Born with extraordinary powers, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. Their fight has become highly political in wake of recent clashes with their nemesis, Magneto. The human/mutant conflict is a volatile issue and has become a central theme of the upcoming presidential election.
Senator Robert Kelly, a long-time opponent of mutants, has based his presidential bid on enacting tougher and potentially damaging policies. Naturally, this has caused a great deal of concern among the mutant population, including the X-men. But while he was able to play off public fears for a while, he eventually faced opposition from those such as Lilandra Neramani, head of Aerie Global, a well-known and influential human rights organization. She and Charles Xavier have given depth to the debate, making the senator’s job much more difficult.
But Senator Kelly has already taken steps to turn the tide. Recently, his campaign partnered with a new group known as the Friends of Humanity. Led by Graydon Creed, they have a staunch anti-mutant agenda. They’ve already promised a major turn-around in the human mutant issue and they are poised to carry it out even if it means innocent people getting caught in the crossfire.
New York City – East Harlem
“Leave me alone! What do you asshats want from me?!” a desperate teenage girl cried out into a dreary night.
“You’re already an abomination, mutant! You’re not doing yourself any favors by running from human justice!”
They were words of sheer hatred. Megan Gwynn, or Pixie as some called her, had been hearing it for much of her life going back to her days in Wales, England. The bigotry she faced back home was bad, but she never faced anything like this before. These people were operating on a whole new level of hatred. She didn’t know who they were or where they came from, but they were all wearing the same uniforms with the emblems ‘Friends of Humanity’ embroider on their shirts. Despite the name, they hardly seemed friendly.
Running desperately through the dirty alleys of East Harlem, she struggled to remember how this all started. She wasn’t in a friendly area to begin with. This was a shady part of town, but one in which mutants tended to congregate. They had to with all the prejudice they had been facing. It had been especially hard for her. She recently lost her father in a mining accident and had been living off the inheritance with a few other mutants in a shelter. It was a rough life, especially when it was hard to hide her mutation. They were nothing fancy. She had insect-like butterfly wings on her back that she could use to fly and elf-like ears. It seemed like a benign power, but these guys didn’t seem to care.
She had just left a small restaurant frequented by mutants and was heading back to the shelter. Along the way she noticed these strange men following her. The next thing she knew she was surrounded. They started pushing her and intimidating her, knowing full well she was a mutant trying to hide her mutancy. When they ripped off her jacket and revealed her wings, it was the excuse they needed to start chasing her. Why they singled her was beyond her. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Over here! She’s heading around the back!” one of the men chasing her said.
“Good! That means she’s got nowhere left to hide!”
Pixie was in dire need of a breather. She had been running for her life for a full fifteen minutes. There were just too many of these guys. They were swift and coordinated, setting them apart from other anti-mutant hecklers. They were trying to corner her, leading her down an ally that had no escape. It was going from bad to worse and the young mutant was really starting to panic.
‘Who the hell are these guys? I know it’s been bad for mutants lately, but these guys…they take hatred and mix in an extra dose of crazy! And here I was thinking Americans were friendly to mutants and the Welsh!’
Pixie saw more of these men down towards the end of the alley. Now she was being chased from behind and from up ahead. She had no choice but to run into a smaller, adjacent alley where garbage had piled up. It led her straight into a dead end. Now she was facing a hoard of anti-mutant zealots on one end and a brick wall on the other.
Leaning against the wall and gasping for air, Pixie knew they officially had her trapped. Fear and frustration took over as she turned around to face her attackers. They were closing in, their eyes full of hate and disgust. Some of them were armed with baseball bats, metal pipes, and brass knuckles. She wasn’t sure if they were going to kill her or just beat her to a pulp. Whatever their intent, she had to get away.
“End of the line, mutant scum!” said one of the men, “Time to face the pure hand of humanity!”
“Why?! What did I ever do to you blokes?!” Pixie cried desperately
“You were born!”
It was hatred of the worst kind. There was no reason behind it. They just hated what she was. It was a hate Pixie knew she could not get around.
“Brace yourself, mutant bitch! Cooperate and we’ll make this quick!” said the same man.
“Says you!” Pixie spat angrily, “These wings aren’t just for show, you know! Although they could be!”
Gathering what strength she had left, Pixie flexed her wings and took to the air. Up above she saw clear, open sky. They would not be able to follow her here. Or so she thought.
“See you later you mutant hating jerks!” she taunted, “You don’t like mutants? Take it up with Charles Darwin!”
“She’s getting away!” said one of them.
“Not for long, she isn’t!”
Pixie was just about to clear the building. Then one of the armed men stepped forth from the crowd a pointed a specially made hunting rifle up at her. She was tired so she wasn’t flying very fast. Before she could get too far, he got off three well-aimed shots. The first two missed, but the third one hit her right in the upper part of her wings. As soon as Pixie felt this, she went tumbling back towards the ground below in a world of pain.
“Ahhhhhhhhhh!” she cried out.
Her wing was bleeding. She could feel the blood drip down onto her shirt. She tried to grab onto the ledge of the building to keep herself from falling back into the ally. But her fingertips barely grazed it, leaving her nowhere to go but down.
She struck the hard pavement below with a hard thud. She landed on her side, feeling a sharp snap in her left leg as she landed. She definitely broke a few bones. She could even feel one protruding from her skin. It was painful in a terrible way. But the pain was secondary to her fear. Only half-conscious and unable to move, she watched as the angry men surrounded her on all sides.
“Please… don’t,” Pixie begged, blood now dripping from her mouth.
“Save your breath. The Friends of Humanity show mercy only to our fellow humans. And you are most certainly not human!”
Pixie coughed as the pain set in. Her world started to spin. Her vision became blurry as she looked up at the men now surrounding her.
“We got big plans for you. You’re going to help us exact justice on all the freaks and accidents of this world!” said one of the men as he cracked his knuckles, “If you’re even somewhat alive by the end of the night, tell your fellow mutants they’ll face the same justice. Now let’s do this!”
Xavier Institute – Kitchen
It had been another long day of class and migraines for Jean Grey. While the rest of the team was doing their part with the election, the alien craft, and their new partnership with Lilandra she was busy keeping her mind intact. No matter what she did or how hard she tried, these psychic migraines kept plaguing her. In some ways they were getting worse, increasing in both frequency and intensity. They had been somewhat manageable before, but the recent clash with Madelyne and Sinister only added to the problem. She was doing everything she could to cope and Scott was trying to help her. It just wasn’t working as well as neither of them hoped and it was having an effect on their relationship.
Jean yawned and stretched her tired limbs as she ventured downstairs into the kitchen for a late night snack. It was past midnight and she was restless despite being dead tired. Her migraines had subsided for the moment and she was trying to make the best of it.
As she passed through the living room she saw Bobby and Kitty fast asleep on the couch with the TV still on. She tried not to laugh at the strange position they were in. Bobby was lying back with his mouth half-open and Kitty was lying on her side with her head on his lap. She wasn’t sure how they ended up like that, but they looked pretty comfortable. She noticed how they had been getting a pretty ‘friendly’ lately. They were still bickering here and there. They weren’t exactly official. Jean suspected Bobby was still somewhat hung up on Lorna. But she was glad to see them moving beyond some of their earlier clashes. Although she wasn’t sure they were compatible with one another, she hoped it would do them some good.
Upon entering the kitchen, Jean was surprised to see that she wasn’t the only one in search of a snack. Kurt was comfortably perched atop the counter, eating what appeared to be a leftover sandwich.
“That’s pretty big for a midnight snack, Kurt. You skip dinner or something?” she commented.
