The next stage of evolution has granted extraordinary powers to a new generation. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men seek to use those powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. In their struggle they contend with many forces conspiring against them. As the conflict between humans and mutants evolves, the X-men are becoming an increasingly vulnerable target.
The responsibilities of the X-men have never been more vital. Xavier’s dream has taken on a geopolitical twist thanks to the mutant nation of Genosha. He and his X-men have been tasked with protecting a treaty that trades advanced alien technology for peace. Such peace is tenuous, driven primarily by an economic boom. To protect this wealth, the X-men have had to defend Genosha’s resources from devious forces seeking to destroy it.
Among those forces are two men who have been displaced by the Genosha treaty. Colonel John Wraith was once the head of Weapon X, a program that has since gained infamy of the worst kind. Reverend William Stryker was once a key advisor to President Kelly and was instrumental in his election. Now both men are working together to further their agenda with the help of the mysterious and devious Shanobi Shaw.
As part of their efforts, they seek to free Graydon Creed from prison. Once the head of the Friends of Humanity, Creed has valuable resources that Wraith and Stryker need for their goal. This has led them to embark on a daring prison break. However, the operation has not gone unnoticed.
Xavier Institute – Hanger
‘All available X-men, report to the hanger. We have a situation that requires our immediate involvement.’
This was the urgent telepathic message that went out to everyone in the institute. It came after sundown and most of the team was working overtime to catch up on classes. Now it looked like they were in for overtime of a different kind.
Ororo, Kitty, Bobby, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr each stumbled into the hanger, some quicker than others. A few like Remy, Kitty, and Piotr were still not fully uniformed. Remy and Kitty had to literally hop the rest of the way so they could put their boots on in the process. Piotr was still zipping up the top part of his unique outfit that hugged his muscular form. It was not lost on them that there were a few notable absences in Scott, Jean, and Logan. They were all on other missions, leaving them somewhat depleted.
“Dang! Just when Remy was ready to catch up on his reading,” grunted the Cajun as he strapped up his boots.
“You wouldn’t have to catch up if you didn’t so much time texting Rogue during the day,” said Betsy, who had arrived a full minute before her boyfriend.
“Hey! Don’t be starting a texting-a-girl-during-class argument. I had enough of those with Lorna, thank you very much,” said Iceman, who also arrived a minute earlier.
“I would echo that sentiment,” said Storm assertively, “We’re already short staffed so please spare us any additional melodrama. There are more pressing matters at hand.”
Betsy fell silent, although she made her discontent known. Remy being chattier with Rogue was an ongoing issue that had been unfolding gradually over the past few months. They hadn’t resolved it yet. Now was not the time to work it out, but sooner or later it had to be addressed.
They arrived to find Professor Xavier looking very concerned. He kept looking down at his phone, which kept blaring with new messages.
“What is going on, Professor?” asked Piotr as he, Kitty, and Remy met up with the others.
“There’s been a major blackout over a military prison complex in Colorado Springs. Less than twenty minutes ago, Cerebrum detected both an EMP and a powerful psionic wave over the area,” Xavier explained.
“Whoa…an EMP and a psychic attack? Sounds like someone is shooting for overkill,” said Kitty.
“How bad is it, Charles? I can tell by the look on your face that this involves more than a simple prison break,” said Ororo.
“It’s worse than you think, Ororo. This complex happens to be the facility where they’re holding my wayward nephew, Cain Marko. His cell in NORAD was being reinforced so they were keeping him in the maximum wing at this facility temporarily.”
Everybody on the team trembled at the mention of Juggernaut. Every time he got out in the open, a long path of destruction followed in his wake. At a time like this when they were trying to maintain the Genosha treaty, this was the last thing they needed.
“Damn…Remy almost prefer a return from Magneto,” groaned Remy.
“Juggernaut? Isn’t he that bloke who tore up New York City years ago?” said Betsy.
“He’s all that and worse,” dreaded Bobby, “Who in the hell would want to break Juggernaut out anyways? Hasn’t he proved that he’s completely out of his mind?!”
“I’m not sure Juggernaut is who they are after,” said Xavier ominously, “In addition, this facility happens to be where Graydon Creed has been imprisoned.”
“You mean that asshole who ran the Friends of Humanity?” said Kitty.
“The very same,” affirmed the Professor, “His location has been a closely guarded secret. There have been many concerns since the District X incident that he would use some of his vast contacts to escape. Considering that our network was recently breached, it’s not unreasonable to assume someone may be trying.”
“So we’ve got both Creed and Juggernaut in the mix? All while Cyclops and Phoenix are out on some other mission that probably involves a hotel suite in the Bahamas?” said Remy.
“It’s also possible that the mission they’re on is connected as well,” said Xavier suspiciously.
“How do you figure, Professor?” asked Piotr.
There was no logical reason to link these events. Professor didn’t know much about either since this conflict in Colorado was still unfolding while Cyclops and Phoenix departed on their mission earlier without giving too many details. But between the psychic blast and the network attack earlier in the year, it was too much a coincidence.
While Professor Xavier was pondering the possibilities, Hank emerged from the X-Jet. He had been working on some upgrades recently, integrating some of the technology they got from the Shi’ar and the Starjammers into the flight controls. He was supposed to be entering the testing phase, but this situation was too urgent to wait or take the slower Velocity instead.
