The world is in the midst of a historic transition. Senator Robert Kelly, a lifelong crusader in the human/mutant conflict, carried growing public anxiety towards mutants into an ambitious presidential campaign that ended in victory. Now he is set to take the reigns as President of the United States. It leaves Charles Xavier and his X-men to carry on their battle for peace and understanding in a more tumultuous world.
Besides the election, the X-men have endured their share of issues. They endured encounters with the mysterious Mr. Sinister. There also endured been various family affairs involving Jean Grey’s deviant cousin, Madelyne Pryor, and Scott Summers’s misguided brother, Alex Summers. Mystique also emerged as she continues to pursue questions left unanswered by the late Azazel, causing a number of clashes with her children, Kurt and Rogue. But one of the biggest shifts came from Warren Worthington III, who decided to leave the X-men and rejoined his family company.
Such upheavals has tested the resolve of Charles Xavier and the X-men. So far they have remained united and strong, but with Senator Kelly preparing to take the Oath of Office a new host of challenges awaits them.
Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Office
Mid-January in Westchester was always cold and blustery. There was rarely a time when there wasn’t a layer of snow on the ground. It was especially cold this year, as if to reflect the anxiety throughout the mutant community surrounding the historic event set to transpire later today.
Professor Charles Xavier kept warm with a blanket on his lap and a cup of hot tea by his side. It was early morning and most of the team were just waking up. He could already sense their anxious thoughts. There seemed to be a prevailing assumption that something was going to go horribly wrong today and it may be an all too safe assumption. Taking weak sips as he sat hunched over his computer, he reflected on this uncertain state of affairs.
Xavier journal entry 137-120. Today is Inauguration Day. Within six hours, Senator Kelly will officially become President Kelly. Not long ago, many would have considered his election a disaster. The situation, however, has changed substantially. The entire scope of human/mutant relations has changed. At this point, uncertainty is the only real certainty.
The past two months have been a transition period. While the senator prepares to take office, the mutant community remains divided. Genosha has become more isolated, especially after Magneto’s plot to turn Kelly and his family into mutants. While details of the event have not been leaked to the media, the effects are already noticeable. Genosha’s boarders have been tightened and the international naval blockade guarding the island has expanded. Tensions are high, yet Magneto appears to be keeping quiet. I’m inclined to believe he’s biding his time for something far greater. What that may entail is an ongoing mystery as is so often the case.
As such, Senator Kelly has endured some isolation of his own. Much has been said about his son being a mutant. His previous stance on mutants has clearly been shaken now that it has become personal. He appears less inclined to show hostility towards mutants. While I welcome this shift, his supporters are less understanding. His advisor, Reverend William Stryker, has been especially vocal. He’s already come out as saying that the senator has faltered because of his son. He also claims this will stop their anti-mutant agenda, but I’m not so certain. I get the sense that the new president will face just as great a challenge from his supporters as he will the mutant community.
Whatever challenges await, I’ve made sure my X-men are prepared. It has been difficult in wake of Warren’s departure. I’ve remained in close contact with him, but his new duties as Worthington Industry’s new executive manager have kept him busy. He claims his company is doing advanced work on the management of certain mutant abilities. He claims his company is on the cusp of a major breakthrough. I wish I could share in that confidence. I still worry that he’ll fall into the same mindset as his father.
Besides Warren’s departure, there have been other less dramatic developments. The past couple of months has given my X-men time to catch up on their studies. Some have even made important personal strides. Scott and Jean officially moved in together and now share a room. Bobby and Kitty have officially passed state sanctioned tests to move up a grade level. Rogue and Remy hope to do the same by the end of winter. Logan and Ororo remain together and appear happy. However, Logan has been struggling with some personal matters lately, the details of which I have not been privy to. Ororo tells me it’s minor and I’m inclined to believe her, at least for now. Hank has also established quite a rapport with his new girlfriend, Tessa. Their personal relationship has been complimented by a professional relationship as well. Both he and Tessa have pooled their intellectual resources into equipping the X-men for this new era of mutant relations.
In addition to new personal resources, the welcomed a some new physical resources into our arsenal. Scott and I managed to procure a new aircraft to compliment to X-jet. It is an advanced helicopter made by a little known subsidiary of Lilandra’s company, Chandilar Enterprise. We’ve dubbed it the Velocity. It has a full compliment of advanced stealth, firepower, and maneuverability so the X-men can get in and out of hot-spots more easily. It also provides a valid alternative in case the X-jet is out of commission.
However, the greatest new asset to the team has been the recently completed Cerebro. I have dubbed it Cerebrum to reflect the evolution of our most important tool. With the latest round of upgrades, it’s capacity will be greatly expanded. We now have the ability to zero in on mutants when they aren’t using their powers and discern specific thoughts amidst conflicting projections. For the time being it has given us a leg up over those like Magneto and Sinister, who continue to refine psychic dampening technology.
I plan on performing the first major test later this morning after Hank gives me the go-ahead. It will provide valuable insight for the coming inauguration ceremonies. If these dire assumptions are vindicated, my X-men will know about and act accordingly.
Smiling confidently, Professor Xavier saved his information and finished his tea. As he prepared to put the finishing touches on his entry, there was a knock on his office door and Scott Summers walked in.
“Breakfast is almost ready, Professor. Are you going to join us?” he asked.
“I’ll be down soon, Cyclops,” said Xavier, “For once my appetite has outpaced my workload.”
“You must be pretty hungry then,” quipped the X-leader, “But you better hurry. Remy’s making his famous Cajun omelets. Between Kurt’s appetite and Logan’s burning need to test his spice tolerance, it’s bound to go quickly.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Scott smiled back as he left his mentor to finish his entry. The Professor stretched his tired limbs as he turned back to his computer screen. But just as he was about to enter the last few lines, he was struck with an unexpected yet familiar feeling. A wave of nausea and weakness came over him, almost as if his body was attacking itself.
“Augh!” Xavier groaned as he keeled over his desk.
In his dazed he knocked over his half-empty tea cup, causing it to spill over his desk and onto the floor. With his limited strength he fought through this feeling. Clutching his desk and closing his eyes, he endured as best he could. There was call for help. There was only a silent endurance from the world’s most powerful psychic.
Within two minutes it was over. Upon opening his eyes he was relieved to see that Scott didn’t pick up on his distress. Once he recovered, he adjusted himself to make it look as though nothing was amiss. He fixed his shirt and wiped the lingering sweat from his brow. He was ready to rejoin his team, but before he rolled out from his desk he entered one last line to his journal.
I still haven’t told them yet. The time is not right, nor is it prudent. My students worry enough about their own lives. They don’t need me adding to their problems. We have a new President and a new host of challenges before us. I need to be there for them regardless of my physical limitations. Now more than ever, the world needs the X-men.
Xavier Institute – Kitchen
Breakfast was in full swing and Remy took center stage with his Cajun cooking abilities. With Ororo and Logan helping Hank in the Cerebro chamber, it was on him to make a hardy Inauguration Day meal. It was a role he took on with complete confidence and nobody was complaining thus far.
“Order up, fellas! The next round of hash browns and grits be ready for serving!” Remy grinned proudly as he scooped up a helping of his carefully concocted dish.
“Dibs!” Bobby called out, his mouth half-full of food, “Hope you didn’t skimp on the paprika!”
“Does Remy ever?” scoffed the Cajun mutant.
“Speak for yourself, Bobby. Since when does someone with ice powers feel the need to ingest spicy Cajun cuisine?” said Kitty, who was still working on her first helping of pancakes.
“Since when have I cared for nationalities in my food? So long as it’s good, I’ll eat it!”
“Amen to zhat, mien friend!” said Kurt, who was already working on his second helping of bacon, “Ve should all be grateful. It is after all our last meal before ve have Senator Kelly as president.”
“Which makes enjoying it all the more more vital! For all we know, his first act as President is to ban mutants from enjoying a good meal,” said Bobby as he shoveled food onto his plate.
“Don’t even joke about that, Bobby!” said Kitty, “Even if he is a grade-A jerk, we’re supposed to be cautiously optimistic.”
“With a homme like Kelly? Optimism be dangerous close to wishful thinking, petite,” said Remy as he started work on his next round of hash browns.
“Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst isn’t wishful thinking. Hell, it’s the only thing that keeps us sane at time,” said Kitty.