“Guten Abend to you too, Jean,” greeted Kurt with a half-full mouth, “And for your information, I always have a bite at zhis hour. I can’t sleep on an empty stomach.”
“With your metabolism, I figure you would be used to an empty stomach. I bet supermodels would kill to have that kind of biology.”
“If zhey don’t mind zhe blue fur and tail, zhey’re more zhen velcome to it.”
They shared a good laugh as Jean opened the freezer and took out a small tub of ice cream. She always made sure there was a supply of rocky road on hand. It was her favorite midnight snack. And since her migraines returned, she had been needing it a lot more lately.
While she got a spoon from the drawer and started eating, Kurt finished his sandwich in a few more bites and hopped off the counter.
“So is zhat your usual sleeping attire or does Scott always let you wear his shirt and boxers?” commented Kurt as he put his plate in the dishwasher.
Jean blushed profusely. She almost forgot she wasn’t wearing the same thing she wore to bed. It pretty much gave away what she and Scott had been up to earlier this evening.
“You’re not going to make a Logan-like comment on it, are you?” she smirked, looking down at her disheveled attire.
“Nien, I like to zhink I’m more polite zhen zhat,” grinned Kurt, “But you aren’t exactly subtle about it. You can’t expect others to not notice.”
“I don’t. I know I’m not the first one to sneak into my boyfriend’s room for some evening lovemaking. The way things are going around here, I sure won’t be the last.”
“Not zhat I disapprove, but I always took you as someone who liked to keep her private life private.”
“Well when you’ve dated Wolverine and spent God knows how long coming to terms with feelings for your best friend, that’s not exactly easy,” she sighed, “And despite my disheveled appearance, Scott and I haven’t exactly been setting our bed sheets on fire. If we had I wouldn’t be this restless.”
“Do I vant to know zhe details or is it none of my business?” asked Kurt curiously.
Jean sighed again as she gulped down a healthy spoonful of ice cream. She and Scott had been facing a lot of stress lately. Before the Sinister incident, they could drown their sorrows in cuddling and lovemaking. It just wasn’t that simple anymore. Their relationship had taken more than a few unexpected and difficult turns.
“The details aren’t as lurid as you might think,” she said as she set the ice cream aside briefly, “Scott and I have both been dealing with some pretty rough issues. I’ve had my darling cousin who seems hell-bent on killing me and he’s had a long lost brother just as bent on killing him. It’s led to a sharp decline in our intimacy numbers. In fact, tonight was our first attempt to catch up.”
“Vas it a success? I take it from zhe vay you’re gulping down your ice cream zhat zhere vas room for improvement.”
“Ice cream is almost like telepathy. It never lies,” she muttered, “It was hard enough when I just had my migraines to deal with. Scott could help me with those and he did in many ways. It’s a simple relationship issue when you get right down to it. Then the personal crap came into the picture. I’m sure you’ve noticed how moody I am about family affairs and I’m sure you’ve noticed how obsessive Scott can be.”
“Ja, I have seen zhe signs,” said Kurt in an understanding tone, “But he seems to be coming around. You did say he vas making an effort, ja?”
“Not as much as I would like,” Jean grumbled, “He’s stopped investigating Gabriel and focused more on helping me, but that was only after threatening to seal my panties for the foreseeable future. I was hoping we could go back to where we were before when our relationship was making such great progress. I miss nights where we just pick a room, cuddle up, and try to sooth our problems away with a heavy dose of cuddling and sex.”
“Can’t say I blame you, Jean. I remember having plenty of zhose nights vith Amanda back in Germany.”
“They’re great, aren’t they?” said Jean, such experiences now seeming like memories.
“Oh yes…great indeed,” he said, “But intimacy problems are always only half zhe issue. I know zhis because intimacy problems are inevitable vhen your body is covered in fur. So vhat else is it?”
Jean shook her head as her gaze grew distant. Kurt was pretty perceptive. Being in a relationship himself must have helped. But she doubted he had ever gone through the same issues with Amanda as she was going through with Scott. She had been keeping them to herself lately. Maybe it would help if she got them out for once.
“I don’t want it to be too major,” she started off, “I’m not even sure if I should be making this big a deal about it since we haven’t been dating for very long…officially that is.”
“You’re stalling, Jean,” said Kurt coyly, “Zhat’s proof enough it’s something serious.”
“Touché,” said Jean with a half-smirk.
“Now are you going to tell me or are you going to keep it between you and zhe ice cream,” he pushed.
Jean took a deep breath as she grabbed the ice cream again and got herself another scoop.
“It’s just that…when Scott and I got together it was so amazing. Everything just seemed to flow naturally. When I’m with him, I think to myself ‘Wow…this is it. This is the man I love with all my heart.’ I don’t know if you’re a believer in ‘the one,’ but I really feel that way about Scott. He is someone I can see myself spending the rest of my life with.”
“So vhat’s stopping you?” asked Kurt more curiously.
“A lot of things if recent events are any indication,” she said distantly, “Maybe I’m trying to move too fast, but I get the feeling that Scott’s approaching our relationship the same way he’s approached past relationships. The way he carries himself around me isn’t that different than how he did when he was with Rogue or the first girl he dated. He’ll date me, hold me, and make love to me. But he won’t share his personal problems and I won’t share mine. It’s like we can’t handle it even after all the crap we went through to come together. It seems like just another relationship, but to me it’s more…a lot more.”
Jean paused for a moment to take a big spoonful of ice cream and shove it into her mouth. When she tried to verbalize it, even she wasn’t sure what to make of it. That didn’t keep it from bothering her though.
“I really do love him,” Jean went on, “And I know he really loves me too. I’ve made so many mistakes in past relationships and I don’t want to make them again with him. I want what I have with Scott to be deeper despite all these recent issues. Am I asking for too much?”
“Nien, I vouldn’t say so,” said Kurt with a reassuring smile, “Your heart is certainly in zhe right place. At least you know you’re vith someone you love unconditionally.”
“Love isn’t the problem. I want to go further with him. I want to take that next step that I’ve never taken with someone before. He and I just aren’t on the same page.”
Kurt thought about it for a moment. This was a big deal for Jean and he couldn’t blame her. It was a daunting notion to contemplate, moving further with someone she was so deeply in love with. He knew first hand how trying it could be.
“Vith all due respect, Jean, perhaps you’re looking at it zhe wrong vay,” he said.
“What do you mean?” she asked as she helped herself to more ice cream.
“Perhaps it isn’t zhat you aren’t on zhe same page. It may be as simple as not being ready for zhat step,” he said.
“But I know I’m ready! We love each other so much and we’re trying so hard to help one another! Shouldn’t that be enough?”
“In most American romance stories, it vould. But as you and zhe rest of the X-men know, zhe real world is much more complicated. Relationships, even if zhey are meant to be, don’t just come together magically. Zhey still require vork…a lot of vork.”
“I understand that. But we have been doing the work,” argued Jean, “At least I think we have.”
“Perhaps it’s because you don’t understand as vell as you zhink you do,” Kurt proposed, “You say you’re determined to make zhis relationship special. But perhaps Scott isn’t zhe only one holding back. You too may be handling zhis too much like a normal relationship. You may not zhink so, but zhat doesn’t mean you aren’t.”
“So you think that maybe subconsciously I’m not ready for that next step?”
“Not necessarily. You and Scott simply may not know how. I suppose zhat is something every couple needs to vork out. Zhat is vhere zhe extra vork comes in. It’s definitely not easy and it’s probably more frustrating zhan any ice cream can handle, but I can zhink of few zhings zhat are more vorth it.”
