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Volume 4 -- Issue 92 -- Starcrossed Part 2

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Starcrossed Part 2
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Life on Earth is undergoing a new stage of evolution. Humans are mutating in a world hates and fears them. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men work tirelessly to foster peace and understanding. Yet through the course of their struggles, they find themselves dealing with life not restricted to Earth.

The X-men discovered that their planet has been visited by an alien empire known as the Shi’ar. One of their ships crash landed on Genosha hundreds of years ago and that ship revealed details of an inter-stellar war that has been raging for decades. For a while, it seemed the war would not reach Earth. Then Charles Xavier’s lover, Lilandra Neramani, made a startling discovery.

In wake of her mother’s death, Lilandra learned that she is not entirely human. She is half-alien, the daughter of a Shi’ar exile from the royal family. She is the last ray of hope an entire alien civilization has at stopping the bloodthirsty, D’ken. A message by her dead father promised answers, but those answers were cut off abruptly by the arrival of D’ken’s Imperial Guard. They came to Earth with only one objective…kill the Neramani bloodline once and for all.

While this alien plot has the X-men’s attention, another battle is unfolding involving William Stryker and Weapon X. While the X-men race to save Lilandra, Colonel John Wraith makes his move.


Lowe Alonso Apartments

“Oh shit-oh shit-oh shit! I am so screwed!” lamented a lanky man in his late twenties.

“Webber Torque! Open up this instant! We have a warrant for your arrest!”

These booming words echoed from behind an apartment door that was only secured by a lock and a chain latch. Gazing through the peep hole, Webber saw that they were all armed and ready to kick the door down. It was clear he had little hope of stopping whoever was outside.

In a panic he bolted away from the door and into the computer laden hacker lair he spent countless hours setting up. He ran over boxes of disks, DVDs, and hard drives as he rushed to every keyboard in his reach and initiated commands to delete the vast gigabytes of incriminating evidence that would get him locked up.

“Code red! Code red you antiquated piece of shit!” he grunted as he initiated a complete hard drive purge, “Come on! Erase yourself already!”

Within seconds, various computer screens flashed a red image reading “emergency purge.” Unfortunately, Webber had so much hardware that he couldn’t purge it all at once. He scrambled to get to every keyboard within reach to initiate the same command. All the while the pounding on his apartment door grew more severe. He was still typing frantically when they finally kicked it in, knocking off the lock in the process.

Armed men stormed the apartment, wielding Uzis and body armor. Webber kept working frantically, ripping out hard drives from nearby servers and crushing several DVD disks under his feet. He tried frantically to get to the rest of his gear, but then he came face-to-face with four gun-toting officers. Upon seeing that he was surrounded, the lanky man held his hands up and turned around.

“Uh…any chance this is all a big misunderstanding?” said Webber timidly.

“Not in this lifetime, Mr. Torque. Or should I call you Arcade?” said an ominous voice.

From behind the armed men, two imposing figures emerged. One was Colonel Wraith and the other was Reverend Stryker. When Webber saw them, he trembled. Wraith expected this and turned to one of the officers, who were part of Stryker’s Purifiers. They got the message and grabbed the timid computer geek by the collar and forced him to sit in a nearby chair.

“Uh...you guys wouldn’t happen to be military, would you?” he said in astonishment, “Is this about that little incident involving NATO’s defense network?”

“Not exactly, but it could be,” said Wraith, “That all depends on how much you’re willing to cooperate.”

“Wait…you guys have a warrant don’t you? I know my rights and I know you guys would be in big trouble with the ACLU if you came barging in without one!”

“Since we’re the ones holding the guns, Mr. Arcade, I would say your rights mean precisely dick right now.”

Webber shifted nervously. He had dealt with the authorities before. It was never a pleasant process, especially considering his rap sheet. These guys seemed different though. They didn’t look like cops and they didn’t look like the military he was used to seeing. As frightened as he was, a part of him was curious.

Colonel Wraith gave the man a moment to catch his breath while Stryker made sure his Purifiers kept him seated with their guns. Wraith began pacing slightly as he retrieved a few slips of paper from his pocket and read the contents.

“Webber Torque, better known in cyberspace as Arcade,” he stated aloud, “The former pride of MIT and a graduate student of Cal Tech, you’ve been the government’s worst nightmare for nearly a decade. Over 68 counts of computer crimes.”

“More like 73, but several of those counts were kind of iffy,” corrected Webber.

“You must be proud,” said the Colonel dryly, “It’s amazing you were convicted only twice. And if memory serves me right, the law in these parts have a strict three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy. You’re looking at some serious time if any of this nerd gear has something incriminating.”

“Is that what this is? A quick round of gloating before you feds lock me up?” said Webber, “You should know you’ll just be making me a martyr to my crew on the net. You think arresting me will make me go away? Guys like me know how to leave a big ass digital footprint!”

“That so-called footprint of yours is actually why we’re here,” said Wraith, his tone shifting slightly, “Now if we wanted to arrest you, I wouldn’t be talking to you like this. You would be in the back of a cop car, whining for your lawyer while the local news covers this so the police can get some good PR.”

“I uh…don’t see any news cameras,” said Webber.

“That’s because we’re not arresting you. The truth is…we need your help.”

The infamous hacker’s fear gave way to intrigue. He studied this strange officer closely. He didn’t look like a typical fed. Webber had seen his share of authority figures both in and out of cyberspace and this guy was different. Even with guns still pointed at him, he listened intently.

“I’ve been told by the FBI and Interpol, whose database you’ve crippled last year, that you’re the best hacker there is.”

“I like to think I’ve built a solid reputation,” the young man boasted.

“Well as it just so happens, my friends and I have a significant computer-related problem. It involves cracking a very secure network run by some very dangerous people on a very private piece of land. This network, you see, has information that we desperately need. Now if you were generous enough to help us, then maybe we can make a deal. Those two convictions look so bad on your record. It would be nice if somehow they just disappeared.”

“Are you actually trying to conscript me into some military conspiracy?” scoffed Webber, “What network could possibly need hacking that Uncle Sam’s greedy mitts can’t reach?”

“It’s the private network of Charles Xavier,” said Reverend Stryker, “Need we say more?”

Now Webber was really intrigued. The feds had to be desperate if they were looking to hire a guy like him. He kept up with recent history. He knew there were a lot of people that didn’t care for Charles Xavier and the X-men. There wasn’t much they could do about it because Xavier insulated himself in ways that even the military couldn’t crack. If someone wanted anything from the private archives of Charles Xavier, it would be a hell of a challenge.

“Mr. Torque…” said Reverend Stryker.

“Please sir, call me Arcade,” said the skilled hacker with a touch of arrogance.

“Very well, Arcade,” said Stryker, hiding his annoyance, “What we need from you is very important. You’re clearly very smart. You of all people should know that Charles Xavier is a dangerous man. There are those in the government who think they can control him. My associate and I don’t share that sentiment.”

“Wait…are you implying that this little operation is off the books?”

“Call us whatever you want. The fact remains that we are on an important mission to protect this country and the whole of humanity. Now the good Colonel here has already acquired some tools for you at a secure location.”

“By tools do you mean a full assortment of servers, processors, and network trackers? Because that’s the kind of setup that gives hackers wet dreams,” grinned Arcade.

“That and so much more,” said Stryker, “We also have some people on-site at the Xavier Institute. They are equipped to employ whatever localized hardware you may need. Our people are brilliant in their own right, but their hacking skills are is not enough to crack Xavier’s security. That’s why we need you.”

“Unless, of course, you don’t think you’re up to the challenge,” added Colonel Wraith, preying on the young man’s ego for good measure.

Webber scoffed at the notion that he wasn’t up to the task. At the same, time he was hesitant to trust these people. There were a lot of issues he had with hacking the X-men. He had no admiration or hatred for them. However, these so-called officials made a tempting offer. They appealed to his criminal record and his morality. He could do without either really. His motivation was the same as it had always been. There was a network that everybody said couldn’t be hacked and he was being given the tools to hack it.

“Say I agree to do this,” said Arcade, “What other sort of incentives can I expect?”

“You mean besides doing the right thing and cleaning up your criminal record?” said Colonel Wraith dryly.

“If this information is really that important, then why should it stop there? Say I can get just a bit more time on this equipment you mentioned. Could I maybe use it to confirm that the government is hiding evidence of aliens or something? I’ve always wanted to check that out!”

Colonel Wraith and Reverend Stryker rolled their eyes. This guy was neither a solider nor a crusader. He was a digital anarchist who subscribed to every crazy conspiracy theory that came along with it. As annoying as his attitude may be, they would have to deal with it.

“I’ll take your enthusiasm as a yes,” said Colonel Wraith dryly.

“Dodging the alien question…typical of government stooge,” scoffed Arcade.

