying long ago. Maybe this was a chance to find her place again. It wasn’t like she had anywhere else to go and this may be best for her, even if it widened the rift between her and her mother.

“You really wanna change the world, huh?” said Rogue with a half grin.

“I like to think that’s a big part of my dream,” smiled Xavier.

“As corny as that sounds, Ah guess it’s worth a try. It can’t be any worse than public school.”

Xavier was glad to hear her decision. He saw potential in this girl. For her to be raised by Mystique, yet still give his school a chance meant something. She was special even if she was rough around the edges. Above all, she had a good heart. And that was the most important aspect of being an X-man.

“I’m happy to hear you say that. It’s an honor to have you here, Mari…I mean, Rogue.”

“Thanks, sugah,” said Rogue, managing a smile, “Ah’ll try not to screw it up.”

Xavier extended his hand and Rogue shook it, sealing the deal. It was official now. Marie Anna Darkholme was an X-man. It was a hell of a change for a lifetime outcast and she had a long road ahead of her. But with the toughness instilled in her by Mystique and the heart that led her to them the professor was confident she had a bright future with them. It was just a matter of getting around parts of her attitude.

While this momentous moment was going on, Jean stood outside listening. Officially, she was just there to watch over in case something else went wrong. But she had other reasons. Earlier today she confided her mistrust of Rogue. She was a rebel raised by one of their greatest enemies who showed little desire to pursue grand ambitions like Xavier’s dream. But some of those fears had been laid to rest. She showed she was not like Mystique in the way she rejected her. She also showed a desire to better her situation, although part of that may be due to lack of options. There were still other reasons, but they were too much to dwell on at the moment.

Jean was suddenly brought out of her thoughts by Bobby as he casually passed by.

“So what’s the word? Is the Rogue gonna join?’ asked Bobby.

“Looks like it,” sighed Jean.

“Cool. I’ll bet that’ll make Scott happy. Those two seem to hit it off.”

Jean’s expression shifted. That was the one thing she wanted to avoid thinking about at this point. And Bobby being the insensitive, immature guy he was just had to bring it up.

“Don’t start, Bobby,” she groaned.

“What? What did I start?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I honestly don’t,” he said innocently, “Could you be more specific? You say that to me at least three times a day.”

“Just stop, okay? I’d rather not dwell on the issue.”

“What issue? Rogue? Or Scott AND Rogue?”

“Bobby…” she said in a more threatening tone.

“Okay! Okay! I get it! It’s a touchy issue. I don’t know why, but that’s your business.”

Jean rolled her eyes as Bobby walked off. It sounded somewhat irrational of her to snap at the mention of Scott and Rogue. Maybe it was just the stress of the past few days getting to her, but something about it just didn’t sit right. She shook it off for now, but she had a feeling this wasn’t the last she would have to deal with this issue. Now that Rogue was moving in things were sure to get complicated, but then again they were all used to that and there was little doubt it was sure to continue.

Brotherhood Base

The ride back to base was a long and bitter one for Raven Darkholme. Anger, sadness, and disappointment dominated her mood. Her own daughter had turned against her. After all the work she had put in and all the sacrifices she made, the ungrateful brat pushed her away and jumped on Xavier’s bandwagon of freaks. Even if teenagers were supposed to rebel, this was a step beyond just acting out. Marie turned her down after she went to great lengths to ensure that she would be insulated from what Magneto had planned. Now that she was involved with the X-men, she would be in the thick of it.

It marked yet another failure in her long, complicated personal life. She adopted that girl for many reasons, but one of the biggest was she felt a kinship with her. Her life was very similar to hers and she raised her to overcome it. It wasn’t like she wanted to leave her daughter in the first place. Her role in the Brotherhood demanded it. If she had stayed, their lives would have gone nowhere. The world wasn’t going to change without force and her own daughter may find herself on the wrong side when the war began.

As her transport orb flew into the base, the shape shifter lamented at the lecture Magneto was going to give her. She defied his direct orders, a dangerous move for anybody mutant or not. But she couldn’t care less. Erik had both his kids on his side. He didn’t understand what she was going through. Mutant messiah or not, this was her fight and she lost.

When it landed, she stepped out to see a very angry Magneto standing before her. His arms were folded across his chest, his gaze narrowed on her. None of the other Brotherhood members were close. That was probably to keep her from calling out for help.

“Back alone, I see,” said the master of magnetism in a stern tone.

“If you’re going to kill me for defying your orders would you do make it quick? I’d rather skip the lecture,” replied Mystique indifferently.

Magneto raised his hand, summoning shards of metal from the surrounding area. He then guided each shard into a powerful whirlwind around the shape shifter, completely trapping her in a shell of deathly shrapnel.

“I’m not going to kill you, Raven. I know death doesn’t scare you.”

“Then what are you going to do? Torture me?” she scoffed, “You know that won’t work either.”

“I have no desire to test your pain tolerance either. But make no mistake, I will terminate our agreement and you along with it if you continue your insubordination! I am not above such tactics!”

Mystique fell silent. Even in her sorry state, she wasn’t going to further tempt the master of magnetism. He was still her superior and he still held the key to her ultimate goal. Her only choice was to take his scorn.

