Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men were born with extraordinary powers. Together, they fight for peace in a world that hates and fears them. This fight has entered a critical time. The presidential election is coming up and Senator Robert Kelly is running on an anti-mutant agenda. The X-men their ally, Lilandra Neramani, have been countering that agenda every step of the way. But while Xavier and the X-men were busy with politics, a dangerous situation emerged on Muir Island.
Moira MacTaggart, a friend and former lover of Charles, had been working feverishly to help her son, Kevin. He has been struggling all his life with his volatile powers, which allow him to manipulate vast amounts of psionic energy. He was the first mutant Charles Xavier helped, but as his powers continued to grow he became increasingly detached from his humanity.
Recently, Moira brought in Forge, a former henchman of Magneto, to help her treat his condition. They constructed a device that would hopefully stabilize his powers, but during an ill-advised test, something went wrong. Now Kevin, or Proteus as he is calling himself, is out of control and Moira must once again turn to Charles Xavier for help.
Xavier Institute – Hanger
The plans for the X-men had abruptly changed. In the blink of an eye, Charles Xavier abandoned the busy schedule he had laid out and summoned the whole team for an emergency mission. His media campaign was put on hold as was his rendezvous with Lilandra. For something to disrupt everything he had been working so hard for, it had to be grave.
Within fifteen minutes of getting a phone call from Moira MacTaggart, the X-men were suited up and gathered in the hanger. Scott, Bobby, Warren, Ororo, Logan, Rogue, Kurt, Kitty, and Remy all rushed to board the X-jet. Hank was not present since he was still in District X, but he was informed of the situation remotely. Jean, who had been ill with a migraine, joined as well. She was not a hundred percent, but they would need everyone they could spare for this mission.
“Hurry up, X-men! We have to get to Muir Island!” urged Charles Xavier.
“Calm down, Chuck! Losing your cool ain’t gonna get us there any faster!” said Logan as he entered the jet.
“I’m sorry, but calm is not an option! This is exactly the kind of incident I feared! And it happens to be an incident I’ve struggled with before, no less!”
“We all know about Kevin, Professor. So does the rest of the world,” said Warren as he tried to comfort his mentor, “But you helped him before. You can help him again.”
“It may not be that simple, Warren. Kevin’s powers are extremely volatile. If what Moira told me is accurate, then they’re far worse than when I last left him. If Kevin loses control in a populated area, countless lives could be at risk!”
“We won’t let that happen, Charles!” said Ororo strongly.
Charles Xavier forced himself to take deep breaths. Moira and Kevin were a very personal issue for him. He owed so much to them. They were part of the reason he formed the X-men. They were the last ones on this planet he wanted to let down, especially after he shared their story with the world.
Most of the team was on the jet and ready to go. Jean Grey was the last one on. She was still moving a bit slowly, having to push through the migraines that had been plaguing her all day. Ever since that dream, they had been quite nasty, It was as if they were an omen of sorts, but it was an omen she would have to ignore.
“Are you sure you’re up for this, Jean?” asked Scott anxiously, “After this morning, no one would blame you for sitting this one out.”
“The Professor said he needed the whole team. That includes me, migraine or no migraine,” said Jean strongly.
“That’s brave of you, Jean. But speaking strictly as a leader and not just your boyfriend, you could be putting yourself and others at risk. If something the migraines become too much…”
“I can handle it, Scott!” she said sternly, “I’ve dealt with this pain before! I’ll deal with it again! We can argue how foolish it is later!”
Jean’s tone left little room for argument. She didn’t give Scott a chance to talk her out of it, walking right past him and into the jet. He was still very worried, but he knew Jean wasn’t going to be dissuaded. He had no chance of convincing her otherwise. Pushing aside his concerns for his lover, he made his way into the jet with the others.
“And Remy thought you was uptight on missions, Scottie,” commented Remy, “Looks like your girl is out to steal your thunder.”
“Personally, I would rather face you before Jean,” added Bobby, “At least with you I don’t have to worry about my brain being melted.”
“It’s absurd how real that possibility may be,” muttered the X-leader, “Absurdity aside, we have a very volatile mutant on the loose and we’ll need to confront it with full force!”
“So zhen vhy is Beast staying behind?” pondered Kurt.
“He’s doing his part in another way,” said Xavier as Scott closed the hatch, “He and Tessa say they have some information about Kevin’s condition that may help. Hopefully, it will aid our efforts. Until then, our sole focus is containment.”
“I’m sure that ain’t as easy as it sounds,” said Logan, “You say you’ve tangoed with this kid before. Looks like you’ll have to work your magic again, Chuck.”
“This time may be far more difficult, Logan. I’ve seen what Kevin can do. He’s a confused boy who has spent much of his life on the brink. Let us pray I can get to him before it’s too late!”
The Professor’s anxious demeanor was felt by everybody. The X-men weren’t used to seeing him so distressed. The personal nature of this affair was apparent so they would need to be extra strong for him. Now strapped in and ready to go, the team held on as the X-jet powered up and took off. This wouldn’t be like confronting Magneto or the Friends of Humanity. They were going up against a confused young man with very dangerous powers. In many ways it was the gravest threat they could encounter during these fragile times.
Liverpool, England – Main Port
A dense fog hung over the port of Liverpool as a dreary afternoon set in. Work at the port was busy as usual. A steady stream of ships were coming in, each loaded with their share of cargo. An army of workers hustled back and forth, loading and unloading various crates and packages. Just outside the port was a bustling market full of vendors dealing out some of the freshly offloaded goods. Despite the weather, many were out and about conducting business as usual. For the workers and various bystanders, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Another medium sized ocean liner pulled into the dock. It had on the deck a number of boxes and crates that needed to be offloaded. A team of workers began the arduous process, operating the cranes and clearing some space. But just as they started unloading a few crates, one of the workers noticed something in the murky water.
“The bloody hell? You blokes see what I see?”
A couple of other workers turned away from the ship and out to the waters. Through the fog they can see what appeared to be a pulsing light in the water. Around this light there was a strange whirlpool. It didn’t look natural, but whatever it was it was moving right towards them.
“Holy…what in the bloody hell is it?” said another dock worker as he looked closer.
“Uh…should we step back or something?”
The pulsing light and swirling vortex drew closer. Soon it reached the recently docked ocean liner. The second the light touched the ship, something strange began to happen. In a bizarre show of power, the ship’s hull was warped as if it were made of plaster. This caused a huge jolt of turbulence throughout the vessel. Those still on it felt the effects and every worker who saw this began to panic.
“Aye…stepping back sounds like a good idea!” said the worker who first spotted it.
“Look! Something’s coming out of the water!” said one of the ship’s crew.”
More turbulence rocked the ship as the lower part of the bow was torn apart and scattered into streams of paper-thin metal. As the vortex passed over, the whole ship was levitated. While it was hovering over the water, the entire structure began to twist and contort. It didn’t just cripple the ship. It practically disassembled it on a molecular level.
“Abandon ship!” yelled one of the skippers.
The order came too late for many. Some got caught up in the bizarre warping and were horribly maimed. A few even endured the same disassembling process, having their flesh and bones torn apart in unfathomable ways. It was the kind of gruesome death that didn’t give them time to yell for help.
At this point, everyone within viewing distance of the ship was fleeing. Some were stuck in a daze, watching the bizarre scene and rubbing their eyes to make sure this wasn’t some sort of surreal dream. But it was painfully and dangerously real.
While parts of the crumpled liner rained down over the harbor, the pulsing light reached one of the docks. The wood that made up the structure was warped in a way similar to the ship. Only this time instead of destroying it, a special hole was created just under the center of the vortex. From this hole, a figure rose up from the water. It was the glowing form of Kevin MacTaggart, now going by Proteus. There was no more hint of flesh or blood on his body. There was only the faint outline of his thin, wiry frame and his ominous glowing eyes.
“So this is Liverpool? It’s so…bland.”
His demeanor were as stoic as ever. Standing calmly on the docks, he watched as panicked dock workers ran for their lives and curious onlookers gazed at him in stunned horror. With little care or regard, he exhaled briefly and a burst of psionic energy erupted from his body.
To the terrified onlookers, a bright shockwave of energy surged throughout the area. As it passed by, the mysterious warping phenomenon that crippled the ship reached everything it touched living or otherwise. Everything shifted into a silvery, viscous form where it was reshaped into strange new dimensions. Boxes turned into pentagons, cranes turned into pretzel-like structures, and people had their flesh ravaged in a variety of horrified ways. Everywhere around the mysterious figure was turning into a dreamscape of death.
“MY GOD! LOOK WHAT HE DID TO THAT…AUGH I’M GONNA BE SICK!”
“RUN! RUN! IT’S A MONSTER!”
“TO HELL WITH MONSTERS! IT’S THE DEVIL HIMSELF!”
Panic swept through the area. All anyone could do was run for their lives and hope this mysterious monstrosity wouldn’t follow. For a moment, Proteus just watched t. The panicked cries and horrified screams did not affect him in the slightest. It used to hurt when people called him a monster, but this time he didn’t feel a thing. There was no worry, no concern, and no aversion whatsoever. It was peaceful in a ways, if not liberating.
“Such a beautiful day…I think I’ll go for a stroll.”
The X-men got to Muir Island as quickly as they could. Scott flew the entire way with the afterburner going at full throttle. They ignored worried calls from Lilandra and Hank along the way. For all they knew, the news of this incident was beginning to break. They couldn’t worry about that now. They had to stay focused. When they arrived they got at glimpse on the power they were up against.
