In a world that hates and fears them, Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men fight for peace and understanding. But while peace has been hard to come by, understanding has been even harder. In wake of the deadly rampage by Proteus, the public seems eager to condemn all mutants as threats. Senator Robert Kelly stands ready to oblige them with his presidential campaign. There remains but one obstacle between him and this goal.
With help from growing love interest, Lilandra Neramani, Professor Xavier is set to debate Senator Kelly in a worldwide broadcast. This final plea for peace may be his last chance to salvage his dream from the nightmare left by Proteus. The event is already underway and it is up to the X-men to make sure no mutant related incidents exacerbate the situation.
As it turns out, a dark plot is being hatched in the jungles of Panama. Arkady Rossovich, better known as Omega Red, is set to make a deal with Shaw Industries. This deal in addition to being a threat for mutant relations has very personal stake for Wolverine, who has history with Omega Red. With a handful of X-men and with the help of the menacing but obnoxious Deadpool, they hope to thwart this deal. However, the situation has already grown volatile and promises to get much worse.
Korea – Early 70s
“Some folks are born! Made to wave the flag! Ooh, of the red, white and blue! Yeeeaaaahhhhhh baby! I love this song!”
Logan rolled his eyes as the obnoxious singing of his partner, Wade Wilson, filled their transport chopper. Flying over the rugged terrain of Northern Korea on a typical suicide mission, this was hardly the time for singing. He had come to expect as such from a man who recently earned the nickname, Merc with a Mouth.
“Damn it, Wade! Will you save the singing to the fat lady already?” he said as he turned off the radio, “We don’t need Omega Red getting the drop on us and your singin’ is a dead giveaway!”
“Ahhh lighten up, Logan! It’s not like we’re going up against the big man himself! It’s just a simple get-in get-out raid followed by some light carpet bombing!” said the masked mercenary as he casually twirled his guns.
“There ain’t such a thing as simple with guys like this. He shouldn’t even be alive after what I did to him years ago!”
“I’ll bet! Guess you should have chopped him up into smaller pieces.”
“I wish! But he’s back and I gotta finish the job this time,” said Logan seriously.
“Oh don’t look so worried!” said Wade, giving him a friendly slap on the back, “Look at it another way. This time you got a partner to help! I may be crazier than a sack of ferrets, but I can get the job done!”
“I’m inclined to agree, but I don’t want to insult the sack of ferrets.”
“There now, you see! That’s exactly the kind of thing I help you with!” Wade pointed out, “Name one instance before you met me when you made a joke like that!”
Logan didn’t usually smile, especially when they were about to be air dropped into the middle of hostile territory. But Wade Wilson, as crazy as he was, did get him to see things from a lighter perspective. Being pretty messed up himself, Logan needed it. It was especially important for missions like this when he was chasing old ghosts from his past. Omega Red was a figure he hoped to never see again, but as usual his past came back to haunt him. In a ways he envied Wade. His insanity made it easier to cope with their grim history.
“You really are crazy, Wade. Why I saved you from Weapon X I’ll never know,” Logan said with a half grin.
“Maybe it’s because you have a soft spot for guys who can make you laugh?”
“That or maybe I’m a little crazy myself.”
“One of these days I’m going to get you to grow a sense of humor, Logan. Team X is so bland without someone who can laugh!”
“As if you don’t compensate enough,” he quipped, “No wonder we’re such a good team.”
“What can I say? We put the funk in dysfunctional!” proclaimed Deadpool.
Logan grinned again, a feeling he was still getting used to. It helped prepare him for the task at hand. The helicopter swooped in lower as they neared the target location. The two men held their assault rifles steady and prepared to make their move.
“So what’s the plan? Just go in, blow everything up, and piss Omega man off even more?” said Wade.
“Yep! Same as damn near every plan we’ve ever had!” affirmed Logan.
“Sounds like a walk in the park on Sunday!” grinned Wade as he cocked his gun, “If we had a picnic basket, it would be perfect!”
“It’ll settle for a sit-down with Omega Red himself! We got a long list of old scores to settle and I ran out of patience with this asshole years ago!”
“Is it really that bad? Because there’s always therapy you know?”
“I got all the therapy I need right here!” said Logan, drawing his claws as the helicopter touched down, “Now save the wise-cracks for the mission! We got a lot of mayhem ahead of us!”
“Aye aye, captain! I take a bootin’ and keep on shootin’! That’s the Team X motto!”
Having arrived in the area, Wade Wilson and Logan disembarked from the helicopter and landed on the unforgiving terrain. Before them was a vast and hostile landscape. There was no fear in either of them, only anticipation for the destruction to come. This was their life and heaven help anybody that got in their way.
Shaw Industries Fright Complex – Present Time
Shanobi Shaw and Omega Red were in the process of finalizing their deal. Omea Red’s trusted courier, Piotr Rasputin, opened the case to show Shanobi that what they had was genuine. This deceptively small, but very powerful device was something Sebastian Shaw deeply coveted. He was willing to exchange it for a full set of functional nuclear reactors, something the Omega family had only dreamed of for years. It seemed both sides would get what they wanted.
Shanobi looked over the device carefully. He checked the components, the electronics, and the materials. Even though it was contained in a very heavy case, the product itself was no bigger an averaged size TV. It was sleek, metallic, and complex. The parts alone were worth their weight in gold. It was necessary to check every aspect of it in order to make sure it was the real deal.
“Exquisite,” said Shanobi as he ran his hands over the device, “I don’t know how you got your hands on one of these, Arkady, but I’m glad you did. You have no idea how hard it is to get a device of this caliber.”
“It was not easy, I assure you. It had to be smuggled out of Genosha when Cameron Hodge was still in charge,” said Arkady, “I could tell you all about the many people I had to kill, but I would be preferring that we finish this.”
“Agreed,” grinned Shanobi as he closed the case, “My father will be very pleased. I hope you’ll be just as satisfied with our humble payment.”
Shanobi snapped his fingers. Immediately, his masked body guards went to work, signaling the militia to proceed with the next step. Various commands in Spanish were exchanged and the dozens of armed men went to work. On the westernmost side of the complex, a number of garage doors opened. From these doors, a half-dozen or so heavy trucks pulled out carrying a couple of oversized shipping crates. They all looked fairly innocuous on the surface, but the small radioactive symbol on the sides offered a key clue to their content.
“They’ve all been configured as you requested,” explained Shanobi, “Twelve crates with components for four fully functioning reactors. You’ll find them much more efficient than the old Soviet models you’ve been fumbling with.”
“They had better be,” said Omega Redsternly, “And Sebastian is willing to exchange it all for this one device, yes?”
“That’s the deal,” affirmed Shanobi.
“I still am not understanding why he covets this junk so. What could he possibly use it for that is more valuable than working nuclear reactors?”
“I wish I could tell you, but Father rarely divulges such plans even to his own son,” said Shanobi bitterly, “All I can say is that he is sure to make good use of it.”
“Bah! He could use it for paperweight for all I care,” scoffed Arkady, “So long as I have my reactors, I am ready to call this deal complete.”
“As am I,” grinned Shanobi, “So if there are no further questions…”
Shanobi was about to extend his hand to the imposing Russian to seal the deal. But before the final agreement could be made, they were both jolted by a deafening explosion from the west end of the complex.
Immediately, the henchmen of the Omega family stopped what they were doing and took a defensive position. Shaw’s militia and Shanobi’s body guards did the same. They all looked over towards the source of the blast and saw a bright burst of purplish energy shoot up into the sky from the roof of the westernmost building. This was cause for concern for both men as each side started pointing their guns at each other in confusion.
“What was that?!” demanded Shanobi.
“It looks a deal-breaker to me!” commented one of Shanobi’s masked body guards.
“Darkstar!” grunted Omega Red, “What is this treachery, Shaw?!”
“Look out!” exclaimed Colossus as he pointed up to the sky.
The two men quickly turned their attention to what Colossus was looking at. Another burst shot out from the roof and two figures were literally blown sky high. They were heading straight for Shanobi and Omega Red’s position. Shanobi’s body guards pulled him back slightly while Colossus pulled Omega Red out of the way as they awaited the impact. When the two figures hit, they struck the ground as if they were human meteors. Any normal being would have been killed immediately, but these two figures were only stunned before rising up in a battered state.
“Ooohhhhh, that girl packs quite a punch. Kinda sexy, eh?” commented a woozy Deadpool.
“Yeah…real sexy!” snarled Wolverine.
As soon as Omega Red laid eyes on the two figures, he erupted in a rage. Clenching his fists, two metal whips shot out from his wrists. He would know these figures anywhere.
“What is this?! Team X has returned?!” roared Omega Red.
“Uh…it’s our anniversary?” said Deadpool innocently.
“I knew this was a setup! Omega family…attack!” he ordered.
“Finally, some shooting!” exclaimed the Russian commander of Omega Red’s forces.
Every Omega henchmen immediately complied, taking cover behind whatever they could before firing randomly at their adversaries on the other end. Shanobi Shaw, who was more bewildered than concerned, reacted instinctively. Using his mutant powers, he made his body as hard as diamond so that every incoming bullet that came his way bounced right off him. He and his body guards then hit the ground and took cover.
“Well this is unfortunate,” grunted Shanobi, “Guess we’ll have to step up my father’s plans!”
The beleaguered Shaw signaled to one of the militiamen, who was lucky enough to take cover behind one of the trucks while a few of his associates were gunned down. From there, he signaled the rest of his militiamen and they counterattacked with full force.
