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Volume 3 -- Issue 45 -- Hearts and Minds

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Hearts and Minds
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In a world that hates and fears them, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding. At times, however, hate and fear seem to win out. In the recent experience of all mutants, it has been worse than ever.

Not long ago, the X-men’s arch foe Magneto brought the world to the brink of destruction by using a machine to amplify his powers and direct an asteroid onto a collision course with Earth. He was thwarted, but in order to keep further conflict from propagating he had to make a deal with humanity. It was an unpopular deal, but it averted further destruction by leaving Genosha alone as a sovereign mutant nation while the nations of the world struggled to rebuild. Now anti-mutant sentiment is sweeping the world, affecting mutants society on all levels.

In the midst of this chaos, a once unknown senator with strong anti-mutant feelings named Robert Kelly has captured the spotlight. He has entered an ambitious bid to become President of the United States. His campaign stands as a threat to all mutants and the X-men must find a way to stem the tide before it’s too late.


Downtown Philadelphia – Independence Hall

“We want Kelly! We want Kelly!”

“Rob for the job! Rob for the job!”

The streets of Philadelphia were bustling with activity. Cheering crowds had gathered around the historic steps of Independence Hall, an iconic setting of American politics. It was here where Senator Robert Kelly, the front runner for President of the United States, staged a large rally. Pennsylvania was a major swing state, carrying a large number of electoral votes with a history of not favoring one party over the other. It was where many campaigns of the past focused their efforts. Even though he had plenty of momentum going into this part of the election, he sought to seize the moment.

The Senator made a symbolic trip up the steps of Independence Hall with his family, being led by a parade and surrounded by cheering crowds. There were plenty of news cameras as well. This event was set to capture the nation’s attention and further boost his poll numbers. But while much of the crowd consisted of supporters, there were a few who didn’t share in the enthusiasm.

“I feel so out of place here,” said Kitty Pryde as she stood next to Bobby, Jean, and Professor Xavier.

“Just wait till he starts speaking,” muttered Bobby, “A little mutant bashing here and some fear mongering there and we can have a full blown lynch mob before lunch.”

“Enough with the negativity, Bobby,” groaned Jean, “It’s bad enough I’ve got another headache. I don’t need your constant dreading making it worse.”

“It’s not like you’ll make it any better listening to these people either,” Bobby pointed out, “Maybe you would have been better off following the others.”

“Into the sewer to investigate that lead from the Morlocks? No thank you,” groaned Jean, rubbing her temples again, “The fumes of raw sewage would be worse. I don’t need that and the permanent damage to my sense of smell adding onto it.”

“And you think this is the lesser of two evils?” said Bobby cynically.

As if to prove his point he pointed towards a couple of signs across the street from them. They said things like “Mutants are a disease! Robert Kelly is the Cure!” and “Survival for humans! Extinction for mutants!” Their words got more extreme as Senator Kelly passed by and waved, shaking hands along the way.

“Get rid of all those damn mutants! Enough is enough!

“Clean up the gene pool, Senator! You’re our guy”

Jean looked on in bemusement. Her head throbbed even more with such venomous rhetoric. Some people were projecting their thoughts as well and they weren’t nearly as friendly. Jean had been trying to shut them out, but it was a lot harder with a pounding headache. The more thoughts she picked up on the worse it got. It more or less proved Bobby’s point.

“I rest my case,” he said.

“Okay, maybe the sewer wasn’t such a bad option after all,” groaned Jean.

Jean took out a bottle of aspirin and downed a couple more pills. She tried to keep it together, staying close to the Professor and her friends as they watched the parade continue. She didn’t let her pain show. She couldn’t when she and every other mutant in the world needed to be strong.

Professor Xavier remained focused on the parade for the most part, keeping a close eye on Senator Kelly and his surroundings. If this lead the Morlocks had given them had any merit, he had to be ready the moment he picked up a stray thought. He hoped Jean could help him in that area, but he could sense the pain she was in and couldn’t help but worry.

“That’s the third time you’ve taken aspirin since this morning, Jean. Are you sure you’re up to this?” asked Xavier, “If you want, you can go back to the hotel and rest.”

“I’ll be fine Professor,” assured Jean, “I’ve dealt with these headaches before.”

“But you haven’t had to for years,” the Professor pointed out, “Perhaps your encounter with Magneto’s machine has left more side-effects than we expected.”

“Seems as good an explanation as any,” sighed Jean.

“If you want I can try bolstering your psychic shields when we get back.”

“That’s okay, Professor. I want to handle this one on my own.”

“Are you sure?”

“Not as much as I would like to be,” she conceded, “But I need to learn to hold my own mind together at some point. You once told me I couldn’t rely on others to manage my powers forever. I have to figure it out for myself at one point.”

“I understand, but I don’t like sensing you in pain like this,” said the Professor empathically.

“I know you do and I appreciate that. Really, I do. But to quote John’s old mantra during training, no pain no gain.”

Her determination was admirable. But Professor Charles Xavier was still concerned. Over the years Jean had grown into a strong, independent woman. She had a powerful desire to be able to stand on her own through her struggles. He suspected that part of it had to do with wanting to distance herself from her father’s mistakes. But he worried that that independent spirit was pushing her more than she was ready for.

For now, he would have to trust Jean that she could handle herself. He and the rest of the X-men had other challenges to worry about. They watched closely as Senator Kelly made his way up the steps of Independence Hall. So far everything was going as expected, as disheartening as that already was. They stayed close to the steps so he could scan the minds of everybody surrounding the senator. Bobby and Kitty were on standby in case they needed to take action. Since it was so crowded, they couldn’t be here in uniform. They had to come wearing street clothes and hats so that nobody would recognize them. It was not the most efficient way to handle a threat like this, but it was what they had to work with.

“Anything yet, Professor?” asked Kitty.

“None whatsoever, Kitty,” said Xavier, rubbing his temples underneath his hat, “But it’s still early. Our unknown adversary may just be waiting for the right moment.”

“How much do we know about this guy anyways?” asked Bobby skeptically, “Marrow and Healer weren’t exactly too descriptive when they gave us this tip of theirs. How do we know they’re not leading us on? I mean it wouldn’t be the first time they did.”

“We earned their trust back before the uprising when they abducted Scott. The least we can do is trust them in return,” said the Professor, “And I detected no dishonesty from Marrow or Healer when they told me about this. They were as worried as I was. One of their own had broken from their doctrine to organize a strike on the surface against Senator Kelly. They were not aware of any details. They only knew from Caliban that it would take place in Philadelphia.”

“The city of brotherly love,” commented Kitty, “Gotta love that irony.”

“That’s still not much to go on,” said Bobby, remaining suspicious of this whole ordeal.

“I know,” affirmed the Professor, “Which is why I have Hank and Warren monitoring things from the hotel and Cyclops and the rest of the team scoping out the sewers. The key is to stop this affair before it causes another media frenzy. I don’t think the mutant community could bear another.”

“That’s for sure,” said Kitty, “Maybe we should look into hiring some better PR. Senator Kelly’s a jerk and look how well he’s doing.”

“If we don’t do stop this from spiraling out of control, all the public relations in the world won’t save us from the growing backlash.”

It was a grim assessment, providing them with all the more incentive to succeed this time. Jean, Kitty, and Bobby fell silent as they watched the parade come to an end. Senator Kelly was now at the podium, shaking the hands of a few supporters and local officials. He was going through the same motions of every politician. But behind those smiles and handshakes, they could see a man with a shady agenda. If only there was someone besides them could stand up and call him out on it.


The Windsor Suites Hotel – Philadelphia

Hank McCoy cracked his knuckles as he shifted his attention from computer to computer. He had a complicated yet important task before him and it was vital to the mission that he be able to multitask. Just outside he could hear the cheers from the parade. Senator Kelly was just about to take the podium. The streets were practically locked down and every area within a three block radius was being monitored by the authorities. The bulk of Hank’s job was to monitor these monitors, to watch the watchmen so to speak. He was to be the eyes and ears of this vital operation.

He had a total of five laptops going at once. One monitored radio traffic, one monitored the police bandwidth, one monitored the roads and intersections, one monitored the stage where Senator Kelly would be speaking, and one monitored the sentries they had posted on the surrounding buildings. It was a lot to take note of on a moment-by-moment basis. But his brilliant mind handed much greater loads before.

While Hank was working his magic, Warren monitored a less rigorous source of information. Leaning back on the bed, Warren watched the festivities unfold on the local news. It was on all the major networks as part of the election fodder. Warren never cared much for politics, but as part of this mission he had to keep up.

“I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again. Politics breeds evil more than mutation ever can,” sighed Warren as he watched footage of Senator Kelly’s march.

