Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men walk a fine line in the conflict between humans and mutants. While sworn to use their mutant powers for good in a world that hates and fears them, they are often at the mercy of human nature and politics. In wake of growing tensions between humans and mutants, President Robert Kelly enlisted the help of General Nathan Grimshaw to embark on a bold initiative to police mutants using the newly formed Mutant Security Agency.
Under the leadership of General Grimshaw, the MSA hopes to police mutants in a way that will hold them accountable to the law. But to do this the MSA needs manpower and resources. But just as the MSA came online, a new round of activity was detected from Genosha. Three magnetic signatures were tracked and traced to an area in Huston, Texas. No major threats have emerged yet, but General Grimshaw is not taking any chances and has sent Captain Jack Freeman to investigate.
At the same time some of the X-men are going through their own personal dramas, most notably Rogue. Frustrated by not being able to touch, she decided to seek help from former X-man, Angel. However, she isn’t the only one seeking his presence.
Pat’s Pork Palace Restaurant – Huston, Texas
“Ah good barbecue! How I missed thee!” said an exuberant Mortimer Toyenbe as he wolfed down an overstuffed pork sandwich, “Blob was right about this place! It’s the best damn pulled pork I’ve ever had!”
“Damn it, Toad, would you keep it down?! We’re trying to keep a low profile, remember?” said an annoyed Alex Summers.
“You expect me not to share my love of pork products? After living off potato chips and beef jerky for months on end?”
“Remember, Toad, you’re in Texas. This is a state where test scores are low, gun ownership is high, and minorities are generally unwelcome,” said Mercury, who was covered from head to toe in a heavy coat.
“You guys need to relax for more than two seconds at a time,” scoffed Toad with a mouthful of pork, “I know we’re on a mission, but we can’t make a move until you-know-who knocks out you-know-what so we can get what the big man wants! Might as well enjoy ourselves with some quality southern cuisine in the meantime!”
Alex felt another headache set in as he watched Toad stuff his face with more pork. He loved barbecue as much as the next guy, but he didn’t let it distract him from their mission. Magneto was more focused than ever after the attack on the citadel. They still never found out who was behind it and rather than risk making an international scene, the master of magnetism stepped up his plans. That’s what brought him, Toad, and Mercury to Huston, Texas.
Magneto apparently needed some exotic materials that couldn’t be found on Genosha. Rather than synthesize it on his own, he ordered that they steal it from someone who had done the work for them. Stealing was something Alex and much of the Brotherhood had done before. However, this wouldn’t be as simple as robbing a gas station. What they were tasked with stealing was unique and volatile, which was exactly why Mercury had tagged along.
“If only I could share your care-free spirit, Mort,” said Mercury, hugging herself underneath her heavy coat, “Magneto is placing an awful lot of trust in me. If we fail, I’ll be the one he blames.”
“If we fail, he’ll find a way to blame all of us,” retorted Alex, “He’s been extra edgy since the attack. I would say it’s nothing personal, but with Magneto it’s hard to tell.”
“All the more reason to skip desert,” she said, pushing away what was left of her meal, “I’m still not comfortable being back in mutant-hating territory. Before I got to Genosha, I had to wear full bodied clothes and tons of makeup just to pass as semi-normal.”
“You’re looking for excuses to be nervous, Mercury. Disappointing Magneto should be more than enough,” he told her, “I don’t like being sent to the mutant-hating parts of the world either, but you know why the big man sent you on this mission. You’re a fighter who also happen to have the right powers to pull this off.”
“You make it sound like I can walk on water. I’m just using my body chemistry to contain this special rock we’re supposed to steal.”
“It’s not just some rock. It’s a rare mutagenic isotope. Magneto needs it for that new contraption he’s building.”
“You mean the one using the spare parts from that accelerator machine he used to damn near destroy the world?” joked Toad, his mouth still full of pork.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s making it out of old shopping carts. He needs this isotope! That’s why he’s trusting us to get it for him.”
“As flattering as it is being trusted by Magneto, it’s still a lot of pressure,” mused Mercury.
“If we do everything according to plan, pressure won’t be a problem,” said Alex, offering Mercury a confident look.
“Listen to leader boy here, babe. He’s a Summers!” said Toad, “If there’s one thing a Summers is good for, it’s leading a team of mutants. Although being a dick would definitely be a close second!”
“Shut up and finish your burger, Toad,” groaned Alex, “We have to be outside Worthington Pharmaceuticals in an hour. Keep in mind this is a company with the name of a former X-man in the title! Since they’re the only one that makes this isotope, we have to be extra tactful!”
“No need to get all Cyclops on me, Havok. If I wanted to be yelled at, I would visit my old man,” said Toad as he started stuffed his face with fries, “I also happen to be a former thief myself so you’re in good hands! Anything goes wrong, old Toad will be there to back you up!”
“That makes me feel so much better,” said Mercury dryly.
Havok and Mercury shared a mutual groan as they watched Toad continue to indulge his gluttonous appetite. This was Mercury’s first real mission and she was set to play a vital role. The Master of Magnetism demanded the utmost loyalty from his acolytes while he continued rallying the citizens of Genosha with the promise of a better life. He hadn’t revealed what that life entailed yet, but he promised it would empower mutants like never before. It was a bold promise and one every mutant on Genosha was eager to see fulfilled.
Alex diverted his gaze from Toad’s horrendous table manners and checked his watch. It was almost time for them to get into position. Turning towards a nearby waitress, Alex and the Brotherhood were set to begin this vital operation.
Remy Lebeau was a man of many talents. He was a master thief, a master at slight-of-hand, and a master of charm. On most other days he would add master of womanizing to that list, but on this rare occasion he wasn’t as confident as usual.
Things had been getting dicey lately in terms of female relations. Ever since he joined the X-men, he maintained a steady balance by having an ex-lover in Ororo he could confide in and a special someone in Rogue he could be close to. But due to Rogue’s powers, there were limits to how close they could get. It was agonizing at times, but it had since taken on a special meaning. Now that Betsy had joined the team, that meaning was under fire.
“Rogue? You in here?” he called out as he peaked her room.
To Remy’s disappointment, the room was empty. This was the third time he checked Rogue’s room. He had since scoured the entire institute. Either Rogue was avoiding him or she wanted to be alone. He couldn’t blame her for either. Ever since their argument the other day, she had been distant. He hoped to smooth things over with her. Even with Betsy’s flirting, he didn’t want Rogue to push him away.
As he made his way down the halls of the institute he passed Jean and Kitty, who looked as though they were ready to settle in for a night of movies and snacks.
“Hey, you femmes see Rogue around? Remy needs to talk to her,” he said.
“Rogue? Didn’t you hear the news?” said Kitty.
“Aw don’t tell me Remy’s missed something big,” asked Remy anxiously.
“Okay, I won’t tell you. I’ll just imply it,” said Kitty, rolling her eyes.
Remy scolded Kitty’s dry remark, prompting Jean to respond.
“Then I’ll say it,” said Jean in a more reasonable tone, “Rogue went with the Professor to visit Warren at some Worthington Industries research facility in Huston.”
“Worthington Industries? When did she suddenly become interested in their shady dealings?”
“I like to think they’re somewhat less shady since Warren got involved. We haven’t even had to jump in and bust up Bastion 2.0 yet!”
“You ain’t helping, petite,” groaned Remy.
“I don’t know the full story,” said Jean, stepping in before Kitty said anything to make him feel worse, “All I heard is that the Professor had been in touch with Warren and he wanted to show them some of the stuff he had been working on. For some reason, Rogue was eager to see it.”
