As the next stage in human evolution, Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. That peace is constantly under attack. Sometimes mutants like Magneto seeking mutant dominance and sometimes humans like President Kelly seek to protect humans from mutant. Other times, however, the threat to peace is far more complicated.
General Nathan Grimshaw, an obscure but ambitious officer in the United States military, recently staged a daring mission on Magneto’s citadel on Genosha. Employing the help of a mutant soldier and experienced Green Beret named Captain Jack Freeman, he was able to infiltrate Magneto’s home and steal his helmet. This brazen act has already upset a very paranoid Magneto as his all-mutant nation remains under the careful watch of an international naval blockade.
Having accomplished their mission, General Grimshaw and Captain Freeman have proven to President Robert Kelly that they can get things done. They have gone a long way towards earning his trust. With that trust, a new agenda for mutant affairs is set to take hold in a much more volatile world.
White House – Oval Office
President Robert Kelly couldn’t believe it. On the center of his desk was the helmet of Magneto, the mutant who had tormented so many humans and forever changed his family. It looked much less menacing now. For it to be on his desk was a major statement. It showed the master of magnetism was not invincible nor was he untouchable. It also made General Nathan Grimshaw his new best friend.
While he looked over the helmet, General Grimshaw and Captain Jack Freeman stood across from his desk. Reverend Sryker was present as well, but he remained off to the side. This was a turning point for every one of them. The presence of this helmet promised to shift the course of human/mutant relations. For Captain Freeman, it was somewhat overwhelming. He had never been in the White House before, let alone the oval office. This shift was personal for him since he was a mutant and President Kelly man campaigned on an anti-mutant platform. Regardless of his stance, he was still clearly impressed with what he accomplished.
“That helmet looks good on your desk, sir,” Captain Freeman commented on it, “Sorry I couldn’t include Magneto’s head to go along with it.”
“It’s quite alright, Captain. I’m sure Magneto will give us other chances,” said President Kelly as he took the helmet in his hands, “This is quite a memento. For the first time, someone on our side was able to attack Magneto. It didn’t just wound his pride. We wounded his resolve.”
“Which means he’s going to be a lot more careful with whatever he has planned. So don’t expect him to be any less cunning,” said General Grimshaw.
“I always expect Magneto to be cunning. But it’s comforting to know we have people on our end who can match him, General,” grinned the president, still relishing in Magneto’s defeat, “I can safely say you’ve earned my trust…for the moment. The fact that Magneto hasn’t come barging into Washington claiming we broke the treaty with Genosha shows just how efficiently you and the Captain handled yourselves. It is almost enough to make me overlook the fact that this operation was completely unsanctioned.”
“Technically, it was done without government resources. So the issue of sanction is irrelevant,” reminded the General.
“It is what it is, General. I won’t gloss over it,” said the President as he set the helmet back on his desk, “Nor will I point out all the concerns I have about you using a soldier who happens to be a mutant in this operation, which is against quite a number of treaties last I checked.”
“Is that going to be a problem, sir?” asked Captain Freeman, not hiding his disdain when he heard the President’s tone shift.
“That depends, but seeing as how the General has earned my trust and you seem to have his I suppose I’ll make due. I’m sure you know my stance on mutants. I hope that doesn’t distract you from your duties.”
“It won’t, sir,” Jack assured, “I’m a soldier. Being a mutant is and always has been secondary. I’m just making sure we’re on the same page here.”
“Oh we are, Captain. And so long as we’re becoming so friendly, I’d like to turn that page so to speak,” said the President as he got up from his desk.
The Commander-in-Chief put on a more amicable poise as he approached General Grimshaw and his subordinate. As impressed as he was with their raid on Magneto’s citadel, he was not about to blindly accept whatever the General proposed. Standing before him, he saw a man who could get things done and wasn’t afraid to cross a few lines to do so. He could be a powerful ally, but he could also be a liability.
“Let’s dispense with further celebrations,” President Kelly began, “You’ve made your point, General. You’re more than capable of taking on human/mutant relations. The only question I have for you at this point is…what’s next?”
“I was hoping you would ask that, Mr. President. I did say I had a plan if I recall,” said Grimshaw.
“And I need to determine if that plan is in line with my own. As impressed as I am, you’re not going to have free reign. This is my presidency last I checked.”
“I understand that, sir. I assure you our goals are one in the same,” said General Grimshaw.
Reaching into his briefcase, the General pulled out an unmarked folder with a presidential seal stamped on top. The first part of his plan had been a success so far. He got the President of the United States to trust him. Now he had to make good use of it.
“Inside this folder is a brief overview of a new mutant policy plan,” said the General as he handed the president the folder, “If some of it looks familiar, it should. A few of these steps came directly from the Mutant Registration Act you were pushing earlier. I hope you don’t mind a little plagiarizing on my part.”
“Not at all, General. It’s reassuring to know that we’re reaching similar conclusions,” assured President Kelly as he looked over some of the materials, “Although I must say compared to most proposals, this is pretty light. I’ve seen fluff bills thicker than this.”
“At this stage, it’s best to start small. If we’re going to confront the mutant issue, we can’t do everything at once. We need to start with a strong foundation.”
“What kind of foundation are we talking about here?” asked the President.
“The kind that focuses on the basics,” the General answered, “If you’ll look at page 16 you’ll notice I’ve removed some of the key policies you were pushing in the election. There’s no stipulation to have mutants register with authorities. There’s no power delegated to the state that allows them to judge whether a mutant is dangerous or not. There’s no language that gives mutants special classification either.”
“That’s quite a list of omissions, General. How do you expect us to manage the mutant issue without taking these steps?”
“By sticking to what’s necessary rather than waste time with legal wrangling,” said Grimshaw strongly, “The problem with mutants is that authorities aren’t equipped to handle them. They’re trying to hold these people accountable to the law when all they have is riot gear and handguns. Before we can make a reasonable judgment on mutants as a whole, we have to at least try to do what the constitution says we should do and enforce the law.”
“Is that what this Mutant Response Division you mentioned is supposed to do?” asked President Kelly as he read over a few more pages.
“Actually, I was thinking of calling it the Mutant Security Agency. I know it may not have the same punch, but we need to be cautious and that means being politically correct.”
“Politically correct…my least favorite concept,” the President muttered.
“I understand it isn’t your style, but to make progress we need to make sacrifices. The name won’t make the agency any less effective. Think of it as a new division for law enforcement, one that will specialize in mutants.”
“Like a glorified FBI?”
“I wouldn’t put it that simplistically, but yes,” the General answered, “With help from some military hardware, we can equip and train our people to better enforce those laws against mutants. We’re also working on special detention centers where we can house mutants who can’t be contained in a normal prison. That way when a mutant lies, cheats, or kills we have the means to hold them accountable.”
“All without any added legislation?” the President surmised, “Thus avoiding having to go back and forth in Congress for God knows how many months?”
“It’s perfectly within the executive branch’s power. You’ll be fulfilling one of your campaign promises to get tough on mutants. You’ll also come off as decisive while being constitutional in the process.”
General Grimshaw made it all sound so appealing. This man could not only humiliate Magneto, he could put together a workable plan that the President of the United States could easily implement. It wasn’t the ambitious plan he initially had in mind. He and many of his supporters believed in seeking out mutants on a large scale, cataloguing and ascertaining the extent of their powers, and containing them if necessary before they could cause any public harm. It was a plan he had since wavered on after what happened to his son, but it was still a plan a lot of people supported.
Looking up from the file, the President studied the General. He was a hard man to read. They didn’t seem to share similar perceptions regarding mutants. That may be because he worked with the likes of Captain Freeman. However, he was clearly serious about holding mutants accountable to the law. He could have had other less obvious reasons and because of this President Kelly considered his proposal carefully.
“You’ve clearly thought this through, General,” he conceded, “This is quite an undertaking. It’s risky, but it certainly has merit.”
“Does this mean you’re prepared to implement it?” asked General Grimshaw.
“Unless there are any caveats, which I’m assuming there are.”
“Why would you assume that, sir?”
“I’m a lifelong politician, General. I know better than anybody that there’s always going to be fine print,” the President reasoned, “If you really want me to trust you, you’ll share them with me now so I won’t have to find out the hard way.
Grimshaw turned towards Captain Freeman. The President was responding better than they had hoped, but there were some details they hadn’t disclosed. The Green Beret could already tell which details were on the General’s mind. He silently tried to dissuade him. However, they couldn’t afford the luxury of deceit. Not after they had gone to such lengths to win the President’s trust.
“There is one component that may turn some heads,” the General explained, “On the last few pages you’ll see a plan to get Charles Xavier involved.”
“Charles Xavier? You mean the same Charles Xavier who actively opposed my campaign?!” said President Kelly, not hiding his dismay.
“Hear me out, sir. Keep in mind that this is the same man who helped save you and your family from Magneto. That says nothing about their contributions to stopping that asteroid incident and bringing Cameron Hodge to justice.”
“I know all about their heroics, General! It’s the logistics that concern me! Charles Xavier and his X-men may play hero from time-to-time, but he’s a man with his own agenda. He would see to it that your Mutant Security Agency would never get off the ground. How could we possibly further our mutant policies if the X-men are there to oppose us at every step?”