“I’m inclined to agree,” said Hank, “It is the consequence of delegating authority. Those that assume the responsibilities often use their power for personal agendas.”

“If this election gets any worse I may be inclined to become an anarchist.”

“Let us not lose faith in authority too soon. As quickly as it can go one way, it can all turn around,” said Hank as he found himself typing on two computers at the same time, one with his hands and the other with his ape-like feet.

“Exactly how many times has that happened for the greater good?” said Warren dryly.

“You’d be surprised,” said Hank, still retaining his share of optimism, “In the 1870s, the United States past harsh laws to discriminate against Chinese immigrants. It was done mainly out of racism and a fear they were taking jobs from non-Chinese. It got so bad that some cities wouldn’t allow a Chinaman to set foot on certain blocks. But it all changed over the course of a few decades. As Chinese communities grew and contributed to society, they gained greater acceptance.”

“Don’t know if that’ll work for mutants,” said Warren, “Guys like Senator Kelly don’t seem to even want mutants to contribute.”

“Contribution is but one way of gaining acceptance,” said Hank as he turned his attention to two different computers, “Take for instance the Civil Rights struggle in the 1950s and 60s for African Americans. In decades past it was unthinkable for a person of color enjoy rights as basic as drinking from the same fountain, attending the same restaurants, or sending their children to the same school. But through persistent and sincere protest, they showed the world the sheer ugliness of racial bigotry. When people saw for themselves on TV and news stories how their own citizens were being mistreated, the better part of the human conscious took over.”

“And you think that same conscious will work for mutants?”

“If we can show the world the ugly side of such prejudice as other minorities have, I’m confident we can,” said Hank, now with one laptop in his lap with another in front of him, “History has shown that civil rights movements are strengthened over time so long as the righteous sides continue their pursuit.”

“But has history ever had a side with guys who can shoot lasers, fly, read minds, and cause worldwide mass extinction?” questioned Warren.

Hank needed to ponder a little harder for this question. He didn’t blame Warren for being skeptical. Those on the hard side of the fight often were it seemed. It seemed to be the question everyone, himself included, had struggled with. Mutants were not like other minorities. Their powers set them apart more than any other group it seemed. But approaching it from the vast history of oppression, Hank saw reason for hope.

“I admit the situation with mutants is unique, not to mention fragile. But on the other side of the coin, mutants have so much to offer with their powers. It is up to us to show that to the fearful masses. In any sense we shall have our share of chances.”

“If Senator Kelly lets it get that far, of course,” said Warren, still skeptical.

Having had enough of the news, Warren got up from the bed and headed towards the balcony. They were on the top floor, having rented a suite to work out of for this operation. From this vantage point they could see well into Downtown where the parade was going on. Warren’s gaze narrowed at the ominous crowds outside. Then he looked up at the skies.

“It’s getting pretty cloudy,” he said, “I should have enough cover to fly over without being seen.”

“I would advise against that, Warren. We have to keep a low profile, remember?” said Hank, not taking his eyes off his laptops.

“Someone’s has to be close to the action,” said Warren, “The Professor and the others won’t get much room in that crowd. Lucky for me the sky is my only limit.”

 “It’s still too early,” said Hank seriously, “I’ve yet to hear from Cyclops and until we can assess the nature of this threat, we need to stay put. Besides, I need you to stay with me so you can help…”

At that point Hank realized he was talking to into thin air. Looking up from his laptop, he saw that Warren had already taken off and we well into the clouds. He refused to stick around to be talked out of it. Hank could only groan to himself. Warren had been pretty erratic since the ordeal with Candy and his father. He was more impulsive and defiant, a trait he used to bear show in limited quantities. It made him difficult to manage and even more difficult to plan around.

“Why do I bother?” he sighed, “I hope he doesn’t do anything too brash. The X-men could certainly use a victory at this point.”


Sewers Below Philadelphia

“The sewer…why does it always have to be a dang sewer?!” groaned an annoyed Rogue.

“Ve do not need zhe reminder, mien sister,” said Nightcralwler, who held back a round of gags as he saw some dead rats floating around, “At least you didn’t eat a chicken, bacon, banana sandwich for breakfast zhis morning.”

“If we be lucky we may come across some of it down here,” joked Gambit.

“Can we please avoid any comments about food? It’s hard enough not to throw up down here!” said Rogue, feeling very queasy as the stench of raw sewage inundated her senses.

“Would you rather be up top listening to Senator Kelly’s speech?” said Cyclops.

The three X-men exchanged glances. On the surface it seemed like a no-brainer. Anything would be a step up from the sewer and wading through raw sewage. But considering what was going on topside and what they had been hearing from Senator Kelly lately, it wasn’t so clear cut.

“Tough call,” said Gambit, “That homme’s speaking and this here stench be right up there.”

“Then try and make due and keep up,” said Cyclops assertively, “We have to find this rogue Morlock before he makes his move.”

“For draggin’ us down in this dump again, Ah’ll show ‘em some moves of mah own,” said Rogue, cracking he knuckles intently, “And this time Ah’m making them pay for all the conditioner Ah’ll need to get the smell outta mah hair again.”

“Can we not talk about the smell anymore?” said Storm, who was out in front with Wolverine, “We need to focus. This mutant Marrow spoke of could be anywhere.”

“Yeah, so shut up, suck it up, and keep moving!” barked Wolverine, “It’s hard enough to smell down here! I don’t need to hear a bunch of whining on top of it!”

That helped silence the others as they followed the twists and turns of the vast Philadelphia sewer system. There were few environments more unpleasant for a mission than the sewer. But that’s where this lead was taking them and if they were going to stop it they had to hit it at the source.

It didn’t help that this lead they were following wasn’t exactly certain. This all started earlier this morning when Professor Xavier got an emergency message from Morlock leaders, Marrow and Healer. Like the rest of the world, they were affected by the events of the past few months. Magneto’s attack on the human world sent many of their communities into a panic, causing the fragile order the Morlocks maintained to falter. While they had been trying to regain that order in the previous months, a number of disgruntled mutants struck out on their own to make their own impact on a reeling world.

One of those mutants was an unknown outsider who convinced a number of Morlocks to follow him or her on a plot against Senator Kelly. Marrow and Healer didn’t have any information on who this outsider was or even who he got to go along with him. All they knew is this outsider was intruding on their territory and they didn’t want this to be a trend. But they were reluctant to expose themselves to scrutiny from the outside world so they were relying on the X-men. Since they were more willing to save a man like Robert Kelly, they were better suited for the job. Few Morlocks wanted to take part in saving a surface dweller.

The Professor quickly sent the team into action. Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, and Nightcrawler were tasked with hunting down this mysterious mutant while the rest of the team was stationed topside to protect Senator Kelly. Nobody was too thrilled with the idea of protecting a guy who by all accounts hated them and their kind. But they had to protect him for the sake of holding this already fragile world together.

“Have you picked up any scents, Wolverine?” asked Storm.

“Down here, it’s pretty damn hard not too,” he snarled, “I’m guessin’ we’re under some burger joints and they just had a special.”

“Please Herr Logan! Do not go into detail!” said Nightcrawler, clutching his abdominal, “I don’t zhink my stomach can take it!”

“Relax Elf, that ain’t all I smell,” said the feral mutant as he came up to a T-junction in the pipes, “Someone else walked through this same pipe. Whoever they were they got that unforgettable Morlock aroma!”

“How many are there? Can you tell?” asked Cyclops.

Logan moved ahead further, sniffing the air more thoroughly as he did.

“I ain’t sure, but there’s more than a few,” he said, “A few are familiar. But there’s one other that smells…different.”

“Different how?” asked Gambit anxiously, “Different ‘round us ain’t ever a good thing.”

“Just because I smell them doesn’t mean I know their life story, bub!” said Wolverine in annoyance, “But I know the nose never lies! Something stinks here and it ain’t the freakin’ sewage!”

“Then let’s find it before we have to learn the hard way,” urged Storm, holding the feral mutant back from further outbursts, “Here, I’ll get the air moving. It should help you follow the trail.”

“Thanks darlin’. Just go easy on the gale force winds. We don’t want our mystery guest giving us the slip before we ‘introduce’ ourselves,” said Wolverine menacingly.

“I’ll be careful,” she assured him.

That was good enough for Wolverine. He let Storm kick up some wind to get the scent trail moving. With the others lighting the way with flashlights, the two of them took lead and led them through the maze of pipes. Storm looked a lot calmer than she did last time they were in the sewers. Her claustrophobia seemed to do better in the more open spaces of the Philadelphia sewers. Sticking close to Wolverine also seemed to help for whatever reason. A few even took notice.

“Is it just Remy or do Stormy and Wolverine seem a little…closer,” said Gambit under his breath.