“Except the worst always has a way of finding us,” sighed Bobby, “Man, why did Warren have to leave at a time like this. He’s getting off easy!”
“At least ve know ve’ll have more excitement to look forward to,” said Kurt as he dug into more bacon, “Not to mention much better meals to prepare us!”
It was a half-hearted yet sobering consolation. Usually around this time Warren would just be getting back from his morning flight. He usually sat right next to Bobby and would have made another comment about Senator Kelly. Many were still adjusting to his departure. The X-men so often prided themselves at staying unified yet here they were on Inauguration Day with one of their friends having left to pursue a new role with his family company.
Warren’s absence aside, the team followed Bobby’s lead and stocked up on energy for the coming day. While they finished their meal, Scott entered the kitchen to get his share before it was gone. He started making his way over to the makeshift buffet that was set up next to Remy, but took a moment to greet Jean who was sitting with Rogue at the table adjacent to the others.
“Morning beautiful,” he greeted as he gave her a warm hug.
“Morning handsome,” Jean greeted in return, “The Professor on his way?”
“He’ll be down in a minute. Just finishing up some paperwork.”
These casual shows of affection were typical to the point where nobody made as big a deal about them as they used to. Now that Jean and Scott had been a serious couple for a while, the team was used to the way they carried themselves. That didn’t mean there certain subtleties went unnoticed.
In wake of Jean’s encounter with the Phoenix, she and Scott moved in together so that they were now sharing a master bedroom. It was a major step in their relationship. They were beyond boyfriend and girlfriend. Some were already commenting how they acted like a married couple, but Scott and Jean didn’t seem to mind. It showed just how much their love had grown.
“Ah take it you two ain’t sick of each other yet,” commented Rogue, who was sitting across the table from Jean.
“What can I say? Scott is just one of those guys you can’t get enough of,” quipped Jean as she finished a helping of eggs.
“Bet you don’t think that after he wakes you up for Level 8 Danger Room session at four in the morning,” she retorted in her thick southern accent.
“Well some parts are more appealing than others,” she shrugged.
“Ah dated him too. You don’t need to tell meh. If you two ain’t at each others’ throats yet, you must be doing something right. Ah almost don’t mind that you practically stole him from meh.”
“We’re not going to get into that old argument, are we?”
“Nah! You’re lucky Ah ain’t the vindictive ex-girlfriend type. Even if Ah was Ah wouldn’t be dumb enough to take on someone with a cosmic firebird on her side.”
Her words were dry yet still bore a hint of concern. It was easy to forget at times that Rogue was Scott’s ex-girlfriend. She did still care about him a great deal, even when he was in the midst of relationship that had grown so serious. It was also easy to forget that Rogue couldn’t enjoy such intimacy because she couldn’t touch anymore. Jean offered a look of compassion to her fellow X-man. Even though she and Rogue didn’t always get along, she did consider her a friend and made it clear she wasn’t making light of her situation.
Rogue shifted under Jean’s gaze as she finished her bacon and sausage. Even if Jean was getting serious with her ex-boyfriend, it was hard to hate someone who was so nice to her. Her gaze then drifted towards Remy, who was still hard at work over the stove. Seeing Scott and Jean grow so close only reminded her that she once had a chance to experience something similar and now that chance had passed.
“Ah hope you appreciate the hand you’ve been dealt, Jean. Aside from the whole death and resurrection part, you’re a damn lucky gal, Jean,” said Rogue.
“I know I am,” said Jean, maintaining a strong humility, “I’m grateful for every day I have with Scott. We could very easily have stayed dead after what we went through.”
“Must make moving in a lot less daunting,” she added, “What’s it like sharing a bedroom with Scott Summers?”
“It’s an experience, that’s for sure,” said the young psychic, still smiling as she finished her coffee, “It kind of helps that we’ve been living under the same roof for the better part of a decade. We’ve already got a leg up on sharing space with one another.”
“Ah know there’s a but coming here and no cosmic bird is powerful enough to deny it,” said Rogue wryly.
“Oh I’m not afraid to say it’s been rough at times,” Jean conceded, “Little things like having to negotiate closet space, organizing each others books and movie collections, and sharing a bathroom lead to more than a few arguments. I’ve already frustrated him a and he’s frustrated me on more than one occassion.”
“Don’t Ah know it,” laughed Rogue, “When we were together, Ah was always amazed how upset he got when someone re-arranged his books.”
“It’s part of who he is, I guess. He’s not quite neurotic, but being so a leader in the field roughly translates translates into being a neat freak at home.”
“Has it given you any second thoughts?”
“None whatsoever,” said Jean confidently, “This is what you go through when you take that next step with somebody. It’s fair amount of work, but it’s so worth it! We’ve already accomplished some pretty amazing feats for a couple.”
“More amazing than dying and coming back to life?” quipped Rogue.
“Allow me to offer an example then,” said Jean, her grin never waning, “Yesterday Scott was taking a shower and I had to use the bathroom. So without thinking I walked right in, the door already being half-open mind you, and did my business. And you know what Scott did?”
“Stare in utter mortification like he does whenever Wolverine disobeys him?” said Rogue.
“Nope! He didn’t even bat an eye. It was totally not awkward!” she proclaimed proudly, “I think that more than anything sums up the current state of our relationship.”
Rogue looked at her awkwardly. It was a strange way of getting a message across, but it worked. She and Scott had progressed beyond the petty stages of boyfriend and girlfriend. For someone like Rogue who had been romantically involved with Scott Summers, it took on a particularly strong meaning.
“Fahne, Ah’ll say it. That’s pretty dang amazing,” said Rogue dryly, turning back to her breakfast.
“Coming from Scott’s ex, that means so much to me,” teased Jean.
“Spare meh the melodrama, Jean. Just because Ah’m happy for you and Scott doesn’t mean Ah wanna dwell on it. Some issues are still a bit touchy,” she said, gesturing with her gloved hand to reinforce her point.
“Sorry, I’ll try to be more sensitive,” said Jean in a more serious tone, “But try not to get too down. One day you too may know the joys of sharing bathroom antics with a significant other.”
“Yeah…one day,” said Rogue skeptically, “It’ll probably be the same day Senator Kelly invites us to the White House for dinner.”
The outlook for the X-men’s public struggles seemed nowhere near as rosy as their private affairs. With a man like Robert Kelly set to become President of the United States, this could very well be their last peaceful breakfast for a while. Uncertainty lingered heavily over the team and probably would continue to do so for much of this historic day.
Washington DC – St. John’s Episcopal Church
“In the name of God, the Son, and the Angels of Heaven…can somebody please get me a phone that works?!” groaned the perturbed voice of Reverend William Stryker.
“I’m sorry, Reverend. We’ve had to scramble all incoming telecommunications for security reasons,” said a uniformed man from the Secret Service.
“Well if it isn’t too much trouble, find me something that functions at least somewhat better than Morse Code!” Stryker replied in a calm, but firm tone, “If we’re to make sure Inauguration Day goes off without incident, we need to be able to communicate!”
“I understand, sir. I assure you we’re working on it.”
“Try to work faster! The Lord didn’t make haste a commandment, but so long as the new President is under my watch it will be treated as such!”
The fire and brimstone in Reverend Stryker’s tone made it sound like he was the one being sworn in. Even though he had no official authority aside from a trusted advisor, his orders carried a lot of weight. He was the de-facto organizer of the protection plan for the soon-to-be President Robert Kelly. He commanded both the Secret Service and a private security force he commissioned just for this occasion. There wasn’t going to be another incident on his watch.
Robert Kelly and his family were already going through the motions of Inauguration Day tradition. As was custom, he attended an early morning church. Unlike previous presidents, agents of the Secret Service and Stryker’s security forces, the Purifiers, scrutinized everyone attending the ceremony. Even as the priest did his sermon, armed men walked up and down the aisles. It certainly felt strange having this kind of security in what was supposed to be an open house of worship, but the historic magnitude of this day made it necessary.
Even as the priest stepped down, the security forces swarmed around every entrance and exit. They kept talking back and forth on communicators, adding to a general sense of uneasiness. It was especially difficult for Robert Kelly, who tried to find some comfort in the church. He found himself spending most of his time clinging to his mutant son, who was visibly spooked by the reactions he saw from others.
“They’re staring at me again, Daddy!” the boy whimpered, “Can we please go now?”