Jean’s demeanor shifted as she continued to eat more ice cream. Maybe she and Scott were both at fault. Even if she wanted to avoid the mistakes of the past, that didn’t mean she wasn’t making them. Perhaps she was being naïve, thinking that just because she was sure Scott was the man for her that it would all come together. They still needed to work on it like any other relationship.
Setting aside the ice cream, Jean leaned back on the counter and continued to contemplate. Kurt may be younger than her, but he offered keen insight. It definitely gave her a lot to think about.
“Can’t say I completely agree, but I can’t disagree what you’re saying either,” she said with a light smile, “Guess I should trust your word. You are, after all, the record holder for the most stable relationship. You and Amanda seem to have it figured out.”
“I vould like to zhink so,” said Kurt as he thought fondly of his lover back home, “But don’t zhink ve are vithout our problems and I’m not just talking about appearance. Amanda and I have vorked hard on our relationship. I’ve opened up to her on every level. I’ve shared vith her some of my darkest secrets…some of vhich I haven’t even shared vith Rogue.”
“So you know she’s ‘the one’ for you too?” said Jean.
“I certainly feel zhat vay. I know Amanda does as vell. But even through I’ve shared so many intimate details about myself vith her, I know zhere are some secrets she keeps from me…important secrets zhat she refuses to discuss no.”
“So how do you get around that?”
“By adding trust along vith zhe vork,” said Kurt, “Zhere are times vhen I still vorry about zhose secrets, but it doesn’t make me love her any less. And it doesn’t keep us from vorking vith each other. Even vith our unique situations, ve find a vay to come together.”
Jean smiled as she put her ice cream away in the freezer. With that kind of testimony, it offered great promise for her and Scott. It was just something they had to work for.
“Guess maybe I do need to work a little harder with Scott. I owe it to him.”
“And I’m sure he vill return zhe favor,” said Kurt, smiling back.
“I hope he does. Otherwise I’ll need a lot more ice cream,” said Jean as she closed the freezer door.
“Indeed, but I’m sure zhe two of you vill figure it out,” said Kurt.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she said with another smile, “And so ?ong as you’re giving relationship advice, you have any advice on getting rid of migraines.”
“Sorry Jean, I’m afraid zhat’s outside my expertise,” laughed Kurt.
They shared another round of laughter. Some good advice went well with a midnight snack. Jean felt a little more hopeful about her situation. She and Scott still had their share of issues to work through. But as Kurt had said, it was definitely something worth working through. All this was in addition to the many other issues they faced as X-men. Between politicians, aliens, and human bigotry there were plenty of forces working against them.
The Next Day – Dining Room
Professor Charles Xavier’s demeanor had been noticeably different lately. Ever since his date with Lilandra, the team noticed an uncanny shift. He was smiling more, he had more energy, and he was more passionate about their work. It was an amazing sight. Lilandra really had an effect on him. It was strange for some, seeing the Professor in this light. He was so much a fatherly figure and mentor to the team. But it was good to see him so driven again. They needed that for times like this.
But demeanor aside, he was as serious as ever about the challenges they faced. So he gathered the team together for a brief discussion about the job ahead of them. Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby, Ororo, Rogue, Kitty, Remy, and Kurt were all sitting at the dining room table. Remy and Ororo even made some gumbo to further entice the team. While this was more informal than a usual team meeting, there were a few notable absences.
“Man, I don’t know what’s in this gumbo stuff, but we should have it on hand for all team meetings! It softens the blow of the inevitable bad news we’re bound to hear,” said Kitty as she finished her second helping.
“Glad you appreciate southern cuisine, Kitty. But try and save some for the rest of us. You ain’t the only one that likes gumbo,” said Rogue as she finished her first helping.
“No promises,” she quipped as she finished the last spoonful, “You think Logan will mind if I have his share? It doesn’t look like he’s going to show up.”
“Not sure, petite,” said Remy, “Logan seem to be minding everything lately. Where is he anyways?”
“He’s…out,” said Ororo, who wasn’t really eating much.
“Out as in just in need of some air or out as in getting plastered before sundown?” said Bobby dryly.
“I wish I knew,” she said distantly, “But he’s been pretty distant lately. It may be best to just get on without him. I can always fill him in later.”
“If you say so, Storm. Hopefully he’s sober enough to understand how important this is,” said Scott, rolling his eyes at Logan’s recent behavior, “What about Warren? Did he go ‘out’ as well?”
“Warren will be joining us shortly,” said the Professor confidently, “But Ororo is right. We should get this meeting underway.”
The team set aside their lunch and listened. They didn’t get the sense from Xavier’s demeanor that this was one of those world-threatening discussions. But with the way things had been going lately it was hard to tell.
“Now as you all are well aware I’ve spent the past week getting to know our new ally, Lilandra Neramani,” he began, “We’ve discussed a great deal of issues regarding the current predicament with mutants.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s all they’ve been discussing,” snickered Bobby under his breath.
“Don’t even try it, Bobby. Or that gumbo will be making a comeback sooner than you think,” said Jean with a menacing leer.
Bobby stayed silent. His words, while crude, did have a grain of truth to them. It was something everybody was curious about, but they set it aside and continued to listen.
“Her organization has already been instrumental in countering Senator Kelly’s anti-mutant rhetoric. They’ve started a campaign of their own, exposing some of the senator’s more unsavory policies. It’s obvious he never planned to have to defend them. Even with current anti-mutant sentiment, there is much about his so called Mutant Containment Act that is hurting his chances.”
“It’s good to hear that some people haven’t forgotten about human rights,” said Ororo.
“But how far will that take us, Professor?” asked Scott, “Will it be enough to keep Senator Kelly from getting elected?”
“It’s still too early to say,” said the Professor, “While Senator Kelly may be feeling the scrutiny now, it’s unlikely he’ll let this ruin his campaign. He is a politician. He’ll undoubtedly adapt his tactics to win back public support.”
“If only we could fight politicians the way we fight Magneto,” muttered Rogue, “That would make this shit a whole lot easier!”
“Be that as it may, Lilandra and I have been working on ways to keep up with him. At the moment, it appears the senator may already be taking steps further his cause.”
The Professor reached into his pocket and tossed a flier and a brochure on the table. The team leaned in to see what it was about. On both the flier and the brochure it read “Friends of Humanity. Preserving the human race for the present and the future.” Next to that message were images of DNA and picture of Magneto with a cross over him. It wasn’t overt, but the message was pretty clear.
“The Friends of Humanity? They the new anti-mutant thugs on the block?” said Kitty.
“Not that there aren’t plenty of those to go around,” said Jean as he looked anxiously over the brochure.
“If only it were that simple,” said Xavier in a more serious tone, “The Friends of Humanity are a new level of anti-mutant crusaders. They are a well-funded, well-organized group actively seeking to expunge the mutant threat through any means, including violence.”
“How bad are zhey?” asked Kurt warily.
“Lilandra has met their founder, Graydon Creed. She caught a brief glimpse into his mind. Without going into details, he is quite extreme. He has a very personal vendetta against mutants. He seeks nothing less than their total eradication.”
“Damn, that be overkill of the worst kind,” said Remy, “What’s he got against mutant? He get beat up by one in grade school?”
“That I’m not sure of. All I can say for certain is that he’s spent years gathering the resources to create the Friends of Humanity. He’s maintained a low profile, but since Magneto’s rise on Genosha he’s pushed his organization into the public light.”
“Let me guess. He’s trying to team up with Senator Kelly?” Scott surmised.
“He already has,” said the Professor grimly, “And that presents to us our next major challenge.”
That was not a settling thought. If the content of the propaganda was any indication, a partnership with a politician like Senator Kelly was a match made in heaven. The idea of them having access to the presidency should Senator Kelly get elected could mean a lot of trouble for mutants everywhere.