“The world has far more serious issues to confront,” said Reverend Stryker sternly, “Now if you’re done recounting the X-Files, please come with us. The computer array we spoke of is set up in a secure building at the Naval Reserve center. Get this done tonight and you can go back to obsessing over foolish nonsense like aliens.”


Velocity – Above Utah Desert

Professor Xavier groaned as he swallowed another dose of prescription pills. Having long since exceeded the recommended dosage prescribed by Cecila Reyes, he ignored the inherent dangers. It seemed his body was doing everything possible to prevent him from saving Lilandra. He wasn’t going to let that happen. He couldn’t, no matter what toll it may take.

While the pills took effect, the rest of the X-men watched with increasing worry. Going up against an alien threat was daunting, but the dire health of their mentor was just as pressing. It was painful to watch him suffer like this. Some had to hold back their emotions. It was clear to everybody that the cancer was winning. The X-men could do many amazing things and overcome many overwhelming forces, but were powerless to save Professor Xavier.

“Do I even want to know what those pills are, Charles?” said Hank critically, who was sitting next to Xavier aboard the Velocity.

“They allow me to function. I need some degree of control over my faculties if I’m to save Lilandra,” he said as he put the pill bottle away.

“Does this mean you’ve done nothing in terms of real treatment?” asked Ororo.

“I’ve been over every option with my doctors. They all say the same thing. This level of cancer cannot be treated. It can only be managed.”

“Did they ever use the word terminal in their description?” asked Hank intently.

“I would rather not say. I prefer we stay focused on saving Lilandra.”

The X-men were truly at a loss. Scott and Logan were in the cockpit, flying the Velocity while the Professor sat ailing behind them with Hank and Ororo. It would have been faster to take the X-jet, but they had yet to receive a replacement after it crashed during the Cambrian battle. It added all the more urgency to this mission in terms of the alien threat and Charles Xavier’s failing health.

“Still think it was a good idea to let him tag along?” commented Logan.

“Did I ever say it was a good idea to begin with?” sighed Scott, unable to maintain his usual poise, “There are so many things wrong with this. I don’t even know where to begin.”

“You talkin’ about Chuck or the aliens?”

“Believe it or not, the aliens aren’t my primary concern,” he said distantly, “Professor Xavier is like a father to me. He’s like a father to all of us. For him to be this sick and hide the truth from us…”

Scott’s words soon trailed off. He was never one to get emotional on a mission, especially with Logan. To his surprise, the feral mutant didn’t make his usual inappropriate comment. Even though he didn’t show it, this affected him as well.

“Look at this way…we’ll be able to take our frustrations out on some aliens,” Logan pointed out, “If they’re anything like that Pulsar asshole we faced on Genosha, we should have plenty to work with.”

“If only everybody could find such peace in fighting,” sighed Scott.

“The world would be a lot less complicated and a lot messier, I know. But if Chuck wants to make good use of the time he’s has left, we might as well save his girl. You know as well as I do that a beautiful woman makes all the difference.”

Scott managed a smile at that remark. It seemed fitting. Professor Xavier was dying and even that wasn’t enough to keep him from Lilandra. Having been in that same predicament with Jean, he could appreciate what he was going through. It still didn’t make the idea of him dying any easier.

The Professor’s illness seemed to be the only thing on everybody’s mind. Jean, Kitty, Remy, Bobby, Betsy, and Piotr were as prepared for the mission as they could possibly be. They should have been looking out the window for signs of any activity, but they couldn’t ignore the dire condition of their mentor and all the effects that came with it.

“Professor Xavier is a jerk!” said Kitty bitterly.

“Don’t be so harsh, Kitty. I know you don’t mean that,” said Jean distantly.

“Well he is!” she scoffed, “Don’t we have a right to know if the guy who runs X-men is dying?”

“You cannot condemn him for his actions, Katya. Not for an issue that is this personal,” reasoned Piotr.

“Personal or not, this is something that effects the whole team,” said Bobby, “When was he going to tell us anyways? When he keeled over and slipped into a coma?”

“I doubt he would have kept it a secret that long, Bobby,” said Betsy.

“Maybe you giving the Professor too much credit,” said Remy flatly, “When my mother was dying, Remy didn’t find out until the grim reapers was knockin’ at the door. Those last moments with her was pure hell.”

“I rest my case,” said Kitty dryly.

Jean tensed at their harsh tones. She was upset too, but she wasn’t about to start hating a man after he gave them so much.

“Come on! You guys are being the real jerks!” retorted Jean, “This man is still the heart of the X-men! So much of what we’ve accomplished has been because of him!”

“Take it easy, Jean. It ain’t like we’re hangin’ the man out to dry,” said Remy, “Every one of us got a debt we ain’t never gonna repay to the Professor. But it still ain’t an excuse to keep us in the dark like this.”

“It’s not an excuse if there’s reason behind it! You mentioned the last few moments with your mother. Would you rather have that brief time in hell or would you rather prolong the agony by knowing how bad it was from the beginning?”

“You’re not really making an ignorance is bliss argument, are you Jean?” said Bobby.

“Ignorance has nothing to do it! Just look at what we’re up against. We’re on our way to fight aliens! Could we be the heroes the world needed us to be if the Professor came clean? Hell, even if we could, would we be able to rise to the challenge? The Professor has always puts the well-being of others before his own and we should be just as willing to do the same. Otherwise, we’re the jerks.”

Jean’s words silenced the others. Now Kitty seemed uncomfortable with her earlier statement. Remy, despite being a philosophy buff, went back to shuffling cards. It seemed pretty selfish to cast blame the Professor when his intentions always had the X-men and the world as a whole at heart. It was still hard not to be bitter, but it was a lot harder to stay mad at the man who sacrificed so much to make them what they were.

The only one not willing to take a side in this debate was Betsy. She hadn’t been with the X-men long enough to be outraged. That didn’t mean the Professor’s deception hadn’t affected her. She just chose to distract herself with the mission, gazing out the window and looking for activity.

“If you guys are done sulking, I suggest you divert some focus to the mission involving real aliens,” said Betsy, “I certainly hope I’m not the only one a little unnerved about facing a nightmare version of ET.”

“Don’t start feeling lonely, cherè. You in good company,” assured Remy.

“Yeah, I don’t think anybody here is taking this lightly,” said Bobby, “This is a first for a lot of us and speaking as a lifelong sci-fi fan, I have some pretty mixed feelings about it.”

“Well I never watched much Star Trek and I only saw the first three Star Wars movies,” Betsy went on, “Considering how often movies are wrong, I kind of wish we had more to go on than the Professor’s visions. Do we even know what kind of aliens we’re dealing with?”

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say they aren’t little green men,” said Jean.

“You never know, luv. Being an X-man has taught me that anything and I do mean anything is possible. I was always under the impression that if there were aliens, they would be so inhuman they wouldn’t bother with us. I mean think about it…if a species is truly alien, then wouldn’t their words and thoughts be alien too?”

“Seems disturbingly reasonable,” shrugged Kitty.

“Then again, isn’t the opposite just as possible?” reasoned Betsy, “Couldn’t they also be similar to us in so many ways that they seem human in a sense? What if being human is the same for any being that happens to think on a certain level?”

“You trying to steal Remy’s philosophic thunder, cherè?” teased Remy.

“I’m just asking the questions nobody here is asking. If they’re advanced to the point of making star ships, then how far behind does that make us? Not just in this mission, but as a whole?”

Betsy posed some profound questions. The X-men had faced bigoted humans and renegade mutants, but at least they shared one commonality with these threats. They were all human on some level. These were aliens they were dealing with. They truly had no idea what they were up against. They would have to wait and find out the answers to which humanity as a whole had been contemplating for centuries.

They wouldn’t have to wait long. The Velocity just passed over a number of jagged rock formations to arrive over a vast desert clearing. What they saw in the distance was every bit as amazing as they contemplated. An actual alien starship was hovering just below the clouds.

“Whoa…is that ET’s ride?” said Logan from the cockpit.

“Unless my eyes are deceiving me, I would say that’s a reasonable assumption,” said Hank in a daze of awe.

“Scott…is that similar to the spaceship you saw in Genosha?” asked Ororo.

“I wish,” scoffed the X-leader, “This thing is at least fifty times bigger.”

“It must be what the Shi’ar sent to find, Lilandra!” said Xavier, who was using his telepathy to scan the area, “I can already sense her down below! She’s in grave danger!”

“Guess that’s one thing the movies got right. The aliens always go for the pretty girls,” said Bobby as he and the others got out of their seats.

“Whoever or whatever is down there, we must get Lilandra away from them!” urged Professor Xavier.

“Your girl’s in good hands, Chuck!” assured Logan as he drew his claws in anticipation, “I’ll probe them before they can probe her!”

“Let’s hope the movies get that part wrong,” muttered Betsy as she and the rest of the team mentally prepared themselves for battle.

