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Volume 4 -- Issue 91 -- Starcrossed Part 1

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Starcrossed Part 1
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Professor Charles Xavier sees mutants as key to humanity’s future. He and his X-men fight to make that future brighter in a world that hates and fears them. He’s worked to further this dreams and overcome his many physical limitations as a paraplegic cancer survivor. Those limitations, however, are finally catching up with him.

In a struggle against the Cambrian, Professor Charles Xavier pushed his limits too hard. This comes on the heels of news that his cancer had returned and was slowly killing him. He has very little time left and it has already affected his powers. This prompted Charles Xavier take powerful and potentially dangerous medications that will allow him to function. His presence is needed as the world from the effects of the Cambrian and the recent discovery that the Friends of Humanity have returned.

On top of all this hardship, Professor Xavier was struck with yet another blow. The Brotherhood of Mutants unwittingly reactivated a crashed Shi’ar space ship that had been buried under Genosha. In doing so they unleashed a powerful message that Charles Xavier received loud and clear. The contents of this message speak of many conflicts, some of which have their roots in some very expected times and places.


Utah Desert – 30 Years Ago

15-year-old Lilandra Neramani hadn’t been surprised by much in her brief life. Growing up within the wealth and comfort of the Aerie Global family business, she was allowed to experience more than most girls her age could ever dream of. She had traveled around the world with her mother and various relatives. She had seen every continent, including Antarctica. So when her mother dragged her out to a barren patch of mountainous desert in Utah, she was understandably confused.

“Mother, are you ever going to tell me why you pulled me out of school and dragged me to this god-forsaken patch of nowhere? I’m all for seeing the world, but I don’t think there’s much to see in the deserts of Utah,” said an increasingly impatient Lilandra.

“Just a bit further, princess,” her mother assured her, “And please stop mothering me. This is a difficult time for me and I don’t need that attitude of yours making it harder!”

“All the more reason to explain,” Lilandra reasoned, “You’ve been giving me the million-mile stare ever since I told you I was hearing peoples’ thoughts. Couldn’t we just talk about this at a McDonald’s instead of making an arduous trip like this?”

“No Lilandra…we can’t. Not for this.”

Her voice sounded strained. It was as if she was on the verge of crying. Lilandra shifted from her annoyed demeanor and grew more concerned. Her mother was one of the most intelligent, poised human beings on the planet. That was part of why she led a company like Chandilar Enterprise. She always looked up to her. She followed her example, going to all the best private schools and learning everything there was to know about this rapidly changing world. Everything seemed to be laid out for her. Then last week happened.

She was in school doing research for one of her teachers. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until she started hearing these voices in her head. At first she thought it was just typical teenage anxiety. Then she realized that these voices were actually thoughts and they weren’t the kind any teenage girl wanted to pick up. She heard her teacher musing about how he had been having an affair with one of the other teachers’ wives and when she called him out, it turned into a scene that nearly got her suspended. Lilandra tried to explain everything to her mother. But for some reason, she didn’t look surprised. It was as if she anticipated this.

‘Something is seriously wrong with the world when a girl's own mother scares the crap out of her own daughter like this. What are you hiding mom? Am I in trouble? Are these new powers of mine going to hurt our family?’

Lilandra kept pondering this as the two of them rode along the rugged desert terrain in a special van. Looking up ahead, there was nothing but more desert. She couldn’t imagine what was out there that would get her mother this worked up.

After about five more minutes of driving, they stopped at the end of a road just near a cliff. Lilandra watched as her mother parked the van, turned off the engine, and just sat in the driver’s seat for a moment. She was taking deep breaths as if to prepare herself. When she seemed ready, she opened the door to the van and walked out towards the clearing.

Lilandra was still confused. At first she watched her mother from afar. She seemed lost in her own thoughts. She eventually got out and joined her.

“Enough of this, mom. Talk to me,” said Lilandra in a more sincere tone, “Why did you take me here? What is this place?”

“This place…is special,” the older woman said distantly, “I always knew I would return here eventually. I promised long ago that I would take you here when the time was right.”

“Promised who?” Lilandra asked.

“Your father,” she replied, “He asked me to make many promises. This is just one of them.”

Lilandra fell silent. The topic of her father was difficult to say the least. He died when she was only seven-years-old and for much of that time he kept himself busy with the family company. She didn’t remember much about him. She only knew what her mother told her.

Her father, Kenneth Neramani, was the founder of Chandilar Enterprise as a young man during the dark days of World War II. There were stories about his brilliance that were worthy of mythology. It was said he had technology and know-how that was decades if not centuries ahead of its time when he founded the company. He also brought with him a strict code of ethics. The company was always to remain private, never outsourcing any knowledge to governments or military. These were the same ethics her mother taught her, but that was all she ever taught her when it came to her father’s history. That was about to change.

“This is where we first met,” her mother revealed with a slight smile, “It was so many years ago and yet I still get goose bumps just thinking about it.”

“That’s sweet, mom. But how do two people meet out in the middle of nowhere like this?” said Lilandra skeptically.

“Let’s just say we were adventurous,” she replied, her smile growing even more, “The details aren’t important. I was an outcast from a Mormon community so I spent a lot of time in the middle of nowhere. I liked my solitude. I was happy to find out that your father liked his privacy too.”

“Is that why you never talk about him? Even his own daughter isn’t privy to his secrets?”

“It’s not about secrets, Lilandra. It’s much more complicated than that.”

“Then what is it? Please stop beating around the bush! There’s something about him you want to tell me. So tell me already! I need to know!”

Lilandra tried to hold back her impatience. She was usually so calm and collected, but this was an issue that had been affecting her since the day she was born. Her mother was practically trembling as she turned to face her. Lilandra kept her poise as she placed both hands on her shoulders and looked at her with that loving sincerity that always struck her.

“You’re special, Lilandra. You’re special in ways that defy description,” she said in a deep tone.

“I get that, mother. I can read thoughts. I’m a mutant. That’s shouldn’t require us to drive out here to talk about it.”

“I wasn’t just referring to your powers,” her mother said warmly, “You come from a very special breed, my daughter. You don’t just have the gift of telepathy. You have beauty, strength, and brilliance well beyond those of similar talents. Your father would be so proud.”

“I guess we’ll never know. Is that why we’re here?”

“No Lilandra…we’re here because you deserve to know that you’re not the only one who was this special. Your father…he was also special. He had so much of what you have in more ways than one.”

Lilandra fell silent. Suddenly, things were starting to make a little sense. She was smart enough to connect to the dots and some of those legends about her father took on a whole new meaning.

“You mean…” she began.

“Yes…your father had these powers too. His brilliant mind had more than just knowledge going for it,” her mother smiled, “He told me he believed that his legacy would be passed on in you one day. I’m glad to see how right he was.”

“So all those stories about my father’s brilliant mind,” Lilandra mused, “They weren’t entirely exaggerated.”

“Heavens no,” she laughed, “In fact, some were quite understated. He was such a brilliant man. He had so many visions for the future. I wish I could tell you every one of them, but this is not the time. You’re still young and you’ve much more to experience.”

“Are you kidding? If my father was a mutant, I want to know everything!” said Lilandra with newfound excitement.

“You will, my daughter. I promise you will,” she assured her, “But for now, this is all I can tell you. The legacy your father left lives on within you. These powers you have are just part of it. That’s why we’re here. I want you to see this place because one day you’ll come back to it. When you do, everything will make sense.”

“But when? How long am I going to have to wait?” asked Lilandra with disappointed eyes.

“As long as it takes,” she told her, “Times are changing drastically. Your father understood that. Our family is part of something that is bigger than this world…in more ways than one. And when the time is right, you’ll be part of it too.”


Aerie Global Medical Center – Present Time

“Lilandra…my precious little princess,” said the sickly voice of a dying woman.

“Please don’t speak, mother,” said a tearful Lilandra Neramani, “You’re weak. The doctors said to…”

“I stopped listening to doctors long ago, Lilandra. What makes you think I’ll listen to them now?”

Lilandra Neramani shook her head amidst her tears and sorrow. In the weeks following the Cambrian affair, she had been tending to her mother. As a woman who lived well beyond her years, the ravages of time were finally catching up to her. She was not long for this world and she knew it.

It all happened so fast. A few weeks ago her mother was carrying along just fine for someone her age. She was technically retired, but still played an active role in Chandilar Enterprise. She just couldn’t pull herself away from her work. It all came crashing down when she suffered stroke during the Cambrian. It was so severe that it landed her in a coma. The top tier doctors from Chandilar’s medical division were able to revive her. As soon as she was able, she made the phone call that prompted Lilandra to stand by her bedside.