“So what do we do about it?” asked Kitty warily, “We can’t just let a bunch of genocidal madmen ride this election into power!”
“We won’t let it get that far,” assured the Professor, “Lilandra and I have already taken steps to deal with this.”
“How? It’s not like you can tear interest groups from aspiring politicians,” said Scott.
“Even the X-men are not that powerful, I’m afraid,” joked Hank, who had been working on something with his laptop since lunch started, “That is why we must use more indirect means. To directly confront the Friends of Humanity would merely empower them. Thus as in any political discourse, our best bet is to stay a step ahead of our opponents.”
“You talking about spying on them?” asked Remy.
“I’m referring to infiltration. The Friends of Humanity are a secretive bunch. They won’t let just anyone in on their activities. Lucky for us, we already have an in.”
The team looked at him strangely. Hank kept grinning as he entered a few more commands into his laptop and turned it around for everyone else to see. To their surprise, they saw a video link with Warren on the screen in what appeared to be a Worthington Industries office.
“Warren!” said Kitty with excitement, “Wow, you cleaned up!”
“And you’re sober,” said Jean, who was equally surprised, “I almost didn’t recognize you with a hangover.”
“Where have you been? We’re worried every time you don’t come home for days at a time,” said Scott.”
“Yeah, Ah assumed you were on a week-long bender in Tijuana or something,” said Rogue.
“Yeah, I know. I haven’t exactly been on the ball lately. But I’m looking to make up for that. I figure I’ve done enough wallowing in self-pity over Candy and I’m ready to contribute again. And amazingly enough, my father has given me a major opportunity.”
“Your father?” said Bobby suspiciously, “You mean your ‘biological father’ father? Because last I heard, you couldn’t stand to be in the same time zone as your old man.”
“Don’t get the wrong idea. I still hate his guts. But he’s finally decided to swallow some of that pride of his and do something about his mistakes. So for the past week I’ve been going along and it’s been eventful to say the least. I’ve gotten to know some of these Friends of Humanity people first hand and I can say without mincing words that they’re every bit as nasty as you think they are.”
“That be comforting,” said Remy dryly, “I take it they don’t know you be a mutant.”
“Why else would I have Beast set up an encrypted line just so we can talk? It’s a fragile situation. My father struck a deal with the Friends of Humanity, agreeing to help them develop some new platform of theirs. They call it the Wide Awake Initiative and they say it will be the cornerstone of some grand mutant containment scheme.”
“And you’re father’s helping them?!” exclaimed Kitty, “Please tell me you’ve yelled at him at every turn!”
“Believe me, Kitty. I’ve chewed him out for it as much as I can. But the old man isn’t pulling the same old tricks this time. He says he agreed to help the Friends of Humanity to keep an eye on them. I’m still not convinced that’s the full reason, but for now it’s our best bet for fighting them. And to make sure he doesn’t screw it up this time, he put me in charge of the program.”
That caught everyone by surprise. It was well-known how much Warren tried to distance himself from his family company these past few years. For him to get involved like this was a major shift, especially after the incident with Candy.
“Wow…you’re actually taking an active part in Worthington Industries?” said Jean in bewilderment.
“I don’t remember hearing the news that Hell froze over,” commented Bobby.
“Yeah, it’s a miracle right out of a Christmas movie. But don’t get too excited. This is a temporary deal until I can get some dirt on the Friends of Humanity and expose them for the psychopaths they are. They’re already working on something and I get the feeling they’re going to be testing it out soon. I can’t give you too many details, but all you need to know is it could get volatile real fast.”
“Vhat part of zhat is supposed to surprise us?” quipped Kurt.
“When you see it you’ll know what I mean. I’ll forward some of the documents I’ve obtained to the War Room. In the meantime the best I can do is…”
Suddenly, Warren’s demeanor shifted on the screen. They could hear a noise in the background. It sounded like a commotion was going on just outside his office. It was hard to tell what it entailed, but it concerned Warren enough to cut him off.
“Is everything okay, Warren?” asked the Professor in a concerned tone.
“I’ll have to get back to you on that, Professor. I’ve got work to do. I’ll be in touch. Just be ready in case things start blowing up!”
The video link went down and Warren’s image disappeared. While it was nice to see their winged friend getting back into his role as a X-man instead of lamenting over Candy, it was disconcerting that he was caught up in something this dangerous. He was working with the kind of people who wouldn’t waste a second to attack him if they knew what he was. They had to trust he would be able to keep his cool, which wasn’t always easy when his father was involved.
For the Professor, that wasn’t a concern. He was glad to see Warren stepping up and confronting the difficult issues of his family for the sake of the team. His connections in Worthington Industries were the key to fighting back against the Friends of Humanity and opposing Senator Kelly’s agenda.
“I hope Warren isn’t in over his head,” said Ororo.
“I’m sure our feathery friend can handle himself,” assured Hank, “He’s been working hard this past week to grant us insight into our new adversaries. Family drama aside, I’m confident he’ll remain focused through this daring endeavor.”
“That still depends on his father not having an agenda,” said Scott skeptically.
“True, but that’ll have to be a secondary concern. For now, our focus is on the Friends of Humanity and this Wide Awake Initiative,” said Professor Xavier, “Lilandra already has Aerie Global looking into their activities. I’ll be meeting with Lilandra again to formulate other strategies to oppose them.”
“Translation, he’s going to making excuses to spend more time with her,” said Bobby under his breath.
“A meeting of the minds, among other things,” added Remy wryly.
“Both of you hush up!” said Rogue under her breath, “Save the perverted chit chat for your Twitter feeds!”
The two X-men fell silent and listened on. The Professor understood there were going to be suspicions about his private life with Lilandra. He did not make a secret of his attraction to her. But that was a personal matter. These were serious concerns that could have a major impact on their fight.
“While we’re planning, I’m keeping a secure line with Warren open at all times,” he went on, “The moment something comes up, I expect the X-men to respond. This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to avoid being caught off guard. During volatile times like this, we can’t afford to be blindsided again.”
Worthington Industries – Wide Awake Initiative
As soon as his video link with the institute was shut down, Warren got up from his desk and put his specially made coat on. As head of this project, he had to keep his wings hidden at all time. In order to do that, he ordered several specially tailored suits that had special compartments for his wings. It wasn’t the most comfortable feeling, but it served a purpose. Nobody in this initiative could know that he was a mutant.
With the commotion still going on outside, he checked his appearance to make sure he looked like the aspiring heir to the Worthington fortune and not some mutant in disguise. It was surreal in a ways. Before he had a falling out with his father, he took classes in business so that he would be ready to take over one day. The past few years put some major doubts in that plan to say the least, but he hadn’t forgotten what he learned. Being part of this company came naturally. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that. His loyalty was still to the X-men.
Once he was satisfied with his appearance, he put on his confident business demeanor and stepped out of his office to catch up with the crowd.
“That was incredible, Bastion! You exceeded all our predicted results!” he heard one Friends of Humanity scientist say.
“You’re mastery of the armor’s functions is amazing!” said another, “We’re running out of ways to gauge your progress!”
“Please, pick your jaws up off the floor,” said a grinning Sebastian Gilberti as he shook off the excited scientists, “You made this thing. I’m just along for the ride.”
“Yet you wield it as if it were a part of you! This kind of integration is truly remarkable! It opens the door to so many possibilities!”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to utilize every one of them,” said Sebastian.