The Cajun didn’t like the implications of what he just heard. Rogue seemed pretty upset about the whole touch issue again and Warren happened to be working at a company doing mutant research on a massive scale. While Rogue had always been interested in that kind of research, she never obsessed over it. If she was getting desperate to have control again, he was certainly responsible for giving her sufficient reason.
“Come on, Kitty. My Blu-Ray Special Edition of Avatar isn’t going to watch itself,” said Jean, leading Kitty back down the hall.
“Maybe Remy should join us?” Kitty suggested, “Judging by that look on his face he could use a little mindless escapism.”
“We’ll leave that up to him,” said Jean, “I have a feeling he may not have an appetite for snacks or James Cameron style escapism.”
Jean urged Kitty along before anyone could make too big a deal out of Remy’s distress. It was clear to her that the Cajun was conflicted and further remarks from Kitty wouldn’t help. Before they disappeared into the foyer, Jean sent a psychic message to her friend.
‘Don’t start punishing yourself, Remy. You know better than most people how Rogue tends to overreact. If you’re going to confront her, wait until the time is right.’
‘Thanks Jean. While you be brewin’ in Remy’s mind, what should I do about Betsy?’
‘You’re on your own there. I’m sure you’ll know what to do when the time is right.’
Worthington Pharmaceuticals Research Lab – Rooftop
It had been a while since Warren Worthington III caught up with his fellow X-men. Since deciding to leave the institute to become a bigger part of his family company, he had plenty to keep him busy. Being the heir apparent to one of the largest industrial conglomerates in the world was a far cry from saving the world. At times he missed the excitement and the adventure. However, some the work he was doing was every bit as important.
Since taking his position as a head executive, Warren spent much of his time exploring various branches of Worthington Industries and organizing new projects. Most of his efforts centered around the company’s mutant division. Right of the bat Warren made sure that there weren’t any hidden programs that could be used in an anti-mutant agenda. There would be no sentinel army, no Bastion, and no secret deals with mutant-hating zealots like Cameron Hodge. There would only be research meant to help mutants and one of the most promising avenues was in Worthington Pharmaceuticals.
This promise was what led Warren to wait on the roof of his company’s Huston based research center while the Velocity descended towards the landing area. On board were Hank, Rogue, Scott, and Professor Xavier. The winged mutant smiled at the sight of his friends and mentor. As soon as the rotors settled, he made his way to the front hatch to greet them.
“Well isn’t this a sight for sore eyes? My old team paying a visit to my new stomping grounds,” grinned Warren as Scott and the Professor emerged.
“It’s nice to see you too, Warren. You’re looking well,” said Professor Xavier, smiling as he shook his former student’s hand.
“Dare I say you look as comfortable in that Armani suit as you did in your X-men uniform,” added Scott.
“Eh, I can’t complain,” said the winged mutant, “Granted, the suit doesn’t look as good as the uniform, but it’s a uniform in its own right. Instead of the Danger Room, it helps me brave the obstacles of a multi-billion dollar company.”
“I’ll bet,” grinned Scott, “Glad you could take time from channeling your inner Steve Jobs and set this up for us. It really means a lot to Rogue.”
“As if I can say no to you guys after all the shit you’ve been through since I left,” quipped Warren, “You guys were off fighting Selene and taking down Weapon X while I was reviewing research and listening to departments beg for money. I need to do something to make it seem as though I’m still contributing.”
“You are contributing, Warren,” said the Professor strongly, “While the X-men may thrust themselves into various conflicts, there’s always a place for the more scientific approach. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for me to further my research so I take comfort in the knowledge that your people are picking up the slack.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence. I hope you’ll keep that confidence after you see what Worthington Pharmaceuticals has been working on. I was looking to share it with you anyways, but after Rogue called and asked about our research I figure this is as good a time as any.”
“Yes, I’ve been looking forward to it as well,” said the Professor, “I’m very interested in learning about this Project Kickstart you spoke of. Is it true your research has uncovered a way to manipulate the expression and intensity of mutation?”
“I wish I could answer with a simple yes or no, Professor. But as you’ve probably surmised, it’s a way more complicated than that,” said Warren, “Follow me and I’ll explain. I’ll also need to talk with Rogue privately. She’s probably the only one more interested in this research than you.”
“Can’t say I blame her,” said Scott, “She the also one most in need of that confidence you mentioned.”
The X-leader looked back to see Hank and Rogue emerge from the hatch. Rogue still looked pretty distant. Ever since she got back from Japan, she hadn’t been her usual sassy self. Scott learned from Kitty about what happened between Remy and Betsy. He could see why that would spur a sudden interest controlling her powers again. Rogue needed moral support now more than ever and with Kurt still dealing with the melodrama surrounding Amanda, she was in a difficult predicament.
“I have a good feeling about this, Rogue. I’ve been reading up in this project Warren’s people have been pursuing and I feel there’s room for cautious optimism,” said Hank as he and Rogue met up with Scott and the Professor.
“Ah hope you’re not sayin’ that to get mah hopes up, Mr. McCoy,” said Rogue dryly, “Ah seem to remember you saying that progress on controlling mah powers had damn near stalled.”
“The lab at the X-mansion doesn’t have even a tenth of the resources that Worthington Industries has at its disposal,” he retorted, “There are so many experiments I haven’t been able to do with our limited capabilities. Worthington Pharmaceuticals, it seems, has not only done those experiments. They’ve extrapolated entirely new approaches that could be the key to understanding mutation.”
“Ah don’t care if they’ve uncovered the holy freakin’ grail. So long as it can help me get control of these dang powers again, Ah wanna be the first in line to test it!”
Her tone was somewhat harsh. She had always been cynical about her powers. At times she even had sense of humor about them. But in recent times, it took on a new level of importance. She wanted to touch again and she was willing to pursue that goal more aggressively. Hank chose not to probe for the reasons behind this new sense of urgency as they followed Warren into the building. He assumed she had more than her share of valid reasons.
For Scott Summers, however, it was more difficult to ignore. Having dated Rogue and been intimate with her, he understood her subtleties better than most. He was aware of what had been going on with her, Remy, and Betsy. It didn’t take an ex-lover to figure out why this was bothering her so much.
“Rogue…” he said, reaching to place a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t Scott,” she said, brushing him off as they started walking, “Ah know what you’re about to say.”
“I’ll say it anyways. You’re desire to control your powers is getting ominously impatient,” said the X-leader, “I get why Betsy’s arrival would add a sense of urgency, but I don’t think you’re doing this for the right reasons.”
“Scott please…Ah don’t wanna be mad at you, but you’re really tempting meh.”
“I’ll take that chance,” he said with a friendly gesture, “I didn’t just come along because you’re my ex-girlfriend.”
“Ah’m guessin’ all that intimate time you spend with Jean guilted you into it,” said Rogue dryly.
“Or maybe I actually care about a woman that I shared plenty of intimate moments with as well,” Scott retorted, “You don’t think I’ve forgotten about those moments, do you?”
“At least you can make new ones with Jean. Ah’m starting to forget with that kind of intimacy feels like,” she said in a more distant tone.
“All the more reason for me to remind you,” he said with supportive gesture, “That’s the main reason why I wanted to tag along for this. I know I haven’t been the most supportive ex in the world.”
“As if there is such a thing as an overly supportive ex.”
“Call me the exception that proves the rule,” he went on, “I actually do want to help you through this Rogue. I’ve been where you are and I helped you the first time around. Ex or no ex, I’m ready for round two.”
