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Volume 3 -- Issue 3.1 -- Sin City Shenanigens

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Sin City Shenanagins
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It is a time of transition for the X-men and the world that hates and fears them. Professor Charles Xavier brought them together in hopes of using their powers for the greater good. This noble vision of peace between humans and mutants encounters a great deal of opposition on a regular basis. Much of it comes from Magneto, a former friend of Xavier who seeks a more aggressive vision. It is the clash of these conflicting worldviews that forced them to face the one obstacle that no mutant power can overcome…politics.

The escalating tensions between humans and mutants inspired Senator Robert Kelly to run for president. As a lifelong crusader against mutant threats, he favored a more aggressive approach to the human/mutant conflict. He based his campaign around it, which quickly developed into a tumultuous affair. The senator was poised for victory when Magneto forever changed the stakes by turning his son into a mutant on the day he was elected. The effect of this change remains unclear. The mutant nation of Genosha remains unstable under Magneto’s leadership. The public is still divided even after Robert Kelly’s election. All this in addition to an encounter with the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force has left the X-men drained.

Now the Xavier Institute is between semesters. In order to keep the spirits of his students up, Professor Charles Xavier organized something special. They have trained hard, fought harder, and overcome so many obstacles. That is why the X-men now find themselves on a much-deserved vacation in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Las Vegas – MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

Luck was rarely on the side of dreamers. Professor Xavier had learned that lesson time and again. Nearly every major undertaking in his life was a struggle and luck was fleeting at best. He had just enough to help him survive cancer and a little extra that gave him the resources to form the X-men. By this logic, he should have avoided any activities that require luck. However, logic wasn’t always appropriate. That was why sitting a craps table at a casino in Las Vegas felt so right.

“You’re on a roll, Professor! Don’t stop now!” urged Scott Summers, the leader of the X-men and Xavier’s most dedicated students.

“You’re still encouraging me, Scott? I thought you of all people would know not to push our luck,” said Charles Xavier in a humored tone.

“We’re not on a mission. We’re in Las Vegas! You’ve just rolled ten straight times without losing the round and I just doubled my bet on the pass line. Your point is still ten so hit that point and we’re up another five hundred!”

The Professor hadn’t seen Scott this energetic since their last mission against Magneto. He was genuinely excited about something that didn’t involve putting his life on the line. It was a clear sign that this Las Vegas vacation was a good idea.

They had arrived yesterday and were staying for a long weekend. Scott, Jean, Bobby, Hank, Logan, Ororo, Rogue, Kitty, Remy, and Kurt were all in need of relief from the rigors of being X-men. The semester had ended and the holidays had passed. The mood was still tense with Senator Kelly’s inauguration looming and Warren’s recent departure. Bobby was the one that suggested they go on a vacation. Logan was the one who suggested Las Vegas, although it didn’t come off as a serious suggestion. After some consideration, Professor Xavier made the arrangements. Thanks to his wealth, he and the X-men were welcomed at the MGM Grand.

So far it had been quite enjoyable. Las Vegas offered many activities and endless possibilities. At the moment the only possibility that concerned Charles Xavier was the outcome of this next roll.

“Very well, I’m ready!” said the Professor, now sharing Scott’s energy.

“In that case, I’ll add another hundred bucks to my bet,” said Scott, putting down more chips on the table.

“I don’t bet against mutants so I’m in!” said another better.

“Me too!” said an attractive blond woman at the other end of the table.

The pressure was on. Professor Xavier was surrounded by flashing lights, a restless group of players, and a few attractive hostesses offering drinks. His mutant status seemed inconsequential. It certainly helped that he came with money, but only after he assured the staff that telepathy couldn’t affect games of chance. Even if it could, it would rob the game of the excitement. So with this in mind Professor Xavier rolled the dice and awaited the results.

“Hard ten!” announced the dealer.

“Yes! That’s three hundred bucks for me!” said one of the betters.

“And eight hundred for me!” said an attractive woman, “Keep rolling like that and I may just recant my vote for Robert Kelly.”

“Just the winnings will do, ma’am,” said Scott as he collected the Professor’s winnings.

The rest of the table cheered as Professor Xavier gathered more chips. He was now up a few thousands dollars after being down for the first day of their visit. The thrill and excitement was enough to do a way with the headaches he had been coping with since the Phoenix affair. He received additional encouragement as the dealer gave him the dice again.

“Maybe we should use craps to win over humanity instead of heroics,” said Scott as he placed another bet.

“We’ll keep it as a last resort,” said Xavier jokingly, “I’m not much of a gambler, but I’ll take whatever luck I can get.”

“Well you’re on a hot streak so you might as well keep at it!” said the X-leader, “It’s more exciting than anything the others are doing.”

“Oh I wouldn’t assume that, Scott,” said the Professor as he prepared to roll again, “This is Las Vegas. I’m sure the rest of the team are finding ways to enjoy themselves.”


MGM Grand – Spa

“By the winds of the Sahara…this is incredible!” said an exuberant Ororo Munroe.

“Mmm…I appreciate the enthusiasm, Miss Munroe. But I can hear you,” said an equally relaxed Jean Grey.

“Hnn…my apologize, Jean.”

“None necessary! If I wasn’t so tired from a night in a Jacuzzi with Scott, I would be saying the same thing.”

It had been a while since Ororo and Jean had been this content. Las Vegas was known for all sorts of flashy casinos and high profile shows. For two overworked X-women, a luxurious spa was every bit as noteworthy.

The two women had reserved a full two-hours of pampering. The MGM had a very nice spa with a special area reserved only for those with deep pockets. It was dimly lit, beautifully decorated, and surrounded by burning incense. There was an open sauna, a fully equipped shower, and a whirlpool hot tub. This special room was usually reserved for celebrities. Since the others were occupied, Ororo and Jean reserved this one for themselves.

They had just finished a nice sauna. Now they were lying face down on two specially made beds in the center of the room. They were fully nude except for a towel covering their butts. Standing beside them were two attractive young men who were well-paid for their talented hands, which they had been using to great effect.

“Miss Munroe, your back is quite tense. I may require more than thirty minutes to properly relieve you,” said the masseuse in a French accent.

“Mmm…take your time. I’m a very patient woman,” said Ororo through purrs of contentment.

“Am I wrong to think some of that strain isn’t the product of the Danger Room? I sensed quite a bit of contorting last night after you and Logan got back from the bar,” commented Jean, taking deep breaths as her masseuse worked his magic.

“Were we really that loud? Or were we projecting our thoughts again?”

“A little of both,” answered Jean wryly, “Does that mean you’re back on track after the whole Mystique issue?”

Ororo groaned a bit and this time it wasn’t from the massage. Her relationship with Logan had been as eventful as it had been passionate. It seemed they were doing all the right things. That passion was turning to love and that love was forging a solid relationship. Then on Election Day something unexpected happened. Logan met up with Mystique. She just wanted him to deliver a letter to her kids. Then for reasons neither of them understood, they kissed. Logan came clean about it and it led to some tension. They had been working through it for the most part, but it wasn’t without complications.

“We’re doing better,” said the African woman distantly as she tried to relax, “I guess it’s good that Logan came clean from the beginning.”

“If only all men were that honest,” said Jean with a content sigh.

“It’s not always ideal. Logan says he still doesn’t know why he kissed Mystique. Something about feelings that weren’t attached to memories.”

“I’ve been down that road before with Logan. Since you two are still together, I can safely say you handled it better than I did.”

“It also helps that he’s gone out of his way to make it up to me,” said Ororo with a slight smile, “I think he learned from you that you have to fight a little harder to make a relationship stronger.”

“Your welcome,” said Jean with a smirk.

“There are still unknowns. I believe we can work through them. A relaxing vacation has been therapeutic in so many ways.”

Ororo let out another round of gasps as her masseuse hit a particularly tense pack of muscles in her shoulders. It was so tense she rose up a bit.

“You ladies are a pleasure to gaze upon and to touch. However, even the hands of a master can only do so much when you are talking,” he said.

“Sorry about that,” said Jean as she settled down a bit, “We’ll keep it quiet and tip extra if we’ve bored you with our personal lives.”

“I am a long way from bored, Miss Grey,” said Jean’s masseuse in a Spanish accent, “When you pay as much as you have, I always give extra attention.”

To prove his point, the man gave her lower back a special series of rubs. This got Jean to moan blissfully as well. She sank into the padded massage table and so did Ororo. The two highly trained and highly paid masseuses went all out, working extra hard to make sure they were too relaxed to talk. Within minutes they seemed to succeed.

‘New rule, Miss Munroe. No more relationship talk unless it involves steamy bedroom hijinks.’

‘Deal!’


MGM Grand – Pool

The warmth of the desert sun was a welcome feeling for anyone who had been cooped up from the winter cold. It felt odd, lounging around in a bathing suit when there was two feet of snow on the ground back home. Kitty Pryde adapted to it as quickly as the rest of the team. She and Rogue had been enjoying the warm weather for most of the day. The extra pampering from the pool staff was a nice touch.

“Sunbathing in January…saying it out loud makes it feel even better!” grinned Kitty as a pool attendant gave her a nice fruit smoothie.

“You walk through walls and you’ve gone head-to-head with a cosmic bird. How exactly is this all that groundbreaking?” said Rogue, who was lying on her stomach while resting her head on her arms.

“I grew up in Chicago. I’m usually shoveling snow and pulling muscles this time of year. This is such a nice change of pace!”

“If only Ah could be that thrilled by something as simple as warm weather,” said Rogue dryly, “So far most of the excitement has come from the all extra goodies the Professor’s black credit card affords.”

“Is that a complaint?”

“Ah never said it wasn’t okay with it,” she replied with a grin.

Rising up slightly, Rogue greeted another pool attendant who served her a fresh smoothie and a new pack of premium cigarettes. She smiled in contentment, retying her bikini top so she could sit up without turning too many heads. Even she had to admit there was a lot of appeal to lying around by a pool in the middle of winter.

Kitty and Rogue had barely moved from her lounge chair since they arrived. Armed with newly purchased bikinis, they soaked up as much sun as they could. Bobby was with them as well, choosing to spend most of his time in the pool. It helped that the pool at the MGM was one of the best on the Las Vegas Strip and the weather for this time year was perfect. Everything felt just right. A vacation like this was just what they all needed.

As Rogue sat up, she lit a cigarette and started puffing away. Kitty rose up as well so she could enjoy her smoothie.

“If this is all we do for this vacation, would you still consider it a success?” asked Kitty.

“Of course, sugah! Why wouldn’t it be?” asked Rogue upon taking a fresh drag.

“The legal age for gambling is 21 last I checked. Some of us are restricted from enjoying the full range of what Vegas has to offer.”

“So what? With the Professor’s line of credit, Ah’m sure we can get away with placing a few bets,” said Rogue mischievously.

“As if the Professor was ever okay with breaking the law,” said Kitty, rolling her eyes.

“Why not? He’s okay with running his own mutant militia. Part of that can’t be completely legal.”

“Point taken, I’m not just talking about gambling. I bring it up because I was seriously skeptical at first. I was hoping we would hit up a place like Cancun, the Bahamas, or some other island paradise. Las Vegas wasn’t at the top of my list for choices. Hell, it wasn’t even top ten.”

“You don’t sound too disappointed, Kitty.”

“I’m not. I’m going on record and saying that my skepticism has officially been crushed! The beaches are nice and all, but they don’t have the ambiance of Las Vegas!”

“So can Ah assume you’ve decided where you’re gonna spend your 21st birthday when the time comes?” joked Rogue.

“Even without the gambling there are enough shows, spas, pools, and buffets to make even an X-man feel relaxed!”

“Amen to that!” said Rogue in agreement as she took another drag on her cigarette, “Although Ah’m still hoping that Jean will be nice enough to twist a few minds later tonight so Ah can get into a few mature show.”

“Are you referring to that billboard for the male strip club we saw coming in? The Thunder From Down Under or something?” said Kitty wryly.

“Oh don’t pretend you weren’t lookin’ as well! Last Ah checked you and Bobby were broken up. Why shouldn’t you entertain the thought of a bunch of studs dancing naked on stage?”

Rogue made it sound so right even if it was so wrong legally. Kitty couldn’t stop herself from smiling as she finished her smoothie. It wasn’t lost on her that she was single now. Her brief romance with Bobby Drake fizzled before it got too serious. It was also not lost on her that Rogue was single in a more complicated sense. She and Remy still had a lot of chemistry. They really hadn’t made much of it since Rogue couldn’t touch. That led her to wonder if their status had changed.

“That reminds me, how is Remy doing?” asked Kitty.

“He’s a former thief who can’t resist making card puns every fifteen minutes. Ah’m guessing he’s like a kid in a candy factory!” shrugged Rogue, “Or a fox in a hen house if that ain’t going too far.”

“That’s not what I meant, Rogue.”

Rogue’s demeanor changed. She finished her cigarette and put it out in the ash tray. Kitty had that overly blunt tone in her voice again. It was annoying even while they were on vacation.

“Can we please not have this conversation?” she sighed, “Ah thought we agreed to avoid all sore subjects while we were here.”

“I wouldn’t call it a sore subject. Annoyingly repetitive would be more like it.”

“Well maybe it’s repetitive because nothing has changed,” said Rogue, “Ah still can’t touch. Remy can’t get around it. We have a mutual understanding about it.”

“I get the mutual part, but what is there to understand?”

“That we care about each other, but can’t be together,” she clarified, “We’ve talked about it more times than Ah care to count. This is the most we can hope for. If something else comes along, we ain’t gonna stop each other from being happy.”

“Something else? You mean someone else,” Kitty surmised, “Are you telling me that if a beautiful woman walked up to Remy and they fell in love on the spot, it wouldn’t bother you?”

Kitty’s lack of tactfulness got under Rogue’s skin once again. It prompted her to reach for another cigarette. Even on vacation, Kitty couldn’t take a break from being Kitty.

“See? That’s the reason I didn’t wanna have this conversation,” said Rogue as she lit her cigarette.

“I’m sorry if that didn’t come out right, but it doesn’t make my point any less valid,” Kitty said sheepishly.

“Even if it is, we’ll cross that bridge when Ah get to it. No good is gonna come by obsessing over it.”

“You may be right,” she conceded, “I still think it’s worth noting we’re in Las Vegas. There are plenty of beautiful women here that will throw themselves at guys like Remy.”

“Which is another reason why Ah don’t wanna dwell on it,” Rogue said in a stronger tone, “Ah’m on vacation, Kitty. Can we hold off on all matters relating to the opposite sex that don’t involve harmless fantasy?”

Kitty rolled her eyes, having run out of painfully blunt responses. The issues between Remy and Rogue weren’t going to be settled anytime soon. It didn’t make sense to obsess over it while they were on vacation. Their sole concern should be how much sun they could absorb before going back to snow-covered Westchester.

Kitty put her sunglasses back on and laid back in her lounge chair. As she did, the shadow of a figure formed over her and Rogue. It was a middle-aged Asian man who had a pin labeled pool manager on his chest. If the disgruntled expression on his face was any indication, he wasn’t there to give them another smoothie.

“Excuse me, ladies. I realize you’re here as VIPs, but I was of the understanding that your kind would practice restraint during your stay.”

“Our kind?” said Rogue apprehensively, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The pool manager looked towards the main pool. Rogue and Kitty did so as well and immediately saw what he was referring to.

“Whoa...” said Kitty, having to remove her sunglasses again

“Ah hell,” groaned Rogue.

It was quite a spectacle. The oversized pool had a diving board and small kiddie slide, but that wasn’t enough for Bobby so he made some impromptu modifications with his ice powers. This included a much bigger slide near the deep end complete with an ice ladder and several hard turns that even the most foolish of kids wouldn’t dare attempt. His motivation for doing this didn’t stem completely from his desire for thrills either. There were five college-aged girls around him who he was trying to impress. From the looks of it, he succeeded.