“Rapido! Rapido!” he exclaimed.
Gunfire and explosions erupted all throughout the complex. The Omega family fired ruthlessly towards Shaw’s militia. Bullets, grenades, and even a few rockets flew sporadically towards the opposing side. Death and destruction quickly followed as surrounding buildings caught fire and fighters from both sides were maimed. The deal was devolving into chaos, turning into a full blown war between the opposing sides.
Yet even as the conflict erupted around him, Omega Red stood unafraid in the center area with his two adversaries. These were two faces he despised with unparalleled hatred. If this deal was going to fail, he would at least get to kill some longtime enemies.
“So Shaw thinks he can best me by hiring my most hated enemies?” said the Russian mob boss.
“Don’t insult me, bub! This ain’t got anything to do with Shaw!” grunted Wolverine as he stammered to his feet.
“Yeah, I don’t even know the guy! He keeps rejecting my friend request on Facebook!” said Deadpool.
“Wretched lies!” he barked, “I will peel the flesh from your bones!”
“Cue the dramatic show of power,” groaned Deadpool.,
Using the unbreakable metal whips now extending from his wrist, Omega Red grabbed Wolverine before he could begin his attack. His slithering appendages snaked around his neck and waist, keeping him from slashing at him with his claws. He roared and snarled as he held him off the ground, but he could not escape the Russian’s powerful death grip.
“Hang in there buddy! Pun totally intended!” said Deadpool as he whipped out his guns and prepared to assist Wolverine.
“Oh no you won’t!” said another thick Russian accent.
Deadpool was attacked from behind. The two powerful arms of Colossus slipped around his body and restrained him in a metal choke hold. The masked mercenary struggled, but Colossus was too strong. Even as bullets whizzed by his head, he stood his ground.
“Hnn...if I wanted a bear hug I’d call you mommy,” joked Deadpool.
“You talk too much, even for an American!” said Colossus strongly.
“Ugh, if only I had a nickle and a poker chip every time I heard-AHHHHH!”
Colossus squeezed him harder, choking the masked mercenary and effectively preventing him from making any more annoying remarks. His grip also prevented him from assisting Wolverine, who was now at the mercy of Omega Red.
Ignoring the bullets and rockets flying right by his head, Omega Red pulled Wolverine in closer so he could look him right in the eye. It had been a long time since they crossed paths. Given how many reasons he had to hate him, it hadn’t been long enough. Just seeing him alive disgusted him to no end.
“Weapon X…” he seethed angrily, “This is an unexpected bonus.”
“Errrrrr! You remember too!” snarled Wolverine as he continued to struggle.
“Don’t act like you’ve forgotten! Regardless of whether or not you’re working for Shaw, you should have been turned into a meat puppet years ago! That is what they promised me!”
“Promised you?! Who’s they?!”
“Don’t mock me, James! You know what I’m talking about!”
The mention of that name caused a firestorm of enraged emotions. It was a name that had plagued him ever since Sinister revealed it to him. Now man with whom he already had a dark history remembered something he didn’t.
“Ooh boy…I was afraid of this,” groaned Deadpool, still gasping for air in Piotr’s grip.
“ERRRRR! WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?! SAY IT AGAIN YOU OVERGROWN CLOWN!” exclaimed Wolverine.
“Do not try to fool me! I’d know your stench anywhere!” retorted Omega Red, “You are James Howlett! The monster of Minsk! The West Devil himself! You should have died for your crimes long ago! On this day, I finish the job!”
Las Vegas Convention Center
The Xavier/Kelly debate had been raging for a while now. They made it through the opening statements and rebuttals without much fanfare. They took a few questions from the audience and the moderators. They even asked a few questions to each other. But so far, neither side was gaining any ground. Professor Xavier hadn’t slipped up yet and neither had Senator Kelly. Both men spoke with passion and urgency, knowing this debate could go either way.
Early on Professor Xavier found himself spending a lot of time on the Proteus incident. That seemed to be on everyone’s mind and Senator Kelly used it as justification for labeling all mutants as a danger. A great many people seemed to agree with him and wanted some form of action to protect society. It was difficult arguing against such a position, but never showing a lack of confidence or any wavering on his positions.
As they began the second round of rebuttals, Senator Kelly was showing signs of frustration. He came into this debate believing the facts surrounding Proteus would speak for themselves, but it wasn’t enough to sway Charles Xavier. The man was addressing his every point and in some cases turning them against him, claiming that he was using the tragedy in Liverpool for personal gain. His anti-mutant passions grew increasingly enflamed as their debate shifted towards his proposed Mutant Registration Act, the very cornerstone of his election. During the rebuttals, Senator Kelly took some of Xavier’s criticisms very personally.
“You’re being completely irrational, Xavier! How can you say to the people of this country that mutants should not be registered?” he said, now practically shouting at his opponent.
“I’m sorry, Senator, but this form of registration as you call it fits the definition of tyranny almost to the letter,” Xavier retorted.
“There’s nothing tyrannical about it! This is about policy and not semantics. We’re merely talking about keeping track of potential hazards so that we can avoid another Kevin MacTaggart.”
“Again, you’re making the same presumptions, Senator,” said Xavier in a more calm tone, “These hazards as you call them are not motor vehicles or firearms. They are people…living, breathing, soul-bearing people.”
“Now you’re just striving for emotional appeals!” accused Senator Kelly.
“Please Senator, let Professor Xavier finish his thought,” said the moderator.
“I assure you, Senator, it’s more than just emotional. It is factual. Mutants, whether you like it or not, are people. I have said as such from the beginning and I continue to say it despite the recent Liverpool tragedy. Kevin MacTaggart, as terrible as his actions were, was a human being. Erik Lensherr, or Magneto as you know him, is a human being. Like any human they are capable of doing terrible things. To call them hazards that the authorities must keep track of is a making a dangerous assumption. You’re separating what they do from who they are. You’re dehumanizing them. And when you dehumanize someone, you push them even harder. It’s instances like that which create the Magnetos and Proteus’s of the world.”
It was a solid argument and one that won the Professor some light applause from the audience. It seemed to irk Senator Kelly even more.
“We’re talking about a matter of degree, Charles,” said Senator Kelly, trying to mitigate his tone, “Yes, these people may be human, but what they do is what sets them apart. You cannot honestly tell me that a man who can shoot lasers from his eyes should be handled the same as someone who can’t.”
“That’s assuming that what they are and what they do is mutually exclusive,” argued Charles Xavier.
“But you’re still ignoring the fact these powers have the potential bring massive loss of life! Kevin MacTaggart was one mutant who lost control and he killed over 200 people! Are you going to tell me that we should gloss over cases like that?”
“With all due respect, Senator Kelly, you’re being overly selective. Yes, over 200 people died as a result of Kevin’s actions. But more than 25,000 people die every year in this country from car accidents. Over 400,000 die every year in this country just from smoking Tobacco. And according to your own office over 800 people were murdered in the state of New York, your home state mind you.”
This really caught the Senator off guard and some of the audience started chattering, evoking even further discontent with Senator Kelly.
“Now you’re just dodging the question!” the Senator spat, his tone faltering again.
“I am merely trying to offer perspective, Senator,” retorted Professor Xavier, “You make such a huge deal of every mutant related conflict. You highlight every death or potential death, taking no time to consider context. I ask you honestly and as a man, is that truly justice? You’re running for President of the United States. Should you not champion justice?”
This got an even greater reaction from the crowd. More cheers were heard and Senator Kelly was getting more flustered by the second. In the audience, Reverend William Stryker was panicking. Senator Kelly was losing his cool, just as he promised he wouldn’t.
“No Robert…don’t do this,” said Stryker under his breath.
Senator Kelly stook deep breaths. This wasn’t going as he hoped. If he didn’t do something soon, Charles Xavier would walk out of this a hero again. and all that momentum he seized with the Proteus incident would amount for nothing.
The moderators took over once more, waiting for the crowd to settle down. They were supposed to remain impartial, but even they seemed impressed with Xavier’s words.
“Senator Kelly, seeing as how Professor Xavier addressed you directly, you now have the opportunity to respond,” one of the female moderators said, “Please, address his statement appropriately.”
“Thank you,” said the Senator in a calmer tone as he gathered himself, “I feel in this instance it would be most appropriate to respond with a question of my own. Professor Xavier, you say my Mutant Registration Act is unjust and will cause more conflict than it will resolve. Regardless of whether or not your right, that leaves one major issue…what is the alternative? What would you have us do instead?”
It was a serious question and one the audience seemed very interested in. Professor Xavier looked at Senator Kelly and then at the audience. There he saw Lilandra, Hank, and Ororo watching anxiously. They each nodded, as if to say “you know what you have to do.” This was his moment to make his most impassioned plea.
“The misdeeds Magneto and Proteus are egregious. On this, we can all agree. I’m not going to stand up here and say that people shouldn’t be concerned about mutants who use their powers maliciously. My underlying message to you and every human out there is to judge these people as they should be judged. Not as mutants or any other group be it race, gender, or creed…but as individuals. If a mutant uses their power to murder, judge that mutant and have him face justice. If a mutant seeks to steal, rape, or harm another human being, judge them on their own accord. Do not judge the merits of an entire group of people based on the actions of a few. To do so is not only tyrannical, it is outright madness.”
There was a powerful silence over the audience. Charles Xavier spoke with uncanny heart. He sounded less like a mutant fighting for the rights of his kind and more like a man fighting for reason in an unreasonable world. It was a sincerity that truly resonated and he wasn’t finished yet.