Rogue sighed in defeat under the sheer force of Scott’s sincerity. This was part of what made dating him an experience every bit as memorable as the intimacy they shared in the bedroom. He was a hard guy to be snide with. He cared a lot about his friends. He cared just as much about his ex-girlfriends. Him being here was unexpected and maybe a little awkward, but it was still welcome.
“Ah hate it when you’re such a gent, Summers,” she said, “It’s too dang hard to be mad at you.”
“So long as I can annoy you in a healthy way, I’ll take it,” said Scott with a smile.
“Speaking of annoying, you guys wanna hurry it up?” said Warren from just outside the main roof entrance, “We got a lot to cover before we get to the nuts and bolts of Project Kickstart. I won’t make any promises, but I have a feeling you’ll like what you see!”
“If Ah leave here feeling less pissed off, Ah’ll be glad to share that feeling,” said Rogue as Warren led them into the building.
“If nothing goes horribly wrong, hopefully you’ll be sharing many other!”
Captain Jack Freeman arrived in Huston after only a few hours of receiving General Grimshaw’s orders. He landed in Huston just after sunset after hopping on a chartered flight from Regan International Airport in DC. Along the way, he changed from his military uniform into his civilian clothes. With the Mutant Security Agency still being assembled, there weren’t many resources they could throw at this new problem. Some wanted to get the President involved so that they could mobilize some federal manpower, but that would have caused a panic while also tipping off Magneto that they were onto him. They needed to handle this quickly and quietly to show that the MSA could get the job done.
Jack Freeman the soldier yielded to Jack Freeman the civilian as he made his way through the traffic of downtown Huston in a rented car provided to him by a local marine base. It had been a while since he took on a civilian role. It actually felt strange to just be wearing a pair of jeans and a regular black T-shirt. It was almost uncomfortable in a sense because it made him feel too much like the no-name screw-up he was before he became a Green Beret. This helped ensure he remained in the mindset of a soldier. As he neared the source of the magnetic signature, he called the General from a secure cell phone he received before he left.
“General, it’s me,” he said as he stopped at a red light, “I’m almost at coordinates.”
“I read you, Renegade. We’ve got some satellites zeroing in on the area right now.”
“Renegade? We’re using that handle again?” said the captain.
“Seemed to work well the last time. Call me superstitious, but if we’re going to face Magneto again we might as well stick with what works.”
“And they say you’re not the nostalgic type,” said Jack, rolling his eyes, “But this better be the last time. I don’t want to start going by some tacky superhero label. I’m a soldier, not a vigilante.”
“We can discuss the merits of your call-sign when we you get back. For now, we have a mission update. Our analysts brought some new systems online and were able to more thoroughly analyze that magnetic trail from Genosha.”
“If it leads to Magneto, let me know so I can take more than just his helmet this time.”
“It’s highly doubtful you’ll get that chance. Magneto is usually much more overt in the trails he leaves and this one seems to have subtlety in mind. Through our analysis, we’ve surmised a particular point of interest that may be Magneto’s target.”
“Surmise is not as strong a word as I hoped for, sir. Certainty is kind of important when you’re dealing with Magneto.”
“Agreed, but I think we can afford to assume this time. This area of Huston is a hotbed for pharmaceutical companies. Loose regulations mean more room to do research of a very advanced kind.”
“I’m not seeing the connection. Keep in mind you’re talking to a guy who failed 8th grade science and bit the leg off a dead frog to win a five dollar bet.”
“Well here’s something we are certain of. One of the companies doing research here is Worthington Pharmaceuticals. That’s Worthington as in Warren Worthington, the same man behind the research surrounding the Bastion and the same man who once tried to develop a cure for mutation. Want to guess where their most advanced mutant research lab is located?”
The light turned green and Jack stepped on the accelerator a little harder, speeding down the busy streets with greater urgency. Magneto sending his acolytes to an advanced mutant research labs was troubling by any logic. Whatever they were after, he doubted Magneto left much room for diplomacy.
“I can fill in the blanks from here, sir,” said Jack as he made a few sharp turns, “I’m heading towards Worthington Pharmaceuticals right now!”
“We’ll continue monitoring the situation from the Pentagon. Only half our systems are up and running so we won’t be able to call in the cavalry if things get hot.”
“Since when have I needed cavalry?” scoffed Captain Freeman, “I’ll find those goons and beat Magneto’s plan out of them!”
“Don’t get too trigger-happy. We don’t need them recognizing you from your last assault. For now, get to the complex and see if you can warn the security staff there.”
“You think they’ll have a prayer against Magneto’s super-powered goons?”
“That’s why they have you. Remember, this isn’t your typical covert operation. We’re operating as a wing of the law now. Try not to confront the Brotherhood as enemy combatants. If possible, try and subdue one of them so we can bring them into custody.”
“Now you’re asking me to be a cop? What’s next? Am I going to start doing children’s birthday parties?” said Captain Freeman dryly.
“This is how we need to do things from here on out, Renegade. We can’t use old ways to achieve a new goal. We’re the Mutant Security Agency. Let’s show Magneto and his people they’re not above the law.”
“So I spent half my life getting arrested and now I get to do the arresting?” said Jack in a humored tone.
“Try not to enjoy it too much. Over and out.”
The line went dead and Jack Freeman casually tossed aside the phone as he gripped the steering wheel firmly. Skillfully weaving through traffic, he made his way towards Worthington Pharmaceuticals. If the General was right and Magneto was making a move, then this would only be the second time the mutant soldier ruined his night.
Worthington Pharmaceuticals – Main Test Lab
The tour through the labs of Worthington Pharmaceuticals had been engaging so far. Warren spared no detail as he led Scott, Rogue, Hank, and Professor Xavier through the various wings of his research department. It was very advanced and very sensitive. They had to go through several security and clean-room barriers just to get into the main lab. For Hank and the Professor, it was a very engaging experience. This was the kind of advanced research that often took a back seat to their duties as X-men. It seemed Warren’s people did more than just pick up the slack. They accelerated the pace of discovery to new and unprecedented levels.
The tour started off with a demonstration of an advanced modeling computer that looked like the War Room computer back at the mansion. It showed an uncanny ability to map and visualize the X-gene. It was also able to conduct simulations that allowed them to do tests in virtual reality. The second wing of the tour offered a detailed catalogue of the various resources the lab had at its disposal. Warren showed them stacks of chemicals, advanced materials, super-powerful microscopes, highly advanced synthesis tubes, and DNA computers that would make even Weapon X envious. It offered plenty of promise for any number of breakthroughs.
“I must say you’ve compiled quite collection of advanced genetic equipment, Warren,” commented Professor Xavier, “It’s amazing how you’ve been able to consolidate so much of your company’s pharmaceutical division into furthering mutant research. Your father must be quite impressed.”
“In his own unique way, I guess,” said Warren with a half-grin, “It didn’t go over as well as you would think. To ramp up all this new mutant research, we had to use some of the profits made from the sentinel deal my father made back during the Genosha uprising. I can’t tell you how angry that made some of the board members.”
“I’m sure they were quite vocal,” quipped Xavier with a humored grin.
“Lucky for you the majority of the company’s stock is still in your name,” commented Scott.
“That and I was able to convince them that mutant research was the future. There are so many ways mutation can do good and turn a healthy profit. That’s why I’m gambling our entire pharmaceutical wing into Project Kickstart. If we can pull off a few small miracles here in the lab, then we’ll have a new generation of mutant-based products that will do everything from eradicating disease to solving the energy crisis.”
“A most exciting prospect indeed,” said Hank as he marveled at some of the equipment Warren’s team was working with, “Quantum molecular dispensation, recombinant genetic synthesis, neurophysiologic interface…it’s like you’ve taken every dream for mutant research and turned it into a reality!”