The prognosis was grim. Her mother’s heart and lungs were on the verge of shutting down. Lilandra urged the doctors to use the best medical technology they had at their disposal to treat her. Days seemed like lifetimes as they carried out procedure after procedure. It put more strain on the old woman’s body. At this point, they were able to treat her to a point where she could stay awake and communicate. However, what she had to say both shocked and devastated her daughter.

“I don’t want them to save me again. I…I only need to stay alive long enough to speak to my daughter,” said the dying woman.

“Don’t say that! I…I’m not ready to let you go!” cried Lilandra, “There’s so much we haven’t done! So much you haven’t told me!”

“I know. And I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have waited so long, but you’ve grown into such a wonderful woman. I didn’t want you to be burdened by the truth.”

“The only burden I’ve ever had to bear is knowing you still keep secrets from me!”

“There’s a reason for that, Lilandra. Now that I’m ready to leave this world, you’re ready to carry on our family legacy.”

Lilandra was still confused. Tears kept streaming from her eyes as she watched her mother reach under her hospital gown and pull a necklace out for her to see. It was a brilliant yet simple piece of jewelry. It had a solid gold chain that connected with a circular gold symbol containing a pattern of rubies and diamonds. With frail hands, she unhooked it from her neck and presented it to her daughter.

“Here…I’ve been waiting to give you this for many years,” she said softly.

“Your necklace? Mom, this is the last gift my father ever gave you. I can’t take it!” said Lilandra.

“You aren’t taking it. I’m giving it to you. This necklace…contains all the answers. Take it to the desert in Utah. Go alone. Everything I could never tell you will be revealed.”

“Why can’t you tell me now?! You’re thoughts…” Lilandra began.

That’s when she realized something. As soon as her mother placed the necklace in her hands, she felt her mind open up. It was as if some mental blocks had been removed, but it wasn’t like the mental blocks that were constructed by a disciplined mind. This was the kind that was artificially imposed. It reminded her of the same blocks she encountered when her research division tested technology similar to that in Magneto’s helmet. When she looked down at the necklace, she made a startling conclusion.

“The necklace…it was shielding your mind!” Lilandra exclaimed.

“Your father tried to teach me how to make mental blocks. Guess I was a slow learner,” said her mother with a weak smile.

“So this is how you kept your mind from leaking the truth…from me and from every telepath in the world.”

“I had to keep my promise. Now that I’m old and my mind is almost gone, I can leave your father’s secrets in your capable hands.”

The old woman’s breathing became more labored. The machines monitoring her vitals started to flash erratically, indicating that life was slipping away from her. Lilandra sensed her mind fade along with all the secrets she had been keeping.

“Mother…mother don’t!” she cried out.

“Shh…it’s okay, princess. My time has come. Yours…is just beginning. I love you, Lilandra. I’m so proud of you and everything you’ve accomplished. I know that once you learn the truth…you’ll preserve and protect…our legacy.”

“Mother…” sobbed Lilandra.

Those were her last words. With her job as a loving mother finished, the old woman slipped away into the cold embrace of death. Lilandra held her hand the whole time, watching as the woman who gave her life closed her eyes for the last time.

It was a difficult moment. Lilandra Neramani held her head low and let her tears fall freely. She didn’t bother calling any of the doctors or nurses when her mother flat-lined. This is what she wanted. She was ready to move on, leaving her to confront these burdens.

‘Goodbye mother. I love you so much. I’ll make you proud. I promise.”

Lilandra wiped the tears from her eyes and gave her lifeless mother one last kiss. All that was left was the necklace her mother gave her with her dying breath. Her mother said it was the key. If it had the power to shield her mind all these years, then it might have other powers that could yield her some answers. The time had come to confront the truth. The answers were literally within her grasp. Her fate awaited her in the Utah desert where her family legacy began.


Xavier Institute – Outside Infirmary

Tension had gripped the X-men. In the midst of the Cambrian aftermath along with Rogue and Kurt’s departure, yet another hardship had struck them. Professor Charles Xavier was once again in the infirmary. It was only mere hours ago that he was perfectly fine, but then he was struck with a paralyzing seizure and now he was now lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

When the team gathered in the lower levels, the rampant speculation began. Hank and Jean were inside right now tending to the Professor while Scott, Bobby, Ororo, Logan, Kitty, Piotr, Remy, and Betsy waited outside for an update. The wait was made all the more agonizing by a startling revelation from Betsy.

“No way! I refuse to believe it!” said Scott Summers adamantly.

“You have to be mistaken, Betsy! Can’t telepathy short circuit or something? Like you sense something that really isn’t there?” said Bobby in a desperate tone.

“I’m not mistaken. I know what I heard and this confirms it,” she said sadly, “Professor Xavier is dying. He’s dying and he’s been keeping it from us for God knows how long.”

“That’s bullshit! Why the hell would Chuck keep a secret like that? He’s supposed to be the most powerful mind in the world! This is just too damn stupid!” yelled Logan.

“But it is also understandable, yes?” said Piotr, “If something was truly wrong why burden those you care about most? He may have just wanted to protect you.”

“That’s not how Charles Xavier does things!” argued Scott, “This isn’t some little white lie we’re talking about!”

“We don’t know if that’s true yet, Scott,” said Ororo as she tried to calm the X-leader down.

“Fine then! Don’t take my word for it!” scoffed Betsy, “Why trust the new girl who doesn’t believe the Professor is above lying?”

“Cherè, it ain’t like that,” said Remy, offering his girlfriend a calming gesture.

“I know you believe me, luv. It’s easy to believe the girl you’re sleeping with. But I get the feeling that no one here takes me seriously because I don’t know the man as well as the rest of you.”

“That doesn’t mean that you’re right,” said Scott bitterly.

“That doesn’t mean that I’m wrong either,” retorted Betsy.

The air was getting pretty hostile. Betsy wasn’t winning herself any friend by making this accusation. Even if it was true, nobody wanted to believe it. This was Charles Xavier, the man who taught them how to be X-men. The mere thought of him dying was hard enough. The thought of him keeping secrets from them was even harder.

“What if it’s really as bad as Betsy says it is?” wondered Kitty in a saddened tone, “What if the Professor is dying?”

“We’ve fought Magneto, the Phoenix, and a giant blob of shit, Pryde. We all should know by now how useless what ifs are,” quipped Logan, “If we don’t, then we got much bigger problems.”

“I don’t want to think about it either, Logan. Nobody in their right mind wants to think about death. Even I can’t make a joke about that,” said Bobby, “But still…”

Bobby’s words trailed off. Even he found it too hard to articulate. Words could only go so far when dealing with something like this. The very heart of the X-men, which had always resided in Charles Xavier, was now in jeopardy. An ominous mood settled over the team, but Scott didn’t let it settle for long.

“No…we can’t assume the worst,” said the X-leader strongly, “For all we know, what Betsy’s sensed is something completely different!”

“The leader of the X-men not assuming the worst? Sounds like you be deluding yourself, Summers,” replied Remy.

“So says the guy who just goes along with anything that has breasts and a nice ass,” said Logan.

“If that’s a compliment, it’s not a very good one,” commented Betsy.

“You think you in a position to know any better, Logan?” said Remy defensively.

The two men were getting confrontational. Piotr had to step between them to keep it from getting too heated.

“I don’t think any of us are in such a position, comrades. So let’s not fight each other over it, yes?” he told them.

“He’s right. We should wait until we get the final word from Hank and Jean,” said Ororo, “Then we can stop speculating.”

“Yeah…then the real worrying can begin,” muttered Kitty.

The team took a moment to settle. There was still plenty of tension in the air and suspicion over who was right. They could have fought endlessly about it. Fortunately, the doors to the infirmary finally opened and Hank stepped out with what they all hoped were answers.

“What’s the story, Hank?” asked Scott intently.

“As if your face didn’t paint a rosy enough picture,” said Remy.

Hank McCoy sighed and took a deep breath before speaking.

“I’m afraid our mentor’s condition is more complex than we anticipated,” he said, “I honestly can’t give a prognosis with the current information we have.”

“So Betsy was wrong? He isn’t dying?” said Bobby.

“I would say she was half right. His health has taken a significant turn for the worse. The latest round of tests confirmed her suspicions. Xavier’s cancer has returned.”

“No...” gasped Scott along with the rest of the team.

