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Volume 4 -- Issue 83 -- Test Subject Part 2

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Test Subject Part 2
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In a world that hates and fears mutants, Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men fight for peace and understanding. As that struggle has escalated, it has also become politicized. With the election of Robert Kelly, the X-men now find themselves in a significant shift in public policy.

Spearheaded by General Nathan Grimshaw, President Kelly’s administration has established the Mutant Security Agency. This organization is tasked with holding mutants accountable to the law. Already, General Grimshaw and the MSA find themselves thrust into mutant affairs that go beyond upholding the law. A sudden burst of activity from Genosha has led him to believe that Magneto is making a bold move.

While this conflict is unfolding, Professor Xavier and some of his X-men have joined Rogue in paying a visit to former X-man, Warren Worthington III. Having taken a major role in his family company, Worthington Industries, Warren claims his pharmaceutical division is on the cusp of a major breakthrough that will allow mutants to manage their powers. Desperate to gain control again, Rogue volunteered for a small-scale test. However, that test ended up going horribly wrong.


Earlier

“We can no longer afford the luxury of letting youth hold us back. Even when we feel we are not ready, we must push ourselves to do what is necessary. I know I’m asking a lot of you, Lorna. This is a task I often reserve for myself, but I cannot leave this island without causing an international incident. And I wouldn’t ask you to bear such a burden if I didn’t trust implicitly that you would succeed.”

These words echoed through Lorna’s mind as she hovered high over Worthington Pharmaceuticals. These words helped give her strength, reminding her of the responsibility she had for her father and their kind. It was not a job she took lightly or completely approved of for that matter. That is why this ambitious plan had to be tempered to ensure it was quick, clean, and without further violence.

Her role was simple enough. She was to use her powers to scramble communications and the outermost security systems of the complex. It required her to push her powers to levels she had never attempted before. Being so young, she hadn’t mastered the arts of magnetism in the same way her father had. She had to learn quickly because so much of this mission was riding on her.

While she was keeping communications and security at bay, it was up to Havok, Toad, and Mercury to get inside and pave a path for her to follow. It would have been easier to just barge in with full force, but that would mean needless bloodshed and a major scene that would have attracted too much attention. The old Magneto would have taken that risk. The Magneto who had Lorna to temper him was willing to adjust his tactics. That didn’t make it any less a burden for Magneto’s daughter.

‘Talk about pressure. Not only do I have to keep Father’s temperament in check, I also have to carry out his missions. It’s ironic how Bobby always said I was tough enough to join the X-men. Now here I am helping their biggest enemy. Guess he was half-right.’

She sensed some electromagnetic fluctuations emanating from below. There was some chatter going on within the building, hinting that Havok and the others were causing quite a commotion. Lorna pushed her powers further, making sure no stray signals got out. She had to keep the security staff blind so they wouldn’t get in the way. It helped lessen the need for violence, but that didn’t mean further conflict wasn’t likely.

‘I sure wish I felt better about this plan Father is hatching. He’s been working day and night since that break-in. Wanda told me he’s building something. She won’t say what it is, but she promises it’s not another doomsday device. And I believe her. So why do I get the feeling it’s still just as bad? Wanda says not to worry, but Alex once told me gut feelings always have a sliver of truth. If he’s as right as he is cute, we may still be in trouble.’

Lorna’s concentration faltered as she contemplated such thoughts. Her expression tensed as she struggled until Havok gave the signal for the next step. There was no room for doubt. Her father was trusting her and she wasn’t going to let him down.

Sweat dripped down her face as her face continued to calmly focus her powers. Some of the Worthington security staff were trying to sound the alarms. She had to fight to make sure the signals didn’t reach the other parts of the complex. She maintained this fight to the best of her abilities until she heard a welcome voice in a special ear-piece she was wearing.

“Polaris! This is Havok! We’re in position! You know what to do!”

With this command she let out a sigh of relief. While focusing was a test of patience, this next part would be a test of her endurance. Shifting from her focused state, she flew down lower so that she was a mere 100 feet over the roof of the building. Clenching her fists, she prepared to unleash a magnetic pulse the likes of which she had never attempted before.

‘Okay Polaris…this is it! Remember what father taught you! Whoever is inside that building had better brace themselves.’

Taking a deep breath, Polaris rolled her eyes into the back of her head and channeled massive amounts of magnetic energy from the surrounding area. The clouds above her swirled, flashing with ominous bolts of lightning to indicate the sheer scale on which she was using her powers. Once ready, she released the invisible wave of energy right at the building below her.

The effects were apparent almost instantly. All the lights gleaming from the windows flickered and the metal in the structure vibrated strongly. She even saw a few sparks around exposed metal parts both inside and outside the building. It was quiet and lacked the explosion that usually came along with a Brotherhood attack, but it got the job done.

“I did it! So much for youthful limits!” said Polaris breathlessly.

Despite being short of breath, Polaris flew down towards the building at high speeds. Using a small wrist-mounted computer given to her by her father, she followed a trail that was mapped out electronically by Havok and Mercury. All that was left was for her to open the vault. After the power she just unleashed, that should be easy provided there were no unexpected complications.


Down Below

Just as Polaris was making her way down towards the building, her every move was observed from a distance. Captain Jack Freeman arrived at Worthington Pharmaceuticals about five minutes ago. He parked his rented car across the street and started scoping out the area through a pair of binoculars. It didn’t take long to find Lorna hovering overhead. When he saw that mysterious power display, he took that as a sign that she and the Brotherhood was launching to main portion of their attack.

“Well aren’t you a daddy’s girl? I can only imagine what he’s got you doing,” commented Captain Freeman as he watched Polaris enter the building.

Setting the binoculars aside, Jack got out of the car and took out his communicator. The General was going to have a field day with this.

“General, it’s me! Looks like some unexpected visitors are making themselves right at home!”

“That can’t be good for Worthington Pharmaceuticals or the rest of the world for that matter. We still haven’t figured out what they’re after. We’ll need to head them off!”

“Does that mean I should be a good samaritan and arrest them for trespassing?” said the Green Beret dryly.

“I have something better in mind. Stay on the line, Captain. I have a plan that’s going to be a bit more elaborate than you’re used to.”
________________________________________________________________________

Worthington Pharmaceuticals – Research Lab

“Hnnnn…so confused…can’t…think…straight!”

“Stay with us, Rogue! You don’t want to go through another identity crisis!” exclaimed a desperate Scott Summers.

“Ah’m…trying! It…ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Rogue’s pained cries echoed through the lab as she let off a fury of wind shears, telekinesis, ice shards, and optic blasts. It was like every power the X-men had ever trained to use was being turned against them and it caused more pain in Rogue with each passing second.

The chaos unfolded like a bad horror movie. Rogue was hovering awkwardly just over what was left of the Worthington Mutagenic Modulator. Her body was still engulfed in a strange yellowish halo, shape-shifting continuously amongst the various figures she had absorbed in the past. The interface that was supposed to help her control her powers was sparking wildly with parts of it radiating with the strange energy that seemed to be fueling this maddened state.

“Get everybody to the quarantine rooms!” Warren ordered to his researchers, “Seal off the lab and shut down all systems!”

“No need to tell me twice!” said one of the researchers who ran full speed towards the exits.

“What about you, Mr. Worthington?” asked one of the doctors.

“I’m staying! Rogue is my friend! I need to help her!”

“How?! With powers like hers, I doubt that’s even possible!” said another doctor as he narrowly avoided an optic blast.

“Let me worry about that! The X-men are here! They can handle this!” said Warren, “Can’t they, Professor?”

Warren, Scott, and Hank were forced to jump out of the way of an incoming fireball that had randomly erupted from Rogue’s body. A few more bursts of lightning and a series of energy blasts from what had to be three different mutant powers shot out with it, causing even more destruction. Now lying on the floor with their ears still ringing, they turned to Professor Xavier. He had wheeled himself behind a nearby desk and was clutching his temples, trying to reach Rogue telepathically.

“I…I can’t get through to her! It’s not just powers that are in flux! Every mind she’s ever absorbed is randomly manifesting! It’s creating too much psychic clutter!” he said, his expression contorting with obvious strain.

“Does that mean you just need more time or does that mean we’re screwed?” asked Scott as he remained fixated on the ailing Rogue.

“I don’t know! I should be able to, but…”

Xavier didn’t get to finish. The desk he was behind was telekinetically levitated along with his wheelchair and suddenly it wasn’t just his mind that was under strain.

“Charles!” exclaimed Hank as he sprang into action.

Braving more lightning and optic blasts, Hank leaped up and over the hovering debris and grabbed Xavier from his wheel chair. Using his gorilla-like agility, he maneuvered around random bursts of energy that appeared to be manifestations of Gambit’s powers.

“Oh dear! This-ouch-is going to-ah-leave quite the mark!” said Hank as he took a few shots trying to protect his mentor, “What could have caused this?”

“I’m trying to figure that out!” grunted the Professor, “So many thoughts…can’t make sense of them!”

“It appear Rogue isn’t having much luck either! At the rate she’s going, she may lose her mind in a very literal sense!”

