The human race is evolving and society is struggling to keep up. Mutants are being born with extraordinary powers, stirring fear and hatred in a world that doesn’t understand them. Professor Xavier and his X-men fight for peace within this hostel world. After recent events involving the Cambrian, however, that fight has become much more complicated.
With the Cambrian vanquished and Magneto in an unstable mental state, an international coalition of peacekeeping troops has occupied Genosha. Their official mission is to restore order to the island, but their unofficial mission is much more ambitious. Under the leadership of General Nathan Grimshaw, the occupying soldiers are scouring Genosha for weapons and resources. This wholesale ransacking is not going over well with those running Genosha and tensions are higher than ever.
The X-men are stuck having to deal with these tensions, taking on an outraged public that is demanding greater scrutiny for mutants. That scrutiny threatens to upset mutant relations to new levels. In the midst of all this, Charles Xavier is keeping a secret from his students. This secret, if revealed, could destroy the X-men when they’re needed most.
Xavier Institute – Front Yard
One week had gone by since Rogue and Kurt left the institute. For Remy Lebeau, it was the most difficult week of his life and for a former thief turned X-man that was saying a lot. It weighed so heavily on him that he barely kept up with the ongoing efforts to address the aftermath of the Cambrian. His had been drowning himself in school work, cigarettes, and sex with Betsy. None of it helped as much as he wanted.
He was giving the cigarettes a chance again. It was that time of day when he went out for his daily smoke break. Usually, this was a break he shared with Rogue. They would sit together on in the front yard and just enjoy each other’s company. It was often the highlight of his day. Now it was another difficult reminder that almost took the fun out of smoking.
“Please don’t tell me you’re already through half a pack, Remy. It’s not even noon yet,” groaned an exasperated British voice.
Remy turned with his cigarette only halfway done to see Betsy walking towards him with her distinct sneer.
“Bonjour to you too, cherè,” quipped Remy, “You’re looking as fine as you are irritated.”
“Mixing flattery with sarcasm is no way to get in your girlfriend’s good side,” she said.
“Sorry, Betsy. Remy don’t mean to be a jerk, especially to a beautiful femme who enjoys wearing purple thongs. I just be off my game lately.”
“I rarely doubt the sincerity of your apologies, Remy. But you’re so-called game is starting to worry me.”
Betsy’s demeanor grew more serious as she sat down next to him. As annoyed as she was with him, she still cared when he was clearly hurting.
“I thought you were getting over this, luv. It’s been a week since Rogue left and you’ve been hanging your head low ever since,” she said in a sincere tone, “I also thought I was helping you. Was I just lying to myself?”
“Non, you be doin’ all the right things, Betsy,” the Cajun replied, “Hell, most femmes would leave a fella out to dry if he was this hung up on a girl he wasn’t even dating.”
“How many of those femmes have the patience to adjust to a new body and fight an oversized mud ball? You should know by now I don’t give in that easily. I’m British…not French.”
“Remy does know. He also knows he’s lucky to have a femme like you,” said Remy, offering an affectionate gesture of his own, “This whole mess with Rogue just went down so wrong. Remy keeps feeling like he screwed up in every way.”
“You didn’t screw up. Rogue made the decision to leave, not you.”
“I know. It still bugs me. Remy can’t help it.”
“You feel responsible. I get that. But Rogue made it abundantly clear that she didn’t blame you. If she wanted to get back at you that badly, she would have done far worse.”
“If she wanted to get back at Remy, I wouldn’t be in one piece. Rogue’s that kind of femme,” said the Cajun with a half-grin.
“So then what’s the bloody problem?” she asked, showing signs of frustration.
“The problem ain’t just why she did it. The problem be how Remy can’t seem to get over it. Rogue once told me we need to move forward with our lives…that she don’t wanna hold me back because of her powers. But Remy never felt she held him back.”
“Maybe so, but she sure thought she did,” Betsy pointed out, “Take it from a telepath, luv. Thoughts and reality are not mutually exclusive when it comes to emotions.”
“That or Remy was just too dang oblivious,” he sighed as he took a heavy drag from his cigarette, “Don’t get me wrong, I wanna respect Rogue’s wishes. Now that she’s gone, Remy can’t help but wonder. Even if it feels right, it don’t mean it can’t be wrong.”
It sounded like another one of Remy’s philosophical musings. They were the kind of insights that even Mr. McCoy had trouble following at times. Betsy tried to let it sink in even as she slipped her arms around the distraught Cajun. He wasn’t just hung up on Rogue. He was hung up on the whole concept surrounding him and Rogue. He was trying hard not to be, but it wasn’t enough.
Moving in a little closer, Betsy rested her chin on his shoulder and watched him finish his cigarette. As soon as he flicked it across the grass, he turned to face her.
“I can’t tell you how right or wrong Rogue’s decision was,” said Betsy, “But you can’t move forward if you keep dragging your feet like this.”
“Remy appreciates the honesty,” he said dryly, “Now you gonna tell me my breath stinks?”
“Keep smoking like this and I just might,” Betsy retorted, “I’m more worried about my boyfriend’s mental state than his lungs. You once went out of your way to help me adjust to life in this new body. I want to return the favor by helping you adjust to this.”
“Remy would like that,” said the Cajun, “Remy just ain’t he can get through this and be the boyfriend you deserve.”
“We won’t know until we find out now, will we?” she said coyly, “I may be a head case after switching bodies, but I really like you, Remy. I like you and I want to love you as much as you deserve.”
“That ain’t a lot of love,” he muttered.
“I also want to work on that self-esteem of yours too,” she said jokingly, “You and Rogue had something special. That’s fine. Now that she’s left, you have a chance to put that into a new perspective. I want to be there and I can’t do that unless you trust me. Not just as a lover, but as someone who also wants to do the right thing. Will you at least let me try?”
Remy looked away for a moment. Betsy was no ordinary woman and it wasn’t just because she was in a different body than the one she was born in. Any other girl would have kicked him to the curb in a jealous rage over his inability to get over Rogue’s departure. Betsy should be beleaguering him endlessly, but she was better than that. In some ways she was too good.
It didn’t seem fair that he was putting Betsy through this. As hard as it may be to accept, this may end up being right in the long run since Rogue couldn’t stop pushing him away. It wasn’t going to be easy moving forward from Rogue. But if he was going to be Betsy’s lover, he had to give her a chance.
“Okay Bets…Remy’s gonna let you try,” he said as he shifted his gaze back towards hers, “And I’ll be doing my best to try along with you.”
“Just put the same effort into trying as you do into blackjack and we should be okay,” said Betsy with a playful grin.
“With a look like that, Remy can save himself a bundle on extra packs of cigarettes.”
“What can I say? I have that kind of power over men.”
Still smiling, Betsy pulled Remy into a soft kiss. Even with the scent of tobacco on his breath, it was just what they needed. Their relationship had plenty of unusual circumstances. If they were going to make this relationship work, they needed to take these kinds of chances. They lingered in their romantic embrace, sharing in emotions both old and new. Their relationship was still a work-in-progress, but they each seemed committed to doing the work now.
Once the moment passed, their lips parted and they remained in an embrace. Then Betsy’s demeanor shifted. As much as she wanted to help her lover through these difficult times, she had other reasons for seeking him out and they had nothing to do with Rogue.
“Something wrong, cherè? Does Remy need a few breath mints?” said Remy coyly.
“No, I was just…well, I was hoping we could give that trust I mentioned an early test,” she said.
“Already? Remy’s all for takin’ bold steps, but this be a little fast.”
“I’m afraid it can’t wait. I’ve been keeping it in all week and I’m not sure how to bring it up. I’m still new here and I don’t know how revealing this sort of thing will go over with the others.”