“Line up for Iceman express, ladies!” said Bobby proudly.

“Wow! You really are the Iceman!” said one of the girls.

“Is it safe?” wondered another.

“Who cares? I’m going first!” said a pretty blond.

“No, I’m going first!” said an equally attractive Asian woman.

“Take it easy. You’ll all get your turn,” said Bobby with a wide grin.

It drew plenty of attention from the other guests. Some were amused. Others were disturbed. Rogue just rolled her eyes and took an exceptionally heavy drag from her cigarette. High rollers or not, this place wasn’t equipped for Bobby’s immaturity.

“Dang it! How do figure we explain this to the Professor, Kitty?” she wondered.

Usually this was the point where Kitty blurted out the first thing on her mind. This time Rogue heard only silence.

“Kitty?” she said, looking to her right.

Rogue turned to see that Kitty had just gotten up from her lounge chair and was running full speed towards Bobby’s ice slide.

“Hey Bobby! You better leave a space for your ex!” she called out.

It was a stark reminder that Kitty was still a teenager as well. Rogue was now left to confront the disgruntled pool manager alone. By now he had folded his arms in disapproval. With little to explain, Rogue smiled awkwardly and shrugged.

“If it makes ya feel better, this ain’t the worst that boy is capable of,” Rogue pointed out.

“I feel neither better nor reassured,” he said smugly.

“Fahne, if it gets outta hand Ah’ll smack him around a bit. Whatever damage he causes, put it on Charles Xavier’s bill. Just be glad he ain’t doing his ice coaster trick.”

“And what might this ice coaster entail?” said the increasingly annoyed manager.

“If you don’t make meh explain it, Ah’ll make sure he’s extra generous with the tip!”

The manager still scolded her, but at the risk of upsetting a high paying client he could only roll his eyes and dread the clean-up that would surely follow.

“Mutants...” he sighed as he turned around, “Only they could leave a more indelible mark in Sin City.”


Golden Nugget Casino

“Better decide soon, Cajun. I ain’t getting any younger...or older for that matter,” said an impatient Logan, “You gonna keep bluffing your way outta this or fold?”

“Who says Remy’s bluffing? And even if I was, a good bluff can’t be rushed,” said Remy Lebeau as he gazed across a crowded Texas Hold ‘Em table.

“Whatever, bub. Just hurry the hell up.”

Logan was pretty relaxed for a guy who lost twice as many hands as he won. He clearly wasn’t taking the game as seriously as Remy. He was more focused one extracting as many free drinks from the passing waitresses as possible. In a place like Las Vegas there was never a shortage of alcohol. It was part of why Logan wasn’t bothered by losing. Remy had a different take.

While the rest of the team lounged about at the MGM Grand, Remy convinced the others to visit the old part of Las Vegas. The casinos here were a bit smaller, but there was a more classic ambiance. They also let patrons smoke indoors and Remy was certainly enjoying that. He was working on his third cigarette since he and Logan set down at the poker table. They had been playing for nearly three hours. Logan was down, but Remy was up several hundred dollars. This was a major hand because there was several hundred more in the pot. Three other players including two athletic men and a nicely dressed middle-aged woman were playing as well. They all had called Logan on his raise. Now Remy had to decide if he was going to call or fold. After looking at his cards a few more times, he made his decision.

“Very well, mon ami. Remy will see your two hundred and raise another five hundred,” said the Cajun, grabbing a few more chips and tossing them into the pot.

“Five hundred?” said one of the other male players, “Now I know you’re trying to bluff your way out! I’m in!”

“Me too!” said the woman, who called Remy’s raise and tossed more chips into the pot.

Everyone seemed confident that Remy was bluffing. The other man at the table wasn’t so sure. He was looking at his hand nervously, indicating he didn’t have as much as he initially through.

“You wanna believe that, good for you. I’m already down a thousand bucks. I fold,” he said, tossing his cards aside and leaving the table.

“Suit yourself, bub,” commented Logan, who didn’t hesitate to call.

It was the last round of betting. All five cards were displayed in the center of the table. There was nothing left to do besides show their hands and reveal if Remy had been bluffing.

“The final bet has been called. Show your hand, please,” said the dealer.

The man on the other end of the table was first.

“Three of a kind. Seven,” he said proudly.

“Really? Last I checked nines were worth more than sevens,” said the woman smugly as she confidently showed her hand.

“You sadistic bitch!” groaned the man.

“Spare the lady your misogyny, bub. Aces trump both!” said Logan, tossing down his cards to reveal another three of a kind.

“Damn you,” muttered the woman.

“Speak for yourself. That’s coming out of my kids’ college fund!” said the man as he slouched in his seat.

“You want sympathy, get a pet or buy me another drink,” said Logan, confident in his hand as he finished a glass of whiskey, “What about you, Cajun? You gonna shit yourself or show your hand?”

Remy had an ironclad poker face. As any experienced poker player would know, emotion couldn’t show until the final hand was revealed. The Cajun was remarkably casual as he revealed his hand.

“I win,” he said in his accented tone.

Logan and the two other players looked at the Cajun deadpanned. It turned out he hadn’t been bluffing after all. He played them and they fell for it.

“A flush of diamonds,” announced the dealer, “Mr. Lebeau wins again.”

“Oh to hell with this! I’m sticking to slots!” said the woman as she got up and left.

“You mutants are as lucky as you are ugly,” grumbled the man, who got up as well.

“Sore losers think everything be ugly,” Remy quipped as he gathered his chips.

“If your eyes didn’t creep the hell out of me, I would punch them out right now.”

The man and the woman couldn’t get away from the table fast enough. Logan stayed, looking more disgruntled than pissed. He looked at the Cajun the same way he looked at a sentinel for a moment. After mumbling a string of curses under his breath, he just shook his head.

“Remy’s waiting for you to say you gonna gut me up and serve my lucky ass at the buffet,” said Remy, who was still stacking his chips.

“Consider yourself lucky for not being worth it,” retorted Logan, “Although I’m definitely gonna need another round of whisky after that one.”

“You in Vegas, Logan. It’s the one place where every form of alcohol is available at every hour of the day,” said the Cajun.

“That’ll ensure I’m too drunk to tear you a new one.”

“That and you still be using it as mouthwash for kissing Mystique,” added Remy.

“Don’t push it, Cajun! There ain’t enough booze in the world to hold me back if you push the wrong buttons!” said the feral mutant firmly.

Unlike card games, Remy wasn’t inclined to push his luck with Logan. He was content to count his chips while Logan summoned a nearby waitress for another round. Drinking was one of Logan’s many crutches. For a while it seemed Ororo was holding his damaged soul together. Then the Mystique incident happened. For reasons that he didn’t understand, he kissed her. It had been messing with him since it happened. He tried not to let it affect their relationship too much. Since Remy was one of Ororo’s closest friends, he was more concerned than the others.

The Cajun shot Logan a critical gaze while the dealer shuffled the cards. He watched as a waitress brought him more whiskey. Logan wasted no time in downing it. Losing didn’t seem to bother him. It was his many other issues that fueled his drinking.

“Try not to get too hostel, mon ami. You be dating, Stormy. She be one of Remy’s best friends,” he reminded, “When something comes up that affects her, it’s gonna effect Remy whether you like it or not.”

“I’m leaning towards not,” said Logan as he took his first gulp of the whiskey.

“Remy don’t wanna bust your chops. Especially after beating you in poker. But you better be making sure that your little smooch with Mystique is a one time thing.”

“Trust me, Cajun. I’m using extra mouthwash every night to get her taste outta my mouth,” said the feral mutant.

“The how don’t matter. It’s the why that does the damage,” said Remy, “If this be another one of those messy deals with your past…”

“I’ll tear it apart if it keeps screwing with me. Can you give it a rest already? You know how much I care about Ro. I ain’t gonna let one measly kiss destroy what we got going.”

“Ain’t gonna make things less awkward, homme.”

“Don’t give me awkward. I got enough of that shit from Rogue and the Elf. Kissing their mother doesn’t leave them with too many pleasant images. Now are you gonna keep giving me that look? Or are we gonna drown ourselves in booze and gambling?”

It wasn’t as easy a choice as Logan made it out to be. This didn’t just affect Ororo. It affected Rogue as well. Logan kissing Mystique may have been a mistake. That didn’t mean there wasn’t something to it. When Logan’s past was involved, it often got messy. Logan seemed to understand that. It didn’t mean Remy would be any less worried about it.

While Remy’s concern for Ororo was strong, his concern for adding to his winnings was a bit stronger. Rather than belabor the issue in a crowded casino, Remy lit a fresh cigarette and laid down some chips for the next round.

“Since this be a vacation, Remy will let it slide. Just do Remy a favor and don’t use booze as your only crutch,” said the Cajun.

“Until it stops working so damn well, it’ll keep me balanced,” said Logan as he took another gulp of whiskey.

This is you balanced?” joked Remy.

“I’m in Las Vegas at a poker table with pretty girls serving booze at every turn. You ain’t gonna see me more balanced with my pants on, bub.”

“On that disturbing note, what do you say we up the blind? That way Remy can clean you out before Mr. McCoy wrestles Kurt away from the buffet.”

The two X-men laid down more chips and resumed playing. This was a rare moment where they could drink, smoke, and gamble their cares away. There was no telling when they would have another chance. That assumed that nothing would go horribly wrong in the meantime.


Golden Nugget – Buffet

“Prime rib, sausage, chicken wings, and salsa…if zhis is not a touch of heaven, zhen I vill become an atheist!” said an overly excited Kurt Wagner.

Las Vegas was a place of many spectacles. There were world class shows, world class resorts, vast casinos, and a wide variety of activities for anyone with money to spend. Yet for some, the simplest spectacles were still the most alluring. Kurt may have been too young to gamble and his appearance made venturing out in public troublesome, but he could always enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffets. The Golden Nugget had just opened up for a large lunch buffet. Thanks to a few generous tips, Kurt and Hank had first dibs.

“First you partook in the free continental buffet at the MGM. Then you had a light snack in the cab that consisted of a three-layer sandwich. Now you’re staging an all out assault on a lunch buffet?” Hank McCoy pointed out, who had a much more modest plate of food in hand, “I’m confounded as to how you make room for such a vast culinary intake.”

“I may look like skin and bone, Herr McCoy. But I assure you zhis slim frame of mine burns a lot of calories,” said Kurt while shoveling a large helping of sweet potatoes onto his plate.

“I would wager that your caloric intake is only rivaled by Logan’s alcohol consumption,” joked Hank.

“At least bacon is easier on zhe liver,” the German mutant retorted.

“That may be, but I almost get the sense thate you’re taking the all-you-can-eat aspect of this buffet as a personal challenge.”

“Vhy not? In Las Vegas, zhere are far more unusual sights zhan a blue-skinned demon vith a tail or an ape man. Where else vould ve be able to do zhis out in zhe open?”

Before Hank could respond with a logical retort, a new round of patrons entered the buffet. Three of them were Las Vegas showgirls wearing these elaborate bikini-like outfits that consisted of metal chains, thigh-high boots, and a feathered head-dress. Another man walked in behind them with an afro wig, oversized novelty glasses, and clown shoes. Behind him was a full blown Elvis impersonator. When they saw Kurt and Hank they only tensed for a moment before shrugging and partaking in the buffet.

“I rest my case,” said Kurt as he offered the Elvis impersonator some bacon.

“Thank you. Thank you very much,” he replied in a perfect mimicking of the King.

“The prosecution rests,” laughed Hank as he watched the man in the wig walk by.

Hank was in no position to debate. He already lost to Remy at the poker tables. He wasn’t about to lose to Kurt over a buffet.

“Try not to clean them out completely, Kurt,” sighed Hank.

“Vhy not? Zhe casinos clean people out of zheir savings. Vhy can’t I clean zhem out of zheir pantry?”

“If that’s your goal, at least leave an overly generous tip.”

“I’ll send a personal check to zhe chefs if I have to!” affirmed Kurt.

Hank shook his head and laughed as he left the buffet. Kurt had already heard every possible joke about his hyperactive metabolism and the appetite that came with it. He couldn’t be faulted for taking advantage of a buffet while on vacation. If Amanda were here, she would chide him for getting overly creative with his food. Kurt had stacked two whole plates to the brim. He packed it in so tight that he had to balance them so he wouldn’t drop it. All the while he kept ignoring the looks he was getting. This time he was pretty sure it wasn’t because of his appearance. It was quite a work of art, packing in so much food.

‘Zhis should be enough. At least until zhe dinner buffet opens!’

The German mutant eagerly navigated through the buffet towards the tables where Hank was already sitting. Then as he stepped out from the buffet line, neatly dressed man nearly knocked him flat on his back as he ran by him. Were it not for Kurt’s nimble agility, he would have dropped both plates of food.

“Whoa! Zhat vas close!” Kurt exclaimed.

“Watch it, freak! I’m in a hurry!” said the man, who barely looked at him and kept running.

“Apology accepted,” groaned the German mutant as he re-balanced himself.

It was a pretty rude gesture, even for a place known as Sin City. It took him a moment to make sure all the food he meticulously assembled was still in place. Once he was sure both plates were balanced, he looked towards where the man was running.

“At least he didn’t cry out for a lynch mob,” sighed the German mutant.

He was about to brush him aside and turn his attention back to his food. Then noticed the man stop and meet with a woman that was remarkably overdressed for a place like Las Vegas. She had a full body coat, a hat, and sunglasses. However, Kurt could still make out her red hair and distinct facial complexion. Once he recognized her, he quickly lost his appetite.

“Siryn?!” he gasped.

Setting his plates aside at a random table he walked around the buffet to get a closer look. Sure enough it was Siryn, the daughter of Black Tom Cassidy. The man who nearly ran him over looked really nervous in her presence. It was hard to tell, but the situation was tense enough for her to grab the man by the collar and give him a menacing glare. Having been involved in one too many of Siryn and Black Tom’s affairs, Kurt’s curiosity grew.

‘It doesn’t look like she’s here for zhe buffet and shows. Zhat can only mean she’s here on business. If her dear old father is making deals again, it’s only a matter of time before people start dying.’

Kurt looked back towards Mr. McCoy, who was already eating his lunch. Logan and Remy weren’t done at the poker tables yet. They weren’t due to meet up with the others for another hour or so. He was tempted to call for back-up, but this was personal. Vacation or no vacation, he couldn’t brush this aside.

‘Sorry, mien friends. Go on and enjoy your vacation. I have unfinished business to tend to.’


Las Vegas International Airport – Earlier

Theresa Cassidy never considered herself all that motherly. When it came to kids, she preferred a vacation in northern Siberia than watching over volatile young brats. Her father knew this. He also knew that because of her powers, she was best equipped this task that just happened to involve a 14-year-old girl. That put her in the unfortunate role of a glorified babysitter.

“Quit walking so slow!” said Siryn impatiently, “It’s bad enough I have to baby-sit. The least you can do is keep up with me.”

“Y-y-yes ma’am,” said a timid Japanese girl.

Siryn had just landed via private jet half an hour ago. Her father arrived in Las Vegas the previous night. This was a big day for them. They were on the verge of a deal that would set new standards in the mercenary world. Usually Siryn jumped at any chance to be part of such a deal. This was not one of those occasions.

‘Father, this deal had better make us enough money to buy our own country. We’ve always been content to leave petty crimes like human trafficking to less sophisticated businessmen. You’re really pushing my powers and my patience by getting into such exotic trades so to speak.’

Ever since their jet took off from Hong Kong, she had been using her sonic powers constantly. This girl her father had stuck her with was dangerous and not just because she could throw a crying fit at any moment. She had to use her hypnotic powers to keep her docile. It made for an exceptionally long flight. It also made going through customs quite tedious, especially with the extras her father had included.

“Cover up,” Siryn ordered, “I know we’re in the desert now, but you’ll need to be extra modest for this part.”