“I would also advise against basing these decisions regarding policy on emotion. You cannot accuse me of not grasping the emotion of the Liverpool tragedy, Senator. Kevin was very dear to me. I cared about him. Watching him die and take so many innocent people with him...it struck me in a way I don’t think you can begin to understand.”
Xavier’s tone grew more emotional. His voice cracked at the mention of Kevin, but his strength never faltered. He turned his sorrow into his greatest asset as he stared down Senator Kelly in his callous demeanor. This was his moment and he was prepared to seize it.
“You want an alternative, Senator?” Xavier went on, “Here’s one that won’t cost tax-payers a penny...have faith in the people behind the mutant powers. Encourage their peers and their community to give them a chance. And if one of them should walk the same path as Magneto or Kevin, hold them accountable. If you’re not sure how, call upon other mutants like my X-men or District X. Work with us rather than against us. We can accomplish much more that way. If you’re just going to assume mutants are a crisis waiting to happen, then that’s exactly what you’ll get.”
In the audience, Hank and Ororo smiled. They felt the impact of his words along with the audience. It turned into the biggest applause Xavier had received so far. However, their approval paled in comparison to Lilandra, who was practically glowing as she looked up at the man in which she placed so much faith. Through her thoughts, she sent him not only her praise, but a host of other special emotions as well. Eventually, the moderator broke the silence.
“Senator Kelly, would you like to respond?” the moderator asked.
Senator Kelly paused, tensing under the scrutiny of a global audience and the power of Charles Xavier’s message. There were any number of ways he would have liked to respond, but they all involved statements that would only prove Xavier’s point. For that reason, there was only one response and it was the one he hated giving the most.
Professor Xavier couldn’t help but smile. His words had struck a chord. People were starting to think more about the bigger picture and less on Proteus. Senator Kelly was back on the defensive and Charles Xavier would make sure that this is how he would remain for the rest of the night. This debate was his redemption for Kevin and Moria. It marked an important moment was for mutants and humans everywhere. It gave the world a moment to consider an alternative to Senator Kelly’s rhetoric. In that regard this night was already a success.
Xavier Institute – War Room
“This night sucks!”
The disgruntled groans of Kitty Pryde filled the War Room as she paced around the main computer array. Warren Worthington III, who was working tirelessly on sifting through the secure databases of Worthington Industries, tried to stay focused despite her attitude.
“Kitty, if you’re not going to help, could you at least vent your frustrations somewhere else?” he groaned, “I need to concentrate here!”
“Sorry if my misery is so distracting. Cyclops already kicked me out of the infirmary and I’m tired of yelling at myself,” she said dryly, “I mean seriously! Where does Logan get the nerve keeping me out of a mission like this? He thinks because I’m in a bad mood I can’t contribute? How hypocritical is that?! He’s in a bad mood for every mission we’ve ever been on!”
“The difference being he knows how to make it work for him,” Warren pointed out as he kept trying to focus, “You, on the other hand, are letting it get to you and are taking your frustrations out on me!”
“Well excuse me for being pissed that my so-called boyfriend never took me seriously! And you’re one to talk! How long did you mope after Candy screwed you over?”
“Can we not get into that? Some of us are actually trying to help with the mission here!”
Kitty let out another angry grunt as she kept pacing. She knew she was being irrational. She knew she was bugging the hell out of Warren by ranting endlessly about her problems. But she couldn’t help it. The issue with Bobby hung over her strongly. It affected her in so many ways that she didn’t expect.
Warren tried to be sympathetic, even when Kitty was throwing in low blows with Candy. She was new to the world of heartbreak. Having been down that road himself, he could empathize to some extent. That didn’t make her behavior any less distracting.
Working on the War Room computer, he wished he had Beast’s computer expertise. He was no master hacker and he was no good at sifting through endless streams of data, but Logan and the others were depending on him. Using the same network link to Shaw Industries they used during the sentinel thefts, he was trying to access any information on this deal. Shaw Industries was a major rival to Worthington Industries. His father had always kept tabs on them. If there was something shady going on, he would have the means to uncover it.
“Jeez, could Sebastian Shaw be any more an asshole? I swear this guy makes my father look like a saint! It’s not enough he exploits cheap labor, sparks regional wars, and spends lavish bonuses on himself. He also puts more resources into corruption than anyone I’ve ever seen!”
“So how does he get away with it? The same way asshole boyfriends go behind your back and start flirting with other girls?” said Kitty, showing minimal interest.
“The same way all men get away with it…an army of lawyers, a well-paid lobbying firm, and probably some mutant help on the side. This guy seems pretty interested in mutants. It looks like he may even be one.”
“What’s his power? Being a jerk? Like certain immature boyfriends?”
“Will you give it a rest already?!” groaned Warren, “If Sebastian Shaw is a mutant or even works with them, it might explain why he would do business with a guy like Omega Red. He wouldn’t give anybody the time of day unless they can do something for him.”
“So what? That puts him right up there with lousy boyfriend,” muttered Kitty.
“But as bad as he is, that still doesn’t explain how he got his hands on nuclear reactor components. Shaw deals almost exclusively in fossil fuels. The margins are bigger and easier to exploit. How did he get this stuff to trade with so quickly?”
That seemed to be the important question at hand despite Kitty’s asinine input. Even though Shaw was a devious man running a devious company, something about this deal was very dubious. Logan suspected there were other forces at work and Warren was justifying those suspicions as he kept digging deeper. This whole exchange came together so quickly based on some internal memos he traced. Shaw was dedicating a lot of attention to getting this device. There wasn’t any information on what this device actually was, but it was clearly very important to him.
No matter how important it may have been, Kitty continued to ignore it. She kept pacing restlessly, her mind stuck on Bobby and the fight they had earlier. She was so angry at him for going behind her back like this, but at the same time she was angry at herself. Was she partially to blame? It wasn’t just frustrating, it was disheartening.
“Was I being naïve?” she wondered aloud, “Was I hoping for too much when I started getting closer with Bobby? I mean yeah, him breaking up with Lorna kind of limited things early on. But he’s over her! Why couldn’t he be serious with me instead?”
Warren rolled his eyes, wondering why he even bothered allowing her to help. He understood she was new to relationships and how badly they could end, but she needed to find a better way of coping.
“Kitty, constantly questioning yourself isn’t going to do you any good. Trust me on this. I was hung up on Candy for two years. I should have known when to let go, but I didn’t. Sometimes when something isn’t meant to be, you just have to accept it.”
“So I was hoping for too much,” she said in a saddened tone.
“I didn’t say that. Maybe Bobby realized you two were at a point where you could go no further and you didn’t. I mean let’s face it. You two were never all that serious.”
“But I wanted it to be serious. I really did.”
“Wanting to and making it happens are two different things. It’s not something you can force. You were there for him after Lorna. You got to share a little intimacy with him along the way, but that’s all there was to it. Dragging it out would be pointless and needlessly stressful for both of you.”
It was a somewhat cold assessment. Given Warren’s romantic history with Candy Southerner, Kitty shouldn’t have been surprised. That didn’t make his points any less valid. Maybe it really was that simple. She and Bobby just got to a point where they couldn’t get serious. Even if there were feelings between them, they just weren’t enough to make it work. It made a good deal of sense, but it didn’t make it any less painful.
“He’s still a jerk,” muttered Kitty.
“I’m not saying he isn’t. Flirting with another girl when he’s still with you is pretty immature, even for Bobby,” said Warren with a half-grin.
“Does that justify me giving him a good kick in the balls when he gets back?”
“That I won’t touch,” snickered Warren, “All I’ll say is you should at least try to be understanding. First breakups suck, but they’re not worth torturing yourself or someone else for that matter. If you keep venting like this you may end up going on benders like I did. And I like to think you’re more mature than that.”
“Good thing I’m not old enough to drink,” sighed Kitty as she finally sat down, “I guess I can give it a try.”
“What? You mean drinking?” said Warren with a raised eyebrow.
“No! I mean the whole understanding part,” she said, rolling her eyes, “We do enough fighting as X-men. We might as well not fight each other.”
Kitty seemed to finally settle down, which came as a relief to Warren. That meant he could focus on the task at hand. There was a lot to sift through when it came to uncovering the secrets of Shaw Industries. It wasn’t getting any easier since he didn’t exactly keep records of all his black market deals, but given the size of his company it was impossible to hide every detail. If there was a clue, his father’s business savvy would certainly pick up on it.
Kitty remained silent while Warren worked, pondering what she was going to say to Bobby when the time came. It was going to be a challenge keeping her temper in check. She had never been through something like this before, getting together with someone and then having it fall apart. Even if Bobby was at fault, she had to find a tactful way to deal with it.
“Guess I was even more naïve than I thought...thinking me and Bobby were special,” she mused, “Not that he’s a lousy boyfriend, but he doesn’t exactly fit the description of my dream guy.”
“They rarely do. That’s why they’re dreams,” said Warren, not paying as much attention to her now as he kept his focus on the computer.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look. I still believe that tall, dark, and handsome guy is out there for me waiting. I just haven’t met him,” said Kitty distantly.
“I’m sure he’s just as eager to meet you. Too bad you won’t find him pacing around in the War Room,” Warren pointed out.
“I know it’s normal to go through other people along the way, but I just wish it was more obvious, you know? I mean, we all know what we want. And we know what we have to give. So why does it have to feel so deceptive at times? I know it’s not intentional, but still…”
Warren still wasn’t listening much, but that last part caught his attention. It wasn’t so much her philosophy on relationships that intrigued him. It was that part about deception and knowing what to give. Something about that resonated with him as he looked over the constant stream of data from Shaw Industries. Then it came to him.