As soon as the Velocity was in hover mode, the X-men got up from their seats and gathered near the hatch. There was no telling what was down there. For all they knew, these aliens had no humanity to appeal to.


Buffalo, New York – Naval Reserve Center

After only a twenty-minute drive, Reverend Stryker and Colonel Wraith arrived at their destination with Arcade. Since Colonel Wraith was cut off from most of his previous resources, their accommodations weren’t as generous as they were used to. They had to operate out of a section of the base that wasn’t used for much. This was the best the Colonel’s name and uniform can offer. The rest of the hardware had to come from Stryker and his Purifiers.

They kept Arcade on a short leash as they led him into the makeshift facility. They surrounded him with a couple of armed guards at all times. He certainly wasn’t inclined to make a run for it, given his lanky disposition. Reverend Stryker still remained skeptical that this computer geek could be an asset to their cause.

“Wow…what a dump,” commented Arcade as he looked around at the facility, “What happened? Were the budget cuts that bad?”

“I apologize if it isn’t a cozy resort near the beach. We’ve had to be tactful in order to avoid unnecessary scrutiny,” said Reverend Stryker dryly.

“Translation, this so-called military operation isn’t exactly official, is it?” he smirked, “I sit in front of a computer screen all day. I’m smart enough to read between the coded lines.”

“You would be wise to keep your observations to yourself, Mr. Arcade,” replied the Reverend.

“I also watch the news from time to time. I do know who you are, Reverend William Stryker. You used to be by the President’s side in every major photo op. What happened? Did you catch him reading a Quran or something?”

“Enough, Mr. Arcade!” said Colonel Wraith sternly, “You don’t want to offend a man of the cloth. Trust me. You also don’t want to offend a man in a military uniform as well. You’ll find we still have the power to make your life exceedingly miserable!”

Arcade fell silent, but not before shooting the reverend a snide glance. Stryker scowled the young man for his disrespect. This punk was lucky that he was a man of God because there were plenty of punishments he was tempted to inflict that the Holy Father frowned upon.

Sensing the Reverend’s agitated state, Colonel Wraith grabbed Arcade by the arm and led him into a secure room. This room was actually an old server room that wasn’t being used at the moment. It was still surrounded by computer equipment, much of which was antiquated and had been replaced with better components courtesy of the Purifiers. Much of the array was already active. Everything was centered around a single desk that had several monitors displaying various data streams and programs. For a hacker, it was the equivalent of the world’s fanciest stretch limousine complete with beautiful women and champagne.

“Damn…the ambiance may suck, but you guys didn’t skimp on the essentials!” grinned Arcade as he sat down in the main chair.

“You should have everything you need,” said Colonel Wraith, “The servers are tapped into every major public networks and even a few private networks. The systems themselves are top of the line processors, including a few you won’t find outside the NSA and CIA’s private junk yard.”

“I’ll bet! A six gigabyte decryption module coupled with dynamic pulse protection recombination and quintuple core qubit processor is not supposed to even exist!”

“You may drool over it later, but don’t get any bright ideas. We have fail-safes to ensure that your task centers solely on hacking the Xavier Institute.”

“Fail-safes…right,” laughed Arcade as he cracked his knuckles.

“I don’t advise you test him,” Colonel Wraith said strongly, “Keep in mind your service with us may not be a one-time event. We my still require more from you after this job is done.”

“That may cost you extra, Colonel. I don’t outsource my talents for charity. And before you try to intimidate me, you should know I’m tougher than your average techno geek. I don’t exploitation lying down.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to,” replied the Colonel, “For now, just know that there are other incentives I’m equipped to offer. Succeed in your tasks and you’ll find I can be very generous.”

“Generous enough to tell me about the aliens?” grinned Arcade.

“God almighty, what is it with you an aliens?!” groaned Reverend Stryker.

“Just throwing it out there,” he said innocently, “I get the message, guys. I can do what you need me to do. Take a few lessons in manners and I may just stick around.”

Reverend Stryker wasn’t enthralled with the prospect of accepting Arcade into their ranks. Colonel Wraith remained pragmatic though. They needed someone like him to aid them in their endeavors. Time was short and their window of opportunity was closing. Once Arcade did his part, they should be able to proceed with the rest of the plan.

The two men stepped back and so did the Purifiers. They still kept their eye on the eccentric hacker as he flashed a few theatrics, flexing his fingers and relaxing his shoulders before he began his digital assault. Arcade had confidence. There was no doubt about that. Whether or not he could deliver on his arrogant boasting remained to be seen.

“Grab some popcorn and get ready for a show, boys,” he said as he started typing, “Charles Xavier may be the most powerful mind in the real world, but in cyberspace he’s the equivalent of a retarded cockroach. Just sit back and let me work my magic!”


Utah Desert

“Cease your resistance at once! Accept your fate and I shall make it quick and painless!”

There wasn’t much room to reason with such a threat. Lilandra stammered as she backed away from the approaching Gladiator, an imposing alien creature who seemed intent on killing her. She frantically looked around for places to run. For all she knew this alien had some sort of advanced teleportation ability. But if his muscular body structure was any hint, he was more than fit enough to catch her. She tried attacking with her telepathy, but that proved useless as well.

‘Damn it! I can’t penetrate his mind! It’s too strong and too alien!’

“Trying to attack me with your telepathy?” scoffed Gladiator, “Don’t insult me! The Imperial Guard contains some of the mightiest beings in the galaxy, both in body and mind! And our absolute loyalty is to the emperor!”

“You mean D’ken? The monster who has been terrorizing the entire galaxy?” shot Lilandra.

“I am in no place to judge my emperor’s actions. I only serve, him” he said strongly, “That is why I must end you where you stand! Those are the wishes of D’ken.”

Lilandra was overcome with dread as she fell flat on her back, tripping over a rock as she was backing away from the imposing figure. She scrambled to get up, but Gladiator reached her and grabbed her by the arm. He then lifted her as if she was as light as a feather and held her up.

“Ack! Let…go of me!” she demanded.

“Your squirming annoys me,” said Gladiator stoically, “Just for that, I hereby rescind my offer to make your death painless!”

Lilandra braced herself as the powerful figure reached for her neck. She could already feel the coldness of his hands near her skin. She closed her eyes and prepare for the inevitable. It seems she would never find out those final secrets her father tried to reveal to her.

But just as he was about to reach her, a red beam of energy shot down from above and hit Gladiator right in the head.

“You heard the lady! Hands off!” yelled Cyclops as he descended towards Lilandra with the rest of the X-men.

“Argh!” grunted Gladiator as he was sent flying back, dropping Lilandra in the process, “You insolent monkeys dare attack the Imperial Guard?!”

“You know for a supposedly advanced race, you folks sure don’t know how to treat a lady,” said Gambit.

Lilandra looked up to see that the X-men had arrived in full force. Cyclops, Phoenix, Iceman, Beast, Storm, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Gambit, Colossus, and Psylocke rode a bubble of telekinesis and swirling winds. Charles Xavier was with them, hovering in his wheelchair next to Phoenix. They landed just in front of her, ensuring that Gladiator would have to go through them if he wanted to get to her.

Upon landing, Phoenix directed Professor Xavier towards Lilandra. As soon as he was on the ground, he rushed towards her as fast as his frail body would allow him.

“Lilandra! Thank heavens you’re alright!” he exclaimed.

“Charles? How did you know I was…” she began.

“It’s a long story. Let’s just say we’ve had a little insight to help soften the shock of attacking an alien ship,” grinned Phoenix.

Lilandra couldn’t even begin to ascertain what that implied. Professor Xavier sensed her confusion and took her hands in his.

“It’ll be alright, Lilandra. We can discuss the details,” he told her, “Right now, we need to get you out of here!”

“As happy as I am to hear that, this isn’t a battle the X-men need to fight! You have no idea what you’re up against!” said Lilandra urgently.

“You have any idea how often we hear that?” scoffed Iceman.

“Relax lady! We can handle a few snot nosed aliens!” scoffed Wolverine, “Hell, it wouldn’t be the first time!”

Before the feral mutant’s boasting could offer any comfort, Gladiator recovered from the blast and was further enraged. Upon picking himself up he let out an angry grunt and grabbed the nearest heavy object, which happened to be Lilandra’s SUV.

“By the authority of D’ken, I hereby terminate you foolish human for crimes against the Shi’ar!” he roared as he held the SUV over his head.

“Whoa, he speaks English?!” exclaimed Psylocke.

“And he looks pretty strong!” said Shadowcat.

With an imposing demeanor, Gladiator threw the SUV towards the X-men as if it was a softball. Upon seeing this surprising show of strength, Colossus ran out in front of the team to catch the incoming vehicle. When it hit he tried to counter it with his shoulder, but there was so much force behind the SUV that it warped the metal frame as if it were made of tin foil. The interactions with his metal skin also caused sparks that ignited the gas in the car, inundating Colossus with a burst of flame.