“We’re ready to go, Charles,” Hank announced as he acrobatically jumped down from the nose of the jet, “With these new Shi’ar tech enhancements, we should be able to get to Colorado Springs within thirty minutes at the most.”
“Then I’ll have to make my case about connections later,” said the Professor, “General Grimshaw has been sending me a string of urgent messages. He needs someone at that prison as soon as possible. If Juggernaut gets out, the X-men may be the last line of defense.”
“Is any part of that supposed to surprise us?” sighed Betsy.
“About as much as it would surprise us if Creed’s buddies were just freeing Juggernaut to screw with us,” said Bobby.
“If that’s the case, we’ll find out for ourselves,” said Ororo, “Since Cyclops isn’t here, I’ll act as field leader.”
“And if Juggernaut needs a psychic trouncing, I’ll gladly oblige,” said Betsy.
“You sure you can manage that, cherè?” asked Remy in a concerned tone.
“Like you’re really that worried,” she scoffed.
Remy sensed his girlfriend was still somewhat upset about him chatting with Rogue earlier. For once, he had no charming remark to save himself. Professor Xavier didn’t even give him a chance and provided a welcome interruption.
“Your telepathic talents will have to suffice,” he said, “I need to stay behind and investigate those connections I mentioned.”
“So we’re basically on our own if we have to fight Juggernaut?” said Kitty warily.
“We’ll have to take that risk. I need to follow up on a few leads. I need to get in touch with Wolverine to ensure everything is okay on his end. The military network in Colorado Springs is linked to NORAD, which also happens to be linked to Genosha. At the very least, I must ensure this anomaly doesn’t leave us vulnerable.”
“We won’t let it get that far, Professor,” said Ororo assertively.
“If necessary, I’ll use this as an opportunity to test the new afterburners,” said Hank, “If it’s really this urgent, we should take a few chances ourselves.”
“I don’t think that’s up for debate, Mr. McCoy,” said Kitty, “With Juggernaut and Graydon Creed involved, I think it’s safe to assume this is bad enough to require any experimental alien-inspired tech that may help us along.”
Colorado Springs – Prison Complex
“OUT OF MY WAY YOU PUNY LITTLE BUGS!”
“Run! Don’t bother shooting! just take Graydon Creed and-AHHHHHH!”
“God in Heaven!”
It was a new kind of Hell for the Purifiers. This monstrosity who called himself Juggernaut was every bit as unstoppable as he boasted. He had been imprisoned in the maximum security area and for good reason. This monster of a man was full of rage and hatred. The moment he saw them, he looked at them as if they were flies and treated them as such.
The six Purifiers tried to shoot him, but their bullets did no damage. The imposing figure was engulfed in this mysterious pink energy that seemed to protect him. It also granted him great strength, which he demonstrated by ripping off two doors from a couple of prison cells and throwing it right at them. It forced the six men to duck. Four of the Purifiers tried to return fire with their guns while the other two with the unconscious Graydon Creed tried to escape. Juggernaut made quick work of them, slamming his fists onto the floor and causing the entire surface to rupture. He then casually grabbed one of the purifiers and literally crushed him in his fist, causing blood and bone to spill everywhere.
“There’s no stopping this demon man!” said one of the Purifiers who was holding up Creed.
“God will protect our fallen brothers,” assured the lead operative, “But we must protect ourselves to complete this mission!”
It was a difficult request for any leader to make, but the three remaining Purifiers who weren’t escaping with Creed did so without question.
“Go on, my brother! We will fight to demonic man to the death!” said one of the Purifiers.
“For God and humanity!” cried another.
“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” scoffed Juggernaut.
Cain Marko wasn’t expecting much from these three pipsqueaks. He was only mildly surprised when one of them took out a small smoke grenade and threw it right at his face. When it went off it caused a momentary smoke screen that blinded him just long enough for the three men to get close enough to shoot at his head. The pink energy aura continued to protect him, but the three men still surrounded him and fired wildly at them with their weapons.
“DIE MINION OF SATAN!” yelled one of the Purifiers
“What a fucking joke,” scoffed Juggernaut.
Clenching his fists, the unstoppable figure swatted to his left and threw a hard punch to his right. This killed one of the Purifiers instantly and mortally wounded the other two by breaking at least half the bones in their body. They never stood a chance. Their attack was practically an insult.
While Juggernaut was momentarily annoyed, the two other Purifiers managed to slip by with Creed and make their way up the stairs towards the exit. They didn’t dare look back. They didn’t dare let the carnage of their fallen brothers slow them down. Their crusade would have to continue without them. The burden of this mission was now literally on their shoulders and to succeed they would need help from above both literally and figuratively.
“Come in, Brother Stryker! Come in! Our situation is growing dire!” the lead operative cried.
There was a bit of static over his radio at first. Once they passed through the heavy security barrier they went through earlier, it cleared up.
“Ezekiel unit, please respond! What in God’s name is going on down there?!”
“We’ve run into an obstacle of biblical proportions,” reported the leader, “It appears this facility had some truly devilish occupants in the maximum security wing!”
“How bad is it? Can you make it out?”