“I-I understand,” said the girl, struggling to get her words out.

The girl was inappropriately dressed for this kind of weather. Her clothes included loose skirt and an oversized blouse that covered her entire body. She also wore a light sweat-jacket. This was important to Siryn because it covered a few marks on her neck that she didn’t need anyone to see. She threw in some extra suggestive power when she showed the customs agents their passports.

“Welcome to Las Vegas, Miss Cassidy,” said an armed custom’s agent as he looked at her passport, “Are you here for business or pleasure?”

“All business,” she told him.

“I see. What about the girl?” he asked.

“She’s part of the business.”

“Do you mind me asking what kind of business that entails?”

“The kind that involves no questions and very generous tips,” Siryn responded.

Rather than use her suggestive powers, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a few hundred dollar bills. She casually slipped them into the pocket of the customs agent while he was looking over her passport. He only gave the timid Japanese girl a small bit of scrutiny. Siryn’s tip was generous enough to make him overlook the usual protocols.

“Very well then,” he said with a half-grin while stamping her passport, “Enjoy your stay. Good luck doing business.”

“In my kind of business there’s no room for luck,” replied Siryn.

The custom’s agent let her through along with the girl. They had passed security and were now in the main terminal. For Siryn it meant she was on the home stretch of this annoying errand. With the girl remaining close by, she pulled out her cell phone and called her father.

“You’re five minutes late, lass.”

“Nice to hear from you too, father,” replied Siryn, “Is everything set up on your end?”

“It will be shortly. Do you have the product?”

“It hasn’t left my side since take-off,” she grinned.

The girl tensed under Siryn’s gaze. Her every limb trembled as if she was fighting to lash out. Due to Siryn’s hypnotic abilities, she couldn’t even cry for help. She was completely at this woman’s mercy. It was not a pleasant feeling and one that was wrought with danger.

“Very good, lass. I knew I could count on ye to keep it under control.”

“Your praise is always tied to business, father. Not that I’m complaining,” said Siryn, “Just tell me you can put this thing on a leash so I can use my powers for more productive activities.”

“Just get her to me. Those extras our friends at the Yashida Clan installed will do the rest. I’ve already arranged for a special meeting with our buyers. Let’s just say they have deep pockets and are very interested in possessing such rare merchandise.”


Golden Nugget – Present

Las Vegas had a colorful history with the criminal underworld. At one point much of the city was controlled by the mafia. That legacy hadn’t changed even as big corporations took over. The gambling, the shows, and the decadence were part of what gave Las Vegas its charm. That’s what made it the perfect place for conducting business of a sinister nature.

Black Tom Cassidy was a businessman at heart. He understood the formula for success whether it was criminal or legitimate. They key was having a valuable product and the right customers to sell to. In a reserved VIP lounge at the Golden Nugget, he brought in the kind of customers that even the mafia would have difficulty dealing with. These customers included the Hand, Hydra, the Assassins Guild, and various mercenary groups that were involved with more than just petty crime.

“How much longer are you going to make us wait, Mr. Cassidy?” said Marius Bordeaux of the Assassins Guild.

“Yes, there are only so many games of Pai Gow poker I can enjoy before my patience wears thin,” said Tomi Shishido of the Hand.

“Your patience will be rewarded, my friends. My people are making a few last-minute preparations,” assured Black Tom.

“Your boasting still fails to convince me,” said Viper, a representative from Hydra, “Are you offering a real product or more ego?”

“I still recall your pitiful attempt to sell Russian fighter jets without missiles,” said Marius.

“I assure you this is nothing like that outrageous. I could tell you the long story behind this exceedingly rare merchandise I acquired, but I’ll let you be the judge when the time comes,” he replied ominously.

Black Tom maintained his professional demeanor in the presence of these very dangerous people. This lounge was usually the site of high stakes poker games. He had to pay extra to ensure his people had the necessary resources to conduct this transaction. He made sure the entire area was guarded by his top henchmen. He also insisted that the casino turn the surveillance cameras off for this room. They didn’t need a record for this nefarious deal.

There were nearly a dozen representatives, each with their own body guards. The Hand had their ninjas, Hydra had their conscripted drones, and the Assassins Guild had their assassins. It was hardly a friendly environment. Black Tom hired some scantily clad women to serve drinks and deal games of poker to keep them occupied. However, None of them were treating this as a vacation. They were all eager to get down to business. They finally got their wish when Black Tom received the text message on his phone that he had been waiting for.

“I hope you all have your check books ready. The product is ready,” he announced.

“For what you charge, it better be twice as powerful as you described,” said a neatly dressed man in a white suit.

“Those preparations I mentioned will make sure of it. I only ask that you refrain from making jokes when you see it because as all of us know, looks can be very deceiving.”

The potential buyers fell silent as Black Tom snapped his fingers to signal his henchmen. They all wordlessly obeyed and gathered at the far end of the room where a few body guards had been standing by a heavily reinforced door. This door usually led to the cages where chips and cash were transported. Today it was transporting something much more valuable.

After the doors were unlocked, they were opened to reveal a half-dozen more henchmen along with Siryn. Together they rolled in a special gurney that looked like it had been borrowed from an S&M club. On this gurney was a young Asian girl who couldn’t have been older than 15-years-old. It was the same girl that Siryn flew in with earlier that day. She was more than happy to pass her off to her father’s caretakers.

“Is she fully wired?” asked Black Tom.

“Completely,” affirmed Siryn, “She’s a puppet in the market for a puppet-master.”

This news brought a fresh smile to Black Tom’s face. His people did a fine job. Those marks on her body that the Yashida Clan so generously made were special implants that were hard-wired into her central nervous system. These implants were now linked to a series of wires going into her young body from the gurney. These wires fed into a special metal pack located on her lower back. It was because of these modifications that this girl was now so valuable.

“If this is your product you better have a damn good explanation, Black Tom,” said Viper.

“I have more than just an explanation. I have a demonstration,” said Black Tom confidently, “Siryn, if you please.”

“Of course, father,” said Siryn with a mischievous grin.

While Black Tom was addressing the prospective buyers, Siryn worked with a few of their technicians to prepare this girl for a test. They carefully powered up the metal pack on her back and hooked a few more wires into her body. As they did this the young girl tensed. It was as if she was having a seizure of sorts. It marked the beginning of something much more provocative.

“This beautiful little lass you see here is Hisako Ichiki,” said Tom while Siryn prepared her, “She’s 14-years-old, goes to school in Tokyo, enjoys Kung Fu movies, and walks to school with a Hello Kitty backpack.”

“As if there are any shortage of such girls in Japan,” said Tomi skeptically.

“I only say this because that’s as exciting as her life ever got no fewer than four months ago. Then she manifested a very potent mutant power.”

“Define potent,” said Marius, “I’ve seen mutant powers before. What qualifies as potent varies to say the very least.”

“I was going to have one of my overpaid experts provide a more detailed explanation, but I’d rather you see for yourselves!” said Black Tom with a grin.

He turned towards Siryn, who was just about ready. She nodded to the other technicians, who took a step back so the demonstration could begin. The pack on Hisako’s back was fully powered. Her body was now writhing in more discomfort. Siryn did a final check to make sure everything was working. Once complete, she pulled out a couple of oversized gloves with an eleborate array of built in electronics. She presented these gloves to her father, who casually slipped them on.

“Take a good look at Miss Ichiki. Now watch her turn into Miss Armor!” he announced.

Upon activating the gloves, the pack on Hisako’s back lit up and sent a wave of painful signals up through the young girl’s body. These signals caused her mutant power to manifest and her powers turned out to be a spectacle worthy of any Las Vegas show.

“Hnn-ahhhhhhhh!” she cried out as her muscles contorted uncontrollably.

In her discomfort, her eyes flashed bright red. Within seconds, a shell of red energy surrounded her body. This shell began shifting into various shapes as it grew, extending well beyond the young girl’s body and covering most of the gurney. When the shifting stopped the red energy shell had the appearance of a humanoid figure with rocky skin. If the pulsing energy was any indication, there was a lot of power behind this shell.

“Okay, I’ll admit it. That is quite impressive,” said Marius, now showing more intrigue along with the other buyers.

“Not the most impressive display of power, but certainly up to Hydra standards,” said Viper with an ominous grin.

“What you saw was just a sample. Miss Ichiki’s power’s involve forming psionic body armor that provides her great durability and enhanced strength. With sufficient input, she can crush any obstacle like an elephant crushes a cockroach.”

“That’s a lot of power for a little girl to wield,” said one of the mercenary bosses.

“But it is power that can be contained with the proper tools. The gloves I’m wearing and the wires you see going into her body are courtesy of the Yashida Clan. As some of you may be aware, they have a history of experimenting with mutants abilities and uncovering new ways to control them.”

“Is that what we’re bidding on? Control over this power?” asked Tomi Shishido.

“No…not just control. Enhancement!” said Black Tom.

He pushed a series of buttons on the gloves and made a fist. As he did this, the armor around Hisako grew. It grew to the point where it nearly broke the gurney. The rocky armor gained more texture as well, taking on the appearance of samurai armor for a brief moment. To further demonstrate the level of control he had, Black Tom entered more commands to change the energy shell so that the armor looked like a medieval knight.

While this was going on, Hisako continued to writhe in discomfort. She couldn’t scream or cry. The machines going into her body hijacked every bit of control she had over herself. She couldn’t move, talk, or even think straight. She was at the utter mercy of whoever controlled Black Tom’s equipment.

“We’ve done our share of tests. In theory you could grow this girl’s energy armor to the size of the Empire State Building. At that level she’s more than just a valuable weapon. She’s unstoppable! Best of all, this device allows you to both manipulate her powers and keep her completely docile. She’s as obedient as a trained dog with only a fraction of the brain power.”

“That’s some dog,” said Marius, already contemplating the potential applications for such a weapon.

“The possibilities for such power are vast,” commented the leader of a major African militia.

“Vast if not endless!” proclaimed Black Tom, “Is your enemy hiding inside a reinforced compound you can’t break into? Is there an army in your way? Do your business rivals have bigger guns than you? With Miss Armor here, your problem is solved by simply putting on these gloves and applying the appropriate level of firepower!”

Viper, Marius, Tomi, and the various other mercenary lords were officially impressed. Black Tom had a reputation for delivering the goods. That reputation was only enhanced by such an offer. This was a new kind of weapon that had great potential in their line of work.

“Now what say you? Should we start the bidding at an even five million?” said Black Tom.

“Five million? You’re getting a little ahead of yourself, Cassidy,” said one of the mercenary lords.

“Considering how expensive this interface was to implement, that’s a significant discount,” he added, “Now who wants to take advantage of this special little deal?”

“I bid five and half million,” said Marius without hesitation.

“Chicken feed! I bid eight million!” said Viper.

“Ten million,” said Tomi with a calm yet menacing tone.

“Eleven million!” said another mercenary lord who was practically drooling over a weapon of this caliber.

“Twelve million!” said another militia leader.

The bidding quickly escalated. Some of the bidders got a bit hostel, shooting menacing glares towards the rivals that outbid them. Were it not for Black Tom’s elaborate security, they would be much more direct in dealing with the competition. But such hostilities didn’t bothered Black Tom and Siryn. Their investment in this little Japanese girl promised to pay off in a big way.

While this bidding war was escalating, nobody realized that they were being watched and it wasn’t by casino security. Up inside the ceiling where the cameras were mounted, Kurt Wagner had been observing this deal since it began. The moment he saw Siryn he decided to follow her. He was soon confronted by Black Tom’s overpaid muscle. So before anyone could recognize him, he scouted around the casino for a way in. He found an entrance through the ventilation system, which he was able to enter through a secure wing he teleported into behind a pit boss. From there it was a simple matter of navigation. The bubble-like openings for the cameras provided windows into the devious activity below.

“Damn you, Black Tom. You ruin my vacation and an innocent girl’s life. Zhis is a new low even for you,” muttered Kurt.

As he watched the bidding through the tinted camera globe, he remained fixated on the girl. She looked to be in bad shape. Whatever Black Tom did to her, it was no doubt obscenely inhumane. Vacation or no vacation, he could not let this stand.

‘I’ve seen enough. I’m not letting Black Tom leave Las Vegas vith another fat payday. I must varn zhe rest of zhe X-men! I hope being on vacation hasn’t left zhem rusty.’


MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

Professor Xavier lucky streak came to an abrupt end at the craps table. As was often the case in Las Vegas, the house odds caught up with him. Much of the money he gained from his streak had been lost. He barely broke even while Scott finished down. It left them with spirits were mixed as they met up with Jean and Ororo outside the spa.

“So how did you guys do at the tables?” said Jean as she and Ororo stepped out in their complimentary bath robes.

“Remember that trip to Paris I once promised you?” said Scott with a weak sigh, “Let’s just say there’s been a minor setback.”

“That bad, huh?” teased Jean.

“To be fair, I did encourage you to quit while you were ahead, Scott,” chided the Professor.

“That’s why you broke even and I didn’t,” said the X-leader, “Let’s face it. I’m not a professional gambler.”

“Oh that’s okay. You’re a professional in other areas that more than compensate,” said Jean as she playfully slipped her arms around her lover.

“You certainly sound relaxed. Was the spa that good?” grinned Scott.

“It was better!” affirmed Ororo, “You really have no idea how much you need something like this until you realize how tense you were before.”

“I hear that!” said Jean, sharing her teacher’s enthusiasm.

Scott and Xavier smiled. Despite their fleeting luck at the craps table, this vacation was definitely having the effects they hoped for. The X-men were getting the kind of rest and relaxation they so desperately needed.

“I’m glad to hear you two are enjoying yourself,” said Professor Xavier, “I hope the rest of the team is doing just as well.”

“That reminds me, where are the others?” asked Ororo, “I know Hank, Remy, Kurt, and Logan went down to the Golden Nugget. Are Bobby, Rogue, and Kitty still at the pool?”

Before the Professor could answer, there was a loud yell from down the hall. It was right outside the entrance to the pool and the source of the commotion was all too familiar.

“Oh come on! I said I was sorry!” said a defensive Bobby Drake.

“Put down the shovel, sugah. Don’t dig yourself a deeper grave,” said Rogue, who was holding him back with her strength.

“You mock our rules and our patience!” said a very disgruntled looking pool manager, “A slide of ice is one thing! Turning the children’s pool into an ice skating rink goes too far!”

“It’s not like it won’t melt! This is a desert last I checked!” argued Bobby.

“That’s enough, Bobby!” said Kitty, helping Rogue hold him back, “Not everyone appreciates your fondness of ice-sculptures in the desert.”

“Only those who happened to be uptight assholes,” he muttered.

“Well some of those uptight assholes have the power to kick us out. It’s just as strong as Magneto’s power so don’t test it.”

Bobby continued to fume. Of all the crazy things he could do with his powers, making an ice slide and a mini skating rink was hardly worth getting upset about. Yet for some reason, the pool manager threw a fit. Rogue and Kitty kept him from icing the pool manager’s feet to the floor. Then he saw Professor Xavier down the hall and his fuming turned to awkwardness.

“Did I hear something about turning pools into skating rinks?” asked Scott in a bemused tone.

“Do you want to know the full story? Or do you want maintain the sanctity of this vacation?” retorted Bobby as he approached his mentor.

“I assume I’ll have to add additional funds to the bill,” sighed Professor Xavier.

“To be fair, no one got hurt and no one in the pool seemed to mind,” he said innocently.

“You’ve done worse. A lot worse,” chided Kitty.

“Gee, you’re such a friendly ex, Kitty,” said Bobby dryly.

“Since we’re on vacation we’ll skip the usual lecture, Bobby. So long you didn’t incur undue damages, we can discuss it this matter during detention,” said Ororo.

“Detention?!” exclaimed Bobby.

After this vacation,” added Professor Xavier.