“Correction, he is pretty strong!” groaned Iceman.

“Colossus?! Are you okay!” exclaimed Shadowcat as she ran through the smoke.

Through the debris, she and the X-men could see that Colossus was still standing. His metal skin was dirtied and his uniform was in tatters, but he looked okay despite being a little dazed.

“Ungh…that was not pleasant,” he groaned as Shadowcat helped him keep his balance.

“Just for that, I’ll skip the whole we-come-in-peace shit!” snarled Wolverine as he drew his claws, “You attack an X-man! You get your ass kicked!”

“You think we can take a fella that strong?” said Gambit.

“Just pretend he’s Juggernaut with a Mohawk and a cheap Halloween costume!” said Iceman.

Wolverine led the charge as the X-men launched their attack on Gladiator. The imposing alien didn’t even move from the incoming assault. He remained stoic as he took out a small exotic communicator.

“So annoying,” said the powerful alien before issuing a command, “Mentor, it appears this planet’s reputation is well-deserved. We’re going to need reinforcements.”

“Affirmative Gladiator. I’m sending down Starbolt, Smasher, Hussar, Flashfire, Neutron, and Oracle. Do not act lightly when dealing with these creatures. There’s a good reason why we have avoided Earth for so long.”

As soon as Gladiator put the communicator away, a large opening formed in the starship hovering above the desert. From this opening, a powerful beam of light shot down to the surface and illuminated a bright white circle between Gladiator and the charging X-men.

“X-men, fall back!” yelled Cyclops, stopping everyone just short of the column of light.

“What sort of advanced technology could this be?” gasped Beast, seeming more fascinated than afraid.

“It better not be the first step towards probing!” said Iceman.

“A massive alien force in front of us and that’s what you’re worried about?” scoffed Psylocke.

“You have your worst fears! I have mine!”

The X-men watched anxiously as the column of light flickered briefly. When the light abruptly faded these new beings came into full view and they looked every bit as imposing as Gladiator.

This was the Shi’ar Imperial Guard’s time to prove their worth to Emperor D’ken. Among them was Starbolt, a being with a skeleton shaped head a body composed of red hot plasma. Next to him was Smasher, a humanoid figure bulging with muscle wearing a blue and silver body suit. Besides him was Hussar, a female figure with bright red skin, yellow hair, and skin tight outfit that resembled a one-piece bathing suit. Behind her was Flashfire, another humanoid figure with yellowish skin in an outfit consisting of lightning-bolt shaped symbols. Next to him was Neutron, a tall muscular figure with dark metal-like skin and a statue-like outline. Behind him was Oracle, another feminine figure with blue skin and a purple outfit composed of exotic armor. It was Oracle who met up with Gladiator, saluting respectfully as they stood ready for battle.

“We are at your command, Gladiator,” said Oracle.

“My commands are simple…kill these worthless creatures!” said Gladiator.

“It will be done in the name of D’ken!” proclaimed Smasher.

The X-men took a defensive stance as they took in this new threat.

“Looks like we’ve got the alien A-Team to deal with!” said Cyclops.

“And they all speak English? Is anybody else freaked out by that?” exclaimed Psylocke.

“We’ll have to tackle that mystery when we’re not their primary targets, Psylocke!” said Beast.

“What’s our strategy, Cyclops?” asked Storm, her eyes already glowing bright white.

“Our objective hasn’t changed! We fight these creatures and give Lilandra time to escape!” said the X-leader.

“How is running away is a halfway decent plan?!” snarled Wolverine.

“If you want to test the power of an alien race millions of years ahead of us, be my guest, Wolverine!”

The battle between the X-men and Imperial Guard began with Gladiator leading the charge. Taking to the air, he attempted to fly right through the X-men like a charging bull. His sights were set solely on Lilandra and Professor Xavier. The team broke ranks and dove to the side in order to avoid being hit. As they scrambled the rest of the Imperial Guard attacked, each taking on their own foe. Starbolt took on Iceman, Smasher took on Cyclops and Beast, Hussar took on Wolverine, Flashfire took on Gambit and Storm, Neutron took on Colossus and Shadowcat, and Oracle took on Psylocke. While the X-men were bogged down, Gladiator was free to take on his primary target.

Still flying at full speed, he charged towards the last remnant of the Neramani bloodline with murderous force. The only one who didn’t get out of the way was Phoenix, who stood in front of Xavier and Lilandra with the flames of the Phoenix Force radiating from her body.

“Out of my way!” Gladiator demanded.

“Guess you aliens never learned the word please!” grunted Phoenix, throwing up a telekinetic shield to stop the incoming alien in his tracks.

When Gladiator struck the barrier, it caused a shockwave that kicked up sand and small rocks. The force was so great that Phoenix was driven back several feet and had to reinforce her shield more than she anticipated. Gladiator was stopped in his tracks, but hardly broke a sweat.

“You’re only worsening my wrath!” yelled Gladiator as he pounded on her telekinetic shield.

“Ungh! And you’re giving me a headache, so we’re even!” groaned Phoenix, her face already tensing from the strain.

“Jean! Can you hold him off?” asked Xavier anxiously.

“Only if you don’t distract me!” she grunted, “This guy has Juggernaut level strength! If you want to get Lilandra out of here, now is the time!”

Professor Xavier trusted the word of his student, allowing himself little time to worry or debate. He turned to Lilandra, who seemed overwhelmed by the sight of the battle that was unfolding because of her.

“Come with me, Lilandra! We need to get clear so I can summon the Velocity!” he told her.

“Wait Charles…this doesn’t feel right,” she said distantly, “I don’t think I can run away from this. I don’t think I should.”

“You’ll have time to formulate a plan once you’re out of danger. Please Lilandra…your life is too important to me!”

Lilandra shook herself from her daze and turned to Charles, who looked at her with desperate eyes. It had been a while since they had seen each other. After she found out he had cancer, she kept her distance. He didn’t look much healthier now, but there was no time to dwell on such issues.

“Okay Charles,” she said breathlessly, “We still have a lot to talk about though.”

“We’ll get to it all. I promise,” the Professor assured her.

“That depends on your X-men being able to hold off the Imperial Guard.”

“They can handle themselves. I trust them!”

With Lilandra by his side, Professor Xavier began wheeling over the rugged terrain to get as far away from the chaos as possible. He was in one of his specially built chairs that allowed him to traverse the rough desert floor. Even though he was weakened by cancer, his arms still had enough strength to lead Lilandra to safety. The burden was on the X-men to hold these powerful aliens off for as long as possible.

The battle quickly escalated for both sides. The X-men and the Imperial Guard were relentless in their attack. Starbolt and Iceman were already scarring the desert landscape as they exchanged punishing ice blasts and red hot plasma bursts. Since Starbolt was essentially the antithesis of Iceman’s powers, he took it upon himself to better the creature. He used his ice slides to maneuver around the hovering figure and fire a relentless barrage of ice shards. He tried to focus as much cold on one area to put this fiery creature out.

“So you wanna test ice versus fire? Be my guest!” said Iceman as he unleashed waves of icy cold, “If you aliens are that advanced, you should know that all fires burn out eventually!”

“Errrrrrr! If you humans weren’t so inferior…you would know the difference between fire and plasma!” said Starbolt in a strange hissing voice.

To demonstrate this difference, Starbolt unleashed a fire blast into the and below him. This kicked up a healthy load of dirt, which dampened the incoming ice attack. It allowed Starbolt to duck to the side and form a small star-like ball of flame between his hands. Once it was about the size of a baseball, he shot it up towards Iceman. He tried to avoid it and was able to get out of the direct path, but the ball of flame still hit his ice slide. As soon as it struck, the ice completely shattered along with the beams he was using to stay aloft.

“Whoa shit-that-burns!” exclaimed Iceman as he tumbled towards the ground.

He hit the desert floor hard, leaving a pretty nasty crater. He happened to land right next to Cyclops, who was in the middle of fighting Smasher with Beast. He had been trying to get a clean head shot with his optic blasts while Beast drew his attacks, using his agile form to avoid them. With Iceman now down for the count, his focus shifted.

“Iceman! What just happened?” the X-leader demanded.

“Ungh…I think I just got an impromptu physics lesson,” said Iceman as he struggled to pull himself up, “I uh…I’m having trouble icing up.”

“Well you better shake it off! I’ll cover you, but Beast and I have our hands full with this guy!”

“That would be a harrowing understatement, Cyclops,” said Beast as he narrowly avoided another blow by Smasher.

The margin for error was narrowing with each attack. Beast noticed that every time Smasher hit something like the ground or a rock, he left a noticeable mark. It was an ominous hint of the kind of strength he was dealing with.

“Stand still and accept the rule of D’ken!” proclaimed Smasher.