Before the lead operative could answer, Juggernaut emerged from the smoke below and looked up to see the remaining Purifiers escaping. When he saw them, the unstoppable figure cracked his knuckles in preparation for another assault.
“IS THIS THE BEST YOU CAN DO UNCLE CHARLIE? YOUR LITTLE PAWNS WON’T STOP THE JUGGERNAUT!”
Using his vast strength, Juggernaut leap up the three flights of stairs and landed with a hard thud right in front of the medium security wing checkpoint. Even though it was open, it wasn’t enough for Juggernaut to just casually walk through it. He actually had to rip the door right off the hinges and throw it down the hall to narrowly miss the remaining Purifiers as they desperately tried to escape.
“I’m afraid our escape is still in question,” answered the lead Purifier, “We’ll try to make it out to the extraction point, but we need some intervention…divine or otherwise!”
Skies Over Colorado Springs
The atmosphere within the C-130 Gunship was in full crisis mode. This plan to extract Graydon Creed was supposed to be quick, quiet, and clean. Upon hearing the distress calls of the Ezekiel unit, this mission was turning into a catastrophic nightmare.
“Damn it, Wraith! What the hell have you gotten my men into?!” exclaimed Reverend Stryker, who grabbed Wraith by the collar.
“If you think choking me to death will do them any good, you’re sadly mistaken,” said Wraith, “I had no idea this dump was housing Juggernaut. I thought he was still locked up in NORAD.”
“Well apparently they moved him and he’s killed four of my crusaders. That monster could compromise this entire operation!”
“He certainly will if you don’t let go of me and let me do something about it.”
Reverend Stryker seethed with rage. Even the Holy Spirit couldn’t restrain him at this point. These were his men Wraith was sacrificing. He trusted Wraith to help his crusade and so far he had gotten little in return. Now he was paying a high price in the form of his fellow Purifiers.
In spite of his outrage, the Reverend released his grip on Wraith. He was in no position to anything at this point. That burden now fell upon the Colonel’s shoulders. He had plenty at stake as well and failure for him was every bit as undesirable as it was for Stryker.
“I’ll figure out a way to salvage this mission,” he assured Stryker, “Isn’t that right, Mr. Arcade?”
“You’re expecting me to solve more of your problems?” said Arcade, shaking his head.
“I’m assuming the people running this complex weren’t stupid enough to imprison Juggernaut without a failsafe.”
“I’m already looking into it, Colonel. These military systems aren’t as easy to hack as AOL,” said a frantic Arcade as he went back and forth between multiple computer terminals, “Far as I can tell, there is some kind of defense system in place for prisoners like Juggernaut.”
“Can you activate it without harming the Purifiers?” asked Wraith.
“I’m working on it, damn it! I’m a hacker, not a magician. I just need a few minutes to tap into the defense area and I…”
The young hacker stopped in mid-sentence. The expression on his face turned from focused to confused in the blink of an eye. Now he wasn’t even typing anymore. All the computer screens in his array were flashing in a bizarre manner. Every system started locking up and for the first time in the operation, Arcade didn’t look confident.
“No…NO! NO! NOOOO!” he yelled out in a fit of frustration.
“Please tell me that’s a horrendous overreaction,” said Reverend Stryker grimly.
“Someone just hijacked my line. I’d say overreacting is pretty damn appropriate!”
“Spare me the hacker jargon, Arcade. What’s going on?” demanded Colonel Wraith.
“It’s exactly what it sounds like, Colonel. Someone tapped into my signal and used it to get into the NORAD network. They basically let me do all the work and kicked me out as soon as they were in.”
“Are you telling me you can no longer access the prison defense system?!” exclaimed Colonel Wraith.
“I’m telling you somebody played us. As of right now, our thumbs are surgically attached to the deepest recesses of our ass,” Arcade summarized boldly.
Colonel Wraith clenched his fists. The notion of somebody playing him was all too familiar. But this time there was little mystery over who was behind it. Only a handful of people were equipped to interfere with his operation and one in particular was cunning enough to pull it off.
‘Damn you, Shaw! I should’ve known you’d find a way to screw me over.’
When all this was over, he was going to have to find a way to get back at Shanobi Shaw. If he was anything like he’s father, he’ll give him plenty of opportunities. But first, he had to figure out how to salvage this mission.
“Is it possible to hack back into network?” asked Colonel Wraith, trying to remain collected.
“After being shut out like this? That could take hours at least,” groaned Arcade, “Whatever this other hacker is doing, he’s sucking up a ton of bandwidth. It’s like he’s using our own signal to tap into some other part of the military’s defense network.”
“I can only imagine what someone would want to do with that access,” muttered Wraith, “Do what you can. If nothing else, we need to clear any trace of our presence at this facility.”
“But what about my Purifiers? If we’re not going to stop Juggernaut, we need to do something to get them out of this hell!” urged Stryker.
“Calm down, Reverend. I haven’t forgotten about your men,” assured Wraith, “We still have a chance to succeed once we have Creed. We’re just going to have to take some extra risks.”
Without going into more detail, Colonel Wraith rushed by Reverend Stryker and into the cockpit. The pilots he handpicked for this mission remained silent as instructed, not commenting on this latest turn for the worse.