“That depends on what it is,” said the Cajun with increasing curiosity, “Does it got anything to do with certain collections of magazines that be stored in Warren’s old room?”
“If only it were that juvenile,” she sighed.
Betsy shifted awkwardly and turned away from Remy. Now it was Remy’s turn to be worried. This didn’t look to be one of those little things that new couples shared when they were trying to get more intimate. This was serious in a whole other way.
“So are you gonna tell Remy? Or do you want to leave him hanging?” he asked her.
“No…I need to tell someone. I don’t know what we can do with it at this point, but I have to put it out there,” she said strongly.
Taking a deep breath, Betsy looked into the eyes of her lover and said what she had been holding back for too long.
“I think Professor Xavier is dying. And I think he’s keeping it a secret.”
Xavier Institute – Gym
Piotr Rasputin was adjusting nicely to his new life with the X-men. Compared life in the Russian Mafia, it was a major step up. Not only had he found a place where his sister could be treated, he had a chance to do something for the greater good rather than compromise with madmen.
While he hadn’t officially enrolled in any classes yet, Piotr fully committed himself to the Xavier Institute’s ridged training regimen. He was already in great shape and had full control of his powers. He had also undergone his share of training while he was working for the Russian Mob. Never one to get complacent, he took part in various Danger Room scenarios and work-out routines. One of his partners through this process was Kitty Pryde.
“Ready to begin, Petey? That last Danger Room session didn’t wear you out, did it?” teased Kitty.
“I assure you I have plenty of energy to spare, Katya. Although I do not remember the Professor scheduling one-on-one training at this time,” said Piotr as he stood across from the younger girl.
“He didn’t. I scheduled it,” she said with a grin, “There’s only so much training you can get fighting holograms and doing team drills that mostly involve Cyclops barking orders. Sometimes you need to add a personal touch.”
“Is that an official institute policy?” quipped the Russian.
“It is now!” said Kitty with a grin.
This was another part of the Xavier Institute that kept him on his toes. While his new teammates were friendly for the most part, Kitty Pryde made an extra effort. She was quickly becoming his closest friend and he was quickly learning she had a unique way of doing things.
This training with a personal touch as she called it was pretty basic. They were standing across from each other in the main gym. Some of the machines had been moved to the side to make room for some padded mats. In the center was a large white circle that looked like it was designed for wrestling. While this girl was nowhere near as strong as he was, she more than made up for it with spirit and drive. That left little doubt as to what she had in mind.
“So what are you waiting for? Stop trying to beat me by looking dumbfounded and attack!” said Kitty with a toughness that would make any Russian Mob boss proud.
“Um…not to sound disrespectful, Katya, but I’m not sure attacking you would be appropriate,” said Piotr awkwardly.
“Why? You think because I’m a girl and not ripped like a Russian farm boy that I’m not worth fighting?”
“No it just…doesn’t seem fair,” he said.
“Give me just five minutes and I’ll show you how fair I can be!” grinned Kitty.
She didn’t give Piotr a chance to back out. With the killer instinct instilled by her uncle, she Kitty attacked the oversized Russian. He remained reluctant, only putting up a defensive move at first. She expected this and took full advantage of it. Using her phasing powers, she ran right through him. Once she was behind him, she delivered a hard kick to the back of his knee and caused it to buckle.
“Augh!” he grunted from the unexpected blow.
“Down you go, Colossus!” said Kitty with a determined grunt.
Showing off her agility, she leaped up onto Piotr’s shoulders and locked her arms around his neck in a special grip. Then using some creative body maneuvers, she flipped over and twisted his neck in a way that forced the Russian to fall flat on his back. Once pinned, she rose up and placed her foot on his neck. This sent a clear message that struck Piotr much harder than the actual attack.
“Think I’m appropriate now?” she teased.
“I’ll admit it. I’m impressed,” grinned Piotr.
“Does that mean you’ll try to fight back this time?”
“My commitment to the X-men would be a joke if I didn’t, Katya.”
Kitty stepped back, allowing Piotr to return to his feet. His knee was still sore. She hit harder than he expected. Now that element of surprise was gone and the Russian mutant would not be so careless.
Once he recovered, the two combatants took a defensive stance and stared each other down. As they prepared their attack, they slowly started making their way around the wrestling circle. It built a certain level of anticipation. Even though this was supposed to be training, Kitty and Piotr sized each other up and not just for their next attack.
“You’re combat skills are quite advanced,” Piotr commented, “They strike me as skills that most American teenage girls do not possess.”
“Well most American teenage girls don’t have an Israeli Commando for an uncle,” quipped Kitty, “Those same American girls learn to braid hair when they’re seven. I learned a hundred ways to take a man down with no fewer than three moves.”
“Your family allowed a girl at the tender age of seven to train like a Commando? Why would they allow that?”
“They did it so I would never be a victim,” answered Kitty, “The life of a middle class American girl may not be as dangerous as a Siberian farmer, but it never hurts to know you can kick ass when you need to!”
Kitty demonstrated her commando skills with a swift attack. She made the first move, grabbing Piotr by the arm and trying to pull off another take down maneuver. He instinctively tried to push her off, but she showed more agility by ducking lower and twisting his arm in the process. This nearly sent Piotr to the mat again, but this time he countered with some skill of his own. The hulking Russian pulled off a nimble spin move and used his body weight to force Kitty back. It didn’t demonstrate the extent of his strength, but it showed he didn’t rely completely on his muscles.
“Ah, so you do have some fight in you!” said Kitty as she went on the defensive again, “That little move didn’t look like something you learned on the farm.”
“Nyet, it’s a technique I picked up from Spetsnaz,” said Piotr as he flexed his muscles a bit.
“You were in Spetsnaz? My uncle told me about them. Says they’re the best of the best when it comes to Special Forces…besides commandos of course.”
“They are the best,” he replied, “When I first joined the Russian Mob, it was not enough for me to just be strong. They needed someone with killer instinct as you say. As it just so happens, many of the Russian Mob’s best operatives are ex-Spetsnaz. They were the ones that taught me how to be strong, fight hard, and destroy any enemy.”
“Are you trying to scare me into backing down?” said Kitty.
“I’m giving you a fair warning of what you’re in for.”
Piotr took the initiative this time and attacked. He put his body weight and size to good use, driving Kitty back while using some fluid body movements to make her second guess where the attack was coming from. He managed to get a grip on her upper arm and use his shoulder to drive her down. She narrowly avoided being pinned, able to slip off to the side without breaking Piotr’s grip. She countered with another kick to Piotr’s knees. This time he avoided it and was able slip behind her and used his arm to lock her in a powerful vice of muscle.
This time Kitty’s size and stature were a liability. If this were anyone else, she would have used her flexibility to slip out and counter. But Piotr was too strong. Even when he wasn’t in his metal form, he overpowered her with ease.
“I admit. This fight was more fair than I expected,” he told her, “But I feel it would be wise for you to not push our luck.”
“Who needs luck?” grunted Kitty, “I don’t even need my powers to get out of this!”
“You know, there’s a fine line between boasting and foolishness.”
“There’s also a fine line muscles in lower hip that you’re leaving unguarded!”
Piotr’s eyes widened and in that momentary lapse, this teenage girl who had only a fraction of his muscle was able to shift her body within his grip and free one of her legs. Without using her phasing powers, she delivered a hard backwards kick that struck at a very specific point between his hip and abdomen. Piotr immediately felt a hard sting shoot up through his body. It was as if someone poured ice water through his veins. Even with Spetsnaz training, he was stunned for a full second. That was all the time Kitty needed to break free and make her move.