Bobby bit his lip, less he make an even bigger scene. If detention was the only price he had to pay, then he might as well take it. That didn’t make it fair.

Once Bobby settled, the team turned their attention to less pressing matters. They still had a long list of activities to enjoy. They had to savor every minute before the world of the X-men caught up with them.

“Before any of us get caught up in more mischief, what can we expect from our next round of distractions, Professor?” asked Rogue, earning a scold from Bobby.

“Keeping in mind that I still haven’t had my spa treatment,” Kitty pointed out.

“You’ll all get your chance to enjoy the amenities I’ve purchased,” assured Professor Xavier, “Use them to stay out of trouble at least until this evening because I have a special dinner reservation reserved at Alizè. Remy said it has some of the best French cuisine in the country.”

“Ah’m sure that Mr. Gumbo-for-breakfast would know,” joked Rogue.

“I’ve reserved tickets for Cirque Du Soleil this evening at the Bellagio. I’m told it’s one of the best shows in Vegas.”

“Cirque Du Soleil? Isn’t that the show where a bunch of freakishly flexible women contort in ways that can only be classified as a secondary mutation?” said Kitty with a touch of skepticism in her tone.

“Why so harsh? Freakishly flexible women sound fun to me!” said Bobby.

“I had a feeling you would approve, Bobby,” said Jean.

“We can all judge for ourselves when the time comes,” said the Professor, “For now, just try not to run up too many exuberant repair bills. Logan, Remy, Kurt, and Hank should be back in an hour or so and I’d like us to do a little sight-seeing before dinner..”

“Assuming they were able to tear mah brother away from the buffet,” said Rogue.

“That’s a hell of an assumption!” joked Kitty.

It wasn’t an unreasonable concern, given Kurt’s love of buffets. While they contemplated this and various other concerns Scott felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Upon retrieving it, he saw that it was a text message from Kurt. As soon as the X-leader read it over, he went from a relaxed vacation mentality to that of an X-man.

“Damn...” he said anxiously.

“Oh no, I recognize that tone,” said Jean, picking up on the distress he was projecting, “Something’s wrong isn’t it? Something that requires unpacking our X-men uniforms.”

“Please tell me that’s an exceedingly sick joke,” groaned Bobby.

“Sorry guys, but this is serious. Black Tom serious if this text message I got from Kurt is accurate,” said the X-leader.

“Black Tom?! What the hell is he doing here?” exclaimed Rogue, remembering all too well how that madman tormented her and Kurt.

“I don’t know, but Kurt says he’s making deals again and it’s one of those deals the X-men need to stop.”

It was the last thing they wanted to hear. After the Phoenix incident and the election of Robert Kelly, they needed this vacation. It seemed as though trouble would always find them. Despite their dismay, they turned to Professor Xavier who was already contemplating their next move.

“What should we do, Professor?” asked Ororo seriously.

“Head back to our suite and get dressed,” he said in an urgent tone, “I’ll send a telepathic message to Logan, Remy, and Hank. Let’s try and handle this quickly and carefully.”

“You mean not have it blow up in our face?” said Bobby, “Exactly how many times have we succeeded at that?”

“Tally the stats later! Let’s move, X-men!” ordered Cyclops, already leading the way back to the room.

It was not how they hoped to spend their time in Las Vegas. A mission against Black Tom could only end with a certain level of destruction. They had to minimize that destruction. Otherwise more than their vacation would be at risk.


Golden Nugget – VIP Lounge

“Twenty five million!” shouted Viper, whose Hydra thugs were trying to ward off ninjas from the Hand.

“Twenty five and a half!” Marius Bordeaux retorted.

“Twenty five and a half?!” exclaimed one of the mercenary lords, “Since when do we bid in factions?!”

“Do you even know what a fraction is?” scoffed Tomi Shishido.

“You want to say that a little louder, ninja boy? Let’s see how your swords hold up against a loaded Glock!”

The auction for control over Hisako Ichiki escalated quickly. The tension was turning to full blown hostility. The prospect of controlling such a powerful mutant was enough to make these cut-throat men and women utilize more than just their deep pockets.

“Gentlemen please!” said Black Tom strongly, “I’d rather not explain to the casino manager why there are blood stains on the walls.”

“If you boys and your toys don’t play nice, I may have to give you all a time out,” said Siryn in a menacing tone.

“You may be a delight to gaze upon, madam. But you do realize who you’re talking to, don’t you?” said Marius, matching her hostile tone.

“I hope you also realize my daughter is not someone you want to disrespect,” reminded Black Tom, “I’m the one selling the merchandise. If you won’t do business in a civil way, then I can end this auction and you’ll walk away empty handed like everyone else who visits Las Vegas.”

His tone was serious, bringing a heavy silence to the room. Even a room full of ruthless mercenaries realized that open conflict wasn’t going to be productive. Looking at the girl on the gurney, they saw something that was too valuable to risk missing out on. After a few moments, everything settled. Guns, swords, and katanas were put away so the process could continue. Black Tom kept the gloves controlling Hisako on as an additional safeguard.

“Now then…shall we resume?” said Black Tom, “I believe the last bid was twenty-five-and-a-half dollars?”

“I vote no more fractions and bid twenty seven million,” said Tomi Shishido.

“Very well, who would like to top that?” he asked, all too eager to get a higher number.

There was a brief discussion amongst the groups. This auction was getting pretty expensive and even the most powerful underworld bosses had a budget to keep in mind. While this discussion was going on, there was an unexpected commotion outside the main door.

“What was that?” asked Siryn.

“It better be something minor,” said Black Tom, “Be a lass and check it out.”

Siryn groaned and made her way to the door, which was being guarded by two of Black Tom’s armed thugs. They heard it too and were about to open the door. Just as Siryn arrived, the heavy doors burst open and a familiar figure charged in with what looked like a dining cart by his side.

“Somebody order room service?” announced Wolverine, his claws drawn and ready for battle.

You!” spat Marius, the memory of his last encounter with this man still fresh.

“Who is this filth?” demanded Tomi.

“An unwelcome guest!” said Black Tom in annoyance, “Whoever disposes of him will get a discount!”

“Dispose of this, bub!” quipped the feral mutant.

Taking the dining cart he brought with him, he kicked it right into the center of the room. The various mercenary groups were rising up and retrieving the weapons that Black Tom just demanded they put away. The cart ended up stopping right where Marius was standing. Once it came to a rest, the cloth covering the plates came off to reveal a glowing deck of cards.

“Is this some sort of sick joke?” demanded one of the mercenary leaders.

“Is that supposed to be intimidating?” scoffed Viper of Hydra.

“No…it’s something that requires us to duck,” said Marius, recognizing what he saw all too well.

While Marius Bordeaux ducked behind his henchmen, much of the room remained oblivious until the deck of cards exploded with punishing force. The explosion charred the walls and threw back anybody who was too close. Even Black Tom had to take cover near Hisako, who was the only one not jolted by the move.

“Errrr Siryn! These disruptions are bad for business!” said Black Tom angrily.

“I’ll make his brain melt through his ears!” she said, taking a deep breath and preparing to unleash her sonic blast.

Wolverine didn’t bother attacking. After seeing the damage done by the food cart, they had a narrow window. To keep that window open, Gambit emerged behind them and attacked Siryn while she was focused on Wolverine. To make sure she stayed silent, he jammed the tip of his staff right at her throat.

“Ack!” she choked.

“Remember me, cherè?” grinned Gambit, “I know you be a screamer and all, but ain’t Sin City loud enough?”

“Keep her quiet, Gumbo! I got the rest of these dirt-bags!” snarled Wolverine.

“And I’ll get the girl!” said another voice.

From outside the door, a number of other guards fell. Beast emerged from behind Wolverine and stepped their unconscious bodies. It explained to Black Tom what happened to the men he entrusted to guard this area.

“This is a dastardly feat of decadence even for you, Mr. Cassidy!” said Beast as he set his sights on Hisako, “Capturing and selling an innocent girl as a super-powered slave? Does your depravity know no bounds?”

“It’s business, X-men! If you can’t keep up with the market, then consider yourself bankrupt!” shouted Black Tom.

He quickly reached for his special walking stick, which he had resting against Hisako’s gurney. With it he could use his own mutant abilities to end this annoying obstruction. Beast understood this and lunged forth, knocking the cane away from Black Tom just as he was inches away from it. Then with his feet, he kicked self-described businessman across the room and against the wall. Black Tom’s armed guards tried to counter, but were swiftly disarmed by a spinning air kick and sent falling to the floor.

“Some business you’re running here, Black Tom,” said Viper snidely.

“Does this mean the merchandise is up for grabs?” said one of the mercenary leaders intently.

“I’d worry less about the merchandise and more about adamantium poisoning!” said Wolverine, “Hrrrrrraaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!”

With Gambit still keeping Siryn at bay, Wolverine recklessly tore into Black Tom’s perspective buyers. The body guards and henchmen instinctively tried to guard their leaders, pulling out guns and swords to counter the incoming mutant. The guards from Hydra had advanced Uzis. They were the first to fire and the first to face Wolverine’s wrath. They only got off a handful of rounds before the feral mutant ducked away from the line of fire and sliced their weapons into scrap. He was not gentle when he knocked them out. He also used their bodies as weapons, throwing them right into the body guards defending the other mercenary groups.

“Stop him! Whoever brings me his head will get a double bonus!” yelled one of the militia leaders.

“I will triple it!” seethed Marius.

The Assassins heeded that offer and went after Wolverine armed with custom-made guns. They were a bit more accurate, hitting the feral mutant in the arm and chest as he tore few a few more hired thugs. They tried shoot him in the head, but Wolverine countered by head-butting one of them while stabbing the other through the shoulder. This left Marius even more incensed.

“Quit letting your goons do your unfinished business, pretty boy! Fight me!” demanded Wolverine.

“I’ll make sure your body rots in the darkest recesses of the bayou!” threatened Marius.

Taking out his specially crafted knife, the skilled assassin attacked Wolverine. He forced the feral mutant on the evasive. He also confronted a number of other mercenary guards who were trying to protect their leaders. The feral mutant took a few cuts on the face while fighting them off. Marius tried to do more by jamming the knife right into his eye. Wolverine was able to avoid it, but it was painfully clear that he was still angry after the Assassin’s last defeat at the hands of the X-men.

Wolverine, Gambit, and Hank were now the main targets. This once secretive event was now utter chaos. The ninjas from the Hand were inclined to join that chaos, setting their sights on Wolverine and Gambit. They prepared to attack with their katanas when they were unexpectedly waved off by Tomi Shishido.

“Forget him!” he told his ninjas, “This obstruction is a new opportunity! Retrieve the girl before Black Tom adds a premium to the price!”

The masked ninjas nodded loyally and set their sights on Hisako. They were about to make their move when a new commotion emerged, this time from right above them in the form of a familiar bamf noise.

“Sorry, mien friends! Zhe auction is officially canceled!” said a determined Nightcrawler.

The skilled ninjas barely had time to react as the German mutant used his agility to take them out. He struck two of them a mid-air kick and then quickly teleported behind another. Just as one of the ninjas tried to strike back, Nightcrawler grabbed the other ninja from behind and turned him around so that he was struck by the incoming katana. It ended up being a lethal and bloody blow. It also left the attacking ninja vulnerable, allowing Nightcrawler to take him out.

“The son of Azazel dares to show his face before the Hand?!” said an outraged Tomi Shishido.

“Zhe son of Azazel dares you to think fast!” grinned the German mutant.

Tomi didn’t get a chance to even begin his attack. Nightcrawler teleported right in front of him and leveled him with a back-flip kick. If the cracking noise was any indication, he broke the man’s jaw and knocked out a few teeth. Given his history with the Hand, it was a very satisfying blow. He didn’t savor it for too long and turned his attention back towards Hisako.

By now Beast managed to undo the restraints. Once free he tried to undo some of the electronics going into her body. Ripping them out may prove dangerous. Having seen Black Tom’s grim demonstration, Nightcrawler teleported next to Beast and assisted him.

“Do not disconnect zhe wires, Beast!” he warned him.

“I sense leaving them in will only exacerbate the danger,” said Beast as he followed the wires to the contraption on Hisako’s back.

“You don’t know zhe half of it! But now is not zhe time to remove it! Ve must get her as far away from Black Tom as possible!”

“Separating the lock from the key?” surmised Beast, “Very well. I’m sure Charles will have the tools to deal with this once we meet up!”

Leaving the implants alone for the moment, Beast and Nightcrawler carefully removed the young girl from the gurney. She trembled a bit, indicating she was still partially conscious. They were careful with the wires so they didn’t add to her discomfort. They had a narrow window to get her out and needed to make good use of it.

While Beast and Nightcrawler were freeing Hisako, Wolverine and Gambit gave them added space. Now that the element of surprise had worn off, Black Tom’s thugs and the various mercenary groups were able to regroup. A few remaining guards from Hydra along with some of the other mercenary thugs that had only been stunned rose up. They drew their guns and set their sights on Wolverine, who just finished off the last of Black Tom’s henchmen.

“You’re dead, mutant!” shouted one of the thugs.

“Hail Hydra!” yelled one of the Hydra conscripts guarding Viper.

“If you guys are gonna escape, quit twiddling your thumbs and do it already!” said Wolverine, “I’ll stay behind and take care of these dirt-bags!”

“Don’t work overtime on us, Wolverine! You on vacation!” said Gambit.

The Cajun mutant now had Siryn pinned. She tried to fight him off only to end up flat on her back and not for the first time when dealing with the Cajun. She grew increasingly enraged, but Gambit kept the tip of his staff against her throat. She could not use her powers and she wasn’t strong enough to break free from his grip.

“Errrrr! I…will…kill…you!” she said through choked words.

“You ain’t even the tenth femme to say that after a night with Remy,” said Gambit with a grin.

Siryn tried one last time to break free from his staff. She rolled to her side, barely able to escape the tip of Remy’s staff with her windpipe in tact. She tried to catch her breath so she could unleash a sonic blast. Gambit didn’t give her the chance. The moment she turned to face the Cajun, he hit her hard with his bow staff. This time it was right across the face. It nearly knocked her out cold, leaving her too woozy to get out any sonic attack.

“Ungh!” she grunted as she fell to the floor.

“This be our chance!” said the Cajun, “You got the girl! Let’s not be pushing our luck in a casino!”

“I concur. I know all too well how house odds are stacked against us,” said Hank, who had Hisako in his arms.

“You guys hit the tables! I’m sticking around to finish these assholes off!” said Wolverine, who took a few more bullets as he attacked some of the armed henchmen who recovered.

“Ve have vhat ve came for, Wolverine! Let’s not overdo it!” urged Nightcrawler.

“That isn’t just common sense, mind you. These orders come from Professor Xavier!” added Hank, “We’ll be in a better position to resolve this matter once we meet up with the X-men!”

Wolverine never liked leaving a room of degenerate thugs only partially beaten. However, slicing through a bunch of mercenaries wasn’t the reason behind this mission. He remembered Professor Xavier’s message as well. They needed to get the girl away from Black Tom so he didn’t have any leverage over them.

The feral mutant shoved off two of Black Tom’s thugs who tried to grab him from behind and slit his throat with a knife. He grabbed one and body slammed him to the floor while stabbing the other one right in the upper thigh. There were still other enemies to fight, but the rest of the team was already near the door with Hisako in hand. Despite his inclination to stick around, Wolverine abandoned his next attack and rejoined his friends.

“If you shit-brained mercs are half-smart, you won’t follow us!” threatened Wolverine, “Or don’t! I’m on vacation and I’m having a ball!”

The feral mutant escaped through the front door with Nightcrawler, Beast, and Gambit already going full speed. This left a room of dazed and enraged mercenary leaders. Many were seriously injured. A few were out cold. They didn’t just lose the merchandise. They were thoroughly disgraced. All eyes were now on Black Tom, who was just recovering the blow he took earlier.