“You’re English is quite fluent. You also appear quite human with the exception of your skin texture,” commented Beast as he narrowly avoided another blow.

“I may look like you ignorant humans! But I’m more advanced than you can possibly contemplate!”

“Are you sure? I can contemplate an awful lot,” said Beast.

In a grunt of frustration, Smasher tried to grab Beast by the torso. The nimble mutant pulled of an acrobatic back flip, causing Smasher to just miss and stumble forward. When Beast landed behind him, he jumped onto his back and pulled him into a punishing head lock. Even though Smasher was distinctly alien, his weak points weren’t terribly different from regular humans.

“Ack! Get off me you furry zarnok!” yelled Smasher.

“Good to see your physiology isn’t too alien,” grunted Beast as he struggled to hang on, “Cyclops! Take the shot! I would rather not learn more about what this zarnok is he is describing entails!”

Cyclops, who was still looking over Iceman, took aim from about twenty feet away. He adjusted his visor so that the blast was narrow and concentrated. After taking close aim he fired his optic blast and the narrow beam hit Smasher right between the eyes.

“Augh!” he groaned as he fell right back.

“And so it seems humans and aliens aren’t that different after all,” said Beast.

As Smasher fell back, he leaped up and delivered an extra jump kick to make sure he stayed down. This seemed to take Smasher out of the fight, at least for the moment. It allowed Beast and Cyclops to breathe a sigh of relief and it gave Iceman time to rebuild his ice shell.

“Nice sharpshooting, Cyclops,” commented Iceman.

“Feeling better, Iceman?” said the X-leader.

“I’m getting there. Just need to…”

Suddenly, Iceman saw a figure emerging from the corner of his eye. It was Starbolt. He had been forming another fireball between his hands. This time it was even bigger than the last one. He watched as he took aim right at him in Cyclops. The young mutant reacted instinctively, shoving his friend and leader of the way of the incoming blast.

“For the glory of D’ken!” yelled Starbolt.

“LOOK OUT!” exclaimed Iceman.

As soon as Iceman shoved Cyclops out of the way, he put up a thick ice shell to protect himself and braced himself for impact. The intense heat almost instantly boiled away the ice, turning it to pure steam. The fireball was so hot it bore a clean hole through the shell and struck Iceman point blank. The ice shell he was able to reform took most of the blast. Only this time, he was completely de-iced in the process and knocked back hard.

“Aarrrghhhh!” he cried out.

“Iceman!” exclaimed Cyclops, retaliating with a series of optic blasts towards Starbolt.

Now dazed even more than before, Iceman landed in a puddle a good fifteen feet from where he was standing. He groaned in pain, feeling as though his energy had just been sucked dry. He would have passed out completely had Wolverine not stepped within six inches of his face. This was an abrupt wake-up call, but the feral mutant barely seemed to notice him. He was too immersed in his battle with the whip-wielding Hussar.

“Errrr! Watch it, Popsicle! Kind of in the middle of something!” snarled Wolverine, who was being branded repeatedly by Hussar’s whip.

“Ungh…sorry,” he groaned, “Want me to wait until you’re done with your alien S&M?”

“Shut up and pull yourself together! Otherwise next time I’m walking right over you!”

Wolverine’s frustration was building with this fight and this woman. At least he thought this was a woman. He didn’t know how alien gender worked and he really didn’t have the capacity to care. Whatever she/he/it was, he was getting branded both literally and figuratively.

“The warriors of this planet are such fools! They take so much punishment, yet they’re so pathetic when they fight back!” spat Hussar as she cracked her whip with more energy.

Hussar had been keeping plenty of distance, using her whip to ward of Wolverine’s attacks. She showed superhuman agility and reflexes. She also enhanced the lethal potential of her whip by infusing it with bio-electric energy. Whenever it struck Wolverine, it left a painful mark. It was nothing his healing factor couldn’t deal with, but it still hurt worse than any regular burn.

“So you imperial types like to talk trash, eh? Lucky for you, I’m a man of few words!” grunted Wolverine as he managed to avoid the whip this time.

Snarling with intent, Wolverine clenched his fists and charged towards the agile alien woman. She menacingly stared him down, gripping her whip firmly before pulling it back and snapping it towards her adversary. Wolverine sensed it coming this time and did an acrobatic somersault in midair to avoid it. When he landed, he shot up and severed the whip with his claws. This surprised Hussar and left her vulnerable for a brief moment. It was all the time Wolverine needed to land a devastating blow.

“Hrrrrrrraahhhhhhhhhh!” he yelled as he slashed Hussar across the arm she had been wielding the whip with and drop kicked her in the gut.

“Ahhhhhhh!” she cried out.

Hussar fell to the desert floor clutching her arm. She appeared to be bleeding, except her blood was anything but human. It was actually black and it seemed to be steaming. While seething with pain, she looked up at the feral mutant with glowing yellow eyes.

“You brutish barbarian!” she yelled, “I can still slay you without my whip!”

“Slay this!” grunted Wolverine.

Before she could lunge towards him, Wolverine hit her with a roundhouse kick. This knocked her down for the count. He meant to knock her out completely, but these aliens were built tough.

“Nice hit, Wolverine! You’re always good with the ladies! Even aliens can’t handle you!” said a still woozy Iceman, clearly somewhat concussed from his blow.

“Flattery ain’t gonna stop me from telling you to get your ass up again!” quipped Wolverine.

“Eh, it was worth a try,” he said innocently.

Wolverine rolled his eyes and started making his way towards Iceman. He barely made it halfway because Beast suddenly came flying in as if he had been thrown out of a moving car. He tumbled across the desert, doing a few flips in the process before coming to a rest right at Wolverine’s feet.

“Damn it, McCoy! Not you too!” groaned Wolverine.

“Ungh…Logan, you really should move!” groaned Beast.

“Why the hell should I…”

The feral mutant didn’t get to finish his sentence. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Smasher charging right towards him. Apparently, Cyclops and Beast hadn’t stunned him enough and he was back in the fight. Wolverine prepared to defend himself, but Smasher was going too fast. Leading with his shoulder, he rammed right into Wolverine and sent him flying just as he had with Beast.

That’s why, human!” boasted Smasher.

“Oh hell…this fight is not going our way,” groaned Iceman.

While Smasher tended to Hussar, Wolverine landed right in the middle of the battle between Flashfire, Storm, and Gambit. Just like the battle with Hussar, this fight required a healthy distance to keep it from being too lopsided. Flashfire demonstrated a powerful ability to supercharge his body with electricity and direct it to his whim. It was a lot more volatile compared to Storm’s lightning. She and Gambit had to surround Flashfire with wind and charged cards to keep him from summoning too much power.

When Wolverine landed close to them, he ended up within Flashfire’s sights. The lightning was quickly attracted to his metal bones and earned him some painful shocks to go along with the blow Smasher just landed.

“You humans rally are foolish!” laughed Flashfire, “Lacing your bones with metal? Honestly, are you trying to make this easy for me?”

“Ungh! Like we’re that generous,” groaned Wolverine as he endured more shocks.

Flashfire grinned as he directed his attention towards Wolverine, ignoring the sandstorm and charged cards coming towards him. If he was to do the will of D’ken, he might as well take advantage of human stupidity.

“Logan!” Storm cried out.

“Hey! Don’t be shying away from the real fight, homme! We ain’t folded yet!” Gambit called out.

“Well deal a better hand, Gambit! I must get to Logan!” exclaimed Storm.

The African woman quickly rushed to her lover’s aid. This weakened her wind storm and allowed Flashfire to emerge through the blinding sands. His sights were still on Wolverine, but Gambit rushed into the middle of the chaos and drew his bow staff. Charged cards weren’t working with all this electricity in the air so he was going to need another tactic.

“Are you really this eager to suffer my electric wrath?” taunted Flashfire.

“You really are annoying for someone claiming to be so advanced?” retorted Gambit, “Go on! Show Gambit how folks on your planet play their hand!”

“I have no idea what this broken language of yours entails, but I’ll assume it’s something insulting!”

Flashfire charged up, forming massive balls of electricity in both hands. At the same time, Gambit charged his bow staff. When Flashfire began unleashing torrents of his electric energy, it was immediately drawn to the energized staff. Just as he had done with Storm during the Shadowking affair, he used physics to his advantage. It kept the electricity away from his friends and allowed him to charge towards the menacing alien.

“What trickery is this?!” demanded a surprised Flashfire.

“You can fly through space, but you don’t understand your own physics?” grinned Gambit, “Remy’s in a giving mood so here’s a demonstration!”

Clutching his bow staff, Gambit charged it even more and then heaved it towards Flashfire like a javelin. It continued to draw the electricity towards it and the alien Imperial guardsman was forced to redirect his blasts towards the incoming projectile. By the time he hit it head on, it was too close. So when it exploded, the blast knocked Flashfire to the ground in a cloud of dust.