Using her nimble form to her advantage, Kitty slipped out of Piotr’s grip and did an acrobatic flip to land right behind him. She went for the finishing blow, jumping onto his back and slipping her arms around his neck so that she had him in a choke hold. In addition, she drove her knee right into his back in a ways that caused his balance to shift. Just like before, the imposing Russian fell to the mat. This time Kitty didn’t let go.
“Who’s the foolish one now?” she said coyly as she kept him pinned.
“Ungh…your uncle trained you well,” commented Piotr with a hard groan.
“It also helps to have a few X-men missions under my belt,” she added with a grin, “Your size may intimidate every gangster in Russia, but it doesn’t scare me. I don’t care if I have the build of your typical teenage girl. I’ll take on anybody and find a way to take them down!”
“Are you always this tough with new members?”
“To a point,” Kitty shrugged, “I try to go out of my way to give extra attention to special cases. And you definitely qualify, Peter Rasputin.”
Even though Kitty had him pinned, her arms locking him in a choke hold while her kneecap was digging into his back, Piotr couldn’t stop smiling. This girl was something else. For someone of her age and stature, she was as tough as they come. She wasn’t intimidated by his size or his history. He was beginning to see why she was part of the X-men. He was also beginning to see some unexpected perks to training at the Xavier Institute.
Kitty and Piotr stayed in their compromising position even as an awkward silence fell over them. They were still smiling and neither seemed to care that they were still locked in a rough grapple. This moment was only halted when the doors to the gym opened and Jean Grey entered.
“Whoa, I thought the gym was only for training,” she said as soon as she saw Kitty and Piotr.
“Uh…we are training, Jean,” said Kitty with an awkward blush.
“For what? Radical alternatives to breaking in new recruits? Although that depends on a loose definition of the term breaking in.”
Kitty and Piotr exchanged glances. Now they were both blushing and figured it would be an appropriate time to break from training. Kitty released the Russian from her grip and helped him off the mat. Jean, who was in her work-out clothes, looked all too amused. Piotr had only been with the team a week and already he getting into awkward situations.
“I apologize if our methods are inappropriate,” said Piotr, maintaining a polite demeanor.
“No need to apologize, Peter. That’s not the most inappropriate thing that happens around here,” Jean pointed out, “But if you guys are going to train like this, try and be a little more tactful. Other people use this gym too, you know?”
“You talk as though it’s so outrageous Jean,” said Kitty dryly.
“At the rate you’re going, that’s not all it will be,” she quipped.
Kitty rolled her eyes as Jean made her way to the treadmills, laughing to herself every step of the way. Kitty made sure she projected some annoyed thoughts. They wouldn’t be enough to wipe that grin off Jean’s face, but it let her know she did not appreciate her intrusion.
Despite the awkwardness, Kitty and Piotr exchanged glances and smiled. It may not have been the most productive type of training, but it was definitely more interesting. Piotr showed a touch of shyness under her glance. He was still getting used to this new environment while learning to carry himself around brazen teenage girls like Kitty Pryde. Even if he was making progress, he still had a long way to go.
“Guess we should stick to more traditional training, yes?” said Piotr.
“Yeah…bummer,” sighed Kitty.
“Bummer? What is bummer?” asked the Russian in a confused tone.
“Ooh boy, guess I’ll have to train you in American slang too.”
“I see,” said Piotr awkwardly, “I suppose I have more to learn than I thought.”
“Don’t worry, Peter. You’ve got plenty of qualified teachers around here,” she said as she playfully latched onto his arm, “You’ll learn quicker than you think. You pretty much have to. With guys like Magneto and the Brotherhood, you’re wits get tested in all sorts of crazy ways.”
Genosha – Underground Mine
“Will you guys hurry it up? My hair’s getting whiter than it already is!” groaned the always impatient Pietro Maximoff.
“Can it, Pietro! It’s been five whole minutes since I haven’t heard you complain! Is it so much to ask for a little bit more?” yelled a disgruntled Lance Alvers from further up the mine shaft.
“Why waste your time, mate? You know the louder you yell, the more you’ll annoy each other,” said John Allerdyce, who was standing right next to Lance.
“Speak for yourself,” muttered Lance, “It’s times like this I wish I had as many screws loose as you do.”
Pyro sneered in response. It was bad enough they had to run this little errand with Pietro when he was in one of his moods. He didn’t need this turning into a three-way shouting match.
This was one of those dirty missions the Brotherhood got stuck with all too often. Since Magneto’s mental stability was now in question, everything was disorganized. Wanda and Alex were doing their best to hold things together. Wanda tried to work the diplomacy angle while Alex kept an eye on the occupying soldiers. Since everybody had recovered from the Cambrian, the mutants of Genosha were strong enough to resent being an occupied country again. This was home to many mutants and they all resented being punished for Magneto’s mistake.
The air was already tense. Even though the peacekeepers brought medicine and supplies, they were also raiding Genosha’s resources. While many were destroyed in the citadel, some of their most important resources remained vulnerable. That’s what brought them to the secret mine where so much of this conflict began.
Since soldiers from every country were scouring the island for any salvageable technology, it was only a matter of time before they discovered the mine with the alien space craft. If they got their hands on this, then Genosha would lose its greatest asset. Even Wanda didn’t want that. That’s why she and Alex tasked them with burying it to make sure it would never be found.
“Please tell me we’re close. These caves are boring as hell,” said Pyro as he and Lance stepped out from the mine shaft lift, using his flames to light the way.
“What were you expecting? Dinner and a show?” scoffed Lance.
“I have a short attention span. Sue me,” he said, using his powers to play with his flames.
“Knock that off, Pyro! It’s pitch freakin’ black down here and we need you to light the way! So hold that crazy mind of yours together for just a bit longer, will you?” barked Pietro.
The speedster impatiently moved forward through the mine. Pyro and Lance groaned as he followed with Pyro who was using his powers to create large balls of flame to illuminate the path ahead. They were on the final stretch and the alien craft was finally in sight. It wasn’t a moment too soon either because they couldn’t stand Pietro’s attitude much longer.
“Seriously, what is up with him today? He’s being a bigger dick than usual!” grunted Lance.
“Don’t tell me you’re surprised, mate. I’m more surprised he isn’t being an even bigger dick than this,” scoffed Pyro.
“What do you mean? Is this more Australian sarcasm that can only come from a guy as clinically unhinged as you?”
“If only it were,” laughed John, “Since you haven’t been keeping up, I’ll give you the short version. Havok is banging Lorna and it’s making Pietro sick to his stomach.”
“Whoa…time out. Lorna and Summers?!” said Lance, stopping in mid-stride.
“Yep! Always had a feeling those two would hook up,” grinned Pyro, “They always had that I-want-to-screw-you-so-bad look in their eyes.”
Lance cringed at this revelation. He must have really missed something because this was the kind of thing that guaranteed trouble. He noticed some attraction between Alex and Lorna as well, but with everything that had been going on lately he never thought they would be foolish enough to act on it. Turns out he was wrong.
“Damn it all to hell! We’ll need as much protection from Pietro’s bullshit as we will the soldiers!” Lance groaned.
“Look at it this way…if ever you get into an argument with him, you can always win by reminding him who’s screwing his half-sister!” quipped Pyro.
“Hey! I can still hear you assholes from down here!” yelled Pietro from the end of the path, “You better cut the gossip crap or I’ll bury you guys down here with that ship!”
“I’d like to see you try,” muttered Lance, now hating this mission even more.
With plenty of motivation to get this done quickly, Lance and Pyro caught up with Pietro at the far end of the tunnel. This was the last tunnel before entering the dome-like chamber where the alien ship resided. When they reached the end, they stood atop a slight rocky platform overlooking the area. The ship hadn’t changed much since Magneto was last here. It was still silent and showed no signs of activity.