“Deceptive…hmm, I wonder,” he found himself saying.
He started typing more feverishly, looking up some shipping manifests and some recent inventory memos. At this point his father’s paranoia was really paying off. He was so concerned about Shaw Industries he tapped into some private email networks. One of them caught his eye. It was a hastily compiled text message from someone named Shanobi. It wasn’t much, but it confirmed his suspicions.
“Well what do you know…it is intentional,” said the winged mutant, his face lighting up.
“Didn’t you hear me, Warren? I said…” began Kitty.
“No, it’s not about that! It’s about this deal Shaw is pulling!” Warren explained, “Logan was right! There was something fishy about it!”
Finally, Kitty stopped dwelling on her personal affairs and focused on the mission her friends were currently caught up in.
“Whoa slow down!” she said anxiously, “I kinda wasn’t paying attention earlier so would you mind explaining a little better?”
Warren stayed focused on the computer screen. As he probed further, a new stream of data came up. When he saw what the information entailed, his expression became grim.
“No time! I have to get a message to Logan!” said the winged mutant as he shot up form his seat, “By now he’s probably three levels beyond ticked off! He has to know what he’s just walked into!”
Panama – Shaw Industries Fright Complex
“You are James Howlett.”
These words struck Wolverine in a way that even Weapon X had never managed. For a moment he was completely oblivious to the chaos around him. Shaw’s hired militia and Omega Red’s well-armed henchmen were locked in a bloody clash. Bullets were flying, bombs were going off, and people were dying. But none of that registered. All he could think about was this profound revelation. He was James Howlett.
It triggered all sorts of violent rages and conflicting memories. He saw images of wars in Europe, the Pacific, and Russia. In those wars a figure committed savage atrocities. This figure butchered, killed, and maimed without regard. This was before Weapon X. This was before everything he remembered. He didn’t want to believe that figure was him, but there was no escaping the truth.
“Ooh, you’re gonna get it now, Ruskie!” said Deadpool, who was still in a the iron grip of Colossus, “I know that look in his eye! It’s about to get real messy!”
“Piotr, please rip that man’s tongue out!” spat Omega Red as he tightened his grip on Wolverine.
“I’m trying! He’s…durable!” grunted Colossus in frustration.
“That’s what all the ladies say!” grinned Deadpool, “You should ask this girl back in Germany how I-ack!”
Deadpool didn’t get a chance to finish. Colossus squeezed him harder, placing a hand over his throat so he couldn’t speak anymore. The masked mercenary was still fighting him, but it wasn’t enough. He could not match his strength.
Several bullets flew by Omega Red’s head as he looked up at the suspended Wolverine. His whips around his neck, he started using his draining powers to suck the life out of the former living weapon. It was another part of his mutation, courtesy of the same ghastly process that made Wolverine. It would be fitting that this was his how Wolverine would meet his end.
“AUUUGGGGGH!” he roared in agony.
“You feel that, James? That’s the pain of all my countrymen you slaughtered! You, Sabretooth, and every last part of your little team stained my country with blood! Because of men like you, Mother Russia was crippled before she could rise to glory! I swear on the blood of my countrymen I will rebuild what you destroyed!”
Omega Red seethed as he drained Wolverine even more, listening as he let out more pained howls. It was glorious. The crimes of James Howlett were finally going to be punished.
He was so focused on exacting his vengeance that he didn’t even realize his comrades were being overwhelmed by Shaw’s militia. More pullets were flying their way and many were trying to retreat. None of this didn’t matter to him. This turned out to be a mistake though because in his focus he didn’t see two figures flying towards him from above.
“Arkady, look out!” exclaimed one of the figures.
Omega Red diverted his gaze just in time to see the body of Darkstar crash right into him. It caused him to lose his grip on Wolverine and knocked him back against the train.
“Or not!” grinned Rogue, who recovered quickly from the impact, “Ah tried to warn you, sugah. I’m stronger than Ah look!”
Rogue watched with supreme satisfaction as Omega Red lay stunned with Darkstar hunched over his lap. That woman had some major firepower and a great deal of strength, but she grossly underestimated her ability to take what she could dish out. So when she countered with a bold attack of her own, she wasn’t ready for it. Still hovering in mid-air, Rogue quickly flew over to help Wolverine. He was out of it from Omega Red’s draining powers, but he was still conscious and clearly pissed.
“You alright, Wolverine?” she asked him.
“Hell no!” spat the feral mutant as he shook off her help, “I’m pretty fucking far from being alright!”
Rogue was taken aback by his response. She had to step back a little. Wolverine had that berserker look in his eye. He seemed ready to rip into anything still breathing. It was disturbing, even by his standards.
His claws drawn, the former living weapon snarled as he narrowed his sights on the dazed Omega Red. He was poised to attack, but Colossus quickly stepped in. He still had Deadpool by the throat and was still obligated to protect the Omega family.
“Do not take another step!” he ordered as he squeezed Deadpool even harder, “Leave Mr. Rossovich alone or your ill-mannered friend will suffer!”
“Back off, Ruskie! You don’t want to defend this clown!” snarled Wolverine.
“Want is not the issue! I do as I must!” said the metal mutant strongly.
Wolverine didn’t listen. His sights remained locked on Omega Red. Deadpool, who was being choked to death by Colossus’s iron grip, was getting a little anxious.
“Uh…Logan?” he coughed, “A little help?”
His call went unheeded. Wolverine’s berserker rage was too strong. It didn’t look like Deadpool was going to get help from his old partner. Luckily, he soon got help from another source.
“Dang…this be bittersweet,” said a Cajun accented voice from above.
Without warning, a shower of charged playing cards rained down over Colossus and Deadpool. It came courtesy of Gambit, who was riding an ice slide into the chaos with Nightcrawler and Iceman. As soon as the Russian mutant looked up, the cards exploded and blinded him in a shower of bursts. As he instinctively covered his eyes, his grip loosened on Deadpool. The menacing mercenary used this opportunity to break free and fight back.
“Ahhhhhhh freedom! Is there any sweeter feeling?” he exclaimed, “Oh yeah! There’s this!”
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small grenade and tossed it into the chest of Colossus. As soon as it hit, it exploded sharply and knocked the durable mutant on his back. Before he could get up, Iceman came in lower and used his powers to create a thick ice shell around him.
“Sorry big guy,” he said, “But you’ll have to chill for a bit.”
“For zhe record, I appreciate your efforts to silence Deadpool,” said Nightcrawler as he teleported to the ground below with Rogue.
“Aww Nightcrawler! I didn’t know you cared!” said Deadpool obnoxiously.
“Maybe we should’ve given him a few more minutes,” muttered Gambit.
Iceman and Gambit landed next to Rogue and Nightcrawler in the middle of the unfolding carnage. They had to stay low as bullets and rockets kept flying all around them. The Omega family guard and Shaw’s hired militia were not letting up. They continued firing wildly on one another, determined to slaughter each other for going back on the deal. To protecting them, Iceman created some ice shields to protect them.
“Well it’s official! This deal has gone to hell!” groaned Iceman as he made sure his walls were extra thick.
“I don’t zhink zhey even care about zhe deal anymore,” said Nightcrawler as he took in the scene, “Zhey just care about making zhe other side pay for betrayal!”
“Ain’t nothing we can do about that!” said Gambit as he watched a rocket propelled grenade fly right over his head, “So how we gonna stop this?”
“Ah’d be more worried about stopping Wolverine! Ah think he’s lost it!” said Rogue, using her invulnerable body to shield her teammates from some of the bullets.
“You’re just realizing that now?” joked Deadpool, “That reminds me, where the hell that Shaw guy?”
Nobody seemed to care much for Shaw’s whereabouts. The team was too focused on Wolverine, who ignored their presence and made his way towards Omega Red. He didn’t care that two bullets grazed him. All he cared about was sinking his claws into his Russian nemesis. This man didn’t just reveal the truth about James Howlett. He revealed that he was behind a lot of the rage that drove him.
“Arkady!” he roared, his claws drawn in a menacing gesture, “We got a score to settle!”
“That we do,” grunted the menacing Russian.
Omega Red rose up to his snarling enemy. He was still dazed after being knocked head first into the train. His durability and healing helped him recover, but his anger never waned. The metal tentacles in his wrist came back to life and helped him and Darkstar up. While she didn’t heal like he did, she was equally determined to oppose the incoming Wolverine.
“Get back you treacherous swine!” spat Darkstar as she took to the air again.
“Let him come, Darkstar! You know what to do!” seethed Omega Red.
Her eyes glowing in a dark hue, she unleashed another concentrated dark energy burst towards the feral mutant. This time Wolverine was able to avoid them, ducking out of the way and tumbling to the side as it surged past him. His nimble agility allowed him to keep closing. Darkstar responding by shooting smaller, more numerous blasts. The did little to dissuade Wolverine, even when one of them hit right in his left knee. The impact mangled his leg briefly, but he wouldn’t stop.
“Hrrrrraahhhhhhhhhh!” he roared in a rage.
“Stand down, Darkstar! I can handle this monster!” grunted Omega Red, now back on his feet.
“Nyet, Uncle! You told me what he has done! I will not let you face him alone!” the Russian woman proclaimed.