“I understand the risks, but try to look at it another way,” said General Grimshaw, maintaining a reasonable tone, “Professor Charles Xavier, love him or hate him, is a man who understands the mutant issue. In my experience it helps to have someone you don’t see eye-to-eye with because they can stop you from doing something that shouldn’t be done.”
“I fail to see how that’s not obtrusive,” said the President.
“It’s not about meddling. It’s about maintaining a sense of humility. We can’t assume every move we make will be right. As soon as we start believing we can do no wrong, we start making mistakes. Just look at the entire Middle East for proof.”
President Kelly still showed skepticism. Yet that skepticism was balanced by the recent complications to his views on mutants. He still remembered how the X-men rescued his family. On that fateful day his son became a mutant and forced him to take on a new perspective. He didn’t need to make another mistake to understand the importance of that perspective.
“Mr. President, I know this won’t sit well with a lot of people. But I’m asking you to take a calculated risk rather than gambling on something more extreme. This is why I went to such great lengths to earn your trust.”
“That’s still asking a lot, General,” the President pointed out.
“So give me a chance to prove myself wrong. Let me schedule a meeting with Charles Xavier so I can be sure for all of us that this is the right move. In the end if you feel he’s still a liability, I’ll drop him from my plan. But in my personal opinion, it’s better for everybody if Xavier and his X-men are a part of this.”
“Is that what you military types call keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?”
“I don’t like paint people as friends or enemies, sir. I just like to keep them close.”
President Kelly contemplated this for a moment. He turned away from General Grimshaw and Captain Freeman and walked over towards one of the windows overlooking the White House estate. Before the election he would have scoffed at the notion of reaching out to Charles Xavier. A lot had changed since then. The mutant issue wasn’t as clear cut as it used to be. He still had plenty of reservations about him and the X-men. He was sure to cross paths with the X-men on any endeavor. It may be best to do so on their terms.
While the President wrestled with this issue, Reverend William Stryker had already made up his mind. He had been scowling General Grimshaw and Captain Freeman the moment they arrived. Robert was already waffling on the issues they once saw so clearly. This military stooge and his mutant crony threatened to push him even further from their holy crusade.
“I know what you’re thinking, Robert. As your advisor and friend, I strongly encourage you to stop this instant,” said Stryker under his breath, “I’ve read up on this man. He’s a shrewd tactician with a history of ambivalence. He’s just use you further to his own agenda!”
“Isn’t that what everybody does in Washington? Us included?” reasoned the president.
“At least we have the moral high ground! This plan of his reeks of compromise and conceit. For all we know he could lead us even further down the same failed path as your predecessor!”
“Or at the very least, he could give us a badly needed foundation to build on,” he retorted.
“But at what cost?” questioned Stryker, “This man wants Charles Xavier operating in our midst. It is tantamount to allowing an emissary of Satan onto holy ground! I implore you, Robert…be careful. Don’t let your brain overrule your heart.”
President Kelly continued gazing out over the White House lawn as he considered the words of both Stryker and Grimshaw. What he decided could impact the entire course of his administration. It had the potential to both provoke and placate. It was the first concrete plan for confronting the mutant threat and it could not be taken lightly. Looking over at Grimshaw and then back at Stryker, Robert Kelly came to a decision.
“Sometimes we have to test our faith, William. You of all people should know that,” he said as he walked back towards Grimshaw.
“Robert…” Stryker began.
But President Kelly wouldn’t be dissuaded. He had made up his mind.
“General Grimshaw, I’m ready to make this happen,” he said, extending his hand to the General, “Consider this partnership official.”
“Thank you, Mr. President,” said General Grimshaw as he respectfully shook the president’s hand, “Is this also a go-ahead to get in touch with Charles Xavier?”
“So long as I have the final say, proceed as you must,” affirmed President Kelly, “But how do you plan on getting him to go along with this? Xavier may be a nuisance, but he’s no fool.”
“Let me worry about that, sir,” said the General with an ominous grin, “I’ve already made some arrangements. I think he and his X-men will appreciate what we have to offer.”
Xavier Institute – The Next Day
“Have you lost your freakin’ mind, Chuck?!” exclaimed a very irate Logan.
“Logan please! Overreacting isn’t going to make this any easier,” coaxed Professor Charles Xavier as he tried to calm his angry associate.
“A freakin’ General from Kelly’s inner circle wants to visit and you just up and let him?! After pricks like Wraith flat out attacked us?! I’d say overreacting is pretty damn appropriate!”
“Even if I agreed with that (and I don’t), I would ask that you temper your rage if you ever want to see me naked again!” said Ororo as she and Jean tried to calm the former living weapon.
Logan only settled somewhat under the coaxing of his girlfriend and ex-girlfriend. Xavier, Hank, and Cyclops spent the whole night looking into that raid on Magneto’s palace. Then at breakfast this morning he gathers the team for an update only to reveal that some high-ranking officer from the military is paying a visit, claiming he has important matters to discuss about recent events. In Logan’s experience that was just code for some prick with an agenda looking to position himself in a way that he could later exploit.
While Professor Xavier sympathized with Logan’s suspicions, he tried to maintain a less hostile perspective. It wasn’t every day someone from the military asked to pay a visit to his institute. Under most circumstances he wouldn’t allow such a meeting so as to keep his students from getting too caught up in political battles. However, General Grimshaw insisted they meet in the Xavier Institute. He didn’t specify why. He just said it would be best under the given circumstances.
Logan wasn’t the only one suspicious of the visit. Scott, Jean, Ororo, and Hank had their share of reservations as well. They weren’t as outspoken as Logan, but they made sure the Professor knew they were concerned.
“Necessary or not, outrage and paranoia won’t give us the answers we seek,” said Ororo, giving Logan a look to keep him from going off again, “I’m quite concerned about why the military would take a sudden interest in us.”
“Seeing as how President Kelly campaigned on a get-tough-on-mutants platform, this is quite a shift,” added Jean, “How do we know this is a diplomatic visit, Professor?”
“I sensed no malice in his tone. He seemed quite reasonable in his desire to speak with me,” assured the Professor.
“He just seemed that way?” scoffed Logan, “That ain’t sayin’ much, Chuck.”
“I never said I blindly trust his word. I had Lilandra do a background check on General Grimshaw with her contacts. He’s a hard man to ascertain, but his influence is quite vast.”
“What did she find out, sir? Anything worth noting?” asked Scott.
“He’s no General Wraith. That much we can be sure of,” said the Professor, “He’s a top-tier General who has served several administrations, graduated from West Point with highest honors, and has over three decades of experience leading the armed forces.”
“And leading them quite well I might add,” said Hank, who was holding a stack of papers he had recently printed out, “Tessa and I did some checking of our own. Grimshaw has led operations in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South America. All with stunning efficiency.”
“How stunning?” questioned Scott.
“Let me put it this way,” Hank went on, “If left to his own devices, there would have been no need to invade Iraq a second time.”
The team exchanged glances. Nathan Grimshaw sounded like someone they needed to take seriously. Their experience with military types hadn’t been very positive thus far. General Wraith showed them just how tough an enemy from the military could be. Even if he wasn’t like Wraith, but his record alone was cause for concern.
“So how do we deal with this guy, Professor?” asked Jean warily, “What if he’s part of President Kelly’s bold action as he calls it?”
“We can’t be sure of his intent or his motives yet, Jean. I need to get to know this man before we start making judgments,” said the Professor calmly, “As such, we’re going to be hospitable. If he wants a tour of our premises, we’ll give it to him. Lilandra has also agreed to fly in and join me. Given her connections, it may be best to have all our cards on the table so to speak.”
“More like someone to keep both sides in check,” muttered Logan, “A pretty girl always helps with that.”
That earned him a look from his teammates. Logan clearly wasn’t going to be won over by any plan that involved trusting someone bearing the same rank that John Wraith once bore. The Professor understood this and tried empathized with his stance while keeping an open mind.
“You may be right, Logan. I actually hope you are,” said the Professor, “ I expected Kelly to expand military forces at some point. General Grimshaw may very well be part of that.”
“Do you think President Kelly is preparing to outlaw the X-men or something?” asked Jean, “Could that be what this military visit is all about?”
“I certainly hope not, Jean. I have no desire to see this school become a tool of the military or politicians. We may train like soldiers, but we are not out to serve the government. It is important that we remain heroes in our own right.”
“In that case I’ll stick around and help out as well,” said Scott, “I know military types. I grew up around them. Maybe I can reason with him.”
“I appreciate that, Scott, but you do have class last I checked,” reminded Hank.
“No, he’s right,” said the Professor, “I could use every bit of insight at my disposal.”
“So he gets out of class while the rest of us stay out of the way? How is that fair?” said Jean dryly.
“You act as though I’m using it as an excuse,” said Scott with a half-grin.
“Oh I know you’re too good for that, babe. I just don’t see why we all can’t be a part of this. It’s bound to affect us all at some point, right?”
“Most definitely, which is why the rest of the team must continue with their duties,” said the Professor assertively, “Classes will still go on. Training will continue as scheduled. If nothing else, we need to show the General and President Kelly that this is a school. We are contributing to this struggle in our own way.”
“Doesn’t mean he won’t find some reason to call in an airstrike and bomb us all to hell,” muttered Logan.
For this comment, Ororo didn’t bother scolding him. One unfortunate aspect to being Logan’s girlfriend was understanding when simple scorn wasn’t enough.