They were swooning over him as if he were a celebrity. The Friends of Humanity scientists were very excited. Such excitement heightened Warren’s suspicions. Ever since he saw the first test of this prototype as they called it, he was wary of the implications. It wasn’t just the firepower, the destructive potential, or the raw power it displayed. It was the way in which this man, Captain Sebastian Gilberti, was reacting to it.
Warren knew how much of the Friends of Humanity scientists felt about this endeavor. This was their big gun against mutants and they were determined to make it as deadly and efficient as possible. But Sebastian Gilberti was a wild card. He wasn’t sure what to make of him. He didn’t come off as being radically driven as the rest of the scientists, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t being influenced.
Shoving his way through the scientists, Warren caught up to Sebastian through the crowd. A few of the scientists were taken aback by his presence.
“Oh uh…Mr. Worthington,” said one of them, “I thought you were at a meeting.”
“It ended early,” said the winged mutant, “What’s going on here? What’s with all the commotion?”
“We just finished another round of testing with Sebastian. The results were truly spectacular! We put him in a simulated battle against Magneto and the Brotherhood and he beat them all in half the allotted time! His grasp of the system is progressing rapidly and we’re already preparing for the next step.”
“And what does that entail?” asked Warren suspiciously.
“Mr. Creed is working on the details, but he says he’ll have it ready soon!”
“I see,” said Warren stoically.
That was never promising. Of all the men in the Friends of Humanity, none made him more anxious than Graydon Creed. That man’s hatred of mutants was on a whole different level. If he was working on the next test, then that was definitely something he was going to have to keep in eye on.
With that in mind, he caught up to Sebastian who was still answering questions from a couple of scientists.
“Captain Gilberti! Do you have a moment?” Warren called out.
Sebastian turned around, ignoring the other scientists who were still bombarding him with questions.
“For the man whose name is on the building, of course!” he said respectfully.
He turned to the rest of the scientists.
“Would you guys please give us some privacy?” he said to them, “We’ll go over the rest of the date later.”
“Of course, Captain,” one of them said as he shooed the rest of his colleagues away.
Warren waited for the hall to clear. He didn’t need the Friends of Humanity’s brightest listening in on them. It was good they respected his authority. It was the first time his family name was an asset instead of a burden. He was still adjusting to it, but planned on using it to its full benefit with this program.
Once the scientists were out of sight, Warren addressed Sebastian. He still had a respectful look. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was still in the prototype or if it was because he was addressing the head of his program.
“Sorry we haven’t had a chance to formally meet. It’s a pleasure to finally address the man signing the checks around here,” said Sebastian as he extended his hand in a welcoming gesture.
“No need for apologies. I know you’ve been busy,” said Warren as he shook his hand, “You’ve been putting on quite a show Captain Gilberti.”
“Please, as long as I’m in the suit call me Bastion,” he said.
“Very well…Bastion,” said Warren indifferently, “But beyond your work with the suit, I’m curious as to how you’ve been getting along with these people. I know the Worthington staff, but I’m not sure about the people from the Friends of Humanity.”
“From what I’ve seen so far, they’ve been fantastic,” said Bastion enthusiastically, “They really are dedicated. It seems with every test they want to know more. It’s almost like being back at boot camp. Only boot camp was never this fun!”
“It’s not their dedication that concerns me. I’m wondering how you feel about who they are and what they’re doing. I assume you know what the Friends of Humanity stand for.”
“Of course I do. It’s not like they make a big secret of it. They’re dead set on defending humanity against mutants.”
“And you agree with them?”
“I don’t see how I can’t,” he shrugged, “Since the whole Magneto thing on Genosha, I say we need it. I know first hand because I was stationed on one of the carriers watching over island during the uprising. When Magneto came with those sentinels to attack, I was right in the crossfire. But with the heat he was packing there was no way me and my F-18 could have measured up. I’ve never felt so helpless while on duty.”
“So you hold a grudge against mutants?”
“I wouldn’t call it a grudge,” said the captain, shifting awkwardly, “Let’s just say I can see where the Friends of Humanity is coming from. Those mutants are dangerous and people got to have something they can rely on to defend themselves. This prototype here seems like their best bet.”
That didn’t sound promising. Warren had to keep himself from reacting too strongly, but it did explain with the Friends of Humanity chose someone like him to test this prototype. He was on the front lines of the Genosha uprising and didn’t get a chance to fight back. That really seemed to stick with him.
“Is that all they’ve been telling you?” Warren pushed, “They haven’t hinted at other ways they’re going to use this?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Bastion shrugged, “If you’re worried they’re going to try and sell this stuff to a dictator or let the military turn it into a death machine, I can put your fears to rest. Because I can say without a doubt in my mind that these guys are that dedicated. They say this stuff will only be used to fight mutants and I believe them.”
Warren studied the young man’s expression. He seemed as sincere as any former Air Force captain. He didn’t come off as a card carrying member of the Friends of Humanity, but he didn’t seem to disagree with them either. He had a personal stake in the mutant conflict. If he got a chance to use this new power, he would not hesitate. It deeply concerned the winged mutant, but it was a concern he could not show. Instead, he had to put on a smile and give the young captain a friendly gesture.
“Okay, I believe you,” said Warren, “But if you suspect anything, can I count on you to let me know?”
“Of course, Mr. Worthington,” said Bastion confidently, “But like I said, you don’t have to worry.”
“Just making sure,” said Warren, “I’ll let you get back to work.”
“Thank you, sir,” said the captain respectfully, “I hope I see you around more. Mr. Creed is really excited about the next round of tests he has planned.”
“Is he now?” said Warren with newfound curiosity, “Care to share any of the details?”
“I was going to catch up with him later. I’m pretty anxious to find out myself. Knowing him, I’m sure it’s going to be something.”
“Yes…I’m sure,” said Warren.
Warren maintained his false smile as he Captain Gilberti ran off to catch up with the scientists. As soon as he was gone, his demeanor shifted. It was hard carrying himself in a project full of anti-mutant radicals. He had to suppress his every reaction to their vile rhetoric. He was doing okay so far. He wasn’t sure how long he could keep it up.
He would have to bear it though. He had much more important concerns for now. These tests the captain mentioned peaked his curiosity. It was easy to keep track of him and the scientists, but Graydon Creed with another story. If he was planning something, he had to find out what it was. It may be something the X-men had to get involved in.
‘What are you up to, Creed? What kind of tests are you planning? You’re not keeping secrets from me here! For once, my family can contribute more than just shame.’
Worthington Industries – Lounge
After his discussion with Warren Worthington III, Captain Gilberti spent the next hour going over test data with the scientists. It was only supposed to take 15 minutes, but they just had so many questions. It was almost as exhausting answering them as it was doing the tests themselves. He was glad they were excited and all, but he wasn’t used to this kind of enthusiasm. Back in the Air Force everyone was so calm and focused. These people were totally different. He still wasn’t sure what to make of it.
After he finally shook off the last scientist, he got out of his armor and took a much needed break in the lounge. It was always a strange feeling when he removed his armor. When he had it on he felt so strong and tough. Once it was off he felt a strange sense of vulnerability. It was part of why he called himself Bastion when he was in the suit and just Sebastian Gilerti when he was without it. When in the suit it did seem right to go by the same title.
It was unsettling at times, but he reminded himself it was just a machine. And at the rate they were going, he would have plenty of opportunities to test it in other situations. Stretching his limbs, Captain Gilberti let out a yawn as he sat down on the couch. He was ready to take a nice long nap before the next test when Graydon Creed entered.
“Busy day, I take it?” he said as he was leaning on the doorway.
“Mr. Creed!” said Captain Gilberti, shooting up from his position and nearly falling off the couch, “I uh…I thought you were in Washington?”