Now that the electricity stopped flying, Storm was free to help Wolverine up to his feet. The feral mutant was still in pretty bad shape from his encounters with Hussar and Flashfire.

“All the problems we’ve been having and you’re still soft on me,” said Wolverine breathlessly.

“How can I not be?” said Storm softly as she cradled his face, “I don’t give up on the people I love so easily.”

“We’ll work it all out later, darlin’. I promise,” he said, “Just tell me whether or not we’re winning so I know how pissed I need to get.”

Storm smiled weakly. She could still appreciate his gruff remarks in the heat of battle. It was comforting at a time when comfort was a luxury at best. She found herself embracing her lover, enjoying the warmth she had come to appreciate so much.

This embrace would be short lived though. Despite being stunned from Gambit’s attack, Flashfire was still conscious and intent on attacking. Still on his hands and knees, he stared down Gambit as he was closing in on him. In a desperate act, his body began radiating massive bolts of electricity.

“I will not be defeated by humans!” yelled Flashfire.

“Aw merde…” groaned Gambit.

The Cajun fell back to avoid the incoming lightning. Without his bow staff, he had no protection. However, most of the lightning wasn’t drawn towards him. It was drawn towards the closest metal in the area, which happened to be Wolverine. When the lightning hit him, he was overwhelmed with a paralyzing shock. Since Storm had been embracing him, she took a healthy shock too and she didn’t have a healing factor to protect her.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” she cried out.

“Argh! Storm!” exclaimed Wolverine.

As much as it hurt having so much electricity surge through him, it hurt even more to see Storm in such agony. She passed out in his arms, her body trembling and shaking from the power of the shock. Wolverine was forced to push through the pain and catch her.

“Storm…” he gasped.

“Stormy!” yelled Gambit as he tried rushing to her aid, “Is she okay?”

Wolverine checked for a pulse. He found one and sensed she was still breathing. The shock hadn’t been lethal, but it was definitely painful. It enraged the feral mutant in a way he could not contain. With a menacing snarl, he gently laid Storm down on the desert floor and drew his claws. Then in a full berserker rage, he attacked Flashfire.

“HRRRRRAAAHHHHHHHH!”

“By the Lord Imperium…” groaned Flashfire as he saw the charging mutant.

Flashfire was forced on the defensive while Wolverine attacked. He managed to draw much of his electric attacks again, allowing Gambit to get to Storm and carry her to safety. He took some major burns in the process, but the pain didn’t even register. This asshole used him to hurt Storm. For that, he had to pay.

“You might be the lucky one here, Stormy. We in big trouble if we can’t turn this thing around and your boyfriends rage may not be enough,” lamented the Cajun as he rushed Storm to safety.

Gambit struggled to protect Storm as more lighting shot out from Flashfire. In addition, he ended up getting caught between another fight unfolding behind him between Psylocke and Oracle.

Unlike Flashfire, Oracle’s firepower was in her mind. She quickly established herself as a powerful telepath, using aggressive psychic attacks on the mind of her adversary. While Psylocke struggling to keep her mind shielded, Oracle showed she had the physical skills to match her psychic talents. She demonstrated reflexes and agility well-above that of normal humans. Her body was also pretty durable as well. Psylocke discovered that her psionic blades didn’t do as much damage as she needed them to do.

“You’re young and confused, human! I sense your fear!” seethed Oracle as she landed a punishing kick on Psylocke, “I too am young! You have the honor of being my first victim for Lord D’ken! My mother, the first Oracle, would be so proud!”

“Tell your mother…she raised a real bitch!” quipped Psylocke.

Summoning the ninja agility instilled from Kwannon, Psylocke launched a punishing counter-attack. Gripping her psionic blade, she hacked and slashed relentlessly at the nimble alien. All the while, she kept trying to fight back with her mind. Psylocke wouldn’t make it easy on her. She focused all her mental efforts on defense and let her blades be her primary weapon.

Oracle ducked and dodged her way around the attacks, cutting it close a few times in the process. At one point the psionic blade grazed her face, causing some oddly colored blood to bleed out. Undaunted, she kept trying to break this feeble human’s psychic defenses. Growing increasingly frustrated, she tried to counter one of Psylocke’s moves. As she was coming in for a swift horizontal slash, she acrobatically leaped up over it and did a perfect somersault in midair. She sought to strike the exposed human on the way down. This turned out to be a mistake.

“About bloody time!” Psylocke grinned.

Just as Oracle was about to land her blow, Psylocke pulled off a swift spin move that allowed her to get into position behind her adversary. The moment she landed, she delivered a punishing kick to the back that finally threw her off balance. Before Oracle could even hit the desert floor, Psylocke grabbed her from behind.

“Augh! You unevolved-ack!” Oracle choked.

“Tell your emperor…you just got outsmarted by a human,” said Psylocke.

Using her psionic blade, Psylocke drove it into the back of her head. This effectively shattered Oracle’s psychic defenses and delivered a shock to her mind that was the equivalent of twenty bad hangovers. It wouldn’t kill her, but it would make her wish she was dead.

“There! These sods aren’t so tough!” she said victoriously.

“Betsy, look out!” yelled Gambit from close by.

Psylocke barely had time to register her lover’s warning. She didn’t even have enough time to turn around to see what was going on. If she had, she would have seen Hussar’s whip coming right at her and hitting her right on the wrist. This caused her to drop her psionic blade and put her in a world of hurt. Apparently, Smasher helped Hussar recover from her earlier bout with Wolverine.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh!” she cried out.

“You humans will suffer dearly! All must pay the price of opposing Emperor D’ken!” seethed Hussar.

Psylocke tried to free herself from the whip. It drained her energy more than her fight with Oracle. She managed to form another blade and cut the whip, falling back in the process. This did little to stop Hussar from approaching. Smasher, who had helped Hussar up, rushed to prevent Gambit from coming to her aid. This left Psylocke to take on Hussar and only at half-strength.

“Hnn…I could use a little help here!” she lamented.

The closest ones nearby were Shadowcat and Colossus, who were taking on the super-strong Neutron. They also were in a tight spot.

“Sorry Psylocke! We’re a little busy here!” groaned Shadowcat as she narrowly phased through an incoming attack.

“Bloody hell,” she groaned in pain.

“Just hold out a bit longer! The Professor and Lilandra are almost clear!” urged Colossus.

This left Psylocke on the defensive while Colossus found himself in yet another grapple with Neutron. Their fight had been a stalemate since it started. The Imperial Guardian was ruthlessly destructive in his attack, smashing his fists on the desert floor and throwing heavy shards of rock towards Colossus and Shadowcat. Thanks to Shadowcat’s phasing, they remained in one piece. She then helped coordinate a counter-attack, keeping Colossus phased so he could attack. They exchanged several blows, but neither gained the upper hand. What made it stranger was that this alien powerhouse didn’t show much emotion. It was like fighting a statue.

“Errrrrrrr! You do not talk much, do you?” grunted Colossus as he tried to overpower Neutron.

The alien was silent as his bulging muscles flexed. He started gaining the upper hand, literally pushing Colossus back so that his feet were driven into the hard desert floor. The Russian mutant struggled to keep his balance, which was a feeling he was not used to. Eventually, Neutron twisted his arms and Colossus fell to his knees.

“Submit,” demanded Neutron, finally breaking his silence.

“Hey! Forgetting something?!” came a voice from behind him.

Neutron didn’t even turn around as Shadowcat jumped on his back and wrapped her arms around his neck. Her petite statue offered little in terms of strength so Neutron was not threatened.

“Pathetic,” scoffed the Imperial guardsman.

“So you’re a tough guy, huh? Lucky for you, I know how to take on tough guys!” taunted Shadowcat.

“Katya don’t!” grunted Colossus, “He’s too…”

“I got this, Petey! There’s only one way to beat a tough guy!” she proclaimed, “You fight dirty!”

Shadowcat demonstrated this little tactic by climbing up further on the imposing alien’s shoulders. Once she was in position, she reached around with both arms so that her hands were right in his face. She then drove her thumbs right into Neutron’s eyes sockets. It turned out that this part of Neutron wasn’t as tough as the rest of him.

“Auuugghhhh!” Neutron yelled out.

“Not so tough now, are you?” grinned Shadowcat as she dug her thumbs in deeper.

Neutron’s focus was finally broken. His strength faltered and he fell back. He instinctively reached for Shadowcat, but he wasn’t fast enough. She phased right through his grip and literally walked right through him. While he was clutching his face, Colossus rose up from the landed a devastating haymaker across the face of the once stoic alien. A loud clang echoed throughout the desert, sending Neutron to the ground in a defeated heap of pain.

Colossus needed a moment to catch his breath. Shadowcat lent a hand, a smile never leaving her face. It was hard not to be impressed. Even for a veteran of the Russian Mob, this American teenage girl showed a toughness that gave his metal skin a run for its money.