“Honestly Logan, am I going to have to stand by and distract you during this whole affair?” she said with an exasperated sight.
“You could wear a G-string and bottle caps, darlin’. I don’t think even that would be enough.”
“Then I’ll have to find some other way. And I can’t guarantee it involves a G-string,” said Ororo, taking his arm and leading him out of the room.
As much as Logan didn’t like being muscled, he didn’t resist his girlfriend’s urgings. Ororo was probably the only person not afraid to endure these moods of his. It earned her plenty of respect on his part and a grateful gesture from the Professor, Jean, and the others.
“We’ll fill the rest of the team in on the meeting, Charles,” said Ororo before she left, “We’ll make sure everyone is in class by the time the General gets here. Don’t worry about a thing.”
“Thank you, Ororo. I do appreciate it,” said the Professor with a smile.
“We all do,” said Scott, who couldn’t help but laugh at the look on Logan’s face as Ororo dragged him off.
“Yeah, you have that much more of our respect, Miss Munroe,” added Jean.
“Shut the hell up, all of you! Or every one of you will be in for it on my next Danger Room run!” Logan barked.
“After I’m through with you, I doubt you’ll have the energy to run a hot dog stand, lover,” she said cryptically.
Logan’s mood remained grumpy as Ororo let him out of the room. It probably was a good idea that Ororo was committing to occupy him during this affair. He still thought this was still a mistake. Something rotten was going to come of this and they were walking right into it.
Scott, Jean, Hank, and Professor Xavier tried to maintain a less pessimistic outlook. Logan’s concerns may have been valid, but this could also be an opportunity. This man may give them a chance to show people in high places that the X-men could be allies and not enemies. That was something they would need so long as Robert Kelly was President.
“Guess I better follow Ororo’s lead,” said Jean as she made her leave, “I might as well get caught up on my assignments. We don’t want these military types to think we’re slackers.”
“I’ll throw on my uniform and start planning the tour,” said Scott as he followed his girlfriend, “Just let me know if there are certain parts of the school you don’t want him to see, Professor.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Scott,” said the Professor, who lingered with Hank, “I should also get in touch with Lilandra. Her jet should be arriving within the hour.”
“I’ll find a way to help as well,” said Hank, “But I do have one more concern I feel is worth bringing up.”
“What might that be, old friend?”
Hank’s demeanor shifted as he waited for his students to leave. He didn’t like entertaining notions of paranoia. That task was often best left to Wolverine. However, the circumstances of this meeting gave him reason to be concerned.
“It has to do with coincidences, Charles,” he said, “I know we’ve always shared the same sentiment. When the statistical probability of two events coinciding at random is too great, that can only mean other forces are at work. It stands to reason that if Magneto’s citadel gets raided and an obscure General from President Kelly’s administration seeks a meeting in the span of a day, something is seriously amiss at hand.”
“I haven’t forgotten that sentiment. Do you also believe these two events are related?”
“Is the atomic mass of Thulium 168.9342?”
Professor Xavier fell silent as he and Hank started making their way towards the elevators for the lower levels. Whatever the connection between this meeting and the events on Genosha (if any), it was something they could only determine once they knew all the facts. In his experience, however, such facts were not always apparant.
Xavier Institute – Backyard
It was lunchtime and Rogue, Remy, Kurt, Kitty, and Bobby were all taking their usual hour-long break. It was a nice day out despite being cold so they ate outside. Some fresh air went a long way especially when tensions were so high.
It was times like this when class was actually a relief. It helped take their minds off the complex breadth of human/mutant affairs. They all had their own way of distracting themselves. Bobby and Remy were playing a game of one-on-one basketball while Rogue and Kitty were finishing their lunch on a nearby table. Kurt was making regular trips back and forth from the kitchen, still putting together one of his famous overstuffed sandwiches. They had a brief lull before afternoon classes so it was important they make good use of this time.
“Don’t get winded on me yet, Remy! You’re only up by three now!” said Bobby as he skillfully dribbled the basketball near mid-court.
“Ain’t fair that you got the home-field advantage, homme,” said Remy as he rubbed his hands together to keep them warm, “We don’t be getting this cold in the bayou and you ain’t even wearing a jacket!”
“I can’t help it if a cold winter day feels like a sunny afternoon in mid-July. Now are you going to keep making excuses or are you going to lose with honor?”
Remy rolled his eyes as he got into position to try and defend Bobby. It didn’t seem fair that someone with ice powers could weather these conditions so to speak. Bobby probably knew this and was using it to make up for all the times Remy beat him when the weather was on his side. It was the kind of sportsmanship made possible only by mutant powers.
While Remy and Bobby kept their game going, Rogue and Kitty chatted casually as they finished their lunch. Like Remy, Rogue was bundled up because of the cold. Kitty dressed a little lighter since she was used to it. Kurt, having fur, didn’t even bother. His focus was completing his sandwich.
“Zhat covers zhe mustard and zhe mayonnaise,” said the German mutant eagerly as he covered his already bloated sandwich with more toppings, “Zhat only leaves zhe chips and zhe cookies.”
“As if a sandwich that big isn’t filling enough?” joked Kitty.
“I had a light breakfast and missed my mid-morning snack,” shrugged Kurt.
“Amanda again?” she surmised.
“Vhat else could make me so villing to go zhis hungry?” he sighed, “I have to make up for it somehow if I’m going to match my calorie quota, ja?”
Kurt teleported back into the kitchen to retrieve more food, leaving Kitty and Rogue to marvel at how someone with such a slim disposition could have such a vast stomach. It was enough to make Kitty set aside the rest of her leftover pasta. The only one who wasn’t taken by Kurt’s lunch was Rogue. She had other issues on her mind.
“Still with me over there, Rogue?” asked Kitty, “This is usually the point where you warn Kurt about his impending heart attack.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Kitty. Ah ain’t in the mood for much sarcasm today,” she said distantly as she continued watching Remy and Bobby compete.
“You not in the mood for sarcasm?” laughed Kitty, “Excuse me while I erect a monument to commemorate this event.”
“Nice to see you’re compensating,” quipped Rogue, “Thing is, it’s pretty hard to be sarcastic when you got a lot serious stuff on your mind.”
“Like what? Anything you care to share?”
“Depends on how seriously you’ll take it,” she retorted, “You still love saying things that most folks think twice about.”
“I’ll be careful this time. I swear on my X-men uniform,” assured Kitty.
Rogue shot Kitty a skeptical glance. Even after her brief relationship with Bobby, Kitty still had a knack for saying the wrong things. Whether she could restrain herself or not, Rogue turned back towards Bobby and Remy as she tried to articulate her conerns.
“Ah got a call from Warren the over the weekend,” Rogue began, her voice distant and conflicted, “Since Mr. McCoy and the Professor have so many side projects, he’s taken on the job of finding a way for meh to touch again.”
“That’s a good thing, right?” said Kitty.
“Of course it’s a good thing! He even said his people were close to a breakthrough of sorts. Didn’t say what it was. He just said it would be ready soon.”
“So what’s the problem? I’m guessing there’s more to it and based on the way you’re looking at Remy, I’m also guessing he’s part of it.”
Rogue muttered in annoyance that she could be so obvious. In this rare instance Kitty’s blunt response was appropriate. This had been something she and Remy had been keeping under wraps for a while now. It was only a matter of time before it manifested once more.
“Maybe it ain’t right to call it a problem,” Rogue went on, “When Remy first arrived, we had some real chemistry going. After Ah lost mah ability to touch, Ah’m the one who stopped it cold. Ah pushed Remy away and hurt him in ways worse than mah touch ever could.”
“Yeah, I remember,” said Kitty, “I would say you’re exaggerating, but that actually sounds pretty accurate.”
“Ah know. Ain’t that a hoot?” Rogue sighed, “Ah’m lucky Remy was so understanding. He was willing to set aside whatever feelings we may have had for each other and keep it simple. It’s still awkward as hell sometimes, but that hasn’t stopped us from being friends. Ah always thought that would be enough, at least until Ah got mah powers under control. Now Ah’m not so sure.”
“Why do you say that? Is it really not enough to just be friends with the guy anymore?”
“Ah’m just not sure Ah can keep waiting on mah powers. Ah don’t know how obvious Ah’ve been, but Ah’ve never stopped feelin’ something for Remy. Ah may have held those feelings back for a while, but that don’t mean they’re gone.”
Kitty was starting to see what Rogue was getting at. Even as someone who had her share of relationships dramas, her issues with Bobby paled in comparison to what Rogue went through.
“Oh…I see,” she said, “So it’s true then. You never stopped having the hots for Remy.”
“Ah know. Poor pitiful Rogue can push a guy away, but she can’t stop wantin’ him,” Rogue sighed.
“I thought you weren’t in the mood for sarcasm,” Kitty pointed out.
“It ain’t sarcasm. It’s the annoying-as-hell truth. That’s why it feels so wrong every time Ah think about making a move. Because no matter how much Ah’m into Remy, there’s gonna be a point where we run into a brick wall with the no-touching rule.”
“Even so, that doesn’t mean it’ll be less meaningful. This may come as a shock to you, but relationships don’t always have to include sex and kissing.”