“Careful, Mr. McCoy. Wouldn’t want to make Tessa jealous now would we?” teased Scott.
“If she saw this enzyme/protein exchange model, she would fully understand,” grinned Hank as he carefully observed some of the equipment on a nearby table.
“I appreciate the enthusiasm, Mr. McCoy. But what you’re looking at isn’t the meat of Project Kickstart. Hell, it’s not even part of the reason why I’m showing you this,” Warren went on.
“Is this the part where you finally give meh an inkling of hope for controlling mah powers?” asked Rogue, who had been silent for much of the tour.
“Give me five minutes and you might actually crack a smile, Rogue,” quipped the winged mutant.
Rogue tried to remain cautiously optimistic, but continued to take a wait-and-see approach. She had gotten her hopes up before and been disappointed plenty. Even if there was a chance for her to touch, she wasn’t going to allow herself to endure another crushing defeat.
With the X-men following close behind, Warren proceeded eagerly through the main lab. Near the southwest corner of the lab was sizable device that looked like an oversized CT scanner. It had next to it two small computer arrays that had wires going into the machine along with tubes of chemicals. It bore some slight similarities to Weapon X equipment they had seen in the past, but this didn’t look nearly as ominous.
“Allow me to introduce to you the Worthington Mutagenic Modulator. The Mark III version,” proclaimed Warren proudly.
“You’re on Mark III already?” commented Scott.
“Let’s just say Marks I and II left plenty to be desired,” said the winged mutant, “Take everything I’ve just shown you and put it all together in one tidy package. This would be what you get. If what the big brains around here are telling me, this baby promises to be Worthington Industry’s crown jewel.”
“I’m already very intrigued,” said Professor Xavier as he looked over the device, “Please explain. You were a bit ambiguous when we spoke over the phone about this.”
“You can chalk that up to me being as much a science buff as I am mole rat. I couldn’t explain it over the phone if I wanted to. I need to actually show it to you guys to really do it justice.”
“You sound as though this thing can turn water into wine or something,” said Rogue dryly.
“It can’t, but I would argue it’s the next best thing!” said Warren as he turned on some of the systems, “Without waking up every scientist that worked on this device, I’ll try to recall the cliff-notes version they gave me. Using a number of words that only Hank would understand, this device will, in theory, allow any mutant to manipulate the intensity and extent of their powers. It essentially places a volume knob on someone’s X-gene and allows them to adjust it the same way they would the volume of their iPod.”
“Making a device that controls an individual’s genetics?” Scott surmised, “That sounds a little…”
“Don’t say it, Scott,” said Warren quickly, “I know what you’re thinking and you don’t need to point it out.”
“I still think it’s worth pointing out anyways,” Scott retorted.
“It’s not like the cure my father worked on. I’ve made sure of it. This machine is meant to help mutants with their powers. Just imagine the Morlocks or the mutants in District X whose mutations cause deformities or uncontrollable powers. With this machine, they have the ability to scale those mutant manifestations to a point where they can function. It doesn’t suppress their powers or change who they are. It just allows them to manage them the same way someone with poor eyesight manages them with glasses.”
It certainly sound like the most revolutionary function a device like this could have, but Professor Xavier saw merit in Warren’s assessment. It was that unexplored middle ground of mutant research. All too often mutant powers had to either be actively managed or fully suppressed. Yet here was a device that could make mutation more manageable and ease the various hardships often caused by chaotic nature of mutation.
Rogue was certainly intrigued by the prospects as well. It sounded like the breakthrough she was looking. If she could adjust her mutation to both touch and be an X-man, it would once again give her control over her life. This possibility was not lost on Scott, Hank or, Professor Xavier. Everything Warren described sounded so promising. However, that didn’t mean this breakthrough was without cost.
“How supremely astonishing!” said Hank as he ran his hand over the device.
“I agree it is impressive. However, I would like to better understand how it work,” said the Professor as he scrutinized it as well.
“You’re talking to someone who averaged a C-plus in biology so forgive me if I sound foolish,” said Warren wryly, “But from what I remember, the device takes some of the technology from the Genoshan suppressor collars and mixes it with a new generation of mutagenic isotopes developed by my company. First, it holds back the mutant’s powers to a point where the machine can integrate a special biotech interface into the individual’s physiology.”
“What kind of interface are we talking about here?” asked Professor Xavier with increasing curiosity.
“That’s where some of the technical details sort of fly over my head,” conceded Warren as he reached over to a nearby table and retrieved what looked like a high-tech vest, “Ideally, the interface would be a biological chip or a something small that we can place just under the skin and over the ribcage.”
“Looks like something from a James Bond film,” commented Scott, “The older ones of course.”
“You’d be surprised how often the movies have the right idea,” smirked Warren.
“So it would be a one-time operation?” asked Hank.
“Ideally, it would be no harder than getting a filling at the dentist. Once implanted, the interface works in conjunction with the individual’s DNA to control how the X-gene is expressed. So if someone like Rogue here were to undergo the procedure, she could use the interface to turn down her powers so she doesn’t drain the life from someone when she touches them. Or someone like Logan could use it to increase his healing factor if he ever sustained some really serious injuries.”
“So it goes both ways,” said Hank, who was already working the physics in his head, “Neither reversing nor augmenting a mutation, but merely controlling the rate of gene expression.”
“My biology is still kind of rusty, but I’m gonna say yes to that,” said Warren, “With this machine and a few refinements down the line, we could allow every struggling mutant a means of controlling their powers.”
“That would certainly be an incredible advancement,” said Professor Xavier, “What about the potential for abuse? Not to sound skeptical, but every advancement in technology comes with such risks.”
“I know. And believe me, I’ve considered that at every step, Professor,” said Warren strongly, “I wouldn’t have sunk so much research into this project if I didn’t believe the benefits outweighed the risks. If I recall it was you who once said our greatest obstacle is the unpredictability of nature. With this we can add at least some element of control to mutant affairs.”
Professor Xavier considered such possibilities as he scrutinized this potentially groundbreaking development. Hank seemed more fascinated by the inner workings of this device. His primary concern was whether this device was a Pandora’s Box of dangers. He didn’t doubt that Warren was sincere in using this device to help mutants. Rogue herself was proof that there was a need for such a device. At the same time Professor Xavier saw so much potential for abuse.
These ethical considerations didn’t even cross Rogue’s mind. The only words that resonated with her were ‘control’ and ‘turn down’ with respect to her powers. Looking down at her covered hands, she saw before her the hope she had been looking for.
“So you’re really confident in this here gizmo, Warren?” said Rogue as she walked over and placed her hands on it.
“Relatively speaking, yes,” the winged mutant answered, “But I know what you’re thinking Rogue and let me add just one minor tidbit. Even though we’ve tested it successfully on a small scale, we haven’t even begun to plan testing it on a live person yet.”
“Ah figured as such when Ah first called you,” she said flatly, “Ah take it you still have some kinks to work out?”
“If I didn’t, then I would have been the one to call you,” said Warren, “I know how much you want to gain control over your powers.”
“So what’s stopping you? You wouldn’t happen to need a test subject, would you?”
Warren shifted awkwardly. He didn’t like where this was going and neither did the rest of the X-men.
“Rogue, I know you’re not one for subtlety so I won’t beat around the bush,” said the X-leader, “You’re actually trying to volunteer, aren’t you?”
“Why not?” scoffed Rogue, “Kinks or no kinks, doesn’t someone gotta risk it?”
“There’s risk and there’s foolishness. This would be a bit too much of both,” Hank pointed out.