“Yeah, Ah noticed that too,” said Rogue silently, “You think they shacked up or something?”

“Don’t know. Stormy ain’t said nothing and she usually tells Remy about these things,” he said.

“Doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”

“Or they just be beating around the bush,” said Gambit as he carefully observed them, “Either way, Remy ain’t sure he likes it. I can’t imagine see a femme like Stormy going for a guy like Wolverine.”

“You’re one to talk, Cajun. She went for you, didn’t she?” quipped Rogue.

“That be different. Remy ain’t Logan. Only Logan be Logan. Take a homme like that and a femme like Storm and put them together, what do you get? Remy don’t know, but Remy ain’t sure.”

Rogue pondered that for a moment. She didn’t know Storm nearly as well as Gambit. To her she was the caring yet demanding teacher that always reached out to her students. The idea of her with someone like Wolverine did seem a bit out of place, considering the personalities of the other men she dated. She could say the same for Wolverine. She could see why he dated Jean, who was more outgoing and playful. Storm seemed too serious for him. But then again, stranger things had happened in the team.

“Ah don’t know either,” said Rogue, “What do you think, Kurt?”

“I’ll give you my input vhen my insides stops churning,” groaned Nightcrawler, “Can ve just get on vith zhis so ve can get out of here?”

“Seriously, homme, you gotta watch that diet of yours,” snickered Gambit.

Nightcrawler gave the Cajun a bemused look. He was not in the mood to argue anything having to do with food or ongoing dramas between their instructors. His only inclination was to find these rogue Morlocks and get out of here.

“Keep up you guys!” Cyclops called out from just up ahead as Wolverine and Storm started moving faster, “It looks like we’re closing in on something.”

“Finally! My stomach is grateful,” said an anxious Nightcrawler.

Wolverine was really onto something now. He was moving with that intensity he always got whenever he picked up on strong scent. That meant it had to be close. The team set aside their revulsion of being in a sewer and prepared themselves to strike the moment something came up. Professor Xavier had been adamant. They were to stop whatever this rogue Morlock planned before it caused a major scene.

They followed Logan towards a more open part of the sewer, most likely an area below an intersection. They noticed this part of the sewer was a lot older than the ones they entered in. The walls were lined with brick, which was thick with fungus and mold. The pipes were also a lot more rusted and leaking all around. It must mean they were in the historical district of the city, which just happened to be where Senator Kelly was giving his speech. Wolverine slowed his pursuit, stopping just before a junction towards three pipes. The scent was directing him down the central pipe.

“We got ‘em now!” said Wolverine, taking a predatory stance, “They’re just up ahead!”

“Move carefully, X-men,” said Cyclops, putting his hand on his visor, “We have to be careful with this one.”

“Careful…right,” said the feral mutant dryly, “You do that, Cyke. Don’t wait up.”

In his usual brash manner Wolverine drew his claws and stormed ahead, leaving the rest of the team behind.

“Wolverine wait!” exclaimed the X-leader.

“Why does he even bother?” commented Rogue, rolling her eyes.

But Wolverine wasn’t the only one broke off.

“Don’t worry! I’ll catch up with him!” she called out as she ran after Wolverine.

“Dang it, not you too Stormy!” groaned Gambit.

“She really has been hanging around Logan too much,” commented Nightcrawler.

With the rest of the team left behind to catch up, Storm and Wolverine ran ahead into the dark pipe. Storm quickly met up with her teammate, following him down a few steps and walkways into a larger opening where more water flowed. The stench got even worse as more sewage converged into a central vein. It sounded like they were nearing another major hub. They could even see some light up ahead.

“Wolverine slow down!” Storm urged.

“No time, darlin’!” grunted Wolverine, “These punks wanna cause a scene! I’ll give ‘em a scene! They won’t know what hit ‘em!”

With predatory intent, he led storm down the last juncture. The scent was so clear now he was certain the source was on the other side. But as soon as he and Storm entered the area, they were met with an unexpected sight.

Standing there leaning against the wall, casually twirling a couple of sais, was the Morlock, Callisto. Rogue and Wolverine remembered her well from their last encounter. She was a powerful fighter and disagreed strongly with Healer and Marrow’s more peaceful leanings. But what struck them was she didn’t appear apprehensive or even concerned by their presence. It was almost as if she was waiting for them.

“Callisto?” said Storm in shock.

“Storm, if I recall,” she said casually, “I knew you and the X-men would show up. Took you long enough.”

“You!” scowled Wolverine, “You’re the one pulling this crazy stunt?!”

“Slow and dumb. Typical,” laughed Callisto, “Even if I was, why would I be standing here all by my lonesome just enjoying the fine sewer scenery the human scum have condemned us to?”

Wolverine snarled angrily as he quickly pieced it together. A sinking feeling quickly set in, one that was always a prelude to something much worse.

“You wouldn’t,” said Wolverine, “Unless you planned to.”

“You’re half-right,” said Callisto as she gripped her sais and took combat-ready stance, “The other half being, I wouldn’t be doing it alone.”

Wolverine and Storm quickly realized what she was implying. Right behind them, two more imposing figures emerged. One they recognized was Berskerer, the Morlock with strong electrical powers who also had a rebellious streak. The other was someone they hadn’t seen in their previous encounter.

It was a young woman with a very animalistic posture to say the least. She had a cat-like appearance with a human-like disposition. Her body was covered in orangish-red fur, a feline tail, and wore tattered but somewhat revealing jump-suit. She had the kind of snarls and growls that gave of an angry aura that was not unlike Wolverine. Also like him, she bore a set of ominous cat-like claws in her fingers and looked ready to use them on the two X-men.

“Errrrr! So these are the famous X-men?” she said, “They don’t look so tough!”

“You say that about everybody, Feral,” said Berserker, his hands now cracking with electricity, “But remember the plan. Let’s just have a little fun with them!”

“What the hell kind of lousy plan is that?” snarled Wolverine.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” grinned Callisto.

Without dropping anymore hints, Callisto attacked the two X-men with her sais. Wolverine shoved Storm out of the way and took her head on, deflecting the incoming attack but allowing her to take off a good chunk of his shoulder in the process. But Wolverine barely flinched. He had taken far worse shots than that. While Callisto was moving in for another strike, he back-kicked her in the thigh and while she was stunned, knocked her back with a roundhouse.

But while Callisto was momentarily stunned by Wolverine’s counter, Feral got into the action. Letting out the primal roar of a feline predator, she pounced on Wolverine while he was facing Callisto. She landed on his back, digging the claws in her feet and hands right into his flesh. This time Wolverine felt it and let out a pained roar.

“Augh!” he howled.

“You’ll make a good scratching post!” snarled Feral, “You and the rest of those greedy humans! After what they’ve done to me they’re going to pay!”

“Errrrrr! I don’t know what they did to you! But I’m gonna do much worse!” yelled Wolverine.

Ignoring the burning pain, Wolverine reached behind and grabbed Feral by the neck. Then with a sharp jolt, he threw her off his back. Her claws were dug in deep so she took more chunks of his flesh with her. It was nothing his healing factor couldn’t handle, but to Wolverine’s annoyance he didn’t throw her hard enough. The nimble Feral just landed on her feet like a cat and immediately moved in for another attack, snarling as she slashed away with her claws.

“You X-men deserve even worse than the surface dwellers!” roared Feral, “You defend them even as they oppress us! Through the beatings, the killings, and the raping the humans do, you still defend them!”

“Augh!” grunted Wolverine as he took a particularly vicious swipe to the neck, “Lady, you got some serious issues! Did we date or something?”

“GRRRRRRR DIE!” Feral roared.

“I ain’t liking those odds,” grunted Wolverine as he prepared to counter.

While Wolverine and Feral fought hard, Storm stared down Berserker. It looked like he had been working out since their last encounter. He put on some more muscle and had a much more hardened demeanor, a byproduct of anybody who lived in the Morlocks for an extended period. He even grew a mohawk for his hair and got some electric style tattoos on his arm. It gave him a much more intimidating appearance. He tried to reinforce the point by building up some electricity in his hands.

“I used to think you X-men were cool. But these past few months have shown me the truth!” he said angrily, “You guys are losing control on the surface! And now we’re feeling it down here! Face it! Something has to be done!”

“Whatever you’re planning, you’ll only be making it worse!” urged Storm, maintaining a defensive pose, “If you start fighting with the surface, you’ll only invite more violence!”

“I used to believe that,” he said sternly, “It took someone a whole lot smarter than me to tell me the truth! Now you’re going to pay!”