The Professor sounded like he was under more strain than usual. Hank struggled to protect him, taking another blow to the leg by a stray optic blast. He managed to get him over to a corner where the Professor could continue to work, leaving Scott and Warren as the main targets

Falling deeper into her madness, Rogue started stammering forward. More fireballs, lightning, optic blasts, and magnetic pulses shot forth. The outbursts were getting more intense. It caused the floor and roof of the lab to crack. If this continued, the whole structure could be in danger.

“No more witnesses from my staff! Guess I need to be an X-man again!” said Warren as he close to Scott in a defensive position, “What’s the plan, Cyclops? I know you must have worked one out by now!”

“If the Professor can’t reach Rogue telepathically, then we need to attack the source!” said Cyclops as he analyzed the situation, “I’m guessing that interface stuck to her chest is driving this!”

“That thing is flowing with volatile mutagens! I think that’s a pretty safe assumption!” said Warren as he narrowly avoided another lighting strike.

“So we’ll have to rip it off her!” said the X-leader strongly, “I’ll see if I can draw Rogue’s attention! While she’s distracted, fly in and grab that interface!”

“Got it!” grinned Warren, “I almost forgot how much I missed this!”

Warren slipped off to the side, avoiding a few wind blasts and fireballs along the way. Meanwhile, Cyclops braved several lightning strikes and force blasts as he maneuvered closer so he was right in Rogue’s line of sight. Looking up at her, she appeared to be in a great deal of discomfort. Her eyes kept flashing between white, red, blue, and yellow. The glowing aura around her body kept fluctuating wildly and her body continued to shape-shift, which Scott assumed was a product of Mystique’s powers.

It was not an easy position for him to be in. Rogue was his ex-girlfriend. He was probably not the best one for this role, but Rogue was still his friend. Scott understood better than most why she took this chance. With his hands on his ruby-quartz glasses, he anxiously confronted the dazed woman hovering before him.

“Rogue! Try and focus on me! I can help you!” he yelled out as lightning and fire flashed around him.

“Hnnn…Scott?”

“That’s right. It’s me…Scott,” said the X-leader in a calmer tone, “Remember? I’m your friend…your ex-boyfriend.”

A few bolts of lightning shot out from her hands, forcing Scott to back away. He avoided the blast, but still endured a moderate shock.

“Ungh! Okay…maybe I should leave the ex part out of it,” he grunted, “Just focus on me anyways! You know me! You can trust me!”

“Errrrrrrrr! Ah…can’t!”

“Yes you can, Rogue! I’m sure you have at least a dozen personalities in you right now clawing to get out! I’ve seen you take on five sentinels in the Danger Room and make Terminator jokes while you’re at it! You’re tough enough to beat them back!”

Her face contorted awkwardly, indicating the epic struggle brewing within. Scott inched his way closer, noticing that the random powers manifesting around her were weakening somewhat. He took that as a sign that Rogue was winning. He kept his hands on his glasses just in case, hoping he wouldn’t have to use them.

“That’s it, Rogue! You’re doing it! Beat them all back! Give us the chance to help you!”

Scott took another step closer. Suddenly, Rogue’s expression and entire face shifted. She now had arms that looked like Juggernaut and a face that resembled Mystique.

“NO! I don’t NEED your help!”

“Damn…” grunted Scott.

In a more focused attack, Rogue formed several fireballs in her hands and shot them right at Scott. The barrage tore through the lab and the X-leader was forced to run to the side for cover, narrowly missing most of the attack but still getting singed along the way. While he was running, he managed to raise his glasses and unleash a concentrated optic blast at Rogue. The blast was aimed right at the interface, but she shielded herself with her Juggernaut-sized arms.

Scott’s blast drew Rogue’s focused wrath, just as he planned. There were still random fireballs, bolts, and ice shards manifesting around her. Except now they weren’t flying off in all directions. This allowed Warren, who had since ditched his suit to reveal his wings, to fly around the other side of the lab and carefully sneak up on Rogue from behind. The force of Scott’s blast caused her to hover in place while she blocked it. This gave him the opening he needed.

“For the record, Rogue…I’m not just trying to cop a feel,” he said to himself.

In a daring move, Warren flew up high and grabbed Rogue from behind. He managed to avoid sparks and ice bursts and reach for the interface. When he grabbed it, the yellowish aura engulfed him. It felt like grabbing an exposed wire. Pain shot through him, but he ignored it and tried to yank it off with all his might.

“Augh! Come on, Rogue…help me out!” he grunted.

“Help…yourself…weakling.”

Her voice sounded like a mix of Quicksilver and Magneto now. She didn’t even bother trying to shake him off. The interface wasn’t budging and the winged mutant’s pain tolerance eventually caught up with him. As soon as his grip on her weakened, he was promptly blown off by a wind gust from Storm’s powers. He ended up crashing into the already mangled device that had caused this mess.

“Hnn…guess my X-men skills are getting rusty,” he groaned as he struggled to pull himself up.

Across the lab, Scott saw his plan fail miserably. Warren was unable to get the interface off and now Rogue was even more enraged. Her shape-shifting intensified and she started taking on even more bizarre forms. He saw her with Kurt’s tail, Toad’s tongue, Blob’s legs, and Bobby’s ice shell. It became such a strain that she clutched her head in a fit of confusion and cried out.

“AHHHHHHH! MAKE…IT…STOP!”

A few bursts of lightning erupted from her body, forcing Scott to duck behind some storage boxes. His mind was racing, trying to come up with another plan. Thankfully, he wasn’t the only one trying to come up with another plan.

“Scott! Warren! Come over here, quickly!” urged Professor Xavier from across the lab.

“I sure hope you thought of another plan, sir! That was all I had!” grunted Scott as he rushed over towards his mentor.

“Ungh…just like old times indeed,” groaned a very sore Warren.

Despite more outbursts from Rogue, Warren and Scott were able to make to the Professor. Rogue was still clutching her head, sounding as though all the personalities inside her were trying to shut her out for good.

“What’s going on now? Tell me you’ve got something!” said Scott.

“In a manner of speaking,” affirmed the Professor, still clutching his head, “Although, it’s not what I hoped though.”

“What do you mean?” asked Warren in confusion, who was still clutching his sides.

“When trying to reach Rogue telepathically, I picked up on some other stray thoughts. I think I know what caused that surge.”

“Don’t keep us in suspense! What the hell was it?” grunted the winged mutant.

“It was a magnetic pulse! It came from outside just as the experiment was almost complete!”

“Magnetic? As in…” began Scott.

“No, it’s not Magneto! It’s Lorna!” the Professor revealed, “She and the Brotherhood have broken into the building down below! That pulse was meant to disrupt the security grid throughout the building!”

“The Brotherhood! I should’ve known!” groaned Warren, having hoped he was done dealing with those goons, “Why the hell are they breaking in now?! Does Magneto think this research will make his madness obsolete or something?”

“No…at least I don’t think so!” said Xavier as he continued to focus his telepathy, “They’re after something in your isotope vault. I’m trying to figure out what, but I can’t quite…”

The Professor let out another pained groan and keeled over. Hank was there to catch him. His mental endurance didn’t seem to be nearly as good as they were used to. At least he was able to shed light on this situation.

“Charles!” exclaimed Hank.

“I…I’m fine, Hank. Just…have to focus harder!” groaned the Professor.

“And so do we!” said Scott in a determined tone, “Whatever the Brotherhood are after, we have to stop them!”

“No argument here, but we’ve got another minor problem on our hands!” said Warren, a stray ice shard from Rogue reinforcing his point.

“We can take care of Rogue!” said Hank strongly, “I think you’re right about that interface! If we can get it off, it should put an end to this madness!”

“Are you sure you can do that without backup? The burns on my hands beg to differ!” grunted Warren, showing Hank some of the marks Rogue left on him.

“It would seem we don’t have a choice,” he retorted, “The Brotherhood needs to be stopped and so does Rogue.”

“Hank is right,” said a still drained Xavier, “Worthington security doesn’t stand a chance against the Brotherhood. You must stop them!”

Looking back at Rogue, it seemed like they were leaving a far more volatile conflict behind. Rogue’s appearance was still shifting, only now her power output was being re-focused again. Her outbursts of ice, fire, lightning, and energy blasts were intensifying. At the same time, Rogue appeared to be faltering. The strain on her body was starting to show. There was no way she could keep doing this.

It was a difficult decision, but they were low on options. Scott turned to the Professor and then back towards Warren.

“Let’s get moving!” said the X-leader, “We can take our frustrations out on the Brotherhood.”

“Sounds fun. Beating them up always made me feel better,” grunted Warren, shaking off the pain of his injuries.

“Will it be a problem if anyone sees you with your wings?”

“If they do, they’ll forget immediately! Their paychecks depend on it!”

“Be careful, you two,” said Hank, “I strongly suspect this incident isn’t of the minor variety.”

“When is it ever?” sighed Scott, “Just make sure you help, Rogue! We’ll be back as soon as possible!”