“And if that weren’t distressing enough, it appears he kept this knowledge from us,” Beast added.

A series of gasps fell over the X-men as they took in this grim news. That revelation hit everyone in a way few things could. It was hard enough to hear that Professor Xavier was dying. It was even harder to hear that he had been keeping it from them.

“Heavens…” said Ororo in disbelief.

“Told you,” said Betsy in a low tone, “And for the record…I wish I screwed this up.”

“We all do, Betsy,” said Bobby in a low tone.

Everyone was speechless for a moment. The notion that Charles Xavier, the visionary of the X-men, was dying was difficult to process. At a time when the world was in a very fragile state due to the Cambrian, the man most equipped to save it was dying.

“How bad is it?” said Logan stoically.

“Even my vocabulary is at a loss,” said Hank, “I can’t say I blame him for keeping this from us. Based on our latest test results, he’s in pretty bad shape and has been for quite some time.”

“So how in the hell has he functioned all this time?! I ain’t no doctor, but even Remy knows cancer ain’t something you can hide,” said Remy.

“That’s a mystery that we’re still working on. However, there’s something even stranger at work in addition to the cancer,” Hank went on, “In fact, I’ve come to the rather perplexing conclusion that this seizure had nothing to do with his cancer whatsoever.”

“Wait…so the Professor has both cancer and some other disease that’s giving him seizures?!” said Kitty in a bewildered tone.

“Not quite, Kitty. This isn’t a disease we’re talking about. It’s something much more exotic.”

More confusion set in. This was going from bad to worse with each revelation. The Professor was clearly very sick. For him to be dealing with anything on top of cancer was nothing short of baffling. It was a testament to Charles Xavier’s tenacity as well as his stubbornness.

“Perhaps my English is still developing, but what do you mean by exotic?” said Piotr.

“It has to do with the nature of the seizure. They were telepathic and quite strong I might add,” said Hank as he looked over some test readings.

“If they were telepathic, then why didn’t I sense it too? Or Jean for that matter?” asked Betsy.

“That’s because his mind was specifically tailored for him,” Beast elaborated, “As a point of reference, I’m sure you all recall the incident on Genosha when we discovered the alien craft of the Shi’ar.”

“How could I forget? We went to help Magneto and ended up getting torched by an alien,” muttered Logan.

“Wait, back up…an alien ship?!” said a baffled looking Betsy.

“And an alien?” said Piotr, who seemed equally confused.

“We’ll fill you in on the details later,” said Scott, “All you need to know is yes, we met aliens. And no, they didn’t come in peace.”

As if learning about the Professor’s condition wasn’t hard enough, some of the newer members to the team weren’t up to speed on some of their older missions. That included little revelations like aliens. Piotr and Betsy exchanged glances, doing their best not to look too overwhelmed. It seemed the X-men were involved in conflicts that went beyond mutant affairs.

“Well in addition to that messy confrontation, Charles psychically interacted with the ship. It gave him visions of a massive stellar war involving an alien empire called the Shi’ar. The concern was that this war would find its way to Earth.”

“But the ship went silent,” said Scott, finishing the story for those who didn’t know, “There hasn’t been a word about these aliens ever since.”

“That was until a few hours ago,” said Hank ominously, “While we were tending to Charles, there was a strange anomaly detected by Cerebrum. Apparently, an unidentified object shot out from Genosha and into space.”

“Let me guess…that object was the ship,” said Bobby.

“As if it could be anything else,” grumbled Logan.

“That certainly seems to be the case. It the process it unleashed a powerful signal that somehow reached Charles. Because of his condition, it overwhelmed him. Now he’s in a deep mental coma and so are any further answers. Jean is trying to rouse his mind as we speak.”

“What kind of progress is she making?” asked Ororo.

“Not the kind we would like,” sighed Hank.

It didn’t sound promising. Professor Xavier’s frail state was enduring quite a bit of strain, seizing into a coma and dying of cancer at the same time. Even though the team never questioned their mentor’s resolve, there was no denying his physical limitations. Many burdens were being placed on him at once. It was only a matter of time before it became too great to bear.

On top of all this was another alien threat. They had enough to deal with in terms of anti-mutant protesters, a mentally unstable Magneto, and a government looking for excuses to get tough on mutants. Now there were threats from an alien civilization that, if the Professor’s visions were any indication, were every bit as war-like as humans. For those like Piotr and Betsy who didn’t even know aliens existed beforehand, it was a lot to take in.

“Wow…so the X-men are in the business of fighting aliens as well as humans,” Betsy summarized, “I don’t remember that being part of any school curriculum.”

“These aliens you speak of…what do we know about them?” asked Piotr intently.

“Only that they’ve been here before and have probably known about our planet for thousands of years,” said Scott as he thought back to their first alien encounter on Genosha, “They weren’t out to probe cattle either. They were on a mission, but we didn’t get too many details thanks to Wolverine being a bit too trigger happy with his claws.”

“You’re welcome, by the way,” snarled Wolverine.

“But we did learn that their mission involved some sort of alien bloodline. Could that have anything to do with it?” asked Scott.

“At this point anything is possible. We just won’t know until Charles wakes up,” said Hank.

“So we’ll find out about the aliens along with the cancer,” said Kitty, “Sounds like a lot to discuss.”

“One step at a time, Kitty,” said Ororo, “Secrets aside, we must continue to support Charles. He needs us now more than ever.”

“We’ll need him too,” said Bobby, “We won’t be in a position to help anybody if he’s out of commission.”

“Have faith in him, Bobby,” Ororo replied amidst uncertain glances from the whole team, “Even if he’s been keeping secrets, Professor Xavier has always trusted us to be strong in the face of such treats. For a man fighting cancer and aliens, we cannot do anything less in return.”


Genosha Capital Building – Top Floor Office

“Explain it to me again, Miss Maximoff. This time ditch the subtext. You know how much I hate to beat around the bush.”

“I’m not being coy here, General! I’m telling you exactly what I know. That anomaly you detected came from a mine on the west side of the island. It was an old project of my father was forced to abandon so I sent my brother to check on it. Needless to say, he screwed something up.”

“Now you’re just dancing around the truth and doing a very bad job of it I might add. Not to be disrespectful, but your father was a much better liar. Probably a better poker player as well.”

Wanda Maximoff hid her frustration in a stoic glance. This was why she despised politics. She hoped she would never have to do it again after her father took over. Since his mental health was still questionable, she was the only one on the island who could handle this fragile incident.

It was an incident that Pietro, Lance, and John were supposed to prevent from happening. They were supposed to bury that alien ship so nobody could ever get to it again. Somehow, they found a way to make it an international crisis. As soon as that ship took off, it left a trail that nearly every country in the world with halfway decent space monitoring systems could pick up on. Since then Wanda was having to constantly reassure international leaders that it wasn’t another weapon of sorts. She tried to explain it away as some bizarre accident involving some of her father’s old equipment. It wasn’t the best cover story for an alien ship so it came as no surprise when General Grimshaw didn’t buy it.

“Allow me to share with you some of the facts from our end. Our people at NORAD detected this so called project the moment it took off. It shot out of the ground at speeds exceeding Mach 50. To give you an idea how fast that is, the space shuttle’s top speed is Mach 25. It was only on the radar screens for a few seconds, but in those few seconds it radiated with enough energy to power the entire Western Hemisphere for a month. Now are you going to sit here and tell me this is something we shouldn’t worry about?”

“You’re assuming I know more facts than you do, General. This was a product of my father…not the nation of Genosha. If I could have him explain it to you, I would.”

“Right…because he left too much of his sanity inside the Cambrian to tell the truth.”

“If you’re trying to get me to cooperate, insulting my father isn’t winning you any leeway!” said Wanda firmly.

“Seeing as how I was the one who contrived the cover story for the Cambrian, I think I’ve earned that right. Your father would have been executed by now had the other half of the truth come out. I may value peace more than vengeance, but I’m not above using leverage. So work with me here and make this easier on all of us.”

Wanda scolded General Grimshaw over the encrypted video screen. This man was difficult to deal with. He was no anti-mutant crusader like President Kelly. He wasn’t even a typical Western war-monger. He was reasonable to a point while having an extremely low tolerance for nonsense. If they were to avoid a major incident, she had to compromise.

“General, you have every major army in the world walking the streets of our country,” Wanda explained, “You’ve intruded on every aspect of our society, combing through all our records and taking all our technology for yourselves. I shouldn’t have to tell you how much tension that’s causing with our people.”