No longer listening to reason, Bererker’s eyes flashed and he fired a burst of electricity right at Storm. The African mutant dove out of the way and summoned some power of her own. Her eyes started glowing white as she countered his attack with a sharp wind burst. Berserker instinctively guarded his face with his arms, but stayed on his feet and charged up again. He fired wildly, missing Storm but causing some damage around her. She kept up her wind assaults, trying to keep him off balance.

This assault continued and quickly turned into a stalemate. Storm had to adjust her strategy. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Feral really tearing into Wolverine. She needed to help him. Acting fast, she hit Berserker with more wind bursts, backing him closer to the water mane where a river of sewer water was flowing.

Berserker noticed this and stepped up his electrical attack, intensifying his charges to prepare for a finishing blow.

“Trying to short me out with water? How dumb do you think I am?” he taunted as his body erupted in an electrical burst, “You’re not knocking me in that sludge!”

“I don’t have to,” grinned Storm.

The African mutant then redirected her wind powers to the water. This time she used them to form a miniature tornado, creating a waterspout with the water right behind Berserker. Before he could realize what was going on, she redirected that water spout right towards him and hit him with a torrent of fresh, mucky sewer water. It not only covered him in sewage, but the water shorted him out and caused all that energy he built up to fizzle out.

“Auuggggghhhhh!” he cried as he fell to the ground.

“Ray!” exclaimed Feral, who was still locked in a grapple with Wolverine, “You devious bitch! I’ll claw your eyes out for that!”

“Gotta get through me first, bub!” snarled Wolverine as he hit her back, slugging her across the face with his fists, “But I gotta warn you, I hate cats and for a damn good reason!”

“Allow me to give you a few more!” she snarled.

Feral lashed out again, dodging another swipe from Wolverine’s claws and latching onto his arm. Then with murderous intent, she bit right into his bicep with her feline teeth and dug her claws right into his gut. It put Wolverine in more pain, pushing his own primal rage. If this crazy girl was going to play it rough, he was going to match her.

As Storm saw the bloody fight intensify, she grew worried. Wolverine’s healing factor was good, but it had it’s limits. Her eyes still glowing white, she rushed over to his aid.

“Hold on, Wolverine! I’m coming to assist!” she called out.

But in her rush to help her friend, she didn’t notice Callisto coming up behind her. She had recovered from the blow she took from Wolverine earlier and was ready to rejoin the fight. Since Feral had Wolverine occupied, she took on Storm.

“Your friend heals nicely. Let’s see if you can too!” she grunted.

Callisto then struck Storm in the back of the head with both fists. She hit her hard, not using all her strength but using plenty to knock her out. Storm let out a pained groan as she fell to the dingy floors. She was nearly knocked out cold, having little chance against Callisto’s strength and agility. Still armed with her sais, nothing was stopping her from taking Storm out permanently. But Wolverine refused to let that happen.

“Storm!” he exclaimed even as Feral bit into his shoulder, “You just made the worst mistake of your life!”

“You already made a mistake of your own thinking the two of you would be enough to stop us!” grinned Callisto as she held the sai to Storm’s throat.

“I swear when I’m done with this little kitten…” began Wolverine.

But he was cut off again. Feral hit him with another furious claw swipe across the chest, hitting a few veins and causing more blood to pour out. It was enough to make him feel light-headed, but not enough to make him want to stop. Feral wouldn’t go easily though. She was taking his every blow, ignoring pain and working on total rage. Whatever happened to her must have been pretty bad because few things could drive a person this hard in a fight.

Callisto grinned as she watched Feral hack away at Wolverine. She forced him to refocus his attention, grabbing her by the arms and slamming her against a nearby wall. But Feral wouldn’t let go. She still had her claws dug into his gut. It left nobody to stand in her way to finish off Storm. Looking down at her, her expression tensed with anger.

“Nothing personal, X-man,” she said, “You’re great fighters. But when an opportunity comes along to strike the surface dwellers, we must take a chance.”

Gripping the sai she prepared to finish her off. But just as she was going through the motions, a glowing playing card descended right in front of her. It was queen of diamonds and as soon as it was inches from her face, it exploded.

“Argh!” she exclaimed as she was blown back, “What the hell was that?!”

Then from the main pipe where Storm and Wolverine arrived, the rest of the X-men emerged with one of them wilding another glowing card in his right hand.

“That be us, cherè,” said Gambit in a cocky grin, “And this here stunt of yours is about to get real messy!”

“X-men, take them down!” ordered Cyclops.

Cyclops, Gambit, Rogue, and Nightcrawler came rushing to the aid of their teammates, ready to join the fight. Now it was the Morlocks who were outnumbered, but Callisto wasn’t daunted. She quickly recovered from Gambit’s initial attack and grabbed her sais in preparation for another charge. But before she could even get back to her feet, Nightcrawler appeared behind her and grabbed her weapons straight from her hands.

“I’ll take zhose,” he said casually.

“Why you…” Callisto began.

But as she turned around to face Nightcrawler, she didn’t notice Rogue coming up from behind. Armed with her super strength, Rogue delivered a powerful right cross that sent Callisto flying into the wall so hard she left an impression. Even with her agility and durability, she was left dazed by the blow and in a great deal of pain.

“Forgot to tell you, sugah. Ah’ve had some upgrades since our last fight,” commented Rogue.

“Ungh,” she groaned.

With Callisto now out of the fight, the focus turned to Wolverine and Feral. The battle was still going strong with Feral holding her nemesis from behind in a choke hold. Cyclops came rushing up to aid while Gambit went to check on Storm. His hand on his visor, he was trying to aim for Feral. But she was keeping Wolverine in front of her.

“What are you waiting for, Cyke?! Take the shot!” yelled Wolverine as Feral bit into his shoulder again.

“I don’t have a shot!” he replied, hesitant to fire his blasts.

“I can take it! Just get this damn furball off me!”

“If you say so,” shrugged the X-leader, unable to stop himself from smiling at his request.

With Wolverine still facing him, Cyclops unleashed a powerful and concentrated optic blast that hit Wolverine right in the chest. The resulting force was so great it sent him flying back as if he had been rammed by a charging bull. And since Feral had her claws dug into him, she went along for the ride. They flew clear across the sewer path until they impacted the brick wall, leaving a major indentation. But since Feral riding Wolverine’s back, she took the brunt end of the impact. With his added weight, the force was even greater. Even with her nimble form, it was too much for her to take.

When the blast ceased, Wolverine groaned as he and Feral fell out of the indentation. The former living weapon stumbled to his feet, his body now even more bloodied and bruised. Feral was out of it as well, looking bruised as well and too weak to stand. It was hard to tell if she was still conscious. But even if she was, she was in no condition to fight.

“You enjoyed that a little too much, bub,” grunted Wolverine.

“You did tell me to shoot,” said Cyclops, still grinning.

The X-leader extended his hand to help his teammate up, but Wolverine waved it off. The animosity between them may not have been as bad as it once was, but there was still some bitterness between them. At least it didn’t affect them in a fight.

With the three Morlocks defeated, the X-men could breathe a sigh of relief. Berserker was still out, his body sparking from the dousing Storm gave him. Callisto wasn’t getting up anytime soon, not after the hit Rogue delivered on her. And Feral wasn’t going to be fighting back either. There were still some bruises on their end. Storm was still woozy from earlier, but was no worse for wear. Gambit helped her up and they rejoined Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, and Nightcrawler as they stood over Feral and Callisto.

“Feeling better, Stormy?” asked Gambit.

“Getting there,” said Storm, still rubbing her head, “Is that all of them?”

“Looks like it,” said Cyclops as he looked down at Feral, “They’re in no state to cause any trouble with the parade.”

“Great! For once ve can go home vithout having left human/mutant relations vorse zhan before,” said Nightcrawler.

“It’s a good thing too because Ah don’t think mutants could bear it,” said Rogue.

But while the X-men were taking in their triumph, Feral was laughing. She was battered and bruised, but still conscious. Even in their defeated state, she was not dissuaded.

“You X-men are sick!” she grunted, “You’re actually protecting a man like Robert Kelly? A man who could very well spell doom for us all? As far as I’m concerned that’s worse than anything Magneto ever did. At least his heart was in the right place.”

“If you consider mass murder a just cause I don’t even want to think about what you consider a crime,” said Cyclops.

“Yeah, we’re just stopping you from making mutants an even bigger target,” added Rogue.

“You’re just keeping mutants from fighting back,” Feral coughed again, “They deserved all the wrath Magneto was going to give them. I didn’t used to think that. When I heard that he was looking to destroy the world, I was scared like everyone else. And I cheered when I heard a peace deal had been reached. But then I got a taste of the aftermath. I found out first hand how ‘peaceful’ the surface world could be!”

Feral’s tone shifted from one of anger to one of sorrow. Even though she was bloodied, they could tell that see tears in her eyes.