It was hard to believe that this lone structure was behind so much of the conflict that had plagued Genosha. Magneto once thought this ship would be their salvation. Now it was a liability. It didn’t seem fitting that they would have to bury this thing in order to protect their island. For all they knew, this alien ship still had plenty to offer.
“So…you think ET will mind if we knock over a few walls?” said Pyro.
“You’re an idiot, Pyro,” groaned Pietro as he removed a backpack he had been carrying, “Let’s hurry up and get this over. Wanda managed to sneak some high grade plastique from one of the few bunkers the soldiers haven’t raided.”
“That’s a lot of firepower for job like this. I would know,” commented Pyro.
“She’s the Scarlet Witch. Leaving things to chance just isn’t her style,” the speedster retorted, “We’ll need a big boom anyways. Since this place is a dome covered in metal rock, we have to place the charges around the edge of the ship and along some of the walls. Once we detonate them, it should fracture the chamber.”
“I can take it from there,” said Lance, who had a backpack full of explosives as well, “I just wish there was another way. I mean how often are we going to have an alien ship at our disposal?”
“You’ll have to settle for Star Trek reruns from now on. This has to be done. The last thing we want is some mutant-hating humans getting their hands on alien tech.”
It was a sad but necessary act. The alien technology had already done a lot to make Genosha as strong as it was up until the Cambrian. They had no choice but to cut their losses.
Pietro took care of most of the charges, using his super speed to run along the walls of the chamber and put the explosives into place. Pyro and Lance took care of the charges around the ship. Pyro made sure he kept two large balls of flame going to ensure the whole area was well-lit. Once the charges around the ship were in place, Lance went to work setting up the detonators. While he made sure everything was synchronized, Pyro took a moment to admire the alien ship.
“Man oh man, this is one sweet ride,” commented Pyro, “It’s a shame Mags couldn’t get her up and running. I would have loved to take her for a spin in space!”
“Like you could handle space travel,” said Lance dryly as he set down another charge.
“I thought every kid wanted to be an astronaut at some point. Is it so wrong to have dreams?”
“With dreams like yours? Wrong takes on a whole new meaning.”
Pyro shrugged at Lance’s comments as he continued to gaze over the alien ship. Since the initial discovery, no one besides Magneto had been allowed to explore it. After that first encounter with that Pulsar figure, the whole ship went dark. By all accounts it was inactive. Whatever secrets it possessed, they seemed lost. Magneto tried all sorts of things to get it up and running again. Eventually, he gave up and focused his efforts on the Cambrian. Given how badly that turned out, he probably should have stuck to the aliens.
While Lance seemed preoccupied with the explosives, Pyro looked closer at the alien craft. He walked up to the front where some metallic rock was already forming. Even though it was silent, there was still an ominous presence to the craft.
‘What a waste. We have an alien space craft right in front of us and no aliens to hang out with. I wonder what ol’ ET was like? Mags said the fella was all energy. Bet those blokes knew how to have fun! If they even had a concept of fun.’
Grinning to himself, Pyro redirected his flames slightly to illuminate the front side of the spacecraft. He was able to make out a few strings of symbols. They were the same symbols Magneto copied and obsessed over for a while after he found the craft. He never figured out what they meant. It was probably impossible at this point. That didn’t bother Pyro though. He was content to just be close to something this cool.
As he gazed over the symbols, he noticed a number of things. He was no expert on alien language, but it was still easy to make out a few notable patterns. Some of the symbols didn’t look like symbols. They appeared to be pictures of sorts. Some resembled stars, some resembled galaxies, and a few even resembled these strange humanoids. They all seemed to have their own meaning, but it was difficult to get the full picture since some rock had crusted over and covered the symbols.
“Hmm…looks like there’s more to this alien picture book. The hell is with these damn rocks covering everything? They’re cramping my style!” said Pyro as he looked closer, “Since nobody’s gonna see this thing anytime soon, I might as well dig a little deeper and leave my mark!”
With Lance and Pietro still distracted, Pyro redirected some of his flames towards the crusted rock. He made sure it burned hotter so it would be enough to flake the small shards off the ship. Since these rocks were metallic, it took more heat than he expected to get them to melt. True to his pyromaniac tendencies, he ramped up his powers and made the flames hotter.
“Come on you stupid pebbles! Burn off already!” he said with growing frustration.
“Pyro, what the hell are you…” began Lance.
But that was as far as he got. Before he or Pietro could scold Pyro, his flames did something to the alien craft. The whole chamber was soon reverberating with a humming noise. It seemed to radiate straight from the space ship. In addition, the heat from Pyro’s flames caused the symbols he was looking at to glow in an ominous red halo.
“Pyro! What the hell did you just do?!” exclaimed Pietro as he ran back towards the space craft.
“Nothing! I was just trying to break some of these rocks off! I swear!” said Pyro innocently.
“What the hell makes you think burning it will do any good?!”
“Uh…it seemed logical to me,” he shrugged.
Pietro and Lance shot Pyro an engaged look. Logical for Pyro often had a very skewed definition. They were in line to bury him in this mine along with the ship, but they had a bigger problem on their hands.
The alien ship was coming back to life. Lights all over the vessel turned on again. They were all flashing as if it were an alarm of sorts. As it flashed, the humming got louder and the vibrations caused the whole chamber to shake.
“I think I made her mad, guys!” commented Pyro.
“You think?!” exclaimed Lance.
“Can it, Alvers! We’re going with Plan B!” said Pietro urgently.
“When the hell did we make a Plan B?!”
“Five seconds ago when blowing this place to hell got way harder!”
The three men backed away from the blaring aircraft. As they did so Pietro reached into his backpack and pulled out a remote control. When Lance saw this, it didn’t take long for him to realize what he had in mind.
“Oh hell no! Have you lost it too, Pietro?!” exclaimed Lance.
“We gotta blow this place now, Lance! Which is why you should stop yelling and start running!” grunted Pietro.
“Sounds like my kind of Plan B!” said Pyro who was already sprinting full speed.
Lance and Pyro didn’t stick around to argue. They were already on their way back to the chamber entrance. Pietro lingered for a moment as he calibrated the detonator. He was about to press the button when a blinding flash of light erupted from the ship, causing him to drop the remote.
“Ahhh! My eyes!” he cried out.
“Damn it, Pietro! Where’s the remote?!” exclaimed Lance.
He and Pyro ran back to help Pietro, shielding their eyes in the process. Pyro helped Pietro up while Lance felt around for the remote. The shaking kept getting worse. The humming at this point turned into a full blown siren. This ship was about to do something and none of them wanted to be around when it happened.
“Come on, mate! Shake it off and run us out of here!” urged Pyro as he tried to direct Pietro out of the chamber.
“No! We have to finish…”
The speedster was abruptly cut off when Lance ceased his search for the remote and looked back towards the alien ship with terrified eyes.
“Uh…guys, I don’t think we’ll be burying this thing anymore,” he said warily.
“Please tell me that’s sarcasms!” groaned Pietro, his vision still blurred.
“He’s not kidding mate,” said Pyro, who saw the same ominous scene as Lance, “I may be nutty as a wanker, but I think ET’s about to phone home!”
The three men fell back in confusion as they watched the ship erupt in a new fury of activity. They tried desperately to get out of the chamber, but it was no use. Before they could escape, a blinding flash of white light consumed the chamber.
Chicago, Illinois – Downtown
“NO MORE EXCUSES! NO MORE LIES! NO MORE EXCUSES! NO MORE LIES!”
“MAGNETO IS A CRIMINAL! ARREST HIM NOW!”
“HUMANS FIRST! MUTANTS NEVER! HUMANS FIRST! MUTANTS NEVER!”