“You have dishonored the Hand in a most grievous way, Black Tom!” shouted Tomi Shishido through a broken jaw as one of his ninjas helped him up.

“Hydra doesn’t take kindly to being humiliated either!” said Viper, who approached Black Tom directly, “You now require a very good reason for me not to snap your neck!”

Black Tom was still woozy. It was still not lost on him that he lost the girl and a good helping of his pride. Perhaps organizing this deal in Las Vegas was a mistake. While rubbing his head Black Tom realized that he was still wearing the special gloves he used to control Hisako. While looking at them, an idea came to him.

“I believe I’m still wearing that reason. I suggest you stick around and hold onto your check books,” said Black Tom, showing Viper his gloves.

“You still expect us to pay you money after you lost your product?” scoffed a woozy Marius Bordeaux.

“Who says I’ve lost it? If anything, I now have a bonus to include!” he grinned, “On top of price for control over Miss Ichiki, I now offer something every bit as valuable…the destruction of the X-men!”

“You call that a bonus?” scoffed Viper.

“I would rather get a free lap dance at a strip club,” muttered one of the mercenary leaders.

“If you haven’t dealt with them, then you don’t appreciate the added value,” said Marius, looking down at some of the wounds Wolverine left.

“Listen to Mr. Bordeaux. He has the scars to back up his claim and so do I,” said Black Tom, “All I ask is that you give me a half hour! Then we’ll resume the auction! I expect there to be another zero at the end of your beds when I get back!”

Black Tom’s credibility may have been shaken, but there was no denying his business savvy. If for no other reason, he could offer a more thorough demonstration of Hisako Ichiki’s power by killing the X-men. That would definitely justify a higher price and for those who had just been wounded by Wolverine, it was worth a chance.

Black Tom stormed past Viper and a few ninjas from the hand. When he reached Siryn, he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up. She was still woozy with a bloody nose and a mild concussion, but she remained conscious.

“Pull it together, Siryn! We have work to do!” he told his daughter as he led her out of the room, “The X-men have thrust themselves into our business for the last time! It’s only fitting their luck runs out here in Las Vegas!”


Outside the Golden Nugget

Wolverine, Gambit, Nightcrawler, and Beast got out of the casino as quickly as they could. They caused quite a commotion. The gunshots from the room did not go unnoticed. The casino staff scrambled for answers while patrons stood around in confusion. There wasn’t too much panic at the moment, but that didn’t stop some from cutting their losses. The four X-men managed to navigate through the crowds out to the crowded streets. Along the way Beast kept a close eye on Hisako. It was hard to tell if she was okay. Whatever Black Tom did to her was pretty extensive.

“You sure the petite is okay?” asked Gambit, “It don’t look like she’s playing with a full deck.”

“I can sense her vitals. She appears to be fully aware,” said Beast, “It does not appear she is in full control of her faculties.”

“I’m guessing it’s worse than it looks!” said Wolverine ominously.

The feral mutant traced around the wires going into the young girl’s body. Having been a living weapon, he recognized the handiwork.

“I’ve seen this sort of shit before! Someone is trying to turn her into a meat puppet!” he said, “Elf, you said something about Black Tom selling her like a time share!”

“It vasn’t her that he vas selling. It vas her powers!” said Nightcrawler, “I saw vhat she could do. It’s a dangerous power to put in zhe hands of men like Black Tom.”

“No need to convince us, Kurt. It’s al the more reason to put as much distance between her and Black Tom as possible,” said Beast.

“That should be easier once our ride is here,” said Gambit.

While they were scrutinizing Hisako, a limousine pulled up to the curb in front of the Golden Nugget. From the open sunroof, Cyclops and Storm looked out to greet their teammates. Iceman, Shadowcat, Rogue, and Professor Xavier were with them and Phoenix was the one driving. As soon as they parked, the team got out with Shadowcat phasing the Professor out the side. They were all in full uniform. Their presence and the commotion from within the casino caused a number to looked on with a mix of curiosity.

“Seriously? A freakin’ limo?” chided Wolverine.

“You were expecting the hotel to have a fully equipped battle van?” retorted Cyclops.

“There are limits even to high rollers, Wolverine,” added Iceman, “At least we get to carry out this mission in style!”

“Is that the girl you told us about?” asked Storm, quickly shifting the focus to Hisako.

“This would be her,” affirmed Beast, “Physically, she appears fine. However, Black Tom left his mark as you can see.”

“Poor girl,” said Shadowcat, cringing at some of the implants.

“Ah wish Ah could say Ah was disgusted, but this sounds like the sorta thing Black Tom does on his lunch break,” commented Rogue.

“We’ll review the extent of Back Tom’s horrors on the way to the nearest hospital,” said Professor Xavier as he wheeled up to the girl, “I sense some unusual thoughts projecting from her mind. We’ll need to get her to a secure location.”

“I’m not sure anywhere is secure from Black Tom,” lamented Nightcrawler, “He vas only down for zhe count vhen ve left him.”

“Then let’s get moving before he catches up!” said Phoenix as he helped guide Hisako towards the limousine.

The X-men hovered protectively over the girl, eager to get her as far away from Black Tom as possible. They didn’t even get her in the limousine before they heard a familiar voice emerge from the casino.

“You pitiful excuse for heroes. You always think running solves everything,” said Black Tom in a mocking tone.

Professor Xavier and the X-men turned around to see Black Tom standing with Siryn a mere twenty feet away.

“So now you’re treating teenage girls as commodities, Black Tom?” said Storm, her eyes glowing as she summoned her powers.

“As a teenage girl myself, I feel inclined to kick your ass on general principle!” said Shadowcat.

“And I recently wrecked a pool so I’m already warmed up!” added Iceman.

“Are you finished scowling me?” said Black Tom, not sounding threatened at all.

“You’ve got the entire X-men opposing you, Black Tom!” said Professor Xavier firmly, “Let this girl go and we can spare any unnecessary bloodshed.”

“Bloodshed is always necessary in a business like mine, Xavier,” retorted Black Tom, “Since you X-men insist on getting in my way, you’re more than welcome to contribute!”

“You’re in no position to sound cocky, bub!” snarled Wolverine, drawing his claws in preparation.

“Actually, he’s in a better position zhan you zhink,” said Nightcrawler, who quickly surmised what Black Tom’s next move.

With a snide grin, Black Tom activated the controls on his gloves. The reaction from Hisako was almost instant. Here glowing red eyes bulged as if someone had jammed a knife right into her head. From this glowing energy, Hisako Ichiki managed to give an ominous warning.

“Hnn…run.”

“What is wrong, child?” exclaimed Storm upon seeing her eyes.

“Storm, get back!” yelled Wolverine as he moved in to shove his girlfriend away from the girl.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Storm and Beast were knocked clear off their feet as Hisako unleashed a burst of energy that was easily noticed by everyone walking along the boulevard. The energy wasn’t an explosion. It was more like a small volcano erupting. The X-men pulled back along with any pedestrians unlucky enough to be nearby. They watched as the reddish light surrounding Hisako formed a thick shell of energy. This shell quickly grew, engulfing the limo they arrived in and crushing it like a cockroach. As it grew it took on a new form, becoming a demonic monster complete with a tail and horns.

By the time Hisako stopped growing, the demonic figure of energy was a full ten stories tall. She let out a monstrous roar that could be heard from a three block radius. In the process she kicked over the ruins of the limousine and knocked over a nearby traffic light. It caused incoming traffic to abruptly turn away and terrified civilians to run away at full speed.

“THAT’S NO ATTRACTION! I’M OUTTA HERE!”

“IT’S AN ALIEN MONSTER! SOMEONE CALL AREA 51 OR SOMETHING!”

“I JUST LOST FIVE G’S AT THE CRAPS TABLE AND NOW THIS?! IT’S OFFICIAL! MY LUCK SUCKS!”

The energy monster surrounding Hisako quickly set it’s sights on the X-men, who were still trying to regroup. It angrily slammed it’s fist down at them. The team quickly dodged it. Cyclops, Phoenix, Rogue, Iceman, and Beast ducked towards the ruins of their decimated limo. Iceman, Gambit, Shadowcat, Storm, and Wolverine fell back towards the casino. Nightcrawler stuck around just long enough to grab Professor Xavier and teleport him away from the impact.

“I’ve got you, Professor!” exclaimed the German mutant, disappearing just as the giant fists hit.

It struck with such force that it caused a tremor that rippled up and down the street. It knocked out lights, caused windows to break, and triggered a fresh wave of fender benders from passing cars.

“Dang! Even Ah felt that!” said Rogue, trying to regain her balance.

“So much for finishing this mission quickly so we can get back to our vacation!” groaned Iceman.

“And Remy was just starting to enjoy not having giant monsters try to kill me,” said Gambit.

“We can still end it quickly!” growled Wolverine as he quickly picked himself up, “We just cut Black Tom’s arms off and those gizmos should…”

However, Wolverine cut himself off when he looked to see that Black Tom was nowhere in sight. He and Siryn disappeared from where they were standing outside the Golden Nugget. With all the commotion surrounding them it wasn’t unexpected.

“Damn it, where the hell did he go?!” exclaimed Wolverine.

“He must have slipped away!” said Cyclops.

“Gee, you think?!” snapped the feral mutant.

“Forget Black Tom!” said Phoenix, “Focus on the giant energy monster in front of us!”

Hisako tried to strike them again, this time using both fists to attack. It tried to crush them under it’s power. Phoenix and Iceman stepped up and used their abilities to form a shell around their friends. It stopped the creature only briefly, allowing the others to get out of the way before they were overpowered.

“Ungh! This thing is strong!” grunted Iceman as he heard his ice shell crack around him.

“She’s a girl, Iceman! Not a thing!” Phoenix corrected.

“Forgive my confusion! Giant demon creatures wil do that!”

Just as their defenses gave way, Phoenix shoved Iceman away from the crushing force. They joined up with Cyclops, Beast, Storm, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Rogue, Gambit, and Nightcrawler who had barely escaped with the Professor.

“Okay, Ah’m officially in need of another vacation!” said Rogue as she prepared to strike back, “Someone needs to give this girl a timeout!”

“I hear you, cherè! A little discipline is just what this petite needs!” said Gambit.

“No wait! Don’t attack her!” exclaimed the Professor Xavier.

“Professor, we have civilians to protect!” said Cyclops, who was gripping his visor in preparation.

“I agree, but I can still sense the girl’s mind! She’s trying to fight Black Tom’s influence!” he said while clutching his temples, “We can’t just fight the monster! We have to help the girl!”

Looking up at the creature as it prepared to launch another strike, it was hard to believe that the source of this madness was a teenage girl. They went on the evasive, taking cover back in the casino that had since been cleared out. The creature struck the building with punishing force, causing lights to shatter and walls to crumble. The X-men were able to avoid the falling debris. This also gave them a moment to work out a plan.

“I don’t doubt your senses, Charles. But how do you propose we reach Miss Ichiki behind all that armored shell?” asked Beast.

“By reaching out to her mind!” said Xavier strongly.

He then turned to Storm.

“Storm, I need you to fly me up to the face of this beast! I need look the girl in her proverbial eye so I can telepathically contact her!”

“That’s a dangerous request, Charles. My winds can get you up there, but not it would be a bumpy ride!” she warned.

“You would also be unprotected,” said Phoenix, “Doesn’t it make more sense for me to fly you up there? I can protect you!”

“You’ll need your telekinesis and possibly some help from the Phoenix Force to protect civilians,” Xavier explained, “We cannot risk Miss Ichiki doing significant damage!”

“It’s a little late for that, Professor!” said Shadowcat, having to phase through some chunks of ceiling that came crashing down near her.

The Professor’s plan was full of danger, but with a giant energy monster bearing down on them this was not an option. Cyclops looked up at the lumbering creature, watching as it punched another sizable hole into the structure. If they didn’t get it out of here then more destruction would follow.

“If you’re going to reach this girl, do it quickly, sir!” said Cyclops, “We’ll back you up!”

“I just need time while avoiding a body count of any sort,” said Professor Xavier as he mentally prepared himself.

“So we’re going along with this crazy stunt?” grumbled Wolverine.

“Speak for yourself. Now you know how I feel whenever you do your own crazy stunts,” quipped Jean.

“That mean we still be putting targets on our backs?” wondered Gambit.

“If you ain’t used to it by now, you ain’t much of an X-man, sugah!” said Rogue.

The X-men shook off their vacation mindset and began their attack. Stepping out of the crumbling casino, they put themselves in the line of fire again. The monster took notice, turning away from the damaged building and setting it’s sights on the X-men.

Cyclops led Phoenix, Iceman, and Gambit out in the first wave. They unleashed a quick burst of optic blasts, charged cards, ice beams, and telekinesis to kick up some debris around the creature. They avoided direct shots at the moment, following the Professor’s orders not to put too much strain on the girl.  Nightcrawler, Rogue, Wolverine, Shadowcat, and Beast followed behind them, covering Storm and the Professor as they prepared to make their more.

“Hold on, Charles! Riding the wind tends to get bumpy!” warned Storm as she kicked up the winds.

“Just get me as close as you can without being struck by Miss Ichiki’s attacks!” said the Professor, “I’m still feeling lucky after my run at the craps tables.”

With her eyes glowing bright white, Storm formed a solid whirlwind around her and the Professor. It was enough to lift him up from his wheelchair and levitate him into the air. The winds were strong, making it difficult to see or hear what was going on around him. That was okay with Charles. He didn’t need to see or hear for this. He only needed his telepathy.

The creature was still focused on the rest of the X-men. Once the debris cleared from the first attack, it tried to stomp on them as if they were insects. Cyclops quickly ordered them to disperse. They did so successfully, but not without stumbling from the tremors. Nightcrawler and Shadowcat came in to help, teleporting and phasing their friends away from the destruction. The creature lumbered forward, trying to grab Wolverine and Beast. It was thwarted when Rogue flew in and roughly shoved her away.

“Hands to yourself, little girl! Stay calm while Uncle Charlie gives you a time out!” warned Rogue.

It swatted at Rogue like she was a fly. She tried to maneuver out of the way, but ended up getting back-handed. She stumbled through the air a bit, but stayed airborne. The creature went for her again. When Gambit saw this he tried to assist her by throwing a barrage of charged cards towards the creature’s hands.

“Hang in there, cherè! Gambit’s got your back!” he called out.

“Hey, Ah’m the one with the super strength and invulnerability here!” grunted Rogue, seeing Gambit’s cards enrage the creature further, “Quit being mah knight in shining armor or you’re gonna end up as gum on this fella’s foot!”

“Listen to your on-again/off-again girlfriend, Gambit!” said Shadowcat, grabbing the Cajun and phasing him through some incoming debris.

“She’s right! Except for that girlfriend comment!” said Cyclops, “Iceman, go for the feet!”

“I’m on it!” said Iceman.

While the creature was still occupied with Rogue, Iceman got in closer on an ice slide. Using his ice powers, he formed a thick shell of ice around the creature’s feet. This stopped it from stomping around and causing more tremors. It gave Professor Xavier and Storm the time they needed to fly up to the creatures face and confront it directly.

‘Hisako Ichiki…my name is Charles Xavier. I’m speaking to you through my mind. I know you’re scared and confused right now, but I need you to listen! You’re being controlled and I can help free you!”

“GWWWAAARRRRRRRRR!” roared the creature.

This telepathic message seemed to reach Hisako. However, it didn’t cause the energy shell around her to wane in the slightest. The creature tensed for a moment. Then it became eerily fixated on Charles Xavier and Storm. Like a bug drawn to a light, it reached out for him. It was hard to tell if these actions were hostile. Not taking any chances, Storm put some distance between them. The creature kept reaching, causing it to step right out of the ice shell around it’s feet. With a lumbering disposition, it started following Storm and Xavier.