“Hank is right,” said Professor Xavier, “I understand your desire for control, but that doesn’t mean…”
“With all due respect, Professor…don’t bullshit meh!” spat Rogue, getting more defensive, “You don’t understand. None of you understand!”
“Take it easy, Rogue,” Scott coaxed, “There’s no need to…”
“That goes double for you, Scott! You have those dang glasses you never wanna take off! You may have your reasons, but Ah don’t!” she went on, “Ah’m the one livin’ with these powers day in and day out! Ah’ve held out for long time, hopin’ someone would help meh gain control again! Ah can manage them to a point, but bein’ cut off like this…Ah can only take so much!”
There was pain in her tone. It was a pain they had heard before. Scott knew it well, being one who also struggled with control. He tried to console his former lover, but she shoved off his gesture and confronted Warren. The winged mutant now found himself in an awkward position, staring down a friend who was desperate for his help.
“Warren, Ah know Ah’m puttin’ you on the spot. Ah know this mutant modulating crap is a prototype and all, but if there’s any chance it could work Ah wanna take it…as in right now.”
“Now? As in you want to get prepped for a test and strapped into this untested, unproven machine?” said the winged mutant warily.
“Why not? You said it needs testing. So take the next step! What do you gotta do? Wake up your whole staff? Hell Ah’ll fly to their homes and bring ‘em here if ya want!”
“It’s not that! It’s just…not ready!” said Warren, “To do it right now on any scale would be dangerous on way too many levels!”
“Haven’t Ah made it clear yet that Ah don’t give a damn?! What more do Ah gotta do to convince you that Ah’m willing to take that chance?!” exclaimed Rogue.
Her words were harsh and desperate. Rogue had to take deep, calming breaths to present herself from completely lashing out. Scott and the Professor attempted to calm her down, but she never took her eyes off Warren.
“Please Warren…give meh something,” she begged him, “On any scale! Ah don’t wanna leave here with more false hope.”
“You’re…putting me in quite a position, Rogue,” said Warren warily.
“Ah know and Ah’m well aware Ah’m being a real bitch. Ah’ll let you get back at meh any which way later on. Right now, Ah need you to throw meh a bone. At this point Ah’ll take anything that at least lets me dream Ah’ll be able to touch again.”
Warren rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. This wasn’t some random test subject he was deal with. This was Rogue. She was his friend and a fellow X-man. On one hand, he didn’t want her to be the one to bear the brunt of the danger that came with testing this machine. On the other, he really did want to help her. She sounded so upset when she first called. He was the only one in a position to help her and she needed him to put his authority to good use.
Warren exchanged glances with Hank and the Professor. He then looked towards Scott, who wouldn’t even look back. The winged mutant could already sense the X-leader’s sentiment. He thought it was a bad idea. Yet in looking back at Rogue, he found it difficult to deny her. So against his better judgment, he came up with something.
“I suppose we could try a small-scale test,” said Warren.
“How small?” asked Hank cautiously.
“Small in the sense it wouldn’t be a cure-all. It would just prove that the concept works on a human level.”
“So…Ah would be able to control mah powers like you said?” said Rogue intently.
“Only to a certain degree,” said the winged mutant.
“Is it a degree where Ah can at least hold someone’s hand without puttin’ them in a coma?”
“I don’t know if that’s a valid scientific measurement, but yes. On paper a test like this should allow you to touch without causing that much damage.”
That was all Rogue needed to hear. She smiled for the first time in what felt like a lifetime.
“Then what the heck are we waitin’ for?” she exclaimed.
“Slow down, Rogue,” coaxed Warren, surprised by her reaction, “I’ll have to get my team to stop what they’re doing and get you prepped.”
“So what? You’re the one signin’ their checks! How long should that take?”
“About an hour. Maybe longer,” he shrugged.
“So let’s get started! Make meh your guinea pig already!” said Rogue as she pulled Warren aside.
Rogue didn’t waste any time. She pulled Warren to the side so he could give the orders to his scientists. The winged mutant had no chance under her super-strong grip. Rogue wanted this and testing was something they were going to have to do sooner or later. It was just going to be sooner than expected.
While Rogue pulled Warren away, Professor Xavier and his fellow X-men shared some conflicted looks. It was understandable why Rogue would be so intent for even a moderate reprieve from her burden, but that didn’t warrant this level of risks. There were far too many ways it could go wrong.
“I…better offer my assistance,” said Hank, “An extra set of eyes might be prudent for a test of this nature.”
“Agreed,” said Professor Xavier without hesitation, “You’ve researched Rogue’s abilities more than anyone, Hank. You would be best equipped to surmise if something goes wrong.”
“Given the mysterious nature of her powers, anything that goes wrong is sure to be painfully apparent.”
Hank rushed to catch up with Warren and Rogue, who were already confronting some of the nearby doctors and scientists regarding this test. Scott remained with the Professor, but remained deeply concerned for his former lover.
“I have a very bad feeling about this, Professor,” said Scott intently, “Something is going to go wrong. I can feel it.”
“You’re in good company, Scott,” said the Professor, “Yet there’s also a chance it could work.”
“I was never one to play the odds, Professor. Rogue is hedging too much hope on this device. Is there anything we can do to make her reconsider?”
“You dated her, Scott. You know better than anyone how resolute Rogue can be,” Xavier pointed out.
“No need to remind me,” he sighed, “That’s doesn’t mean we should encourage that rebellious bravado of hers.”
“While I don’t agree with her choice, it is still hers to make. This device does show a great deal of promise. If Warren can get it to work, it will have significant implications.”
“That I’m not debating, sir,” said the X-leader, “But if it doesn’t work then it’s Rogue who will have to shoulder the burden! Even her strength has limits.”
“Indeed it does,” said Xavier as he mused over this dilemma, “Which is exactly why we should support her efforts. That way we can bear the burden with her.”
Outside Worthington Pharmaceuticals
Security outside Worthington Pharmaceuticals was no tighter than usual. With Warren Worthington III inside along with the X-men, much of the security staff felt it was okay to take it a little easier. Since much of the day staff had already left, it promised to be a quiet night.
Like any advanced research facility, Worthington Pharmaceuticals had plenty of security. It was no military complex or maximum security prison, but it was still respectable. The perimeter of the building was surrounded by gates with signs warning trespassers that this was private property. There were also checkpoints with security personnel keeping track of everyone entering or leaving the area. More security staff patrolled the parking lot and around each entrance. It was as secure as any lab of its kind could be. For Havok, Toad, and Mercury it was more than manageable.
The Brotherhood arrived at the north end of the perimeter near the ground floor level of the parking garage. Outside the gate was a storm channel that was gated off on various levels. A few blasts from Havok and a few skillful slicing from Mercury gained them quick access. When they reached the gate, the real challenge began.
“This is all they have keeping guys like us out?” scoffed Toad, “I gotta say I’m disappointed.”
“Expect to be impressed soon, Toad. We haven’t even breached the gate yet,” said Havok as he brought up a holographic map on a small pocket computer that Magneto gave him, “We’re lucky we’re not testing the most secure parts of this place. Based on what Magneto told me, they guard their mutant research like gold. Their vault, on the other hand, is a different story.”
“I take it that’s we’re we’ll find this isotope,” said Mercury.
“Glad one of us here is taking this seriously,” said Havok.
“Hey, I actually showered for this mission! Is that not serious enough for you?” quipped Toad.
“This plan requires more than just not smelling like a dead pig. As we speak, Magneto is scrambling all communications. This will give us a narrow window. The vault is in the basement and past a few clean rooms. We just need to neutralize the security long enough for our big gun to come in and finish the job.”