“You’re getting off topic, Miss Maximoff. I don’t much appreciate having my time wasted.”

“Then I’ll cut to the chase,” she said stoically, “If you really want the truth, don’t settle for my word. Go ahead and send your forces into the mines and investigate yourself. I’ll even provide you with the coordinates and a schematic that should make your job easier.”

“That’s generous of you, but it’s still dodging the question.”

“I’m sorry, General. But I have too much pride to just sit here and squeal on every little detail. I’m not your puppet even if I have to behave like one. You’re people are clearly smart enough to figure it out. For all I know, you’ve already picked up rumors. Don’t make me humiliate myself by just reinforcing what you already suspect.”

They were stern words from someone who wasn’t in a position to debate. General Grimshaw’s gaze hardened over the video screen. Wanda matched him every step of the way. She may have little regard for politics, but she understood the value of appearing strong and competent. That was the only thing men like General Grimshaw respected.

“I’ll relay your message to our Special Forces units. They’ll make their way towards the mines and conduct a covert investigation. This all, of course, is contingent on you providing me and my soldiers the information you promised.”

“Can I take that to mean we’re ready to compromise, General?” said Wanda.

“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, Miss Maximoff. Compromise requires sacrifice from both sides and neither of us is sacrificing nearly enough. You’re smart to assume that my people know more than our competence shows. For instance, I know the advanced technology your father has been toying with didn’t just come from his brilliant mind. I also know that this planet has encountered extraterrestrial beings in the recent and distant past.”

This revelation surprised Wanda, but not overwhelmingly so.

“So you know about that too? Should I assume you’ve known much longer than my father?”

“Assume what you want. The only detail you need to know is that very few people are aware of this other-worldly issue so to speak. And if it’s all the same to you, I would appreciate it if your people don’t blather it to the public.”

“That won’t be a problem, General. Very few people know about it on my end as well and I’ll see to it the truth doesn’t get out.”

“I appreciate that. I would appreciate it even more if I discovered you’re father wasn’t hiding a cache of alien hardware and using it against us, but we both know how unlikely that is.”

Wanda shifted uncomfortably. This incident with the alien craft was making Genosha and her father vulnerable in a great many ways. This man seemed to have the capacity to tip the balance in the human/mutant conflict, but unlike so many other humans she knew he chose not to exercise it.

“You’re lucky I’m used to disappointment. Whatever grim discoveries I find or don’t find, rest assured I won’t use them if it means sparking a human/mutant war. I will still use it as leverage though. That you can be sure of.”

“I would expect nothing less,” said Wanda bitterly.

“So long as your country cooperates, I’ll work to make this little transition as painless as possible. That still depends on what I find in that mine. Even if I don’t find anything, this little incident has a lot of people spooked. I have the power to smooth things over, but I also have the power to bring the hammer down. I encourage you to work with me so I don’t have to. Do we understand each other?”

“Of course, General,” she muttered, “It’s always comforting to know I’m on the same page with the man capable of destroying our country.”

“So long as you continue to work with me and not against me, that won’t be a problem.”

The General ended the private meeting with those ominous words. Wanda Maximoff was left to cope with these grim prospects. General Grimshaw was her best ally and worst enemy. If her father was the one carrying out these negotiations of theirs, they would have gone to war long ago. It certainly didn’t help that the General suspected alien involvement. She didn’t expect him to find much in the mine, but if he was as competent as he let on then he should uncover more than enough to confirm his suspicions.

Despite all her tense talk with General Grimshaw, they never got a chance to discuss another disturbing aspect of this incident. That alien ship activated itself for a reason. She remembered what her father told her about the vessel. It had some kind of sentience to it. This thing and the creature on board were part of an alien plot far bigger than anything they could contemplate. Now that the ship had been reactivated, there was no telling what sort of dangers it could bring.

‘Damn you Pietro for not burying that thing when you had the chance! I swear if we have to start dealing with hostile aliens on top of equally hostile humans, then I’ll end up just as crazy as my father!’


Unknown

“Charles…Charles, wake up.”

These gentle words echoed through the dazed mind of Charles Xavier as if they came from a ghost. He awoke atop a strange platform that resembled a hospital bed. However, he wasn’t in a hospital. He was somewhere far more exotic.

Stirring from his deep sleep, Xavier arose to find himself in a dream-like setting. Above him was the most brilliant celestial sight he had ever seen. Stars, nebulae, and meteors dotted the sky like a majestic display of the cosmos. He found it to be so peaceful. He didn’t even feel the strain of his ailments anymore. There was no cancer or psychic seizure. There was only a sense of serenity and peace.

“This place…could it be?”

The Professor slipped out of bed to confirm his suspicions. Sure enough, he discovered he had the use of his legs again. He could walk as well as he did before his cancer ravaged his body. It was an exhilarating feeling, but it also posed some distressing questions.

“It is! I’m on the astral plane. But why? The last thing I remember…”

His train of thought was quickly cut off by a brilliant display from the ground in front of him. Out of nowhere, a narrow path emerged. Looking around, Xavier realized he was in some strange desert-like landscape. There was sand as far as the eye could see, the only variations being patches of desert plants and jagged rocks. The path that emerged was like a bridge made out of some strange crystalline rock. It assembled itself before his very eyes, leading to what appeared to be the far horizon.

That’s when he heard it again. That same angelic voice that awoke him was calling out to him.

“Come to me, Charles. I need you.”

“Who are you? What is going on?” he demanded.

“Please Charles…I can’t do this without you.”

The tone of the voice shifted and Xavier recognized it as someone very important.

“Lilandra! Is that you?”

“Hurry Charles! Please don’t leave me!”

“Hold on, Lilandra! I’m on my way!”

Abandoning his many questions, Charles Xavier ran full speed down the crystal path. It had been a while since he used his legs in any respect. It all came rushing back to him at the sound of Lilandra’s dire cries. As he ran towards her, more details became clear to him.

The astral plane was a place he had been to many times before. Nearly every psychic had experienced it at some point. It was a place where the mind took on a pseudo-physical manifestation that often felt every bit as real as the real world. However, what was real often tended to be pretty obscured at times. The impossible was possible and an undisciplined mind could go mad trying to cope.

Going mad was the least of Xavier’s concerns. His sole focus was on Lilandra. He noticed as he ran along the path that the stars and the ground erupted in an elaborate light show. They formed images of the visions he had when he psychically interacted with the alien ship on Genosha. A dream-like display of vast interstellar wars, unparalleled destruction, and a raging fire that consumed all it touched played out in the most vivid of details. He could even hear the screams of countless alien souls crying out in agony as the fires of this conflict consumed them. They were deafening at times, but Lilandra’s voice still rang out clearest of them all.

‘They’re coming for me, Charles! They’re going to kill me! They’re going to kill us all!’

“I won’t let that happen, Lilandra! I promise!” he called out.

Through the graphic displays of war and death, he saw a glowing figure at the end of the crystal path. Charles ran with all the might the astral plane would grant him. He ran so fast the heavens above him began streaking by as if he was entering a tunnel. It became so brilliant that it was hard to see where it ended. By the time he finally reached her, the entire sky was glowing with white hot flames.

“Lilandra…” he said desperately.

“Charles…I’ve missed you.”

As Xavier drifted closer, he could make out Lilandra’s angelic figure. She was every bit as beautiful as he remembered. But something was different this time. She was wearing this strange gown-like outfit. It was very fancy, consisting of elaborate patterns of black on green silk that shimmered with the finest detail. It hugged her female frame perfectly, giving her an almost regal appearance. He also noticed she was wearing a crown of sorts. It was shaped like a helmet with feather-like extensions on each side. In the center were these intricate symbols, many of which Xavier recognized from the alien ship.

At first he hesitated when he approached her. For a moment, he stood in a mix of awe and confusion. As he drifted closer, he realized she had a solemn look on her face.

“It’s okay now. I’m here,” he said softly, “I’m so sorry I pushed you away.”

“Don’t be sorry, Charles. None of that matters anymore.”

“No…it does matter! I...I love you, Lilandra. I don’t want to lose you!”

“I don’t want to lose you either, but we may not have a choice. They’re coming for me. They’re going to tear us apart!”

“Who is coming for you?” asked Xavier desperately, “Tell me and I’ll stop them!”

Before Lilandra could answer, a dark shadow formed overhead. The once majestic night sky was replaced by something ominous and sinister. When Xavier looked up, he gasped in horror.