“Do a U-turn and fly us down towards the extraction point. And increase the speed while you’re at it,” Wraith ordered.
“But sir, a maneuver like that would blow our cover with air traffic control at NORAD,” argued the main pilot, “We’re still working under the guise of a test mission.”
“I know the logistics. If the tower starts asking questions, I’ll take care of it,” the Colonel yelled, “Now stop making excuses and do it!”
Without saying another word, the pilot and co-pilot prepared to execute this risky maneuver. Whatever Colonel Wraith had planned, it was certain to be dangerous and foolish. So much was going wrong and there was no telling where the chaos would end.
Genosha – South Coast Military Base
“Hey you! You’re not allowed here!” barked an angry MP.
“Back off, bub. I’m here on business,” snarled an impatient Wolverine.
“Not without clearance, you aren’t.”
“I got your clearance right here!”
The feral X-man showed his adamantium claws in a menacing manner. It was enough to make both MPs military base hesitate long enough for him to barge through. Between his X-men uniform and his demeanor, even well-trained military guards weren’t in a position to stop him. He was on a mission and for once he was going to have a reason not to get drunk afterwards.
His instincts told him that if there was a flaw in the Genosha treaty, he would find it here on this base. Given his history with the military, trouble was most likely to occur when government stooges and soldiers with guns were put in a volatile area like this.
It didn’t help that this base was another converted port. The walled-off area didn’t look nearly as impressive from the inside as it did from the outside. There were a couple of renovated buildings that probably house the nuts and bolts of this operation. There was also a cruiser and a couple of heavily support ships anchored right off the coast. Everywhere he looked there were armed soldiers marching around, moving cargo back and forth. Everyone seemed ready to invade Genosha at a moment’s notice and when they saw him, some thought they were the ones being invaded.
“What are you looking at?” snarled Wolverine.
“Um…sir?” said a nearby soldier.
“I sure hope this is a drill,” said another.
The former living weapon ignored the strange looks he was getting and continue his investigation. He began scoping out the buildings and the ships, looking for possible sources of weakness. He focused mainly on the buildings. That’s where it was most likely that the military had networks set up that linked into the manufacturing facilities that Havok and Quicksilver mentioned. That’s what he wanted to check out.
Wolverine started making his way towards the buildings, but he didn’t get far. Within minutes, a uniformed officer stormed through the crowd of confused soldiers and confronted him.
“Excuse me!” said the officer firmly, “I don’t know if you’re drunk or stupid beyond measure, but this is a secure military installation. If you don’t explain yourself I’ve got plenty of guns to shoot you with.”
“Go ahead. Waste a few bullets for all I care,” said Wolverine, still trying to walk by him.
The officer didn’t let him proceed. He got right in front of his path along with two dozen armed marines. This wasn’t a gesture meant to intimidate either. The officer had the marines point their M-16 rifles right at him. Even though Wolverine could probably heal from whatever attack they unleashed, he stopped for the sake of not making this messy.
“Do yourself a favor. Do not call my bluff,” said the officer, “I did not become a Major by issuing warnings.”
“Good for you. Want another metal to go along with those tacky pins on your chest?” said Wolverine.
“Spare me the tough-guy rhetoric. Let’s make this simple so we can spare ourselves any more frustration,” he replied in a more serious tone, “My name is Major Stan Kirby, United States Marine Corp. I’m Chief of Security on this base and anyone who wants to see this complex has to go through me.”
“Well Major, I’m guessin’ you have a TV and surf the net on your downtime so you probably know I’m Wolverine from the X-men,” retorted the feral mutant.
“Wouldn’t matter if you were Madonna. You still need a damn good reason for being here. I know the X-men are friendly with the MSA, but that doesn’t get you a free pass to every government instillation on the planet.”
“I ain’t looking for a pass. I’m here on a mission. A few friends of mine ain’t too high on the security in this dump. After hearing from those Brotherhood goons that you guys are tapped into Warlock, I share their sentiment. And whenever I agree with the Brotherhood, it ain’t a good sign.”
“Are you suggesting that we aren’t doing everything in our power to keep this facility secure?” said the officer in a harsh tone.
“I’m suggesting you might not have everything locked down as well as you think.”
The officer scolded such insinuations. If Wolverine was really on an official mission, then the people who sent him had very poor tastes. Wolverine may have been a good stage act for the X-men, but he had no place here on official government property.
“You’ve got some serious gall,” Major Kirby spat, “You think you can just barge in here and demand to see our security? Short of an order from the President, I’m inclined to kick you out and charge you with trespassing!”
“You would rather go through paperwork than not be a prick about this?” grunted Wolverine.
“Unless you can provide me something official, the next words out of my mouth will be an order for these men to shoot you where you stand!”
The former living weapon was getting frustrated. All this time he spent arguing with this asshole was time should have been spending checking out that network. He was close to just charging past these goons and storming the building himself, regardless of the mess it would cause. Then his communicator started beeping urgently.
“Hold that thought, bub,” said Wolverine.
Pulling out his communicator, the feral mutant answered the call. He noticed from the signal ID that it was coming from Professor Xavier. If he was calling him in the middle of a mission, something was definitely wrong.
“Talk to me, Chuck. I got a situation here that…wait, could you say that again?!”