“Is that what we’re calling her? I would think she’s a bit young to call a heavyweight,” laughed Toad.
Havok responded by grabbing Toad by the neck and pulling him to within inches of his face. He didn’t much appreciate Toad’s casual attitude towards this mission and as leader of this operation he wasn’t going to tolerate it.
“Enough with the arrogant humor, Toyenbe!” he yelled, “I don’t care how confident you are in your thug skills! You’ll shut that sewer you call a mouth and stick to the plan!”
“Ow-ow-OW! Okay, I get it! Jeez!” groaned Toad, shaking off Havok’s grip, “Not knock your leadership skills, but your motivation could definitely use some work.”
“You want to push your luck? Or do you want to blind the security cameras so we get moving? We’re already behind!”
“And for heaven’s sake don’t try both,” groaned Mercury.
Toad rolled his eyes and stayed silent. With no further motivation from Havok, the amphibious mutant went to work. Using his agility, he leaped to the top of the fence and used his slime attack to blind a couple of cameras mounted on the fence post. As soon as they were covered, Mercury silently shifted her arms into a blade and sliced open a hole for her and Havok to walk through. As soon as they were in, Toad leaped down to join them and they ran towards the parking garage.
Proceeding carefully, they hid behind a few of the parked cars that were still present and kept an eye out for security guards. There were still a few patrolling the perimeter. Not wanting to cause a stir just yet, the three mutants navigated through the maze of cars and into the parking lot without being seen. Once inside things got a little trickier. There were more cameras and sensors looking over the area. Toad once again used his slime attack to blind them. This would cause less a raucous than just shorting them out. Their only major obstacles were the security guards, who were a bit more numerous in the parking garage.
“Yeesh, what smells down here?” groaned one of them as they walked by, “It’s like rotting meat in a swamp.”
Havok and Mercury turned towards Toad, who saw fit to drown himself in barbecue before they arrived. The amphibious mutant just shrugged innocently and smiled as they remained ducked behind a car.
“Guess I didn’t shower enough,” he shrugged sheepishly.
“You think?” groaned Mercury.
“Hold on, fellas. I’ll take care of this guy!” said the amphibious mutant.
With nimble skill, Toad leaped up on top of a car and carefully made his way towards the guard. Not one for subtlety, his attempt at stealth failed quickly. Just as he landed within range the guard turned around and noticed.
“Ugh! That smell! It’s…” he began.
But before he could finish, Toad hit him with a slime ball to the head. This caused the guard to fall to the floor, allowing Toad to use his powerful tongue to grab the man by the legs and slam him against a nearby column.
“Ungh!” groaned the guard as he fell to the ground.
“Some just don’t appreciate the appeal of my natural musk,” said Toad.
Working quickly, Toad rushed over and set the guard down between a couple of cars so no one would see him.
“All clear, guys!” he called out.
“Keep it down, Toad! Ever hear of something called echo?!” said Mercury in a muted tone.
“Wasn’t that a Spielberg movie?” retorted Toad.
“Remind me to blast you again when this is over,” groaned Havok as he rushed forward with the map in hand, “Follow me down this lot! According to the plans Scanner stole, we can make our entrance just up ahead!”
Toad and Mercury followed Havok closely. They stayed out of the main paths and kept weaving between cars, avoiding passing guards along the way. Toad kept using his slime attacks to smother cameras and sensors. It wasn’t enough to set off alarms, but it was going to get attention sooner or later. That was why they were going to enter the facility in a different way.
After some skilled navigating, Havok and the Brotherhood reached what appeared to be a dead end. A large brick wall with only a few cars parked in front of it stood between them and the building. The main entrance was clear around the corner, but that also happened to be the entrance where there were more cameras, sensors, and guards. Rather than go through such obstacles, they chose to go around them.
“This is it,” he said, “Behind this wall should be a utility closet. We can use it to get into the maintenance room. From there we can take the freight elevators to the basement and the vault.”
“And how will you-know-who be able to follow us?” asked Toad.
“Same way Blob marks his territory on the couch,” replied Havok, “But leaving signs.”
Once certain of the location, Alex charged his body with a surge of energy. In a single, concentrated blast he blew a hole right into the thick wall. Concrete and steel shattered violently, causing an echo that reverberated throughout the parking garage. This opened the path into the building, but also left them vulnerable.
“We’re officially on a time limit now!” said Havok, “Toad, you stay here and hold off every security guard that comes this way! Mercury and I will pave the way to the vault! As soon as we’re ready for phase two, we’ll give the signal!”
“No worries! I can handle it!” grinned Toad, getting into a defensive position.
“You damn well better! The margin for error just got a lot smaller!”
“Again with the motivation!” groaned the amphibious mutant, “Stop worrying already, Havok! I got this! We’ll be in, out, and back on Genosha just in time to hear Pietro bitch about how he didn’t get to tag along!”
“Now there’s something we can all look forward to!” grinned Mercury.
Leaving Toad to do his part, Mercury and Havok ran into the newly formed hole in the wall and entered the complex. There were already footsteps coming towards the commotion and Toad was prepared for it. So far everything was going according to plan. It was just a matter of timing now. Magneto made clear that he would accept no excuses for failure. The Brotherhood had been inconsistent lately, but tonight they would prove their worth.
Warren surprised much of his staff by announcing they were going to do an impromptu test of the Worthington Mutagenic Modulator. Much of the day staff had already left, but he still had a number of mid-level and advanced researchers who were more than capable of carrying out a small-scale test. Like Scott, Hank, and the Professor they voiced their concerns. However, none were convincing enough to make Rogue reconsider. While Warren convinced them to go along with the test, it did not ease his concerns for Rogue’s safety.
While Warren’s research team set everything up, Rogue was prepped by a couple doctors for the procedure. For this test, she had to wear a special black body suit that had sensors built into it. It was a bit uncomfortable, but no tighter than her X-men uniform. They also had to give her a quick checkup to record her vitals and get some data on her mutation. Hank helped out, providing some quick background on what he knew about Rogue’s X-gene. He even had some data streamed from his computer back at the mansion.
“This X-gene is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before!” said one of the female researchers, “How in God’s name did you manage to manage to extrapolate these protein exchange patterns, Mr. McCoy?”
“I would love to tell you. Unfortunately, I would need much bigger hands and more time than ten of these tests would allow,” said Hank as he fixed Rogue’s body suit with some electrodes.
“You fellas can swap science jargon later. Am Ah ready to go or not?” asked Rogue as she waited impatiently for the doctors to calibrate the electrodes.
“I’m not just pointing it out to admire your mutation’s complexity, Miss Darkholme. I’m concerned that some of the procedures we worked out on paper won’t apply to your unique physiology,” said the doctor.
“A mutation is a mutation. Does it really matter?”
“Ideally, it would not,” said Hank, “Unfortunately, that’s assuming the complexities of your mutation don’t have some other exotic form of functioning.”
“Are you trying to scare meh out of doing this?” said Rogue dryly.
“We’re trying to warn you,” said another doctor, “If we’re dealing with forces we don’t understand, you could be in for more than we can anticipate.”
Rogue’s demeanor didn’t waiver, but it was still cause for concern. Everybody here had their doubts. She had doubts as well. They just weren’t enough to get her to pull back. Whatever discomfort she endured here could be no worse than what she had been enduring since she lost control. There mere possibility of having control again was worth any further discomfort.
“Ah trust you all will know how to handle it,” she told them, “So if we’re done plugging meh into the Matrix, can we get this test going already?”
“It appears we have all the data we’re going to get at the moment,” sighed one of the doctors, “I suppose we’re ready for the next step.”
“Unless there’s anything else I can say to make you reconsider,” Hank pointed out.