Hovering above them was a huge space ship. It vastly exceeded the size and grandeur of the one on Genosha. The ship was all black with lines of similar symbols dotting the edge. There were various weapons compartments with cannon-like armaments. It looked so menacing and all these armaments were aimed at Lilandra.

He continued to watch as the underside of the ship opened up and a powerful beam of light extended towards the ground below. From this light, a dark figure emerged. He was cloaked in a shadow-like veil and radiated with such malevolence that he blotted out the entire sky. Soon, the only light that remained was sinister glow coming from the figure’s eyes.

“The last Neramani…did you really think you could escape my wrath?”

The figures voice shook the entire astral plane. Lilandra trembled, having nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Xavier tried to shield her as the shadowy figure descended towards them. From his sinister form, a massive hand shot out and reached for Lilandra.

“Stay back, Lilandra! I’ll protect you!” said Xavier with burning determination.

“You’ll protect NOTHING!”

Charles watched in horror as the shadowy hand literally reached right through him and grabbed Lilandra in a cold grip of death. He tried to grab her, but to no avail. The hand was already pulling her back towards the darkness.

“Charles!”

“Lilandra!” he cried out.

“Please…you must…save…the bloodline!”

The figure showed no mercy and drew Lilandra into its dark form. Charles tried desperately to go after her. It was all for nothing. The ship above was lighting up and the figure was returning to the ship with Lilandra in hand. When he was finally aboard, every weapon on the ship pointed down directly at Charles and opened fire.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”


Xavier Institute – Infirmary

‘Hnn…Lilandra! I can save you! No…NOOO!’

Charles Xavier emerged from his nightmare with a sharp gasp. Hank McCoy and Jean Grey had been tending to him with Jean trying to contact his mind. When they saw him shoot up from his bed, they were noticeably shocked. Scott, Bobby, Ororo, Logan, Kitty, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr were present as well and every bit as surprised.

“Whoa there, Professor! That was supposed to ease you back into the world of the living! Not jolt you!” said Jean, who was still trying to slow her heart down.

“Charles? Are you…” began Hank as he attempted to check his vitals.

“The bloodline…someone has finally come to retrieve it!” said Xavier with cold sweat still dripping down his face, “We have to stop it!”

“Slow down, Chuck!” said Logan as he stepped forth with the rest of the team, “I know it’s normal to be delusional after a long nap, but you have some serious explaining to do!”

“Like why you failed to tell us that you were dying!” said Ororo strongly.

Xavier took a moment to catch his breath and take in his surroundings. He realized he was back in the institute infirmary, his frail body once again hooked up to various live-support machines. His X-men all stood around his bed, looking at him with a mix of contempt and concern. It didn’t take the world’s most powerful telepath to figure out why they were so upset.

“Sir…you’ve never given us a reason not to trust you. You’ve always been honest and straightforward,” said Scott in a tone that was stern yet sincere, “Then just a few hours ago Mr. McCoy came out and told us your cancer is back.”

“And it isn’t just back. It’s serious,” added Bobby, “Serious as in it isn’t the kind of thing orange juice and bed rest can cure.”

“More like serious in the kind that can’t be cured,” said Remy, “I think that be giving us all a right to be a little pissed.”

Their words were harsh even if they were full of sorrow. Professor Xavier was still in an urgent state of mind. Lilandra was his primary concern and he didn’t have time to explain himself or justify his lies. It forced him to come out with the cold hard truth.

“You’re right. You should be upset with me. I shouldn’t have hid the truth from you,” he said stoically.

“So it’s true,” said Kitty with tears in her eyes, “You really are dying?”

“I’ve been dying for a long time, Kitty. This cancer should have killed me years ago. It’s just finally getting around to finishing the job.”

“You almost sound okay with that, Professor!” said Scott with a strong outrage.

“That is just wrong, Professor,” said Piotr, “Don’t you want to live?”

“Of course I want to live! I’ve been trying to extract every ounce of life from this frail body of mine for years!” said Xavier strongly, “It’s only now that I’ve come to accept how finite that life truly is.”

“If you’re accepting it, then you’re taking the easy way out,” scoffed Betsy.

“It is beyond my control, X-men. That is why I kept it from you. If you were all too focused on my impending death, then how would we be able to carry on our fight? The world needs my dream. I don’t want it to die with me…which is why I must ask you look past it for a moment and help me with a grave threat!”

“Professor, you can’t honestly expect us to just carry on while you’re suffering like this!” said Jean with tears in her eyes.

“You have to. Lilandra and the lives of so many others depend on it!”

Professor Xavier had asked some pretty unreasonable feats of the X-men over the years. They had to fight giant robots, a cosmic entity, and a 500 million year old mountain of living sludge. That was all tame by comparison. This man was a mentor and a father figure to them all. They couldn’t just ignore the fact that he was dying.

However, he didn’t give them much time to decide. Despite his rapidly failing body, Xavier began removing the IVs and sensors from his body.

“Charles, be reasonable!” urged Hank, “I refuse to let you push yourself like this yet again!”

“You don’t have a choice, Hank. Neither do I for that matter,” said Xavier as he grabbed his shirt form a nearby table, “That seizure you think I had was no seizure. It was a psychic warning from the ship I encountered on Genosha. Seeing as how I was the one that first reached out to it, the craft’s sentience reached out to me in return.”

“So this isconnected with that anomaly on Genosha?” said Piotr.

“Doesn’t matter if it was connected to a Magneto’s balls! We’re not chasing aliens again when you’re dogging us with this cancer shit!” barked Logan as he tried to stop Xavier.

“We must if we’re to have any hope of saving the bloodline!” said Xavier as he fought off Logan’s grasp.

“Not the bloodline mess again,” groaned Ororo as she shook her head in frustration, “I thought we were done with this, Charles.”

“We were…until I realized the truth.”

The Professor continued to fight off Hank and Logan as he put his shirt on and pushed aside the machines that were monitoring his fragile health. He was in a state of mind where even cancer and death were secondary concerns.

“The bloodline the ship spoke of has been here all along! Whatever the motivations of this Shi’ar Empire may be, for some reason they hid it here on Earth!”

“What in the bloody hell is this bloodline anyways? If it involves little green men, why should we even care?” said Betsy.

“We should care because visions of the bloodline have also been accompanied with visions of a terrible war. I now understand that the war depicted isn’t a vision of the future. It’s a record of the present! There’s a massive war going on right now and the Shi’ar Empire is waging it! The key to stopping it is an alien bloodline that has somehow taken root here on Earth.”

The X-men looked at their mentor strangely. He seemed so serious yet slightly deranged. Some were starting to questions his mental stability.

“You sure that seizure hasn’t twisted your thinking, Professor?” asked Bobby.

“That or the cancer must be getting to him,” said Kitty anxiously, “In which case I would expect something more original than an alien invasion.”

“I’m perfectly sane, I assure you,” said Professor Xavier strongly, “We’ve encountered aliens. We’ve encountered cosmic beings. This should not be too difficult to accept. There’s an alien war going on and it’s going to engulfing our world! I sensed it from the ship. Before it disappeared, it unleashed a signal that was intercepted by Shi’ar forces! I have no doubt that they’re on their way this instant to destroy the bloodline!”

“I’m still not seeing a reason to overlook your health and thrust ourselves into some alien war,” said Scott skeptically.

“Yeah, you’re gonna have to do better than that before we let you crawl out of here in your condition,” said Logan.

“There’s one other detail I haven’t mentioned yet…Lilandra is somehow connected to the bloodline. That means that if the Shi’ar want to destroy it, they’ll have to destroy her!”

This revelation added a new angle to an already unusual affair. Now Professor Xavier’s demeanor seemed much more sane. It wasn’t just stopping an alien war that concerned him. He was also driven to save the woman he loved.

Some of the X-men turned to Jean and Betsy, the two telepaths that could confirm whether or not he was telling the truth. They were just as worried about his mental state as everyone else. What they sensed would determine what course of action they took.

“He’s telling the truth,” said Jean.

“He’s not crazy either,” said Betsy, “Believe me, I’ve sensed enough crazy minds to know the signs.”

“So where does that leave us? What are we to do?” asked Hank.

“I already told you what me must do,” said Charles Xavier, “I know where Lilandra is. I sensed her location on the astral plane! We must get to her!”

“By we, Remy don’t take it you mean us,” said Remy.

“You don’t seriously believe you’re in any condition to tag along, do you?” said Scott skeptically.

“There’s gutsy, there’s crazy brave, and then there’s just plain stupid, Chuck!” said Logan, “I think this qualifies as all three!