“It’s too late now! The humans have turned against us!” she cried, “I tried living up on the surface. I gave them a chance. But they blew it! I was living right here in Philadelphia as a street performer. I used to do tricks for children and they would cheer and give me money. But one day a bunch of humans ganged up on me! They backed me into an ally and started beating me with baseball bats! I tried to fight back! But it was no use! I would have been killed if the Morlocks hadn’t saved me!”

“Mien Gott,” gasped Nightcrawler with a touch of compassion., “Zhat’s terrible.”

“But it ain’t an excuse to hold a grudge on the whole frakin’ world!” snarled Wolverine.

“If they won’t give us a chance then I won’t either! If they’re going to try and take my life, I’m going to take one of theirs!”

“You won’t be taking no lives today, cherè,” said Gambit, “You and your crew here be finished.”

Feral laughed again. She grinned ominously as she fought through the pain and looked up at the X-men. They were in for a real shock.

“You honestly think this is it? This is all we planned for?” she said, “You must think we’re stupid.”

“The thought had crossed my mind,” said Wolverine snidely.

“Well think again! Because everything is going just as we expected.”

“What do you mean?” asked Cyclops with renewed suspicion.

Suddenly a deep voice emerged as a new figure entered the area.

“She means me,” said the voice.

The bewildered team turned around to see a tall, muscular figure standing at the other end of the path. He was at least six-and-a-half feet tall, bearing dark an all black outfit with a tight fitting muscle shirt and matching black pants. His skin was also as white as snow and he wore a black bandana on his head, giving off an intimidating thug-like appearance. But his most defining feature was his arms. He didn’t have hands like a normal human being. Instead, he had two large cannons in their place.

“The name’s Marshall Evan Stone III. But you can call me Random! And you X-men have just walked right into my little trap!”

With a sinister grin, he pointed his cannon-shaped hands right at them. He then fired a powerful round that let off a thundering boom all throughout the tunnel. The X-men had little time to react as the round hit just in front of them.

“Down!” was all Cyclops had time to say.

The round struck in front of them, forcing the X-men back to find cover. Rogue and Wolverine jumped out in front to take the brunt end, but the force was so great it blew them both back. Rogue crashed into Gambit, who was still helping Storm stay upright and nearly knocked him out. Nightcrawler and Cyclops guarded themselves from the smoke and shrapnel while Wolverine landed right next to the dazed Storm.

It left the X-men reeling. But it just missed Feral and Callisto, who were still on the ground. They managed to roll out of the way, giving this new Random character a better shot. They slipped away to get Berserker out of the line of fire while Random did his job.

“Hit them again, Random! You know what to do!” yelled Callisto.

“With pleasure!” grinned Random intently, “They won’t get in the way! Not after this!”

Using his other arm, Random fired another round at the still dazed X-men. This one hit near the side of the wall, triggering a sharp explosion that blew out a number of bricks, mortar, and support. Once again, the X-men had to take cover. Nightcrawler teleported Cyclops back while Wolverine guarded Storm and Rogue guarded Gambit. But the shot itself wasn’t their biggest concern. It was the damage it caused that really affected them.

When the round struck the wall it knocked out lights and quickly made the tunnel unstable. Cracks quickly formed that spread from the wall to the ceiling. An ominous rumble soon filled the cavernous sewers. Then in a series of bangs, large chunks of the tunnel caved in on them. The biggest fell near Storm and Wolverine.

“Wolverine! Get Storm out of there!” yelled Cyclops.

“Oh hell,” groaned Wolverine as he looked up.

Seeing large chunks of brick and stone falling towards them, Wolverine instinctively shielded Storm’s body with his so he could take the brunt of the impact. He already took a beating from Feral and Cyclops’s blast. He could take more for her. Storm, who was still dazed, looked up at the falling debris with horror. It fell all around them in a huge pile. Wolverine took most of the shards, but it quickly built up around them. Soon they were complately entombed, surrounded by the rock and debris. Wolverine groaned in pain after having taken some heavy hits from the shards. But even though the rumbling had stopped, Storm was consumed with paralyzing fear.

“No…no! Not this!” she exclaimed, “Get me out! I…I need to get out!”

“Hnn…calm down, Storm!” grunted Wolverine as he tried to move in the confined space, “We’re just a little stuck!”

“No! You don’t understand! I…I need to get out of here! I hate small place! I…”

“Easy…easy there, darlin’. I’ll get you out. I promise,” said Wolverine, trying to keep her from trembling.

His words brought some comfort to her. But she was already breathing hard shaking with dread. Her claustrophobia was setting in and she clung to Wolverine even harder, holding on as if it was the last vestige of her sanity.

Outside the pile, the rest of the X-men were reeling. A few large chunks of the tunnel fell right over Gambit and Rogue. Gambit took a blow to the head, but Rogue was able to cover him and use her invulnerability to protect him from further injury. She took a pretty nasty blow to the head as well from a large chunk, but it was nothing she couldn’t tough through. She was still in a daze though, needing a moment to collect herself.

The only ones who were able to avoid much of the damaging blow were Cyclops and Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler had grabbed Cyclops and teleported him off to the other side of the tunnel where little debris fell. They were still momentarily stunned by the impact, but not enough for them to divert their focus from their new foe.

Using this brief window, the mutant who called himself Random grinned and ran off towards the other end of the pipe.

“So long X-men! Now I’m off to kill Senator Kelly! You hear that? I’m going to kill Senator Kelly!” he said mischievously.

Shaking off the dust and debris, Cyclops stepped over the rubble and out into a clearing. Nightcrawler hesitated a bit, looking back towards his dazed sister as she lifted the heavy rubble off her and Gambit.

“He must be crazy. Telling us his plan like zhat? Vhat kind of assassin does zhat?” commented Nightcrawler.

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t add up! Which is why I’m going after him” said Cyclops as he ran off, “Stay here and get the others out! I’ll see just how crazy this Random guy is!”

Nightcrawler barely had time to nod as the X-leader ran off after Random at full speed. As a former mercenary himself, he knew the difference between killers who were just clumsy and those that were just off. This Random figure didn’t fit into either category. He was smart enough to distract them with the Morlocks and contain them in the tunnel, but he wasn’t smart enough to keep his mouth shut about his plans. Something about that didn’t add up. But he didn’t have time to contemplate it.

He teleported over to Rogue, who was still pinned on top of Gambit by some heavy debris. The Cajun was still on his back holding his head, but it looked like Rogue prevented any serious injury.

“You okay, mien sister?” asked Nightcrawler.

“Ah’m fine,” she said as she shoved the last chunk off her so she could get up, “Ah’ve gotten out of worse.”

“Aww, you couldn’t take your time, cherè?” commented a woozy Gambit, “Remy was just gettin’ comfortable.”

“Ah’m sure you were, Cajun,” said Rogue wryly.

“Save zhe innuendo for later,” muttered Nightcrawler, “Let’s just get Storm and Wolverine out.”

“What about Random?”

“Cyclops can handle him. He’s got zhe firepower,” said Nightcrawler confidently, “Let’s just hope he stops him before he gets to Senator Kelly.”


Meanwhile

Senator Kelly’s speech had been going on for nearly ten minutes now. As expected, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. Every news camera was focused on him as he stood in front of a podium, his family, supporters, and various VIPs sitting behind in the background. He started off as many politicians did, thanking the people and the city for having him and pandering to various issues. He drew many cheers and had to pause a few times for the chanting to subside. But he didn’t mind. He kept smiling the whole time. But as expected, he saved his most cherished issue for last.

“And so I say unto you, the fine people of historic Philadelphia and the people of the world, I am ready! I am ready to take on the challenge mutants pose to human. I am ready to lead this country to a secure future where law-biding citizens don’t have to worry about mutants threatening their liberty. For if there’s one thing the treachery of those such as Magneto has proved, it’s that it only takes one mutant with a volatile power to send us to the brink. And if we are to prevent that one mutant from taking over, we must be proactive. We must be strong. And above all else, we must be willing! God bless America and God bless the human race!”

These powerful words triggered the biggest cheers yet. People pumped their fists in the air and clapped with intensity. Some were even in tears, moved by these words that sparked hope and fear. More anti-mutant chanting emerged from the crowds. And these were even worse than before.

“And God damn all the mutants!”

“Blow them all up! Send them to hell where they belong!”

It was pretty disheartening. Jean, Kitty, Bobby, and the Professor were one of the few not clapping and cheering. Senator Kelly may be misguided and bigoted, but he knew how to move a crowd.

“I think my headache just got worse,” groaned Jean.

“I think my IQ just went down a couple of points,” said Bobby.

“Just a couple?” scoffed Kitty, “Please tell me Cyclops has checked in so we can go.”