“But Ah want to have that kind of connection with Remy. Ah know Ah sound like a whiny little girl, but Ah just…Ah don’t know if Ah can keep waiting like this. What if it takes too long and that spark ain’t there anymore? Or what if someone else comes along and Remy falls for her? Then we’ll never know what we could have had.”
“If that’s what you’re so worried about then you should already know what to do,” said Kitty.
“Oh so you figured it out and for once weren’t crass enough to tell meh?” scoffed Rogue.
“I’m serious, Rogue. I think it’s clear where I really don’t have to be crass,” she replied, offering her friend a comforting gesture, “Take a chance. Be as reckless as your name. Make something more of this chemistry. Who knows? It might even be good for you two!”
“How the heck do you figure that?”
“Think about it. Maybe getting closer without kissing, touching, or sex will make everything more meaningful. You’ll have to find other ways…deeper ways to connect.”
Rogue looked at Kitty strangely. It could have been another one her infamous slip-of-the-tongue moments where she said something without thinking too much about it. Even if it it was, Rogue actually found herself contemplating the possibilities.
Shifting her gaze back towards Remy, who was still neck-in-neck with Bobby in their basketball game, she couldn’t help but wonder. Maybe not touching could work to their advantage. Remy made no secret of his history. He hooked up with his share of women and not just serious hook-ups like Ororo and Belladonna. She didn’t hide her history either. She and Scott were pretty passionate when they were together and she wasn’t subtle about how much she enjoyed getting intimate with him. That may have been part of the problem though. The physical aspects of these relationships overshadowed the emotional aspects.
It sounded corny, but it made sense. By taking away the physical aspect, all that was left was the raw chemistry between them. If that took center stage instead of how good they could make each other feel physically, then maybe she and Remy could really have something special. They already had so much going for them. She felt closer to him than any other man in her life. Even if she did re-gain her ability to touch, it could be all the more meaningful in the long run.
“So what are you waiting for, Rogue?” asked Kitty with an encouraging smile, “Are you going to do it or not?”
Rogue was about to respond, but at that moment Kurt finally reappeared with an armful of chips and cookies.
“Do vhat, mien sister?” asked Kurt as he set his food down.
“Oh we were just talking about how she should…”
“It’s…personal, Kurt,” said Rogue, quickly cutting Kitty off before she could explain too much, “Don’t worry about it. Just mindless girl talk.”
“It can’t be too mindless if it has you zhis jumpy,” he pointed out.
“It’s mindless enough to not get between you and your lunch, little brother,” teased Rogue, “Ah wouldn’t want to spoil your appetite.”
“If that’s even possible,” laughed Kitty.
Kurt smiled and shrugged, trusting Rogue’s word. He didn’t waste time worrying and got started on his vast lunch.
It was kind of a good thing that he appeared when he did. Rogue wasn’t ready to do what Kitty had proposed. Looking back towards Remy, who appeared winded from the cold, she saw in him a man she was already very close to. But could they be closer? Would he still be that close to a woman he couldn’t touch?
While Rogue contemplated this, the back doors to the institute opened and Logan and Ororo stepped out. They walked right into the middle of Remy and Bobby’s basketball game and Logan caught the ball just as Bobby was about to make a shot.
“Game over, popsicle. We’re cuttin’ lunch period short,” said Logan in a more disgruntled tone than usual.
“Oh man, can’t it wait just a few more minutes?” Bobby complained, “I was about to make my game-winning throw!”
“Don’t start, bub. This ain’t the time!” he barked.
“Whoa there, what be gettin’ into you, Wolvie?” said Remy defensively.
“Yeah, you look more pissed offy than usual,” Rogue commented.
Logan snarled at their remarks, but Ororo was there to keep the peace and explain.
“I’m sorry everybody, but something has come up. We’re about to have an important visitor arrive at the institute we need to brief all of you on what to expect,” she explained.
“What kind of visitor? The kind we have to be ready to fight?” asked Kitty.
“Hopefully not,” said Ororo, “Gather your lunch and meet me and Logan in the lecture hall. We’ll fill you in.”
“Uh…zhat may take a few trips,” said Kurt, who still had a pile of food he hadn’t even started on yet.
“Take your time, elf,” grumbled Logan, “After you hear this you’re gonna need take your frustrations out on something. Might as well be food.”
Xavier Institute – Front Yard
Professor Xavier waited anxiously just outside the front door of his institute with Scott and Lilandra standing by his side. General Grimshaw and his associates had just landed in the front yard in a trio of high capacity transport helicopters. The team spent the last few hours preparing for this visit. Special classes and training exercises were initiated to keep the team busy and productive while this affair unfolded. Even as the world’s most powerful telepath, he didn’t know what to expect.
“This guy knows how to make an entrance,” commented Scott, “Think he’s trying to make a statement, Professor?”
“If so, he’s doing an admirable job,” replied the Professor, “But I would rather not make assumptions about this man.”
“Try not to be intimidated. Grimshaw is a powerful man, but from what I’ve gathered he’s not without humility,” said Lilandra, “Just don’t expect to meet him halfway, Charles. Make it clear that you’re a better ally than you are an enemy.”
“I’ll do what I have to, Lilandra. My concern is his agenda. Whether it’s that of President Kelly or something entirely different, he sees fit to get the X-men involved. That says to me he’s ambitious. It also says there may be room for conflict if his agenda doesn’t fit with ours.”
As Professor Xavier watched the helicopters land and the doors open, he took a deep breath and prepared to find out what his X-men would be dealing with.
The hatch on the first helicopter that landed was also the first that opened. The first one to exit was Captain Jack Freeman, who was dressed in his Green Beret uniform. General Grimshaw followed, also in his decorated officer attire. The other helicopters that landed behind them opened shortly after to reveal teams of armed marines. They quickly surrounded General Grimshaw and surveyed the grounds as was their protocol.
“This is where the famous Xavier Institute?” said Captain Freeman as he looked over the grounds, “Guess playing hero is easier when you have something ritzy to come home to.”
“Don’t roll your eyes yet, Captain. The X-men have been going up against men like Magneto for as long as you’ve been a Green Beret. For them to still be breathing let alone active, they must be doing something right.”
“That doesn’t mean we should start hugging each other and singing camp songs.”
“I never said their reputation warranted any trust. But they a least deserve some credibility. We’ll be needing that if the X-men are to help us in all the ways we’ll need.”
Captain Freeman was still skeptical as he followed the General. Looking up at the mansion, he didn’t see a school for mutants. He saw a stronghold for a small private army that carried out it’s own agenda. In his experience that was always a recipe for trouble.
“The area is clear, sir,” said one of the lead marines looking over the area.
“Good, now have the main squad stay with me and order the rest to stand guard near the transports. Be sure to keep all com-links open,” ordered the General.
The marines moved quickly, swarming around the helicopters and carefully monitoring the area. About a dozen or so broke off from the main group and followed General Grimshaw as he approached the Xavier Institute. They all kept their assault rifles by their sides. They didn’t treat this area as hostile territory, but they made it clear they brought a fair bit of force with them. It sent a powerful message that Grimshaw meant business.
When General Grimshaw and Professor Charles Xavier finally stood face-to-face it was a tense moment at first. Captain Freeman showed a touch of suspicion as did Scott Summers. Despite this tension, the two men maintained a respectful demeanor.
“Professor Charles Xavier,” said General Grimshaw, “It’s an honor to meet you. Thank you for agreeing to this meeting on such short notice.”
“You’re welcome, General. It’s an honor to have you at my institute,” said the Professor as he shook the General’s hand, “I’m very much looking forward to hearing what this is about.”
“So am I and so is President Kelly. Before we go any further, I should know that my men and I will be recording our entire visit. I hope you understand the importance of documenting this meeting of the minds, so to speak. If this doesn’t bother you, I would like to get started.”
“As would I, but before I welcome you into my school could you please tell the marines with assault rifles to remain outside?” said Professor Xavier, “This is a school. I’m not comfortable with armed soldiers being around my students.”
“Yet you’re comfortable rubbing shoulders with Magneto? Excuse me if I find that a little ironic,” commented Captain Freeman.
“And who are you to judge?” asked Scott in an apprehensive tone.
The Green Beret was about to respond, but General Grimshaw cut him off.
“That’s enough, Captain. Let’s not resort to name-calling before we get down to business,” he said assertively, “This is his property. The least we can do is respect it.”
General Grimshaw turned to the marines and gestured for them to back off. They were clearly hesitant, but they did as they were told. It showed to Professor Xavier that he was a reasonable man. Captain Freeman still didn’t like it, but as always he respected the General’s wishes.
“Please excuse Captain Freeman’s comment. He has a tendency to be a little untrusting,” said General Grimshaw.
“It’s quite alright, General. I appreciate you accommodating my wishes,” said Professor Xavier.
“By that same token, I request you accommodate mine,” he went on, “I’ll keep my marines outside, but I’m not going into this alone. I want Captain Freeman to come with me. He may have an attitude, but he also has my trust.”
“I understand. That won’t be a problem,” assured Professor Xavier.
“I sure hope so,” muttered Scott under his breath.
Captain Freeman’s hardened expression remained. Scott picked up on it and found himself staring the mysterious soldier down. There was definitely something about him that seemed different from the other soldiers. He kept it in the back of his mind as the Professor continued.
“With that out of the way, I think we’re ready to get started,” said the General.