“Mien Gott! Vhat happened to zhis place?” gasped Kurt.
“Guess the kid needed some fresh air and was too impatient to use the back door,” commented Logan.
“This is seriously bad, guy!” said Scott grimly, “Kevin out in the open has all the makings of a disaster!”
“It may be even worse than that, Scott,” said Xavier distantly as he saw Moira out on the landing pad.
“How can Kevin MacTaggart going on a rampage be any worse?!” exclaimed Warren.
“I don’t think I even want to know,” groaned Bobby, “You know with this kid anything is possible…literally.”
The X-jet landed and Moira ran out through the fog to meet her former lover. Sean, Rahne, and John were there with her. The two men were still a little woozy from the blow they took earlier, but they were glad to have some backup. When the rear hatch opened, Charles Xavier was the first one out. As soon as he saw Moira, he sensed in her just how bad this was.
“Moira…” he began as saw her approaching.
“Oh Charles! Thank heavens you’re here!” she cried, “It’s terrible! I…I should have known better! Now Kevin is…”
“It’ll be okay, Moira. You don’t need to tell me how serious this is. I already know,” he said, putting his hands on her arms to calm her down.
“No…it’s worse than before! And it’s all my fault! I’ve lost my son and I’ve destroyed everything ye worked so hard for!” she sobbed.
Moira was still hysterical, fighting back waves of sobs. While Xavier consoled her, the rest of the X-men joined him. Even those who didn’t know much about Moira and Kevin could see this was a big deal.
While Moira was gathering herself, Sean and the others joined up with the X-men. They recognized John Proudstar from their encounter with Juggernaut. They were surprised to see him, but glad they had his help. It looked as though they were going to need it.
“Welcome to our nightmare, X-men,” greeted John, “I’m glad you could make it on such short notice.”
“Aye, it’s good to see ye again,” said Rahne, “It’s been a while.”
“That it has. But we’ll have to catch up later, Rahne,” said Warren.
“Catch up? You know each other?” said Kitty in confusion.
“We know both of them,” affirmed Scott, “For those of you who don’t know, this is Rahne Sinclair and Sean Cassidy. Rahne was part of the team a few years back. And Mr. Cassidy was an instructor.”
“Glad to see ye remember, Scott,” said Sean, “I also see you’re ranks have grown since I left.”
“Think of us as the expanded version,” said Remy, “Bigger problems need bigger solutions, non?”
“Well this certainly qualifies as a pretty big problem,” said John, “As you can see by our recent renovations we’ve got a quite a mess on our hands. Kevin’s throwing quite the tantrum and he’s in need of a major timeout.”
“But why now?” questioned Jean, “Kevin’s thrown his share of tantrums in the past. What sent him over the edge this time?”
Rahne and Moira shifted uncomfortably. They both felt a twinge of guilt for having brought this on. In many ways they were more responsible for this than Kevin.
“That’s…a bit harder to explain,” said Moira solemnly, “I was the one that did this to Kevin. For once, I lost control! Not him!”
“Don’t blame yourself, lass. You never could have known this would happen,” said Sean, trying to console her.
“Don’t try to convince me otherwise, Sean!” spat Moira, “I was the one who pushed this experiment! I was the one who sent Kevin over the edge!”
“Wait, back up…did you just say you did an experiment on your son?!” said Rogue with a twinge of disgust.
“Damn lady, you’re right. That is pretty foolish!” commented Logan.
“It’s equally foolish to point that out to a distressed mother, Logan,” scorned Ororo.
His remarks earned him a harsh scold from the Professor and everyone else on the team, but Moira didn’t contest it. She knew he was right.
“Come inside, X-men. I’ll explain everything,” she said, leading them into the facility, “I already have Forge working in his lab. Hopefully, it’s not too late to save my son.”
“Now you’re saying that Forge guy is involved?” said Bobby, “As in the same Forge that built Magneto’s doomsday machine?”
“I’m starting to see vhy zhe Professor was so worked up now,” groaned Kurt.
“Like Moira said, it’s a long story,” said John, “But we’ll have to spare you some of the details. We gotta move fast before Kevin’s tantrum turns into an international incident!”
Atlanta, Georgia – Senator Kelly Campaign Center
Senator Robert Kelly rubbed his throbbing temples as he stormed though his campaign center. He just returned from a speech at a local university in downtown Atlanta. It was his latest effort to salvage his plummeting numbers in the polls. Charles Xavier’s media blitz and Lilandra Neramani’s constant badgering had really disrupted his campaign. It should have been an easy ride to the White House in wake of the Genosha incident. Now it seemed less and less certain.
“Come on, people! Get me some solid numbers here!” he barked to his staff, “I don’t care that Xavier’s events got higher ratings! I want to know how it’s affecting the polls!”
“We’re trying, sir! But we’re not showing any major shifts,” said one of his staffers.
“Then run them again! Call for more ads! Get more contributors on board! And for the love of God, would someone keep an eye on that damned Wikipedia page on me! If I see one more edit claiming that I’m secretly a mutant, every last one of you is fired!”
The presidential hopeful was asking a lot. The strain Senator Kelly endured was felt by everybody. Nothing seemed to be going right for them lately. People like Charles Xavier, Lilandra Neramani, and every mutant sympathizer in the country were hampering their efforts. If something didn’t turn around for them soon, then the election was in serious doubt.
Senator Kelly took a moment to catch his breath in a nearby conference room. His head was still throbbing. All these setbacks were taking a toll. His resources were being pushed to the limit and so was his patience.
‘Damn these rallies! I’ve laid out my stance on the issues in every way. I’ve countered every point Charles Xavier has made thus far and people still don’t get it! What will it take for them to see how dangerous mutants are?”
The presidential hopeful collapsed in a nearby chair to rest for a moment. He was working on his 18th hour without sleep. He should have been used to such hours, but this kind of frustration was testing his tolerance stress. Taking deep breaths, the frustrated politician closed his eyes and tried resting for a bit. He didn’t get to rest long though. His cell phone started ringing, forcing him back into his distressed state.
“Ungh, this better be God himself looking to grant me a miracle,” he groaned.
Rubbing his temples again, he looked at the caller ID and saw it was from Reverend Stryker. Not feeling too hopeful, he answered it begrudgingly.
“What is it, Reverend? It better be good,” he said.
“Are you near a TV, Senator?”
“Why? Did Fox News play that cartoon with me as a monkey again?”
“Turn it on and you’ll see. I think it’ll lift your spirits.”
The senator’s was now intrigued. With Stryker still on the line he grabbed the remote to the projection TV for the room, which was hooked up to basic cable. They usually kept it on CNN or Fox News so as soon as he turned it on he saw what the reverend was referring to.
Immediately, he was bombarded with a stream of terrifying images. The caption at the bottom of the screen read “Terror in Liverpool. Suspected Mutant on Rampage.” Just above those words were images of what appeared to be a glowing monster casually walking down the streets of Liverpool. Along the way buildings were being destroyed, streets were being ripped up, and people were being maimed. It was a horrific image, but to Senator Kelly it was a sight to behold.
“My God…” he gasped.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing, Senator? Do I even need to describe the implications?”
Senator Kelly put down his phone and watched the broadcast in a daze. Anyone with a weak stomach would have had to turn away from such images. But to the aspiring politician, it was just what he needed.
“Guess I’ll be getting that miracle after all!”
Muir Island – Forge’s Workshop
The X-men gathered in Forge’s workshop where they got the grim details on what happened with Kevin. They had to work fast now that Kevin’s outburst was drawing media attention. Forge was already hard at work on a solution, but everyone was more concerned with the effects of this test Moira so eagerly conducted. She remained emotional and full of guilt. Charles Xavier and Sean tried to console her, but it was no use. What she did was just too egregious.
“So let meh get this straight. You all built some fancy contraption to try and hold back this boy’s powers and tested it on him before it was even ready?” Rogue summarized.
“It…was only supposed to be a small scale test,” said Moira through her sobs, “I had no idea it could go so wrong.”
“For a kid whose powers include blowing holes in buildings and warping the very fabric of reality, is there such a thing as small scale?!” exclaimed Kitty.
“Back off, missy! We didn’t have a choice!” said Rahne with a threatening, wolf-like growl, “Kevin was becoming mentally unstable! We had to do something for him!”
“Yeah, and using him as a guinea pig in an some fucked up experiment makes so much sense,” said Logan dryly.
“You guys want to make something of this?!” growled the canine mutant, “You may be new to the X-men, but I can still take ye both!”
“I’d like to see you try, kid!” snarled Logan.
“But I certainly wouldn’t!” said Ororo, grabbing her lover and pulling him back.
“Aye, we’ve had enough tantrums for one day!” said Sean as he held back his angry adopted daughter.
Rahne flashed her canine fangs at Logan, ready to rip into him for his remarks. Luckily Ororo pulled Logan back and Sean was able to keep Rahne from losing her cool.
It was a tenuous situation. Many of the X-men couldn’t help but be disgusted that someone would be willing to do this to their own son. Moira clearly wasn’t thinking straight. It was hard to blame her, but she was very much responsible. The Professor did not judge her too harshly though. He understood better than anyone why she did what she did.
“Moira, I’m sorry you had to resort to such measures,” said Xavier, “I wish you would have called me. Had I known that Kevin was struggling, I would have helped.”
“I wanted to, Charles. But I figured ye had enough to worry about,” said Moira, “I’ve seen how hard you’ve been working these past few months, going on TV and spreading your message. I even see ye got yourself a new love interest.”