It was a dreary day in the heart of Chicago and it wasn’t just the weather. A week had passed since the Cambrian onslaught and already people were taking to the streets in protest. The initial support President Kelly garnered after he rolled out the Mutant Security Agency had turned into hostility. To the people, the MSA wasn’t enough. Mutants had to be confronted aggressively.
This protest was by far the biggest in the country. There were over 10,000 people in the streets holding up signs and chanting slogans around what was once the Genosha embassy. Even though the building had been abandoned since Cameron Hodge was overthrown, that didn’t stop people from taking their frustrations out on it. People threw stones, rotten food, and pretty much anything else they could find at the once prominent building. It was getting pretty nasty and the X-men were there to watch over it.
Cyclops, Wolverine, and Iceman were tasked with keeping an eye on this unfolding chaos. Professor Xavier said he sensed some unusual hostility that set this event apart from the many others that had erupted all over the world. So far it was looking every bit as bad as they expected.
“Explain to me how we got roped into doing this?” groaned Iceman as he stood with his teammates on a rooftop across from the embassy.
“We just happened to be testing the Velocity when the Professor called. Seeing as how we were ready to take off and in uniform, he sent us here to investigate,” said Cyclops as he watched the protests through a pair of binoculars.
“Talk about lousy luck. And to think I gave up a nice relaxing mid-term in exchange for some fresh air.”
“You wanna stop whining or do I need to stop it for you?” snarled Wolverine, “You don’t hear me complaining and I hate this riot patrol shit more than you!”
“I’ll be quiet. Thanks,” said Iceman warily, “But if you hate it so much, why did you tag along? The Professor only ordered me and Scott to check it out.”
“It ain’t charity. Someone needs to tag along and keep you guys from screwing up.”
“That and it gives you an excuse to avoid, Miss Munroe,” added Cyclops.
Wolverine snarled angrily at the X-leader’s words. Cyclops was not intimidated, but added nothing further to his comment. He remained focused on the mission at hand. Somebody had to do it because Wolverine certainly wasn’t in the right frame of mind.
As much as he wanted to dissect Cyclops, the feral mutant only muttered a few curses under his breath and turned his attention back to the riots. He hated it when Scott Summers of all people saw through his angry shell. It wasn’t much of a secret that he and Storm had been having problems lately. Since the Cambrian, they hadn’t talked much. They hadn’t even gone out or made love. Storm asserted she just needed some space. Wolverine was convinced it was more serious than that.
Iceman didn’t dare call Wolverine out on it. He was too miserable in this rainy weather to be his joking self. Never-the-less, he was curious. Wolverine was a lot easier to deal with when he had someone like Storm to mitigate that temper of his. If they were on the rocks, then Wolverine was going to be a lot moodier.
“Do I even want to know the details?” said Iceman under his breath.
“Do yourself a favor and forget it,” replied Cyclops, “You’ll sleep much easier at night and won’t evoke as many three a.m. Danger Room sessions.”
“So it’s really that bad? It’s times like this I’m glad I’m semi-single.”
“Semi-single?” questioned the X-leader.
“Yeah, that’s what Jubilee and I have worked out,” he explained, “We’re both burned out on serious relationships so we’re keeping it casual. It saves us the drama.”
“Right…I’m sure that has plenty of potential.”
“You’re going to judge me while all those protesters are judging our entire kind? Dude, you’re better than that.”
Cyclops rolled his eyes and went back to his observations. There were enough relationship dramas between Storm and Wolverine. That didn’t even begin to cover what was going on with Rogue and Gambit. It was times like this he was glad he had such a strong relationship with Jean Grey.
Down below the chaos with the protesters continued. It seemed to be escalating with each passing moment. The riot police employed to keep the situation under control seemed increasingly overwhelmed. The discord in the crowd kept getting worse and it was hard to figure out the reason. Any protest was chaotic enough, but there was a fine line between a protest and a riot. All that was needed to cross that line was a spark.
That spark seemed to emerge when a figure emerged from the riot and climbed on top of a nearby car. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, wearing camouflage pants and a white shirt as if he was in some sort of paramilitary group. Once on top of the car, someone from below handed him a bull horn and he began speaking angrily to the protesting masses.
“WE’VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS SHIT! WE ALL KNOW THE SOURCE OF THIS PROBLEM! IT ISN’T JUST MAGNETO! IT’S THE SCOURGE OF MUTATION ITSELF THAT WE ARE UP AGAINST! MAGNETO WAS JUST ONE MUTANT! I SAY ONE IS TOO MANY!”
“THESE MUTANTS WILL NEVER LET US BE! SO I SAY WE FIGHT BACK! TO HELL WITH THE PRESIDENT’S SOFT APPROACH! WE MUST TAKE THESE MONSTERS DOWN!”
“YEAH! TAKE THEM DOWN! TAKE THEM DOWN! TAKE THEM DOWN!”
This lone figure tapped into the fears and frustrations that turned a protester into a rioter. There was no critical thinking in a mob mentality. There was only one common threat and that threat was mutants. From that moment on, this figure was the leader and he led the charge against the embassy with newfound energy.
Up on the roof across the street, the X-men saw this development unfold. It was no longer possible for them to stand by and watch. The riot police didn’t have a chance. Armed with this new anger, protesters were already climbing the fence and attacking anybody who got in their way.
“Guess it only takes one asshole to turn everything to shit,” grunted Wolverine.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” sighed Iceman, “So what’s the plan?”
“If they break those barriers, we’ll have a volatile situation on our hands and we can’t afford any more bad press,” said Cyclops firmly, “We need to go down there and contain this riot before it gets organized!”
“Normally I hate busting up riots like this, but with the mood I’m in I could stand to bash a few heads!” snarled Wolverine.
“What? This isn’t your normal mood?” teased Iceman.
“Bub…you ain’t seen me this pissed before! Trust me!”
Iceman chose not to test that claim as he and Cyclops turned their attention to the protesters. These kinds of missions were always the most complicated because they couldn’t afford to hurt civilians. Mutants needed some good publicity and cooperating with the authorities was the best they could hope for at this point.
Setting aside their observation gear, Iceman formed an ice slide to take him, Cyclops, and Wolverine down to the action. As they slid along the icy path, their presence was quickly noticed. Many protesters started pointing to the sky and directing their slurs towards them.
“Look! It’s the X-men!”
“Those mutant goons! They don’t deserve to show their faces!”
“They don’t deserve anything! Take them down!”
Some protesters threw various forms of garbage up towards them as they slid by. Only a few objects hit them, namely a few beer bottles and rocks.
“Our adoring public,” groaned Iceman, “How do you think Superman keep such an adoring public?”
“Start wearing your underwear on the outside and figure it out later, Iceman! Right now, I need you to reinforce the barriers with ice!” ordered Cyclops.
“Can do, fearless leader! But if I get hit in the face with a rotten tomato, I’m blaming you!”
They passed right over the car where the lone protester was still shouting from a bullhorn. The X-men ignored his hateful ramblings as Iceman fired a concentrated ice beam towards the barriers that the riot police had set up. Within seconds a thick icy shell formed over the structure. It helped reinforce the ground the police were trying to guard and kept the protesters from climbing over it.
This was only part of the plan to maintain order. Cyclops did his part as well, leaping off from Bobby’s ice slide and landing behind the barrier next to some beleaguered officers.
“Who the hell called you guys?” demanded one of the police captains.
“We were in the neighborhood. Looks like you guys could use some help,” explained Cyclops, “Before you say we’re just in the way, let me add that we’ve got support from the MSA. If you feel we’re being intrusive, you can take it up with General Grimshaw.”