“For once, I actually agree with, Logan. That alone should tell you how strongly I feel about having you on a mission like this,” said the X-leader.

“Scott…if Jean was the one in danger, would there be anything I could say or do to dissuade you?” he stated strongly.

The young man fell silent as he stared down his mentor. For a moment he looked over towards Jean, who had a similar look of understanding. He then turned back to the Professor. He saw in his eyes the same desire he had felt so many times before. He knew better than anyone that there was no keeping this man from saving the woman he loved.

The silence persisted throughout the team. Professor Xavier looked up at the X-leader and then at the rest of the students he cared so deeply for. In their eyes he saw a great deal of worry for his well-being. He also saw plenty of concern for this threat. They weren’t going to let him put what little life he had left at risk without reservation.

“Regardless of how any of you feel about the mistakes I’ve made and the secrets I’ve kept, this is something I must be part of. You can try to leave me behind if you wish. I’ll crawl across the country to get to Lilandra if I have to. I would much rather live the rest of my life fighting than simply lying in a bed waiting to die.”

“Wow…those might be the manliest words ever uttered,” said Bobby.

“You do understand this is stupid on a whole new level,” said Logan.

“You’re one to talk, Wolverine. Aren’t you the king of taking stupid risks?” quipped Jean.

“I got a healing factor. Chuck here has cancer. That’s a big freakin’ difference!”

“But when a beautiful femme is involved, ain’t stupid risks to be expected?” Remy pointed out.

Much of the team seemed to share Logan’s sentiment, but also understood Remy’s remark. Professor Xavier couldn’t blame them. He was still clearly ill and far from being combat ready. That only put a greater amount of strain on his X-men if they were to thrust themselves into this conflict. It was a strain they would both have to bear for Lilandra’s sake.

“I won’t force you to take me with you. I leave the decision entirely up to you.” he told them, “Understand that this is personal for me. I’m going to be a part of it regardless of what you decide. And I would much rather fight alongside my X-men instead of fighting against them.”

“You’re putting us in an awkward position, Charles,” said Ororo.

“I know. And I’m sorry,” said Xavier with as much sincerity a man as sick as him could muster, “I promise we’ll deal with everything else, including my cancer, when this is over. Right now, the X-men have a mission to complete. And I have a woman to save.”

The X-men exchanged glances. Professor Xavier looked ready to fight even though he was in bad shape, even for a cancer patient. He was the one that taught them to carry on even when the odds seemed impossible. It was only fitting that he practiced what he preached. There were so many reasons why they shouldn’t bring him along on a mission of this nature. None of them were good enough to hold Charles Xavier back.

No debate was needed. Some admired the Professor’s bravery. Others shook their head in exasperation. Scott Summers turned towards Hank and nodded. While he retrieved Xavier’s wheelchair, the X-leader addressed the team.

“Suit up, X-men!” he ordered, “Assemble in the hanger and prepare for a mission! Looks like we’re hunting aliens.”

“Oh what fun,” said Bobby dryly, “I already miss the Friends of Humanity.”


Big Bills Buffalo Wings

“If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. It’s a federal offense that people have to travel all the way to Buffalo in order to get decent chicken wings,” said a hungry John Wraith.

“Please tell me we didn’t just come here to stuff our face, Colonel,” said an impatient William Stryker, “I was under the impression our visit to Buffalo involved serious business.”

“It is, Reverend. But there’s no rule against enjoying yourself a little on the job at the government’s expense. If there was, every officer in the Pentagon would have resigned long ago.”

William Stryker rolled his eyes as he watched Colonel Wraith efficiently devour several spicy chicken wings. For an officer of his reputation, he was taking this way too lightly. They were supposed to be on a mission from God. Colonel Wraith seemed motivated for far less noble purposes, most of which involved improving his military rank. If he was to continue to trust this man, he had best show some initiative.

“I don’t mean to sound impetuous, Colonel. But you still haven’t told me why we’ve condemned ourselves to the whims of bitter cold and belligerent hockey fans,” said Stryker.

“You almost sound skeptical, Reverend. You’re not having second thoughts, are you?” said Colonel Wraith with a mouth half-full of food.

“You’ve yet to show me anything of substance regarding this project of yours, so I think I have the right to cast a little doubt. I also think I’ve earned it since I’ve mobilized my Purifiers to reform the Friends of Humanity.”

“Of which I’m plenty grateful for,” said Colonel Wrath as he picked up more wings, “I still can’t believe you managed to get them organized again. After Graydon Creed, they had less direction than a headless chicken.”

“It would be even more organized if they knew what they were doing. Need I remind you that you’re an officer without an army? Your manpower is completely dependent on my men and that of the Friends of Humanity.”

“I haven’t forgotten, Reverend. I know I don’t come off as the nicest guy to ever put on an officer uniform, but I am grateful. Your people have done everything right so far. You’ve got Friends of Humanity stirring up more anti-mutant protests and you’ve got your Purifiers setting up shop with Dr. Cornelius. That’s exactly what we need right now.”

“But to what end? I refuse to be kept in the dark while my holy crusade is at stake!”

Colonel Wraith shook his head and finished the last of the wing he was currently working on. Reverend Stryker had to be one of the tightest wound human beings he had ever known. Everything was all fire and brimstone with him. That was exactly why he kept certain details from him.

“Try and think in terms of strategy,” said Colonel Wraith as he set aside his wings for a moment, “In order to do what we want to do, there has to be demand for our kind of service. It’s like starting a business. You don’t set up shop unless there’s a market for what you’re selling.”

“I’m all for keeping the fires of anti-mutant sentiment burning. What I’m waiting for is the final spark you promised to make that fire as hot as any in Hell,” said Stryker.

“That’s exactly why we’re in Buffalo,” the Colonel explained, “You see, even though you have the Friends of Humanity back in business, we still lack the resources to finish the job. In order to get those resources, we need someone who is well-connected that also shares our feelings towards mutants. That’s where Graydon Creed comes in.”

“Graydon Creed?” scoffed Stryker, “Last I checked the man is in prison. Worthington Industries made quite a big deal out of it and so did the government.”

“You can get away with a lot of crimes in this world, but you don’t get away with launching an attack in the middle of New York on a rich man’s dollar. That’s why his location has been kept secret. His little stunt got a lot of mutants and even a fair share of humans upset with him. You should know.”

“Don’t remind me. Trusting him was a mistake and I’ve been seeking atonement ever since,” muttered Stryker.

“Well atone no more! Because he’s going to help us,” said Wraith strongly.

“After the damage he did last time? Why would we want his help?”

“You mean aside from the fact he still comes from a family of ridiculous wealth and has connections to industrial parts we desperately need?” quipped Wraith, “Make no mistake, Reverend. I know the man is a loose cannon, but that’s a quirk I’m willing to tolerate. When you deal with projects like these, you need people who are a little crazy to get the job done.”

Reverend Stryker couldn’t wrap his head around that kind of logic. The memories of what Creed did were still fresh in his mind. Graydon Creed gave holy crusaders like him a bad name. He helped propagate the myth that those who oppose the mutant menace are mentally unstable bigots. The only real benefit he could see to bringing him on board was that his obsession was assurance that he would see this through.

Colonel Wraith continued to ignore the Reverend’s skeptical looks and went back to finishing his wings. He couldn’t help this man if he was still burned out from working with Creed the first time. But if Reverend Stryker wanted to be a part of his plan, he had to practice some of that divine forgiveness and give Creed another chance.

“Say God miraculously granted me the ability to overlook the many problems with enlisting Graydon Creed’s help,” the Reverend continued, “How do you propose we get him out of prison? We don’t even know where he is?”

Colonel Wraith grinned as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wallet-sized photo of what looked to be a nerdy young man in his twenties.

“That’s where this friendly Buffalo native comes in,” he said as he placed the photo on the table, “His name is Webber Torque, Wired Magazine’s two-time man of the year. On the net he goes by the handle, Arcade. Without getting into too much detail, he’s a hacker with the kind of elite skill that landed him on the FBI and the CIA’s shit list on more than one occasion.”

“What good would a hacker be to us in our crusade?” said Stryker as he picked up the picture.

“Again, this is where that little thing called strategy comes in,” said the Colonel dryly, “Like you said, Graydon Creed’s location is a closely guarded secret. To my knowledge there are only two places that have it. One is the Pentagon, who suffice to say I’m not on good terms with. If I tried to get anyone to hack the database, I would be the first person they suspect.”