Down below the rest of the X-men weren’t sure what to make of this. Cyclops held off leading any further attacks. Phoenix, Iceman, Wolverine, Beast, Rogue, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler waited anxiously for their next round of orders.

“Uh…should I go for the feet again?” asked Iceman.

“I would advise against that. Charles seems to be making a connection,” said Beast as he watched closely.

“Doesn’t look like much of a connection. That thing is looking at her the same way a hungry dog looks at a steak,” commented Shadowcat.

“How can you tell?” questioned Nightcrawler.

“Call it a gut feeling.”

“Regardless of what my gut says, I can sense some psychic activity,” said Phoenix, her eyes flashing briefly, “At the very least the Professor is leading her away from busy streets.”

“Then we need to lead with him!” said Cyclops, “Let’s follow them and keep the civilians safe while we’re at it! The Professor will break through at some point!”

“And if he doesn’t?” questioned Wolverine.

“Could you at least try to be positive, Wolverine?” groaned Rogue.

“That’s my girlfriend up there in case you ain’t noticed! Being positive is asking a lot!” snarled Wolverine.

“One impossible mission at a time, Rogue!” said Cyclops, “We need to make this plan work and we need to do everything we can to help it!”

The X-men started following the lumbering creature. It was now walking at a moderate pace, reaching out to the hovering Charles Xavier as he kept trying to telepathically reach this girl. The rest of the team lingered about a hundred feet ahead of it, keeping an eye on the area around it so that there weren’t any civilians or traffic going their way. It was a dangerous position to be in. Rather than fight the creature directly, they had to buy time for their mentor.

The man making it difficult for the X-men at every turn was Black Tom. While they were busy fighting Hisako, he slipped away with Siryn. During the initial commotion, Siryn used her sonic powers to coax a cab driver into parting with his vehicle. They were now using this vehicle as cover, staying close to the creature so Black Tom could control it with his electronic gloves. Siryn drove the car carefully so that they were just out of sight from the X-men yet still able to see the creature.

“My head is still throbbing, father! Why haven’t you crushed the X-men yet?” complained Siryn.

“There seems to be some…interference,” said Black Tom as he made some adjustment to the controls, “Do not fret, dear daughter. Xavier thinks he can override the interface. I’ll let him tire that brilliant mind of his out. Then he and his team will be nothing more than a smear on the Las Vegas Strip!”


Meanwhile – Inside the Golden Nugget

The commotion unleashed by Hisako and Black Tom had cleared out the casino. Some stayed to take cover in other areas of the building. Most were trying to escape through back exits. Of the few who stuck around were some of Black Tom’s prospective buyers. They were lingering to see how this would play out. Either Black Tom would further vindicate his reputation or the X-men would make fools of him. It could go either way.

“A hundred bucks says the X-men fry Black Tom,” said one of the mercenary lords.

“You’re betting against the man who is trying to sell us valuable hardware?” asked an incensed Tomi Shishido.

“They could destroy each other for all I care,” scoffed Viper, “Although personally, I feel the world would be a bit more pleasant without the X-men.”

“So you’re in?” said the lord that offered the bet.

“Make it a thousand. We are in Las Vegas after all,” she shrugged, “That reminds me. Where is that shrill from the Assassins Guild? Did he run off like a coward?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care,” said another lord, “One less buyer to compete with!”

Nobody was too concerned about Marius Bordeaux’s absence. The focus was on Black Tom and whether or not this auction would continue. While they were waiting, Marius stood outside the room near the now vacant slot machines. During the commotion he slipped away to make a phone call to his son, Julien.

“Julien, it’s me,” he said upon getting an answer on his phone, “It appears that friendly source of ours was spot on. The hardware Black Tom was using matched what she described.”

“I suppose that’s good news, father. I still find it disturbing that this so-called source was able to divulge such elaborate details.”

“You’re not the only one, son. I still don’t trust her either. However, she did not lie to us. The Yashida Clan really has perfected the technology necessary for controlling mutants.”

“Does this mean we’re moving forward?”

“Not in the way we hoped. I was unable to secure the girl,” said Marius in frustration.

“That will make things more difficult. Who outbid you?”

“Nobody,” he responded, “The auction was abruptly stopped. The X-men showed up and as you know, they have a way of meddling in the affairs of others.”

There was a brief silence over the line. Marius could tell his son was fuming over the mention of the X-men. He was still yearning for revenge after their last encounter. He shared that sentiment and the Assassins would get their chance. It was just going to happen differently now.

“As much as I despise the X-men obstructing our endeavors, this may be for the best.”

“Agreed,” said Marius, “Tell our contact that the situation has changed. We’ll still be able to assist her in the way she requested. Just not in the way she hoped.”

“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled. Does this mean you’re leaving Las Vegas early?”

“The other bidders naively think that Black Tom will beat the X-men. I’d rather catch an early flight back to New Orelans. Tell Miss Oyama I’ll meet with her when I return. We’ll discuss the next step and make the necessary arrangements.”


Downtown Las Vegas – The Strip

“Quit staring people! This isn’t some show! Move already!” yelled Iceman to the dozens of civilians who couldn’t stop gawking.

“This is Las Vegas. The bar for the outrageous is quite high!” said Beast.

“It’ll be set a lot higher if dead bodies start piling up!” said Cyclops as he assessed the situation.

The struggle against the mind-controlled Hisako Ichiki wasn’t going well. Professor Xavier still hadn’t gotten through to her. He was still hovering high above within Storm’s winds, trying to telepathically break through the control Black Tom instilled in this girl. The massive energy laden creature was still in a daze of sorts. It aggressively pursued Xavier even as Storm tried to keep a safe distance between them. This pursuit led them directly down the Las Vegas Strip. Along the way they had to clear the way.

While the creature followed Xavier and Storm, the rest of the X-men stayed ahead of them. As the lumbering beast moved faster, they had to pick up the pace as well. Since the limousine they arrived in had been destroyed, Phoenix used her telekinesis to keep them ahead of the rampage. She also provided shields and barriers to those who couldn’t get out of the way. This was a daunting task because not everybody ran when they saw the creature coming.

“Wow…is this some sort of PR stunt or something?”

“If it is, it’s over the top even for Vegas!”

For the people who couldn’t get out of the way, the X-men broke off from Phoenix’s telekinetic transport and hurried them along. Beast, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler descended into the danger where they moved, phased, or teleported them away to safety.

“Hey! I want to stay and watch the show!” complained an obnoxious college student as Beast came in and pulled him away.

“This isn’t a show worth watching, I assure you,” Beast told him.

Some civilians were a lot more pragmatic. Shadowcat moved in and helped a woman whose two children weren’t moving fast enough.

“Mommy! The monster is coming to get us!” one of her kids cried out.

“No it isn’t! It’s just out for a stroll!” assured Shadowcat as she phased them through some falling debris.

“You…you’re one of the X-men!” said the mother.

“Would you believe we’re actually on vacation?”

The civilians near the danger zones were barely escaping. Nightcrawler assisted those who couldn’t be saved by mere phasing or muscle. Some of those watching the lumbering creature were frozen in place. They couldn’t move out of fear or awe. So when the monster threatened to step on them, Nightcrawler moved in and teleported them to safety. Two such civilians happened to be an elderly couple, both of which were still dazed even after he teleported them onto a nearby roof.

“Wha…” one of them said.

“I think I need to adjust my medication,” said the other.

“It’s zhe desert. It plays tricks on your mind...very cruel tricks,” said Nightcrawler as he looked out over the strip.

There were a lot of people running along the sidewalks and dozens of cars still in the path of the creature. Cyclops, Phoenix, Rogue, Iceman, Wolverine, and Gambit were doing their best to clear the streets. The creature was speeding up so it was getting more chaotic by the second.

“You had better hurry Professor,” groaned the German mutant, “Even zhe X-men can’t be everywhere at once.”

He was about to teleport back down to the street. Then he noticed something from atop the roof that caught his attention. Behind the creature, there was a path of destroyed cars. For any car that was still running, it was speeding in the opposite direction. That left a sizable gap behind the creature and in that gap, there was a lone taxi cab driving towards the monster.

Nightcrawler looked closer.  The taxi was keeping its distance, but still following the creature. Through the afternoon desert sun, he was able to make out the figure in the driver’s seat. It was Siryn. That could only mean Black Tom was with her.

“So you’re not a coward after all, Black Tom,” seethed Nightcrawler, “If you zhink you’re in completely in control, you’re sadly mistaken!”

The German mutant quickly hatched a plan of his own. If Professor Xavier couldn’t reach Hisako Ichiki then he would do the next best thing. However, he was going to need a little help.

Such help was in short supply with the rest of the team. Cyclops, Phoenix, Rogue, Iceman, Wolverine, and Gambit were completely consumed with trying to divert traffic. At this time of day there were plenty of cars on the road. Getting people out of them or putting them in the other lane was a major challenge.

“Forget your cars, people! Get out and start running!” urged Cyclops as he used his optic blasts to blow open car doors.

“Hey! You have any idea how expensive this car is?!” yelled an uncooperative civilian.

Cyclops added to the urgency by blasting the doors right off the overpriced Lamborghini and pulling the civilian out. It was just in time too because the creature stepped right on his prized car, crushing it like a bug.

“Ahhhhhhh! My baby!” the man cried.

“Your insurance will cover it!” said the X-leader as he dragged the man off the streets.

“This is getting ridiculous and I’m not talking about fancy cars! I thought the Professor was supposed to lead this thing away from busy streets like this!” said Iceman, who flew by on an ice slide with a family of three holding onto him.

“I’m sure he’s trying and I’m sure Black Tom is trying harder!” said Cyclops, “He knows the civilians are our first priority!”

“Then I would say he’s outsmarting us at the moment!”

Iceman may have been right. Just as he retrieved a family from their stricken van, the monster stepped on it and crushed it into a flat hunk of metal. Dozens of cars had met the same fate. More and more were being crushed as the creature entered the heavily trafficked areas of the strip. Most of these cars had been abandoned by the civilians or they had been rescued by Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Beast. Even those trying to run away needed protection. Phoenix did her best to shield them from the debris.

While the others were scrambling, Phoenix remained hovering about thirty feet from the creature. She was focusing hard, directing her telekinetic powers in many directions at once. It was a strain even for an experienced psychic. At one point the flames of the Phoenix Force surrounded her.

‘This creature is a walking beacon of energy. It is not unlike the many stars I have encountered. If I tapped more of my cosmic power, I may be able to break through it.’

‘No, Phoenix! It’s too dangerous! You’ll end up hurting the girl inside!’

‘People are already getting hurt. I thought the purpose of the X-men was saving lives. Isn’t risking the life of one girl worth protecting the lives of many?’

‘Only if you’re going to be overly cruel! Even if it seems as though you can’t save everybody, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!’

The Phoenix Force was still confused, but did not contest Jean Grey’s reasoning. Many of the concepts it was experiencing under Jean were very new. While she did not understand her intent, she made sure to sufficiently augment her ability so that she could carry out this plan.

Behind Phoenix’s telekinetic shields, the midday traffic was making their task exceedingly difficult. The energy beast kicked up cars as it lumbered forward. Rogue flew in to catch some of these cars. As they neared heavy traffic outside the MGM Grand, a few larger vehicles couldn’t evacuate fast enough. One was a bus full of tourists that pulled up along the curb. Rogue had to physically lift this bus over the median and set it down so it could drive off in the opposite directly.

“Don’t know if you got seatbelts in there, but hang on anyway you can!” she called out.

“Ahhhhhhh I’m gonna be sick!” said the driver.

“Being sick beats being crushed!”

Rogue narrowly escaped the giant foot of the creature. As soon as the bus was on the road again, the driver hit the gas and sped away with plenty of terrified passengers on board. Rogue got a faceful of exhaust as gratitude, evoking a cough and a groan from her efforts.

“You’re welcome,” she muttered.

While she was dealing with terrified tourists, Gambit was jumping over cars stuck in traffic and letting out those who waited too long to get out. He was a bit selective of who he saved though. One of the occupied taxi’s he found contained two young women dressed as scantily clad attire that indicated they were prostitutes. When he pried open the door with his bow staff, he couldn’t help but throw in a touch of charm.

“Oh God, thank you! These pumps were not made for kicking open doors!” said one of the other, having to adjust her exceedingly short skirt.

“My pleasure, ladies,” grinned Gambit, “Now unless them shoes be more valuable than your life, you best be leaving them and start running.”

“Way ahead of you!” said the other woman as she left her shoes behind and started running, “If we meet again, I’ll give you a discount!”

That brought a smile to Gambit’s face despite the tremors of an oversized red monster approaching. He moved quickly to the next set of cars as Hisako kicked up a small truck. Rogue had to fly in and catch it, but wasn’t amused by Gambit’s rescue tactics.

“Real smooth, Cajun! A giant red monster is trying to stop you and ya still can’t stop flirting?” she exclaimed.

“It ain’t Remy’s fault the femmes be extra grateful!” Gambit replied.

“Then maybe it won’t be mah fault if Ah drop the next dump truck that comes your way!”

“Aw you won’t do that, chere,” he said confidently.

“You ain’t a poker table, Cajun! Don’t push your luck!”

The two X-men turned their focus back towards the civilians. By now most stuck in this traffic jam saw the creature coming and wisely abandoned their cars. There were still plenty of people close to the danger zone. It was only a matter of time before someone got hurt in a way that would not look good in the days leading up to Senator Kelly’s inauguration.

Wolverine was aware of this and getting increasingly impatient. He walked up and down the street, using his claws to rip the doors off cars so people could get out. For some he had to slice off the seatbelts as well. Cyclops and Iceman were close by, doing the same and helping the civilians who stumbled along the way.

“We gotta quit playing defense here!” grunted Wolverine as he sliced through the doors of a minivan containing four civilians.

“You heard the Professor, Wolverine! Attacking the girl will only make things worse!” shouted Cyclops as he urged the civilians along.

“Maybe it’s just my heightened senses, but that thing seems to be speeding up! I’m sure Chuck is doing his best, but it ain’t enough!”

“I mean it, Wolverine! Don’t attack the creature!” said the X-leader.

“And besides, do you really want to attack something that can pick it’s teeth with an 18-wheeler?” asked Iceman as he passed by on an ice slide carrying to children.

Wolverine looked back towards the creature. It kept trying to swat Storm and Xavier out of the sky. Storm was keeping them safe with her winds, but it still didn’t sit well with Wolverine. One slip-up and his girlfriend would be in serious trouble. With his claws still drawn, he was prepared to claw his way up this creature and attack. Before the temptation got the better of him, Nightcrawler appeared behind him.

“I can tell you vant to fight zhe source, Wolverine. I do too!” said the German mutant.

“You better have a plan that doesn’t involve more running, elf!” said Wolverine.

“As a matter of fact I do!”

The feral mutant turned towards Nightcrawler. Just as he was about to ask more, the creature moved in and nearly stomped on them. Nightcrawler teleported him out of the way and moved them to the top of another building nearby. This way he could show Wolverine exactly what he saw.

“See for yourself!” said Nightcrawler, pointing at the lone taxi driving towards the creature, “If ve stop Black Tom, ve stop zhis creature!”

“I like that plan a hell of a lot better than Cyke’s!” snarled Wolverine.

“Siryn is vith him. One of us vill need to keep her occupied,” added Nightcrawler.

“Since the Cajun ain’t here to work his charm, she’ll have to deal with me!” he said, clutching his fists in anticipation.

Nightcrawler was not Cyclops in that he analyzed a situation before attacking. There was no time and they needed to take a chance here. Cyclops, Phoenix, Shadowcat, Beast, Iceman, Rogue, and Gambit seemed to have the civilians under control. Professor Xavier and Storm weren’t making any progress and looked as though they could use some help.

“Since I’m not Cyclops, I von’t tell you to not fight dirty!” said the German mutant intently.

“As if that would stop me!” grinned Wolverine.