“I was. Then I heard how well the latest round of tests went and I decided to cut my trip short,” said Creed as he approached the young captain.
Sebastian tried to gather himself as Creed sat down on the couch next to him. He looked even more serious than usual. He didn’t share the same enthusiasm as the rest of the Friends of Humanity. He always carried himself with a quiet yet powerful calm. It was a kind of presence that Captain Gilberti respected a great deal.
“My brethren tell me you’ve developed a remarkable handling of the prototype,” Creed went on, “You wield it with uncanny skill. Every mutant you’ve gone up against in the simulators hasn’t lasted more than five minutes.”
“Um…thank you, sir,” said Captain Gilberti nervously, “You put together a fine piece of hardware. It’s a hell of a rush to use. That’s something I can’t say about any of the planes I used to fly.”
“I’m glad you appreciate it. I hear you’ve even started going by another name while you’re in the prototype. Bastion, is it?”
“Sounds a lot better than just calling it the prototype, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed,” said Creed stoically, “But I have to know something, Captain. And answer me honestly because it may determine what course we end up taking with this project. If you found yourself in a life-or-death situation with hoard of renegade mutants, do you think you could handle it?”
“As Sebastian Gilberti, hell no. But as Bastion…definitely!” said Sebastian confidently.
Graydon Creed almost cracked a smile. It was just what he hoped to hear.
“You say that with such confidence,” he said, “Allow me to pose that question in another way. Say instead of finding yourself in such a situation, you were put in that situation. Try and imagine how you would handle yourself if you were tasked with actually thrusting yourself in the middle of an all out mutant conflict, one where innocent humans were at risk. Could you, with the suit as you wield it now, take on this conflict and resolve it by any means necessary?”
“I…I would certainly hope so,” said the captain anxiously, “Forgive me, Mr. Creed, but I’m not sure I follow you.”
Graydon Creed fell silent for a moment. This man may have grasped the prototype with uncanny skill, but he had yet to grasp the bigger picture with the Friends of Humanity. It was something he had to accept if he was to serve their purpose fully.
“Let me see if I can make this a little clearer,” Creed went on, “Do you know why I’ve dedicated my life to purging this beautiful world from the mutant scourge?”
“I can’t say I’ve given it extensive thought. I figured you were just as upset by the Genosha ordeal as everyone was.”
“If only that were the case,” he said distantly, “My outrage towards mutants goes back long before Magneto, the X-men, or any other incident. Not many people know this, but I was adopted as a child. All I know about my biological mother is that she gave me up as an infant.”
“I’m…sorry to hear that, sir. I had no idea,” said Captain Gilberti.
“Few people do,” he went on, “No words can adequately describe growing up with that gaping hole in your identity. Even in a comfortable home, you can’t fight that gnawing feeling that you don’t belong there. Any one without an iron heart and nerves of steel would fall apart. I was blessed to have that support from my fellow man. You see, the humanity which drives us to support each other that makes the human race so magnificent. It is one of the few pure elements that persists in our otherwise primal beings. And it is for that reason that mutants are such a threat.”
There was a touch of anger in his tone. It was an anger that burned in a ways Captain Gilberti had seen in few men. Now captivated, he stayed silent as he listened intently.
“When I first saw a mutant, I didn’t see that same humanity. I saw a perversion of the human race. Every mutant by their own existence is a flaw in the human condition. Every time I see one I don’t feel that same humanity I feel towards my fellow man. I can’t explain it fully, but it all comes back to that fragile humanity that makes the human race so beautiful. It is our responsibility…our duty to rid ourselves from these abominations! Do you understand?”
“I…I think so,” said Captain Gilberti, “I never thought of it that way, but I guess it makes sense.”
“Don’t guess, Sebastian. Try and see it as I see it!” said Creed intently, “As long as these creatures are among us, we will never be pure. I’ve lived with this concern my whole life and now in these volatile times, I have a chance to do something about it. But I cannot do it alone. I need you, my fellow man, to not just help. I need you to understand.”
It was a powerful if not desperate request. Since his arrival, Sebastian Gilberti had his opinion about mutants. He saw them as much a threat as anyone these days. But looking at it from Creed’s point of view, it seemed so much graver. As the wielder of this new power, that duty to protect the humanity Gradyon Creed spoke of fell upon his shoulders.
“What are you asking of me, Mr. Creed?” he asked.
Graydon Creed got up and faced the young captain with a more serious gaze.
“I need you to carry out a very special test,” he said.
“What kind of test?” asked Sebastian curiously.
“One that goes against certain policies that Worthington Industries has stipulated,” he clarified, “I know our scientists have told you we’re still a ways from field testing. But the human race may not have time to wait for us to perfect this prototype. We need to take action now! And I need to know if you’re willing to do what it takes!”
“I am willing. I’ve been willing,” said Captain Gilberti strongly as he rose up as well, “If the human race needs me, you can count on me to step up!.”
Graydon Creed finally cracked a smile. It took a little pushing, but he got the intensity he wanted from this man. He was going to need it for what he and his brethren had planned.
“Glad to hear I can count on you,” he said, placing an encouraging hand on his shoulders, “Does that mean I can trust you to keep what I say next between the two of us?”
“Absolutely,” said Sebastian, “You have my word.”
“Then come with me,” said Graydon as he led him out of the lounge, “My people are already working on setting something up. And rest assured, when it all comes together the mutant agenda will be finished.”
Charlie’s Bar and Pub
“Give me another,” groaned a thoroughly soused Logan as he sat slumped over a bar.
“Jeez, pal! You got a death wish or something? There are fish that would be drowning at this point!” exclaimed the bartender.
“I didn’t ask for a biology lesson, bub! I said give me another!”
The bartender rolled his eyes and gave the slumping Canadian another beer. He already paid a hefty tab up front and was prepared to make full use of it. Any normal man would be passed out or in a hospital by now. Whatever he was going through, it must have really been something.
This wasn’t the first time this week that Logan went out to get soused. It sure as hell wasn’t going to be the last either. It was pretty much the only stable facet of his life at this point. Ever since Sinister revealed that fateful name to him, James Howlett, he had been a wreck. He couldn’t train without going into a berserker rage. He couldn’t teach the others as he was supposed to. He couldn’t even talk to those close to him like Jeannie, Ororo, and Professor Xavier. He just kept obsessing over this name.
Who was James Howlett? Why did he feel such a deep connection with it? Why did it make him so angry every time he thought about it? These were the kinds of questions that had been plaguing him. It was getting so bad it was affecting his duty as an X-man. He was causing the team a lot of grief. He was starting to wonder if he was hurting them more than helping them.
‘Damn healing factor. I should be way more drunk right now. Hell, I should be brain dead right now! Anything would be a step up from this shit!’
The former living weapon slammed back another drink, his expression hardening as the alcohol worked its way through his system. It didn’t seem fair. He could get drunk, but because of his healing factor he couldn’t get drunk enough. No matter what he did to himself, he couldn’t escape this madness.
‘What the hell am I doing? Chuck and the others are probably working their asses off taking on aliens, Magneto, and Senator Kelly and I’m sitting here too messed up to deal with my own shit. What am I even doing with the X-men? I’ve already brought a hell of a lot of shit on them with Weapon X and Deadpool. Maybe it’s better for everyone if I just pack up and leave so I can piss away my miserable life in peace.’
It was a grim thought, but one Logan seriously considered. Even in his drunken state, it made sense. The Xavier Institute was the only place that even remotely felt like a home to him, but all he did was bring trouble. He didn’t deserve a home. He didn’t deserve any of it. This was his life, wallowing in bars and drinking himself to death. It was time he accept it.