With Wolverine slowed by the blast he took earlier, Darkstar prepared for what she hoped to be the finishing blow. But before she could unleash it, Nightcrawler appeared right behind her and jumped on her back.
“Let’s let zhem sort zhis out on zheir own, ja?” he said.
“No! Let go you...” she began, but to no avail.
Darkstar tried to shake the German mutant off, but Nightcrawler managed to hold on and teleport her away. Now nothing was standing between Wolverine and Omega Red. The two longtime enemies stared each other down with burning hatred. Omega Red saw in this man a monster who butchered his comrades with unparalleled atrocity. It was because of him that he could not serve the Motherland until it was too late. Now as he stood on the cusp of reinvigorating his homeland, James Howlett was not going to stand in his way.
For Wolverine, the hatred was of a different kind. As he gazed into the eyes of his Russian foe, more memories came rushing back to him. More details from that fateful mission to Korea decades ago emerged. He recalled how he and Omega Red crossed paths that fateful day. More importantly, he recalled what that encounter led to.
“I remember now!” snarled Wolverine, “That day in Korea…you set a trap! You made a deal with Weapon X! It was because of you I ended up back on their dissection tables!”
“A fitting end for an abomination such as you!” snarled Omega Red, “They failed to contain you the first time! They thought they could do better the second time! It would seem the incompetent Westerners were wrong yet again!”
“They did more than that!” roared Wolverine, “The second time…they did something else to me! They took more than just my memories! They took everything! Who I was, where I came from…they took it all!”
“And now I shall take the rest!”
With burning rage, Omega Red stormed forth and attacked with his metal whips. He relentlessly swing and thrashed his deadly appendages, charging them with the life-draining energy he used earlier for greater effect. This time Wolverine didn’t get caught in his deadly grip. Now in full berserker rage, he nimbly avoided the attacks and drove in closer for an attack of his own. Omega Red was first to fall back as Wolverine literally pounced on him, driving one set of claws right into his left shoulder. This caused the Russian super soldier to grunt in pain, but his durable form could take it. Using his whips, he swiftly knocked Wolverine off before he could land another blow. His feral adversary didn’t miss a beat and launched another attack.
Omega Red’s metal whips clashed with Wolverine’s admantium claws. Sparks flew as the two men wrestled for a shot at a finishing blow, but neither would let the other get close enough to have such a chance. Omega Red used his whips to create distance between him and the raging mutant. He landed a number of blows, but in his berserker state Wolverine barely registered the pain. It was all rage for the former living weapon as he thrashed and clawed through the metal onslaught. The memories from Korea played out again in his mind, adding more incentive to finish this man off like he should have years ago.
“You brought this on yourself, James! You’re already a monster! Weapon X is just making you a useful monster! Hahaha!”
While Wolverine and Omega Red clashed, the rest of the X-men along with Deadpool dealt with a very angry Darkstar. As soon as Nightcrawler teleported her away from Wolverine and Omega Red she shook off Nightcrawler by body slamming him into the ground. Rogue quickly came to her adopted brother’s aid while Iceman, Deadpool, and Gambit came to back her up.
“Ungh…she’s a tenacious one,” groaned the German mutant.
“She’s also about to get her butt kicked!” said Rogue as she looked up angrily at the woman who just hurt her brother.
“Spare me your American brutishness!” scoffed Darkstar in her thick Russian accent, “You pigs will not stop my uncle’s plans!”
“Your uncle?!” said Gambit curiously.
“I gotta say, I don’t see the resemblance,” commented Iceman.
“Errrrrrrrrr die imperialist dogs!”
Darkstar unleashed another wave of blasts. This time she showed a unique use of her power, forming various shapes of the mysterious energy she manipulated and showering her adversaries with it. As they hit, they left quite an impact. Rogue was forced to cover Nightcrawler while Iceman was forced to create a protective ice shell.
“Okay…now I see the resemblance!” said Iceman as he struggled to keep the shell up.
“Ooh yeah! It’s a good thing too because she just wouldn’t be as hot with Omega boy’s skin!” commented Deadpool.
“What the heck kind of power is that?” said Rogue, who had a hard time absorbing it herself.
“This power you are tasting is called darkforce!” the Russian woman proclaimed, “It is an extra-dimensional energy that my mutation allows me to tip! And there is more than enough power in the darkforce to destroy you all!”
She put on an intimidating display, using her powers to form more dark-colored shapes around her. It forced the X-men to display some power of their own.
“Bet there be enough power in this here card too!” said Gambit.
Taking out his favorite ace of spades, the Cajun mutant charged the card and threw it right at the face of the hovering woman. She used the darkforce to defend herself, but the card exploded before she could. The explosion was more powerful than she expected, causing her to tumble through the air and land clumsily next to Colossus, who was still encased in ice.
“Yeow! Bet that hurt!” commented Deadpool.
“Augh! Insolent little rat! I’ll…”
But before she could rise to attack again, a stray bullet from one of Shaw’s militiamen streaked by and hit her right in the thigh. She, like her uncle, were so focused on stopping Wolverine and the X-men they negated the war erupting around them.
“Ahhhhh!” she cried out as she fell to her knees.
As soon as Colossus saw this, he summoned his strength and broke free from his ice prison. He quickly ran to Darkstar’s aid, using his metal body to shield her.
“It’s okay, Laynia! I will protect you!” he said.
“Forget about protecting me!” spat the Russian woman as she clutched her thigh, “Just crush those American pigs!”
“Pigs? Lady, I’ll have you know I’m a card carrying member of mercs for pork association and I take offense to your horrendous slander of our most prized food product!” said Deadpool obnoxiously.
“And I don’t know if you heard, lady, but the Cold War is over!” said Iceman, who was still trying to keep his ice shell up to protect them from the bullets.
“Maybe to you it is! But to the Omega family, the war has just begun!”
Despite being grounded, Darkstar summed more darkforce and fired a new round of concussive blasts. Rogue jumped out in front, taking the brunt end of the blasts. She flew straight towards Darkstar with every intention of stopping her. Colossus, who wasstill hovering protectively over his comrade, met her incoming strength with his own. Their fists clashed as more bullets flew by them. With his feet dug in, Colossus stopped Rogue cold.
“Ungh! Dang, you’re a pretty strong fella!” grunted Rogue as she tried to push back.
“So are you,” he said in a stoic tone, “I’m sorry, but I will not allow you to stand in our way.”
“You’re sorry? Pal, nobody says their sorry in a fight like this unless they don’t belong here. And from what Wolverine told meh, this ain’t your type of crowd!”
The Russian’s expression remained unchanged even as he back under Rogue’s strength. It indicated that she struck a chord. Even if she was right, Piotr Rasputin didn’t have a choice. Regardless of how he felt about the Omega family, he had to do this. People very close to him were depending on him.
“What Wolverine told you is only a fraction of the truth,” said Colossus as he started pushing back.
In a powerful burst of strength, Colossus head-butted Rogue right in the forehead. His metal skin made contact with her skull. She didn’t absorb him through the metal, but she did feel the heavy blow of metal clashing with her bones. It was enough to leave her dazed. Colossus used this as a chance to lay her out with a knee to the gut and a punishing right cross that knocked her clear across the area and into one of the crates Shaw wheeled out earlier.
Now with no more obstructions, Darkstar unleashed another barrage of concussive blasts. Without Rogue to take them, Iceman had to put up another ice shell to protect them. It really was pushing his limits. Not only was her darkforce strong, but they still had to worry about the bullets flying around them.
“Die traitorous dogs!” spat Darkstar.
“Man what is it with this girl and animals? We should seriously have brought the Humane Society with us!” said Deadpool.
“Forget the animals! Somebody has to either explain to her that we’re not with Shaw or give her seomthing else to shoot at!” grunted Iceman, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep shielding us like this!”
“Just be hangin’ in there, Drake!” urged Gambit.
“I…I can’t!” he exclaimed, “Someone needs to stop this already!”
“Way ahead of you, Iceboy!” said Deadpool as he took out a couple of grenades, “Give me a few open shots and I’ll give us some breathing room!”
But before he could pull the pin on the grenades, Nightcrawler shot up and stopped him.
“No Deadpool!” he yelled, “X-men are not killers like you! And so long as you’re vith us, you play by our rules!”
“Aww, don’t be such a party pooper, fuzzy wuzzy! They’re killing each other anyways? Why not join in?”
If there wasn’t such a massive battle going on around him, Nightcrawler would have loved to lay him out. He had so many reasons to despise this man. Even if he was Wolverine’s old partner, he didn’t deserve to be with them in this fight. He was about to knock the grenades right out of Deadpool’s hands when his communicator unexpectedly went off.
“Nightcrawler! Hello? Could someone please answer!”
“Hold zhat thought,” said Nightcrawler as he forced the masked mercenary to stand down.
He got down lower with Gambit and Deadpool, leaving Iceman to continue fortifying their ice shell. It looked as though he was nearing his limits. With this in mind, Nightcrawler answered his communicator.
“I read you, Angel!” he said.
“Finally! What the hell is going on there? I’ve been trying to contact Wolverine, but he isn’t responding.”
“Wolverine is…occupied,” said Nightcrawler, looking out to see his feral friend still clashing with Omega Red, “But if you’ve found something, I’m all ears!”
“I just uncovered a dirty little secret in the Shaw Industries network! You know those nuclear reactor components he looking to trade? Well he doesn’t have them! He never did! Shaw is playing Omega Red for a fool!”
“So he lied about zhe deal? Zhen vhat is in zhese crates he brought vith him?”