Wolverine’s expression shifted as he listened to the frantic words stream in. His expression actually sparked the curiosity of Major Kirby. He still had his marines pointing their weapons right at Wolverine. It was a tense moment, but if there was something wrong on this base he had to know about it.
Wolverine let out an angry growl as the information came streaming in. As of this moment, his mission was no longer strictly an investigation. It was something a lot worse.
“Son of a bitch,” he grumbled as he turned back to the Major, “I need you to take me to the network hub right now!”
“Unless that was the President you were talking to, I don’t see any reason for doing so,” said Major Kirby.
“How’s this…you’re hardware is being hacked right now while you’re standing here jerking me around. That a good enough reason?!”
“Our network? That’s not possible,” said the officer.
“Oh yeah? In three minutes you’re gonna get a call from a very pissed off General Grimshaw and the President ain’t gonna be far behind. If you really give a damn about this base and saving your own ass, you’ll let me through so I can do something about it. Before you think I’m just toying with you, look in my eyes bub. Do I look like the kind of guy who dicks around?”
Major Kirby paused for a moment. This man may have been an ill-mannered brute, but there was no denying that he was serious. He also happened to be an X-man. X-men weren’t known for being somewhere if there wasn’t trouble. Since this base was so important to the treaty, every perceived risk had to be taken seriously. So against his better judgment, he signaled the guards to lower their guns.
“Follow me,” he said, “I’ll show you our network hubs.”
Shaw Industries Corporate Headquarters – Secret Lab
Shanobi learned a lot from his father despite being the illegitimate bastard of the Shaw legacy. One of those lessons involved strength and weakness. Whenever a weakness emerged, the best recourse wasn’t to merely overcome it. Instead, the biggest success only came when a weakness was turned into a strength. The Genosha treaty had undermined Shaw Industries since its inception. Today, that was going to be remedied once and for all.
“Wraith, you arrogant fool you’ve done it again. You’ve done all the work for Shaw Industries and are setting yourself up to take the fall. I love it!” proclaimed Shanobi, “Mr. Ramsey, give me a status update.”
“Right now we’re at twenty percent, Mr. Shaw. I’m in NORAD’s network and I’m currently navigating into the Genosha mainframe,” said Cypher as he sat attentively at the computer array.
“How long will it take for you to download the full specs of their Warlock hardware?”
“It shouldn’t be long. It’s more a matter of volume than difficulty. There are a lot of layers to these systems. I can decode them, just not all at once.”
“Then don’t waste your energy talking to me. I want those specs in my system and encrypted so that I can begin usurping Genosha’s monopoly on this hardware tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see how that puny little island can persuade the world not to nuke it off the map.”
Cypher questioned Shanobi’s standards of what was interesting. He probably wasn’t too far off the mark. Once he stole these technology specs from Genosha, Shaw Industries would profit obscenely while Genosha went back to being a battleground for the human/mutant conflict. Being a mutant himself, it did not leave Cypher with a pleasant feeling. But he was no hero. If he wanted to remain in one piece, he had to do this.
Shanobi ignored Cypher’s apparent reservations. He was too busy contemplating all the new products he was going to create using this Genosha technology. He had a feeling that companies all throughout the world would be thrilled at the prospect of not having to rely on Genosha for this hardware. They didn’t know that he and his father were mutants. They didn’t even know Shaw Industries employed more mutants than any other company. They only cared about profits. By the time his father woke up, he would arise to a company that dominated the global market like never before.
‘He’ll have to acknowledge my authority this time. My father will have to take back every word from every instance where he called me disappointing. Oh to see the look on his face when I show him what I’ve done. I didn’t just seize control from failing prospects. I had some foolish associates of his do all the dirty work while we reap the rewards. It’s perfect in every way.’
While Shaw was marveling in his own brilliance, the two technicians monitoring Esme and Sophie were working with increasing anxiety. Ever since they unleashed that psychic attack, they had been trying to stabilize them. After exerting so my psionic energy, these teenage girls should be dead. However, they remained alive despite being in obvious discomfort.
“This…is not supposed to happen,” said one of the technicians who was frantically monitoring the vitals of the two girls.
“This isn’t even supposed to be possible,” said the other technician, “Glucose levels are rising, adrenaline levels are surging, and heart rate is through the roof. It’s like someone shot them up with a triple dose of amphetamines.”
This commotion quickly drew the attention of Shanobi Shaw. He was supposed to only be concerned with Cypher’s hacking efforts at this point. He had no time to be bothered with these two relics from his father’s debauchery.
“What are you two babbling about back there? I thought we were done with those little skanks,” barked Shaw.
“Uh…we were, sir. We’ve been trying to sedate them since the psychic attack,” said the lead technician nervously.
“So pull the plug already. I told you if they became a problem, just let them expire. I’d rather be rid of these girls anyways.”
“We tried that too. The lethal injection failsafe uh…failed,” said the other technician.
“That better be bad joke because I’m not laughing.”
“We’re very serious, sir. Since being pumped with psionic energy, these girls have been having a severe reaction. By all accounts, they should be brain dead. Something is keeping their minds intact. It’s almost as if it’s coming from an outside source.”
Shanobi groaned in frustration. The possibility of an outside source did not sit well for an instant. Leaving Cypher to his own devices for a moment, he rushed towards the gurneys and saw the anomaly for himself.