Moving through a fury of random mutant powers, Scott and Warren escaped through the back entrance of the research lab. This left Hank and Charles to take on a very confused and very volatile Rogue. It didn’t look like she was getting any better. She was now no longer hovering. Instead she was stammering on the floor, randomly thrashing her Juggernaut-sized arms and crushing tables and lab equipment nearby. It was difficult to watch.

Looking over at the Professor, Hank saw that his mentor was still visibly weakened. He shouldn’t have been. It concerned him a great deal, but Hank had little doubt Charles would let this slow him down.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” asked Hank, “You don’t look like you’re at full strength, old friend.”

“I can handle it, old friend,” affirmed Charles, now holding himself upright against the wall, “I’ll try to telepathically calm her down. You go for the interface!”

“I’m guessing this will be an exercise in pain tolerance.”

“Rogue is already in plenty of pain. We must be willing to share it!”


Worthington Pharmaceuticals – Vault

Polaris was on her way to the vault within moments of receiving the signal from Havok. For him and Mercury, the wait was agonizing. It felt like five times longer than it actually was. It left Havok especially concerned.

“She’s taking too long! Something must have happened to her!” he lamented.

“Take it easy, Havok! This is Magneto’s daughter we’re talking about,” Mercury reminded him, “Toughness kind of runs in the family.”

“I know that! But she’s still new to this sort of thing! One of the guards might have gotten a lucky shot!”

“Now you’re being paranoid. Why do you worry so much about her anyways?”

Havok scolded Mercury for asking such a question and not just because it was foolish. The answers were almost as distressing as the wait. They had to remain focused as they entered their most vulnerable part of the mission.

Fortunately, he didn’t end up having to answer Mercury’s question. Polaris arrived from down the corridor, using her powers to blow past a couple of guards in the process.

“So much for paranoia,” said Havok with a half-grin.

“I’m here!” Polaris announced as she landed next to Mercury and Havok, “Sorry for the delay. Toad was slacking somewhat with the guards and it got a little rough.”

“Big surprise,” said Havok, rolling his eyes, “I’ll find a way to motivate his slimy ass later.  Right now, we need to open this vault.”

“Just trust my abilities as much as I trust you to watch my back and we’ll get through this!” said Polaris confidently.

Havok smiled as he and Mercury stood back. Polaris focused her powers on the heavy metal vault door before her. It may not have been a terribly large vault, but it was still a challenge for her. Clenching her fists, she channeled the powerful forces of magnetism into the metal door. The hinges quickly warped and the deafening sound of tearing metal soon echoed through the corridor. At first the door didn’t budge. Polaris had to push herself harder, so much so that her nose started to bleed. Showing toughness worthy of Magneto’s lineage, she eventually warped the door to a point that it was literally ripped from the wall.

“Errr! Open sesame!” grunted Polaris.

“Damn!” said Havok, “You know how to leave your mark, Lorna.”

Polaris smiled as she caught her breath. With the door ripped from the wall, she was able to steadily push it aside so Mercury could get in.

“My turn to shine!” said Mercury, “The isotope is WX-616, right?”

“Right! And you better find it fast!” urged Havok, “We’re already behind our time tables! Magneto is going to be expecting a success report in five minutes!”

“And you know how my father. Patience isn’t one of his virtues,” said Polaris.

Mercury groaned, trying to ignore Magneto’s impatience as she ran into the vault and started looking. It was organized like a freezer at a restaurant. It was a bit cold, probably to keep some of the isotopes stable. Some were kept in barrels. Others were kept in metal boxes with radioactive symbols on them. She could definitely feel the radiation around her, but her liquid metal body offered the necessary protection. It still felt a pretty uncomfortable so she searched quickly for the WX-616 isotope. She noticed that the smaller trace isotopes were kept in boxes no bigger than a DVD case. These boxes were arranged in the northwest corner of the room and well-organized. This allowed her to scour the shelves rapidly. She eventually found what she was looking for in a small case labeled WX-616. It also had a warning sign reading “caution: unstable.”

“Magneto sure knows how to pick ‘em,” groaned Mercury, “Hope my body is up to this.”

Grabbing the case, she concentrated and opened up a small hole in her stomach. She then placed the box in the hole and concentrated again so that her liquid metal form covered it. Once confident it was secure, she let out a sigh of relief.

“I found it!” she announced as she rushed out of the vault, “We’re all set! My body should be able to contain it!”

“Good! Then let’s get the hell out of here!” said Havok, urging her along, “Magneto has transport orbs waiting for us!”

“With any luck it should be easier getting out then it was getting in,” said Polaris.

Mercury stepped out of the vault and Havok ceased his radiation containment efforts. Once certain that the isotope was securely inside Mercury’s body, the three Brotherhood acolytes turned to make their escape. Before they could even begin running, they were confronted by an unwelcome sight.

“Sorry, but I think luck isn’t on your side tonight!” said a very irked Angel.

“Give it up, Alex! Your little raid is over!” said an equally angered Cyclops, now armed with his visor.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!” exclaimed Havok, “X-men?! How the hell did you find out about this?”

“Let’s just say we were in the neighborhood,” said the X-leader, “And your antics here have caused a lot more stress than usual!”

“If you’re going to try and teach me a lesson it’ll have to wait, big brother! We’re in a bit of a hurry here!” said Havok bitterly.

“So are we,” quipped Cyclops.

Skipping the part where he tried to convince his brother he was wrong, Cyclops unleashed a concentrated optic blast that hit Mercury head on and knocked her back against the vault door. At the same time, Warren took to the air and charged Polaris at high speeds. Despite still being roughed up from his encounter with Rogue, he didn’t miss a beat and tackled her against the wall before she could use her magnetic powers against him. This left Cyclops and Havok to charge one another in yet another round of family feuding.

Havok met his brother in a battle once more, but this time he couldn’t afford to put too much focus into this battle. They had to get through these X-men and get out of here. He didn’t waste time with energy blasts. As soon as Cyclops fired his shot at Mercury, he ran in and slugged his brother with a right cross. Being taller and more built, Cyclops was able to block it and counter with a jab of his own. He landed it right on his little brother’s jaw.

“Ungh! You’ve been practicing!” grunted Havok.

“You’ve given me plenty of reasons!” retorted Cyclops as he moved in for a finishing kick, “Breaking in and messing up Rogue’s chance at control? That’s low even for you!”

“Augh! The hell are you babbling about?” grunted Havok as he avoided the kick and countered with a knee to the gut.

“Like you would care! You just keep falling into old habits, Alex! Breaking and entering, not caring who you hurt in the process! Will you ever learn?!”

Cyclops blocked another incoming punch combo from Havok and countered with a punishing uppercut. This knocked Havok back against a nearby wall and before he could recover, Cyclops moved in and pinned him with his forearm up against his neck. He watched his brother walk this path with the Brotherhood. When it hurt friends like Rogue, that gave him all the more reason to remind him of the consequences.

While Havok was struggling against his brother, Polaris was in unfamiliar territory with Angel. Her father spent a lot of time teaching her how to wield her power. He didn’t exactly spend much time teaching her hand-to-hand combat techniques. She knew self-defense, but it was limited. Angel was a trained X-man and he quickly got the better of her, knocking her down with a shoulder tackle and getting behind her so he could hold her in a grapple.

“For the record, I’m not being rough on you just because you broke my friend’s heart!” grunted Angel as he held her down, “I’m being rough because this is my company you’re stealing from!”

“Hnn…wouldn’t put it past you,” groaned Polaris.

“Come on, Lorna! Bobby always said you had a good soul! Do yourself a favor and stop fighting!” he urged.

“I’m sorry…but Bobby never understood and neither do you!”

Fighting to break from Angel’s grip, Polaris levitated the heavy vault door and forced it right towards her and Angel. Since he was on top of her, he was the one in its way. He didn’t see it coming until it was too late.

“Oh shit-umf!”

When the heavy vault hit, he was like a fly hitting the windshield of an oncoming car. He was sent flying across the corridor. He wasn’t just on a collision course with the wall either. He was also on a collision course with Cyclops and Havok.

“Havok, get down!” yelled Polaris.

Upon seeing the incoming hunk of metal, Havok used the wall as leveraged and kicked back to thrust himself forward. This allowed him to slip out from Cyclops’s grip just long enough to duck, leaving the flying vault door to hit only his older brother and not him.

“Ungh!” grunted Cyclops.

“You’re not the only one who can strategize, bro,” grinned Havok.

It was a close call. Havok coughed a bit in trying to catch his breath. He looked over to see Polaris fall short of crushing the two X-men with the door. She just used it to shove them back. Magneto probably would have gone further, but Polaris didn’t inherit his ruthlessness even if she inherited his skills.

“Smart move,” he commented, “Your father would be proud.”

“He’ll be even more proud if we get out of here and back to Genosha!” said Polaris, not wasting a moment, “Are you okay, Mercury?”

From behind Polaris, Mercury emerged rubbing her head. The blast she took from Cyclops was pretty intense. Her liquid metal body seemed to absorb it and the presence of the isotope forced her to be more careful.

“I’ll be fine, as soon as my head stops ringing,” she said.

“What about the isotope?”