“Sorry, but there’s still no word,” said the Professor as he kept his eyes on Senator Kelly, “Until we get the all-clear, we stay and keep watch.”

It wasn’t an appealing idea. If they had to listen to too much of this hate speech then they would all soon have Jean’s headache problem. But they couldn’t forget about the mission so they stayed put and listened on.

Senator Kelly waved and smiled, letting his people and the media spread his word. It seemed there was no end to this wave of support he was riding. At the rate he was going, it was going to be the biggest landslide victory in American history.

“Thank you. Thank you all,” he said as the cheering died down, “Now in the tradition of Independence Hall, I will open up the floor for questions from the fine organizers this wonderful city has put together. They were the ones that made this possible. The least I can do is give them common courtesy.”

The crowd of supporters sitting behind them clapped even more as a number of them got up to support the presidential hopeful. The mayor of the city came up to the podium and shook his hand in a gesture that evoked more cheers.

“Thank you, Senator. But I believe you’ve addressed enough point. I don’t think we have any further questions to ask.”

The Senator smiled, watching as the rest of the VIPs surrounded him. They all seemed ready to throw their support behind him. Then a lone voice from that crowd emerged and halted the festive moment.

“Excuse me, Senator. But I have a question. And with all due respect, I think you would be wise to answer truthfully.”

The cheering diminished quickly. Many of the VIPs looked shocked by this new voice. Even parts of the crowd were surprised. Their attention and that of the cameras all turned towards the west end of the stage where an elegant woman emerged from the crowd.

She was tall and shapely, looking to be in her mid-thirties. She bore long flowing dark hair, alluring dark eyes, and very expensive looking business dress. She also had on a number of strange-looking emblems along the chest and sleeve of her dress and a golden necklace that looked as expensive as her dress. This elegant style made her look almost regal. She certainly captured Senator Kelly’s attention and that of Charles Xavier as well.

“And who might you be Miss?” asked Senator Kelly, the microphones still on.

The woman approached the man carrying what looked like a clipboard and gazed at him with a civil yet powerful gaze.

“Lilandra Neramani, chairman and spokesperson for Aerie Global,” she spoke into a microphone so all could hear, “I’m sure you’ve heard of us. We’re one of the largest international human rights advocates in the world. Surely you have a deep appreciation for human rights, correct?”

Senator Kelly tensed somewhat. Something about her tone didn’t sit right. They way she emphasized the phrase ‘human rights’ particularly caught his attention. But despite these reservations, he kept his calm.

“Of course,” he said confidently, “You’ll find few people who support human rights more than me. I wouldn’t be running for president if I weren’t.”

“Yet you keep making these distinctions between humans and mutants. Your own website singles out the mutant issue as the greatest threat to the world. You talk of them as if they are ticking time bombs, not human beings. Does that mean you are willing to deny the mutant citizens of this country the human rights you say you champion?”

“With all due respect, Miss Neramani, I do believe you’re loading the question,” said Senator Kelly, still maintaining his demeanor in front of the cameras, “Nowhere did I say mutants should be denied their rights. I only say we must be cautious in our handling of them. Surely we can agree that current policy, or lack thereof, played a part in allowing mutants like Magneto to become such grave threats.”

“I’m not disagreeing, but you’re contradicting yourself now,” said Lilandra with a wry smile, “You just said that we must be ‘proactive’ in dealing with mutants. What exactly does that entail?”

“It entails what it means. I don’t mince words, Miss Neramani. You can see on my own campaign website what my proactive measures include. And I’ve promised you and every other citizen of this country that it takes human rights very seriously.”

The elegant woman smiled even more, which further unnerved the senator. She then took a number of papers out from her clipboard and held them up.

“Funny you should say that because I didn’t just go to your website. I actually went to the Capitol and got some a copy of the legislation you’ve been drafting. It is public information, remember? And some of what it says is quite disturbing.”

Now Senator Kelly was starting to feel pressured. He tried not to look at the cameras, but he could still feel all eyes on him. Some of what Lilandra was saying was causing a stir in the crowds. Xavier and his X-men seemed especially interested now.

“The Mutant Containment Act,” Lilandra read, “Not a very subtle title to say the least. It’s not the most interesting 900 page bill I’ve ever seen, but there are a few gems. Take for instance section 53 that reads ‘all children at birth will be tested for the X-gene and should they be found X-factor positive, the parents are required to notify the state. Failure to do so be a felony punishable by incarceration.’ In other words, you’ll throw people into jail for not telling the government their child is a mutant.”

“Now that’s simply not true!” said the Senator defensively.

“I’m not done,” said Lilandra wryly as she kept reading, “Section 77 also reads ‘any mutant determined to have abilities that could potentially threaten other citizens may henceforth be detained indefinitely.’ Did I read that correctly? Detained? Just for being a ‘potential’ threat? Who has a right to judge what is a threat and what isn’t? The way you talk you imply that all mutants are a threat. Does that mean you’re willing to detain all mutants even if they’re peaceful, law-biding citizens? Tell me, how is that different than the Japanese internment of World War II that our country has apologized for endlessly?”

“Now you’re putting words in my mouth!” he argued, “This isn’t a question, is it? This is grandstanding before these fine people!”

“Oh I’m very serious, Senator,” said Lilandra as she put the paper away, “I’m so serious that I’m posting all these egregious examples on the Aerie Global website along with 189 others. I only bring these up because it leads into my main question concerning this anti-mutant crusade you’re pushing. You don’t have to answer my previous questions about your bill. Just answer me this, Senator…if you’re willing to blur the line between human and mutant rights, are you willing to deal with the consequences that are sure to follow?”

Senator Kelly froze, which more or less vindicated Lilandra’s premise. Now the chatter within the crowd was getting very active. For the first time it seemed some people were questioning Senator Kelly’s premise. Families in particular were especially concerned, the idea of being arrested just for giving birth to a mutant being very disconcerting. Even a few of the VIPs looked a little anxious, not seeing the senator as quite the moral leader they thought he was.

Kitty, Jean, Bobby, and Professor Xavier were especially intrigued. They were probably the only ones in the crowd smiling. Finally, someone stood up to Senator Kelly and asked the hard questions. It was the first turn in their favor in quite a while.

“I like this woman,” smiled Kitty.

“Anybody who can put a tool like Robert Kelly in his place is okay in my book,” said Bobby, “What do you think Professor?”

Bobby turned to face his mentor, but he didn’t respond. He just kept staring at Lilandra in a strange daze.

“Professor? Professor, are you okay?” asked Bobby anxiously.

“He’s fine, Bobby,” snickered Jean, “He just had to step out for a moment.”

“Step out? What do you…”

Then it dawned on him. He saw it in the Professor’s eyes. It was the kind of look that hinted at more than admiration.

“Oh…I see,” he grinned, “Oh man, if only the others could see this! Weren’t they supposed to check in by now?”

Right at that moment, he and the others heard a sharp buzzing sounds in their ears. The wireless earpieces they were using to communicate had come on. Through the static, they heard Hank’s urgent voice.

“Charles! We have a situation!”

Xavier was abruptly broken from his daze, which was no small feat for the world’s most powerful telepath. He and the rest of the team quickly listened in.

“Right uh…go ahead, Hank,” said Xavier, regaining his serious demeanor.

“I just received a message from, Nightcrawler! Several rogue Morlocks have staged an attack! One of them is on the way to assassinate Senator Kelly right now!”

“Right now? How close are they?” asked the Professor.

But before Hank could answer, the whole area was shaken by the sound of a thunderous bang. Just to the right of the platform where Senator Kelly and the VIPs were standing, a powerful explosion rocked the street and literally blew a hole in the ground, causing everybody standing close by to run for cover. It was so forceful it shook the podium and everyone on it. Senator Kelly and his surrounding security staff and supporters all lost their balance and fell hard. A few even fell off the platform completely. Then from the still smoking hole, the imposing figure of Random emerged.

“Never mind, Hank. We see it!” said Professor Xavier.

The crowds started moving in a panic as Random fought off some nearby police and guards. Then with the cameras still rolling and Senator Kelly still in sight, he stormed up to the platform so that the presidential hopeful was in his sights.

“What the hell?!” exclaimed the Senator as he tried to pick himself up.

“Senator Kelly!” he yelled, “In the name of all mutant kind, you will die today!”

That was all Charles Xavier and the X-men needed to hear.

“So much for this Lilandra lady turning things around,” groaned Kitty.

“X-men! Protect the senator!”

“Wow, isn’t this bittersweet?” groaned Bobby.

With horrified crowds scrambling to get out of the way, Random shoved through two more security personnel and got into position. Then with Senator Kelly still stumbling on the platform, surrounded by his security staff and VIPs, Random pointed his arm cannons right at him and fired off a shot.