Esme and Sophie were getting worse by the second. Their bodies were violently shaking, putting undue strain on the straps holding them in place. The effects of the psychic attack clearly left them wounded in a great many ways. The most disturbing sign was their eyes, which were glowing in a strange bluish hue. Their eyes flashed in accord with erratic telepathic manifestation. Even though their heavy sedatives, they projected some psychic thoughts.
When Shaw heard this, the implications were clear. Someone was reaching out to them. These girls were supposed to be cut off from everything else, yet something managed to reach them. There were only so many forces capable of such a feat and one in particular stood out.
“Sisters and mother?” he questioned, “Well that explains where the outside force is coming from. Good thing they’re already too late.”
Turning away from the technicians, Shanobi pulled out his phone and made an emergency call to his building security.
“Security, this is Shanobi Shaw. I want the whole building locked down and sealed immediately. Lock all exits. Engage all emergency psychic dampeners. Tell every guard to…”
Shanobi stopped his urgent orders abruptly. It was only after issuing his stern words that he realized he didn’t get through to his security staff. Either their communicators were dead or something else was very wrong.
“Hello? Is anyone there? Answer me, damn it! What the hell is going on?!”
Shaw Industries Corporate Headquarters – 53rd Floor
‘Why do you insist on being so difficult? You’re starting to give the impression that you enjoy psychic induced migraines.’
“AHHHHHHH! MY HEAD!” exclaimed a Shaw Industries security guard in agony as he clutched his head.
“MAKE IT STOP! IT BURNS! IT-AHHHHHHHHH!” howled another whose nose started bleeding under the strain on his mind.
‘Jeez Emma, take it easy. I already disabled the psionic jammers in their ears. You could just as easily knock them out and not have them bleeding from their ears.’
‘That would be unbefitting, Jean. My girls are in pain. They’re losing what precious bit of life they have left. I don’t have time to show mercy to Shaw’s thugs.’
Emma Frost was a warpath with Cyclops and Phoenix were struggling to keep up. They had just emerged from a locked down elevator shaft. The path through this office building/fortress had been treacherous to say the least. Cyclops had to blast through several walls to make it into the building through the utility levels. Then they had to blast through even more walls to get through the main security wings. This made it hard to enter with any level of stealth. They realized that Shaw scrutinized every inch of the building and as a result they had been fighting through his vast security forces every step of the way.
They were many obstacles on their way towards the elevator shafts. Cyclops and Phoenix led the charge, laying out an onslaught that consisted of optic blasts and telekinetic waves that cleared the path. Since all the top floors were locked down, they couldn’t ride the elevator up to the 53rd floor. Phoenix had to tap some of her cosmic power to ascend through a number of reinforced barriers, which Cyclops had to blast through along the way. Once they reach the desired level, they were met with even more security.
Now in the south end of the excessively opulent halls of the Shaw Industries Corporate Headquarters, Cyclops blew through more walls to get around the obstacles set up by Shaw’s security forces. The security was getting tighter and the attacks more desperate. Now they were encountering guards who had advanced laser weapons on par with what they saw at Weapon X. This could only mean they were close to Esme and Sophie.
“Damn! Looks like Shaw’s has locked the whole floor down. He’s definitely protecting something,” said Cyclops as they narrowly dodged an attack from a windowed off portion of the complex.
“So why are we slowing down? That something he’s protecting is probably my girls!” said Emma impatiently, “If you need a diversion, don’t expect me to wait for an order.”
The blond telepath launched another brazen attack. She halted her telepathic attack and shifted into her diamond form. Without hesitation, she walked right out into the danger. As soon as Shaw’s guards saw her, they opened fire.
“I see one! Don’t let her through!” yelled one of the guards.
“Shoot her! Shaw’s orders are cripple or kill!” yelled another.
A barrage of laser fire erupted through the limited openings in the glass barrier, hitting Emma head on. She stumbled somewhat, but incurred few injuries thanks to her diamond shell. Only her X-men uniform was damaged as she boldly pushed forward.
“Anytime you two!” she called out, “Or are you just going to let them shoot until they burn my clothes off?”
“Damn it, Emma! What the hell are you doing?” groaned Cyclops, frustrated by his ex-lover’s complete lack of a plan.
“What? It’s not like I’ve nothing you haven’t seen before.”
Cyclops shook his head while Phoenix just shrugged. Emma hadn’t changed much since they worked with her on the team. She was still as brazen and defiant as ever.
“Don’t waste your breath yelling at her, Scott. It’s not like she’s going to apologize for it,” sighed Phoenix.
“I know I shouldn’t be this surprised, and yet…” he sighed.
The two X-men followed Emma’s bold lead, jumping out into the clearing while the shooting was still rampant. Since it was all concentrated on Emma, it gave them a clear line-of-sight to fire back. Phoenix tapped more cosmic power and unleashed several balls of telekinetic energy towards the glass barrier. The first two shots only dented the glass, showing how tough it was. The second shattered it, stunning the guards just long enough for Cyclops to hit them with another wave of optic bursts.