“Just sit tight, son,” said Robert in a reassuring tone, “These men need to do their jobs first. Then we can leave.”
“Will it be over then? I want to get away from these people! They hate me!”
The usually stern politician’s expression sank at the young boy’s pained tone. He briefly exchanged glances with his wife, Sharon. Their son was still getting used to being a mutant and with him preparing to take office, he could not escape the scrutiny that every presidential family faced. Only for him, it was going to be much harder.
“It’ll be alright. I promise,” he said softly, “I just need you to be strong for me, okay?”
The scared and distant boy looked up at his father with desperate eyes.
“Okay…I’ll try,” he said.
“At a boy,” said Kelly with a slight smile.
With his son still clinging to him, Senator Kelly rose along with his wife and daughter. As soon as he stood up, four of Reverend Stryker’s security personnel surrounded him.
“The Secret Service set up an separate exit in the back, sir,” said one of the Purifiers, “Please come with us and we’ll show you the way.”
“Very well, but is it really necessary for you people to be brandishing those weapons of yours so openly?” said Sharon Kelly.
“Sorry ma’am. Reverend Stryker’s orders,” said another Purifier, “We need to have our weapons ready at all times.”
“I appreciate your dedication, but this is a church. Revered Stryker of all men should respect that,” she retorted.
“Like I said, we have our orders.”
The four men hurried the first family along. Sharon Kelly continued to show her disapproval. She tried to stay close to her children and husband. She thought their family was prepared for the presidency. With each passing moment, she was seeing just how wrong she was.
Her discomfort did not go unnoticed by Robert Kelly. He looked over towards Stryker, who was still barking out orders in the back corner of the church. He seemed right at home in a place like this. Directing these security forces was just a bonus. While he still trusted Stryker more than the Secret Service, a part of him was still put off by the way he was carrying himself.
“Sharon, take the kids and follow these men out back,” he said, “I need to have a talk with Reverend Stryker.”
Sharon shared her husband’s suspicious gaze towards Stryker. She didn’t need to be convinced that the man needed to be confronted.
“Of course, Robert,” she said as she took her son and daughter’s hands, “Take as much time as you need.”
However, one of the Purifiers wasn’t so understanding.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re on a tight schedule. Reverend Stryker explicitly said…”
“Reverend Stryker isn’t the president elect. And if it’s all to same to you and your men, I would appreciate you not treating him as such,” retorted Kelly sternly.
“Sir…” the man said, taken aback by his tone.
“Now if you don’t mind, please escort my family to the back. And while you’re at it, tell your men to stop glaring at my son. I don’t care how you feel about mutants. You people will show my family some respect!”
His tone left no room for argument. The four Purifiers were still hesitant, caught between the orders of Reverend Stryker and the president elect. In the end the president’s orders won out. The four men led Sharon Kelly and her two kids out the back. While Robert stayed behind, he noticed his son turning back towards him and smiling somewhat. The soon-to-be president smiled back. At the same time it made him wary. If this was to be a trend then his job as humanity’s leader against the mutant menace was going to be much more complicated.
With these conflicting thoughts in mind, the president elect stormed over towards Reverend Stryker. He was still barking out orders to a couple of Secret Service agents.The men he was addressing seemed unnerved in his presence. He couldn’t say he blamed them.
“William, we need to talk,” said Kelly strongly.
Reverend Stryker groaned as he turned away from the two Secret Service agents.
“Can it wait, Robert? You should be heading out back by now,” said the reverend, “We have a strict schedule to keep and we need to make sure the proper security is in place.”
“Seeing as how this schedule of yours can’t go on without the new president, that’s just something you’ll have to deal with,” he retorted, “Because I’ll hold it up as long as I have to until you get off your power trip and start listening!”
Reverend Stryker scowled at the new president’s tone. It was a tone he had been getting a lot more of lately. He joined this man’s campaign with the understanding that they shared a common crusade against the mutant menace. Now he wasn’t so sure.
“Fine Robert,” said Stryker bitterly, “What is it? What’s so important that we have to risk holding up your own inauguration?”
“It’s you, Reverend! The way you’ve been conducting yourself lately has given me serious reservations about leaving you to your own devices.”
“Are we really going to discuss this again? You gave me your trust when you first brought me on as your campaign manager. I have done nothing but cherish that trust since the beginning.”
“Up until the election I would have agreed with you. Now I’m not so sure,” said the president elect, “Magneto made our jobs a lot harder when he turned my son into a mutant. Granted, you’ve helped me deal with the media scrutiny that came about afterward.”
“You’re welcome by the way,” said Reverend Stryker dryly.
“But I told you the day of the election that my son is going to change things. If we’re going to do what we set out to do, we must proceed carefully.”
“You know how I feel about being careful with mutants, Robert. Don’t make me repeat myself. I’ve done that enough with my congregation.”
“Your congregation doesn’t have the weight of a presidency bearing down on their shoulders,” Kelly reminded him, “Now I kept you on board because we share a common goal. Yet here you are commanding your own security forces as if you were some kind of military officer.”
“I’m a soldier of the Lord. I cannot help how the spirit guides me.”
“I don’t give wooden nickel what guides you! I expect you to operate within a context!”
“Now you’re worried about context, Robert? Has the incident with your son really changed you that much?”
“Don’t bring my son into this!”
“Why not? It seems to be the source of so much frustration,” said the Reverend sternly, “It makes me wonder whether this context you speak of is just a mask for your dampened resolve in confronting the mutant issue.”
“Let’s not get into this, William! This has nothing to do with my resolve!”
“Does it?” Stryker questioned, “Be honest in this most holy of buildings. Would you be this upset with me if you didn’t have a mutant for a son now?”
Robert Kelly had to take a deep breath, reminding himself that he was about to become president. He couldn’t afford to lose his cool even if he was dealing with sensitive issues like his family, which seemed to be affecting him more with each passing day.
“Let’s not waste time dwelling on the semantics,” he said in a calmer tone, “The issue at hand isn’t about my family. It’s about you carrying out your own agenda at my expense.”
“My agenda? I was under the impression our goals were one in the same.”
“They still are. At least I hope that’s the case,” said Kelly in a more critical tone, “Don’t think I’m not aware of what you’re doing, William. While I’ve been busy smiling for the cameras, I’ve noticed how you’ve been consolidating your forces. You have a nice little army of followers at your side. You even gave them a name. The Purifiers certainly has a nice ring to it.”
“I don’t see what’s wrong with adding more manpower to our endeavor. We need all the help we can get.”
“I question the kind of help we’re getting. I’m certainly a bit uneasy with the way you’re handling them, acting as though they’re standing at the front lines of a war that hasn’t begun. It concerns me because I don’t remember war being the first option of our plan.”
“Forgive me for trying not to be so naïve as to think war with the wicked can be placated diplomatically,” retorted Stryker.
“You see therein lies the reason why you continue to upset me,” said the president elect, moving in closer to the reverend so he could see the serious intent in his eyes, “The human/mutant conflict is a struggle, but it is not a crusade. The people did not elect me to start a war. They elected me to ensure peace. You may have helped me become president, but I won’t return the favor by helping you pursue your own little holy war.”
The reverend fell silent in face of the new leader of the free world. His resolve was not shaken, but the circumstances couldn’t be ignored. This man who he considered an ally and a close friend was showing weakness. He didn’t see in his eyes the fire and intent he saw when they were campaigning. It was a weakness a righteous battle such as theirs couldn’t afford to have.
The soon-to-be president took Reverend Stryker’s silence as confirmation that they had an understanding. It was clear who the president was and who was in charge. Even if he was skeptical of his mindset, he had to accept his terms if he wanted to be a part of this endeavor.
Having said what needed to be said Robert Kelly turned to follow the Secret Service towards the rear exit so he could rejoin his family. Before he went too far, Reverend Stryker had one last message for him.
“Ephesians chapter 5 verse 6. Do you know it, Robert?” he said as the president elect walked off.
“We’re finished, William,” Kelly said, doing his best not to show any further weakness.
“Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience,” he proclaimed with a tone worthy of any preacher, “We cannot allow the words of the wicked dissuade us from our God-given duty. Don’t give in to the whims of disobedience. Our souls and the souls of many innocent humans depend on it!”