“That’s the real kicker! I pulled up some shipping records and the only crates that size being shipped to Panama are full of hazardous farm chemicals! Mostly ammonium nitrate!”
Nightcrawlers expression grew grim. As a former mercenary and the son of Azazel, he knew there were only so many uses for ammonium nitrate in this business and it had nothing to do with farming.
“Mien Gott…” he gasped.
“I don’t know what Shaw is planning, but nobody ships that many explosives without intending to use them! You have to get everyone out of there!”
“Understood! Ve just have to wrestle Wolverine away from Omega Red!”
The German mutant quickly closed the communication link. Now they had an even more volatile situation on their hands. Not only did they have Omega Red, Shaw’s militia, and their henchmen to deal with. Now they had a bomb situation to deal with.
“Uh…did Remy just hear right? Did Warren say the words ammonium nitrate? As in the stuff folks use to make bombs?” said Gambit.
“You heard correct, mien friend! Zhose crates Shaw was trading are full of it! Zhey probably wired to blow!”
“Wow…that’s genius!” said Deadpool, not looking nearly as worried, “Hire a local militia, swap some goods, and then blow the place to hell when the sucker on the other end thinks they’re clear! I gotta hand it to Shaw! That’s pretty damn cool!”
“You won’t be thinkin’ it’s so cool when that stuff goes off and we still be here!” said Gambit, “We gotta get the heck outta here!”
“Music to my ears!” grunted Iceman, who was on the verge of collapse, “Any idea on how to get Wolverine and these Omega guys to settle down?”
Nightcrawler and Gambit thought fast. They weren’t going to get out of this if both sides kept fighting. Something had to change. Wolverine and Omega Red weren’t going to stop fighting anytime soon and Darkstar and Colossus weren’t going to believe them. Nightcrawler found himself looking back over towards Rogue, who was still slouched up against one of the crates. It was then he got an idea.
“Maybe ve don’t have to,” mused Nightcrawler.
“Ah, I see what you’re getting at, homme!” said Gambit.
Nightcrawler boldly teleported out from the protective ice shell and appeared on top of the crate next to Rogue. Even with bullets still flying around him, he yelled out over the noise towards her sister.
“Rogue! I need you to open zhese crates!”
“Are you crazy?! Ain’t you seen all these radioactive labels?!” she exclaimed.
“Trust me, Rogue! It’ll be okay!” he urged.
Rogue gave her brother a serious look, but Nightcrawler remained convinced. It was his trustworthiness versus all these “Danger: Radioactive” symbols. Luckily, her adopted brother was one of the few people she would trust that implicitly to do something this foolish.
Using flight powers, she rose up to the top of the oversized crate. Then using her strength, she ripped the sides of the crate open. Within seconds each side collapsed as well, revealing the contents inside. And even for those unfamiliar with advanced nuclear components, it did not look like what Shaw promised. Instead, there were stacks of metal barrels all labeled with the same ominous red symbol that indicated it was highly explosive. On top there was a small panel where all the wires came together, confirming what Nightcrawler and Angel had feared.
“Um…Kurt, is this what Ah think it is?” said Rogue anxiously.
“It’s not a nuclear reactor if zhat is vhat you’re zhinking. It’s a bomb!” he affirmed.
“A bomb?! Well that’s a pretty big bomb!” she exclaimed.
“And zhere is more zhan one crate! Zhat can only mean…”
Rogue didn’t give her brother time to finish. She quickly took to the air again and flew over towards Wolverine and Omega Red. The contents of the crates were quickly noticed by Omega Red’s men and Shaw’s militia. Even they picked up on how grave the situation had become and many stopped shooting to flee.
“Are those...” began one of the Russian combatants.
“Es una bomba grande!” gasped one of the militamen.
Wolverine and Omega Red remained locked in combat, but Darkstar and Colossus soon noticed. When they saw the pile of barrels wired to blow, they quickly forgot about the fight. This deal wasn’t just a bust anymore. It was a trap.
“A bomb…I knew something was fishy about this!” said Colossus.
“Damn you, Shaw!” grunted Darkstar as she sauntered up despite her wounded leg.
Ignoring her enemies, she quickly took to the air and flew towards Omega Red. Rogue was there as well, but they had little time to clash.
“Uncle! We must leave this place!” Darkstar exclaimed.
“No…I will not!” yelled Omega Red as he and Wolverine stood locked in a grapple.
“Wolverine may be your enemy! But Shaw is a much greater threat! Look at what he’s done! He’s tricked us all!”
Despite being locked in combat with Wolverine, Omega Red was able to divert his attention just long enough to see what had happened. Looking at the crate Rogue had opened, he saw for himself that he had been played for a fool. Regardless of Wolverine’s appearance, it was Shaw that tricked him.
“Shaw?! Shaw, show yourself you cowardly ass!” he yelled out.
Across the freight yard, Shaw was standing at the far wall with a number of masked guards at his side. Most of his guards had been killed, but there were still enough to defend him from fleeing militiamen and Omega henchmen. He had in his arms the device the Omega family went to such lengths to retrieve. He looked exceedingly smug, having slipped away while everyone else fought. It was deviously cunning.
“Sorry Arkady, my good man! But reactor parts are just too hard to come by!” he called out, “And as my father always taught me, if you can’t give the other side what they want the next best thing is to have them think you do!”
“YOU LYING SACK OF SHIT! YOU AND YOUR FATHER WILL SUFFER FOR THIS!” yelled Darkstar.
In a rage, she unleashed a wave of darkforce blasts. They were right on target, but did no damage to Shanobi Shaw or the device he was carrying. He used his powers to make himself and the device intangible, rendering her enraged response pointless.
“Such brutish manners. No wonder your people lost the Cold War,” scoffed Shanobi, “Thanks for the device, Arkady! And thank you, X-men, for saving me the trouble of slipping away on my own! Allow me to leave you all with a parting gift!”
“Is there any chance it’s a box of chocolates?” groaned Deadpool.
Reaching into his pocket, Shanobi pulled out a single remote control. He then pointed it at the exposed bomb and pushed a button. On top of the crate, the electronic controls were activated and the bomb was live. There were still plenty of militiamen and Omega family fighters present. And given the size of the crates, the blast would incinerate them all including Omega Red himself.
“ERRRRRRRRRRR SHAW!” roared Omega Red.
But it was no use. Shanobi Shaw was slipped away, phasing through the outer walls with his masked guards and disappearing from sight.
Omega Red couldn’t have been more enraged. He was so distracted that he lost his focus on Wolverine. His metal whips stopped thrashing so effectively, allowing Wolverine to come in and deliver another punishing blow in the form of a kick to the chest. This sent Omega Red falling back against some nearby train tracks. Now flat on his back, Wolverine had his chance to deliver the final blow. Ignoring the threat of a bomb and the original intent of the mission, he prepared to drive his claws right into Omega Red’s chest.
“RRRRAAHHHHHHHHHH!” he roared.
But while in mid-air, he was abruptly grabbed and pulled away by Rogue. Still in his berserker rage, he struggled to break free and finish the job.
“ARRGGHHH! ERRRRR!” roared the angry Wolverine.
“Wolverine…Logan, snap out of it! Ah know Jean or Storm ain’t here, but you gotta come back to us! Even you can’t heal from a bomb this size!” urged Rogue.
Wolverine kept struggling as Rogue flew him back towards the others, who were emerging from Iceman’s ice shell. Nightcrawler appeared next to Deadpool as they ran up to meet up with her. Gambit and Iceman followed close behind with Gambit helping the tired Iceman to keep up. Now that bullets and rockets weren’t flying everywhere, he could rest. But they were still very vulnerable and Wolverine’s berserker rage wasn’t helping.
“Whoa there, old buddy! Take it easy!” said Deadpool as he tried to help Rogue with Wolverine, “That’s it…think happy thoughts. Think back to that weekend in Thailand we had. Or that chick we met in Iran that one time.”
“Rrrraahhhhhh!” he kept roaring.
“Okay…how about a knock-knock joke? I got this one about a guy, a dog, and a hot dog! But I must warn you, it involves certain acts the Bible frowns upon!”
Wolverine turned towards Deadpool, still snarling in his berserker rage. But to his and everyone else’s astonishment, it actually waned. It wasn’t because they were able to calm him down. It was because Deadpool’s dirty comment got him to chuckle. Remarkably enough, a laugh was all it took.
“Heh…a freakin’ joke? That’s all it took?” groaned the now dazed Wolverine.
“Ha! I’ve got a million of them!” said Deadpool, “Never underestimate the power of the joke! Thoust shalt revere the joke!”
It was a bizarre but effective way to calm Wolverine down. Now he stood with Rogue, Gambit, Nightcrawler, Deadpool, and Iceman across from the still downed Omega Red. By now everyone around them was trying to flee. Darkstar and Colossus were helping Omega Red up, who was still seething with anger towards his feral nemesis. The two men continued to stare each other down, yearning for a chance to finish what they started so many decades ago.
“I’m still not finished with you, James!” seethed Omega Red, “I swear on the honor of my people that you and all your cohorts will pay for what you’ve done to my homeland!”
“Already looking forward to it, bub,” grunted Wolverine, “Except next time, I’ll cut off more than your head.”
Omega Red cast the former living weapon one last hateful sneer. Then the wounded Darkstar used her darkforce energy to teleport them away. Before they disappeared, the X-men got one last look from Colossus. Under his breath, he left them one last surprising message.