As soon as the glass was shattered, it set off an alarm. Now the lights throughout the area were turned off. They could make out more barriers beyond the glass, some of which were clearly sealed. It was nothing overwhelming, but it was going to slow them down. Shaw clearly wasn’t going to make this final push easy on them.
“I’m guessing that’s where we have to go next,” said Cyclops, keeping his hand on his visor.
“Shaw’s pent house office is just on the other side. He’s added some extra layers since I was last here, but it’s nothing we can’t handle,” said Emma.
“You sure about that?” asked Phoenix, “If poison gas starts shooting out through the walls I’m blaming you.”
“If he had something like that built in, he would have used it by now. I don’t think Shanobi is looking to stop us. He’s just looking to slow us down. I think he wants us to see what he’s doing.”
Emma stopped in mid stride. Her demeanor tensed and she abruptly shifted out of her diamond form. Almost immediately, she clutched her head in pain. Something had struck her mind and it wasn’t a typical psychic anomaly.
“Ungh! My girls…” she gasped.
“What is it, Emma? What did you sense?” asked Cyclops urgently while helping her maintain her balance.
“Wait…I just felt it too,” said Phoenix, shifting as well.
“It…it’s terrible, Scott!” she said with a new wave of anxiety, “Something terrible has just happened to my girls. Shaw…he’s torturing them!”
“I think he’s doing more than that,” Phoenix dreaded, “What the hell is happening to them?”
“I don’t know, but my cuckoos are sensing it too and it’s hurting them just as much!”
It was not a look that Cyclops and Phoenix saw too often with Emma Frost. She had a very high pain tolerance and to see her cringe like this was a very bad sign.
“Hang in there, Emma. We’ll just have to get to them faster,” said Cyclops as he adjusted his visor, “Get behind me, ladies. I’ll clear the way!”
“Ungh…you better not be trying to make me hot for you again,” grunted Emma, still struggling with this feeling.
“You need to learn to stop flattering yourself, Emma. Especially when Scott’s current girlfriend is standing right next to you,” scolded Phoenix.
Despite Emma’s remarks, Phoenix gave Emma someone to lean on as they followed Cyclops into the next round of barriers. Before they even stepped over the shattered glass, he unleashed an optic blast that blew another gaping hole into a nearby wall. More alarms sounded and more destruction filled the mangled corridors of the opulent corporate building. It was only a matter of time before they reached Shanobi themselves.
With every step they took, Emma had a sickening feeling that they were already too late. Her girls were still alive. They had to be. But something was different now. Something was twisting their minds in ways that defied words or thoughts. Did that mean her girls were beyond saving? If so she would see to it that Shaw would pay dearly for his crime.
Downtown Manhattan – Parking Garage
“Our sisters…Esme…Sophie…slipping away. So much pain! It…it’s too much!”
“That’s the fifth time they’ve said that,” groaned Hellion, “I think we need to pull the plug on those helmets.”
“Miss Frost said to keep them on. If you’re willing to risk her wrath, then by all means,” said Surge.
“Nobody’s removing anything,” shouted Cannonball, “Miss Frost told us to defend the girls and that’s what we’re gonna do. Hellion, keep watching my back. Surge, keep those dang helmets going.”
It was easier said than done. Cannonball, Sunspot, Hellion, and Surge had been fighting off Shaw’s security ever since the Cuckoos started making a commotion. They came in waves. They started by blocking off the exits and closing down the tunnels. It left the four young mutants trapped and vulnerable. However, this was what Emma Frost ordered. She said she had a plan. They had to trust her. They had to use everything she taught them to hold their own.
It started off with a few lone guards armed with nightsticks and handguns. They wore the distinct uniforms that all Shaw Industries personnel had to wear. Miss Frost had warned them that Shaw loved to hire dishonorably discharged military types who were slightly unbalanced and in need of steady work. Never-the-less, they were manageable. Hellion disarmed them with his telekinesis while Cannonball and Sunspot used their heavy hitting powers to knock them out. All the while Surge stayed with the Stepford Cuckoos, making sure their telepathic headgear continued working.
It didn’t stay manageable for long. Their military training showed as more elite units came to join the fight. These were the units that wore the distinct garb of the Inner Circle, consisting of red and black body suits with white masks. They were armed with more advanced weapons and used every nook of the parking garage to fortify their position. It forced the four young mutants onto the defensive. Hellion was now using his telekinesis to shield his friends while Sunspot and Cannonball stepped up their attack.
“Damn! These guys mean business,” grunted Sunspot, having to increase his power consumption so that the incoming bullets vaporized before they hit, “We need to regroup!”
“To hell with that!” said Cannonball as he flew at full blast around nearby support columns, bowling over any guard that got in his way, “We gotta hold our ground! Give Miss Frost and the X-men some time.”
“For all we know they’ve been captured!”
“No way! Ah don’t believe that for a second. Just keep on hittin’ hard and fast until Miss Frost tells us otherwise.”
Cannonball wouldn’t hear any more dread from Sunspot. He led by example, landing right at the far end of the parking level and getting off to a running start before going into blast mode again. This time he flew at greater speeds and blew his way through several columns, taking at least a dozen guards in the process. This made things easier for Sunspot, who had to take them out one or two at a time. It eased up the pressure on Hellion, who was keeping the bullets from reaching the van.