Nightcrawler grabbed onto Wolverine’s shoulder and teleported them into position to attack. Inside the cab, Siryn and Black Tom were enjoying the show up to this point. Siryn was still a bit woozy from earlier, but more than happy to see the X-men struggle against Hisako’s monstrous manifestation.

“That’s it, Xavier. Lead us right down the Strip and tire yourself out,” said Black Tom as he pushed a series of buttons.

“If you’re going to finish him off, could you do it quickly father?” said Siryn impatiently, “I’m ready to see the X-men end up as stains in the middle of…”

It was at this very moment that Nightcrawler and Wolverine appeared. They emerged in a puff of smoke right in front of them. Even though Siryn wasn’t driving very fast, she was still going fast enough to make her slam the breaks. This caused the car to skid. While Nightcrawler teleported out of the way, Wolverine acrobatically jumped right onto the hood and slashed right through the windshield with his claws.

“Errrrrrrrrrr! You again?!” exclaimed Siryn.

“The feeling is mutual, darlin’!” seethed Wolverine.

Siryn instinctively tried to use her sonic yell to paralyze Wolverine. She only got a slight screech out before the feral mutant reached in and grabbed her by the throat. Using his claws, he cut off her seatbelt and pulled her out of the driver’s seat through the broken windshield. She fought back by kicking him right in the face and punching him in the gut. This caused Wolverine some pain, but he didn’t let her go. He made sure she stayed pinned to the hood of the taxi so that she couldn’t help her father.

“You X-men just can’t resist making it harder for yourself, can you?” said a frustrated Black Tom as he opened the passenger door.

The moment he stepped out, Nightcrawler appeared in front of him in a puff of smoke.

“And you can’t resist taking the cowardly path, Black Tom!” he said.

Using his agility, the nimble mutant roughly drop-kicked Black Tom so that he stumbled right back into the cab. He instinctively reached for his cane, which was still inside. Nightcrawler teleported right into the seat behind the driver and grabbed it just as Black Tom grabbed it. What followed next was an epic tug of war.

“I must have hit a Las Vegas jackpot! I hold a multi-million dollar auction, I destroy the X-men, and end the bloodline of Azazel in one afternoon!” seethed Black Tom as he fought for control of his cane.

“I never vas big on gambling! My father always taught me to make my own luck!” grunted Nightcrawler, not letting go for a second.

“And look how much good that did him!” he said with a snide grin, “If you want to follow in your father’s footsteps, I’ll be happy to oblige!”

The struggle for possession of Black Tom’s cane continued. During this struggle, Nightcrawler tried to teleport away with it. Since Black Tom’s grip was just as strong, he ended up teleporting him as well. They appeared all over the street. They popped up along the sidewalks, on top of cars, and even atop the roof of a nearby building. With his cane, Black Tom could use his powers to make Nightcralwer’s efforts all the more difficult. Without it, Nightcrawler had the advantage due to his training and fighting skills. As this struggle unfolded, they didn’t realize that it was affecting Hisako.

Just up ahead from Black Tom and Siryn’s taxi, the oversized energy creature abruptly stopped in mid stride. It was now standing right on the front lawn of the MGM grand. The creature was now tensing under a new wave of strain. IThe X-men, who were still busy protecting civilians, stopped and took notice.

“Whoa, what’s happening to her?” wondered Shadowcat.

“Uh…is this a good or bad thing?” asked Iceman.

“I’m not sure,” said Cyclops curiously.

“Should we attack? This may be our best chance!” said Rogue.

“No! We’re sticking to the original plan! The Professor may finally be getting through.”

“Even if he does, that does not guarantee an amicable resolution,” said Beast.

It was a tense moment as the X-men looked up at the creature. Professor Xavier and Storm noticed it as well. Storm finally stopped her evasive maneuvering and settled into a silent hover.

“It looks like she’s in pain, Charles!” Storm shouted over the winds.

“No…not pain! She’s confused!” Xavier replied, “Black Tom’s control over her has faltered! This could be our chance!”

The world’s most powerful psychic closed his eyes and projected his telepathy through the energy surrounding Hisako Ichiki. Inside he could sense a scared and conflicted teenage girl. She was fighting to regain control, but didn’t feel strong enough. She needed help and Xavier sought to provide it.

‘You’re doing it, Hisako! You see? You’re stronger than you think! I can help you realize that strength if you let me!’

Xavier was feeling the telepathic strain. He was fresh off an encounter with the Phoenix Force. It was an encounter that left him weakened and was taking another chance by pushing himself like this.

While Hisako was fighting Black Tom’s control, Black Tom was still busy fighting Nightcrawler. By now they had teleported up and down the Las Vegas Strip, still wrestling for possession of Black Tom’s cane. The teleporting only stopped when they reappeared right in front of the taxi where Siryn was still struggling with Wolverine. This time Nightcrawler tried to pull some acrobatics and yank the cane away from Black Tom’s grip. This move backfired and allowed Black Tom extra leverage, which he used to pin the German mutant down to the street. This also allowed him to use his grip on the cane to press it against his neck.

“Errrrrr! You may me nimble, Mr. Wagner! But you inherited your father’s foolishness!” seethed Black Tom.

“You…are zhe fool!” gasped Nightcrawler, trying to push Black Tom off him.

“Funny, those were the last words your father ever said to me,” he grinned, “Fitting that they’ll be the last I’ll hear from you!”

Using his feet and leverage, Black Tom finally succeeded and ripping his cane away from Nightcrawler. As soon as he had it in hand, he used his powers to charge it up. The special materials inside caused it to glow brightly and with an influx of energy, he directed it at the prone figure of Kurt Wagner.

When he fired, it unleashed a bright purplish burst. It would have fully consumed Nightcrawler, but he managed to teleport away at the last possible moment. Black Tom expected this and took a defensive stance, scanning the area around him to see where his adversary had appeared. To his surprise, he was nowhere in sight.

“Is this what you’ve reduced yourself to, Mr. Wagner? You run and hide rather than face me?” he called out, “I take back what I said earlier! You’re not as foolish as you’re father! You’re just a coward! If Azazel were still around, he would be ashamed!”

Black Tom was back in control. He had overpowered Nightcrawler. He still had the controls to the interface. Nightcrawler and the X-men didn’t stand a chance.

He was so confident he didn’t pay much attention to the struggles of his daughter, who was unable to overpower Wolverine. She had been trying to kick him off and scratch at him, but it was no use. So when she saw something that put her father in grave danger, she was unable to warn him.

“Father…behind you!” she said in a choked voice.

Her warning went unheard. If Black Tom had been able to heed it, he would have realized that Nightcrawler didn’t run away after all. So when he reappeared behind Black Tom in a puff of smoke, he was caught completely off guard.

“Hey Mr. Cassidy! Those fancy gloves of yours tell time?” said a new voice.

Black Tom quickly turned around to point his cane at the new voice. As he did he turned right into Shadowcat, who was standing right in front of Nightcrawler after he teleported her from the battle up ahead. This allowed her to phase right through the high tech gloves he was wearing to control Hisako. In doing so, it short circuited the advanced electronics within the interface.

“Ahhh! What have you done?!” exclaimed Black Tom as sparks flew from the gloves.

“I vasn’t hiding, Black Tom. I vas getting help from a friend,” said Nightcrawler, patting Shadowcat’s shoulder in the process, “You see, my father and my mother both taught me how to fight. Yet I’ve learned from experience zhat allies are just as important as strength.”

“It also helps when those allies can screw up high tech gizmos with a simple phase!” added Shadowcat.

“You little-ARRRRGGGHHHHH!”

Black Tom didn’t get a chance to curse his enemies any further. The advanced components of the gloves were doing more than just shorting out. They were burning his hands and arms. Part of his shirt caught fire and he could feel the heat burning away his flesh. It burned so hot that it exposed bones all the way. It was agonizing to the point where Black Tom fell to his knees.

His cries of agony didn’t go unheared by Siryn, who was still pinned to the hood of the taxi by Wolverine. When she saw her father writhe in pain, she cried out.

“Father no!”

With this outrage came a fresh round of strength. Siryn was able to shake free from Wolverine’s grip and jam her knee right into his groin. Even though Wolverine had a very high pain tolerance, this was enough to loosen his grip on her throat. It allowed Siryn to finally get off a sonic blast. It was extra focused, sending an agonizing shriek into Wolverine’s enhanced senses.

“RAAHHHHHHHHHH!” he roared as he stumbled back

Now free, Siryn ran to her father’s aid. She let out another sonic yell that forced Nightcrawler to teleport Shadowcat away. This allowed her room to help her father back to his feet.

“My hands…the gloves!” cringed Black Tom as he looked down at his scarred hands.

“It’ll be okay, Father! I’ll get you out of here!” said Siryn as she led him back to the taxi.

“No…the deal!”

“There will be others!” she told him, “Let’s cut our losses and regroup!”

“But the X-men…Nightcrawler!” he seethed.

“Will pay dearly!” Siryn assured him.

Siryn was right. This deal was over. There was no salvaging it now. It was a painful loss and one he wasn’t going to take lightly. She quickly helped Black Tom back into the taxi so they could make their escape.

At the same time Nightcrawler and Shadowcat were helping Wolverine. His head was still ringing and his groin was still throbbing, but he was back on his feet.

“Are you going to be okay, Wolverine?” asked Nightcrawler.

“Are nights with Miss Munroe on hold for the immediate future?” added Shadowcat.

“I’m fine. And they still work,” he grunted, shooting Shadowcat a gruff snarl, “I’ll feel a lot better once I get my hands on that loudmouthed bitch!”

Wolverine shoved the two X-men aside and stumbled towards the taxi. Siryn was already in the driver’s seat and had started the engine.

“Forgetting something, X-men?” she said, pointing through the open windshield.

Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Shadowcat looked behind them and saw what she was referring to. The destruction of the interface caused a new round of instability with Hisako. Now the red energy creature surrounding her was shifting and swirling with all sorts of new shapes. It was creating dangerous energy bolts that Phoenix was trying to shield the others from. However, Xavier and Storm weren’t shielded. As much as Wolverine wanted to make Siryn pay for the low blow earlier, protecting his girlfriend took priority.

“Storm…damn that hot ass for making me ditch a grudge fight!” grunted Wolverine.

“Whoa…that does not look good!” said Shadowcat as she looked up at the creature.

“You’re right! It doesn’t!” said Siryn, “Better go back to playing hero! For our next deal, expect to pay with your lives”

Siryn hit the gas on the taxi and sped away at full speed. She knew the X-men wouldn’t come after her. They already made their decision. Wolverine and Nightcrawler looked back towards the escaping taxi briefly. It was frustrating without being completely unsatisfying.

“Ve’ll get another shot at zhem,” said Nightcrawler confidently

“Next time I’ll make sure he loses more than his hands!” said Wolverine as he turned back towards Hisako, “In the meantime, how bout you port us back into that girl’s nuclear hissy fit?”

“I suppose zhere are vorse places ve could end up,” sighed the German mutant as he gazed at the chaos before them.

“And this is supposed to be a vacation,” added Shadowcat.

Leaving Black Tom for a future battle, Nightcrawler grabbed his two fellow X-men and teleported them back towards the MGM Grand. They arrived just outside the front doors and immediately felt the simmering energy around them. Cyclops, Phoenix, Beast, Rogue, Iceman, and Gambit were standing much closer. They were so close that they should be struggling to keep the flesh on their bones. The moment Hisako went critical, Phoenix put up a powerful telekinetic field around both them and the girl.

“The petite looks like she’s gonna blow!” said Gambit anxiously.

“Actually Gambit…I think she already has in a sense,” said Beast as he analyzed what was unfolding before him.

“So she’s exploding?!” exclaimed Iceman, “So that must mean…”

“Yes…Phoenix is trying to contain that whole explosion herself,” said Cyclops as he watched his lover intently, “She’s using her powers and the Phoenix Force to buy enough time for the Professor to finish the job.”

“Thanks…for filling them in!” grunted Phoenix, sweat dripping down her face as cosmic fires surrounded her body, “Now please…quit distracting me!”

“We can do this Jean! I now understand what you said earlier about taking chances. It does pay off!”

Fueled by cosmic power, Phoenix kept the energy surrounding Hisako from leaving an oversized crater in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip. Within her telekinetic bubble, the young Japanese girl writhed in anguish. The reddish energy around her refused to stabilize. The interface that Black Tom put in her was short circuiting, causing her mutant abilities to go haywire. It was up to her to regain control and she couldn’t do on her own.

Despite the swirling energy, Storm kept herself and Professor Xavier hovering close by. She could feel the energy and did her best to divert some of it with her winds. It was like trying to hold back a tsunami.

“Hurry Charles! I can’t…keep this…going!” grunted Storm.

“Just a little bit longer, Storm! Hisako is regaining control! I can feel it!” the Professor shouted.

Within his mind, Charles Xavier could see the radiant psionic presence of the girl just ahead of him. Her psychic aura was glowing. It was surrounded in a thick shell of chaos. Using his telepathy, he broke through that chaos and felt her mind. Once he had a firm grasp of it, he was able to rip her spirit away from the grips of Black Tom’s control.

‘You’re free now, Hisako! Do it! Take control!’

From this renewed spirit, a young girl whose mind and body had been hijacked found her way.

‘Control…I can do this! I…I must!’

When it finally happened, there was one last energetic burst. The swirling red energy spun faster and started to shrink. In the process the winds picked up and a number of bright energy bolts shot out. Phoenix’s telekinesis was able to protect the others. However, Storm was unable to deflect it. This sent her and the Professor tumbling to the ground below.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Storm cried out.

“STORM!” exclaimed Wolverine.

“CHARLES!” exclaimed Beast.

Wolverine ran out from the entrance of the MGM, braving a few stray bolts as he watched his girlfriend fall to the ground. Beast did the same, using his ape-like agility to avoid the bursts. He didn’t have to go far to reach the Professor. Using his powerful arms, he was able to catch Xavier and minimize the impact. Wolverine had to go a bit further. He had to dive in order to catch his falling girlfriend, allowing his durable form to cushion her fall.

“Ungh! That’s twice a woman has left me wounded today!” groaned the feral mutant.

“Hnn…Logan?” said Storm breathlessly.

It took a brief moment to gather herself, but when everything stopped spinning she realized she was laying on top of her lover. He looked pretty battered, yet he was willing to take one more.

“You never miss a chance to impress me,” she said to him.

“You’re my girl. How could I not?” he replied, “Now I know we usually enjoy this position, but could you get up, darlin’? My balls kinda took a nasty shot earlier and that ain’t a dirty joke.”

Storm laughed and got off her tired lover. She helped him back to his feet as well. By now the spectacle surrounding Hisako had died down. The swirling red energy kept shrinking until there was only a small Japanese girl lying on the front lawn of the MGM. This finally allowed Phoenix to let down her telekinetic shields. She too collapsed in her lovers arms, allowing the others to let out a sigh of relief.

“My ears are still ringing. I can’t tell if it’s over or not,” commented Shadowcat as she caught up with the others.

“It damn well better be over!” said Rogue strongly, “An all out rampage by a giant red monster is gonna require a whole new vacation!”

“And risk another monster ruining that one?” said Iceman, “I almost prefer class.”

It seemed as though it was over, but the X-men were still restless. With Storm and the Professor in once piece, the team turned their attention to Hisako. Cyclops, Phoenix, Iceman, Beast, Wolverine, Storm, Gambit, Rogue, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler all carefully made their way to the unconscious girl that was the source of it all.

“Is she going to be okay, Professor?” asked Cyclops as they stood around her.

“She’ll be fine. She’s just very tired,” assured Professor Xavier.

“So long as Black Tom isn’t controlling her, she should be back to her normal self in no time,” said Nightcrawler.

“I don’t know about that, Elf,” said Wolverine as he looked down at the girl, “Take it from a guy who has been through the same kind of hell. Being a meat puppet that has an effect on you. It makes it so you’re never quite okay.”