Xavier Institute – Lower Levels
Most people were well-aware of the dangers of smoking. Few really heeded the benefits, if they were even willing to consider there were any. Smoking may have been dirty, but it offering a calm that was almost as appealing as the nicotine. For Logan, this calm outweighed any health scare regardless of his healing factor.
Taking a thick drag off his cigar, the former living weapon exhaled deeply with his typical disgruntled tone. It had been a rough couple of months for him. Since that fateful encounter with Mystique, he had been at a loss. It certainly didn’t help that he kissed her. It helped even less that he had a girlfriend in Ororo who didn’t deserve that kind deceit. That’s why he ended up telling her the very next day. She was taken aback, but more understanding than he deserved. Even now as she walked with him towards Cerebro, she showed no malice and even offered comfort for his his troubled state.
“You really should put that cigar out, Logan. You don’t want the Professor or Cyclops reminding you of the institute smoking policy, do you?” said Ororo as she locked arms with her lover, “I know how you feel about lectures.”
“So long as you don’t lecture me, I’ll take it,” muttered Logan as he exhaled deeply, “You ain’t gonna start, are you? Because I got enough of that shit with Jeannie.”
“Lucky for you I’m a bit more understanding with certain vices,” the African woman replied with a reassuring gesture, “I suppose there are worse habits you could have.”
“Are you just saying that because the smell of tobacco gets you hot?”
“Now why would you think that? You haven’t been talking to Remy again, haven’t you?” she surmised.
“Why would I need to do that?” he shrugged, “Ain’t like you’re subtle about it.”
“Thus proving my point. You accept my little quirks. The least I can do is accept yours.”
“You think waking up at 3 am to water those exotic plants of yours is a quirk?” quipped Logan with a half-grin.
“You would be amazed how much that annoyed some of my former boyfriends.”
“Well it’s their own damn fault for being light sleepers.”
The two lovers shared a good laugh. Ororo felt Logan’s demeanor ease somewhat, but it was only to a point. He was still clearly distressed. This was certainly not unusual for a man with such a long list of issues. However, certain issues concerned Ororo more than others.
“Bad habits aside, you don’t always have to turn to cigars, Logan,” said Ororo in a more serious tone, “Smoking may not bother me, but your reasons for smoking certainly do.”
“You’re worried that nicotine can come between a guy and a beautiful woman?” said Logan.
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t an underlying meaning.”
“Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar,” retorted Logan.
“And sometimes it implies something deeper and I can still sense what that meaning entails. Or more accurately, I sense who it entails.”
Logan stopped walking briefly. He finished the rest of his cigar in one last long drag. Two months later and he still did a piss poor job of hiding it. It was almost as bad as the aftermath of learning who James Howlett was. Even when Ororo was so understanding it bugged the hell out of him.
“Logan…” Ororo began, her tone becoming more sentimental.
“Do you really want to bring this up again, darlin’?” groaned Logan, “It was hard enough when I had to tell Elf and Stripes I swapped spit with their mom!”
“You’re my lover. We can’t ignore this. Not if we want to make it work.”
“I ain’t trying to ignore it. I already came clean. I kissed Mystique. I don’t know why, but I did it and I sure as hell ain’t proud of it.”
“The fact you were honest and told me when you could have easily lied means a lot, Logan. After what happened between me and Hank, I value that kind of honesty.”
“So why the hell are we letting it affect us? This is the same kind of shit that messed things up with Jeannie and I don’t want it to happen with you!”
Logan affectionately cupped her chin, showing a kind of sincerity that was usually shrouded by his gruff demeanor. Ororo smiled again, but she remained serious.
“I’m trying not to let it affect me, Logan. I’ve already forgiven you. You’ve done more than enough to make it up to me,” she said.
“Four extra dates, two bike races where I let you win, and enough makeup sex for our own porno series still doesn’t sound like enough,” said Logan with a half-grin.
“It shows me just how much you care,” Ororo continued, smiling somewhat as well, “But even though I’ve forgiven you, you still can’t seem to forgive yourself. I’m not sure if you’re just being overly hard on yourself.”
“Well I am a glutton for punishment in case you’ve forgotten,” Logan pointed out.
“But I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s something else that may have anything to do with Mystique. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe kissing her was something in your subconscious trying to get out. Maybe it’s another sign from your past that manifested in an unexpected way.”
“If it’s bad enough to make me kiss Mystique then I’m pretty damn certain I don’t wanna know the details.”
“Whatever it is, it may not be the last time it happens. We need to be prepared for it to happen again,” Ororo continued, “I understood from the beginning that being with you came with certain challenges. There’s a lot in your past you don’t know and if history is any indication, it’s going to find a way to reach you. And I still want to be there for you when that happens.”
“That alone gives you bigger balls than anyone I’ve ever come across. Problem is might not be enough. There’s ain’t much about kissing Mystique that can be pleasant,” said Logan with lingering reservation.
“I’ll take that chance. That’s what you do for someone you love,” said Ororo strongly as she gave his hand a firm squeeze, “But I cannot help you if you’re not willing to help yourself. I can be by your side, but only if you’re willing to look forward and not over your shoulder every other second. Do you think you can do that, Logan?”
Logan muttered a string of curses. He could fight his way through entire armies, but when a woman like Ororo reached out to him like this he couldn’t turn away. Just like Jeannie, she was willing to risk the hardships that came with being his lover. He could list so many reasons why it was a bad idea for her to be with him. None of them were enough to make her back down.
“For you Ro…I’ll be as welling as you need me to be,” he sighed.
“That’s all the assurance I need,” Ororo smiled as she offered him another tender gesture.
“As if I can say no to that look in your eyes?” added the former living weapon, “I swear you had Jeannie teach it to you.”
“She may have offered me some advice,” quipped Ororo coyly, “It’s not my fault it works so well.”
“Guess I’ll need to have a little chat with her about that. I should probably know the other little tidbits she’s given you.”
“It might be a little late for that. Besides, those tidbits are helpful. Don’t I need all the help I can get if I’m to handle a man like you?”
“If you need tips from my ex to keep up then maybe you’re the one that should be smoking these cigars, Ro.”
Ororo gave her lover a playful swat. It was nice to see that his conflicted state hadn’t dampened his wry sense of humor. She endured her lovers being drawn to other women before. She was determined to not make the same mistakes. It helped that Logan was honest from the beginning. It also helped he had somewhat of an excuse because of his past. Understanding was key for the growth of their relationship and Ororo had grown to love Logan too much to let something like this tear them apart.
“I’ll find healthier ways of coping if I need to,” said the African woman as she latched onto Logan’s arm and started walking with him again, “For now, we have important X-men duties to attend to. The Professor wants us present for Cerebrum’s first test run.”
“Like we need a supped up gizmo to tell us there’s going to be trouble,” scoffed Logan.
“All the more reason to be ready,” she reasoned, “If this machine is as powerful as Hank boasts, then it’s likely we’ll find something that requires X-men’s presence.”
“On a day when a prick like Robert Kelly is becoming president…hell, I’m lookin’ forward to it!”
District X Eastside Bar – One Week Ago
“Hey slime ball! I need another round!” barked a disgruntled and tipsy Callisto.
“You keep calling me that and the next round will have paint thinner in it,” replied the mutant barkeeper from the other end, whose appearance included slimy greenish skin that allowed him to form multiple limbs.
“Does it look like I care? Throw whatever the hell you want in my drink! So long as it gets me shit faced I’ll take it!”
The barkeeper snarled, causing some more slimy entrails to slither from his mutant form. This seemed to be his unique way of showing discontent. For Callisto, she could care less. She came to the surface to get as drunk as her body would allow her and she wasn’t leaving District X until she succeeded.
‘God damn America. I can’t believe they still call this country the land of the free! Everybody is just SO excited about Senator Kelly becoming president they don’t seem to mind he’s a wannabe tyrant taking his fragile ego out on mutants. Guess genocide isn’t too big an issue anymore.’
The bartender begrudgingly served her another drink. This time it was the heavy stuff. It looked like a mix of bourbon, tequila, and vodka. Even in a bar full of mutants, it caused some to gag. But Callisto was not dissuaded. She eagerly grabbed the glass and gulped half of it down in one gasp. The alcohol quickly burned the back of her throat and muddled her senses. With the way she was slouching she was drawing her share of attention and it wasn’t of the friendly kind.