“Very well. We’ll begin with a brief tour,” said the Professor as he turned to Scott, “This is Scott Summers, codename Cyclops. He’ll be leading us on the tour.”
“Hopefully, you’ll be willing to tell me a few things I don’t already know,” said the General as he gave the X-leader a look of approval.
“I suppose that depends on how closely you’ve been scrutinizing the X-men in your spare time,” made Lilandra, showing some suspicion of her own.
“On that note I’d like I’m sure you already know Miss Lilandra Neramani,” said the Professor, gesturing to her as well, “She’ll be assisting me in our discussions.”
“Looking forward to it,” he said, shifting his stoic gaze to Lilandra, “You were quite the debater in the election. You put the President in his place a number of times.”
“Does he still hold it against me?” she asked him.
“That’s not for me to say. He’s more forgiving than you think. I can’t say whether I’ll be so accommodating. That all depends on how this meeting goes.”
Washington DC – Capitol
‘Oh heavenly Father, why must you continually test me even as I do thy will? Is it because of the corrupt spirits around me? Or is it because I’m still being punished for the grave sin that I’ve spent the last three decades atoning for?’
The silent prayers of Reverend William Stryker were as solemn as they were unanswered. Ever since President Kelly agreed to go along with General Grimshaw’s plan, he been pushed aside. He no longer had the ear of the President despite having worked so hard to get him elected. It was tantamount to betrayal. He joined forces with Robert Kelly because he believed they shared the same vision for humanity. Since the election and especially in wake of his son’s transformation, that no longer seemed the case.
The life-long preacher was trying to save the very soul of humanity from the wicked. He worked so hard to do God’s will and protect His children from the monstrosities that were overtaking the Earth. Yet at every turn, forces beyond his control thwarted his efforts. In an attempt to calm his tired spirit, he went for a walk through downtown Washington. He ended up back in his Capitol based office where he hoped to regroup. Sighing to himself, the reverend unlocked his door and entered his office. To his surprise, he discovered someone sitting at his desk.
“What the…who in God’s name are you?!” he demanded.
“Nice office you got here. Do all President Kelly’s holy men get such cozy accommodations?” said a shadowy figure sitting in his chair and facing away while he rummaged through his files.
“If you’re not going to identify yourself then I’m calling security!” Stryker threatened.
“Oh you don’t want to do that, Reverend. Not until you hear what I have to offer.”
The man turned around in his chair to greet the bewildered Reverend. He was in a high ranking military uniform, bearing emblems similar to the ones General Grimshaw wore. He didn’t have as many metals or distinctions, but he had the same stern military demeanor.
“Oh great, another General,” muttered Stryker.
“Actually, I’m a Colonel,” he told him, “Colonel John Wraith, United States Armed Forces. I used to go by General, but I was recently demoted.”
“If you’re trying to win sympathy, you’re not going to get it!”
“Funny, I thought men of God were supposed to be compassionate,” quipped Wraith, “Did I mention that the man who demoted me was General Grimshaw? Does that help my soul?”
Stryker tensed upon hearing that name. At the same time it quickly turned his outrage into curiosity. Suddenly, this man didn’t seem unworthy of sympathy.
“I hope you’re not just here to share mutual outrage. I’ve had enough bad news for one day,” said Stryker in a calmer tone.
“Then this should cheer you up,” said Wraith with an ominous grin, “I understand you’ve had it pretty rough since the inauguration. President Kelly has marginalized your influence and now someone with much more clout has come in to muscle you out.”
“You’re telling me things I already know, Colonel. Take a page from the Good Book and give me a revelation!” demanded Stryker.
“How’s this…right now, we’re in administrative purgatory if you’ll pardon the spiritual puns. Nathan Grimshaw is a tough act to compete with. He’s got a lot of connections and they like him better than they’ll ever like us. So if we’re going to get anything done, we need to pool our resources.”
“I don’t even know you. Why would I bother helping you?”
“Because we both want the same thing,” said Wraith strongly, “You see mutants as a scourge. I see mutants as a threat that needs to be eliminated. I used to have a means to do so, but thanks to some bumbling on the part of a few foolish scientists I’ve lost that. And If I’m going to get it back, I’ll need help.”
Stryker studied this man carefully. After the way President Kelly shut him out he was suspicious of anybody claiming to support his cause. This man didn’t come off as some ambitious bureaucrat. He looked like someone with the cunning and backbone to do what was necessary. The Lord didn’t always answer his prayers in the way he expected. Even if this wasn’t a divine sign, then he would be foolish not to pursue it.
“What do you need from me?”
“Just the services of your Purifiers,” grinned Colonel Wraith, “My lower rank leaves me without much of an army to command. But you have the necessary manpower. I’ll need that if I’m to get what I need out of Japan.”
“Japan?” said Stryker curiously, “What in God’s name are you trying to get back?
Colonel Wraith’s grin widened as he casually put his arm around the reverend’s shoulder and led him out of his office. He could tell this man was jaded after what had been going on lately. Getting caught up in General Nathan Grimshaw’s affairs certainly rubed salt in the wound. Stryker was a man dedicated to his cause and at this point in his failing military career he’s just what he needed to forge the ultimate weapon against mutants.
“It’s a long story, Reverend. Walk with me. I’ll fill you in on all the gritty details. I think you especially will appreciate what I have planned.”
Xavier Institute – Danger Room
The tour for General Grimshaw had been uneventful thus far. The decorated officer and his associate, Captain Jack Freeman, remained silent and respectful as Scott let them throughout the mansion. He showed them the living quarters, the classrooms, the library, the lounge, and the recreation areas. The tour helped revealed all the trappings of a well-equipped, well-funded private school. Then they got to the lower levels and the tour got more interesting.
Scott showed the General the advanced equipment the X-men used to study mutation. He showed them their medical quarters, the War Room, the hanger, and the Danger Room. Professor Xavier and Lilandra chimed in from time to time to fill in the more technical details. The General had a number of questions and comments along the way, but overall he was impressed. Cyclops even demonstrated some basic functions of the Danger Room, creating a few holographic targets and taking them out with his optic blasts.
“As you can see, the holographic technology the Professor described helps create an ideal environment to train both our powers and combat skills,” said Scott as he skillfully hit three flying target orbs within the span of two seconds, “We can even adapt certain scenarios for specific powers.”
“Impressive,” said the General, giving the X-leader a look of approval, “So this is how the X-men always seem so prepared in battle.”
“It was a logical resource to add when I first started my institute,” said Professor Xavier, “Before the Danger Room, I tried helping mutants control their powers psychic counseling. That worked for some abilities, but not others. I’ve long since discovered it is most beneficial if a mutant has the chance to exercise their powers in a controlled environment.”
“And what’s to stop them from developing a god-complex like Magneto?” asked Captain Freeman critically, breaking his silence for the first time.
“That’s why I emphasize the control aspect,” the Professor stated, “Even with the Danger Room, I still use counseling both psychic and otherwise to help mutants keep their powers in perspective. This way mutants can see their powers for what they truly are rather than what they could become.”
“An important balance if ever there was one,” said the General as he surveyed the Danger Room components.
The General’s tone grew distant as he walked through the high tech arena, looking over the components. Being in a place like this brought back some difficult memories. The emphasis in humanity resonated with him. It gave Professor Xavier some additional credibility even if it didn’t quite earn him his trust.
“It’s certainly reassuring to see you’ve dedicated so many resources to getting the best equipment for your goal, Professor,” said the General as he ran his hands over some of the projectors, “This is some pretty expensive gear. Between this and that fancy XR-77 you showed me earlier, I would say you’re X-men are very well-equipped. If I’m not mistaken many these components were developed by your people, Miss Neramani.”
“Yes, that’s correct,” said Lilandra, somewhat surprised by the General’s statement, “Xavier family has contributed a great deal to Aerie Global. It has allowed us to be on the cutting edge of advanced technology.”
“That would be quite an understatement. If the reports I’ve read on your family are accurate, nearly all the technology your people have developed has been at least several decades ahead of everybody else. I remember some of my people trying to get you to tap that well for decades, but you’ve never budged.”
“I’m sorry, but Aerie Global has a strong policy against using technology to make weapons,” Lilandra pointed out.
“Is it really a policy? Or is it preference?” questioned the General, “Many wonder where Aerie gets all this advanced technology. It almost seems like you have an inside track. But I think the more interesting question is why you only deal it to certain parties. That creates a pretty uneven playing field while poses a number of unflattering questions.”
“I…don’t see how these questions relate to the matter at hand, General,” said Lilandra warily.
“I never said they did. I’m just saying it’s a concern, knowing these X-men have resources the government doesn’t.”
It was hard to tell if General Grimshaw was being apprehensive or critical. He was a difficult man to read. He didn’t show a bias agenda the way men like Robert Kelly so often did. It was better in some ways and more challenging in others.
“If you’re worried about the X-men being a threat, you can save yourself the trouble, General,” said Scott in a more assertive tone.
“And we should just take your word for it?” said Captain Freeman skeptically.
“It’s not like this technology is destructive. We just use it to do what the X-men have trained to do. If you want evidence, then just look at how well we’ve used it over the years.”
“Your record does speak for itself. That much I’ll concede,” said the General as he turned away from the Danger Room components, “I’ll also concede that you X-men have done more good for mutants than the military or the government. I suppose you’ve privatized mutant peace and as is often the case, it’s a lot more efficient.”