Xavier shifted at the mention of Lilandra. He hadn’t forgotten how he was supposed to be working with her right now, confronting Senator Kelly’s campaign. Yet it was this very campaign that may have prevented him from helping this boy when he needed it most.
“That…still wouldn’t have stopped me,” he assured her, “You and Kevin are very important to me. I would have stopped everything if I knew you needed me.”
“I appreciate that, but it’s too late now,” she said sadly, “What’s done is done. I thought I could help Kevin on my own. I guess I was wrong.”
She held back another round of tears. Even though she deserved criticism for taking such a risk with her son, she was still a desperate mother and the X-men didn’t need that desperation turning into tragedy.
“We’re sorry about your son, Miss MacTaggart. But we don’t have time to rack ourselves with guilt. We need to focus on how we’re going to stop Kevin,” said Scott assertively.
“You mean Proteus,” muttered Rahne.
“Proteus?” said Kitty strangely.
“It’s what he’s calling himself now. It’s some Greek god or something,” Rahne explained, “He was talking about it earlier. Figures that he has power similar to a god so he wants to be named like one.”
“In my experience, people who name zhemselves after gods go out of their vay to prove zhey are worthy of such a title,” said Kurt.
“As if calling him Kevin makes him any less dangerous,” grumbled Rogue.
“Whatever he’s called, how do we stop someone who can warp reality?” said Warren, “You said that test royally messed up his powers. They were bad enough as they were, but if he’s in overdrive we’re way overmatched!”
“As if that wasn’t already painfully apparent,” said Bobby, still fixated on the damage to the lab.
As this issue came up Forge chimed in, who had been hard at work at his workbench ever since he came to.
“I’m working on that!” said the mutant inventor with a grunt of frustration, “My machine helped send him over the edge. Maybe it can help bring him back!”
“Fighting fire with more fire?” scoffed Logan, “No offence bub, but I think we’ve had enough of your inventions for this decade!”
“No, he’s right,” said Moira, “The machine we used is a part of this. It’s what turned Kevin’s powers against him.”
“I hope that means you were smart enough to include a reverse switch,” said Jean.
“Not quite, but if I can recalibrate it properly we may be able to reverse the effects,” said Forge as he fumbled with a screwdriver, “The machine worked the first time, at least in part. It took Kevin’s own reality bending powers and used them to scale them down. But Kevin’s body reacted unexpectedly. He somehow used the same process to accelerate his mutation. If I can get this to work, we can try again at a higher power level.”
“Exactly how certain are you that it’ll work this time?” said John Proudstar skeptically, “What’s to stop Kevin from doing it again?”
“Hey, I’m just the tech guy. You’re the big time superheroes. You guys are going to have to find a way to settle him down. This isn’t going to work if he’s moody.”
“Sure, leave all the dirty work to us, non?” chided Remy.
“If you can somehow conjure a machine that will magically knock the kid out while he’s on a power trip, then by all means,” quipped Forge, “Right now, this is our best and only bet!”
This was placing a lot of faith in Forge, someone with a history of making trouble. He didn’t look too confident himself with the way he was fumbling with his machine. But given their lack of alternatives, they didn’t have a choice.
“How long before this device is ready, Forge?” asked Professor Xavier.
“I don’t know. It depends,” he said anxiously.
“An hour? A day? A lifetime?!” exclaimed Rahne, “Give us something to work with!”
“I seriously don’t know!” barked Forge, “I’m already linked into every database in Muir Island! I’m also getting tips from Beast in District X! I am literally doing everything I can possibly do!”
“Then don’t let us slow you down, lad,” said Moira in a calmer tone, “I’ll stay and help ye. But one way or another, we’ll have to go after Kevin!”
“Leave that to us,” said Scott, “We’ll find him. If we can’t get through to him, we can at least buy you guys some time.”
“What about when it’s finished? How will you get it to Kevin in time?” asked Ororo.
Professor Xavier quickly thought about this and worked out a plan.
“Moira, you have a helicopter right?” he said.
“Aye, but it’s not as fast as you’re jet,” said Moira.
“It’ll have to do,” he said, “But just in case, I’ll have Nightcrawler stay behind. His teleportation powers may help move things along when the time comes.”
“My range is only two miles, but I can make zhe most of it, Professor,” said Kurt.
“As for the rest of us, we must confront Kevin!” said Xavier strongly, “I know this may be asking a lot, but try not to harm him.”
“You don’t need to tell us twice, Charles,” said Sean, “That’s why I’ll be coming with ye.”
“Aye, me too,” said Rahne, “Kevin is my brother. He needs all the help his family can give him.”
“I don’t know the kid that well, but I might as well tag along,” said John, “To think, my visit here was supposed to be part of my leave.”
“I’ll get you a round of Guinness after we’re done if it’ll make you feel better,” quipped Logan, “Now if we’re put this kid down for a nap, I suggest we get moving!”
“If we don’t, I’m sure the news cameras already have,” muttered Jean, lamenting over the setbacks this was going to incur.
“Forget our media image for now, X-men! We need to be heroes for this one,” said Scott strongly.
“I know I complained about our lack of heroics lately, but now I’m tempted to take it all back,” groaned Iceman.
No one was looking forward to going up against a kid with this kind of power, especially when he was mentally unstable. But whether he was Kevin or Proteus, he had to be stopped. It wasn’t just for the publicity nightmare he was sure to cause. It was personal for Charles Xavier and the whole team.
“Then it’s settled. We’ve got ourselves an official reunion for this fight!” said Warren.
“Let’s hope it’s enough,” said Xavier, “We’ll be in touch, Moira. Please let us know when the device is ready.”
“We will, Charles. And if ye do get through to Kevin…tell him I’m sorry,” said Moira.
“You’ll be able to tell him yourself,” he assured her, “I promise.”
“That goes double for me, luv,” said Sean, giving Moira a tender gesture, “The X-men will make sure he’s safe. Ye can count on it.”
Seeing the X-men, old and new, stand together for her son was a comforting sight. It still may not be enough, but they had to try. Professor Charles Xavier led his team out of his lab. Scott, Jean, Bobby, Warren, Logan, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, and Kitty followed. John, Rahne, and Sean caught up as well. Kurt and Moira anxiously waved goodbye, hoping they would make good on their word. Charles Xavier was able to get through to Kevin once when he was a scared young boy. Now he was going to have to do it again as Kevin descended into madness.
District X – Sage’s Apartment
Upon learning of the situation in England, Hank and Sage worked feverishly to assist in whatever way they could. Using Sage’s computer array, they linked up with the systems on Muir Island so they could coordinate with Forge. There wasn’t much they could do since they weren’t there. At the moment they were going over the data that what was recorded from the ill-fated test earlier. Somewhere within this stream of information may be a means to correct what was done.
“This is all wrong,” he mused restlessly.
“Tell me about it,” said Sage, “These power readings are off the charts! What kind of mutation could get this screwed up?”
“That’s not what I meant. It’s wrong that I am here while my friends are over in England confronting this monstrosity!”
“You had no idea that someone was going to run a foolhardy test on the same day you were paying your girlfriend a visit. Don’t beat yourself up over it.”
“I’m sorry, my dear. But lately it seems as though I’ve negated my contributions in the field!”
“Just because you’ve got the strength of a great ape doesn’t mean you’re best suited for fighting,” said Sage, not taking her eyes of the computer screen, “You can still help your friends by helping me decipher this data.”
Hank groaned to himself, trying hard not to think about his friends and how his not being there was affecting them. Even if the circumstances were beyond his control, he felt he was doing them a disservice. But there was little time to feel guilty. Something had to be done about Kevin.
He looked over the various computer screens that Sage had going. An endless cycle of test data panned over the screen. It detailed measurements like power levels, genetic readings, and psoinic potential. It was well in excess of anything they had ever seen before. Finding a way to use this data to help their friends seemed unlikely at best.
“I can’t believe this Moira woman would do such a thing,” said Sage, “Did she really expect to be able to use her son’s own abilities to fix this? Is she not aware of the basic laws of the conservation of energy?”
“I give her some credit. The numbers she and Forge crunched for this machine were perfectly sound. It appears they just didn’t fully understand the nature of Kevin’s X-gene.”
“To be fair, neither do I,” said Sage as she kept typing, “It was messed up before, showing a very unstable level five alpha capacity. I can only imagine what the test may have done to it.”
“That instability may be the key. If Forge’s new device is to work, he has to know how to properly calibrate it to account for such instabilities.”
Hank started pacing while Sage kept typing. This data was doing nothing other than reminding them of how grim the situation was. They were pinning their hopes on Forge being able to create a machine that would account for all the chaos the first test created. Needless to say, they were skeptical. Something had to be done to improve those odds. Hank searched his brilliant mind for a means of interpreting this vast data. The numbers weren’t as important as the potential. The real issue at hand was how to account for the mysterious nature of Kevin’s mutation. They needed some sort of perspective to work with, but what could they manage at this point?
Then something caught Hank’s eye. Some of the papers he had been looking over earlier on Omega level mutation were strewn on the floor. He and Sage never finished going over all the material. He found himself picking up a few of the papers and looking them over. Looking at the notes from this research and the data coming in from Forge, he had an epiphany.
“By stars and garters, could that be the answer?” he mused.
“What are you talking about? Please tell me you’re seeing something I missed,” said Sage.
“As if any byte of data could ever get past you, my dear,” said Hank, “No, I just conducted an interesting thought experiment. Remember when you said that Kevin’s high level Alpha mutation was unstable?”