This was one of the busiest bars in District X. Like everything else in this area, it was exclusive to mutants. Figures of all kinds including those that looked inhuman like the bartender were present in this small, but well-stocked bar. None of them seemed too happy to see Callisto. She was a known Morlock and Morlocks weren’t held in high regard in District X. She remembered back when District X was first founded how Bishop, Madrox, and Tessa offered the Morlocks to join them. They rejected such a proposal, figuring that exposing themselves on the surface would just make them bigger targets. It led to quite a few disagreements and some of those disagreements included a few minor scuffles if minor was even the right word. It didn’t even matter who won those scuffles. Mistrust was their official policy and the election of a mutant-hating senator wasn’t going to change that.
Callisto continued to drink despite the suspicious gazes. She was too pissed off to care what anybody thought about her at this point.
‘I still can’t believe Marrow and Healer are just going to sit around and wait for the President’s attacking on mutants. For all we know, Kelly’s first act as president will be to dump poison gas in the sewers! I could live with them backing down when Magneto offered us a chance to join the Genosha attack. I could barely live with them helping those X-men defend the surface world. But this…this is self-inflicted slaughter! Somebody has to do something and these District X lowlifes certainly don’t seem motivated. Mutants have the power and we’re not using it! It’s a crime so great I can only digest it with alcohol!’
Callisto slammed back the rest of her drink, further plunging her into a drunken stupor. Once she was finished she found herself clenching her fists, shattering the glass with her super strength in the process. Because of her healing the bloody marks disappeared quickly. Before the bartender could scold her for breaking one of his glasses, she called out for another.
“Keep them coming!” she ordered, “Damn healing won’t quit so make the next one a double!”
“Morlock, you’re really pushing it!” the bartender began, “I swear if you don’t settle down…”
But before the bartender could finish an expected voice emerged from the back of the bar.
“Easy there, friend. You know as well as I do that Morlocks are tenacious fighters. I can only imagine how tenacious a drunken Morlock could be.”
“Are you really defending this Morlock scum?” said the bartender.
“If it makes you feel better, you can put that glass on my tab.”
This seemed to silence the bartender. It also seemed to get Callisto’s attention. Despite her drunken state, she turned around to see an imposing figure emerging from the back. He stood nearly six and a half feet tall, bore a fairly well-muscled frame, and had long flowing white hair. While his body stood strong, his face looked aged and scarred. It was hard to tell if it was because he was older than he looked or if he had just been in one too many fights. The man certainly looked the part of a fighter with the old, somewhat raggedy clothes he had on. He wore black boots, an old gray shirt, and camouflaged pants behind a black trench coat. She watched as he sat down on the stool next to her, casually swirling a half-empty bottle of beer.
“If you’re looking for me to say thank you, you’ll have to wait until I’ve have a few more shots,” said Callisto in a slurred tone.
“Do I look like someone that cares for gratitude?” said the stranger.
“No, but you don’t look like someone who throws himself at drunk women either,” she retorted, “Unless of course you’re one of those dirty old men who has a thing for jailbait.”
“That’s assuming I’m as old as you think I am,” he replied with a wry grin, “But where are my manners? My name is Alexander Khan. But most know me simply as Stryfe.”
“Alexander Khan? Stryfe?” laughed Callisto, “I don’t know who gave you those names, but they must drink way more than I do.”
“Actually, I took those names myself,” said the man as he finished his beer, “Alexander as in Alexander the Great, one of the most gifted conquerors of his time. Genghis Khan, the man who built the most feared army in the history. It seemed fitting to use both.”
“So you have a thing for old world conquerors and girls you think are fighters,” said Callisto as she gulped down another round, “Then where does the name Stryfe come in?”
“Are you really that interested or is that just the alcohol talking?”
“Can it be both?”
“Not if you’re going to take what I’m about to offer you seriously.”
Callisto put her drink down and turned to face this mysterious man. Every reasonable instinct told her not to trust this man. It was the same instinct she had around every surface dweller, even in a mutant-friendly locale like District X. But there was something about him that was different. There was this strange gleam in his eye, indicating that he saw something in her that intrigued him. It was disconcerting in some ways, yet she found herself intrigued as well.
“So now you’re offering something?” she said in her slurred tone, “I take it picking up my tab wasn’t an act of charity either.”
“It got your attention, didn’t it?” said Stryfe with a half-grin, “You see, I’m a fighter, just like you. I live through the whims of war and battle. I’ve experienced combat to a point that I’ve practically forgotten any life I had beforehand. Even in my dreams, I see myself in battles that span the ages. From Alexander the Great to the trenches in Genosha, I’ve seen it all.”
“Sounds like a major case of Shell Shock,” scoffed Callisto, “You know they have meds for that now.”
“Does it look like it bothers me?” retorted Stryfe, “I’m perfectly content in the field of battle. There are few times I feel more alive then when I’m engrossed in combat. I sense that same mentality in you as well. You clearly don’t care for diplomacy or negotiations. You’re the kind of person to jump onto the front lines and confront the ills of the world.”
“That’s exactly why I’m not so popular with my fellow Morlocks anymore.”
“That’s their loss. Because it just so happens that’s exactly the kind of person I need for a special mission of sorts.”
“You want me for a mission?” said Callisto skeptically, “Sorry pal, but I’m not into the whole mercenary thing. I’m still a Morlock, even if they don’t care for my drinking habits.”
“Oh I think the Morlocks benefit greatly from this,” said the mysterious man ominously, “I’m sure even they would agree that the inauguration next week is only going to make their lives infinitely more difficult. It’s not like Senator Kelly made a secret of his hatred for mutants. I doubt even having a mutant for a son will change his perspective.”
“And you think you have a solution?”
“Only in as such that I lack the necessary muscle to do it justice,” he answered ominously.
Now Stryfe really had Callisto’s attention. She set her drink aside and carefully scrutinized the man sitting next to her. As drunk as she was, she understood what he was saying. Her first instinct was to make sure he wasn’t just playing her for a fool. Near as she could tell, he wanted to fight this madness as much as she did.
“Okay old man, out with it! What’s your angle?” she said more apprehensively, “Are you some agent from Magneto? Or are you just another one of those humans who dress up like mutants to start a war?”
“Oh please, I’m insulted,” scoffed Stryfe, “I would never be an agent for a fool like Magneto. The man cares nothing about mutants and only about satisfying his own ego. Why else would he found his own country and declare himself king? As for me being human, does this set your mind at ease?”
The imposing figure made a slight gesture with his hand. As he did, Callisto’s glass levitated briefly and so did the contents inside. In a show of skill, he levitated the liquid itself and made a few exotic shapes with it. This proved he wasn’t using some cheap trick like that guy in Philadelphia. He was a mutant and a skilled one from the looks of it.
“Impressive gimmick,” said Callisto dryly, “Is that you’re only trick?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” grinned Stryfe ominously.
“If you want to hire me for this mission of yours, I think I should know.”
“The only knowledge matters right now is Robert Kelly becoming president next week. Surely you can appreciate how great a moment this is for mutants everywhere.”
“Even I’m not drunk enough to forget,” quipped Calliso, “Are you going to get to the point or what?”
“My point is simple. Both sides are ill-equipped for this,” said Stryfe, his tone becoming serious again, “In my experience, only the small, trivial issues can be solved peacefully. For the much bigger issues, like the future of the mutant race, war is needed for either side to progress. Right now both sides are seeking to avoid war. I feel this is not only foolish, but a horrendous waste of time.”
“So what’s the solution? Kill the Senator and start a war?”
“Oh come now, where’s your sense of subtlety? The way I see it, if both sides are to wage war it shouldn’t erupt through a single event. It should result from a few creative nudges.”
“Nudges? What kind of nudges?” said Callisto skeptically.
“The kind that will make for plenty of war...moreover, a war that plays out in our favor,” grinned Stryfe.
It sounded so reasonable in a fittingly devious manner. Instead of a huge worldwide uprising like Magneto had tried, they would pursue an incremental war. One big battle would not be enough. It was to be strategic, targeted, and ideally more effective. It was just the kind of battle in which Callisto excelled.
The old man could tell that she was seriously contemplating this alternate approach to war. He knew if he hung around District X long enough he would find a mutant that would appreciate his approach. Too many of the mutants here were weak, having little stomach for war. But Callisto was a fighter and this was a battle in which she could play the perfect role. If she fought as well as she drank, she would fit nicely into his ambitious plan.