“So why do I sense that you’re still critical of our approach?” asked Professor Xavier, “Not to be presumptuous, but you are talking to a telepath.”
“I suppose presumptuous is a moot point for you, Professor. In which case I’ll skip the part where I try to deny it,” made the General, “Don’t feel too bad about it though. I’m rarely convinced of anyone’s stated cause. I know for a fact there are some parts of this mansion you’re not showing me…namely this so called mutant locator apparatus that our intelligence crews know you have.”
Professor Xavier knew he was referring to Cerebrum. It was by far his most important and sensitive tool for the X-men. He was always very careful about who he showed it to and he always made sure his students understood the importance of not discussing it. If the military or government were allowed to access it, it could open the door to all sorts of abuses.
“I hope you understand why I keep certain details from you, General,” said Professor Xavier calmly, “Just as I’m sure you keep plenty of secrets from me.”
“The only difference is that you could easily obtain my secrets by just reading my mind or the mind of anybody with a high level clearance in the government.”
“I could, but I don’t. I believe strongly in not exploiting my powers in such a way. I’m find it more productive to earn the trust of others so that they are more willing to share such secrets.”
“That’s a lot of trust, Xavier. One could say you’re either hopelessly naïve or inhumanly patient.”
“I may be both. But I find more value in working for something rather than taking it. That’s how we maintain our humility.”
General Grimshaw studied Professor Xavier for a moment. It was as if he was trying to look for deception, either overt or secretive. The Professor remained calm under his gaze. He was almost tempted to read his thoughts to see what he was thinking. As a matter of trust, he didn’t. He stayed true to his principles, looking to earn this man’s trust in a more honest manner.
It was tense for a few moments. Scott and Lilandra exchanged worried glances, not sure of what the General was trying to accomplish. Captain Freeman didn’t look as worried as he was uncomfortable. He clearly didn’t like being here and was eager to get out as soon as possible. It all depended on what decisions the General decided to make.
“Professor Xavier, I need to speak to you in private,” said Grimshaw, finally breaking his silence, “Is there a place we can talk alone?”
“Of course, General. Follow me,” said Professor Xavier.
“Sir?” began Scott with a touch of concern.
“It’ll be alright, Scott,” he assured him.
Lilandra nodded in understanding. Being a telepath as well, she could sense Xavier’s intent. She shared some of Scott’s concern, but was confident that Charles could handle himself. She and Scott stayed back while Captain Freeman followed the General closely as was his duty.
“Stay here, Captain,” the General ordered, “In private means without you too.”
“But sir, that’s going against some serious protocols. Some of which the President himself dictated,” Captain Freeman reminded him.
“Sometimes protocols need to yield to necessity. You of all people should appreciate the value of breaking a few rules for the benefit of the mission.”
Captain Freeman let out a disgruntled groan. The General just had to throw that back at him. Now he knew how some of his commanding officers felt. Rather than make a big deal about it he respectfully nodded and stepped back, allowing General Grimshaw to exit the Danger Room with Professor Xavier. This left Captain Freeman alone with Scott and Lilandra, a situation which only made him more uncomfortable.
While Scott was still concerned about what General Grimshaw was going to say to Professor Xavier in private, he couldn’t help but be intrigued by this charismatic Green Beret that had been giving everybody nasty looks. He could tell he was a battle-hardened soldier. Having grown up on military bases, Scott could tell when a soldier had shed his share of blood and sweat on a battlefield. They carried themselves in a unique way and this man definitely fit the mold.
“What did he mean by that? About you and breaking rules?” Scott asked as he confronted the Green Beret.
“That would be none of your damned business, kid,” said Captain Freeman, “I don’t like being here and I don’t much appreciate you X-men. So forgive me if I don’t tell you my life story.”
“I appreciate the honesty, but I doubt I want to know your life story. Especially if your attitude is any clue,” retorted Scott dryly, “But I don’t need to know the story to figure out the plot twists.”
“If you happen to be psychic in addition to those lasers you shoot, you better get the hell out of my mind or we’re going to have some problems!” the Green Beret threatened.
“I don’t need to read minds in order to read people. As it just so happens, my specialty is soldiers and former street punks. I’ve had experience with both and I can tell that there’s a touch of both in you.”
Captain Freeman was starting to get a little irked. Lilandra sensed some hostility in this man and grabbed Scott’s arm in an effort to pull him back.
“Scott, let’s not complicate things,” she told him, “Just wait on the Professor and…”
“Take it easy, Miss Neramani. I’m not trying to complicate anything. I’m just trying to figure something out,” he said as he shook off Lilandra’s grip.
The X-leader moved in closer to the rugged Green Beret. He continued to study him with his critical gaze and Captain Freeman kept staring back, the hostility in his eyes never fading.
“I see in you a very tough soldier. I’m guessing you’ve seen your share of battles. You’ve probably killed your share of enemies as well,” Scott went on.
“Are you going to give me a morality lecture? I get enough of that crap from the anti-war hippies,” quipped the captain.
“I know battled hardened soldiers don’t care for lectures. Neither do street punks. And I see signs of both in you. I should know. I’ve been there. Why else would you be so comfortable with breaking rules?”
“Maybe I’m just a rebellious kind of guy.”
“Then what the hell are you doing in the military and how the hell did you become a Green Beret?” retorted Scott, folding his arms in an accusatory stance, “Moreover, why is it that you are so disgusted with the X-men? The way you look at us, I might mistake you for one of Magneto’s henchmen.”
“Now you’re really pushing your luck,” said Jack in a threatening tone.
“What’s even more intriguing is that same disgust doesn’t look anything like what we’re used to getting from the anti-mutant crowd. That makes me wonder about the source of this blatant hostility of yours. It’s not because you’re a soldier. It’s not because you’re a punk. So why the hostility? What has you so pissed off that you can’t do anything by fume about it?”
Captain Freeman stayed menacingly silent. This kid was pissing him off on any number of levels, but he knew how to connect the dots. He was in uniform and was obligated by duty not to harm civilians. He was also obligated to not reveal any sensitive information that would compromise the mission. The hardened Green Beret was very tempted to grab this guy by the throat and shut him up once and for all. Nevertheless, he stayed silent.
His lack of a response, but his expression said it all. Then it finally dawned on the X-leader. He figured it out without Captain Freeman even saying a word.
“Oh…I get it now,” said Scott, his eyes widening behind his visor, “That’s it, isn’t it? You’re a mutant!”
Jack Freeman responded with a burst of frustration. In a fit of anger he let out a forceful grunt as he slammed his fist into the reinforced metal walls behind him, leaving a significant dent in the process. Such a heated reaction essentially affirmed Scott’s suspicions, much to the Green Beret’s annoyance.
“That answer your question, Sherlock?!” he barked, “Pat yourself on the back! You figured it out! I’m a fucking mutant!”
“Please calm down, Captain Freeman!” coaxed Lilandra, quickly getting between the angry Green Beret and the X-leader, “Scott didn’t mean to…”
“I know he didn’t, damn it! You want me to fill in the blanks? Fine!” spat Jack as he literally shoved Lilandra away from him, “Yes, I am a mutant! Yes, I’m also a soldier! And yes, it pisses me off being in a place like this where mutants parade around as soldiers!”
“But…why?” asked Scott, trying to stay calm despite Jack’s outburst, “I thought it was illegal for mutants to be in the military.”
“It is, damn it! It goes against at least three international treaties! I’m the lone exception! You can thank General Grimshaw for that! You would be the only ones besides me who did! You claim to understand, but you don’t! Not even slightly!”
“Then help us understand rather than yelling at us!” quipped Cyclops.
“I’ll yell it if it’s the only way to get my point across!” spat the Green Beret, “For six years I’ve bled for this country, pissing off every mutant hating officer in the process! They treat me like dirt and I put up with this bullshit because I am a soldier! That’s all I’ve ever wanted! But it’s because I’m a fucking mutant nobody besides the General looks at me as a soldier! They look at me like I’m one of you! A super-powered freak running around in a costume playing hero!”
Scott Summers remained silent while the angry soldier fumed. It all made sense now. The angry words of Captain Jack Freeman reflected a great deal of pent up frustration. Much of it was projected towards the X-men. Because of what they did and what he did as a soldier, he was looked upon by others as something lesser. As someone who understood the mentality of soldiers, the notion of being less than what he earend soldier resonated strongly.
The X-leader gave Captain Freeman a moment to cool off. The disgruntled soldier stepped back and turned away. Lilandra tried to console him, but this time Scott waved her down. She was not equipped to handle this. He waited until Jack wasn’t seething so much to speak again.
“I understand more than you think,” the X-leader told him.
“I’ve already said enough. This conversation is over,” said Captain Freeman flatly.
“Then don’t say anything. Just listen,” said Scott as he approached him from behind, “The X-men aren’t soldiers. We do what we can to preserve peace between humans and mutants. I know you probably think that’s a joke, just as everybody who thumbs their nose at you thinks you’re a joke. But we don’t lose sight of our mission or our chosen duty. We do it for the same reasons you do. It’s part of who we are just as being a soldier is a part of who you are.”
Some of Scott’s words resonated with the Green Beret. This kid knew how to talk to soldiers. He had the mindset of a soldier, even though he didn’t see himself as one. That earned him some credibility even if he didn’t have his trust.