“So where is the other location?”

“This I think you’re going to like,” grinned Colonel Wraith as he chewed on more wings, “The only other place we know for sure has this information is a little place called the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.”

Reverend Stryker tensed upon hearing this. For the first time since they arrived in Buffalo, he smiled.

“Wait…let me see if I can fill in the blanks,” said the Reverend, “We’re going to enlist the help of this hacker and use him to forcibly extract information from Charles Xavier?”

“Are my ears deceiving me? You actually sound enthusiastic again,” joked Colonel Wraith.

Reverend Stryker’s smile grew wider. He didn’t care much for Colonel Wraith nor did he care to work with the likes of Graydon Creed again, but the idea of attacking Charles Xavier was simply too appealing.

“Consider me enthused, Colonel,” he grinned, “Now tell me more. What exactly do you need from me to make this happen?”


Utah Desert

The deserts of Utah hadn’t changed much since Lilandra’s last visit. Every rock, shrub, and sand mound was exactly as she remembered. By now night had fallen and the skies were as clear and pristine as they were that fateful night her mother first brought her here. It was anything but comforting under these grim circumstances. Lilandra’s eyes were still stained with tears, the image of her mother drawing her final breath still lingering in her mind. Those tears only fueled her burning need for answers.

Her sorrow made the drive seem surreal. She had long since turned off from the main road in her Lexus SUV. The only roads ahead of her bumpy, ragged, or in some cases non-existent trails leading to the clearing where she hoped answers awaited her. She didn’t tell anybody at Aerie Global or Chandilar Enterprise where she was going. She didn’t even take her cell phone with her. The only guide she had at this point was her mother’s necklace.

‘Almost there. Still nothing new from the necklace. Damn it, mom, what did you mean? Did you expect the answers just fall into my lap as soon as I show up? Why couldn’t you tell me instead of having me rely on some necklace?’

Lilandra was forced to wipe away more tears. There were so many questions her mother never answered. Even if she did uncover the truth, she would never get a chance to sit down and talk with her about it. She couldn’t understand why it was so hard for her mother. Whatever the case, these were her mother’s final wishes and Lilandra’s determination to carry them out couldn’t be stronger.

When she arrived at the fateful spot, she parked her car just outside the clearing. Lilandra needed a few moments to gather herself before stepping out into the desert. With the necklace in hand, she was uncertain of where to go from here.

“Okay mom, I did as you asked. I’m here,” she said out loud, “I don’t know if your soul can hear me at this point, but if you could offer a little guidance...I would really appreciate it.”

Her anxious words were met with silence as she scanned the sandy clearing. Nothing was happening. She kept looking around for any signs of activity while holding the necklace in her hand. The only sounds she could make out were the typical noises of a desert at night. It was ominous and cold, leaving her with more frustrations than answers.

“Come on! Work already!” she said impatiently to the necklace, “If you’re more than just some fancy piece jewelry, now is the time to show it!”

Clenching the necklace in her hand, Lilandra tried to will it into doing something. Her mother didn’t exactly leave her with the instructions. She just said it was the key as if somehow that was all there was to it.

Lilandra was ready to yell out in frustration. Then she reached the center of the clearing and something happened to the necklace. In a dazzling display, it erupted in a soft halo of golden light. It was so bright Lilandra had to shield her eyes as she opened her hand, allowing the dark desert landscape to bathe in its glow.

“Whoa…how did my mother hide this for so many years?” she said in a daze.

Lilandra watched as the necklace suddenly levitated from her hand and hovered just a few feet away from her. Clearly, this was something very advanced. Even though she was familiar with exotic technology, this was unlike anything she had ever seen before.

In a daze she reached out to touch the hovering relic. Then from the light, a mysterious figure took shape. For a moment it swirled, as if it were static of sorts. It soon became more ordered, eventually taking the form of an oddly dressed man. He stood a good six inches taller than her, had a strong build, and bore dark curly hair and a unique face that Lilandra quickly recognized.

“My god…daddy?!” she gasped.

She knew it was him. Even though she never knew him, she had seen pictures of him. There were even a number of portraits throughout Chandilar Enterprise. He was always depicted as having a strong almost regal aura. This strange projection certainly did that aura justice.

What stood out most, however, wasn’t his appearance. It was his attire. He was wearing what Lilandra could only surmise to be a metallic black cloak that resembled a space suit or a scuba suit. Draped around his body was this elegant robe with patterns of symbols that looked nothing short of other worldly. But the most defining feature of all was the crown he had on his head. It had the same exotic symbols as the robe only it was much more elaborate, as if to symbolize something very important.

For a moment Lilandra stood in a daze, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. She nervously reached out to touch the strange projection. Then to her astonishment this strange image of her father spoke to her.

“Hello Lilandra. If you are looking at this, then your mother has kept her promise and we’re standing in the very spot we met. Before I go any further you should know that this is just a recording. By now I’m long dead and I…I’m sorry that this is how we have to meet. I still remember holding you in my arms the day you were born. I so would have loved to be there to watch you grow, but…”

The words trailed off as the image of her father became choked up with emotion. Even for a holographic display, Lilandra could clearly see the sorrow in his eyes. When he made this he must have been in a very distressing state.

“This is going to be very difficult for both of us. I never expected something like this to happen. I certainly never wanted to bring this burden to my family. But it would be selfish of me to hide from my responsibility. That is why I must tell you the truth. I certainly hope your mother has hardened you to shocking revelations because this will most certainly be difficult to handle. Rather than run the risk of tormenting you with anticipation, I’ll just come out and say it.”

Lilandra stepped closer to her father’s image and listened intently. She watched as the holographic figure took a deep breath and revealed to her the truth she had been seeking.

“You’re part alien, Lilandra. What I mean by that is you’re bloodline doesn’t just come from another country. It comes from another planet. And not just any planet. You are the heir apparent to the royal bloodline of the Shi’ar Empire, an alien empire that spans a good portion of the galaxy.”

There were only so many ways to react to such a revelation. Lilandra Neramani had come expecting the unexpected, but this was a kind of unexpected that she never could have contemplated. She wasn’t entirely human. Not only that, she was part of alien royalty. There was no way this could be real.

“No…this is crazy! I must be going crazy!” she said, clutching her head.

As if to anticipate her response, the hologram of her father continued.

“Try not to be too overwhelmed. You’re not crazy. What I said is completely true. By now you should be old enough to have manifested some of your alien heritage in the form of telepathy. This is a talent our family has wielded for generations. It is what helped me stay hidden when I first arrived. It also helped me acquire the resources I needed to alter my appearance to seem more...human. I didn’t come here with the intent of falling in love with your mother and having a family. I came here as an act of desperation. That desperation turned into a mission...one that eventually led to your birth. After some procedures that I would rather not detail, your mother bore you and I made sure you had the gift that is so vital to our bloodline. I know you will find most of this hard to believe, but if you open your mind you’ll see it’s true.”

Lilandra was almost too paralyzed to listen. It still sounded too crazy to be true. But as crazy as it sounded, she did as her father’s projection asked. She opened her mind.

As if sensing her psychic presence, the image of her father reached out and touched her head. Physically, she didn’t feel a thing. Psychically, she felt something much more profound. In an instant her mind was taken beyond the confines of her body and into the deepest recesses of space.

“Oh God…what is this?”

“Allow me to introduce to you, my daughter, the Shi’ar Empire.”

In the span of a few seconds, Lilandra’s mind traversed the vast majesty of an alien civilization. It was like being in a dream, flying through the cosmos at impossible speeds. Along the way she passed the various planets of the Shi’ar. There were so many, spanning hundreds of star systems and encompassing vast collections of exotic life. Some of it was unintelligent, the alien equivalent of wild animals. She saw huge mountain-sized creatures that lumbered along the vast plains of a grassy planet. She also saw small almost cuddly looking creatures living in the trees of this moon orbiting a massive Jupiter-sized planet. Then there was the intelligent life.

As she traversed more planets, she observed races of beings that resembled creatures straight out of science fiction. She saw races of large reptile-like humanoids. She saw several planets full of mammal-like creatures that resembled a mix between cats and humans. There was other intelligent life that was completely exotic, consisting of small child-like creatures on a desert planet and tall rock-like creatures on a mountainous planet. There was even life that was machine-based, consisting entirely of cybernetic based life. It was all so amazing. For any ordinary human, part alien or otherwise, it was the equivalent of a religious revelation.