While the feral mutant was drowning his sorrows, his heavy drinking started getting attention from others in the bar. Over the course of his sitting, a lot of empty bear bottles and mugs accumulated. It was hard to imagine anyone drinking that much and still being alive. But plenty of witness watched this burley Canadian drown it all and show little signs of slowing down. For some, his presence was too disconcerting to ignore.
As Logan drank on, a tall middle-aged man with a long beard, brown hair, and a gray bandana approached him. Some of his friends tried to dissuade him, but he shrugged them off and addressed the drunken figure.
“I think the barkeep has a point. You do have a death wish, pal,” said the man, “Any other degenerate would have been dead by now. But you’re not ordinary, are you?”
“Congratulations. You figured out I’m a mutant. You’re a freakin’ genius,” said Logan dryly, “What’s it to you?”
“I’ve heard about you’re kind around these parts. I’d rather keep my limbs, thank you,” grumbled the man, “But if you’re going to waste your self with booze, do us all a favor and do your boozing in another bar!”
“What’s your problem? Is my drinking making you question your manhood?”
“Don’t push it, pal. But there’s a block across town that’s practically run by your kind. They got enough bars down there for you to waste away in peace. You’d be saving us all a lot of trouble!”
Logan turned to the man and scowled. It was a look that could melt steel. The man looked strong, but he really didn’t seem inclined to fight. He was pissing him off and it would have been so easy to just shut him up. But he wasn’t worth it.
“You done, bub?” he growled, drawing his claws in a threatening manner.
“Yeah…I’m done,” said the man, trying not to sound intimidated.
He walked away, leaving Logan to continue drinking. His buddies weren’t thrilled with his confrontation. Some looked like they really wanted to start something. Most were smart enough to stay away. Logan carried himself as a mutant they didn’t want to mess with.
Turning back to his beer, Logan withdrew his claws and continued drinking. He could still feel many suspicious eyes on him. Anti-mutant sentiment was prevalent even in dumps like this.
‘Assholes. This world just keeps finding new ways to piss me off! Why can’t I just get away from all this shit? Maybe I should look into that block across town that jerk-off mentioned. Maybe there I can find a place to get drunk in peace.’
In the dead of night on a nameless street, three unmarked black vans pulled into a vacated lot. They pulled in carefully, forming a closed in lane near a wall so no casual observers could see what was going on. Once they were all parked and safely out of sight, the side doors opened and several groups of well-organized men rushed out. From the center van, three men carried the badly bruised and unconscious body of Megan “Pixie” Gwynn.
“Hurry up! Dump the bitch already so we can get out of here!” said one of the men.
“Hold your horses! You heard Creed’s orders! We have to make sure the freaks on this block find her! More importantly, we have to make sure they get the message!”
“Well do what you need to do before the neighborhood watch show up! I’ve heard a lot of bad things about this part of town and I’m getting sick just being here!”
“Don’t worry. We’ll make it quick!”
The fully uniformed men of the Friends of Humanity worked swiftly, looking around intently as their comrades laid the body of the pink-haired mutant on the dirty pavement. Their wise leader, Graydon Creed, emphasized how fragile this part of the operation was. They couldn’t afford to attract the wrong attention. Everything had to be set in motion just right. That way when it all came together it was humanity that came out on top.
They already succeeded with the first step. They found a young, vulnerable mutant in a public area and chased her into a corner. They then abducted her and kept her in a nearby garage. From there, the fun began. They spent nearly an entire day beating her into a bloody heap. They were relentless. They beat her with bats, fists, and pipes. They practically made a game of it, taking turns and allowing every one in the team to have a crack at her. They weren’t supposed to kill her. They weren’t supposed to rape her either. They were just supposed to bludgeon her. As soldiers of the Friends of Humanity, it was a job in which they took supreme satisfaction.
Once they were finished and night had fallen, they continued with the last and most important step. To beat up on one mutant wasn’t enough for the Friends of Humanity. They had to make it part of a greater plot that would expose mutants for the monsters they were. Once these freaks saw their handiwork, they would be well on their way.
“That’s it, lay her out all the way!” said one of the men carrying Pixie, “Make sure the freaks know what they’re up against.”
“The way we handled her, I think they’ll get the message,” said another as they laid the unconscious girl out.
“It’s a shame we can’t kill her. This world would be better with one less mutant.”
“No argument here. But an order is an order. Creed wants her to live so she can spread the word. After all the fear guys like Magneto have been pushing on us, they deserve a taste of their own medicine!”
The three men finished laying out the body. A dozen other of their comrades kept a close eye on their surroundings. They were armed with guns and bats, ready to defend themselves and take any would-be troublemakers out. For an operation like this, they could leave nothing to chance.
“Okay, we’re done!” said one of the three men who had been carrying Pixie.
“Finally! Now get back in the van so we can get out of here!” said one of the others.
“Sure thing, but before we go I want to leave one last memento.”
The lone Friends of Humanity henchman took out his gun and cocked it. It didn’t take long for the others to figure out what he had in mind.
“What are you doing?!” exclaimed one of his comrades, “Creed said not supposed to kill her!”
“Relax, I’m not going to kill her. I’m just going to leave a nice flesh wound,” said the man as he pointed the gun at the unconscious girl’s body, “It’ll give them all a taste of what’s to come.”
The man was gazed down at the helpless young mutant coldly, aiming his gun right at her arm. With his finger on the trigger, he prepared to fire. The rest of his brethren waited impatiently. But they all wanted to this as much as him. It was part of what the Friends of Humanity trained for.
Then out of nowhere, a powerful red energy beam came raining down from above. It hit the man with the gun right in the hand, causing him to drop the weapon and clutch his arm in agony.
“Augh! What the hell?!” he exclaimed.
“Up there! Look!” exclaimed one of his comrades, pointing up to the roof of a building.
Everyone in the Friends of Humanity looked up to see two ominous figures standing on the roof looming over them. One was a tall, heavily muscled African man with black dreadlocks, a black muscle shirt with matching black jeans, and the letter M tattooed over his eye. Standing next to him was a shorter, younger, but well-built teenage boy with medium length blonde hair, tanned skin, and dirty street clothes. They looked like the kind of guys nobody wanted to run into in a dark alley. But what stood out most were the glowing hands of the younger boy. It seemed he was the one responsible for that blast.
“You fools picked the wrong side of town to fuck with!” said the African mutant, “Step away from the girl or my hommie, Havok, will blow your sorry asses all the way to Brooklyn!”
“Or don’t! Ignore my pal, Bishop and test us! I dare you!” said the young man he called Havok.
The bewildered men of the Friends of Humanity cursed their luck. This was just what they were trying to avoid.
“Damn mutants!” cursed one of them.
“They must be that neighborhood watch they told us about!” said another.
“Who the hell cares?! They broke my hand!” exclaimed the wounded would-be shooter, “I’m through with patience! These freaks are dead!”
“I’m with you! Nobody harms a brother and gets away with it!” said another.
The entire group took out their guns and weapons. They were all ready to fight. If these mutants wanted to take on the Friends of Humanity, they weren’t going to back down.
“You suckas are making a big mistake!” said Bishop boldly.
“Stop making threats and come down here and fight!” barked one of the Friends of Humanity henchmen.
“Yeah, even with those powers of yours we got you outnumbered!”
“You sure about that?” grinned Havok ominously.
Havok and Bishop exchanged glances. Bishop nodded in understanding. It was time to show these thugs what they were up against.
“Multiple! Get your ass out here and even the odds!” Bishop called out.
With that command, three doors off to the side of the building shot open and a hoard of figures came pouring out. They all looked exactly the same, appearing as a teenage boy about the same age as Havok with a slim build, brown hair, and a distinct green body suit and trench coat. They all moved as if they were part of the same person. Given how uncanny their appearance was, they probably were the same person.