“I don’t expect you to understand or even respect the X-men. I don’t expect you to consider us allies either,” Scott went on, “I just think it would help us both if we try not to see each other as enemies.”
“I know you’re not the enemy,” said Jack, breaking his silence, “Not yet anyways.”
“So why don’t we work to keep it that way? General Grimshaw is doing his part. Why can’t we do ours?”
It was a valid point. The Green Beret was still fuming, but Scott managed to get him thinking as well. So long as he listened, that was enough for the X-leader. He started to look less hostile. Now Captain Freeman was the one scrutinizing him. Scott made sure he saw someone worth trusting.
“I’ll think about it,” said Captain Freeman.
“Good enough for me,” said Scott, managing a smile.
It wasn’t much, but it was a start. If the X-men were going to be part of General Grimshaw’s plan, then it was likely that this jaded mutant soldier would be along for the ride. If that was the case it, he and Cyclops may be able to help one another. That was still dependant on whatever agreement Professor Xavier and General Grimshaw worked out.
Professor Xavier led General Grimshaw into the War Room and sealed the door behind him to ensure that their conversation was completely private. As soon as the doors were locked, General Grimshaw looked around at the various computer arrays.
“This room have any computer bugs, recording devices, or video cameras?” asked General Grimshaw.
“No General, I assure you this room is completely private,” answered the Professor.
“Good, because I just turned off the recording device I told President Kelly I would use for the duration of this visit. What we’re about to discuss doesn’t need to leave this room. Don’t worry about gaps in the recording. I know some people who know some people who can edit the records to ensure that this conversation never officially happened.”
This surprised Professor Xavier somewhat. General Grimshaw was going against the orders of the President of the United States. That meant that this man wasn’t just blindly following the whims of the commander-in-chief. He definitely had his own agenda.
General Grimshaw checked the recording equipment within his uniform along with all his communication devices. He wasn’t taking any chances. This was a very risky move after having just earned the trust of the president, but it was a move he had to make. Part of being a General was putting the mission before politics.
“I’ll start with something I’m sure we can agree on,” the General began, “President Kelly is taking a hell of a risk by going after mutants. He’s not just going to further complicate the human/mutant conflict. He could potentially start an all out war that nobody can possibly win.”
“Do you mean to tell me that this is what he’s pursuing?” asked Professor Xavier warily, “I thought President Kelly’s views had changed after what happened with his son.”
“They did, but I get the sense that it has only delayed his agenda. He’s going to push his anti-mutant legislation. He has too many people in his inner circle pressuring him to do so and the public is hungry for action on this issue. My chief concern is he’ll pass something too bold and the unintended consequences will send us down the point of no return.”
“I share that concern as well,” said the Professor, “Exactly how close are we to that point?”
“Too close,” said General Grimshaw, “Which is why I’ve thrust myself into this issue. It is also why I’m turning to you, Charles Xavier.”
The Professor could tell that the General still had some reservations about talking to him like this. He chose every word carefully and Xavier made sure to listen intently.
“Let me give you a brief overview of my position,” he went on, “I’ve been a General longer than this school has been active. I still remember the early days when the X-men ran around in masks to hide their identities, playing hero with the big dogs and trying to set an example. To your credit, you did an admirable job.”
“Thank you, General,” said Xavier, “It seems like a lifetime ago.”
“Seems just like yesterday for me. Mutants were still under the radar. Everybody was more concerned about the end of the Cold War, the rise of terrorism overseas, and a shaky economy. Magneto’s recent stunts may have shaken everybody out of their daze, but I always had a feeling mutants would become so much more.”
“On this, I think we agree,” said the Professor.
“Then allow me to present some information that I’m sure will upset you. You see, I’m in a unique because I know things that John Q Public doesn’t. For one, I know about secret programs like Weapon X that has tried to turn mutants into weapons. I also know about secret societies like the Inner Circle and the Azazel that use mutants and real magic to further their goals. I even know that there are real aliens that have visited this planet. I believe you had an encounter with the Shi’ar, correct?”
“You…how did you find out about?!” said Xavier with an astonished look.
“We’re the government, Professor Xavier. It’s our job to know,” said General Grimshaw assertively, “It’s also our job to assess the most pressing threats. I’ve long since determined that the mutant issue has the most potential to do both harm and good. And without mincing words, I don’t trust Robert Kelly to minimize the harm and maximize the good.”
It was a bold statement. This General, who was duty bound to serve the president, was telling a civilian that he didn’t agree with his Commander-in-Chief and was not willing to blindly follow his wishes. This spoke volumes to Professor Xavier. It put this man in a new context in which he found himself probing deeper.
“I see,” he said to the General, “In that case I’ll dispense the many other questions I have regarding Weapon X and the Shi’ar and ask the most pressing question at the moment. What is it you want from me and my X-men?”
“The purpose of this visit was twofold,” the General explained, “Officially, I’m supposed to open a dialogue with the X-men to prepare for what’s to come. Yesterday, I presented a proposal for a new mutant initiative to President Kelly that I hope will be less damning than the plans his people were pitching.”
“What exactly does this proposal entail?” asked the Professor.
“Nothing as nasty as mutant hunting robots, I assure you. In the next few days you’re going to see the President give a series of speeches outlining his plans for the Mutant Security Agency, a new division of law enforcement that will specialize in mutants.”
“A government agency whose sole purpose is policing mutants? How is that not troubling, General?”
“Bear with me, Charles. We’re talking pragmatism here. Right now, the police are under-equipped to deal with mutants and this looks to level the playing field. Even you have to admit that it’s hard for mutants to be accepted if they’re not held accountable to the law. We need something that will prosecute a mutant the same way we would prosecute any criminal.”
Professor Xavier saw merit in such a proposal, but he also saw the potential for abuse. With a man like Robert Kelly as President, that opened the door to many distressing possibilities. But with someone like General Grimshaw involved, it encouraged Professor Xavier to listen on.
“That brings me to the second purpose of this visit,” the General went on, “The proposal states specifically that mutant groups are to have a say in this agency. For this to work, we need checks and balances and I’m hoping you and your X-men can be part of it.”
“How so?” asked Xavier curiously.
“In a number of ways,” he answered, “First, I need someone to help train the agents to confront volatile mutants and process them through the legal system. You’ve done well training your X-men. Our people are going to need to be just as capable. Second and more importantly, I need you to provide transparency. The mutants of the world trust you more than they trust any human. If you can persuade them this is not an affront against mutants, then that would go a long ways towards preventing another Magneto-style uprising.”
“I think you’re overestimating my authority on the mutant community, General.”
“And I think you’re underestimating your worth, Professor Xavier. The government can do this without you, but with extremely limited success. You’ll be doing mutants everywhere a favor by being the unofficial watchdog for mutant affairs. Take comfort in the knowledge that President Kelly hates this idea, but understands like me that we need credibility like yours to make it work.”
“Yes, credibility always seems to be a key. And with all due respect, General, I’m not sure you’re sufficiently credible,” said Xavier, still quite skeptical.
“I know that. I can’t say I blame you. That leads me to why I wanted to talk in private.”
General Grimshaw fell silent as he reached into his uniform and pulled out a medium-sized white envelope with no markings on it. What he was about to do was illegal on at least ten different levels. If the President knew he was doing this, he would be thrown out of the White House and probably thrown in jail as well. It was an unfortunate necessity because like it or not, he needed to gain this man’s trust.
As soon as General Grimshaw tossed the letter into the War Room table, Professor Xavier picked it up and opened it. Inside, he saw a couple of documents and what looked to be a flash drive. Since he couldn’t read the flash drive at the moment, he focused on the documents. What he saw made his eyes widened.
“Inside this envelope is some very sensitive information,” he told him, “The first reveals what I think you may have already suspected.”
“The attack on Magneto’s citadel…it was you!” the Professor gasped as he read the document, which included pictures and phone records, “Captain Freeman is a mutant and he was the one that stole Magneto’s helmet!”
“Correct,” affirmed General Grimshaw without remorse, “Before you get too outraged, let me explain. I needed a way to earn the President’s trust. He’s surrounded by too many yes men and I can’t do my job if I’m shut out. Seeing as how Kelly despises Magneto more than anybody, getting his helmet was a good way to get his attention.”
“At the risk of sparking a worldwide mutant incident?!” said Xavier with a harsh scold.
“It worked, didn’t it? And I made sure Captain Freeman was gentle…for the most part. Nobody was killed. Only Magneto’s ego was hurt and Lord knows the man has plenty to spare. I don’t expect you to approve of my tactics. I just want to explain how it got me here.”
Professor Xavier needed a moment to restrain himself. While the General came off as a serious and reasonable man, this showed he was not without some bravado. It affirmed his earlier suspicions about the attack and this meeting being linked. He never expected it to be something like this and it left him with more questions than answers.
“General…why did you tell me this?” asked the Professor in a calmer tone, “You could have just as easily kept it a secret. Now you have me in a difficult position.”
“Why? Because now you know the truth and you’re inclined to tell Magneto?”
“Among other reasons,” he said flatly.
“Then I guess it’s a good thing you won’t tell him or anybody else for that matter. I know you won’t because if you do a human/mutant war will begin tomorrow. You said it yourself, Charles. You’re a man of peace. Therefore, you won’t take that risk.”