“You know you would be wasting your breath and Ah’d rather you save it for the test.”
Rogue was not going to be dissuaded so the experiment moved forward. With their notes and materials in hand, Hank and the Worthington doctors escorted Rogue to the machine where the rest of the researchers were setting everything up. Scott, Warren, and Professor Xavier watched while hiding their reservations. Even though this was supposed to be a small scale test, over a dozen researchers were involved in preparing the machine. There were four technicians working the computer monitors next to the machine alone. Several more were actually inside the machine making a few tweaks. The rest were checking the wires and making sure everything was plugged into the network.
Some seemed excited. Others looked anxious. None were more anxious than Rogue as she gazed at the machine that held so much potential. Her gaze shifted over to Scott, who still had that look of disapproval in his eyes. Despite this look, she recalled all the passionate moments they shared when they were together. They were nice memories, full of all the passion and intimacy from which she had been cut off. Her thoughts then drifted to Remy. Were it not for her powers, she could have shared such moments with him. She may yet get that chance.
“I believe we’re ready, Mr. Worthington,” said one of the researchers from within the device, “The interface is set up. The modulator just needs to be calibrated.”
“Don’t bother giving me the details. Just make sure it’s stable on this scale,” said Warren, “In the meantime can we strap our brave test subject in?”
“If she doesn’t mind lying perfectly still for the next five minutes, sure,” said one of the doctors.
“Ah already put on this god-awful clown suit for you fellas. Does it look like Ah mind a little discomfort?” said Rogue with a half-grin.
Taking her word for it, the doctors escorted Rogue over to the device. Like a typical MRI machine, there was a flatbed for one person to lay down on. It was moved out slightly so she could be secured and wired with the necessary sensors. It looked ominous, this little cardboard-thin bed lingering just outside this box-shaped enclosing. It almost looked like something Sinister would use, but she quickly dispensed that though as she laid down. If this machine did as Warren said, she didn’t care if it looked like a tool of the devil himself.
Once Rogue was in place, the doctors linked the electrodes in her body suit to the computer terminals. A few more researchers checked the inside of the device, paying close attention to the high tech vest-like interface Warren showed them earlier. Once they were satisfied with the adjustments, they closed up any exposed electronics and backed away from the machine.
“The interface is fully calibrated,” reported one of the technicians, “You can begin the sequence at any time.”
“What’s our status on the mutagen levels?” asked one of the researchers on one of the main consoles.
“We’re in the green,” a doctor said, “We’re using extra low levels since this is just a small scale test. If our calculations are correct the effects will limited, but noticeable.”
“That’s still assuming these calculations took every possible variable into account,” said Hank as he kept frantically going over the numbers.
“You know Ah can still hear you, Mr. McCoy. If you’re trying to reassure me, you ain’t doing a very good job,” said Rogue from the table.
“I apologize, Rogue. I’m just voicing my concerns,” replied Hank, “Make no mistake, if I see something that doesn’t add up I won’t hesitate to pull the plug.”
“Ah wouldn’t expect anything less,” she replied, “So long as you give this gizmo a chance.”
Hank and the researchers kept working while the device powered up. The consoles flashed with lights and streams of data. The whole room tensed as the doctors carried out their roles while Rogue’s fellow X-men watched anxiously. She gave them one last look of assurance as the gurney she was lying on started moving, slowly sliding into place so that she was directly under the interface.
Warren, Scott, and Professor Xavier waited anxiously as the test prepared to commence. The sound of gears and electronics filled the area. Having seen similar scenarios with the likes of Sinister and Weapon X, it was hard to not be anxious. Scott kept his eyes solely on Rogue while Warren and the Professor watched over the activities of the Worthington research staff.
“I sure hope your people know what they’re doing, Warren,” said Scott stoically.
“I’ve watched this project unfold since day one, Scott. I want this to work as much as Rogue.”
“Yet your thoughts are still full of doubt,” said the Professor.
“I’m projecting that loud?” groaned Warren, “My mental focus must be getting rusty.”
“You’re still worried about making your father’s mistakes,” Xavier went on, “Not long ago he was in the same position you’re in right now. Granted, you’ve handled it very differently. That doesn’t mean it will turn out the way you want it.”
“Weren’t you the one that taught us the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, Professor?” Scott pointed out.
“All the more reason to walk that road carefully,” he said.
“Well I don’t know what road we’re on, but I wouldn’t have taken it this far if I wasn’t sure it was the right one,” asserted Warren.
The winged mutant sounded pretty confident. Even if his thoughts were never far from the mistakes of his father, he was passionate about this research. It was personal on many levels, so much so that it led him to leaving the X-men. Now that decision was about to be tested along with this machine.
Once fully powered, the device appeared ready. The gears and mechanical arms inside the chamber were starting to move and new streams of data came pouring into the systems. Rogue was in place and the researchers at the consoles were giving the thumb-up.
“We’re about to begin the first stage, Miss Darkholme,” said one of the doctors next to the console, “Just lie perfectly still and let the machines do the work.”
“Trust meh. Ah ain’t movin’ an inch,” said Rogue as she gazed up at the complex machinery looming over her.
“Just to warn you, there may be some discomfort in the interface process. It’s nothing excruciating. You’re going to feel some heat and some slight physical strain.”
“Ah’m an X-man, Doc. Ah have very a very high tolerance for pain.”
Having given her fair warning, the doctor and the rest of the researchers fell silent and began the test. Rogue watched as the mysterious vest-like device slowly lowered towards her. She could already feel some strange energy flowing around her from within the chamber. It was a bit unnerving, but she remained completely still. Taking a deep breath, Rogue braced herself for the next vital step.
‘Here goes nothing. Please God, if you’re out there, don’t let something mess this up for meh.’
Worthington Pharmaceuticals – Vault
“Hey! You’re not supposed to be down here!”
“And you’re not supposed to be conscious!” said a determined and focused Havok.
Using his destructive powers, Havok unleashed another energy blast down the narrow corridors of the sub-levels to take out three more Worthington security guards. He and Mercury were moving fast, making their way through the lower levels of the Worthington Industries complex. They still had the element of surprise. Having navigated around the main gate and in the lower levels, they avoided setting the alarms off. That was sure to change very soon. Luckily, they were prepared for that.
“Over here, Mercury!” said Havok as he used his powers to shoot out the lights in the hallway, “We’re almost there!”
“That’s the fourth time you’ve said that! How many more walls are you going to make me cut through?” she grunted, her liquid metal arms still in the form of blades.
“As many as we have to! This should be the last barrier!”
“This better be it! I have no faith in Toad’s ability to keep the guards at bay!”
“He knows if he doesn’t, he answers to me! He’ll do his part!” he assured her.
Mercury kept following Havok, taking yet another turn away from the main hall and into another storage closet. She could hear footsteps close by. More guards were descending on the area. There was a lot of confusion and she could hear them talking on their communicators.
“What the hell is going on out here?! This a power surge or something?”
“I don’t know! I’ve been getting interference on my communicator! I thought I heard something about an explosion!”
“An explosion? Should we sound the alarm?”
“With Worthington in the building? We may have to!”
That didn’t sound to promising. Their time was almost up. Mercury quickly closed the door to the storage closet and blocked it with a trash bin. She then met up with Havok, who pushed aside a few heavy boxes to get to another cinder-block wall.
“Do your thing, Mercury!” he said, “If I’m right, this should lead us right past the last checkpoint!”
“Then can we make the call?” she groaned.
“We’ll make it when we’re ready. All you have to do is get us to the vault!”