“Yes, Moira has been just as confused about it as me,” said Sage.
“Perhaps that is because she isn’t looking at it in the right context,” he said as he quickly gathered the papers, “Bear with me for a moment, but what if the standard measurements for Kevin’s mutation no longer applied? Say in order to fully understand what’s happening to Kevin, a new level of mutation must be applied.”
Sage’s computer-like mind quickly processed what he was getting at. It was enough to make her usual mechanical expression tense.
“Hank…are you suggesting that Kevin MacTaggart is now at Omega level functioning?”
“It would seem to corroborate with the data,” said Hank as he held up some of the papers, “The research done by the Leland Institute made a number of theoretical calculations on the power levels of Omega mutants. Let’s say for the sake of argument that those calculations are valid. Perhaps they could be used to properly configure Forge’s device.”
“That’s still assuming he’s an Omega level mutant,” argued Sage, “Granted, Kevin’s mutation was unstable to begin with, but he was still a level five Alpha.”
“That was before the test,” retorted Beast, “Perhaps the process pushed it in just the right way to attain Omega level status! Since they used Kevin’s own powers to manipulate his mutation, it’s possible it could have affected his X-gene in a more profound manner!”
It seemed outrageous, a high level Alpha becoming an Omega because of one ill-advised test. Sage refused to accept it at first. She started looking over the data again, taking in the readings from the test that Forge and Moira were uploading. The numbers didn’t lie. They truly didn’t make sense in the context of an Alpha mutant. Only the purely theoretical workings of Omega mutants could possibly account for these readings.
“It’s absurd hypothesis on so many levels. But I can think of a way to test it,” said Sage.
“In the world of science, absurdity is to be expected at times,” remarked Hank.
“So then how do you propose we use this knowledge to help the others?”
“By using it to help Forge and Moira calibrate their machine,” said Hank as he gathered as many papers as they could, “Open up a video link with them! I must explain these findings! Forge had best be as good an inventor as his name implies. He’s going to need all his mechanical skill for this to work.”
Flying over the city on the X-jet was like flying over a surrealistic nightmare. Charles Xavier and his X-men gazed with a mix of awe and horror as they took in the landscape below. Proteus was definitely making his presence known. They could make out the path he had walked. From part of the port where he first arrived to the busy streets of the city, a world of destruction followed. However, it wasn’t destruction in the traditional sense. It was something right out of a very twisted and disturbed mind.
As they passed over the streets, they saw buildings that had been warped to resemble jagged and misshapen structures. Cars that had been parked on the street were crushed as if they had gone through a compactor. The streets were carved up, creating a trench-like opening that was lined with the twisted leavings of sewer pipes and power lines. There was no more order or neatness. Everything was like a monument to chaos. In this chaos they could also make out some bodies, or what was left of them. People were already dying and those not caught in the path of destruction were running for their lives. It was a ghastly yet awe-inspiring sight.
“Whoa…it’s like a modern out masterpiece out there!” said Shadowcat.
“More like the mind of a schizophrenic who just happens to be in a homicidal rage,” said Rogue.
“Don’t talk about Kevin like that! He’s not a homicidal killer!” countered Rahne.
“I think those dismembered bodies down there say otherwise,” said Wolverine.
“I’m sure you would know, Wolverine,” muttered Cyclops.
“Let’s not start making judgments on Kevin just yet. Let’s first see if we can get to him!” said Storm.
Storm turned to the Professor, who was sitting next to him in the cockpit.
“Professor, can you and Jean reach his mind?” he asked.
“I’m afraid not, Storm. All I sense is fear and death,” said the Professor grimly, “If Kevin is down there, he’s shutting me out.”
“I can’t reach him either,” groaned Marvel Girl, whose face was already sweating with exhaustion, “All this psionic energy is messing with my telepathy as well! Ugh, I feel another migraine coming on!”
“Try to conserve your strength, Jean,” coaxed Cyclops, “Let the Professor handle the telepathic communication with Kevin. The rest of us need to focus on how we’ll approach this boy when we meet him face-to-face.”
“Looks like we’re going to have to figure that out soon because I think I see him just up ahead!” said Warren as he looked out the window.
The team gathered near the front to see up ahead. As they flew over a couple of blocks they saw the source of the destruction behind them. It was Proteus and he was walking ever so casually through the streets of Liverpool. With every step he took, he unleashed a new path of destruction. Everything in front of him was warped to his whim. He didn’t seem angry or confused. He was just going about his business as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
“My God…what are ye doing, Kevin?” gasped Rahne, now in her Wolfsbane uniform.
“I doubt even he knows, lass,” said Banshee distantly.
“Why don’t we just ask him?” said Thunderbird bluntly.
“Will ye be a little more considerate, John! That’s me brother down there!” yelled Wolfsbane with a wolfish growl.
“Easy there Rahne,” said Banshee, pulling her back, “We didn’t dawn our old X-men uniforms to pick fights with our teammates.”
“Tell that to him,” muttered Wolfsbane, “No wonder ye quit!”
Now it was Thunderbird’s turn scorn, but there was no time to start that old argument. Banshee and Wolfsbane were in their old X-men uniform. It had been a while since they worked with the team. It was a different feeling this time around and they had to get re-acclimated fast.
“John’s charming tone aside, he’s right,” said Cyclops, “We need to get down there and slow Proteus down But try not to enrage him, X-men! We don’t need him pushing the limits of those powers of his!”
“Stop a crazed mutant without making him angry? I think you be forgetting which one of us can warp reality here, homme,” commented Gambit.
“I’m not even sure reality applies anymore,” said Shadowcat distantly.
“I still trust you’ll do what you have to do, X-men,” said Xavier, “I’ll keep trying to reach him. Try and protect civilians as well.”
“They’ll probably have to stop screaming first,” groaned Angel.
“We’ll do everything in our power, sir,” said Cyclops as he shifted the controls of the jet, “I’m taking it into hover. Here we go, team!”
“Aye…just like old times,” said Wolfsbane as she shifted into her half-wolf, half-human form.
The jet settled into a steady hover about a block in front of Proteus’s path. The rear hatch opened, allowing the whole team to exit together. Storm, Banshee, Rogue, and Angel each took to the air on their own. Marvel Girl used her telekinesis to get Cyclops, Iceman, Wolverine, Gambit, Shadowcat, Thunderbird, and the Professor down to the streets below. They landed in a major intersection directly in front of the rampaging figure. By now the vast majority of people in the area had already fled, but a few were still trying to get away.
“Iceman! You, Angel, Rogue, and Gambit protect the civilians!” ordered Cyclops, “The rest of you, clear the way! Don’t give Proteus material to work with!”
“As if he needs it,” said Iceman as he went to work, “Do you have a plan to keep us from getting maimed in the process?”
“I’m working on it! For now just stay out of his way!” said the X-leader.
“That be one bet Gambit won’t be taking,” said the Cajun.
The X-men went to work, coordinating their efforts to help the civilians. Angel and Rogue flew up to the nearby buildings that were still in his path and got as many people out as they could carry. Angel retrieved a couple of young children while Rogue handled a few handicapped adults. Iceman and Gambit took care of the people on the streets. Gambit used a few charged cards to get some people out of their warped cars and Iceman used an ice slide to get them out of the way. Once they were clear, Thunderbird and Marvel Girl used their respective powers to clear the streets of debris. Thunderbird used his strength to push the cars out of the path of Proteus and Marvel Girl used her telekinesis to clear the debris.
“Oh thank you! Thank you so much!” exclaimed a little girl as she clung to her wounded mother, “Please! Get some help for my mommy!”
“Just like old times indeed,” mused Thunderbird.
Cyclops, Wolverine, and Storm helped the rest of the civilians find cover. Cyclops blew a couple of holes through some debris to clear the way and Storm used her winds to guide people through. Professor Xavier also helped things along by urging people to get away with his telepathy.
‘Please remain calm. Let my X-men, help you. Everything is going to be okay.’
“What in the bloody hell was that? Am I going crazy now?!” exclaimed an old man who was limping down the streets with a couple of dock workers supporting him.
“I heard it too. Even if we are crazy, I’ll gladly follow the voices in my head if it leads us away from this bullocks!”
As the civilians cleared out, Proteus drew closer. Shadowcat stayed closed to the Professor, keeping two hands on his wheelchair in case she needed to phase him through debris. A couple of random shards found their way towards them, mostly bricks and stone torn off from buildings by Proteus’s reality warping powers. But he showed no inclination to stop.
“You really think you can reach this guy, Professor? He definitely has the look of someone who has completely lost it!” asked Shadowcat as she anxiously watched him approach.
“I have to try,” he said strongly, “I owe it to Moira.”
While he continued to direct the civilians, Banshee and Wolfsbane ran out ahead of him. They were intent on helping Kevin as well. They braved cracked streets and swirling debris. Banshee used his sonic yells to deflect them while Wolfsbane used her animal-like agility to evade them. They watched as Proteus drew closer, not even acknowledging their presence.
Rahne tried to look him in the eye and see the brother she had grown to love. But in that glowing exterior, she saw no trace of Kevin MacTaggart. There was only Proteus now.
“Kevin! Kevin, can you hear me?!” roared Wolfsbane over the commotion.
“Hello Rahne. It’s a beautiful day for a stroll, isn’t it?”
“Is that what this is to you, Kevin? Do you have the slightest idea what you’re doing?!”