“Still safe and sound,” said Mercury as she felt around her stomach, “I can feel the radiation, but I should be able to contain it at least for a while.”

“Then we better not miss our flight home!” said Havok.

Taking charge, Havok ran full speed down the corridor and out the hole in the wall they had entered earlier. Polaris and Mercury followed close by. They passed Cyclops and Angel, who were groaning in a daze as they pulled themselves up from the floor.

“Stop, Alex! Whatever Magneto has you doing, it will not turn out well!” Cyclops yelled.

“Sorry Scott, but that ship has sailed!” Havok retorted, “What we’re doing will benefit everyone this time! Not just mutants! You’ll see!”

Leaving his brother to contemplate those ominous words, Havok disappeared with the Brotherhood. Cyclops grunted in frustration as he pulled himself and Angel up through the agony. He couldn’t let this stand. He couldn’t let his brother escape thinking that serving Magneto didn’t come at a price.

“Damn it, Alex,” muttered the X-leader, “Come on! We have to go after them!”

“Sure…I can let my internal organs reset themselves later!” grunted the winged mutant.

“Pain seems to be the only constant today!” said Cyclops as he and Angel started running in pursuit of their adversaries, “Suck it up so we can get to the Brotherhood and then back to Rogue! Chances are she’s still suffering the most!”


Meanwhile

“PLEASE…HELP…MEH!”

Rogue’s pained cries were going increasingly unheeded as her powers continued to grow more unstable. She was now engulfed in a swirling tornado while random optic blats, ice shards, energy bursts, and hex bolts shot out in all directions. Her body continued shifting and re-shaping into ever more disfigured forms, ranging from Juggernaut to Beast to Magneto to various Morlocks. The range of her destruction was increasing, now taking up half the lab. It appeared there was no stopping her.

Beast and Charles were forced to take cover in a corner on the far end of the lab, using some computer servers as cover. Xavier was still trying desperately to reach Rogue’s mind with his telepathy. He was sitting prone on the floor next to his friend, his back against the wall while he clutched his pounding temples.

“Please tell me you’ve almost reached her, Charles!” said Beast over the growing commotion.

“I…I wish I could say I’m close, Hank! But I…I can’t get through!” grunted the Professor, “So much strain I…”

“Are you sure you’re not injured, Charles? You sound like you’re…”

But Beast was abruptly cut off when a heavy desk flew right by him, narrowly missing his head and crashing into the wall behind him. It was a sign that they were running out of time. Seeing that Xavier was becoming increasingly strained, it became clear to Beast that something else had to be done.

“ERRRRRAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!”

“My word!” he exclaimed as he ducked behind the servers again, “We have to act, Charles! If we don’t do something Rogue may be lost to us!”

“I…need…more time!” said Xavier, sweat already pouring down his strained face.

“I’m afraid we do not have the luxury of time!” said Beast with a determined growl, “You keep trying to reach her! I’ll aid you with a more direct approach!”

“What do you mean?” asked the Professor warily.

“I believe Warren had the right idea before! That interface is causing this imbalance! If I can get to Rogue and get to that interface, I may be able to remove it!”

“In her current state?! Hank, it’s too dangerous!”

“As Wolverine would say, the dangerous options often have the greatest payoff!”

Despite Professor Xavier’s dire warning, Beast leaped out into a hail of lightning and ice blasts. While avoiding flying debris, he used his animal agility to make his way towards the ailing Rogue. The Professor watched on in shock and horror while increasing his efforts with his telepathy. But it was no use. It was like his mind was fatigued before he even started. He could already feel blood dripping from his nose, a sign that he was not going to be able to reach Rogue in his current state. For once, his mind was too weak to aid his students.

As Beast drew closer to Rogue, the winds increased and so did the danger. It was so bad that desks and computer equipment were being flown around her as if it were dust. Beast used his nimble agility to leap into the air and use the debris as stepping stones towards Rogue. It was increasingly chaotic. At this range it was nearly impossible to avoid the random blasts. Ice shards slammed into him while energy blasts and optic bursts grazed him. They stung and left notable wounds, but Beast blocked out the pain. His mind was focused solely on the interface stuck to Rogue’s body.

‘Have to time this perfectly! Must grab on while she’s spinning the other way! Centrifugal force should do the rest! Rogue’s fate rests in the hands of Sir Isaac Newton!’

Gritting his ape-like teeth, Beast did a few acrobatic flips across a couple of flying desks as he drew closer to Rogue. She was now within his grasp. As a nearby office chair flew by, Beast landed on it and planted both feet firmly in preparation for his final leap. He carefully timed his next move, waiting for Rogue to be in the exact position he needed her to be as she swirled about. By now she looked almost unrecognizable because of the shape shifting.

“B-B-Beast?!”

“I’m here, Rogue! Brace yourself!” he yelled over the howling winds.

With all his might, Beast jumped from the chair and right towards Rogue. When he reached her, he grabbed the sides of the interface that was still stuck to her chest and gripped it with all his animal might. Just as he anticipated, he was spun wildly by the howling winds. More debris and bursts struck him, but he didn’t let go. With all his remaining strength, he pulled on the interface. This along with the powerful spinning forces surrounding him helped to finally end this nightmare.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

With a deafening rip, the interface flew off Rogue’s chest along with Beast. Almost immediately the winds died down, but not before sending Beast crashing into the already mangled Worthington Mutagenic Modulator with the interface in hand. Already bruised and bloodied from the debris, the impact knocked him out cold and added to what was sure to be a long list of injuries.

Once that the interface was off, the chaotic displays of power finally waned and Rogue fell limply to the floor. It took a moment for her body to shape shift out of the many different forms she had taken. Her arms were still big like Juggernaut, her face was still misshapen like one of the Morlocks she absorbed, and she still had Kurt’s tail. She continued to writhe in discomfort as she gradually reverted back to her normal body. By the time it was over, she laid curled up on the floor with much of the attire she had been wearing ripped to the point where she was almost naked.

“Hnn…mah head!” she groaned, “Feels almost as bad as mah whole body!”

While she struggled to pull herself up, Professor Xavier emerged from across the room. Having to crawl on the floor, he was able to reach his wheelchair. It had been blown across the lab and back against the wall. As soon as he reached it, he flipped it over so it was upright and crawled back into it.

“Rogue! It’s okay now! I’m here,” he said, still exhausted from his psychic exertion.

“Professor?” said Rogue weakly, “What…what happened? Please tell meh what just happened was a nightmare!”

“I wish it were,” the Professor replied.

“So…the test failed.”

“In more way than one, I’m afraid.”

Xavier quickly wheeled himself through the debris and around destroyed equipment. When he reached Rogue, she managed to return to her feet. She was still clutching her head, dizzy and disoriented. Moreover, she was deeply disappointed in how this test had panned out.

“So much for control,” she groaned, “Ah can safely say that was the opposite of what Ah wanted. It was like every power, every mind, and every personality Ah ever absorbed came rushing back. Ah might as well have been tossed in the trunk of a car and driven off a bridge!”

“I’m sorry, Rogue. I know you had high hopes for this test,” said Xavier with a reassuring gesture.

“Some test,” Rogue scoffed, “Ah can’t believe Ah was so stupid! Ah should have known with mah luck it was gonna go to hell!”

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth taking,” said the Professor, “Sometimes there are forces beyond our control working against us.”

Xavier spoke with a mix of empathy and sorrow, as if he had been responsible for this as well. Rogue figured he was just being hard on himself. He offered more gestures, which helped reassure her as she continued to fight off the lingering discomfort. But as her mind cleared, it dawned on her that she wasn’t the only one reeling.

“Ah hell, Ah forgot about Beast!” she exclaimed.

“Hank…” was all the Professor could get out before Rogue rushed over towards the injured Beast.

When she reached him, she quickly pulled him out of what was left of the device. She was careful not to touch him with bear skin as she laid him out on the floor. He had burns, bloody wounds, and some major bruises all over his body. He was in pretty bad shape and would definitely need some medical attention. For Rogue, her disappointment surrounding the test quickly turned to guilt.

“Damn…what have Ah done?!” she cried, “Mr. McCoy…”

“He’s still alive, Rogue,” assured Xavier as he wheeled up to her, “I can still sense his mind!”

“Alive and lookin’ like he just dove head first into a wood chipper!” she said, having to look a way as she angrily scolded herself, “This is all mah fault! Ah never should have gone through with this.”

“No Rogue…you can’t blame yourself for this.”

“Yes Ah can! This was mah choice! Mah screw-up! Ah should have…”

“There’s no time to curse yourself, Rogue. We need to get Hank some medical attention! This isn’t over yet and we need to get him away from further danger!”

Rogue swallowed the bitter lump in her throat and shut out the lingering pain. She wasn’t doing herself or Beast any favors by freaking out like this. Beast needed help and she needed to get her head together in more ways than one.

But she wasn’t the only one who reeling with guilt. Professor Xavier couldn’t help but bear the brunt of the responsible for this. He should have been able to use his psychic talents to help Rogue so Beast wouldn’t have to put himself in such grave danger. He was supposed to be the world’s most powerful telepath. Instead, he was a liability. While he summoned the doctors who had fled the lab, he pondered what this might imply.