“Your daughter would have made a fine member, but you must accept that she is lost to us…for now. We’ve already set into motion the next part of our plan. Soon, she will be given another opportunity to join us.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to avoid!” exclaimed Mystique, “I will not stand by and let Marie get hurt in the crossfire! There’s no telling what will happen if…”

“Calm yourself, Raven. I assure you your little Rogue will be fine. But she has made her choice. Let her live with the consequences.”

“Easy for you to say! I doubt you’d stand idly if Wanda and Pietro were in the same position!”

Magneto didn’t respond to that. Like her, he cared deeply for his children. But he had priorities. He could see far enough ahead to make the necessary sacrifices for the fate of his kind and his family. Mystique, however, was not so level-headed. But she was too valuable an ally to lose.

“My cause requires every one of us to make sacrifices,” he told her, “But rest assured they will not be in vain. You’ll have another chance with your daughter. And eventually she’ll see the light. She and the rest of the world will see. But I need you to do your part, Raven. Can you do that?”

Mystique’s expression didn’t change. Erik was an ambitious man. He would go to any length for his cause. She could not match that kind of dedication, but knowing what was ahead for them she was in too deep to turn back and she doubted he would let her out alive anyways. She was no good to Marie dead. She could only hope she would be okay as the Brotherhood continued the next step in Magneto’s vision.

“Yes,” she answered flatly.

The whirling metal stopped and fell to the floor. She was officially out of danger for the moment, but the look on his face made it clear she was still on thin ice.

“Good,” he said firmly, “Now return to your duties. The next phase of my plan is about to begin.”


New York City Harbor

It was past five as Warren filled out the last of the paperwork for Xavier’s latest shipment of high tech toys. As important as it was to maintain their advanced systems, it didn’t make bringing it the mansion any less a chore. It was one of the duties Warren hated most. He had wings for crying out loud. He wasn’t meant to spend two hours driving a rented truck through New York traffic. It also didn’t help that some of these components came from Worthington Industries, a company he had a strong love-hate relationship with. But that was the price he paid for swapping chores with Scott over a baseball game.

It was an unfortunate part of Xavier’s desire to keep some of their activities secret. There were just too many people in the world who would love to see them all imprisoned or worse. They needed some kind of edge and technology was a pretty useful tool. It would have been nice if he could just pay truckers to get this stuff to the mansion, but that could open the door to all kinds of tricks. Some enterprising mutant hater could bribe someone to drive a bomb up to their gate and set it off and they didn’t need that.

“Is everything squared away, sir?” asked the shipyard manager.

“Looks like it,” said Warren as he signed the last paper, “Are we all loaded up?”

“Just one last crate and we will be. I know we said a half hour, but you have to understand this stuff is heavy.”

“Yeah, well the man I represent likes to think big,” grinned the winged mutant.

Warren watched as several dock workers struggled to get the last crate into the truck. It was a good thing these things weren’t marked because they probably wouldn’t understand the advanced hardware they were carrying. According to Beast, these would be the newest, most advanced components for Cerebro. Of course, he said that with every shipment, but Warren never questioned how it worked. All that mattered was that these things did their job.

“That reminds me, there was one other item that came with this shipment from big man Worthington himself,” said the manager.

“What is it this time?” groaned Warren.

“A letter to his boy,” said the man as he reached into his back pocket and pulled it out, “He said leave it with the crates, but since you’re here I might as well give it to you.”

“Thanks,” he said flatly, “Saves him the cost of using real postage.”

The manager looked at him strangely. Not a lot of people got mail from the head of a major company like Worthington Industries. Even if this was the top man’s kid, he sure didn’t look thrilled to see it.

“Sounds like you got issues,” he commented.

“You don’t know the half of it,” sighed Warren, “Are we done here?”

“Yep! You’re all set, kid.”

“Good, because if I don’t get going soon I’ll hit New York City rush hour traffic. If anything comes up, you know our number so call us.”

“Will do,” said the manager as he wished the young man off.

The back door was closed up and locked, the paperwork was done, and Warren was ready to go home. He climbed into the truck and strapped himself in for the long haul. He put the letter from his father with the rest of the paperwork. He was tempted to just throw it into the nearest shredder, but he chose not to. Maybe on a good day he would open it. It wasn’t like he could completely disassociate himself from his father. It was the unfortunate byproduct of being the only heir to the Worthington fortune.

The manager watched the truck disappear into the traffic. He found himself staring until it was out of sight. The other workers went back to their hauling duties, but he stood and lingered. When he finally turned around he was met with a bald man in a black suit wearing dark sunglasses.

 “You did good. We appreciate your service,” said the man as he slipped a wad of hundred dollar bills into his shirt pocket, “Buy yourself something nice.”

The manager didn’t say a word. He gave the man a stern look and went back to doing his job. He didn’t even want to think about what that money just did. He didn’t even ask. He had a feeling he’d sleep better at night if he didn’t.

For the manager the job was over, but for the man in the suit it was just beginning. Grinning in triumph he took out his cell phone and called his superior.

“General Wraith, it’s me. The bug is in the nest.”

“Excellent. Return to base, Cornelius. Now we can proceed with the next step. At any rate, old Logan and his friends won’t know what hit ‘em.”


Next Issue: Off Night Part 1

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