“Please stop calling me, Kevin. I’m Proteus. I won’t bother explaining myself to you or anyone for that matter. You wouldn’t understand.”
His tone was even more stoic than before. It was as if there was nothing human left in him.
“Kevin, lad, don’t shut us out!” urged Banshee, “We’re you’re family, remember? We just want to help you!”
This seemed to get a mild reaction from the figure. It wasn’t much, but it was clearly there. Kevin MacTaggart was not beyond an adverse response.
“You’re not my father, Sean. Ye never were. I have no father. I have no mother either. I am beyond heritage. I’m beyond everything.”
“Now you’re talking crazy, lad! Don’t make me give you a timeout!” yelled Banshee.
Proteus scoffed at his remark. His eyes flashed and a sharp burst of psionic energy erupted from his body, striking both him and Wolfsbane point blank. They were sent flying back, tumbling into the pavement. It was harsh blow in more ways than one. The two former X-men groaned as they picked themselves up.
“A timeout?!” exclaimed Wolfsbane, “That’s how you’re trying to get through to him?!”
“It was worth a try!” groaned Banshee.
“Save your breath, bub! Powers or no powers, he’s a teenage boy! He ain’t into discipline!” said Wolverine as he helped the both of them up.
“If you’re such a parenting expert, what’s you’re alternative?!” asked Banshee.
“Let me try it my way,” said Professor Xavier as he wheeled forward with Shadowcat, “He’s clearly forgotten his humanity. Someone has to remind him.”
“Well remind him fast! He seems to be enjoying his stroll a bit too much!” exclaimed Wolfsbane.
Xavier gathered his strength as he prepared to confront the rampaging boy. Shadowcat remained behind him, holding onto his wheelchair firmly and phasing through whatever obstacles came their way. It was a nerve-racking feeling for her, being counted on to protect the only man who may be able to stop this. But she pushed forward, passing into Proteus’s range where the streets and buildings were being warped beyond recognition.
“Ugh, there’s a lot to phase through!” she groaned as she stumbled over some pipes.
“Keep going, Shadowcat! The closer I am the better chance I have at reaching his mind!” urged the Professor.
She pressed forward, having to phase through a few upsurges of pipes and power lines in the process. The closer she got to Proteus, the more awkward she felt. Her stomach felt like it was being twisted in knots and she was getting somewhat dizzy. But she kept going, braving the nausea and giving the Professor the chance he needed.
Now within ten feet of Proteus, Charles Xavier placed his hands on his temples and reached out to the confused young man with his mind. He was now a shell of raw psionic energy. It was hard to penetrate, but he knew there was a mind inside all that power.
‘Kevin! Kevin, can you hear me? It’s me, Charles Xavier! Remember?’
The rampaging figure finally stopped. His expression didn’t change, but he very clearly recognized the presence before him.
“Charles Xavier…yes, that name does sound familiar.”
‘Think back years ago. Try and remember who you were back then. You weren’t Proteus. You were a scared boy who was afraid of what he was becoming. I’m the one who helped you. We all helped you! Me, your mother, your family…”
Those last words evoked a volatile burst from the glowing figure, one that caused the streets around him to shake.
“No! I have no family! I am beyond such trivial things. You’re wasting your time, Charles Xavier.”
The turbulence increased. Charles Xavier kept his focus and Shadowcat kept her balance, despite being very close to losing her lunch.
“Ungh! I think you’re touching on some sensitive issues, Professor!”
“Then I’m on the right track,” said Xavier strongly.
Focusing even harder, Professor Xavier pushed the limits of his telepathy to reach the boy inside. For a moment, he could almost see him through that glowing shell.
‘You’re confused, Kevin. You believe you’ve become something more than human, but I sense that is not true.! You’re not a god and you’re not above being human. Power or no power, you are still Kevin MacTaggart…a boy who loves football, puzzles, and Monty Python.’
For a brief moment it sounded like he was remembering. His stoic expression shifted and the areas around him started to warp with less fervor. It looked as though he was remembering.
“Come on, Kevin…come back to us!” urged Wolfsbane.
Xavier moved in closer, reaching deeper into his mind. But just as it seemed he was connecting with him, Proteus erupted in a new rage.
“No! Kevin MacTaggart is dead! There is only Proteus!”
‘No Kevin! Don’t!’
The Professor’s psychic calls fell on deaf ears. Proteus clenched his fists and let out another powerful burst of psionic energy. This time it warped an even greater area around him, turning already misshapen buildings and roadways into unrecognizable forms. When the wave hit Xavier, Shadowcat could not phase through it. The resulting shockwave sent them flying back, knocking them clear out of the bubble of warped reality. Tunderbird, Banshee, and Cyclops were there to catch them. None were very encouraged by what they saw.
“Professor! Are you okay?” asked Cyclops urgently.
“I…I’m fine,” said Xavier, rubbing his now sore temple.
“Ungh, wish I could say the same!” groaned Shaodwcat, “I feel like my stomach and throat just traded places!”
“What about Kevin?!” exclaimed Wolfsbane.
“I…I’m not sure! All this power around him…I’ve never felt anything like it!”
“Can ye still get through to him?” asked Banshee.
“In his current state…no,” lamented Charles, “His mind is in complete chaos!”
“That leaves only one option, Professor,” said Thunderbird in a stern tone, “We bring him back down to our level!”
“Are ye crazy?!” exclaimed Wolfsbane, “You’ll get ripped to pieces!”
“Maybe, but I think Banshee had the right idea. The boy needs a timeout. Maybe then he’ll listen to reason!” argued the Native American mutant.
“He’s right, Professor! We have to at least slow him down! He’s causing too much destruction!” said Cyclops.
Professor Xavier didn’t like the idea. This was still Moira’s son. He made a promise to her that he would help him, but seeing him in this meaningless rampage he saw no other option.
“Sorry sir, but we’ve got no choice!” said Thunderbird as he and Cyclops sprang into action.
“X-men! Surround Proteus! Concentrate your firepower and hit him with everything you’ve got!” ordered Cyclops.
“About time we give this boy a spanking!” growled Wolverine as he drew his claws.
It was an order the X-men hoped not to hear, but there was no way around it. Too many people had been hurt and Proteus showed no signs of letting up. Charles Xavier watched as Cyclops, Wolveirne, Storm, Angel, Marvel Girl, Rogue, Iceman, Gambit, Thunderbird, and Gambit got into position. It pained him to see this. So many people he cared about were putting themselves at risk and he was powerless to stop them. While he reeled from his ill-fated encounter, Wolfsbane and Shadowcat stayed with him. Together, they pulled him away so he wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire of the attack.
“Professor…I don’t think we can stop this thing!” said Shadowcat.
“We have to!” said a very weakened Charles Xavier, “I made Moira a promise!”
“I’m sure my mom wouldn’t hold it against ye,” said Wolfsbane as she gazed sadly at her brother, “I hope she and Forge come up with something soon! It looks like Kevin’s beyond help at this point.”
Muir Island – Forges Workshop
The clock was ticking for Moira and Forge. The reports they were hearing Liverpool were not good. Kevin’s tantrum was attracting international attention. It didn’t appear likely that Xavier in his X-men would be able to slow him down. Their best bet was Forge’s device. It was a daunting challenge considering how much Kevin mangled it earlier. Thankfully, they got a break that may turn the tide
“Hurry up, Forge! I got the helicopter ready for takeoff!” exclaimed an urgent Moira MacTaggart as she ran out from the workshop.
“I’m almost finished! Just need to make a few more adjustments!” said Forge as he continued to work feverishly.
He continued to adjust the inner workings of his new device. It looked the same as the old one, only this was a bit more compact. It had to be if they were to get it out into the field. It had only one generator, but with the addition of some amplifiers in should be enough. ANd unlike the previous version, this device would be tailor made to handle Proteus’s current state.
While Forge was working, he kept a link open with Beast and Tessa. They provided a new approach that allowed him to rewire his device properly. The information they provided on Omega level mutants was just what he needed. Even if they were theoretical, using them as a reference could be the difference between success and failure. Beast walked him through the configurations through a nearby video link.
“Make sure the settings are in line with the new frequencies we’ve calculated! In order for this device to taper an Omega level mutation, the stabilizing variations must be in line with the transducer fluctuations!”
“I’ve already hard wired them in! I just need to properly tune them with the amplifiers!” assured Forge, “Thank Tessa for getting those calculations worked out so fast! If they’re right, Kevin’s psionic flow should be neutralized!”
“You can thank me by getting this device into the field as soon as possible! Charles and the others won’t be able to hold Proteus off for long!”
“They’re X-men! I’m sure they’ll find a way!”
Forge made the last few adjustments and closed the wiring panels. The device was configured and ready for use. The stakes were much higher this time. Even if it was on short notice, he had to make it count.
As he was finishing up, Nightcrawler appeared in a puff of smoke. He was just as anxious as Beast to get to his their friends. For all they knew they could already be mortally injured.
“Please tell me you’re ready, mien friend! Miss MacTaggart is anxious to get going!” he said.
“So running a final check is out, I assume,” groaned Forge as he cleared away his tools.
“Vill it vork without one?”
“Guess we’ll find out soon enough! I like to think our chances are much better this time thanks to your furry friend! But I still don’t know!”
Realizing it was now or never, Forge quickly packed up everything he needed. He gave Nightcrawler the power generator to hold while he held onto the device and a few of his tools.
“Let’s get going!” said Forge as he grabbed onto Nightcrawler’s shoulder, “Guess I’ll have to give you a crash course on the dangers of reverse psionic transducers on the way!”