‘You’re wrong, Rogue. This is my fault, not yours. I…I have to face facts. I failed you. I failed my X-men. I must ensure this doesn’t happen again! That may mean I’ll have to make some very difficult arrangements.’


Worthington Pharmaceuticals – Parking Garage

“Ha-ha-ha! You pigs have been eating too many donuts! This would be too easy if it wasn’t so much fun!” taunted Toad as an army of security guards charged towards him.

“This guy’s ego is worse than his breath!” said one of the guards.

“We have him cornered! We’ll hose him down after we hog-tie him like the pig he is!” said another.

For the last five minutes it had been a lop-sided struggle for the Worthington guards in the parking garage. Even with communications down, word quickly got out that they had intruders and they weren’t the quiet kind either. Nearly every converged right where the Brotherhood entered the building. The only thing standing in their way from cutting off their escape was an overconfident Toad.

For the most part, the amphibious mutant was doing his part. Guard after guard tried to subdue him, only to get a punishing kick to the chest or a glob of slime to the face. Toad didn’t hold back, knocking them out when he could and immobilizing them whenever it was convenient. Over two dozen guards had been taken down at this point. The trick was keeping them from using their side-arms, which consisted only of a 9mm handgun. Once that was out of the picture, they were stuck having to take him down by hand and he wasn’t about to let that happen.

Despite Toad’s boasting, the guards still outnumbered him and he was in no position to leap around and use his agility to the fullest. He had just taken out two guards with a jump kick and a tongue swipe. Now they had him cornered and prepared to overwhelm him.

“Get ready to take him down men! Hold your nose if you have to! This punk stinks as bad as he fights!” grunted one of the guards.

“Now that’s just rude,” scoffed Toad as he took a defensive position, “To steal a quote from my favorite movie…I’ll take you all on!”

“You got lousy taste in movies!” scoffed another guard.

“When I get through with him, he’ll stick to Disney flicks!” grinned one of the bigger guards.

Fueled by their frustration over this pestilent mutant, three dozen guards surrounded Toad. This forced him to back towards the hole in the wall from which Havok, Polaris, and Mercury should be emerging from at any moment. He couldn’t afford to let them get cornered. He would never hear the end of it from Magneto. He may not have had a lot of room to work with, but he stood ready to fight.

“Get him!” yelled the lead guard.

Toad tried to leap up to avoid the oncoming surge of bodies, but since the ceiling was so low he didn’t get high enough. He landed in the arms of a nearby guard. He fought out by using his tongue to strike the man on the head while using his powerful legs to kick two more to the ground. Then he felt himself tackled to the concrete floor by a guard who had to be at least twice as big as him. He instinctively tried to fight his way out, but he couldn’t slip out this time. In addition, eight other guards piled on top of him so that he couldn’t escape.

“Augh! That all…you got?” he grunted, still trying to sound tough.

“Better hold that freak tongue of yours! You won’t have much use for it when we’re done with you!” said the guard that had his grip on him.

He continued to struggle, but it was no use this time. He was officially subdued.

‘Where the hell are those guys?! They better not leave me behind! I will NOT be the odd man out when the mission goes to Hell!’

It looked as though the guards had Toad and were ready to set their sights on the rest of the Brotherhood. A few were already redirecting their attention to the opening he was guarding. Knowing Toad couldn’t have been the only one involved, they prepared to cordon off the area. Just as they were about to enter, though, a powerful energy blast came shooting out and blew most of the guards right off of Toad.

“So much for relying on Toad not to get his ass kicked,” said Havok, his hands still glowing from the blast.

“Ungh! Shut up!” groaned the amphibious mutant as he kicked off a couple of guards on top of him, “You guys took too damn long!”

“We hit a snag. The X-men showed up!” said Havok.

“X-men?! Please tell me you kicked their asses and left them in the dust!”

“Assume they’re still hot on our trail anyways!” said the younger Summers brother as he turned to his right, “Polaris, summon the transport orbs! We need to be gone five minutes ago!”

“Already on it, Havok!” said Polaris, hitting a small button on the belt of her uniform to summon the orbs.

Havok and Polaris sprinted towards the other end of the parking garage, using their powers to clear guards along the way. Mercury ran behind them, helping Toad to his feet along the way.

“And you said you could handle it all your own,” teased Mercury.

“Shut up! Just tell me Magneto won’t have a reason to bust our heads!” muttered Toad.

“We have the isotope! Our heads should be fine!” she assured.

Taking her word for it, Toad limped forward to catch up with Havok and Polaris. There was no subtlety or sneaking around this time. Any car or barrier that was in their way was blown to pieces to clear a path. Any lingering guards were blasted back by Havok. A few even got off a couple of gunshots, but Polaris made sure they were protected.

“Damn! They’re getting away and probably taking our holiday bonus with them!” groaned one of the guards.

While the Brotherhood was rushing to escape, Cyclops and Angel emerged from the hole in the wall in hot pursuit. Angel had taken to the air and was carrying Cyclops by his arms. It was the only way they were able to catch up. Even so, the Brotherhood was already halfway out the garage.

“They’re almost in the clear, Cyclops! It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to catch them!” lamented Angel.

“Then fly faster!” urged Cyclops, “Can’t you order reinforcements?”

“I would if communications weren’t knocked out!”

“Then just get me close enough to get a shot off!” said Cyclops, “One shot is all I need!”

Despite the narrow confines of the parking garage, Angel flew faster. He followed the path of destruction left by the Brotherhood in their wake. He could see them just up ahead, about to leap out of the garage and into the open field. They couldn’t let them run off like this after their antics caused so much destruction, including Rogue’s current predicament.

The end was in sight for the Brotherhood. Just up ahead was their ticket back to Genosha. They could see the transport orbs descending from the clouds above. Four of them landed just outside the garage and opened up. Havok and Polaris were the first ones there.

“Hurry! Get in!” Havok urged Polaris.

“I’ll guide us out! Just make sure the others are secure!” she said.

Mercury was the next to arrive. Since she had the isotopes, Havok made sure she was in an orb safely.

“Ooh boy, this sure has been an exciting night!” she groaned.

“Get used to it! I doubt it’ll be the last!” said Havok as he got into his orb as well with Toad finally closing in on his.

As he was getting in, Cyclops and Angel came into view. The window was fast closing. The X-leader had his hand on his glasses, his sights set on his brother.

“ALEX!” he yelled out.

“I’ll be seeing you, Scott,” said Havok distantly as the orb closed.

Cyclops removed his glasses and unleashed a powerful optic blast just as the orbs began taking off. The first blast was directed right at the orb Havok just got into. It started moving just quickly enough for the blast to merely graze it, causing it to shake but not falter. Within seconds, the orbs rose up and accelerated. The ones with Havok, Mercury, and Polaris were already moving fast thanks to Polaris’s guidance. Toad, however, was still getting into his. It hadn’t even closed all the way when it started moving. He nearly fell out when it first shot up.

“Whoa! At least wait till I’m inside, guys!” he exclaimed.

Toad struggled to get in, stumbling even more as the orb started rising into the clouds. While he was fumbling about, Cyclops and Angel emerged from the parking garage. In a last act of desperation, Cyclops aimed and fired another optic blast at the first orb he saw. Since the orb disappeared into the clouds, he couldn’t even tell if it hit.

“Did I hit it? Can you see if one of them went down?!” exclaimed Cyclops as he scanned the sky intently.

“Nope…too cloudy,” groaned Angel, “Damn Huston smog.”

“See if you can catch up with them! I’m not letting Alex run from this!”

“I’ll try, but at the speeds they’re going I’m not making any promises.”

Angel was about to take to the sky. He stopped abruptly as he and Cyclops got a telepathic message from the Professor.

‘Angel…Cyclops…return to the lab. I need your help!’

‘But the Brotherhood is getting away, Professor! Whatever they came here for, they just took it and left! We can’t let them…’

‘That’ll have to wait, Cyclops. Beast has been hurt!’

‘Beast? Is he going to be okay? What about Rogue?’

‘Rogue is fine, Angel. But she’s still weak and Beast needs medical attention! Whatever the Brotherhood is up to, we’ll have to deal with them later!’

Cyclops and Angel exchanged glances. As much as they wanted to go after the Brotherhood, the well-being of their fellow X-men took priority. The idea of letting the Brotherhood get away didn’t sit well for a second. Whatever they were after, they had it now and that can only mean more trouble down the road.

“Damn you, Alex,” cursed Cyclops as he gazed up at the sky.

“Come on, Scott. Don’t let yourself fall into that old trap again,” said Angel, directing his friend back towards the building, “Alex and the Brotherhood will always give us other chances. Let’s get back to the Professor and see how bad it is.”

Cyclops was hesitant at first, but took his friend’s advice and followed him into the building. Alex had already gotten under his skin one time too many. For him to run away before a fight was over meant something big had to be brewing. It didn’t look like Alex was thinking twice about helping Magneto. If anything, he was becoming a blind follower like the rest of the Brotherhood. That was a path he never wanted to see him take, but it may be too late now.