After a couple minutes of drunken contemplation, Callisto made her decision. Setting her drink aside, she turned towards Stryfe with newfound resolve.
“You’ve got about an hour before my healing factor burns through the alcohol, Stryfe,” she told him.
“Is that a yes, Callisto?” said Stryfe with an approving grin.
“A shot at a fair fight on the surface world? Unless you think you can find someone tougher than me in this shitty excuse for a mutant community, you better start talking before I sober up and tell you to fuck off.”
Xavier Institute – Cerebrum Chamber
The chamber that once housed Cerebro was shaping up nicely after two long months of rebuilding. Ever since it was destroyed during the Phoenix affair, Professor Xavier and Hank McCoy dedicated the majority of their resources to rebuilding it as quickly as possible. The X-men needed it to be operational to track both the growing mutant population and the ongoing developments in the human/mutant conflict. With the coming inauguration of Senator Kelly, this new Cerebro would be more vital than ever.
“Quantum firewalls and network filters…check. Psionic amplifiers…check. Primary mapping software…check. Uplink to GPS…check. Cerebro 2.0 operating system…debugged and check,” said Hank eagerly as he ran over the various diagnostics for the system, “I can safely say we’re in the home stretch! Just a few more network integrations and Cerebrum will be fully operational!”
“Finally!” said an exasperated voice, “All this technical jargon is making my head spin. I swear every day here is like a trip to a Star Trek convention!”
“It’s not that technical, Mr. Madrox. I could probably explain all the latest upgrades in less convoluted terms if you’re interested,” offered Hank as he typed away on the console while hanging upside-down from some cables.
“Thanks but no thanks. I get enough of that from Tessa,” said Jamie Madrox, or at least a duplicate of him, “All I need to understand is how this will finally make us even. I swear that woman exploits every bit of leverage she can get over a guy!”
“Tessa will do that. It might also help if you refrained from using her computers to download bootleg movies.”
An army of Jamie Madrox clones let out a collective groan. It probably should have been obvious that using Tessa’s computer for personal would get him into trouble. It didn’t even fall under the it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time category. She naturally found a way for him to make up for it and it involved her boyfriend no less. Something about that didn’t seem fair.
Hank was certainly not complaining. Thanks to Jamie Madrox and his army of clones, he and the Professor were able to complete the construction of the new Cerebro much faster than they would have through traditional means. Madrox did his part by doing all the heavy lifting so that he could focus on the advanced technical aspects of the device. The Professor recently bought a series of advanced components, mostly through Lilandra’s advanced tech companies. While Madrox lacked the expertise to configure them, the manpower he offered helped put everything together in a way that promised to be a significant leap in Cerebro technology.
The final form of the new chamber was almost set. The room was still a metal sphere and it was still dominated by a circular platform in the center that was connected by a bridge coming out from the entrance. Now there were a few added features. On certain parts of the chamber there were large black antenna-like extensions that worked in conjunction with the amplifiers. In addition the front of the chamber had several new computer projectors, which whould make for better viewing once the new features were up and running. The most noticeable difference, however, was the extra wires and cables extending from the top of the chamber. These cables ran from the ceiling to along the wall, making the chamber feel as if they were in a gateway to the human mind.
“Time to flip the switch. And not a moment too soon,” mused Hank.
Upon entering a few more commands on the console, the chamber started humming with activity. The army of Jamie Madrox clones were still plugging in a few wires and cleaning up the construction debris. They all stopped and took notice as the new replacement for Cerebro came online. It was a true majesty of technology. The image projectors in front of the console lit up, the wires running through the chamber sparked and crackled, and an soft seemed to radiate from every direction. As the system booted ups, the most powerful of these lights emerged from the central console.
“Whoa…no wonder Tess was so serious about working on this,” commented one of the Madrox clones, “This kind of hardware is like a fetish for her!”
“I heard that, Mr. Madrox,” said Hank in a bemused tone, “Please refrain from making such lurid comments about my significant other.”
“Why? Afraid I’ll give you some ideas that even a brilliant mind can’t imagine?” he quipped.
“Only to the extent that you’ll surmise another improper use for advanced technology.”
The Madrox clones continued to chuckle while the new Cerebro came to life. He knew full well how involved Tessa was with Hank McCoy. It was kind of creepy since he always knew Tessa to be so controlled and mechanical. It was almost fitting she fell for a guy like Hank McCoy.
While the main operating system was loading, the front entrance opened and Professor Xavier entered. Standing beside him were Scott, Logan, and Ororo. They were each in uniform and just as impressed as Madrox when they saw the chamber running for the first time. Even though Cerebro had always been an impressive sight, this newest incarnation raised the bar.
“Damn! You really pulled out all the stops with this new gizmo, Chuck,” commented Logan as he took a look around, “It ain’t enough to just get your favorite toy back. You gotta go for the deluxe package!”
“I know it may seem a bit gawdy, but I assure you there is purpose behind it. With the new status quo that President Kelly will surely incur, I figured it was time for an overhaul.”
“Some overhaul,” commented Scott as he looked around the chamber, “I’m guessing all these wires and add-ons aren’t just for aesthetics.”
“You guessed right. This new version of Cerebro, which Hank and I have dubbed Cerebrum, gives us a powerful platform to work with,” explained the Professor as he wheeled up to the console, “The function is the same. It amplifies my telepathy and tracks mutants, but the level at which it operates is entirely new.”
“And what level is that? The kind that can find a mutant and keep a beer cold at the same time?” commented Logan.
“More so the kind that will keep us a step ahead of our adversaries,” explained Hank as he finished with the configuration, “Charles and I always planned to reconstruct Cerebro. For too long, we’ve been falling behind the new generation of psychic defenses. Cameron Hodge, Mr. Sinister, and Magneto were all able to evade us and we all know how much trouble they ended up causing. With Senator Kelly’s election, there’s sure to be a premium on guarding against psychic intrusion.”
“That would be quite the understatement, Hank. Lilandra recently informed me that the Pentagon has quitelty retrofitted every major government complex with psychic dampeners,” said the Professor as he grabbed the new helmet, which was much bulkier than the old one, “They’re now spending as much money on blocking psychics as they are for new fighter jets.”
“Guess we can’t have that,” shrugged Logan, “Someone’s gotta spy on the government with a guy like Kelly in the White House.”
“Spying might be too harsh of a word, Logan,” said Xavier seriously, “This technology has always been about monitoring conflict and not about intruding on minds. That will not change even with these new upgrades.”
“Sure it won’t,” said Logan dryly, earning him a look from Cyclops.
“But won’t this add to the suspicion surrounding the X-men?” said Ororo, not sharing Logan’s cynicism, “I thought we were trying to earn Senator Kelly’s trust.”
“We are, Storm. After what happened with his son we’ve already made some headway,” said the Professor as he put on the helmet, “But we still have a long ways to go.”
“Which is why we’re doing a test run just before the inauguration,” said Hank as finished his last round of tweaking, “You wanted Cerebrum to be up and running so we can ensure the ceremony goes peacefully and here we are. Tessa and I have been coordinating colosely and we’ve worked out all the necessary programming matrices.”
“Bet that ain’t all they’ve been coordinating together,” commented Logan.
That comment earned him a look from Ororo and Scott, but only to the point that his timing was inappropriate. It was no secret that Hank spent a fair share of time with Tessa through the construction of Cerebrum. It was also no secret that they did more than just work out programming glitches. Even so, it was not a suitable topic for such a serious moment.
“The interface is ready, Charles,” Hank went on, ignoring Logan’s lewd comment, “I’ve already calibrated it to focus on Washington DC.”
“Guess that’s my queue,” said one of the Madrox clones as they converged near the entrance.
“We appreciate your help, Multiple,” said Scott, “Please send our regards to Tessa and the rest of District X.”
“Way ahead of you. My other selves are back home ordering a pizza and preparing a movie marathon,” grinned Madrox, “Just keep the inauguration from turning into World War III and we’ll call it even.”
The Madrox clones disappeared. His tone may have been light-hearted, but the subject was serious. There had already been plenty of incidents during Senator Kelly’s campaign. They had that nut dressed as a mutant in Philadelphia and Magneto’s abduction plot on Election Day. Each incident had the potential to do permanent damage to human/mutant relations. There were plenty of reasons to suspect that an incident just as damaging could transpire on Inauguration Day.