Forge didn’t sound too comfident and Nightcrawler could sense a great deal of uncertainty in the mutant inventor. If they were to be the miracle Kevin needed, it was going to be a stretch.
“God help us all,” sighed Nightcrawler.
In a puff of sulfurous smoke, the two mutants disappeared to meet Moira on the landing pad where the helicopter was waiting. This was their final chance. If they were to stop Kevin and save their friends, this had to work.
The X-men stood together, ready to attack the raging Proteus as a team. Unlike foes in the past, this wasn’t someone they could directly confront. Just being within his field of psionic energy was potentially deadly so they were going to have to keep their distance and be smart about their attack. In addition to the danger, some had a very personal aversion to such a fight.
“Kevin, lad…this breaks me heart,” said Banshee as he joined the attack.
“Buy him some ice cream later! Just be telling yourself that this is for his own good!” said Gambit as he took out a full deck of cards.
The X-men got into position, standing just outside Proteus’s psionic range. Everybody with projection blasts got in front of him. Cyclops, Iceman, Gambit, and Banshee formed a line and took aim at the glowing figure. With Cyclops taking lead, turning his visor to it’s most powerful setting, they unleashed a concentrated burst directly towards the rampaging mutant.
“All together now! FIRE!” he ordered.
A wave of optic blasts, charged cards, ice beams, and sonic waves clashed with Proteus. The powerful psionic field around him diverted and even bent the incoming blasts, causing them to skew randomly about and causing further damage to the area. Despite this effect, it still slowed Proteus down. He had to stop in mid stride, holding his glowing hands out and using his powers to divert the blasts. He showed little signs of exertion, but that didn’t stop the X-men.
“Such an annoyance. Is this all the power ye can muster?”
“Far from it!” retorted Cyclops as he stepped up his power.
While he, Gambit, Iceman, and Banshee kept up their assault Storm and Marvel Girl flew off to attack him from the side. Storm got into position on the right and Marvel Girl got in position on the left. Together, they concentrated their power while staying out of Proteus’s range. Storm formed a powerful whirlwind around the glowing figure, forming clouds as well packed with lightning. Marvel Girl supplemented those blasts with telekinetic bursts, which could only be so forceful due to the lingering throbbing in her head.
“Ungh! When did telekinesis get so hard?” groaned the young psychic.
“Is everything alright, Marvel Girl?” asked Storm, noticing her distressed state.
“Don’t worry about me! Just keep up that F5 tornado!”
Storm and Marvel Girl managed to utterly shroud Proteus in a mix if wind, fog, and debris. Now obstructed from view, Rogue and Thunderbird moved in so they could add to the assault. The two of super strong mutants got behind the glowing figure, grabbing a couple of intact cars in the process to use as weapons. Careful not to enter Proteus’s deadly psionic field, they took aim and heaved the heavy vehicles into the whirlwind. The lightning from Storm’s clouds quickly ignited them, causing fires to erupt and random metal shards to swirl with the winds. It was hard to make out Proteus’s metal figure in the mix, but they could tell he was struggling with it.
“Can you even tell if this is working?” said Rogue over the commotion.
“It’s stopped him in his tracks, hasn’t it?” said Thunderbird, “That’s reason enough to not let up!”
Thunderbird grabbed the next heavy object he could find, which happened to be a misshapen mailbox, and threw it into the whirlwind. Shaking her head, Rogue followed suit and did the same with another car.
While they were piling on the debris for Proteus, Angel flew in overhead well above the whirlwind. He was high above the ground and able to peer right into the eye of the whirlwind. There he could see Proteus, frozen in place and pushing back against the onslaught with his powers. It was hard to tell if he was under any strain, but he was still standing so the attack had to continue. In his arms watching the scene below was Wolverine. His claws were drawn and he stood ready to take on Proteus directly. Power or no power, this kid needed to be reminded that he was not above a good beating.
“Fly in a little lower! I want to land right on his head!” said Wolverine intently.
“Do I need to list the number of ways this is a bad idea, Wolverine?!” exclaimed Angel.
“Shut up and drop me in, bird boy!”
“Why do I even bother?” groaned the winged mutant.
Ignoring the obvious danger, Angel swooped in with Wolverine in hand ready to give him a face-to-face encounter with Proteus. He flew up in an arc and dove head first towards the eye of the whirlwind. Once he was low enough, he let Wolverine go and gravity did the rest.
Now falling directly towards the glowing figure, Wolverine clenched his fists and braced himself for impact. He could already feel the area around him becoming wavy and twisted, reeking havoc on his internal organs. He managed to ignore the discomfort and let out a feral roar as he neared his target.
“Time to settle the fuck down, kid! Hrrrraaahhhhhhhhh!”
Braving the psionic pluses, Wolverine made it all the way to his glowing form. He hit him right on his glowing head with his feet. But the impact wasn’t what he expected. It wasn’t like hitting a person or a solid object. It was like slamming right into a raw force with no substance behind it. As soon as he impacted, Proteus looked up and narrowed his gaze on Wolverine. Within a microsecond after impact, he clenched his fists and used his psionic powers to suspend the feral mutant in the air before him. Wolverine struggled, feeling as though his limbs had turned to stone. Proteus made it clear that he was the one in control.
The swirling winds and attacks from the others continued to pass around him without him exerting much effort. This fight was a joke to him, one he found neither humorous nor entertaining.
“I’ve had quite enough of this game. Now we play by my rules!”
With that forceful tone, Proteus unleashed his largest burst of psionic energy yet. In a blinding flash, a powerful shockwave erupted from his glowing body. It inundated the whole area, consuming not just the X-men but the whole block as well. As soon as they felt this burst, they were leveled as if a building had just fallen on them.
“Auuggggghhhhhhhh!” they all exclaimed.
They found themselves tossed around as if they were bits of dust and litter. Storm’s whirlwind, Iceman’s ice, Gambit’s cards, and the heavy objects thrown by Rogue and Thunderbird were utterly annihilated by the psionic force. Three nearby buildings even collapsed under this blast. Wolverine, who was at the epicenter of it all, was literally launched into the air beyond the point where Angel initially dropped him. It was an incredible show of force and Proteus didn’t seem to break a sweat unleashing it.
When the blast faded, every X-men was on the ground and down for the count. Cyclops, Gambit, Iceman, and Banshee had all been knocked back into a trench formed by a crack in the street. Marvel Girl and Storm were knocked out of the air and fell to the ground below. Rogue and Thunderbird were sent flying into some nearby debris from the collapsed buildings. Angel, who was up in the air at the time, was stunned and came crashing to the ground below just behind the Professor. Their attack had been stopped cold. The full extent of the power they faced didn’t become clear until Wolverine fell back to the ground, landing with a hard thud not far from Storm.
“Hnn…Logan!” she cried out as she struggled to her feet.
When she reached him, she saw that he was clearly very hurt. His whole body was covered in reddish-purple bruises. A good deal of his arms were burned to the bone. He was in a lot of pain too. Even with a healing factor, that blow was pretty intense.
“Logan…Logan, are you okay?” she said as she tried to help him up.
“Augh!” he grunted in pain, “I’d like to say...I’ve survived worse. But this is right up there!”
Storm gathered her strength and tried to help her lover. Others remained stunned, unable to return to their feet. Charles Xavier had been knocked out of his wheelchair, which was now mangled with the debris. Shadowcat and Wolfsbane were nearby, but fared better since they weren’t as close. It still left them hurt and dazed.
“Ugh…not to knock your brother, Rahne. But he’s kind of a jerk!” groaned Shadowcat.
“He…he’s confused!” said Wolfsbane as she stammered to her feet, “He doesn’t know any better! I have to…”
“Rahne don’t!” urged the Professor.
But she didn’t listen. The half-canine girl stumbled forward in an effort to approach her brother.
“You always were stubborn, Rahne. You and your friends still don’t get it. I could have easily killed every last one of you with that blast, but I didn’t. I made sure you survived. For the annoyance you’ve caused me, I plan on using you to demonstrate the full extent of my new power.”
Using his psionic powers, he caused the crumbled street Wolfsbane was walking on to come to life. Before she could take another step, she was encased up to her waist in asphalt. It was painful and even in her wolf-form, she struggled. Yet she still tried to reach her brother.
“Kevin please! Why are you doing this?!”
“For the same reason any god does anything…because I can.”
To reinforce his point, he had the asphalt tighten around her. Rahne howled out in pain, but it did little to dissuade the deranged young man. He was going to do as he pleased and nothing was going to stop him.
Then from the skies above, a new presence entered this warped conflict. A lone helicopter came flying in and settled over the epicenter from where the most recent psionic burst did so much damage.
“Let her go, Kevin!” exclaimed Moira MacTaggart from the aircraft, “This must end!”
Proteus barely looked up to acknowledge the voice. He let out a light psionic burst to push the helicopter back. It shuttered briefly, but before it flew away Moira, Forge, and Nightcrawler teleported out of the main holding area. In a puff of smoke, they appeared right in front of the trapped Wolfsbane. Moira and Nightcrawler were each holding a box-shaped generator and Forge had the newly completed device in hand. The three antenna tips were already glowing with the same bright blue energy as earlier, only this time it was much more intense.
“What’s this? More annoyances?”
“Don’t make us do this, Kevin! You’re my son! I just want to help ye!”
“Gods don’t require help. Nor do they require approval from those pretending to understand. Either get out of my way or face my wrath!”