It was a message that reminded them that Colossus, while loyal to the Omega family, was not one of them. That would be good to know should their paths cross in the future. In a flash of dark light, Omega Red and Colossus disappeared with Darkstar. The bitterness between Wolverine and Omega Red was still strong, but their feud and the answers behind their history would have to be resolved at another time.
At the moment, the X-men had far graver concerns. The bomb was about to go off. Wolverine was still dazed from his berserker rage and Iceman was on the verge of collapse. They had to get out as far away from this place as they could.
“Ugh…can we please go now?” groaned a tired Iceman.
“We’ll never get away fast enough if that thing goes off!” exclaimed Rogue.
“Can’t you just teleport us, Nightcrawler?” said Gambit urgently.
“Zhis many people vith a range of only two miles? Nein, even I have my limits!” lamented Nightcrawler.
“So…we’re done for?” Iceman dreaded.
It seemed pretty grim, but Deadpool wasn’t discouraged. These X-men may not like him, but they he was not above heroics. He found that worked much better with the girls anyways.
“Fear not, X-babies! Uncle Wade has it all taken care of!” he proclaimed, “Just get in close and we’ll take the Deadpool Express to safety!”
“Have you truly lost it, Deadpool?” groaned Nightcrawler.
“You even gotta ask, bub,” grunted Wolverine, “Just do it already! Ain’t like we got a choice!”
Nobody had time to argue with Wolverine’s command. They all did as he said, huddling in close to Deadpool so he could do whatever he promised to do. Once they were in, Deadpool pushed a button on his belt. This activated his teleporter and within seconds, they were all engulfed in a wavy light. The area around them soon faded and they vanished in a light puff of smoke.
Within a few seconds of their departure, the bombs in Shaw’s crates went off. In a blast that rocked the entire surrounding jungle, Shaw’s freight complex, and everybody still inside it were consumed in a fireball that rose up over the tropical canopy. It left a sizable crater in the middle of the jungle, taking with it what was left of this mysterious deal.
‘I am James Howlett.’
The power of a name was an amazing thing. Most people took their names for granted. Who they were and how they saw themselves was something they never had to think about or question. For Logan, his name was in many ways the most frustrating part of his past. The name, Logan, had been his only identity for so long. It was the only identity he remembered. He knew it wasn’t his real name, yet it was enough to hold him together. Now he knew his real name, James Howlett, and for reasons he was only beginning to understand it tore him apart.
Standing atop a ridge, Logan watched the fiery ruins of the freight complex. The blast had been so powerful it utterly obliterated the freight yard, leaving nothing but charred earth in its wake. Standing next to him were a tired and exasperated Bobby, Remy, Rogue, and Kurt. They were all dazed from the maelstrom they just escaped. It was not the most chaotic scene they ever emerged from, but it still took them a moment to process everything. The only one who didn’t look too out of it was Deadpool.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Deadpool commented, “It’s not the most destruction we’ve ever done, but it’s right up there!”
“Guess I’ll have to take your word for it,” muttered Logan, “But you can stop the act, Wade. I know the truth.”
“What truth? That my awesomely cool instincts and cutting edge wit saved your berserker ass for the um-tee thousandth time?”
“That you knew what Omega Red knew,” said Logan more sternly, “You knew I was James Howlett.”
Deadpool fell silent, a rare occurrence for him. Beneath his mask he chuckled. Logan may have been brash to a fault, but he was no fool.
“Okay…maybe I did omit a few details. But come on! Would you have believed someone as crazy as me from the onset?” he retorted.
“Hell no,” Logan muttered, “I’d slug you a good ten times for not saying anything. But it’s damn near pointless now.”
“My jaw thanks you.”
“And even though you knew…you never called me James back when we were partners, did you?” he went on, “You never knew the full story of where I came from, just how I got there.”
Deadpool paused again. Even in his messed up mind, there were serious implications to their past partnership. In many ways it was part of who he was today, as twisted he may be. Now that Logan remembered, he didn’t have to be so coy about it.
“It was never a peachy subject and you know I don’t like downers,” he shrugged, “But sometimes you would start ranting on and on about the grim adventures of James Howlett.”
“How bad was it?” asked Logan.
“It was like a B-rated horror movie, you know like the later sequels of Friday the 13th that sucked? But you’re lucky I’m into those kinds of flicks. Because the really crazy part was you never referred to yourself as James. Not in all the years we worked together. I’d say that’s crazy, but who am I to judge?”
Logan looked away from the burning ruins and back towards Deadpool. This man was so annoying and so unstable. He epitomized so much of what he hated about himself and his past. Yet there were other qualities to him that made up for it. And for that, he smiled.
As the two former partners exchanged looks, Kurt stepped forth with Rogue. Remy and Bobby stayed back with Remy helping his tired friend recover. While this turned out to be a bittersweet reunion for Logan, it was still a chaotic mission for the X-men.
“So who von zhis mission?” Kurt inquired, “If memory serves me right, ve came here to stop an incident zhat could have affected human/mutant relations.”
“And Ah think it’s safe to say that was pretty damn low on everybody’s priority list here,” added Rogue, shooting Logan a disgruntled look.
“Don’t give me that look, stripes. It was a factor,” said Logan, “It ain’t my fault Shaw decided to pull a fast one.”
“But zhe fact remains, Logan. You vere more concerned vith settling an old score zhan being an X-man.”
Logan snarled bitterly, not so much at Kurt’s words but at himself. He really had forgotten what this mission was about. They were supposed to stop a deal that would have far reaching implications for human/mutant relations. The way things panned out, those concerns literally went up in smoke. He pulled the team into the line of fire and they almost got hurt. He had no one to blame but himself.
“You don’t need to remind me, Elf. I know what I did and why I did it,” he said.
“If Cyclops or the Professor were here, Ah’m sure they vould have plenty to say about it,” added Rogue with an equally critical tone.
“I’d rather not and say we did, but if it’ll shut you up and wipe that snide look off your face I’ll tell them the whole story myself,” said Logan bitterly.
“It’s a start,” said Kurt.
“Maybe if ya throw in a few off-days from the Danger Room, that would help too,” suggested Rogue.
“Don’t push it,” said Logan with a half-grin.
“Never hurts to try,” shrugged Bobby.
It may have been selfish of him. Even though he did get some answers from this, it was at their expense. At least they were more than willing to forgive him. He would have done the same for them, albeit with a bit more attitude. They would have plenty to discuss with Professor Xavier when they got back. No one was looking forward to it, but before they could put this incident behind them there was one last issue to address.
“So…vhat happens now?” said Kurt, turning his attention to Deadpool.
“For me? Well I was thinking I would head down to Columbia first, get me one of those authentic Columbian bean burritos, and go salsa dancing,” he said obnoxiously, “But after that, I figure I’ll keep digging on this Shaw guy. It seems the more I look into his business the more interesting and dangerous it gets. And for a guy like me, that’s the perfect combination!”
“Ah’m sure it is,” said Rogue, rolling her eyes.
“But do you still zhink he has something to do vith Amanda and her mother? Vhatever zhis deal vas, it could be related to zhem.”
“Or they could just be swapping recipes for sugar cookies. Who know?” shrugged Deadpool, “But I’ll find out! This mystery is just too fun! And if it makes you feel better, if I do come across some interesting details you’ll be the first to know, blue boy.”
Kurt gave the masked mercenary a strange look. He wasn’t sure how to feel about this. He still resented Deadpool for abducting Amanda and her mother on two occasions, but through this mission he proved to be at least somewhat honorable.
“I can’t believe I’m saying zhis, but…danke,” he said awkwardly.
“Aww, you’re gonna make me cry again!” said Deadpool mockingly.
“Save it for your bean burrito, bub. If you ain’t got anything else to add, why don’t you go off and find someone else to bug?” said Logan, “We got enough shit to deal with for now.”
“So going salsa dancing with me is out?”
Logan just shot him another bemused look.
“Okay! I get it! Salsa is not your thing,” said Deadpool, “But that’s okay! It was nice working with you again old buddy! It’s always a blast in more ways than one! Ha!”
“Yeah…same to you, bub,” said Logan begrudgingly, “Even though you bug the hell out of me, you’re the first guy from my past I’ve met that hasn’t screwed me over.”
“What can I say? You’re just too fun, Logan!” said Deadpool, giving him a friendly pat on the back, “Guess I’ll be seeing you! If ever you want to blow some more stuff up or get wasted in a bar south of the border, you know who to call! Ghostbuster! Sorry, I couldn’t resist!”
That earned Deadpool one last look from Wolverine and the X-men before he hit the button on his teleporter and disappeared. Working with the crazed mercenary had been an experience to say the least, but Deadpool brought for them a strange mix of revelations. This Sebastian Shaw was now more mysterious than ever and they were now near the top of the Omega family’s most hated list. There would be a lot of cleaning up to do, literally and figuratively. They would have quite a story to tell the Professor. Hopefully, he had a more productive night than they did.
Outside Las Vegas Convention Center
Professor Charles Xavier waited anxiously with Hank and Ororo just outside the VIP lounge in the convention center. The debate was over. The broadcast went off without any unusual disruptions. No major mutant incident emerged to throw off the discourse. That feat in and of itself was an accomplishment. However, they could not consider this debate a victory until they got some proof that the public reacted favorably.
There was reason for cautious optimism. Professor Xavier did well against Senator Kelly’s accusations. He was able to counter his fiery rhetoric regarding Proteus and the Mutant Registration Act. The real turning point was how he responded to the senator’s request for an alternative. The speech he gave regarding judging mutants as individuals really seemed to resonate. It remained to be seen if it had resonated enough.