Now wearing the high tech helmet, Professor Charles Xavier took a deep breath as he prepared for Cerebrum’s first major test. Hank finished the last round of adjustments and closed the electronics panel. He then joined Logan, Ororo, and Scott as they stepped back and watched intently.
“I’m going to initiate a psychic sweep of the entire Washington DC area,” said the Professor as he entered the necessary commands, “If there’s any unusual mutant activity or even some suspicious non-mutant activity, I should be able to sense it.”
“Sounds like it’ll be quite a strain,” commented Ororo.
“No more than I’m used to,” said Xavier confidently, “With the new interface that Hank and Tessa so thoroughly programmed, the system should take the brunt of the strain.”
“Twenty bucks says we find at least three dirt bags looking to pull a Lee Harvey Oswald,” said Logan.
“This is nothing to joke about, Logan,” said Scott in a serious tone, “Kelly is a big target. If someone’s going to take a shot, we need to know about it.”
Logan shot the X-leader a bemused glance. Scott’s expression remained stern for a moment. Then he shifted slightly and sighed.
“Make it forty,” he muttered.
“You’re on!” grinned Logan.
Ororo and Hank rolled their eyes as they watched the systems go to work. It was a much greater spectacle than the old interface. There was more noise and more light flickers from the computers, indicating that there was much more data being processed than before. As the actual psychic portion of the interface began, the console lit up around Professor Xavier. He closed his eyes and concentrated, clutching onto special grips on the side of the console as he expanded his mind beyond its normal limits.
The cables coming down from the ceiling lit up briefly, indicating that Xavier’s mind was officially at work. The holographic computer screen in front of the console displayed large maps of the Washington DC area and as the scan begin, various blips on the screen came up. These indicated minds. Since this was Inauguration Day, there were plenty to sift through. There were the civilians who had come to see this momentous event. There were the politicians and VIPs who had special access to the festivities. There was also the army of security personnel making sure nothing went wrong. So far they appeared to have a firm hold on everything.
‘I don’t remember the old Cerebro being so vivid. I can feel so many minds…so much more to filter. Already feeling the pressure. It can’t be good for my health, but I can’t worry about that on a day like this!’
Charles Xavier’s expression tensed as he sifted through an onslaught of data. The computers processed while he focused, allowing them to work in a unique harmony of mind and machine. It was a feeling the world’s most powerful telepath had been used to with Cerebro, but it had reached a new level of power with Cerebrum.
The scan went smoothly for the first five minutes. The map showed nothing unusual other than the gathering crowd downtown and the chaotic movements of the security forces. Image after image flashed on the screen, highlighting the areas Xavier was scanning. They went by so fast that Scott, Ororo, Logan, and Hank struggled to keep up with them.
“I’m getting a headache just watching this shit,” commented Logan.
“Imagine how Charles must feel,” said Hank with a touch of concern.
“You think he’ll find anything with all these minds?” wondered Ororo.
It was daunting to imagine that anything could stand out in this sea of images. Then in an instant, the data stream slowed. A particular image froze on the main screen and several red lights on the console started flashing.
“Ooh boy, I know that noise,” said Logan.
“What’s going on, Professor?” asked Scott, “Did you find something?”
The Professor paused for a moment and concentrated harder, diverting more resources to this new reading.
“Hmm…this is quite strange,” he said.
“Strange as in interesting or strange as in potentially dangerous?” asked Ororo.
“I’m not sure, Storm. I’m picking up a most unusual signature near the Washington Monument. The signature is clearly a mutant, but there is something off about it.”
“Off as in Cyclops now owes me 40 bucks?” asked Logan.
“Off enough to cause concern,” said Xavier ominously, “Whatever it is, it may be hostile.”
“You are able to sense that as well?” said Hank.
“No, but it seems like a reasonable assumption considering Callisto from the Morlocks is close by.”
That was sufficient confirmation by their standards. Even though the Morlocks had been on good terms with the X-men, Callisto had always been a loose cannon. If she was in DC, it probably wasn’t just to see the sights.
“Damn, I knew that crazy bitch was gonna be trouble again,” snarled Logan.
“She couldn’t have picked a better time or place,” said Scott, “What about the rest of the Morlocks? Are they in on this too?”
“No, she appears to be acting on her own accord,” said Xavier, “Which makes this matter all the more suspicious.”
“All the more reason to investigate,” said the X-leader, “We did plan on heading down to DC to watch the ceremony anyways. Might as well keep it from going to hell.”
“It should also give us a chance to test the Velocity,” said Hank, “If we’re to avoid causing a media spectacle, we’ll need a little extra stealth.”
“Most definitely,” said Xavier, who continued to concentrate on this new signature, “Summon the rest of the X-men and prepare to depart for DC. I’ll stay here and monitor the situation. Something tells me there are more mysterious forces at work here than meets the eye.”
“Can’t wait to sink my claws into it!” grinned Logan.
Scott, Logan, Ororo, and Hank rushed out of the chamber. Once again they were going to have to save Senator Kelly. It was becoming a bittersweet habit, but despite their unpleasant history this man was set to become president. The jury was out whether he would be an ally or an enemy. Whether they liked it or not, Robert Kelly was the key to the future of human/mutant relations.
For Charles Xavier, however, the inauguration was a secondary concern. As soon as the others left, he resumed his scanning of the mysterious signature. It seemed fitting that Cerebrum’s first scan would yield something new and exotic.
‘Good luck, my X-men. I only wish I knew more about what you’re going to confront. There’s definitely something out there…something powerful and devious. I must find out what it is. More importantly, I must find out who’s behind it.’
Washington DC – National Mall
The festivities of Inauguration Day were in full swing as thousands gathered in the nation’s capital to watch the ceremonies. It was set to be a record crowd. People had flown in from all over the country to be part of this. The entire district was practically shut down in anticipation for the event. To say security was tight would have been an understatement for the ages. Despite the large crowd, there were so many security forces surrounding the area that not even a stray pigeon could get close without the Secret Service or the Purifiers knowing about it.
With this security in place, Senator Kelly was set to begin the traditional march towards Capitol Hill where he would be sworn in. The streets had been cleared to make room for his armada of police escorts. Along the way, dense crowds stood by to cheer him on while waving American flags and holding up posters. Whether they voted for him or not, everybody present knew they were witnessing history.
Robert Kelly and his staff had been waiting for the signal from the historic Hay-Adams Hotel. Reverend Stryker was with him and so was a contingent of his Purifiers, who were acting as extra body guards. As soon as they got the all-clear from the Secret Service, the new president was led out from the front entrance of the hotel and into the streets where his police escorts were prepared to lead him to the Capitol. News cameras and media swarmed over the area, looking to capture every moment of this event. As usual, the proud politician put on a confident smile for the people. He, more than anyone, understood the gravity of this moment.
‘Here we go. My place in history begins today.’
As he began walking through the streets, a wave of cheers a few jeers echoed through the area. The new president started waving while he took his momentous journey one step at a time. Walking with him were the armed men of the Purifiers and supporting them were the Secret Service. It was meant to make him feel safe, but after what happened on Election Day there was no such thing as total safety.
With Robert Kelly now out in the open and news cameras following his every move, the broadcast of this event began transmitting all over the world. Thousands of onlookers lined the streets and gathered around the National Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument to be part of this event. All over the lawn there were large stands of projection TVs and loudspeakers with which to broadcast every moment. Most were watching peacefully while doing their best to keep warm from the cold. Some, however, were not so peaceful. Just as there were those who celebrated the new president, there were protesters. As part of security, mutants weren’t allowed within five miles of the Capitol. That didn’t stop them from being vocal.
“Kelly lied! He’s going to surrender to the mutant menace!” yelled one protester, who was holding up a sign with a group of like-minded supporters.
“You’re wrong! He’s going to wage war on mutants and we’ll all get caught in the crossfire!” yelled another protester, who was holding up banners to counter those of their opponents.
“Destroy the mutants to save humanity!” said another vocal anti-mutant protester.
“Protect human rights and save us all!” said an equally vocal mutant rights protester.