The X-leaders stern words silenced the officer. None of his men complained. They welcomed the help and Cyclops was efficient at delivering. Using his optic blasts, he blasted the ground nearby to form a trench to keep the protesters from moving much further. He also aimed towards a couple of cars that had been turned over and cleared some paths for extra vehicles to come through for support.
“Finally! We can stop looking so weak!” said one of the riot policemen.
“Get some reinforcements in here!” yelled the captain, “Tighten the perimeter while you’re at it! If one person starts destroying something, arrest them on the spot!”
The authorities seemed emboldened as they went to work, fighting back against the protesters. Cars started moving again and SWAT team members wielding riot gear moved in to reinforce the barriers. Between these reinforcements, the ice blocks, and Cyclops’s firepower it seemed the protest would not be allowed to get out of hand. Despite this turn, there were still those who fought on.
From atop one of the cars, the middle aged man who was urging the protest into violent territory was still yelling at the top of his lungs. The presence of the X-men only served to intensify his rhetoric.
“YOU SEE?! THEY’RE ALREADY TAKING OVER! WORKING WITH THOSE WHO CLAIM TO BE OUR LEADERS! THEY DESERVE NO MERCY! TAKE THE X-MEN DOWN WITH THE REST OF THE MUTANT RACE! TAKE THEM ALL DOWN!”
“TAKE THEM DOWN! TAKE THEM DOWN!”
With renewed energy, the protesters started pushing again. The man driving the cause kept pointing towards Cyclops and Iceman, prompting those nearby to throw their debris towards them to voice their disgust. The two X-men held their ground and soon shifted their attention to the lone protester.
“I didn’t think it was possible, but that guy is pissing me off even more!” grunted Wolverine as he narrowly avoided a few empty soda cans.
“If you want to do something about it, I doubt anyone would disapprove,” said Iceman.
“Give me one minute! I’ll shut him up!”
Snarling angrily, Wolverine drew his claws and leaped off the ice slide platform into the crowd. The sight of the feral mutant descending towards them was enough to make many protesters back off, but some were still bold enough to stay near and keep shouting their anti-mutant slurs.
“LEAVE THE HUMAN RACE ALONE YOU FREAK!”
“YOU’RE A MONSTER! YOU DESERVE TO BE PUT DOWN!”
Being called a monster always got under Wolverine’s skin. He threatening sneer was usually enough to scare people off, but these protesters were emboldened. This anti-mutant loudmouth standing atop the car was providing extra motivation to those who would usually think twice about confronting someone like Wolverine.
“YOU SEE? THESE MUTANTS WILL NEVER STOP! THE ONLY SOUND WAY TO DEAL WITH FREAKS LIKE THIS IS TO WIPE THEM OUT!”
“Bub! You’re lucky I’m an X-man! Otherwise what I’m about to do would hurt a lot more!” roared Wolverine.
Fueled by both his rage and a very bad mood, Wolverine punched and shoved his way through the protesters surrounding the car. He led with his shoulders and not his claws to avoid turning this protest into a blood bath. Since most of these working stiffs didn’t have an adamantium skeleton, he easily bowled several people. Even the figure with the bull horn was surprised. He almost fell off when he saw the feral mutant dig his claws into the roof of the car and pull himself up.
“I…I’m not afraid of you!” yelled the man.
“You damn well ought to be,” he grunted.
Clenching his fists, Wolverine swiftly cut the bull horn the man was using to pieces with his claws. His attack was so swift that the man was still holding onto the handle when it was over, which ended up being the only part left intact. Remarkably, he remained defiant. For someone so misguided, he had guts.
In a bold move that earned him cheers from the protesters, he lashed out at Wolverine. The feral mutant could have easily ended him where he stood. That probably wouldn’t look good in the press so he just casually avoided the incoming blow and grabbed his wrists. The former living weapon was able to end it quickly from there, using his strength to pull him in closer so he could head butt him right in his skull. Thanks once again to his adamantium bones, the man was cleanly knocked out.
“Consider yourself lucky. That ain’t the worst I could’ve done…not by a long shot,” stated Wolverine.
“BOOOO! LEAVE HIM ALONE, MUTANT!”
“You want to take a shot? Go ahead! I dare you!” roared the feral mutant, showing his claws in a threatening manner.
Since the protesters no longer had a figure to rally around, most were smart and backed off. It saved them and the X-men from making this chaotic event worse than it already was.
It was still too soon to breathe a sigh of relief. Now that the anti-mutant loudmouth was out cold, Wolverine laid him down on the top of the car. It was too bad he wouldn’t be able to rough him up even more. Even if he turned him over to the police, he would probably spend a night in jail at the most. That’s what happened when anti-mutant sentiment was this bad. The authorities cut the anti-mutant protesters a lot of breaks. He was about to meet up with Iceman again when he noticed something suspicious.
“Hmm…why does this guy reek of a stench I’ve smelled before?” he wondered.
He looked closer, taking in the clothes he was wearing and the appearance he presented. This guy wanted to look tough. There were few other reasons why anybody would deck themselves out in camouflage pants, heavy duty boots, and overly plain T-shirts. He came off as one of those paramilitary guys who loved to act like soldiers when they were really just thugs. Then he noticed that he was concealing a necklace under his shirt.
“You gotta be shitting me!” said Wolverine as he pulled it out.
It didn’t look fancy. It looked pretty darn cheap in fact. But what it lacked in style it made up for with symbolism. It had the distinct shape of DNA with a large letter H in the middle. Wolverine had seen this symbol before. It was a symbol he thought he had seen the last of.
”What’s going on, Logan? You’re not going to mug the guy too, are you?” said Iceman as he came in on an ice slide.
“I’m a lot more tempted now. Look at this!” said Wolverine as he showed Iceman the necklace.
The younger mutant recognized it as well. It took only a few seconds for a string of unpleasant memories to come rushing back.
“The Friends of Humanity?! No way! We shut those assholes down!” exclaimed Iceman.
“Looks like they got a second wind,” grunted the feral mutant.
“This is very bad. Last time these guys joined the anti-mutant party, we got sucker punched with Bastion!”
“You don’t need to remind me, Popsicle! Guess this shit with the Cambrian makes them seem a lot less infamous.”
“Any chance this guy is just nostalgic? This doesn’t necessarily mean the Friends of Humanity are back, right?”
Wolverine looked at Iceman with a bemused look. There was being optimistic and then there was being just plain foolish.
“This necklace is brand new. A grown man wouldn’t wear these things because they look pretty. He wore this like a dog tag because he was here on a mission! And I bet you all the booze in Canada it came from some new head honcho calling all the shots!”
“Lucky for me and your liver, I don’t take sucker bets,” muttered Iceman, “But Graydon Creed is in jail. Who could have taken over?”
“Guess we’ll find out when we meet them,” said Wolverine intently.
It was not a promising development. These protests were bad enough. Now they had taken on a new complication. The Friends of Humanity were the worst of the worst when it came to anti-mutant sentiment. If they were somehow back in business, the X-men and mutants as a whole faced a new level of danger.
Professor Charles Xavier was officially cleared from the infirmary a week ago. He appeared fully recovered from the Cambrian attack. He gave nobody any reason to believe he was suffering from any lingering effects. If only they knew the full extent of his suffering, they would never have let him leave his bed.
Xavier still managed to carry on, not sharing his deteriorating health with the others. He was maintaining his poise by a steady diet of prescription medications that he kept on him at all times. He was already up to taking twelve pills a day, more than the prescribed dosage Dr. Cecila Reyes had recommended. He knew how dangerous it was to take more than the allotted dosage, but his symptoms were too severe. He needed to keep himself functioning.
Sitting behind his desk, he was dealing with another round of heavy chest pains. It seemed his cancer was attacking a new part of his body every day. He had been hunched over his wheelchair for the past fifteen minutes, hoping it would pass. Eventually, he caved and pulled out his bottle of pills.