Finally, the doors to the VIP room opened and Lilandra entered with a stack of freshly printed papers in hand. She had a mixed expression on her face. It was hard to tell if she was hopeful or distraught.
“Well…” said Hank anxiously.
Lilandra took a deep breath. Much to their relief, she smiled somewhat.
“So far it looks like you came out on top here, Charles. Initial polls shows that people responded positively to your words. And Senator Kelly came off as a bully.”
“As well he should,” said Ororo.
“But will that be enough?” asked Professor Xavier.
“It’s…hard to say,” said Lilandra, her expression shifting somewhat, “Senator Kelly still has a sizable lead in the polls. But at the very least, this debate has restored a sense of balance to the argument. It doesn’t look like he’ll be able to ride the Proteus incident any longer.”
“Under the circumstances, I suppose that is the best we could have asked for,” said Xavier.
“Perhaps,” Lilandra conceded, “But there is still much work to be done.”
It was hard to call it a victory. It didn’t turn the tide, but it did stem Senator Kelly’s momentum. For mutants everywhere and for Moria and Kevin, it was an important shift. As hard as it was for Charles Xavier to have something so personal become such a public spectacle, he took some comfort in stopping the fallout before it could go too far.
Ororo and Hank stopped pacing, feeling much more relieved. So much was riding on this debate. It was a huge risk for both sides, but it looked as though it would pay off.
“Congratulations, Charles,” said Hank with a friendly gesture, “It seems we’re back on track.”
“For now, at least,” said the Professor, sounding hopeful but realistic.
“So then what’s the next step?” asked Ororo, “Are you going to resume your media campaign?”
Professor Xavier paused for a moment as he contemplated this issue. He looked at Ororo and Hank. Then he looked back at Lilandra. He was tired, both physically and emotionally. After everything he had gone through with Moria and Kevin, it led him to a major decision.
“No Ororo…there will be no more media touring,” he told them.
“But Charles…” began Lilandra with renewed worry.
“I know it is risky during these fragile political times, but my recent experience with Proteus has revealed something to me. As a result of my media campaign, I’ve negated my responsibilities to my X-men. I’ve spent too much time caught up in the politics of my dream that I’ve forgotten the more personal aspects. I have students that are deeply conflicted and others like Jean who are ailing. Regardless of how this election turns out, my primary focus is and should always be my institute.”
It was a major shift for Charles Xavier and one he did not take lightly. Hank and Ororo weren’t sure what to make of it. He did have a point though. His media campaign had distracted him from his school a great deal. The team was in a vulnerable state in wake of the Proteus incident. If they were to get through this, they needed to come together.
Lilandra had more mixed feelings about this. Charles Xavier had been a valuable partner in these media efforts. She never could have made such strides on her own, but she saw how deeply affected he was by Kevin’s death. For this, she could not blame him for wanting to step back and re-focus his efforts.
“I understand, Charles,” said Lilandra, placing a hand on his shoulder, “It will be difficult without you, but I’ll do my best. Someone still has to oppose Senator Kelly’s agenda.”
“I could think of no one better suited than you, my dear,” said Xavier, smiling as he placed his hand over hers, “You’ve been such an inspiration to me and my students. I honestly can’t thank you enough.”
“You don’t have to,” said Lilandra as she smiled back, “For now, you and the X-men focus on keeping the peace. Leave the media and the politics to me. But if ever we get a chance in our busy endeavors, I would still like to keep in touch.”
“As would I,” he said softly.
To reinforce his point, he affectionately kissed her hand. It caused Lilandra to blush profusely, but it also eased some of her concerns. She and Charles had grown very close throughout this affair. What started as a partnership had evolved into something so much deeper. For the challenges that lay ahead, they would need that bond more than ever.
For Hank and Ororo, they found themselves smiling. It was nice to see the Professor moving forward after the death of Kevin. This could be good for him and with Lilandra as an ally, there was still hope.
“What do you think Hank? Will it finally start getting easier?” wondered Ororo.
“I can’t say,” he replied, “The election is drawing near and we still have our share of troubles to deal with.”
“Should we still worry? I can’t help but think this is all leading to something we won’t be able to handle.”
“Yes, I get that feeling too sometimes. PThe best we can do is continue our recovery. That way we can be ready should something more daunting come along.”
It was a difficult notion to contemplate, having more challenges ahead of them. The X-men were reeling. Between Proteus and the stresses of the presidential campaign, it felt as though they were all cracking under the strain. But there was no option to take a break or go back on their duties. Even with the balance restored by this debate, there was little doubt the hardest battles lay ahead.
Xavier Institute – Infirmary
Scott Summers was plagued with worry and restlessness. He had been watching over Jean all day. Her condition hadn’t improved. She was still kept under by a series of IV fluids set up by the Professor. At times he heard her groan and mumble. She was still suffering, her increasingly volatile powers flaring randomly. Scott lost track of how many times he had been hit by various medical supplies. However, he never once contemplated leaving her side.
Sitting slouched over a chair, the anxious X-leader tried to get what rest he could. But this proved to be impossible. Jean was suffering and there was nothing he could do about it. Grunting in frustration, he rose up and rubbed his tired eyes as he reflected on his dire predicament.
‘To hell with sleep! How can I sleep when the woman I love is suffering like this? It’s been a week…a long, painful week. And she’s still not getting better! Why? What could be hurting her this much?’
Looking up from his distraught state, Scott dragged himself back over to Jean’s bedside. She seemed so peaceful, yet he knew she was suffering. It tore at his heart in every possible way. Never before had he felt so helpless. Even in the worst situations he faced as an X-man, there was still always a way to keep fighting. This was different. There was nothing he could do for Jean. That powerless feeling was the hardest to deal with.
Seeing her like this also gave Scott time to reflect on just how much this woman meant to him. She had been part of his life since he joined the X-men. As his best friend, she helped him rise above the tragedies of his past. As his lover, she filled a void in his heart that he thought would never be filled again. Even though he had loved other women before, he never loved someone so completely as he loved Jean Grey.
Dazed and tired on so many levels, he found himself clutching Jean’s hand again. Beyond all the sorrow and worry, he found himself talking to her as if she was conscious.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, Jean. But there are a lot of things I need to tell you…important things that I should have told you before all this happened,” he said, his voice choked with emotion, “I know we waited a long time to get together. Going all the way back to those moments we shared in the Savage Land, we had so many chances. But regardless of how long it took us, every day since that first kiss have been a blessing. I can honestly say that being with you has been the happiest time of my life.”
He squeezed her hand harder, hoping that she was hearing his every word.
“I admit it hasn’t been easy. I’m not always as open as I should be. Like when Madelyn came back into the picture with you or Alex and Gabriel opened old wounds with me, I’ve been…distant to say the least. We’ve been through so much and we’ve become so close and yet I still shut you out sometimes…like I’ve shut so many others out before. But I don’t want it to be that way with you. You’re more to me than just a girlfriend. You’re…everything to me. I love you so much. I love you with all my heart and every fiber of my being. I’m not always good at showing that, but it’s the honest to God truth.”
He had to stop for a moment, the emotions becoming too much. Scott very rarely got worked up like this. It was part of what made him the calm, competent leader he was. This was one instance where he couldn’t hold back. Jean was too important to him.
“Please Jean…whatever it is you’re going through you can beat it! I…I can’t stand seeing you like this. I want to help you through this. I’ll do whatever it takes! You’ve always brought out the best in people. You’ve made everyone around you stronger, even me. Now let me return the favor! Let me help you!”
While still holding her hand, Scott lovingly caressed her face. He was determined to be the man he had to be for her. Desperate to reach the woman he loved, he gently leaned in to kiss her. But just as his lips were about to touch hers, something happened.
Jean’s eyes abruptly shot open. As they did, they revealed a fiery glow very similar to the one she had during the Proteus fight. This glow quickly intensified and in a bright flash of fiery yellow light, a wave of psionic force erupted throughout the room.
Scott was thrown clear across the room along with all the medical equipment, IVs, and various supplies. He slammed shoulder first against the wall and had to guard his head as various projectiles swirled around him. Containers shattered and medical equipment was mangled beyond repair. Even her bed shook as her body seemed to contort in this mysterious display of power.
It all happened within the span of a few seconds. When it was over and the fiery light faded, everything fell silent again. When Scott recovered to take it all in, he saw an infirmary in ruin. But more importantly, he saw a conscious Jean Grey sitting upright and clutching her head.
“Jean!” he exclaimed.
Ignoring the pain and his shoulder, he ran to her bedside. Jean was actually trembling, groaning in a daze of pain and confusion. Gasping for air, she tightly hugged her knees.
“Jean…Jean, what’s wrong?” he asked intently as he took her in his arms, “Talk to me! Tell me what happened!”
“Scott…” she said in a dazed and distant tone, “I don’t know! I honestly don’t know!”
She was on the verge of breaking down. She leaned in closer to Scott’s embrace as she started sobbing uncontrollably. All he Scott could do was hold her in his loving grip and try desperate to sooth her anguish.
“Shh…it’ll be okay, Jean. I promise. Everything’s going to be okay.”
While still locked in his embrace, she looked up at him to reveal that her eyes were still glowing. That fiery hue that seemed to be part of her mysterious display of power didn’t go away. Between sobs and gasps, she clung to her lover. But there was no hiding the truth.
“No Scott…it’s not okay,” she cried, “And it’s going to get much worse!”
Next Issue: The Phoenix Saga
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