“DIE!” he exclaimed.

“Oh no you don’t!” grunted Jean.

The young psychic put up a telekinetic shield that quickly deflected the round into the sky where it exploded. Grunting in frustration, Random turned towards the crowd where he saw Jean rushing towards him with Kitty and Bobby following close behind. Kitty was phasing them through to avoid being slowed down by the swarming crowds, allowing them to get right up to the base of the steps where Random was standing.

“Come on, people! X-men coming through here! Be shocked later!” groaned Kitty as she kept phasing through people.

“Ha! More X-men?” scoffed Random, “This day just keeps getting better!”

The imposing mutant pointed his other arm cannon right at them.

“Didn’t I just show how I can stop that?” groaned Jean.

“Yep! Which is why I’m not aiming for you!” grinned Random.

Shifting his arm, he fired upwards so the round soared over their heads and towards the crowds.

“Oh no, the people!” exclaimed Kitty.

“I’ve got it!” said Jean.

Instinctively, Jean directed her telekinesis behind her to deflect it away from the crowds. She managed to push it far enough to explode harmlessly over a building, but in doing so left herself and her friends defenseless to another shot. When Random saw this chance, he eagerly took it.

“Nice catch. But who’s got you?” he grinned.

Taking aim with his other arm, Random pointed his arm cannons at them. With Jean still deflecting debris from people, Bobby took over. He quickly iced up and with all his power, formed the thickest wall of ice he could between them and Random.

“Brace yourselves guys!” he urged.

With the ice wall still forming, Random fired his round. It struck the ice wall head on, letting out a brief shot of flame as it impacted. But the ice wasn’t strong enough to prevent it from penetrating. It burrowed right into the ice a good three inches before exploding in a violent burst. It caused the entire ice wall to burst with it, knocking Jean, Bobby, and Kitty back with it. But Bobby took much of the blast, absorbing shrapnel from the round and the ice that shattered the ice barrier around his body.

“Augh!” exclaimed Bobby in pain as he fell to the ground.

“Bobby!” exclaimed Kitty as she tried to break his fall.

Bobby groaned from the impact, his ears and head ringing from the blast. Jean was out of it too, her headache leaving her with little resistance to such a powerful blow. That along with the strain of her telekinesis left her knocked out. Only Kitty was able to stay coherent from the shot, but looking up through the smoke she saw she did not have enough time to get to Random.

Now with the X-men out of the way, Random turned back towards Senator Kelly. By now many of the VIPs had scrambled to get off the platform. Senator Kelly was still near the podium, being helped up by his security staff. When he saw Random aiming at him he paled. There was nothing stopping him now.

“Get ready, Senator! You’re about to die on national TV!” Random proclaimed.

“And you’ll take your kind with you!” exclaimed the senator nervously, “Don’t you see? You’ll only prove my point!”

“Trust me, I know what I’m doing,” he grinned intently.

Without hesitation, Random pointed his arm cannons at the podium. Senator Kelly braced himself for impact. He wanted to stop the mutant onslaught, but not like this. Not as martyr. It seemed either way the human/mutant conflict was about to take a major turn.

But just as Random was about to fire, Senator Kelly was literally yanked out of the line of fire. To the surprise of him and his security staff a winged figure swooped down from above, grabbed the senator by the waist, and flew him up out of harms way. It was Angel, who had been flying over the area under the cover of the clouds. As soon as he heard the explosion from the street, he made his entrance. When Senator Kelly looked up and saw him, he looked baffled and appalled.

“What in God’s name?!” he exclaimed.

“I never get tired of hearing that,” laughed the winged mutant.

Now flying high and out of his range, Random grunted in frustration. He tried aiming his arm cannons skywards, but it was no use. There was no way he could hit him now.

“Damn X-men! You’re ruining everything!” he exclaimed, “If you don’t bring Senator Kelly back down right I’ll start executing people on sight!”

“You don’t want to do that, pal!” Angel called out, “You’re only making it harder on yourself!”

“I told you! I know what I’m doing!” spat Random, “Nothing’s going to stop me! This is going to happen! I will kill him! For all mutant-kind, he must die!”

His voiced echoed for all VIPs, civilians, and news cameras to hear. It was not a good moment for mutant relations. It had to be stopped before it could get any worse. Luckily, this strange figures rampage was about to face another obstacle.

While Random’s attention was focused skyward, Cyclops emerged from the hole he blew in the street earlier.

“You’ve done enough for mutant-kind, Random!” he said.

Before the imposing mutant could turn around, the X-leader he took aim with his visors and fired. He hit Random right in the back with a concentrated burst, knocking him clear across the street and into the crowd rails which had since been cleared by panicked civilians. He hit the ground hard, tumbling a bit before he slammed right into a cardboard poster of Senator Kelly. When he finally came to a rest he was bloodied and bruised and in no condition to fight on.

“Ungh,” he groaned as he tried to get up, “No…I can’t fail.”

“First time for everything, Casper!” said Kitty as she came running up to his position, “Consider yourself expelled!”

Before he could gather himself Kitty knocked him out with a solid kick to the face, effectively taking him out of the fight. For all the trouble he caused, it was an act Kitty took a great deal of satisfaction in.

“That’s for what you did to Bobby,” she said bitterly.

It was over. Random was defeated. His plot to kill Senator Kelly had been thwarted, but the whole ordeal had been captured live on TV and before an already anti-mutant crowd. Even though he failed, the damage he did to the mutant cause was catastrophic. Just when someone was calling Senator Kelly out on his issues, some crazed mutant had to jump in and ruin everything. They were going to need a miracle to resolve this one.


One Hour Later

Cameras were still rolling and the streets of Philadelphia were still a hotbed of activity. The police and Senator Kelly’s security personnel quickly re-established order. Most people were being led away from the scene while others were trying to stay behind to get a glimpse of the aftermath. It was turning into quite a spectacle and one that the X-men found themselves caught in the center of.

With Random contained and the other Morlocks having slipped away, the X-men re-gathered outside Independence Hall. They were under heavy scrutiny by the police. The mayor even called SWAT teams in to take care of the unconscious Random and keep an eye on the X-men. As if the environment wasn’t hostile enough, now Charles Xavier and his mutant team was really in a tough position.

It didn’t help that they had their share of injuries. Bobby took some shrapnel from the blast earlier and had to be treated by Hank. He winced as he tightened the bandages, but Kitty stayed there for support.

“Ow! Easy there, Hank!” he groaned, “I don’t know what kind of powers that guy had, but they packed a punch!”

“I apologize, Bobby. But these bandages must be tight if we’re to prevent further bleeding,” he said, “Just try and relax. I’ll give some anti-septic once we’re on the jet.”

“If they let us out of here,” he groaned as he looked around at all the police, “It doesn’t look like saving Senator Kelly’s life is enough to get us out of this one.”

“Try not to worry about that,” said Kitty confidently as she placed a hand on his shoulder, “Just rest and let the Professor take care of it. He always does.”

“I hope you’re right,” he sighed.

While Bobby was getting bandaged up, Ororo was also still recovering. She had only a few bumps and bruises, but being caught under that rubble really did a number on her claustrophobia. She started hyperventilating and nearly passed out, but Logan kept her calm long enough for Rogue to get them out. She still needed some extra oxygen when they got topside, but she would be okay. Logan stayed with her just in case.

“Feeling better, Ro?” asked the feral mutant as he sat next to her.

“Getting there,” she smiled as she breathed deep into the oxygen mask, “I’ve endured worse, but this was still pretty bad. I…I almost lost it again.”

“But you didn’t. And you weren’t gonna,” said Logan confidently, “Hell, I almost lose it once a week. And if a guy as messed up as me can hold it together, you can too.”

Ororo smiled at his reassuring albeit unorthodox choice of words. She then set the oxygen mask aside and scooted in closer.

“Thank you, Logan,” she said, “I really appreciate your help through this.”

“Yeah…sure thing, darlin’,” said Logan somewhat awkwardly, “But next time we get stuck in a position like that, I get to be on top.”

Ororo laughed and placed her hand over his. She could tell Logan wasn’t entirely comfortable with the position they found themselves in. His relationship with Jean was probably still fresh in his mind. The same was true with her and Hank. So she wasn’t going to make a big deal of it. They had much greater concerns at the moment.

On the bottom steps of Independence Hall, Senator Kelly was being looked at by some paramedics. He shook them off for the most part, looking more agitated than unnerved. The police already escorted his family and the VIPs to safety, leaving him and his staff to deal with the aftermath. Charles Xavier and his X-men stuck around with him, mostly for questioning. They were under heavy suspicion even if they had saved his life. As far as Senator Kelly was concerned, this was yet another sign that mutants were done for.