Xavier tensed at the General’s devious yet shrewed tactic. As much as he was inclined to not keep secrets from a friend, he was also inclined to protect whatever peace lingered between humans and mutants. If Magneto found out about this, he was sure to overreacted. Any chance at peace would be lost. The General knew this and used that as the best possible leverage.
“I know you disapprove of my methods. But everything I do is for a reason. I told you this because I need your trust more than you need mine. The way I see it, if I waited until later you would have found out and any progress we made to that point would be lost.”
“As much as I value such honesty, I still don’t see how this is a foundation for a productive partnership,” said the Professor.
“Look at it this way. I gave you leverage over me. If necessary, you can take me and my operation down by exposing this dirty secret of mine. Think of it as a fail-safe should my plan for the MSA go awry. I’m trusting you because I know you’ll do the right thing before any bureaucrat.”
Xavier’s remained very conflicted. It sounded like a backhanded compliment, but one with essential pragmatic value. The General had enough humility to concede that he may make a bad decision and he was trusting the X-men to correct it if necessary.
“You…have me at a loss, General,” said Professor Xavier.
“Then I’d say we’re off to a good start,” he quipped.
“That’s one way of putting it. Even if I understand your logic, I still don’t understand your motives.”
“You don’t need to, Xavier,” said the General, his expression hardening once more, “We both know that President Kelly and the anti-mutant crowd are just as dangerous as Magneto. Both sides seem intent on picking a fight that will destroy everything and I mean everything. I will not let that happen on my watch. That’s why I need your help, Charles Xavier. I’m giving you my trust and in return I ask that you help me stop these madmen, mutant and human alike, from destroying the country I love.”
It was a simple plea that resonated with Professor Xavier. It seemed their goals were one in the same, albeit with very different methods. Looking back down at the papers in the envelope, the powerful telepath mused over this matter. It still astonished him that a man of his stature was willingly trusting him with the means to destroy him. It proved that General Grimshaw was more concerned with doing the right thing than doing what was politically viable. No matter what he decided, this was going to happen. To ensure it wouldn’t go wrong, the X-men had to be part of it.
“I suppose I should have seen this day coming,” mused the Professor, “The government and the X-men were bound to cross paths sooner or later. It would be foolish to try and stop it.”
“Does that mean you need to give this more thought?” asked General Grimshaw.
“I don’t need to think too hard about doing the right thing, General. While I have my reservations just as I’m sure you have yours, I understand that I thrust myself into this conflict the moment I formed the X-men. I have a responsibility to do what must be done.”
“I was hoping you would say that,” said the decorated officer with a look of approval.
“Don’t get the wrong idea,. While I am willing to assist you, my X-men will not become tools of the government. I will not allow anyone stop them from doing what I’ve trained them to do.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to. At the same time, we need to work together. With that in mind, I would like to make this unofficial agreement official.”
General Grimshaw once again reached into his uniform. This time it was the other side of his jacket. This time he pulled out a small black cellular phone with no marks or brand on it and placed it on the table in front of Charles Xavier.
“That phone is an untraceable, unlicensed, undetectable link directly to me. If I need to reach you or if you need to reach me, this is what we’ll use,” he told him, “It’s also set up to send and receive encrypted files. I’ll be using it to send you the details of the proposal I gave the president. Only yours will contain a few extras.”
“Is this your unique alternative to a simple handshake?” said Professor Xavier as he cautiously took the phone.
“Sorry Xavier, but I know we’re still a ways from that. Let this one and only off-the-record meeting be the foundation for which to build this partnership. It’s going to be an ongoing process. We might as well start taking the initial steps.”
Professor managed only a nod as he looked at the phone. General Grimshaw was a complicated man to say the least. He had an honorable side to serving his country. He also had a very cunning side. He wasn’t afraid to take risks and push ethical boundaries to get things done. There were lines he clearly wouldn’t cross, but he was willing to get uncomfortably close. In that sense he was better to have him as an ally rather than an enemy.
General Grimshaw was satisfied with Professor Xavier’s response. He didn’t expect him to completely embrace this partnership. For now, he had what he needed. He could report back to the President that Professor Xavier was on board and they could get to work.
“So what happens next?” asked Xavier as he put the phone in his pocket.
“For now, this unofficial meeting can officially end,” the General stated, “Over the next few weeks, President Kelly and I will start unveiling the proposal. We’ll be in touch with you and Miss Neramani for various details.”
“What kind of time-table are we working with here? It sounds to me that this is going to happen rather quickly.”
“The President is eager to leave his mark. That’s all I can say for now,” said the General, “While we’re working on that, I suggest you and your team review what’s on that flash drive to pass the time. It’s entirely optional, but I think you’ll want to look into it.”
“Why? What does it involve?” asked the Professor suspiciously.
“A little something I thought I helped shut down, but has reared it’s head in Japan recently,” said General Grimshaw as he started making his way towards the door, “I call it the greatest shame in military history. You know it as Weapon X.”
Osaka, Japan – Yashida Tower
“RELEASE ME YOU DEMON BITCH! YOU WILL SUFFER FOR THIS! I SWEAR ON THE CURSED ASHES OF YOUR ANCESTORS!”
The angry cries of a bloodied and battered Japanese man echoed over the howling winds atop Yashdia Tower. For the past thirty minutes, he had been cursing endlessly in a string of Japanese obscenities. A lowly acolyte of the notorious Japanese gangsters known as Yakuza, he was not prone to fear or intimidation. He was, however, a man of mortal limits and because of that he was hanging by his feet over the edge of a 91 story building.
The one responsible for this thug’s condition was a woman as cold as the howling winds swirling around her. Yuriko Oyama certainly didn’t fit the mold of a traditional Japanese woman. She was not meek, subservient, or polite. She was ruthless and sadistic on a level that put most criminals to shame. What made her even worse was that she was not bound by the same limits as regular men. She had a special and lethal advantage that made her worthy of her notorious title, Lady Deathstrike.
“You are only giving me more reasons to torture you!” she seethed, “Are you going to tell me where Harada is hiding my father’s research? Or am I going to have to cut off your other hand?”
“There is nothing you can do to me that will make me dishonor my lord! For your treachery Lord Harada will have you raped, tortured, and disemboweled until your screams wake the dead! He’ll see to it that you never take what he has rightfully inherited!”
“Do not insult me with your master’s lies! Harada is a thief! He stole what rightfully belonged to my father! Now he is using it for his own sick ego!”
“Sick, you say? You, a self-made monster? You dishonor yourself, woman!”
Deathstrike growled in a rage as she reached up and grabbed the man by the head with her oversized, misshapen hands. Her grip dug gaping wounds in the man’s head. This was already on top of the deep cuts she had already inflicted. This along with her uncanny strength is what made her so dangerous. She wasn’t just a woman who was skilled with weapons. She was a weapon.
“Don’t you dare talk to me about honor!” she yelled, “My family has been desecrated in every conceivable way! All we have left is our legacy!”
“To Hell with your legacy! The Oyama family is dead! They are as dead as they are dishonored!”
“Even death cannot keep me from my vengeance!” said the angry woman menacingly, “If you dare deny me then you are sealing your fate!”
“Do your worst, bitch! You’ll only be dishonoring yourself further!”
“My worst?” scoffed Deathstrike, “Please…my worst is reserved only for my true enemies!”
With those ominous words, Yuriko rose her other hand to reveal her long claw-like digits. They were shaped like blades, but had the appearance of flesh. Before the doomed man’s eyes, they grew to twice their length so that they were least twelve inches long. With a sadistic grin, she licked the sharp edges. Then with speeds that far exceeded traditional human reflexes, she drove her claws right into the gut of her victim.
“AUGH!” he gasped as blood quickly filled his mouth.
“You will die an honorable death,” said Deathstrike, “Your master will not be so lucky!”
She twisted her claws within the torso of the man, causing his face to contort in more agony. To ensure his end would be honorable, Deathstrike swiftly cut the chain that he had been hanging by with her other hand. The metal was sliced cleanly and the bloody figure fell limply down the entire length of the building. The Japanese woman watched stoically as he hit the hard pavement below, killing him instantly. She didn’t get the information she wanted. At the very least, she sent a message to Harada. Nothing was going to stop her from making him pay for his crimes.
She had lived most her life in shame. She was born out of wedlock while her father, Kenji Oyama, was married to a prominent woman in the Yashida crime family. Everybody looked down on her. She was a disgrace. Yet her father still loved her and the family she grew up with protected her. She always fought to prove herself worthy of the Oyama name. That’s when everything came crashing down.
Gazing out over the city lights, her expression hardened. In what was supposed to be her family’s finest hour, it turned into a bloody tragedy. The family that had sheltered her was slaughtered and she was left alone, weak, and vulnerable. By all accounts she should have been dead, but as the last Oyama she refused to let her family be dishonored. She became stronger, putting herself through rigorous training and a few excruciating enhancements. It was all for a purpose. Slowly resetting her claws, the woman the criminal underworld knew as Deathstrike prepared her next move.
‘My enemies can hide behind all the thugs and minions they want. They are only delaying the inevitable. He thinks he can use the fruits of my father’s labor for his own selfish ends. I’ll see to it he pays for the power he’s usurped! His suffering will be but a prelude! A final step before I finally destroy the one most responsible for the dishonor of my family…Weapon X!’
Next Issue: The Lotus and the Warrior
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