“So are you gonna say it or what?” grinned Shadowcat.

“What do you want me to say, Katya?” said Colossus.

“I don’t want to tell you,” she laughed, “Just say what I know is on your mind.”

Colossus laughed and smiled back.

“You’re as tough as they come, Katya,” he told her.

“Coming from a mountain of metal and muscle like you, that means the world to me.”

Colossus’s smile widened. He wasn’t used to being impressed by a woman, let alone one of Kitty Pryde’s stature. It was sort of comforting to know that there was someone with thicker skin than him so to speak, even if she did have a talent for making him blush. However, Shadowcat and Colossus’s little moment was abruptly broken from their daze by a sudden burst of flames nearby.

“Hate to break up the moment, you two! But I could use some help here!” exclaimed a struggling Phoenix.

They looked behind them to see that Phoenix and Gladiator were still going at it. Phoenix had been trying to keep Gladiator from following Xavier and Lilandra since the beginning of the battle. Gladiator had been trying to shove her aside, fly past her, or fly through her. At each turn, Phoenix erected a super strong telekinetic field that was augmented by the flames of the Phoenix Force. This held up well early on, but it eventually took a toll.

“Your power is greater than I thought,” commented Gladiator stoically as he relentlessly punched at her shields, “You wield the power of the Phoenix Force? Could that be the energy readings our cruisers detected that fateful day?”

“You…detected me? Is that what brought you to this planet?”

Gladiator’s expression hardened upon hearing the distinct tone of the Phoenix Force.

“So it is you,” he said stoically, “D’ken will be most intrigued. You promise to be a big part of the glory that awaits my lord. Such has been ordained by the fates.”

“Fate? What fate?!” demanded Phoenix.

“If you are too ignorant to know, then you are not ready. Nor are you strong enough!”

Clenching both hands, Gladiator summoned his vast strength and slammed his fists right on top of the telekinetic bubble. This punishing force pushed Phoenix to her limit. Blood was seeping down her nose and sweat was pouring off her face. She could feel her shields cracking.

Sensing this weakness, Gladiator struck again. This time he hit it with a powerful right cross. It was so strong it caused a shockwave that kicked up some sand below them. To ensure that the shield was broken, he flew forth and drove her down into the hard desert floor. This kept her from erecting another shield and took her out of the fight.

“Arrrrggghhhhh!”

“You had your chance, Phoenix. You’ll get another,” said Gladiator stoically.

With Phoenix out of his way, Gladiator looked out into the distance and saw his target getting away. Lilandra and Charles Xavier were almost out of range and he could see a smaller aircraft coming in to land. The X-men had held up the Imperial Guard for too long. Now that Gladiator was free from obstructions, he could catch up.

“I grow tired of this,” scoffed Gladiator as he started moving forward.

“Keep tiring, comrade! It is not over yet!” came a Russian voice from behind.

Just as Gladiator was about to take to the air, the powerful arms of Colossus slipped around his arms and neck. He was now in a choke-hold and once against stalled from completing his mission.

“Unhand me, primate!” Gladiator demanded.

“I believe it is customary in America to say please!”

Gladiator’s stoic expression was finally faltering. His frustration grew to new heights. Few beings in the galaxy were foolish enough to oppose the Imperial Guard. Even fewer succeeded. These humans were on the brink successfully opposing the will of D’ken. It was an act no Imperial guardsman could allow.

Lilandra didn’t look back for a second, staying with Xavier and trusting that he would get her out of this. She saw the Velocity coming in lower. It was almost in range.

“Get ready to jump in, Lilandra! We’ll take off as soon as we’re on board!” yelled the Professor over the noise of the rotors.

“What about the X-men?” asked Lilandra anxiously.

“They’ll be okay! I’ve made arrangements to…”

Suddenly, Charles was cut off by a paralyzing pain. He almost fell right out of his chair. His limbs went limp and he nearly passed out.

“Charles? Charles, what’s wrong?!” Lilandra exclaimed.

“Ungh…my chest,” he gasped.

His body was once again betraying him. His cancer attacked at the worst possible time. Lilandra had to catch him to stop him from keeling over. His frail body was giving out. He felt limp in her arms with the life quickly draining from him.

“Charles…” she cried, “Don’t do this to me! Not now!”

“Please Lilandra…you must go,” urged Xavier in a weak voice.

“I can’t! I won’t leave you!” she said with tears in her eyes.

“You…you have to. Don’t worry about me. All that matters…is that you’re safe.”

The Velocity was just within range. Lilandra could feel the wind from the rotors brushing through her hair. Escape was within her reach, but she couldn’t leave this man behind. Charles Xavier meant too much to her. She couldn’t possibly allow it to end like this. There was so much they hadn’t reconciled and so much love they had yet to share.

While Lilandra was struggling with her decision, Gladiator was able to fight off Colossus. He flew up into the air slightly, grabbed the Russian mutant by the left shoulder and flipped him over so he literally body slammed him onto the ground.

“Ungh! Professor…” groaned Colossus in a stunned daze.

“Your pestilence has annoyed me several moments too long!” proclaimed Gladiator, “For these heinous crimes, your kind will pay dearly! So will the last of the Neramani bloodline!”

While Shadowcat rushed to Colossus’s aid, Gladiator ascended into the sky. He then pulled out his small alien communicator and sent a message to the ship that was still hovering overhead.

“Mentor, begin executing plan omega. Fire the stasis field at the coordinates I specify,” he said into the device.

“It will be done, Gladiator.”

With only a few button entries, the coordinates were set. A small opening in the underbelly of the space craft opened and an ominous cannon-like device emerged. For a brief moment, it maneuvered into position and took aim at Lilandra. Then it unleashed a concentrated ball of greenish light. But it did not strike Lilandra.

“Professor, look out!” Phoenix cried out.

It was too late. The green light struck Professor Xavier right on the back. As soon as it hit, a strange egg-shaped bubble formed around him that literally forced Lilandra away from him. She landed right under the swirling rotors of the Velocity. And when she saw the effects of this blast, she gasped in horror at what she saw.

“Charles!” she cried out.

There was no response. It was impossible at this point. Professor Xavier was locked in what appeared to be a stasis field. His body was completely frozen in time, the same pained expression she last saw him in etched on his face. Lilandra tried to reach out and touch him, but the translucent egg-shaped bubble was as hard as granite. She couldn’t even sense his mind.

“Professor…no!” gasped Shadowcat.

“What did you do?!” demanded Phoenix, her eyes flaring with cosmic rage.

“The primate is fine. He’s merely suspended in a temporal stasis field. His well-being depends on what you and your kind decide next,” said Gladiator coldly, who was still hovering in mid-air.

Upon clicking a button on his belt, the stasis bubble rose up into the ship. Phoenix seethed with anger and tried to go after it, heading straight for Gladiator with fiery intent in her eyes.

“Let him go right now!” she demanded.

“Come any closer and I’ll disassemble him molecule by molecule!” said a Gladiator firmly.

The alien guardian held up a remote control and put his thumb on the button to show he meant business. Phoenix, despite being blind with anger, stopped halfway towards her target. She wanted desperately to strike back, but couldn’t risk the safety of the Professor.

“We still might be able to strike him. I could summon more…”

“No Phoenix. It’s too risky,” said Jean Grey in a defeated tone.

“But it may be possible to…”

“Not when friends and loved ones are at risk,” she went on, “You fight the battles you can win. That way you don’t lose more than you can bear.”

The Phoenix Force was still conflicted. Old tendencies didn’t go away easily for the cosmic being. It seemed unnatural to cease when she still had the power at her disposal to take on this foe. On this, she yielded to Jean Grey’s human insight. The protection of her friends and mentor took precedent above everything else.

Gladiator watched as Phoenix wisely backed away as Professor Xavier disappeared into the ship. The Imperial Guardsman looked down towards Lilandra and back at the battle still raging close by. The X-men were wearing down and so were some of the Imperial Guard. It seemed demeaning to the minions of D’ken to draw this out any longer.

“Imperial Guard! Plan omega is in effect!” Gladiator announced, “Do as you must!”

Almost immediately, every member of the Imperial Guard stopped what they were doing, backed off from their adversaries, and gathering near the center of the clearing. Some had to be helped after having been injured in the fight. Once Starbolt, Smasher, Husser, Flashfire, Neutron, and Oracle converged, a bright light from the bottom of the space ship beamed down and levitated them back into the hovering craft.

Their retreat surprised much of the X-men. It also came as a relief because they had been faltering on every front. Iceman and Storm were badly injured and Cyclops, Beast, Wolverine, Gambit, and Psylocke weren’t making any progress. Despite being tired and sore, they joined up with Phoenix, Colossus, and Shadowcat.

“You fucking alien pissants! Come back here! I’m not finished with you!” roared Wolverine, still in a rage after what happened to Storm.