“You’ve really done it this time, Xavier! You and your mutant army are finished!” he said as they watched the SWAT team roll Random away on a secure gurney.

“With all due respect, Senator, my X-men saved your life!” said the Professor strongly, “I would hope this earns us some semblance of understanding.”

“From him? You’d have better luck makin’ a croc a vegetarian,” scoffed Gambit.

“Yeah, gratitude is the last thing I would expect,” said Warren as he scorned the senator, “Although it would be polite considering all these cameras are still rolling.”

“Well excuse me being rude when my life is threatened!” he yelled as he approached so that he was within inches of Charles Xavier, “As if your old friend Magneto didn’t prove my point enough, this monster seals it! You mutants really are a danger!”

“Only as great a danger as you push them to be!” retorted the Professor, “Did you not hear what Lilandra was saying? You’re talking about taking basic rights away from ordinary people! You’re the one who’s wrong!”

“Come November, you’ll see how concerned these people are for the rights of one renegade mutant! You’ll see! The voters will prove me right!”

But while Senator Kelly was staring down Charles Xavier, an unexpected voice interrupted them.

“Actually, you’re both wrong,” said Lilandra Neramani.

The two men turned and faced Lilandra, who was standing over the restrained body of Random. A few officers were around her, looking equally intrigued as she was. Apparently, there was more to this than they thought.

“What are you talking about, Miss Neramani?” asked Xavier as he wheeled over to her.

“Is this another one of your stunts?” said Senator Kelly apprehensively.

“It’s no stunt I assure you,” said Lilandra seriously, “But remember those consequences I mentioned earlier? Well, look closer and you’ll see what I mean.”

The two men approached the gurney. The rest of the X-men joined as well, looking just as curious as their mentor. Lilandra turned around and gestured for a couple of news cameras to get in closer. She wanted everybody to see what she was about to reveal.

With everybody now watching, she took out a medium-sized bottle of water. She then poured it over the face of the bound figure. The cold water caused him to stir from his unconscious state. But that’s not all it did. As the water ran down his face it revealed a shocking truth. This renegade mutant who caused such a stir wasn’t what he seemed.

“Well Ah’ll be dipped,” said Rogue.

“Mien Gott,” said Kurt, “Zhis certainly changes things.”

“I’ll say!” said Kitty, “It explains that stain I got on my shoes when I kicked him!”

“Body paint,” affirmed Scott, “The same kind football fans use on a Sunday afternoon.”

It was true. The strange appearance of this figure was nothing more than makeup. As the water washed away some of the paint, it revealed a very human face. As Lilandra poured more water over him she revealed it wasn’t just his face. His entire body had been painted. Beneath it all there was nothing strange about it. This man was no mutant. He was a normal, well-built man with a tanned complexion. This had been no plot by a mutant to assassinate a senator. It was all a ruse. A quick scan by Jean and the Professor confirmed it.

“You’re human!” said Jean, “You tried to kill Senator Kelly to turn humans against mutants even more! And you tricked the Morlocks into helping you!”

“He’s human?!” exclaimed Bobby, “But what about those hand cannons of his?”

“Let’s take a closer look,” snarled Logan.

Acting impulsively as usual, Logan drew his claws and shredded the clamps holding his arms in place. Then before the cameras and everybody watching, he tore into the two oversized extensions that were made to look like a part of his arms. He was half expecting to find some sort of advanced cybernetic machinery. But it wasn’t even that exotic. It was paper machete, plaster, and balsa wood wrapped around his arms concealing a standard military issue grenade launcher. His so called ‘powers’ had no mutant factor behind it.

“Grenade launchers? I knew I smelled something fishy with this guy!” snarled Logan.

“Low tech, but effective,” said Scott, “Where did a guy like him get gear like this?”

“I’m not sure, but he knows a Hollywood makeup artist so that’s how got to look the part,” said Jean.

“He’s also a former actor so he knew how to work over the Morlocks,” said Xavier, “It was all an act for him. He believed that by playing the part of a mutant trying to assassinate Senator Kelly, he could insight further hatred towards our kind.”

At this point the mysterious man started to awaken. But all eyes were on Senator Kelly now, who was livid. His face tensed with frustration as he looked down angrily at this man. Just when he thought he had everything going for him, this ruse makes a mockery of his cause and his campaign. Now he was the one on the spot with the cameras rolling and lingering crowds trying to move in and get a closer look. He tried to stay calm, but it was hard to hide now.

It was a welcome sight for the X-men. This man, who seemed to have the whole country in the palm of his hand, was in a very compromising position. The world got a firsthand look at the consequences of his fiery rhetoric. He was pushing mutants and humans to extremes. It did not paint a good picture for his supporters and for the first time in the eyes of the public he came off as the bad guy.

“You crazy fool! What were you thinking?!” yelled the senator towards the man.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said weakly, “I was trying to help your cause. These mutants…they’ll destroy us all! I thought if I killed you and made it look like a mutant plot…”

“Stop right there! I don’t want to hear another word!” spat Senator Kelly, cutting him off before he could say anything else incriminating for the cameras, “Just get out of my sight and never come near me again!”

With cameras still clamoring around the would-be assassin, the SWAT teams hauled him away. A few lingered to focus in on Senator Kelly, who was rubbing his temples in frustration at what was happening. He was frustrated, angry, and utterly humiliated before a national audience. But it wasn’t over yet. Lilandra, who hadn’t stopped smiling since the truth was revealed, had one more point to make.

“You see, Senator? This is what your tyrannical agenda breeds. And so long as the cameras are still rolling, I’ll restate my question. If you’re willing to blur the line between human and mutant rights, are you willing to deal with the consequences?”

Senator Kelly stared down Lilandra with an ice cold gaze. Few people had ever stirred this much hatred in him. He had a good mind to grab her by the throat and yell at her for all the trouble she was causing him. But since the cameras were still rolling, he had to hold back. In situations like this, politicians could only respond one way.

“No comment,” he said bitterly.

With those words, he stormed off. Crowds of cameras and reporters followed with plenty of lingering questions, none of which he was ready to answer. He was in for a long day now. His campaign may not have been derailed, but it had definitely been shaken.

Lilandra and the X-men watched with a mix of elation and relief at the Senator’s new predicament. It was the first turn of luck in their favor in quite a while. There was hope for their cause yet.

“Wow, my headache just got a little better,” grinned Jean.

“I hear you, Jean,” said Scott, slipping his arm around his girlfriend, “And we owe a lot of that to Miss Neramani here.”

“Yeah, you really stuck up for us! And given all the recent press, that’s saying something!” said Kitty as the team’s attention shifted to the mysterious woman.

“Oui, you be okay in my book,” said Remy.

Lilandra smiled warmly at their praise. They all seemed so surprised that someone would come to their defense. She couldn’t blame them after all the scrutiny they faced. But anybody who had enough faith in humanity to defend them in their darkest moments was worth having faith in for her.

“Thank you, X-men. I’m glad I finally got a chance to meet you,” she said respectfully, “You deserve to know that your heroic exploits do not go unnoticed. There are others out there who heed your message and support your struggle.”

“That means a great deal to us, Lilandra,” said Charles gratefully, who still seemed a bit awkward near her, “But tell me, how did you know that man was an imposer?”

Lilandra turned to Charles and smiled warmly. He blushed somewhat under her gaze, once again hinting that her support was not the only thing he appreciated.

“Let’s just say I’m good at spotting ruses,” she said playfully, ‘It also helps to have a few secret tools at your disposal.’

Xavier’s expression brightened even. Not only was she a powerful, influential woman looking to help their cause, she was also a telepath. Charles Xavier rarely found himself surprised. As the world’s most powerful telepath, it was near impossible. But as he looked into this woman’s alluring gaze he found himself utterly engrossed.

“I see,” he said with a knowing grin, “Again, I very much appreciate your assistance, Lilandra. Perhaps your organization and my school can help each other more during these difficult times. We could always use more allies.”

“Indeed,” she said warmly, “Perhaps we can discuss this further? Maybe over dinner?”

That caught Xavier off guard again, but he maintained his composure.

“Of…of course,” he said, “That would be wonderful.”

The rest of the team couldn’t help but snicker at Professor Xavier’s reaction. Their mentor always prided himself on being so calm and reasonable. Yet here he was looking like many normal men would in the presence of a beautiful woman. It seemed like an appropriate end to a day like this. A potential crisis became a turning point for them and they gained a new ally in Lilandra. Hopefully it was a sign of better things to come.

“Guess not everything below the waist is paralyzed,” commented Logan.

“Oh hush, Logan,” laughed Ororo, giving him a playful swat, “It’s been a long day. Let’s save the dirty innuendo for another time.”


Next Issue: Paradise Mystery

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