It was a disturbing feeling. This innocent girl may be tainted forever because of what Black Tom did to her. It almost made stopping her feel like less a victory. However, not everyone was so pessimistic about this girl’s future.

“You may be right, Logan,” said the Professor, “But whatever scars Black Tom has left on her, I sense she’ll have the strength to overcome them. It takes something special to regain control when it seems all is lost. Whatever that may be, this girl has it.”


Later

Night had fallen over the Las Vegas strip. It was usually a spectacle for which many traveled from all over the world to see. On this night the spectacle was quite different. The path of destruction carved by Hisako Ichiki drew more attention than any attraction. News helicopters and the National Guard descended upon the area. It didn’t take long for word to spread about a giant energy monster rampaging around a city. There was quite a mess to clean up and the X-men had to do much of the cleaning.

“So much for our vacation,” sighed an exhausted Bobby.

“Will ya quit reminding us?” groaned Rogue.

“I’m tired of hearing it too, but it bears repeating,” muttered Kitty, “We have to save the world every other week while maintaining a full course-load. We were due a break and now it feels as though we’re right back where we started.”

“Well maybe Warren had the right idea then. He jumped ship and is probably more relaxed than we’ll ever be right now!” said Rogue.

“Or he’s bored senseless,” said Remy, offering Rogue a reassuring gesture, “Wait until the adrenaline wears off, cherè. It always feels better once it sinks in.”

“He’s right, mien sister,” said Kurt, “It could have been a lot worse. For all the destruction Black Tom incurred, nobody vas seriously hurt. Zhat in and of itself is a lucky break.”

Rogue tried to take comfort in that. It wasn’t easy when she was still sore from all the flak she took from Hisako. Kurt still had a point thoughThis ordeal could have been a real nightmare. Instead they were sitting on the front lawn of the MGM Grand, watching Professor Xavier and the rest of the X-men clear this matter up with the authorities. If the authorities hadn’t made every mutant a wanted fugitive by now then that was a good sign.

The roads going up and down the Strip were closed so the debris could be cleared. There were crushed cars and damaged buildings, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired. There were some injuries. A few ambulances drove through the area picking up civilians that had been wounded. A few would have to go to the hospital. No one would have to go the morgue. That was a pretty big victory for the X-men and it boded well for young Hisako.

Professor Xavier had been conversing with an official from the National Guard for the last hour or so. Scott, Jean, Hank, Logan, and Ororo offered their assistance, aiding in the cleanup efforts. They were also looking over Hisako, who was being looked over by paramedics. The interface Black Tom had implanted in her was officially defunct. She would have to go to the hospital to get it removed, but for the most part she was okay. The bigger challenge was mitigating the details while media crews were swarming the area.

“So Miss Ichiki here has been listed as a missing child in Japan for the last three weeks,” said Professor Xavier as he watched the paramedics load her into an ambulance.

“That’s the story I got from the FBI. They’ve been working with the Japanese authorities the whole time,” said the National Guard officer, “There’s nothing terribly remarkable about her. She’s from a good family. She’s an honor student at her school. One day she finds out she’s a mutant and the next thing she knows she’s a target.”

“It’s a story we’re all too familiar with I’m afraid,” sighed Professor Xavier.

“I can only imagine,” said the officer, “The FBI and even the CIA have been trying to catch up with Black Tom. He’s stooped to some serious lows before, but this is a new one on me. Did he really hard-wire that girl into his own personal attack dog?”

“That and worse. He turned her into a monster…one he was hoping to sell.”

“Well it’s a good thing you X-men were in town to stop him. I hate to imagine what would have happened if someone actually bought this girl. The Japanese are ready to take her into protective custody. I hear her parents are already on a plane to see her. That should do everybody some good.”

Professor Xavier took some solace in his words. Then he looked towards Hisako, who was now in the ambulance. She was conscious and stable from the looks of it. However, Xavier could sense in her the scars left by Black Tom. Logan was right about the long-term effects of being controlled. As if being a mutant wasn’t difficult enough, she had this horrible experience to deal with. Yet she still managed to smile somewhat. Xavier smiled back, but couldn’t help but think that these lingering scars would cause their paths to cross again.

While the paramedics were preparing to send Hisako on her way, the rest of the team rejoined Xavier. Scott, Jean, Logan, Ororo, and Hank looked pretty restless. They had been going up and down the strip, doing one last sweep for the authorities. They also had to deal with the media, which presented a challenge in and of itself.

“Well I’ve officially had enough of Las Vegas,” said Jean in an exasperated tone, “I plan on sending an angry psychic message to the tourism board. What happens here does not always stay here.”

“I suppose we can’t expect any city to keep an incident involving a giant energy monster under wraps,” added Ororo.

“I take it you’ve finished assessing the media damage,” said Professor Xavier.

“I was ready to slice up every camera and recorder in a five mile radius, Chuck,” grumbled Logan, “It would’ve been a lot easier than counting all the crushed cars along the Strip.”

“It was frustrating, but I think we’re okay, sir,” said Scott, “Nobody knows that this destruction was the result of a mutant. As far as the world is concerned, it was just some crazed energy monster that threw a temper tantrum.”

“One that was the result of exotic weapons, no less,” added Hank, “It’s not a full blown lie. It’s not even a half truth. More like three-quarters in my opinion. There have been rumors circulating throughout the media of advanced weapons reaching the black market after Cameron Hodge lost control Genosha. The FBI and Interpol are reporting this incident as a deal gone horribly wrong.”

“So the feds are actually doing us a favor,” said Jean.

“It ain’t outta the goodness of their hearts, that’s for damn sure!” scoffed Logan, “They don’t want word to get out that they let a guy like Black Tom run around selling war like girl scout cookies. Makes it looks like they’re not earning their cushy government salaries.”

“It still plays into our hands,” said Ororo, attempting to calm her boyfriend down, “What’s important is that poor girl isn’t being blamed for this. Thankfully, we were able to avoid any fatalities and the injuries we came across were moderate at the very worst.”

“It’s still a freakin’ mess,” muttered the feral mutant, “Black Tom got away last I checked.”

“Even if this ruins our vacation, I’ll take it,” said Scott.

“As will I,” said Professor Xavier.

It was as good a victory as the X-men could hope for. They prevented a major mutant incident, saved a teenage girl, and thwarted Black Tom. The chaotic scene around them was settling. Hisako was on her way, the injured were treated, the cleanup had begun, and the media had their story. It left the beleaguered X-men to digest all these overwhelming events.

While the National Guard and the authorities took control of the situation, the team convened near the front doors of the hotel. Kitty, Bobby, Rogue, Remy, and Kurt met up with Scott, Jean, Logan, Ororo, Hank, and the Professor. Their vacation was ruined, but they succeeded when they needed to.

“So vhat happens now, Professor?” asked Kurt.

“Yeah, are we gonna try to salvage this here vacation or are we gonna cash in our chips and head home?” asked Remy.

“I understand you’re all tired. I am too,” said the Professor, “I won’t say that this vacation was a complete loss.”

“In principle, no. In terms of the overall objective…that’s debatable,” said Hank.

“What part of a giant monster ruining a vacation is debatable?” said Kitty.

“In any case, we should all take some time to rest,” Xavier went on, “We can be back at the mansion by mid-day tomorrow if necessary. It depends on how we…”

Suddenly, the Professor was cut off. A neatly dressed figure in an expensive looking suit with gray hair emerged from the front doors and approached them.

“Excuse me…I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said in a polite tone.

“And who might you be, bub?” said Logan apprehensively.

“Lee Stanly,” he said, “I’m the chief owner of the MGM Grand.”

“If you’re kicking us out, could you ditch the nice-guy act?” said Rogue, “We’re used to being tossed out on our asses in the rudest way possible.”

“It’s no act, I assure you,” said Mr. Stanly with a respectful bow, “I’ve been conversing with my manager and the authorities for the last hour. I understand that you are the famous X-men and you were responsible for stopping that horrific creature that ransacked the Strip.”

“Well we may have saved a few lives and stopped a multi-million dollar deal between some of the sickest human beings on the planet. It’s nothing we don’t do on an average Friday night,” said Bobby with a touch of gloating.

“There was a lot of destruction. Yet you were able to stop it just before it did any damage to my casino. For this, I feel obligated to personally thank you,” he said graciously, “I don’t care what the rest of the world says about mutants. You X-men are heroes.”

This came as a pleasant surprise for the team. They weren’t used to being thanked for their heroics. Usually people found ways to make them the bad guys. It was always nice to hear something nice from one of the many people they saved. Mr. Stanly seemed quite genuine as he eagerly approached Professor Xavier to shake his hand.

“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Stanly,” said Professor Xavier with a smile, “My X-men are just doing what they are trained to do.”

“And you train them well. Such exploits should never go unrewarded,” said Mr. Stanly.

“Oh? Do I detect a bit of subtext in that statement?” said Jean curiously.

“I don’t know much about telepathy, but I couldn’t help but overhear your plans to merely rest before going home,” he said.

“Well that is our immediate inclination. Why do you ask?” said Xavier.

Lee Stanly’s smile grew. Even though they were tired and restless, he could sense they weren’t ready to give up on their vacation yet.

“Allow me to propose an alternative…”


The Next Morning

“Mmm….ooohhhhhhh! I know I said it three times already, but I’ll say it again!” said a very content Bobby Drake.

“Oh no you don’t! I get to say it this time!” said an equally content Kitty Pryde, “This vacation has officially been reclaimed!”

“Quiet you guys! Ah ain’t gonna be this relaxed again anytime soon! So Ah wanna enjoy it!” said Rogue, who may have been more relaxed than either of them.

The mood amongst the X-men had changed drastically. Lee Stanly showed his gratitude towards the X-men in a big way. For saving his casino, he upgraded the X-men to the most opulent suite in the MGM Grand. It was a villa known to high rollers as the Grand Package. It took the concept of luxury and went overboard with it.

The villa was three times the size of the suites they had before. It was like a palace with floors covered in fine Italian marble and decor worthy of a European museum. Upon entering there was a large golden chandelier overhead that lead to an opulent living area that was bigger than most peoples’ apartments. Most of the furniture was plush leather and there were 50-inch-plasma TVs in nearly every room. There were a dozen bedrooms, each with imported linens and their own spacious bathroom. The beds had built in massagers and the bathrooms had special hot-tubs. Mr. Stanly set it up so everyone could relax on their own accord.

Every room was testament to luxury, but the most impressive by far was the large pool. It was almost as big as the main pool on the ground level. It had three separate Jacuzzis surrounding it and two large-screen TVs on each side. There was even a built-in mini-bar at the far end that Mr. Stanly made sure was staffed at all times. He had the servants and complimentary butlers he had working overtime to accommodate the X-men. They were all waiting for them when the team woke-up from some much needed sleep after their battle against Black Tom. They spared no expense in making sure their morning was pleasant as they lounged by the pool.

“I think it’s reasonable to conclude that everything worked out for the best,” said Hank, who was in his swim trunks and laying in a chair next to Charles Xavier.

“Yes, I honestly couldn’t have hoped for our vacation to have turned out better,” said the Professor, who was in a bathrobe while a beautiful female masseuse massaged his head.

“Remy still could’ve done without the giant monster damn near wrecking the Strip,” said Remy, who was doing the backstroke in the pool.

“Knowing the outcome, would you do it all again, sugah?” said Rogue from one of the hot tubs.

“In a heartbeat!” affirmed the Cajun.

“I think it’s safe to say the rest of the team shares that sentiment,” said Xavier.

The Professor sat up a bit and saw how all his students were enjoying themselves. Remy was enjoying the pool while Rogue soaked in the hot tub with a butler serving her breakfast and a pack of cigarettes. Hank was in the process of having his oversized feet permed by two skilled stylists, both of which had to work harder to accommodate his form. Bobby and Kitty were getting massages from two of the MGM’s best spa workers, complete with tables that faced one of the TVs. Scott and Jean were in one of the other Jacuzzis, enjoying drinks and some romantic embrace. Kurt was lounging by the pool while butlers served him a personal breakfast buffet. Logan and Ororo were lounging at the mini bar where Logan was in paradise. It was a well-deserved reward for all the sacrifices his X-men had made.

“Why the hell don’t we have a fully equipped bar like this at the mansion?” said Logan as he was served a bottle of imported whiskey.

“All these other luxuries and this is the one that impresses you most?” joked Ororo, who was sitting next to him and enjoying a martini.

“Far as I’m concerned, grade-A premium whiskey is the only luxury that matters!” said the feral mutant before taking another large gulp.

“Getting drunk zhis early in zhe morning is all vell and good, Herr Logan. I vould argue having your own personal buffet offers more variety!” said Kurt, who was working on his third plate of food already.

“The only variety I see from my end is meat, sugar, and fat,” said Kitty, who was lying on a massage table nearby.

“Vhat’s your point?” shrugged Kurt as he wolfed down another doughnut.

“Who says there has to be a point?” she joked.

“Damn straight!” said Logan as he finished his glass, “We’re on vacation! That means we indulge first and ask question later!”

“Even I’ll drink to that!” said Ororo as she got herself a fresh martini.

Everyone seemed to have their brand of indulgences. Mr. Stanly went out of his way to make sure everyone had what they needed to enjoy themselves. It was an unexpected yet very welcome reward. That made savoring this vacation all the more important.

In one of the hot-tubs near the pool, Scott and Jean hadn’t moved from their position in over an hour. Jean had cuddled up to her lover, who had an arm lightly draped around her. One of the butlers just served them fresh smoothie, which in addition to the relaxing jets of the hot tub was the perfect combination.

“So how does a vacation like this compare to wielding a cosmic force, Jean?” asked Scott, sounding more relaxed than he had been in years.

“It’s right up there, that’s for sure!” grinned Jean, “Even if flying through space and tapping the very fires of the cosmos is a hell of a rush, it’s hard to compete with soaking in a hot tub with my boyfriend in a high roller villa!”

“Does the Phoenix feel the same way?”

“Let’s just say I have a new appreciation for what makes sentient beings comfortable.”

“You really have no idea how tense you are until you finally feel completely relaxed!” added Jean.

“And all we had to do was save Las Vegas from a rampaging energy monster,” said the X-leader.

The two lovers shared a tender gesture before retrieving their drinks. The others were served drinks as well. The chaos of the previous day was quickly becoming a distant memory. After everything they went through, the X-leader felt compelled to do something to commemorate it.

“Attention X-men, I think there’s something we need to say and we better say it before we get too relaxed!” said Scott as he held up his glass.

“If you tell us to suit up and prepare for a surprise mission, I’m cutting out your tongue, Cyke,” said Logan.

“Not this time, Logan!” said Scott, still smiling despite Logan’s remark, “The election, the Phoenix, and Genosha have all been pretty rough. We came here with this elaborate plan to unwind after everything that’s happened recently. The plan fell apart as it often does. However, it all worked out in the end!”

“I concur, Scott,” said Hank, “Had this happened in any other city, I doubt we would be enjoying such a pleasant outcome.”

“Indeed,” said the Professor, “Time and again it seems our efforts go unrewarded. Well this trip has demonstrated that when we stick to our principles, the fruits of our labor are all the more enjoyable.”

“Spoken like a man with a fresh pineapple smoothie in his hand!” grinned the X-leader, “With that in mind, I propose a toast! Not just to the X-men, but to Las Vegas for making heroes feel like high rollers!”

Trouble always seemed to follow the X-men. They always had to be on alert and defend a world that was constantly on the brink. For the moment, none of that mattered. In this opulent resort, they weren’t a team of mutants fighting for a world that hated and feared them. They were just normal people, enjoying themselves in all the luxuries Las Vegas had to offer. So with this in mind, the X-men raised their glasses in a toast.

“VIVA LAS VEGAS!”


The End

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