There were so many races to see and so much to learn. However, she wasn’t given time to take it all in. This cosmic journey soon led her to a very specific destination. It was a planet that resembled a huge metal ball, almost as if it had been completely converted into one big city. As Lilandra observed this planet, a new sense of anxiety came over her.

“This planet is where our legacy begins and ends. It is called Aerie, the native home world of the Shi’ar royal family. This is where our race began. I know it looks cold and uninviting now, but I assure you it wasn’t always that way.”

As Lilandra flew in closer she saw that the majesty of this planet hid some very grim details. Along a surface that was littered with vast industrial-like buildings, the whole planet had the aura of a prison. She saw countless creatures trudging about, looking impoverished and destitute. They were wailing in fear and agony as if they had been worked to a point beyond despair. It was level of cruelty she hadn’t even seen on Earth before.

“The history of the Shi’ar is vast and complicated, even for me. We are a people that are unafraid of war and aggression. It is very much a part of our heritage. However, that heritage has been taken to extremes by a tyrant that I regret to say is related to us both.”

The anxiety grew as her father led Lilandra deeper into the Shi’ar home world. Eventually, they came upon a massive pyramid-shaped palace. It was a palace that would have made every king, emperor, and dictator on Earth extremely jealous. It was massive, spanning from horizon to horizon. At the top was an opening where a lone figure stood overlooking the planet’s landscape.

This figure was dressed in attire similar to her father. His appearance was dominated by a black crown of elegant feathers and what appeared to be body armor encompassing his imposing build. In his eyes Lilandra saw a kind of malice she had never seen before.

“WORK FASTER YOU USELESS CRETANS! YOU DRAW THE WRATH OF AN IMPATIENT EMPEROR! SHED BLOOD FOR YOUR LORD FOR AS LONG AS YOU DRAW LIFE OR I SHALL SHED IT FOR YOU!”

His booming voice echoed throughout the entire planet. His mere presence brought even greater suffering to the masses below. Lilandra looked at him with a mix of fear and disgust. There was no way she could be related to such a monster.

“Who…who is he?” she asked warily.

“This is your adopted brother, D’ken. The Neramani family adopted him from a rival bloodline that was wiped out in a bloody civil war. It was no act of compassion. We sought to use his heritage as leverage against other bloodlines. He ended up turning on us, seizing power for himself and executing the entire royal family. That is what brought me to Earth.”

In another blinding flash Lilandra found herself pulled away from the cosmos and back towards Earth. Every sight she saw, horrific and beautiful alike, rushed through her mind at blinding speeds once more. By the time it was all said and done, she was back in the deserts of Utah.

It was such a rush that Lilandra stumbled back and rubbed her spinning head. When she looked up, she realized that this entire journey had been done through a telepathic interface. Somehow her mind was linked to an archive in this necklace. It was overwhelming, but it got the point across. It proved that everything her father said was true and he wasn’t done yet.

“I was the last survivor of the Neramani bloodline. I fled to Earth because it is far from the boarders of the Shi’ar and it is a planet the empire has done much to avoid for centuries. I cannot tell you why, but for that reason it was the only place where the royal family could be safe.”

“So you were just out to save your own skin,” mused Lilandra, “Guess those stories about your noble spirit were exaggerated after all.”

“You may think me a coward and in many ways I am. I was only a teenager at the time, but youth is no excuse. I didn’t expect to make Earth my home. I didn’t expect to fall in love either. That’s where your mother came in. She was a young woman trying to escape her family just like me. We found each other and she taught me the merits of humanity. It was a significant shift from the hawkish manners of the Shi’ar, but I came to embrace them.”

Lilandra smiled somewhat at his words. He almost sounded like he repented. That was a lot of humility from an alien. It helped put a few things into perspective.

“So that’s why mother was so keen on teaching me ethics and humanities,” said Lilandra, “Guess my whole stance on human rights had to come from somewhere.”

“I always intended to return to the Shi’ar, but I suppose I got sidetracked. I used the alien technology of our people to form Chandilar Enterprise. With your mother by my side, we did so much good. I like to think I’ve done my part to help this planet in a way I wouldn’t have done had I become king. It has been…humbling. I wish I could take that humility back to the Shi’ar, but that is where fate caught up to me.”

Lilandra braced herself for more revelations. She had a feeling this next part wasn’t going to be pleasant.

“Not long after your seventh birthday, scouts from D’ken’s Imperial Guard came searching for me. It resulted in numerous visitations to this planet, some of which have had a tremendous effect on history. It was only a matter of time before they found me. I knew I couldn’t escape. So I made the hardest decision a father could ever make. I…let them capture me.”

“No…you fool!” Lilandra cried.

“It was the only way to get them to leave. If they believed me dead, they would leave Earth alone. But before they took me, I gave your mother this necklace that contains a Shi’ar computer program full of all the information you need to learn about your heritage. And if your mother taught you anywhere near as well as she taught me, you’ll do the right thing with it. Since you are my daughter, you are the last remaining heir to the Shi’ar throne. That means you, my beautiful daughter, are the only one who can stop D’ken. The sins of our family are too great to leave unchecked. D’ken must be stopped or trillions of lives, perhaps even those on Earth, will be doomed.”

These revelations now took on a very different tone. It wasn’t enough for Lilandra to learn who she was. She had before her a new destiny. If what she saw in that telepathic projection was any indication, her father was placing a huge burden on her shoulders. It was a burden she was anything but ready for.

“You can’t be serious!” she said, “You tell me I’m an alien! Then you tell me I have to clean up a mess your family made?! What kind of father are you?”

“I’m sorry that you have to do this, Lilandra. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I didn’t learn until I met your mother that you can never run away from your responsibilities. That’s why we waited so long to tell you this. I wanted you to grow and prosper before you had to concern yourself with the awful truth.”

“Now you’re ripping it away from me. Some parent you are!” said Lilandra bitterly as she turned away from the image.

“I understand it may take time for you to accept this, but I know you’ll do the right thing. I know you’ll succeed where I failed. I know because your mother raised you to be better. You have something the Shi’ar hasn’t known for a long time. Our people need it now more than ever. Please don’t deny them what fragile hope they may have left.”

Lilandra shifted within her bitter state. So many conflicting thoughts coursed through her mind. She was an alien with a responsibility she never wanted. It was so shocking that the rational part of her mind urged her to run away. Then she remembered the dying words of her mother and everything she taught her growing up. There may be many crazy things in this world like aliens and mutants, but one constant that never changed was right and wrong. She knew the value of this important line better than most people. It was a driving force in her life. Now she had to utilize it in a big way.

“When the time comes, everything you need is in this necklace. Before I surrendered to the Shi’ar, I discovered that D’ken has been working on something that will tear the universe asunder. You must listen very carefully because his plan involves…”

Lilandra was barely listening when suddenly, the holographic image was cut off. She was jolted from her confused state by a new sense of urgency. Turning back towards the image, she saw the hovering necklace shaking under some unseen force. She then noticed that the ground beneath her was trembling and the desert sands were being kicked up around her.

“What now?!” she exclaimed, “Don’t stop, father! Tell me more!”

She reached out for the necklace. Just as she was about to grasp it, a blinding flash of lightning-like light erupted in front of her. It caused a powerful shockwave that reverberated across the desert and knocked Lilandra back a good twenty feet.

Now dazed and anxious, Lilandra sensed she was no longer alone in this desert. When she rose up she saw an imposing figure standing right where her father’s projection had been. It was a human figure with some inhuman features. He stood almost seven feet tall, had dark purple skin, and thick green hair that was perfectly shaped into a mohawk. He was wearing a garb similar to the one her father had been wearing, consisting of ominous red on black patterns. It perfectly hugged his bulging muscles and made for a very intimidating appearance.

“Lilandra Neramani!” he said in a booming voice of perfect English.

“More aliens? Please tell me you’re another projection!” she groaned as she rubbed her head.

“I am Gladiator, leader of the Imperial Guard! We’ve been looking for you a long time!”

“We?! Who is we?” she demanded.

Gladiator gestured upwards and before Lilandra’s eyes, a massive space ship appeared that took up nearly half the night sky. It emerged out of a cloaking device of sorts and if the many weapons compartments were any indication, it was not friendly. Looking up at this imposing display of alien power and then back towards Gladiator, Lilandra knew she was in big trouble.

“We are here at the behest of his Imperial Majesty, D’ken!” he said as he menacingly approached her, “By his decree, the last of the Neramani bloodline shall be eliminated!”

Next Issue: Starcrossed Part 2

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