Before the Friends of Humanity knew it, they were surrounded on all sides by the army of identical figures. A few started panicking and firing wildly at the surrounding figures. Their bullets hit, but instead of a bloody wound the entire figure just vanished in a yellow flash. Within a few seconds, more appeared to take their place. Now all of the sudden it was the Friends of Humanity that were feeling boxed in.
“You guys better not get trigger happy,” said one of the Multiples, “You’ll run out of bullets before I run out of clones.”
To further reinforce his point, the man known as Multiple clenched his fist and made more copies. Now the Friends of Humanity weren’t just surrounded. They were overwhelmed. Some were starting to worry while others tried remained determined.
“Keep coming you freak! We’ll take you all on!” yelled one of the henchmen who was armed with a baseball bat and knife.
“Tough words from guys who pick on teenage girls just trying to get a decent meal,” said Multiple, “Let’s see how you do against one with a little firepower!”
One of the Multiples looked up at Bishop and Havok. They got the signal and went in for the finishing blow.
“You heard him! You’re up Jubilee!” Bishop called out.
From behind the two men, a young Asian teenage girl wearing black leather pants, a yellow coat, and pink sunglasses stepped forth and set her sights on the bewildered men below.
“About time you guys let me in on the action! I may be new to this, but I can leave some nasty marks!” she said boldly.
“Whatever, Jubes. Now blind these bastards!” yelled Havok.
“With pleasure!” she grinned.
Cracking her knuckles, Jubilee boldly stepped up to the edge of the building and pointed both hands down towards the crowd of Friends of Humanity. As she did, blinding sparks of energy shot out in a wave of fiery bursts. They were like fireworks, only up close and more intense. And as soon as they got close to the bewildered men, they exploded in haze of blinding flashes.
“Ahhhhhhhh! My eyes!” they exclaimed.
The whole area lit up in a dazzling but deadly display of fireworks. The blinding flashes forced the men to cover their eyes and stumble back as they tried to get away. As they did, they ran right into the hoards of Multiple men who were ready to face them. Unlike them, they were prepared and covered their eyes when the fireworks started going off. So they could see well enough to skillfully gang up on the men, disarm them with a series of punches, kicks, and grapples. Some managed to fire their guns, but they missed or hit only other Multiples that were easily replaced. Lost in the blinding daze and lacking their once determined coordination, the Friends of Humanity didn’t put up much of a fight.
Jubilee kept the fireworks going while the Multiple army did the heavy lifting. They ganged up on each man, using three or four Multiples to surround and attack. Some of the Friends of Humanity fought back, getting a few punches and kicks in. But they were quickly overwhelmed and restrained. When they tried to struggle more, they were given a swift kick to the gut to put them on the ground. They weren’t allowed to help each other either. When they tried to team up to fight off the onslaught, the Multiple army pulled them away from each other and took them out with a barrage of punches and kicks. Only a lucky few managed to slip away from the army and behind the vans where they hoped to escape. But Havok made sure they didn’t get far.
“Oh no you don’t!” he spat, his hands glowing with ruby red intensity.
Taking aim, Havok fired off a series of concentrated shots that hit the fleeing men in stride. They all groaned in pain as they fell to the pavement where the Multiple army took care of the rest.
It was all over within five minutes. Every Friends of Humanity operative was on the ground being restrained by Multiple and none of them were in any position to fight back. Jubilee stopped the fireworks onslaught while Bishop and Havok made their way down from the roof through a nearby fire escape. Once they were on the ground, they focused their attention on Pixie. They kept their guard up in case on of the men got free.
“Pixie! Can you hear me, girl?” Bishop called out as he knelt down by her side.
“You sick assholes! Look at her!” exclaimed Havok towards the downed men, “Is this what you do in your spare time?! Find innocent mutants to beat up?!”
“Don’t start…freak!” gasped the man who was going to shoot her.
In a rage, Havok walked up to the man three Multiples were restraining and grabbed him by the collar. His hands were glowing bright red, burning with the powerful energy he displayed earlier. There was a murderous intent in his eyes, one that enough to scare even a hardened Friends of Humanity follower.
“You son-of-a…I know people like you! You think you’re so righteous that you can get away with anything?! Well guess what? You’re on our home turf now! That means you’re the freaks!”
The man trembled as Havok held his glowing hand to his head. He could tell he wanted nothing more than to end him where he stood. But Bishop came in and stopped him.
“Hold up, Havok!” he said, rising up from Pixie, “Don’t be doing nothing stupid now! We don’t know what their game is.”
“They like to get together on a Friday night and beat up innocent mutants! Sounds like a simple enough game to me!” said Havok.
“When it is ever that simple?” he said ominously, “Step aside. Let me give this sucka a talking too! Go help Jubes with Pixie!”
Havok groaned at such an order. He continued staring down the man he had by the collar. He kept scowling him with unbridled hatred. But he eventually conceded. By now Jubilee had caught up with them and was kneeling over Pixie with great concern. Despite his anger, Havok understood that the safety of their fellow mutants came first.
Once Havok backed away, Bishop approached the man who had so boldly held a gun to Pixie earlier. He didn’t look as enraged as Havok, but he was every bit as intimidating.
“Listen up, pal. My homie here wants to blow your head off and I got no problem letting him do so,” said Bishop sternly, “Now you can make it a lot easier on yourself and your crew if you come clean. And trust me, you don’t want to trust this fella’s temper! He got a mean streak as long as my rap sheet!”
The Friends of Humanity henchman trembled, but he did not falter. He had his orders and he was not going to betray Graydon Creed.
“I’ve got nothing to say to you!” spat the man, “We’re the Friends of Humanity! We don’t give into abominations like you!”
“Abominations? Is that your excuse for coming onto our turf and hurting one of our own?” scoffed Bishop, “Let me see if I can make this clear, fool!”
Clenching his fist, Bishop rose up. His hands started glowing a dark reddish color and he gestured towards the three vans they had used to drive into this area. As he did, a powerful burst of red energy shot out and send each van flying in a twisted heap of metal and glass. They were blown halfway across the lot and when they stopped, they caught fire and exploded. It took only three shots, one for each van. All the men could do was watch on in horror at the display of power. It sent a clear message that this Bishop character wasn’t messing around.
“You feeling me now, sucka?” said Bishop intently as he looked back down at the petrified man, “We ain’t abominations and we ain’t monsters. We’re mutants!”
“You’re freaks! A perversion of humanity!” the man spat, “We know about your little setup here! The Friends of Humanity are not going to let it stand!”
“If you know what we got going on here then you’re even dumber than you look! We been keeping the peace here for a while now! We got our own rules! And rule number one: you keep to your end and we keep to ours! Rule number two: you mess with one of us you mess with all of us!”
“If you’re trying to intimidate us…you’re wasting your time!” gasped the man, “The Friends of Humanity stand together against all mutants! Not just you and your block of freaks!”
Bishop stared down the man intently. He was clearly intimidated, but only as an individual. Not as a crew. He had been in enough gang clashes to know when something was bigger than just a collection of thugs. These guys were different. They were organized, focused, and determined. They came here with an agenda. It didn’t matter what it entailed. It only mattered that it was on their turf.
Scowling with intent, Bishop grabbed the man just as Havok had done earlier. If these people wanted to mess with them, they were going to pay the price.
“That how it’s going to be, fool? I’m down with that!” said Bishop intently, “This ain’t your hunting ground! This is District X! And you suckas is going down!”
Next Issue: District X
Read Comments ( 2 )