Mercury didn’t hesitate for a second. With her bladed arms, she cut through the thick concrete wall and through various wires and pipes. As soon as she carved an outline, Havok blew it open with his powers. Just as he said, it led them into another corridor. This one looked a lot more secure, full of clean lit halls and better lighting. The vault couldn’t be much further.
As soon as they stepped out into the hall, they saw some more guards scrambling in confusion. Havok made quick work of them, taking them out with well-aimed shots while Mercury stayed close. She could hear down the hall that most of the guards had gathered around the security checkpoint, thinking that was where the commotion was coming from. It left a clear yet narrow path to the vault.
“The hard part is officially over!” grinned Havok.
“So why don’t I feel any better?” groaned Mercury.
“Just blame the barbecue and follow me!”
Now ignoring the cameras and sensors, Havok sprinted full speed down the hall towards the vault. Mercury followed, huffing and puffing along the way as she tried to keep up. They encountered only five more guards along the way, each of which Havok made quick work of. He wasn’t brutal or messy. He just knocked them out and shoved them aside so they wouldn’t cause too much commotion. This is what made him so effective and respect among others on Genosha. He traded brutality for efficiency.
After navigating past a few more twists and turns, they arrived at their destination. It looked as imposing as any secure vault could, but not so imposing that it appeared unbreakable. There were probably banks uptown with bigger vaults than this. Havok surmised the various signs indicating danger and radioactivity were enough of a deterrent. That may be the case for regular humans. That certainly didn’t apply to the Brotherhood.
“There it is!” said Havok as he stopped right at the base of the vault.
“Whoa…it’s bigger than I thought,” said Mercury, “You said this was only mid-level security?”
“Relatively speaking,” said Havok, “I’m guessing they just use this one for the isotopes. That’s actually a good thing. It saves us the trouble of needing extra firepower to get it open.”
“Does this mean what I hope it means?”
“Just get your body ready to transport the isotope,” said Havok as he adjusted his communicator, “I’m calling in Polaris right now!”
Mercury nodded and reshaped her hands from blades back to regular arms. The next phase of the plan was where the mission was most vulnerable. It was also the phase of the plan where she proved her worth as Magneto’s acolyte. While she prepared herself for the coming chaos, Havok issued a fateful command.
“Polaris! This is Havok!” he said into his communicator, “We’re in position! You know what to do! We’ll be waiting.”
Worthington Pharmaceuticals Research Lab
So far the test on the Worthington Mutagenic Modulator was going smoothly. The machines were working, the computers were streaming in the data, and Rogue didn’t appear to be suffering any distress. At this point, the device was about to infuse the interface into Rogue’s body. This was the most critical part of the test. Once the interface was in place, she should be able to use it to modulate her powers on a small scale. At least that was how it was supposed to work.
Warren, Scott, and Professor Xavier remained anxious while the Worthington research team worked feverishly with Hank to make sure everything was working properly. A number of doctors remained on standby. So far, they seemed as confident as the researchers.
“Vitals are holding steady,” said one of the female doctors, “She should be ready for the interface.”
“I’m surprised she’s not showing more stress,” said another doctor, “She almost looks bored.”
“It’s a small test. Who wouldn’t be?” said one of the researchers, “Let’s get this over with so we can get to work on the next step. The data here will move us at least a month ahead of schedule.”
“Or set us back by a year,” said another.
“Try to be optimistic. The boss’s son is watching, remember?”
The researchers issued a series of commands on the console. Inside the modulator Rogue watched as the interface lowered itself towards her body. She was still feeling restless, but it was no worse than a typical level seven Danger Room scenario. As the interface drew near she noticed some sparks shot out from the device to her body. It felt strange, like something was pumping adrenaline into her body. She figured this was the interface’s way of showing that it was working.
“Can we get this over with already? Stayin’ this still ain’t as comfortable as it looks!” she shouted from the chamber.
“Just a few more seconds, Miss Darkholme,” said one of the researchers, “As soon as the interface is in place, the test will be complete.”
Tensions in the research area mounted as a slight glow could be seen inside the device. Scott, Warren, and the Professor watched on, not knowing what to expect.
“Try and relax, Scott. Like the man said, this test is small,” said Warren, “She’ll barely feel the interface while it’s on.”
“Small or big, there’s still plenty that can go wrong,” said Scott cautiously.
“My people have it under control,” he assured him, “They know what they’re doing.”
Inside, the interface was about to snap into place. It marked the most critical part of the test. Then without warning, every piece of electronic equipment in the lab started shorting out. The lights flickered. It triggered an ominous feeling that Scott and the Professor definitely felt.
“You were saying, Warren?” groaned Scott.
“I’ll take care of this!” said the winged mutant as he rushed over to the device, “Talk to me, people! What the hell is going on?”
“I…I don’t know!” said one of the researchers, “The whole building just had some kind of power surge!”
“Power surge?! I thought this level was an independent power source!”
“Uh…about that,” said one of the workers, “We may have fallen behind on that project.”
Warren’s expression quickly went grim. Looking around at the flashing lights and the sparks flying from everything that ran on electronics, he began to share Scott’s dread. His attention quickly diverted to the machine, which was sparking the most.
“The hell is going on out there?!” exclaimed Rogue from outside, still remaining still.
“Abort the test!” ordered Warren as he rushed towards the device, “Get Rogue out of there now!”
“Mr. Worthington, wait!” urged one of the doctors.
The winged mutant barely took two steps before another wave of sparks erupted from the device. Small yellowish lightning bolts arced out, striking a few researchers and narrowly missing Warren. From inside, Rogue was hit the hardest. Whatever the source of the power surge, it found its way into the machine. As it surged through the system, the interface that was hovering mere inches from Rogue’s chest was filled with energy. The tubes and wires started glowing and the mechanical arms holding it failed. Before Rogue could get out of the way, the interface slammed itself onto her. That touch of adrenaline she felt earlier quickly turned into a seizure.
“Rogue!” exclaimed Scott, looking to go after her as well.
“No Scott! Stay back!” urged Hank, stopping him before he could get too far.
A bright flash erupted from within the device, causing most of the research team to cover their eyes and run for cover. Even as the surge stopped, the flashing continued. Now it was coming from Rogue’s body, which was now surrounded in a strange yellowish energy. Inside the device a gust of wind similar to what Storm produced with her powers shot out. Then from the top of the device, a red beam resembling Scott’s optic blasts shot out and caused a small explosion. Hank, Warren, Scott, and the Professor had to shield themselves briefly, but they never took their eyes off the horror that was unfolding before them.
“No…Rogue!” gasped Professor Xavier, now clutching his head.
“Tell me you’re sensing something, Professor!” said Hank, “Tell me Rogue’s mind is still intact.”
“I…I’m afraid that’s become a bit more complicated, Hank,” dreaded Xavier.
“Complicated how?!” exclaimed Warren.
Before the Professor could answer, a figure emerged from the device. It was Rogue, but her appearance clearly reflected the complications the Professor mentioned. The body suit she had been wearing was torn all over, leaving her half-naked as she hovered ominously on a stream of wind. Her eyes flashed in a mix of white and ruby red and her face was contorting as if she was going through an entire series of mental states in the span of a second. What most stood out was her appearance. Parts of her body were shifting wildly, taking on the appearance of everyone she ever absorbed. They saw Storm’s hair, Scott’s optic vision, Logan’s claws, Toad’s tongue, and various other features randomly manifesting in chaotic ways.
“Ah…feel…funny!” said Rogue in confused, oddly modulated voice.
“Ooh boy,” dreaded Warren, “I think it’s safe to say this test is a bust.”
Next Issue: Test Subject Part 2
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