“Why are they retreating? We didn’t win, did we?” said Psylocke.

“No…we didn’t,” said Cyclops grimly as he looked up at the hovering Gladiator.

While the X-men stood dazed and sore from the battle, Lilandra ran towards them at full speed. She had been running since the moment Charles was lifted into the ship. By the time she reached the X-men, the rest of the Imperial Guard was on board as well.

“They…they took him! They took Charles!” Lilandra cried out.

“They took the Professor?!” exclaimed Gambit, “Why in the hell would they go and do that?”

“Why indeed,” said Beast, “I believe this may be their alien way of working smarter instead of harder.”

“That works on other planets too?” groaned Shadowcat.

“I think there’s more to it than that,” said Phoenix distantly.

“Why do you say that? Are you sensing something?” asked Shadowcat intently.

“I’m not sure and even if I did, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to know anyhow.”

With the rest of the Imperial Guard on the ship, Gladiator flew in lower so that he was hovering about thirty feet above the X-men. He made his annoyance with the X-men painfully clear. He also made sure every word was laced with menacing intent.

“Now I see why Earth has such a harsh reputation. It is full of foolish and pestilent creatures!” he said with a harsh scold.

“Wow…Earth has that kind of reputation? I almost feel proud,” said Psylocke dryly.

“Betsy, don’t make it worse!” scolded Cyclops.

“Our only objective was the last Lilandra. She was all we wanted. But since you insist on being difficult, we must resort to extreme measures,” explained Gladiator, “As you have just witnessed, we have the one you call Charles Xavier. For your crimes, Emperor D’ken authorizes the harshest torture as punishment. The Imperial Guard has the tools to make it so he suffers in a way that will ensure you’ll never oppose our Lord again!”

It was a cruel threat that even Magneto and Sinister would find repulsive. It wasn’t enough to torment the Professor. They wanted the rest of the X-men to share in the suffering.

“If you lay your slimy alien hands on him I swear…” began Phoenix.

“Do not attempt to threaten me, Phoenix Force. You of all beings should know what we’re capable of,” said Gladiator.

“I…I should?”

“If you do not remember, then trust that the laws of the Shi’ar shall be upheld in the harshest of manners,” he stated, “However, those same laws allow us to make deals in order to avoid such messy outcomes. We are willing to part ways without further conflict if the last Neramani would simply turn herself over.”

“Part ways?” said Beast, “Just to be clear this is not a failure of translation, you’ll release the Professor unharmed if Lilandra turns herself in.”

“You are correct,” affirmed Gladiator, “Since Emperor D’ken is so impatient and remaining on this planet for any length of time comes with a wide range of risks, this is how it must be done. Make no mistake. Were this any other planet, the wrath of the Shi’ar would obliterate this tiny speck for such insubordination. Consider yourselves lucky that we are willing to be reasonable.”

“Yeah…some luck,” snarled Wolverine.

“What is it about our planet that is so risky anyways?” asked Colossus.

“That you do not need to know,” said Gladiator, “Now if you are going to cease scoffing at the laws of the Shi’ar, you’ll bring Lilandra to the top of the rock plateau north of this area in one Earth hour. If you choose to make light of this offer rest assured, no amount of Earthly danger will spare you from my wrath!”

Gladiator’s harsh words echoed through the desert night as he ascended into the space craft. As soon as he was on board, the craft silently moved to the north and disappeared in what appeared to be an invisibility cloak. They now had all the right chips to bargain with. They had the X-men’s mentor and the love of Lilandra Neramani’s life. Their fate now hinged on how much Lilandra was willing to risk her life for the man she loved.

“It’s official. I hate aliens,” groaned Wolverine.

“Star Trek and Star Wars has officially been ruined for me,” said Shadowcat.

“It seemed strange that a race as advanced as the Shi’ar were so wary about being here on Earth,” said Beast curiously, “It is almost as if there’s something here that scares them.”

“If that be true, they hide their fear pretty dang well,” said Gambit, “Just what in the hell are we gonna do about this?”

“That’s not up to us. That’s up to Miss Neramani here,” said Cyclops.

All eyes turned to Lilandra, who looked deeply conflicted. In many ways she had been through more hardship than any of the X-men tonight. She just learned she was part alien and the last hope against some sinister tyrant named D’ken. Now she was responsible for putting Charles’s life in danger and forcing the X-men to confront these alien thugs. She looked over at Storm and Iceman, both of whom were still unconscious. Then her thoughts drifted towards Xavier.

“This is all my fault,” she cried, “Charles…D’ken…everything!”

“Now is not the time for self-loathing, Miss Neramani,” said Phoenix, offering a comforting gesture, “We need to work on a plan. Like it or not, you’re the key to saving the Professor!”

“You’re right…I am,” she said sadly.

With tears still streaming down her face, Lilandra turned away from the X-men and came to a harsh realization. The memory of her mother’s final words still echoed in her mind. She expressed so much confidence that she would do the right thing. Lilandra was pretty certain that this wasn’t what her mother had in mind, but it still rang true. The secrets of her life were secondary. All that mattered at this point was Charles.

“Miss Neramani, let us help you!” said Cyclops strongly, “We’ll come up with a plan to beat this alien sideshow!”

“No Cyclops. There will be no plan,” said Lilandra with a hard sob.

“What?! What kind of a plan is that?” said Phoenix warily.

“Lilandra, I hope you’re not implying what I think you are,” said Beast.

“I am,” she said distantly, “I don’t want to put Charles’s life at risk. That’s why I’m taking Gladiator up on his offer. I’m surrendering myself to the Shi’ar.”


Outer Space – One Million Miles From Earth

The Starjammer emerged from hyperspace after a rough trip from the outer edges of the Shi’ar Empire. Traveling through the depths of space was treacherous, even without the Imperial Guard wanting their heads on a platter. Traveling to this sector of the galaxy was often riskier because it was undeveloped and far from any Shi’ar support. There were also some standing taboos about this place, especially the planet Earth.

None of this bothered Corsair. As far as he was concerned, it was a good thing the Shi’ar were afraid to travel to this part of the galaxy. It didn’t mean much to him. Every so often, there were some adventurous Shi’ar who traveled here for nefarious reasons. He knew that better than anyone and it was part of why he didn’t like being here again.

“There she is,” he said as an image of Earth appeared on the scanner, “Never thought I’d wind up here again. Still looks ugly as hell.”

“You never were the sentimental type, Corsair,” said Ch’od dryly.

“Shut up and keep the cloaking shield up so we can get in and get out quickly. I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.”

Standing on the bridge of the flight deck, Corsair watched as Ch’od, Hepzibah, and Raza worked with the ship AI, Waldo. They carefully maneuvered the ship into position before activating the thrusters. The air remained tense. This was the most important mission the Starjammers had ever taken on. For many on board, it was personal. D’ken had hurt so many and Corsair was among his worst victim. Any chance at taking the fight back to this tyrant was worth the risk and the discomfort of returning to Earth.

The planet was coming up fast. But as they drew closer, a number of computer systems flashed ominously.

“Oh fragnar!” cursed Raza, the cybernetic weapons specialist of the Starjammer.

“I hate it when you say that, Raza,” groaned Corsair.

“I think it is actually appropriate for once! Waldo just picked up on some encrypted quantum chatter!”

“Any chance it’s localized? It’s been a long time since I’ve been on Earth,” said Corsair, “For all we know, mankind caught up in the technology race.”

“A people this under-evolved? You’re dreaming, Corsair,” scoffed Raza, “I would recognize the coding anywhere! It came from an imperial cruiser!”

“And not just any imperial cruiser from the looks of it,” dreaded Hepzibah as she looked over the readings for herself, “This is the transport for the Imperial Guard! Whatever launched that signal we detected earlier, it must have been important!”

“Must be pretty valuable too if D’ken is sending his big guns after it,” said Ch’od.

Corsair remained stoic in wake of this grim information. He was probably the only one not lamenting because when the Imperial Guard was involved, it was never a fair fight. At the same time, it was a telling clue. If there was something that valuable on Earth, then it was almost a guarantee that the galaxy would be better off if the Starjammers got to it first.

“Well Starjammers, looks like we have a golden opportunity to stick it to D’ken and you know how much we hate to waste those!” said Corsair.

“Now you’re talking, Captain!” grinned Ch’od, “So what’s the plan?”

“The plan is for you to step on it and get to that dump of a planet as fast as possible!” he ordered, “Raza, I want you to trace the signal so we know exactly where to find that cruiser. Wherever they are, I’m guessing that’s where the action is!”

“I certainly hope you have a plan on dealing with that action,” said Hepzibah.

“I work something out,” said Corsair, “But first, I need you to finish decoding the information from that signal we got earlier. It may give us a clue on what we’re dealing with.”

Next Issue: Starcrossed Part 3

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