Meanwhile

While X-men may not have known whether or not Cyclops’s last optic blast hit anything, Toad found out all too quickly. That last blast not only hit the orb, it hit part of him as well. It sent the orb tumbling and threw out into the cold evening sky in the process.

“What the fu-aahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

The orb kept going, but Toad didn’t go with it. He plummeted to the ground below, falling towards a patch of trees not far from the outer perimeter of Worthington Pharmaceuticals. While tumbling through the air, he struggled to reorient himself. When he reached the trees he tried to grab a branch, only to have it break and send him tumbling to the muddy ground.

“Augh-ugh-umf!” groaned Toad on his way down.

When he finally landed he was in a world of pain. His left arm was broken, his right shoulder was dislocated, he had the wind knocked out of him, and at least two ribs were fractured. The worst pain came from his legs, which he tried to use to absorb the shock. Apparently, he didn’t absorb enough. The amphibious mutant couldn’t tell if they were sprained or broken, but the pain was agonizing.

“Uggghhhhh! Oh man, that sucked! Why don’t we get freakin’ parachutes with those things?!” he said as he tried to pick himself up.

Clutching his shoulder with his broken arm, Toad leaned against a nearby tree and caught his breath. Near as he could tell, those two X-men were nowhere in sight. For all he know they were still searching for him. He couldn’t afford to be captured. Magneto made it a point to not be taken alive.

‘This is bad! This is really fucking bad! Magneto’s gonna have my ass in a TV dinner if I don’t get back! Maybe I can get Quicksilver or that girl with the pink skin to come get me! Better tell them to bring some morphine with them!’

Letting out a pained grunt, Toad started limping forward. He wasn’t sure how he was going to contact Genosha, but he needed to keep moving. He couldn’t let the X-men catch him. He barely made it a few steps away from where he landed when he an unexpected presence snuck up on him.

“Who’s there?!” Toad demanded.

Before he could even start scanning, he felt a casual tap on his shoulder.

“Time to hibernate, Toad!” said a menacing figure.

Toad instinctively turned around to defend himself, but was met instead with a powerful fist that crashed right into his face.

“Ungh!” he groaned.

It was like being hit with a bowling ball. He fell unconscious before his body even hit the ground. That lone punch was courtesy of Captain Jack Freeman, who had been surveying the conflict from afar. When he saw Toad fall from his transport orb, he sprang into action.

“Wait…toads don’t hibernate, do they? Well I guess they do now,” said Jack, rubbing his fist.

Captain Freeman quickly checked Toad to make sure he didn’t have anything on him. There wasn’t much aside from a pocket knife and a communicator that was busted, most likely a result of the impact. For the first time, someone from the Brotherhood had been subdued. If the General’s hunch about Magneto making a move was right, they had a means to find out.

Upon making sure Toad had no surprises on him, Jack took out his cell phone to call his superior.

“General, it’s me.”

“Go ahead, Captain.”

“Turns out you were right again. The X-men caught up with the Brotherhood before we did and did most of the heavy lifting.”

“Does that mean I’ll have to call off the local SWAT team I have arriving at your position? They were looking forward to being part of the MSA’s first wave.’

“They may still get their chance. Most of the Brotherhood got away, but one of our friends missed his flight. I made sure he says grounded. That SWAT team is going to want to get here soon and bring plenty of air fresheners.”

“Understood, Renegade. Should I be preparing a cozy room for our friend in the meantime?”

“Most definitely,” grinned Captain Freeman, “Better make it extra cozy. I’m sure this fella has plenty to talk about.”


Worthington Pharmaceuticals Research Lab - Later

Order eventually returned to Worthington Pharmaceuticals. Over the next couple of hours, the power was restored throughout the building and the security staff was able to secure the building. The researchers were also able to get back into the main lab. They found a great deal of their equipment in ruin, a fitting result of a test that had gone horribly wrong. It was a disappointing outcome, but Warren would not allow his team to despair. Once he concealed his wings with his suit, he began the clean-up process and it involved more than just paying overtime to the janitorial staff.

As soon as Warren met up with the Professor, he summoned his doctors to treat the injured Hank McCoy. They were able to get him onto a stretcher and tend to his wound. Luckily, Worthington Pharmaceuticals had some of the most advanced medical equipment in the world so the chances were could that Hank would make a full recovery. The Professor helped them along the way, answering questions about Hank’s mutated physiology. He would certainly be out of commission for a while, but he would be okay.

As soon as he was resting comfortably and his wounds properly bandaged, Hank was being prepped to fly back with the team in the Velocity. As they prepared, Professor Xavier watched over with Warren.

“Three broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, two sprained knees, a bruised hip bone, a broken forearm, a concussion, and enough bumps and bruises to be a modern art masterpiece,” said Warren as he looked over the extent of Hank’s injuries, “Who would have thought that Mr. McCoy could be as tough as he is smart?”

“He’s daring when he needs to be,” said Xavier as he solemnly watched his unconscious friend, “Although in cases such as this, I wish he didn’t have to.”

“I know. That’s usually what Wolverine is for,” sighed the winged mutant, “My lead doctor says he’s going to need to stay in bed for a couple days. He’ll be limping around for a few weeks after that so be sure to tell him that hanging upside-down when he’s studying isn’t recommended.”

“I’ll be sure to remember that.”

Xavier was more solemn than usual when confronted by an injured X-man. He didn’t taking his eyes off his friend’s wounded form as the doctors strapped him to a gurney in preparation for transport. He still felt guilty about not being able to stop Rogue. It was a guilt he had to hide as much as possible so no one would pick up on it. This day had been filled with enough disappointments.

“I guess our research isn’t as far along as I thought,” said Warren, “This device was supposed to prevent this sort of chaos. I’m just lucky I have my insurance for this place paid off.”

“You’ve made more progress than you think, Warren. Bear in mind, the test only went wrong when the Brotherhood became involved,” Xavier reminded, “There are only so many complications you can prepare for.”

“I suppose I should start training my security staff for Brotherhood alerts in the future,” he said bitterly, “As bad as this looks, I’m not going to abandon this project. There is too much good this research could do.”

“I agree,” said Professor Xavier, “I would only suggest you be more careful about those seeking to cure their mutation rather than control it. By developing this technology, you’re going to have desperate mutants like Rogue who are willing to take these unreasonable risks.”

“I understand the risks, Professor. I like to think you’ve taught me well enough to handle them. You can bet the Mark IV will be much better. If the Brotherhood tries to mess that one up, I’ll make sure they’re the ones leaving on a gurney,” said Warren strongly.

Professor Xavier smile proudly at his former student. Warren may not be an X-man anymore, but the effect the team still had on him was undeniable. That undeniable toughness he instilled in all his students was readily apparent and promised to serve the X-men well into the future. It was a future that he had to start considering more seriously given these recent events.

“I’m glad to hear your dedication is as great as your wingspan, my boy,” he said, “I only worry that the damage has already been done and I’m not just talking about your lab.”

“If you’re talking about the Brotherhood, their damage was surprisingly minimal. My people in the vault said all they did was steal stole a rare mutagenic isotope.”

“What kind of isotope?” asked Xavier.

“I don’t know the specifics, but it’s one of those isotopes that’s extremely rare. In fact, I think this is the only place that makes it.”

“Any idea on why they might want something like this?”

“Not at the moment, but it can’t be good. I know because that isotope is very similar to the ones used in the device, which makes it somewhat less of a coincidence that they decided to attack when they did. We’ve only recently started making it in useful quantities. You saw what it did to Rogue so there’s no telling what Magneto would do with this arsenal.”

“I’ll have the X-men look into it. With Hank out of commission, I’ll see if our new friends at the MSA can assist us,” said the Professor.

“I’ll have my people pitch in as well. But before you spill everything to General Grimshaw Scott, I suggest you be careful. You never know what you’ll get from these government types.”

“Duly noted, Warren,” said the Professor, “Except without Hank, we may not have a choice.”

“There’s always a choice, Professor. You taught me that and I’d rather not re-educate myself at this point in my life.”

The Professor managed a weak smile even as the doctors wheeling Hank off. This visit had been engaging to say the least. It may not have provided them with the results they wanted, but at the very least it showed that there were others out there besides the X-men that could step up and keep his dream alive. They may have to do so more often in the near future.

While Warren and the Professor were overseeing Hank’s treatment, a solemn and bitter Rogue lingered further back. She couldn’t bring herself to watch Warren’s doctors treat Beast. It only made her feel worse than she already did. If she hadn’t been so desperate to gain control over her powers, he never would have gotten hurt in the first place. Sitting in the corner with a blanket draped over her tried body, she sighed to herself in a fit of defeat. Scott sat next to her, offering what comfort he could.

“This is all mah fault,” she muttered, “Ah can’t believe Ah could be so…”

“Desperate? Wanting? Eager?” suggested Scott, “Take your pick. I think you qualify for every one of them.”

“Ah was gonna say stupid, but thanks for the list. It was very helpful,” she said dryly.