‘This makes four and it’s still early in the afternoon. How much longer can I afford to keep this up?’
The world’s most powerful psychic closed his eyes as he swallowed another pill. Within seconds he felt the medications go into effect. The pain in his chest waned and his breathing became steady. The opioids in the pills still left him dazed, but he was used to that by now. It still made it hard to carry himself with his usual poise. Such was the price of living on borrowed time.
“Charles? Are you ready for us?” came a voice from outside his office door.
Xavier quickly composed himself and stashed his pills away in his pocket.
“Oh uh…of course, Hank. I didn’t expect you and Ororo to be done with class this early,” he said between calming breaths.
“You did say it was urgent. We can afford to end class a little early if we have to,” said Ororo as she followed Hank into the office.
Xavier cursed his choice of words. He would have liked a few extra minutes to make sure he didn’t look like a heavily medicated cripple dying of cancer. He still managed to maintain his professional demeanor, ignoring any lingering discomfort as his two trusted associates approached his desk.
“So what is this about? You said something about a disturbing message coming in from Chicago,” said Hank.
“Yes, I imagine you’ve been following the protests that have broken out there recently,” said Xavier.
“It’s pretty hard not to. Bad news seems to be the only news coming in lately,” said Ororo distantly.
“It’s about to get worse, I’m afraid. Cyclops, Iceman, and Wolverine made a startling discovering during their mission. It seems the Friends of Humanity have returned to the human/mutant conflict.”
The two X-men shuttered at this news. Ororo seemed hardly surprised while Beast’s eyes widened at this revelation.
“The Friends of Humanity? That’s impossible! They were outlawed after the attack they orchestrated in District X!” exclaimed Hank.
“I was under that assumption as well, old friend. Then I called General Grimshaw and he confirmed what Cyclops and the others uncovered.”
“Are we supposed to be surprised in the slightest?” said Ororo dryly.
Hank looked at Ororo strangely. Usually, she wasn’t this cynical. Many suspected it was because of her declining relationship with Logan. Whatever it was, she refused to talk about it and Professor Xavier did not have the energy to call her out on it.
“The General has had his share of obstacles since he started building up the Mutant Security Agency. Since the Cambrian affair, President Kelly went so far as to mobilize the Army Corps of Engineers to help speed up the organization’s deployment. They’ve began construction projects in all fifty states, setting up hubs for the MSA and mobilizing newly hired officers to act as agents. As he began linking each one of these hubs, he picked up on some new activity from anti-mutant groups.”
“But the Friends of Humanity wasn’t one of them, was it? Otherwise we would have found out beforehand,” Hank surmised.
“You are correct, Hank. But something changed,” Xavier stated, “Shortly after the Cambrian incident was resolved, all these anti-mutant groups were mobilizing with greater efficiency.”
“How do you know that just isn’t a result of the growing anti-mutant sentiment?” asked Ororo.
“To mobilize that efficiency takes leadership and resources,” Xavier explained, “The General says the NSA has also picked up some chatter regarding a new influx of resources to these groups. I suspect someone very well-connected is pulling the strings.”
“How can that be? Graydon Creed is in jail! He didn’t escape, did he?” said Hank.
“I checked on that. He’s still incarcerated, but was recently moved to a medium level detention center.”
“Why on Earth would they do that after what he did in District X?” exclaimed Ororo.
“I was told it was for good behavior, but I suspect the anti-mutant sentiment gave him some sympathy from the judge processing his case.”
It seemed as typical as it was disheartening. Graydon Creed was a dangerous man and the authorities were giving him a break. Even if mutants had been getting a lot of bad press lately, it could only be made worse by Graydon Creed’s influence.
“Could this have anything to do with the recent mobilization?” suggested Beast.
“It might, but I don’t think so,” said Professor Xavier, “General Grimshaw suspects that other forces may be at work and I agree with him.”
“Is he going to help us figure out what those forces are or is this something we’ll have to investigate on our own?” asked Ororo.
“Like I said, the General is currently overwhelmed with the responsibilities of building the MSA. Bear in mind he still has Toad in custody and he’s been trying to process him through the system.”
“Yet he still can’t find time to investigate a group that has no problem supporting genocide?” Ororo retorted.
“He probably figures the situation is fragile enough. President Kelly’s approval has been shaky in wake of his actions on Genosha. Many wanted more aggressive measures taken against Magneto. Some are still calling for him to be put on trial for war crimes again.”
“After how that turned out the first time I don’t blame him for avoiding that path again,” said Beast.
“It’s not out of the goodness of his heart, I assure you. So long as the Cambrian is being written off as an accident, he knows they have no solid case. Seeing as how many remain suspicious of this explanation, it would be wise not to push the issue.”
Hank agreed with Xavier’s assessment while Ororo remained skeptical. It may just be bitterness stemming from her relationship issues, but it sounded like General Grimshaw was just making excuses. The Friends of Humanity had the potential to be as big a threat as Magneto. For him and the MSA to leave it to the fates was a serious shortcoming.
“So what are we going to do about this, Charles? I’m assuming the burden falls on our shoulders,” said Ororo.
“I’ve already started making plans. Now that Wanda has control over Genosha, the X-men can dedicate more of their resources to threats of this nature. General Grimshaw has already forwarded the government records he has on the organization and Warren has also been helping by providing the data he compiled while Creed was working with his company.”
“I can also enlist Tessa’s help. If the Friends of Humanity are getting this organized, they should leave a few electronic trails for us to follow,” offered Hank.
“Her help is always appreciated,” replied Xavier, “I’ve also calibrated Cerebrum to do a number of searches on known Friends of Humanity associates. With any luck we should be able to…”
The Professor’s words unexpectedly trailed off. In a seemingly immediate shift he looked tired. It was as if something just sucked the life right out of him.
“Charles?” said Hank curiously.
“Are you still with us?” asked Ororo, waving her hand in front of him.
His gaze grew increasingly distant. One moment he was completely lucid and the next he looked as though he was about to faint. Hank and Ororo looked at him strangely, showing increasing concern. They both moved in closer to observe what was happening. Hank tried to shake him from his daze.
“What’s wrong with him?” asked Ororo anxiously.
“I…I don’t know. I think he’s having a seizure!” said Hank urgently.
“But I thought he was done recovering from the Cambrian attack!”
“I don’t think this is a product of the Cambrian,” he said ominously.
While Hank and Ororo tried to snap him from his daze, the mind of Charles Xavier was paralyzed from within. A strange feeling overtook his mind. It was a feeling that robbed him of any control over his body. Panic quickly set in as he feared the worst.
‘No…this can’t be happening! Not now! The cancer…it shouldn’t be doing this! It…’
His chaotic thoughts were suddenly cut off when something else hit him. This time it was even stronger. As if it weren’t bad enough, this didn’t feel anything like cancer.
“AUUUUGGGHHHHH!” cried the Professor as he clutched his head and fell out of his chair.
“Charles!” exclaimed Hank as he caught him before he hit the floor.
Hank’s medical training kicked in as he and Ororo surrounded the Professor. His frail body contorted as if something was twisting it from within. Then he opened his eyes in something even stranger happened.
“The Shi’ar bloodline…has been found.”
When he spoke, it sounded as though it came from a computer rather than a human being. It took Hank and Ororo aback. As soon as he said these mysterious words, the Professor passed out. He no longer appeared to be in pain, but his eyes kept glowing. This certainly didn’t look like a regular manifestation of his powers. When something was powerful enough to affect the world’s most powerful telepath, it was usually a bad sign.
“The Shi’ar? Is he talking about…” began Ororo.