Moira’s heart sank. There was little trace of the boy she birthed in his tone. He wasn’t her son anymore. He was a monster.
“Sorry Moira, but I’ll have to take that as permission to proceed!” said Forge as he readied his machine.
“Aye…do what ye have to do, Forge.”
Moira and Nightcrawler braced themselves, holding the generators steady as Forge activated the machine. With the push of a button, the complex device erupted in a fury of sparks and light. In a powerful burst, a narrow blue beam shot out from the antennas and struck Proteus head on. Immediately, there was a reaction.
“What’s this? This energy feels…strange.”
“Is it vorking, Forge?” said Nightcrawler.
“In a minute we’ll either know or won’t care!” said the mutant inventor.
The glowing energy around Proteus began to fluctuate. The warped surroundings caused by his psionic outbursts suddenly waned as if they were being drawn back into Proteus himself. For the first time, the imposing figure showed signs of strain. He started stumbling and the energy surrounding him became less bright. As he grew dimmer, the blue beam grew stronger. Soon the energy from the device had fully engulfed him.
“My power…you’re taking it!”
“Easy Kevin,” coaxed Moira, “We’re just trying to get it under control.”
“No! Gods cannot be controlled!”
His pulsating body grew brighter once more. He fought to regain his composure and started resisting the beam. Putting his hands up, he literally pushed back against it. The area around him started to warp again. The pulsing pinkish glow that inundated his body shifted, becoming darker and more intense as if to reflect his enraged state.
“He’s resisting, Forge! Do something!” urged Nightcrawler.
“I…I can’t!” he said as he struggled to hold onto the shaking device, “There isn’t enough power to…”
In a furious rage, Proteus unleashed another burst of psionic energy from his body to counter the energy from the machine. This burst was so strong it completely deflected the beam and turned it back on the device. When it hit, it erupted in a miniature explosion that sent Moira, Forge, and Nightcrawler falling back. It was a devastating blow, taking out what seemed to be their last hope at stopping Proteus.
“No…” gasped Professor Xavier.
“So uh…do we have a plan C?” wondered Shadowcat.
“As if it would do us any good,” groaned Iceman, who was emerging from the trench with Cyclops and the others.
The glow of his body was bright red, reflecting a heightened state of anger. Proteus was no longer just annoyed. He was outraged. These simple creatures tried to take away his power. They were trying to rob him of these god-like abilities. For that, they had to pay.
Clenching his fist, Proteus unleashed another series of psionic waves. The streets and buildings around him began to warp more severely. This wave expanded well beyond his initial range. It quickly engulfed Professor Xavier, Moira, Forge, and the rest of the X-men. As soon as it consumed them, they all felt a strange sense of distortion. It was as if their bodies and minds were being twisted from within. They found themselves levitated in the air so they were hovering a few feet off the ground. They were then drawn closer towards Proteus so every one of them hovered about fifteen feet from his glowing form. They were all truly at Proteus’s mercy now.
“Ungh! My head! Feels like my skeleton is trying to leap out or something!” exclaimed Angel.
“Ahhhhhh! Now Ah know how mud feels!” groaned Rogue.
“Now I see what this is about! You’re jealous! I have the power to bend reality to my whim! And you are trying to steal it for yourselves! Well I won’t let you!”
“Kevin, lad…you’ve got it all wrong!” grunted Banshee as he struggled.
“Hnn...do something about your kid, Sean! I think my brain is about to fall out through my nose!” groaned Thunderbird.
“Listen to yourself, Kevin! This isn’t you!” exclaimed Wolfsbane.
“Shut up! I know exactly who I am! I could end you all right now with a whim! But for being such an annoyance, I’ll give you a taste of true power! See for yourselves why you’re not fit to wield it!”
“Kevin…” cried Moira.
But even the cries of his mother couldn’t stop him at this point. Burning with rage, Proteus clenched his fists and unleashed another wave of psionic energy. This time it was focused on his hovering victims. As soon as it consumed them, they were struck in a myriad of disturbing ways.
“Auuuuugggghhhhhh! Make it stop! Make it stop!” exclaimed Iceman.
“My fur...on fire! Yet freezing cold!” shivered Nightcrawler.
“Can’t see! Eyes! No longer in my head!” groaned Cyclops.
It was like being plunged into their worst nightmares. Moira, Forge, Xavier, and the X-men felt their bodies and minds become twisted in many bizarre ways. Moira and Xavier felt their skulls swell. Forge felt his body turn into a series of gears and cables. Banshee and Rahne felt their senses witch organs so they heard through their eyes and saw with their ears. They watched as the world around them devolved into a wavy, incoherent mess. Everything they saw, heard, and felt was thrown into chaos.
It wasn’t just painful, it was maddening. As they contorted in pain, some even had visions. Wolverine watched his claws turn into snakes. Thunderbird felt his head turn into that of a vulture. Shadowcat watched her arms and legs disappear into thin air. Cyclops watched his visor turn into a monstrous creature that started consuming his head. Angel felt his wings turn into a straight-jacket. Storm felt her hair turn to snakes. Nightcrawler felt his fir catch on fire while being covered in ice. Conversely, Iceman felt his ice shell body catch on fire while his skin felt painfully cold. Rogue felt her skin fall off while Gambit felt his turn to that of a crocodile. Everybody had visions that were tailor made to attack their very sanity.
Proteus seethed with intent, watching as those around him were pushed to their limits by his bizarre show of power. It was but a taste of what he himself experienced in this heightened state. They should have known better than to stand in his way. This was their punishment. He could sense it wearing them down, tearing them apart, and preparing them for the final blow.
“Cry all you want! Pray if you wish! I’m a god without mercy and you deserve none!”
Proteus escalated his reality warping attack. For some, however, the effect was different. Jean Grey started having visions of a different kind The nightmare she had earlier where she was consumed by fire was back with a vengeance. This time it was so vivid. Proteus’s power was actually pushing her towards them, breaking down every barrier she put up to control herself and manage her migraines. As soon as they were shattered, she felt something come over her.
“Stop…make it stop!” she struggled, “The power…it’s coming for me! I…I feel it! I must…try to…AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
In a burst that surprised even Proteus, Marvel Girl was consumed by a mysterious flame. Her eyes flashed bright orange, mimicking the fiery embers around her. Then in a dazzling show of power, she unleashed a blast of her own. This time Proteus was the victim. His psionic bursts were completely blown back against him. His hold on the X-menwas abruptly shattered. Proteus himself was actually blown back into a pile of debris from a collapsed buildings. Stunned, the glowing figure looked up to see a hovering Marvel Girl looming over him.
“Proteus! You think you know true power?! Have a taste of the fires of creation!”
Her voice had changed, no longer reflecting that of Jean Grey. In her new state she unleashed a burst of fiery flames that warped and distorted Proteus’s exotic form. For the first time, he was feeling pain and weakness. He was supposed to be above these feelings. Now they were stronger than ever.
While Marvel Girl had Proteus subdued, the X-men and the others struggled to recover. Professor Xavier was the first to rise up and take note of what was going on. Next to him Moira, Forge, and Nightcrawler groaned as they rose to their hands and knees. Shadowcat and Wolfsbane followed suit. They too were dazed by what was happening.
“Ugh! I think I just lost my lunch for the next three months!” groaned Shadowcat.
“More like three years,” groaned Wolfsbane, as she looked up at Marvel Girl, “What just happened? What’s with Jean?”
“Honestly, Rahne…I have no idea,” said Xavier in a daze.
Not far from them, the rest of the team was taking notice as well. Cyclops and Banshee were back on their feet and helped Iceman and Gambit up. Wolverine and Storm were next to them, now with Storm needing to lean on Wolverine for support despite him still being badly bruised. Rogue and Thunderbird joined them as well, carrying along a very dazed-looking Angel. They were all affected by Proteus’s assault, but those effects became secondary as they saw what was going on with Marvel Girl.
“Whoa…did Jean always have that kind of power?” said Gambit.
“Not to my knowledge,” said Thunderbird as he looked worriedly at his former lover.
“Is this a good or bad thing?” groaned Rogue.
“She’s holding back Proteus on her own! I think it’s a little of both!” said Iceman.
Everyone was confused. The only one who had a faint idea of what was happening was Cyclops. He had seen that look in her eye before. It was the look she had when she was using Magneto’s machine to stop that asteroid. Only this one was much worse.
“Jean! What’s going on?! Talk to me!” he exclaimed as he ran towards her.
“Don’t be stupid, Summers!” said Wolverine, who stopped him in mid-stride, “Whatever she’s doing, it’s working!”
“No! Something’s wrong!” said Cyclops, shoving him aside, “We have to…”
But he didn’t get a chance. Marvel Girl let out another fiery burst. This time the whole team felt it in along with Proteus. It caused them all to shield their eyes and back off. When the flash cleared, Marvel Girl had fallen back to the ground. Proteus looked down for the count as well, hunched over a pile of debris.
Cyclops quickly recovered and ran towards his lover, who looked as if she was having some sort of seizure. It was beyond the usual migraine or power surge. This was something else entirely.
“Jean! Stay with me, babe! What just happened?!” he exclaimed.
The young psychic looked up at him, her eyes still burning a fiery orange.
“Scott…” she said weakly, “It…it’s coming.”
Before she could get any more words out, her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she passed out. The flames around her faded and Cyclops caught her. Whatever this was it involved much more than migraines and nightmares. It deeply concerned him, but there little time to muse over it. Proteus was still active.