“Come on, don’t be like that, Rogue. I didn’t mean to imply you were wrong. I certainly don’t think stupidity should be a factor either,” said Scott with a comforting gesture.

“Then what else do Ah call offering to be someone’s lab rat when everyone around meh says it’s a bad idea?”

“You wanted to control your powers. There’s nothing stupid about that.”

“But the lengths Ah was willing to go…hell, Ah practically begged Warren to test r this danged contraption! And look what it got meh.”

“I think you’re understating the impact of the Brotherhood,” Scott pointed out, “For all we know, the test would have worked had their timing not been so lousy.”

“Even so, Ah’m the one who put mahself in a position to cause this crazy mess. Ah’m the one who didn’t think for more than two seconds about how wrong this could go. And for what? Did Ah even gain anything? All Ah did was hurt the people Ah care about! Hell, that’s all Ah can ever do!”

Rogue tensed under these harsh realities. Scott had nothing to respond with. All he could do was offer her another friendly gesture. It pained him to see her like this. Even though he and Rogue weren’t dating anymore, he still cared for her. She understood what it was like to deal with uncontrollable powers more than most people. That was something they could still relate to, even if her situation remained unbearably complicated.

“I won’t say I know how you feel. I have my visor. I get that. But remember, I’ve been where you are. I know how bad it feels to lose control,” he said, tapping his glasses to make a point.

“Ah know,” Rogue sighed, “Ah’ve seen you naked, sugah. Ah haven’t forgotten.”

“But one thing I never told you during our time together was that at one point…I did something very similar to what you just did,” he said.

“Yeah right. How does anyone even come close to matching the mistake Ah just made,” she said skeptically.

“I said it was similar. Not exact,” Scott went on, “You know how I’m always hesitant to remove my glasses? Well there’s a reason for that. It happened before the Professor, when it was just me and Alex on the streets. I was arrogant, desperate, and even more thick-headed than I am now.”

“Ah find that even harder to believe,” Rogue commented.

“Believe it. I was everything you thought I wasn’t at that point,” said Scott, still dead serious, “I was willing to go to any lengths for control. That kind of desperation leads you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. In my case, I trusted people I shouldn’t have to help me. Let’s just say that turned out about as well as this.”

Rogue’s cynical gaze eased somewhat and she turned to face her former lover. The issue of his ruby quartz glasses had come up before, but he never talked about it. She always wondered about it and she could tell it was very difficult for him to bring up.

“So…what does that mean for meh and mah powers?” she asked.

“It means that you can’t be willing to pay any price for what you want, Rogue,” said Scott in a more sincere tone, “Jean told me about what’s been going on with you and Remy. She also told me the rumors about Betsy.”

“Dang it, does anyone know how to keep their mouth shut anymore?”

“When a friend is suffering, silence is a lot harder. Now I don’t want to get stuck between other peoples’ personal affairs again. I’ll just tell you what I’ve learned from bearing the burden of my powers for so long. Control and all the responsibility that comes with can only happen in due time. It’s not something you can or should force.”

“No need to convince meh of that,” muttered Rogue, “Ah officially learned mah lesson.”

“The same goes for relationships,” added Scott, “You and I figured that out the hard way. Sometimes you just have to let it happen. If it’s meant to be, it’ll find a way. Just be prepared for some heartache along the way. I’m not going to tell you it won’t suck, but believe me when I say it’s worth it in the end.”

He braved the threat of her touch and slipped an arm around her covered shoulder. His willingness to console her was a testament to his sincerity. He had walked a similar path and it seemed to work out well for him. Scott may not have control over his powers, but he did find love with Jean Grey and he did accept his responsibilities as a man and an X-man. If he could do it after everything he had been through, then maybe there was hope for her after all.

Rogue finally managed a light smile in the midst of all this hardship. She was still upset about her powers, Hank’s injuries, and her situation with Remy. This test had been a harsh lesson in reality. If she was going to control her powers, it would be on her terms. If she and Remy were meant to be, then that was something that would have to come on its own. In the meantime she had to be patient. It may be painful at times, but it was a price she was much more willing to pay. Too many incidents like this was just another burden she couldn’t bear.

“Thanks Scott,” she said to him, “You’re least vindictive ex-boyfriend a gal like meh can ask for.”

“You’re welcome,” said Scott with a humored grin, “And if Remy really does care about you, he’ll make the right choice eventually.”

“You sure about that?” said Rogue skeptically.

“I said eventually,” he quipped, “For some guys, they’ll have to make plenty of mistakes first.”


Xavier Institute Lower Levels – Men’s Showers

Remy Lebeau had a convoluted history when it came to women. On one hand he could get them into bed in ways that would make most men envious. His charm and rugged good looks made it easy to seduce a woman. On the other hand when he tried to explore things beyond sex, it often failed miserably.

The Cajun mutant had long believed that his chance at love died with Belladonna. She was the first woman he connected with more than just physically. When he lost her, he didn’t think anything could fill the void. Ororo sure tried and for a time, she was special in a whole new way. But whether it was Belladonna or his lingering guilt, it was never meant to be. While things didn’t end nearly as badly with Ororo, it only reinforced the notion that all he could offer women was a good time in bed.

Then Marie Anna Darkholme came along. The way they came together made it seem as though they were destined to be something special. She had been captured with him when his family abducted him. She was the one to free him when he was drowning and on his last breath. Even after she lost control of her powers, he couldn’t stay away from her. Now he was at a crossroads. Betsy’s arrival caused a severe crack in their just friends deal. She didn’t want him to be miserable, but he didn’t want to hurt her either. It seemed no matter what he did, someone was going to suffer.

He tried distracting himself with a level five Danger Room program with Wolverine. Now he was standing in the men’s showers, letting the hot water poor over his head while he contemplated his complicated female affairs.

‘Why is Remy so dang cursed? Is it because I betrayed my family? Is it because I couldn’t save Belladonna? If this be karma working its mojo, Remy wants out! Everything was just peachy with a side of grits with Rogue. Then a new femme comes along that catches Remy’s eye and suddenly everything is outta whack.’

Letting out a sigh of frustration, the Cajun ran his hands through his messy hair as the water continued cascading down his face. As someone who fancied himself as a philosopher of sorts, this issue had him stumped. It was hard enough before. After Scott called a half hour ago and revealed what happened at Worthington Pharmaceuticals, it he could barely stand to be in his own skin.

‘Rogue was ready to risk life and limb to get control over her powers again. Cyclops didn’t say it was because of Remy, but it be pretty dang clear he was factor. Now Rogue’s okay and humbled by it all. He even told me Rogue said she’s accepted the truth. What in the hell could she mean by that? Was she really serious when she said she didn’t want Remy to be miserable with her? Or is she just messin’ with an admitted philosophy buff?’

Remy kept pondering these profound questions even as the water kept pouring. He was so lost in thought he didn’t notice another presence entering the showers.

“Don’t you look sore? What’s wrong? Was Wolverine too rough on you?”

Remy was abruptly jolted from his daze. When he turned around to see who was behind him, he was utterly shocked to find himself staring at a completely naked Betsy Braddock. His eyes widened at the sight of her exposed body. Even though her new uniform left little to the imagination and it wasn’t the body she was born in, it was still quite a sight for any man no matter how conflicted he may have been.

“B-Betsy?!” he stammered, “The hell you doin’ in the guy’s showers?!”

“Settle down, luv. Is this how you always react when a naked woman approaches you?” she said with a sultry smile.

“If Remy reacted as he always did, you wouldn’t be standing and neither would Remy,” the Cajun retorted.

“Hmm…I like what that implies,” she purred.

“Cut the crap, Betsy! Remy ain’t in the mood for once!”

“Your face says no, but certain parts of your body say otherwise,” said Betsy, her eyes drifting lower for a moment, “Do you really want to make a scene in your current state? You know I’ll see right through it.”

Remy shifted awkwardly for a moment. Usually a naked woman was more than enough to cheer him up. Now he wasn’t so sure. His body was sure reacting. The blood that had been fueling his pondering brain had changed direction and was heading southward. It forced him to turn around and face the shower again.

Sensing his conflict, Betsy’s expression became more serious and she approached him. She didn’t think she would have to do much work after having snuck into the men’s showers and stripped out of her uniform. She figured good things were worth working for.

“I heard about Rogue,” she said in a more serious tone, “I take it you heard too.”

“Oui,” he replied flatly, “Remy don’t see what that has to do with you being naked.”

“I think it has to do a whole heck of a lot, luv. I may be new here, but I’m also a telepath. I’ve picked up on your thoughts and a good chunk of them involve Rogue. I’ve also surmised the history you two have had.”

“Then you know why Remy needs to be alone,” said the Cajun.

“On the contrary…I think that’s exactly why you need a little company right now.”

Betsy moved in so she was under the water with Remy. She then snaked her arms around him, letting her naked form press up against his. The feeling of her smooth Asian skin and her well-formed breasts felt intoxicating good. He tensed at first, but quickly relaxed under her embrace.

“You have every right to want to punish yourself,” she said softly, “Getting close to a girl that can’t touch is guaranteed to stir frustration, especially when one of you is bent on imposing limits.”