“I suspect this is something worse,” said Hank grimly, “That encounter he had with the alien ship…it spoke of some mysterious bloodline.”
“But I thought we took care of that alien! We haven’t heard a word about these Shi’ar ever since!”
“Something must have changed,” reasoned Hank, “Whatever it is, I fear our predicament with the Friends of Humanity just became a secondary concern.”
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!”
Pietro Maximoff’s enraged voice filled the mine as he, Lance, and Pyro tried to escape the path of the alien ship. Any hope that they could salvage this mission and bury this space craft had gone out the window. This advanced technology was active and about to do something they had little hope of understanding.
“I uh…I hate to use Star Trek as a reference, mates. But I think it’s taking off,” said Pyro as he shielded his eyes from the pulsating light.
“Taking off?!” exclaimed Lance, “We’re three thousand feet underground! How the hell is it going to…”
Lance’s question was answered before he even finished asking it. The alien craft was now hovering in midair. The flashing red lights shifted to bright blue. The loud vibrations caused the rock literally flake off the chamber walls as the craft hovered. Then in a dazzling display of power, the entire craft shot up through the top of the chamber as if it were fired from a cannon. It rode a bright blue laser beam that tore right through the roof of the dome, allowing it to ascend through thick layers of rock in mere seconds.
The three Brotherhood members were forces to take cover. They had to completely cover their eyes and their bodies as the bright blue light inundated the entire mine. It was over after about five seconds, but it might as well have been five lifetimes. When all was said and done, a dense layer of dust consumed the mine. Lance, Pyro, and Pietro dreaded opening their eyes. There was no telling what this ship had just done.
“Please tell me it’s over!” groaned Pyro.
“You’re the one that set it off! You figure it out!” barked Pietro, whose eyes were still recovering.
Pyro groaned as he rose up, emerging from the mine shaft and looking back towards the chamber. It was hard to see through the dust, but there was a light in the distance so something was obviously ahead of him. A lot of rock had fallen off from the walls and ceilings so the terrain was much rougher. By the time he got to the chamber, the dust had cleared. What he saw didn’t necessarily take him by surprise. It just confirmed what he already suspected.
“Well I’ll be a kangaroo’s gay uncle,” he gasped, “Guys! Come over and check this out!”
“How bad is it?” groaned Lance.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you, mate.”
Lance and Pietro quickly caught up, joining Pyro on the ledge where he was standing. When they looked into the chamber, they were just as deadpanned.
Where there had once been an alien ship, there was now just a pile of rocks. But that wasn’t what got their attention. In the ceiling where the roof of the dome once resided, there was now a gaping hole. It was perfectly circular, forming a perfectly forged tunnel that went straight up through the rock and towards the surface. It was so perfectly cut that it allowed light from the afternoon sun to shine into the mine. It explained the light source and it also explained what happened to the ship.
“Okay, who wants to explain this one?” said Lance.
“Not it!” said Pyro quickly.
“Who says we have to explain it? It’s gone now. Genosha has officially lost the one thing that made it the most important island on the planet!”
“Isn’t that a good thing? Our mission was to make it so the humans wouldn’t get their hands on it.”
Pietro looked over towards Lance and scolded him angrily.
“Look at the bigger picture, Alvers! Now we can’t use it either! That alien technology was our trump card! Why do you think my father went through so much trouble to study it?!”
“I thought he gave up on it! The damn thing went silent!” retorted Lance.
“Well it sure didn’t stay that way, did it?”
Lance and Pyro fell silent. For once, Pietro’s outrage was justified. This space craft had been the driving force behind Genosha’s bloody history. They saw firsthand the kind of technology Magneto was able to extract. It was this technology that helped Genosha become the technological powerhouse that made it a mutant haven. Now it was gone.
“That isn’t even the worst part,” said Pietro ominously as he looked up through the chasm.
“Oh really, Mr. Big Picture?” said Pyro dryly, “Then what is the worst part?”
Pietro Maximoff clenched his fists as he remained fixated on the heavens. A sick feeling was already forming in the pit of his stomach and it wasn’t going away anytime soon.
“For all we know, that space craft is on its way back to whoever or whatever sent it. I don’t know about you guys, but I wouldn’t want a whole fleet of those things heading our way. Something tells me they won’t come in peace.”
Deep Space – Shi’ar Boarders
The vast emptiness of the cosmos was deceiving at times. Any race advanced enough to traverse the great distances understood that the vastness of the universe was often filled with a whole lot of nothing. The minuscule points of interests in this infinite expanse were easy to overlook. Between trillions of stars and trillions of planets, even sophisticated space-faring civilizations could take for granted how important one tiny point in the universe could be.
A lone ship known as the Starjammer would certainly count as one of those tiny things that would be easy to miss. That was actually a good thing in this part of the galaxy. The Starjammer and many of the beings inside it had the misfortune of being on the bad side of the Shi’ar imperial leadership. This was quite possibly the worst kind of misfortune to have because the wrath of the Shi’ar was something that not even the vastness of space could protect against.
For this reason, the Starjammers were outlaws. They were regarded as thugs, thieves, and dissidents by the Shi’ar imperial order. To those who lived their lives in fear, they were much more. They were freedom fighters. In fact, they were probably more free than any Shi’ar citizen. Led by the charismatic human known as Corsair, they stood in defiance of galactic tyranny. So when something came along that got the attention of the Shi’ar Imperial leadership, it got the Starjammer’s attention as well.
“Corsair! Come take a look at this!” exclaimed Hepzibath, a white skinned and lightly furred female of the Mephitisoid race.
“What is it? If it’s another imperial scout cruiser, go ahead and start shooting,” said Corsair, who was pacing restlessly along the bridge of the ship.
“Since when would I bother you with something so common?” she retorted, “Waldo just picked up something on the long range quantum scanners. Some mysterious signal just appeared out of nowhere and self-destructed in a few nanoseconds.”
“Mysterious, but hardly interesting,” he scoffed, “How do know it’s not some stray signal that got jacked by smugglers?”
“I know because of where it originated. It’s a little speck in the universe you’re very familiar with…a planet known locally as Earth.”
Corsair grimaced. It was the one planet he resented more than the Shi’ar home world. It was the planet where so much pain and hardship plagued him. Since he left all those years ago, his hair had turned almost completely gray, he lost his right eye, and he broke enough bones to be his own medical marvel. He shut out many of the memories he had of his home planet. He swore he would never return. Fate must have it out for him because it kept him from keeping so many promises.
“How much attention is D’ken giving this signal?” asked Corsair.
“Sikorsky started monitoring some imperial chatter. It looks like the Imperial fleet has already dispatched an attack cruiser to investigate,” replied Hepzibath.
“They must know something we don’t and you know how much I hate it when D’ken is smarter than me.”
“Does this mean what I think it means?”
“Do you even have to ask?” he said in a dark tone, “Tell Ch’od to set a course for Earth. Go to max warp! We need to beat D’ken to the punch!”
“I was hoping you would say that,” she smiled, “I knew your bitterness towards your home planet could never match your hatred for D’ken.”
“You know me well,” he sighed, “Also, tell Waldo to decipher that signal as well. I want to know what D’ken finds so interesting about Earth and why he’s willing to shell out major firepower to get it. We have a chance to annoy the hell out of him so let’s not waste it!”
The order was given and Hepzibath complied. She sent the message to Ch’od, a Saurid born pilot with a rap sheet against the Shi’ar that was second only to Corsair’s. Within minutes, the ship was on a new course. It would be a long trip back to Earth, giving them plenty of time to figure out this signal. Even his war ravaged face showed some rare emotion. This was more than just an investigation to him. This was another chance to avenge the many horrors D’ken had inflicted on him and so many others throughout the galaxy.
Next Issue: Starcrossed
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