From the pile of rubble, the glowing figure stammered up. He looked different now. His pulsing reddish glow had reverted to a light pinkish aura. The area around him was still warping randomly, but in a much smaller capacity. Through his glowing eyes, a new expression formed. It was one he had yet to show since the ill-fated experiment.
“This…this feeling. It…it hurts. I feel pain…suffering…loss. But that’s impossible. I…I am beyond those things. I…I am Proteus. Aren’t I?”
Many of the X-men were still reeling from the assault they endured, but seeing Proteus so dazed and confused presented their first and possibly last opportunity.
“He’s down for the count! Let’s finish this!” urged Thunderbird.
“Ungh…after what he did? Do you really want to piss him off again?!” exclaimed Angel.
“He’s right! We may not get another chance!” said Wolverine, who was still healing.
Wolverine, Thunderbird, and another of X-men positioned themselves to attack. Rogue, Iceman, and Gambit joined them. They carefully approached the dazed Proteus. But before they could strike, Charles Xavier intervened.
“Wait!” he exclaimed, “Stand down, X-men!”
“This kid’s done enough damage, Chuck!” barked Wolverine, “It’s time we finish this!”
“You’re right! And I can end it! Which is why you must stand down!”
Xavier rarely used that sort of tone when giving orders. When he did, his X-men knew to obey. Wolverine was still fuming, his body still heavily bruised. That warping he endured didn’t help much either. Others shared his sentiment, but seeing the look in Xavier’s eyes was enough to push those lingering feelings aside.
Now without his wheelchair, Wolfsbane and Banshee stepped forth to help move the Professor in closer. Moira remained behind, who was being watched over by Shadowcat and Nightcrawler. She was still dazed from what she endured earlier, but she was still conscious enough to see what Charles was doing.
“Charles…what are you doing?”
“It’ll be okay, Moira. Trust me,” he assured her.
“I hope you’re right this time, Charles,” said Banshee.
“Ve all are,” said Nightcrawler, “He still looks...lost.”
“No one is ever truly. Kevin is still in there. He was never gone to begin with.”
“Well tell him to come back to us!” said Wolfsbane, who was limping somewhat as she helped Xavier along, “I want me brother back!”
Xavier knew the stakes. A lot of people were counting on him. Moira, Kevin, and his X-men needed him to succeed and he had no intention of letting them down.
Banshee and Wolfsbane braved the psionic energy still radiating from Proteus so they were a mere ten feet away from him. They managed to hold Xavier up so he could look Proteus in the eye as he tried once again to reach him. This time, he pushed his telepathic powers to the limit.
“Kevin…I’m here,” said the Professor.
“You…Professor Xavier. I…I remember now. Tell me…why am I feeling this? What is going on?!”
“What you’re feeling is entirely normal. Pain…suffering…remorse…these are all reminders that you are not a god. You are still a boy...a boy with limits.”
“No! That’s impossible! It has to be a trick!”
“It’s no trick, Kevin. These feelings aren’t meaningless. They are remnants of your humanity, which I know is still there. You may think it is gone, but you’re wrong. That pain you feel is just a hint of what you’ve been ignoring. All the damage you’ve done and people you’ve hurt has affected you. The more you suppress it, the worse it’ll gets.”
“You’re lying! This is all a ploy! A trick to steal my power!”
Proteus’s body started pulsing again, hinting he was getting his power back. The X-men all tensed, preparing to move in if they had to. But Moira waved them down, urging them to give Xavier a chance.
“You know what I’m saying is true. You learned with me all those years ago, remember?” the Professor went on, “Let go of this madness, Kevin.”
“Yes you can. Let me show you!”
Closing his eyes, Professor Xavier reached out to the mind of Kevin MacTaggart with all his might. Even in his dazed state, there was a lot of psionic fodder to get through. He was still able to penetrate it and touch the mind of the scared young boy. Xavier reached through the shell of madness and with his powerful psyche, he took the hand of the boy locked away inside. As soon as he did, Proteus was overcome with a wave of new feelings.
In an instant the humanity he had surpressed came back to him. Every thought, feeling, and emotion overwhelmed him all at once. All the people he hurt, including his own family, filled him with dread and sorrow. These were not the feelings of a god. These were the feelings of a sad teenage boy who had done terrible things to good people.
His cries were accompanied with another shift in his glowing aura. Now it was very dark, almost black. Very little area around him was warping anymore. In his pain, he fell to his knees and started crying hysterically.
“Nooooo! What have I done?!”
“Shh…it’s okay, Kevin. It’s going to be okay,” said Professor Xavier.
“We’re here now, lad,” said Banshee calmly as he approached.
“We’ve always been here for ye,” added Moira with tears in her eyes.
Proteus looked up at the sad eyes before him. He saw his family, his friends, and the X-men all looking at him desperately. Still overcome with emotion, he closed his eyes and tried to become Kevin MacTaggart again. For a moment his human form appeared. It looked as though he was finally regaining control.
“Ye can do it, Kevin!” urged Wolfsbane, “We’re with ye!”
Kevin kept trying, but it was no use. His body kept reverting to his glowing form. He erupted in more sobs. All these feelings he was feelings along with the power that had consumed him was just too much. He cried harder and harder, clinging desperately to what little sanity still remained.
“I…I can’t! it’s too late!”
“It’s never too late, Kevin!” urged Professor Xavier, “You did it before. You can do it again!”
Proteus looked up again. He looked towards Charles Xavier and then at his mother, who was watching with tears streaming down her face. Seeing their sorrow and the destruction he was causing, he knew what he had to do.
“Mom…dad…Rahne…I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
Suddenly, his body flashed bright pink again. Xavier, Banshee, and Wolfsbane stammered back, feeling another release of psionic energy. But this time there was no destruction or attack. The area near Moira where Forge’s device lay damaged came to life. Forge, who was still recovering, was forced to pull back from psionic energy simmering around him. Then in a strange display of reality warping, the device was re-energized with a new wave of limitless energy. Within seconds it charged up, the antennas the glowing the same color as Proteus. The device then pointed itself right at Kevin and in a blinding flash, fired at full power.
As soon as it struck Kevin, the glowing outline of his figure was completely consumed in a blinding flash. The mysterious aura that made up his previously unstoppable form was overwhelmed and in one final burst of light, his body literally disintegrated. It all happened within the span of a few seconds. When it was all over and the light from the device had faded, Kevin MacTaggart was gone.
“KEVIN!” Moira cried out in anguish.
“NOOOOOOO!” cried Wolfsbane.
Professor Xavier and the X-men stood in shock at what they just saw. Looking around, there was no trace of Proteus. There was no more reality warping or rampaging destruction. His psionic form had been scattered in all directions. He was gone, having given up hope and sacrificing himself to prevent further anguish.
Still reeling from the attack, the team gathered in the rubble where Proteus once stood. Rogue, Thunderbird, and Storm gathered to help the Professor, who was still in a state of shock. Wolfsbane couldn’t hold onto him anymore, now utterly distraught. Banshee, who was broken up himself, promptly handed the Professor off to the others so he could embrace his adopted daughter. Nightcrawler and Shadowcat tried to help Moira to her feet, but she was inconsolable. Iceman and Gambit came to help, but it was no use. She wouldn’t stop crying.
Wolverine helped Cyclops with Marvel Girl, who was still unconscious after her earlier outburst. He also helped Forge back up, who was staring in a daze at his now smoldering machine. Shaking his head in disbelief, he surmised what happened.
“He…overloaded the device,” said the mutant inventor, “He actually used his own energy to power it. Somehow he knew it would tear him apart.”
“How the hell did he manage that?” growled Wolverine, who was finally healing up.
“I have no idea,” said Forge as he ran his hand over the machine, “He knew he couldn’t control the power he possessed. So he…ended it.”
It was a grim conclusion to a dire situation. Kevin MacTaggart chose to kill himself rather than live on and struggle with this power. Remembering his humanity led him to do what he thought was best for those he cared about. For Moira and Charles Xavier, it was a terrible price to pay.
Eventually, Moira made her way over to Charles. Tears were streaming down her face as she glanced over the area where her son once stood. Now he was no more and the hole in her heart was immense.
“Moira…I’m so sorry,” he said.
“Kevin…my baby boy,” she wept, “Oh god! My baby boy!”
The saddened mother collapsed in a new round of sobs. Banshee and Wolfsbane had to set aside their own pain and help her. She ended up burying her face in Banshee’s shoulder. Wolfsbane reverted back to her human form so she could join them in this sad moment.
It was a sight that Charles Xavier couldn’t bear to watch. His X-men cast him a look of sympathy. Looking back at them and looking at the area where Kevin ended his life, his demeanor sank with his heart. Beyond the tragedy, his message of hope and humanity had resulted in a terrible price. He didn’t just lose Kevin. He hurt himself and his students. To make matters worse, their cause was sure to endure a tremendous blow. All this death and destruction, started by the first mutant he helped, exacted a heavy toll.
“I’m sorry, my X-men. I’ve failed you,” he said sadly.
“You did all you could, Professor,” said Thunderbird, “You didn’t fail us.”
“Ja, zhere vas nothing more you could have done,” coaxed Nightcrawler.
“No…I made a promise to Kevin and to Moira. And I wasn’t able to keep it,” he said sadly, “It wasn’t just Kevin that paid the price. So many more will suffer because of my failure!”
“But we can’t stop fighting, right?” said Storm.
Charles Xavier looked back sadly at his students, showing a rare moment of weakness.
“I’m sorry, Storm. But I honestly don’t know anymore.”
Next Issue: Mounting Losses
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