“Rogue be the one with the limits. Remy just respects them,” said the Cajun, “It don’t mean she won’t change her tune down the line.”

“Maybe, but even you have to see the problem with that setup. You’re at the mercy of someone else’s whims. And even if they do change, it doesn’t change what’s holding you back.”

“You mean her powers,” he said.

“Among other things,” said Betsy.

Now trailing her hand down his manly chest, Betsy’s expression became more emotional. Remy found matching her gaze while embracing her back a bit. A part of him resisted, but another part couldn’t turn away.

“Remy, regardless of whatever twisted relationship you have with Rogue, she’s made her position clear,” said Betsy, “If she really does care as much as you think she does, then do yourself a favor and try to find some happiness. It’s what she wants.”

“That’s what she says,” Remy pointed out, “Ain’t necessarily what she means.”

“Even so, that doesn’t mean you should cut yourself off. There are plenty of ways to be happy without Rogue. I’m not saying you should forget her. I’m just saying you should keep your options open.”

“You had to get naked and barge into the men’s showers to tell Remy this?”

Betsy shifted again, a slight smile returning to her face. Remy Lebeau was a tough nut to crack even if his body wasn’t. With another sensual gesture, she made her point clear.

“Look, I’m not going to be subtle here. You know I’ve had my eye on you since I first got here. I can tell part of you is returning the favor and I’m not just talking about that part that’s pressing up against my thigh right now.”

“That’s just…instinctive, cherè,” said Remy with a touch of embarrassment.

“If that’s what you want to call it, then by all means,” she quipped, “I know I’m being a bit upfront here. I’m not usually like this. Switching bodies may be affecting my judgment. But I need to find something to help me really feel like this is me. This is my body. Would it be rude of me to ask for you to be that something?”

Remy was never good at arguing with women, especially attractive naked women. He could tell from Betsy’s gestures that she was being sincere. As hard as it was for him to resist, he couldn’t deny that a part of him wanted this as well.

“Say Remy answers the call. What’s that mean for us? Or Rogue for that matter?” asked Remy.

“I’m not trying to come between anybody. I’m not even looking for something long-term,” Betsy stated, “I just want something…someone that’s serious. You may be a smooth-talking overconfident bloke, Remy Lebeau. But you’re a serious bloke and that’s what I need. That’s what we both need.”

Through her serious yet soft words, Betsy pulled Remy closer. The Cajun still looked conflicted, his thoughts still playing over his last conversation with Rogue. She helped move his thinking forward by drawing him into a soft, sensual kiss. Even in his current state of mind, he didn’t resist. Within moments, he started kissing back.

Everything quickly fell into place. This raw, basic feeling of having Betsy Braddock in his arms helped make sense of his predicament at least to some extent. She was right. They did need this. If Rogue was truly sincere, then she would understand.

“Mmm…” gasped Betsy as they parted, still in a naked embrace, “That how all Cajun’s say oui?”

“Not exactly,” replied Remy in a husky tone, “It more like let’s take the plunge, cherè.”

“Works for me,” she said with a sexy grin, “So are you going to help me wash up? Or am I going to have to fly solo?”

“No worries, Bets. Remy will stick around. I’ll be making sure this new body of yours be washed nice and thorough.”

With those flirtatious words, Betsy and Remy kissed again. Under a pouring torrent of water, they started washing each other in ways that did more than just clean. It signaled the beginning of a new relationship that had the potential to be both profound and complicated.


Genosha – Magneto’s Citadel

“God damn you, Toad! I knew I was the one that should have gone instead!” groaned an exasperated Pietro Maximoff as he paced restlessly.

“Oh so you wish you were the one left behind?” said an equally exasperated Wanda Maximoff.

“Oh please! For me, being left behind is practically redundant!” he retorted, doing a quick run around the throne room to prove his point, “Since Toad can’t outrun a bullet train, he could have been captured for all we know! Now that the X-men are working with the authorities, they’ll have plenty of ways to make him talk! He could put this whole plan at risk!”

Pietro’s concerns were certainly warranted. This was supposed to be a quick and simple mission for the Brotherhood. Nobody was supposed to be captured. That’s why Magneto sent such a small team. He figured that fewer people being involved would mean fewer people to make a mistake. That turned out to be dead wrong.

Having just received a report from Havok, the master of magnetism pondered his next move in his throne room with Pietro and Wanda by his side. Pietro had been pacing since the report came in while Wanda remained more reserved, leaning back against the wall next to the main throne where her father sat. His plan was so close to being realized. Now the authorities and the X-men knew he was up to something. The margin for error was now much smaller.

“What’s our next move, father?” asked Wanda, “Should we look into helping Toad escape?”

“That would take resources we simply do not have, Wanda,” Magneto replied, “Toad will have to take care of himself. His sacrifice is a price we must pay.”

“At least the citadel will smell that much nicer,” commented Pietro.

“Your loyalty astounds me, Pietro,” said Wanda dryly, “And all this time I thought a brotherhood was supposed to look after one another.”

“I haven’t forgotten that, Wanda. It’s a good thing you haven’t too,” her father said, “Rest assured, Toad will find his way back to us eventually. I’ll deal with his failure appropriately when all is said and done. For now, we must push forward with my plan.”

Rising up from his throne, Magneto grabbed his cape and made his way towards the back of the throne room where he had been doing most of his work lately. Ironically, it was in the ruins of the device he used to redirect the asteroid that came so close to destroying the world. While most of the components had been scrapped, a new device was emerging.

“Complications aside, the mission was successful in its most important area. Mercury has the isotope. With it, I can complete my machine,” said Magneto.

“I sure hope this one works better than the last one. Not to disrespect your plans, father, but we’ve never had much luck when it comes to machines,” commented Pietro as he stepped over some of the tools scattered throughout the area.

“Your criticism is duly noted even if it isn’t appreciated, Pietro. That’s why I didn’t attempt to make a breakthrough that had never been done before. Instead, I’m in familiar territory. I’m making something I’ve helped make before, albeit with a few minor tweaks.”

“Will those minor tweaks be enough to locate this thing you say you’ve discovered?” asked Wanda.

“How certain are you this thing even exists?” added Pietro.

“Oh it most certainly exists, my children. I’ve been sure of it for some time now,” said the master of magnetism confidently, “If my research is correct, it holds the key to unlocking the next stage in mutant evolution. With it, we won’t just surpass the humans even further than we already have. We’ll render any further conflict with the humans utterly trivial.”

“Like we haven’t heard that before,” said the speedster.

“Your skepticism is starting to annoy me, Pietro,” said Magneto sternly.

“With all due respect, father. It would be a lot easier if you at least told us what the hell this thing is that we’ve sunk all of Genosha’s resources into finding! You’ve been keeping us out of the loop since day one! If we’re as close as you say we are, then I think we deserve an explanation!”

“Normally, this is where I would hex you for your attitude, Pietro. But for once, I share your concerns,” said Wanda.

“Really? I thought those were odds you could never change,” quipped the speedster.

“Don’t let it go to your head,” said Wanda while maintaining a serious demeanor with her father, “It’s worth belaboring, father. Everybody on the island has come to trust you. We’re your children and we’ve only been getting bits and pieces. When will you tell us everything?”

Magneto’s expression hardened as he stood under the apprehensive gaze of his children. Given his history, he could hardly blame them for being anxious. He still remembered how Wanda had been so deeply against his actions during his last asteroid incident, yet she remained by his side. And unlike Pietro, she took their cause more seriously. For this endeavor, he would need her loyalty more than ever.

Looking at his device was like looking into the past. Half his throne room had been converted into a rudimentary duplicate of the X-men’s mutant tracking computer, Cerebro. The ceiling had been reshaped into a dome and all the high tech components working it surrounded the perimeter in a circular fashion. In the center was a chair and a helmet, just like the one Charles used. It was ironic that he was using the fruits of their collaborative efforts to carry out this plan. At the same time, it was also appropriate. When his children and the rest of the Brotherhood learned of the forces they were dealing with, they would see for themselves.

“You’ll know everything soon enough, my children. I only ask that you be patient just a bit longer,” he said, “I’ve had to withhold the truth for many reasons. The fewer minds that know about it, the less chance that men like Charles Xavier will pick up on it.”

“Is that because you don’t trust him or because you know he’ll think this is wrong?” questioned Wanda.

“I’m sure there would be a lively debate over the morality of this plan, but I also know that Charles will never change his mind. He is too set in his ways, just like me. He seeks to work with the humans rather than rise above their bigotry.”

“I think we can all agree that he’s a fool for thinking he can, but you still haven’t told us how this is going to make it so we don’t have to watch him rubbing shoulders with President Kelly anymore,” said Pietro.

“You will soon enough. All I can say at this point is our efforts are about to bear fruit. For once, there will be no fighting…no conflict…no epic battle between us, the humans, or the X-men.”

“And just how are we going to manage that?” asked Wanda, still skeptical.

“The same way life has always dealt with such obstacles, my son,” said Magneto with an ominous grin, “Through evolution!”

Next Issue: Cambrian Explosion

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