These protests were passionate, but isolated. Many of them had gathered near the Washington Monument and along the two roads that lead to the Capitol. The most visible anti-mutant group consisted of dozens of men and women bearing the shirts and uniforms of Church of Purity, the church founded by Reverend William Stryker. There were even some Friends of Humanity emblems, but they were more subtle since the Friends of Humanity had a poor public image after Graydon Creed’s arrest.
On the other side of the issue were the mutant right groups sponsored by Aerie Global, the human rights organization run by Lilandra Neramani. In addition to supporters of the organization were supporters of the X-men. There were even a few protesters dressed in X-men costumes bearing X-men banners, touting them as heroes and not monsters. It made for a volatile situation.
Keeping the peace the peace was the job of the Secret Service and the Purifiers. The Purifiers tended to protect the anti-mutant crowd more since they were of the same mindset. The Secret Service ended up having to protect the mutant rights crowd, but they didn’t work with the same passion as the purifiers. Yet despite this discrepancy, the protest remained peaceful.
“You people are traitors to the whole human race!” yelled a former Friends of Humanity member from across a line of armed Purifiers, “You actually support giving rights to freaks like the X-men?!”
“You’re the real traitors!” spat a vocal mutant advocate who was bearing an emblem of the X-men on his shirt, “You want this kind of tyranny? Move to North Korea! Leave the people who actually care about their fellow man alone!”
“If you really cared you wouldn’t give these monsters a chance!”
“Hey! My nephew is a mutant! Don’t be calling him a monster!”
“I’ll call them whatever I want! I just won’t call them human!”
These fiery words struck a chord. One of the mutant rights protesters, who happened to be dressed in an X-men costume, took it very personally. It was at this moment that the nature of the protest shifted in a very devious way. The eyes of the protester dressed as an X-man flashed bright red. Then with reckless disregard for protest or principle, he shot out from behind the Secret Service barricade and charged the man who insulted him.
“YOU WANT A MONSTER! I’LL SHOW YOU A MONSTER!”
“Bring it on mutie lover!” yelled his adversary.
This outburst surprised even the mutant rights crowd, who had been doing their best to avoid violence. The enraged protester abandoned all notions of peaceful protest and stormed head-first into the Purifiers barricade where the heavily armed men easily subdued him.
“You just brought yourself a night in jail, hero!” spat one of the Purifiers.
“ERRR! LET ME GO! I’LL FIGHT EVERY ONE OF YOU!”
The glowing in the man’s eyes brightened. Soon he wasn’t the only one with this mysterious look. The man who called him out felt it too. As soon as his eyes shifted he followed the lead of his opponent and stormed passed the armed personnel trying to keep the peace.
“OH NO YOU DON’T! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO JAIL UNTIL I STOMP YOUR MUTIE-LOVING ASS!”
“BRING IT ON, TYRANT!”
The two men charged towards each other, breaking free from the Purifiers and Secret Service just long enough to slug one another with an uppercut and a right cross. The blows were hard and damaging, breaking facial bone and leaving lingering marks. Yet the two men didn’t even seem to feel it. If anything they wanted more. Four Purifiers and three Secret Service officers tried to restrain the two men while onlookers from both sides watched in horror.
“My god, what’s gotten into him?!” exclaimed one of the Aerie Global protesters, “This was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration!”
“Their eyes!” pointed out one of the anti-mutant protesters, “Look at their eyes! Something’s wrong with them!”
As the eyes of the two men kept glowing, they continued to fight and thrash about like deranged animals overcome with bloodlust. Both sides weren’t sure what to do. Before any of them could try to make sense of it, the mysterious phenomenon struck others.
“To hell with the eyes! Let me in on this action!” yelled an anti-mutant protester, his eyes now glowing red as well.
“The hell are you doing?!” asked one of his friends.
“Monkey see monkey do!” yelled another mutant rights protester, this time a woman wearing an official band of Aerie Global, “You want a fight! Let’s fight! I’m sick of all this hippie shit!”
“Me too!” yelled another anti-mutant protester in agreement.
Within minutes dozens of people had the same mysterious glow in their eyes. The organized nature of the protest quickly broke down as the two sides stopped protesting and attacked one another in a rage. The Secret Service and the Purifiers were sandwiched between the two sides. Together, they tried desperately to keep it from turning into a full fledged riot.
“Argh! What the hell just happened?!” exclaimed a Secret Service agent who was just punched in the stomach by a woman twice his age.
“I don’t know! It’s like someone spiked their drink or something!” said another who was trying to restrain a thrashing teenage boy.
“Never thought I’d miss rallies sponsored by burned out hippies!”
“Do we tell the higher ups to pull the president back?”
“I don’t know! I think we’re supposed to handle it before...” but the Secret Service agent contemplating this move was silenced by a punch to the face.
The hostilities were getting worse by the minute. The Secret Service and the Purifiers did their best to subdue the aggressors. For a moment the two forces kept the attackers at bay, but the mysterious glowing eyes kept spreading. Soon it hit even those trying to keep the peace.
“What the hell am I doing?! I shouldn’t be stopping this! I hate these mutant-loving assholes!” yelled one Purifier with glowing eyes.
“I’m with you! Let’s show these traitors how our new mutant policies first hand!”
“Damn it! Now they’re joining this shit?!” exclaimed one of the Secret Service officers trying to keep a whole family from ganging up on an elderly man.
“Why not?! It looks fun!” said another agent who now had those eyes as well.
In quick succession, six more Purifiers and four Secret Service members started beating each other up with unabated rage. The line of defense quickly broke down and soon there was no barrier to speak of. It was just an all out brawl.
As more and more succumbed to the glowing eyes, the chaos grew. These normal people were abandoning all notions of restraint and giving in to their most savage instincts. What was supposed to be a peaceful protest was turning into an all out war. It was a far cry from the spirit of Inauguration Day. If this mysterious rage kept growing, then this day was going to be historic for all the wrong reasons.
Meanwhile – Atop The Washington Monument
“Yes…these weak-minded primates are giving in!” seethed Stryfe as his eyes continued to glow, “Soon the anger, violence, and hatred will consume them all!”
As the chaos unfolded below, Stryfe casually sat near the edge of the famous national icon with the best possible seat for this event. His eyes glowed with the same reddish hue as the people below him. He seethed with a perverse satisfaction as he watched these formerly civilized people give into their innermost wrath.
Using his telekinesis and telepathic abilities, he flew himself and his ally, Callisto, in through the tight security. Since many of the buildings, alleys, and sewers were cut off they had to improvise when it came to picking the location. The Washington Monument was perfect because it offered the best view of the ceremony and gave Stryfe a nice vantage point to employ his unique psionic talents. They were psychic in nature, but had a special touch as he called it that had a distinct effect on the minds of the weak.
“Can you work this psychic mojo of yours any faster, Stryfe?” asked Callisto as she gazed down below through a pair of binoculars, “So far all I see down there is an ordinary street riot. That’s not much of a war in my book.”
“A war of this nature must start small. You see, there’s an efficient way to start a war and then there’s a smart way. I prefer a more enlightened course.”
“I’m all for working smarter and not harder, but I was under the impression that this was going to be much bigger at this point.”
“Patience, Callisto. The street fight as you call it is just the powder keg. The spark is yet to come!” said Stryfe, his eyes glowing even brighter.
“For this plan of yours to work, it’s going to need one hell of a spark!” she commented.
“All human beings are inclined to wage war. Some just need the right push.”
Sitting next to him near the ledge, Callisto looked at the old man with a cautious gaze. She was used to leading the charge into a battle and overcoming her enemies directly. Stryfe was employing a different set of tactics, favoring a more indirect approach. She understood the importance of strategy, but this was a very odd kind of strategy. Then again, Stryfe was an odd. For the moment, his personality quirks were not her concern. This was Callisto’s chance to fight the surface world that rejected her and her fellow Morlocks. If Stryfe could deliver with this plan of his, then she could make the most of that chance on this historic day.
“Better push harder! It looks like Senator Kelly is making his final rounds!” said Callisto anxiously as she shifted her gaze through the binoculars.
“I know what I’m doing, Callisto,” he assured her.
“You said you would give me a window to do my part and I’m not seeing a whole lot of room to work with!”
“Oh you’ll get your chance! And you won’t be the only one either!” said Stryfe ominously, “In the meantime, just sit back and enjoy the Inauguration Day festivities! I promise it’ll be a day to remember!”
Next Issue: Inauguration Day Part 2
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