However, this shift in momentum did not last for very long. From the level above, there were more echoes of frantic footsteps. It seemed Shaw had limitless reinforcements.
“Down here! We’re already at code omega. Shaw’s orders are now shoot to kill,” came the voice of one masked guard.
“Ah don’t like the sound of that,” groaned Cannonball, “Hellion, do you think you can expand your barrier?”
“Ungh! Are you kidding? I can barely keep this one up!” exclaimed Hellion, his face drenched with sweat and strain.
“Well we’re gonna need some extra punch for this one!”
They could already see the shadows of the guards closing in. Cannonball and Sunspot prepared themselves for another assault. They took a position just behind Hellion’s telekinetic shield so they could catch their breath. The next onslaught looked daunting. This was not lost on Surge, who sensed the boys were overmatched.
“You need more punch? I can provide that,” she said.
“No Surge! You’re supposed to be watching over the girls,” retorted Cannonball.
“Japanese girls are not as weak as you American men seem to think. I can spare a few gigavolts!”
“Surge, wait a sec!” Cannonball began.
He didn’t get a chance to talk her down. With one hand still pointed at the Cuckoos providing a steady stream of electricity, Surge pointed over towards the area where the reinforcements were emerging and set her sights towards the lighting figures just above where the guards were poised to enter.
“I would cover your eyes if I were you,” she warned them.
“Oye merda,” cursed Sunspot in his native Brazilian tongue.
Sunspot, Cannonball, and Hellion braced themselves. In an instant a blinding flash erupted from the hands of Surge. Large bolts of lightning shot out and surged through the lighting fixtures that had been illuminating the parking garage. They followed a clear path along the wires right up towards where the guards were coming in. As soon as a few of them came into sight, the lights above them turned into traps.
From the fluorescent tubes, huge sparks of lightning shot down right into the crowd of heavily armed guards. It was so bright it briefly filled the whole area with a blinding bluish flash. The lightning then surged through the dozens of figures trying to get through. As it arced over them, groans of agony reverberated throughout the area.
It was over in a mere five seconds. When Surge ended her electric assault, she nearly collapsed. Cannonball had to catch her. At the same time, many of the lighting fixtures were damaged and now the area was only illuminated by weak flickering lights. It wasn’t ideal, but it did buy them some much needed time.
“Hnn…never tried that before,” groaned Surge.
“I’m glad you did,” said Hellion, who was finally able to lower his telekinetic shield, “My brain was about to burst through my skull.”
“It was still pretty dang reckless,” chided Cannonball, “What about the Cuckoos? Don’t their helmets need power?”
The attention was still on Surge, but the momentary lapse of power seemed to affect the Cuckoos. Since this battle began, they had been thrashing wildly through fits of pain. Now they had unexpectedly settled. They were short of breath and panting heavily, but they looked like they were still in a great deal of pain. In addition, there were ominous streaks of tears now trailing down, indicating great sorrow in addition to such pain.
“The hell? Sam, check this out!” exclaimed Sunspot, directing them towards the three girls.
“We’re too late,” said Mindee.
“We’ve lost,” said Phoebe.
“Esme and Sophie…they’re gone,” said Celeste.
“What do you mean? Are they dead?” exclaimed Cannonball, “What about Miss Frost and the X-men?!”
The three girls each removed their helmets. More tears filled their eyes. They weren’t just tears of sorrow either. Something had just gone horribly wrong between them and their lost sisters.
“It doesn’t matter now,” they all said in unison, “Shaw has won. Esme and Sophie are now in a state much worse than death.”
Shanobi Shaw was scrambling for answers. This operation was supposed to be clean, efficient, and secret. It had turned into a very destructive battle that pitted him against Wraith, Genosha, and some very unpleasant shadows from his father’s many previous misdeeds.
”How much longer, Cypher?” exclaimed Shanobi.
“We’re at 58 percent,” said Doug Ramsey, who had not taken his eyes off his computer array since the conflict began.
“That better be the fastest it can go. Otherwise you’ll have to learn to hack under fire.”
“So…we’re being attacked?” asked the young mutant nervously.
“We’re about to be, but don’t even contemplate moving from that chair. I’m ready for this. Our enterprising intruders are already too late.”
Cypher his growing nervousness. He was under the impression that this operation involved hacking and not fighting. He was not a fighter and had never trained himself to work under this kind of duress. He wanted to believe Shaw when he said he was ready, but this man had proven to be less than trustworthy to say the least. It seemed no matter what the outcome, he was going to be on the losing end.
While Cypher kept working, Shanobi gazed over the two gurneys where Sophie and Esme were still shackled. They had stopped trembling and were now lying deathly still. The veins in their bodies were bulging and their skin had become discolored. They did not look like the healthy blond teenage girls they had been when they first arrived. For the technicians, it was a gruesome sight. For Shaw, it was a fitting end.
“God in heaven…how are they still alive?” exclaimed one of the technicians.
“These readings are a mess,” said the other, “It’s as if their brain chemistry has turned to mush.”
“Then don’t bother with further treatment,” said Shanobi calmly, “You two have done all you can. Go ahead and take your leave.”
“You…don’t want us to save them?”
“Heavens no,” he scoffed, “I have other plans for them and they don’t involve you. Now get out through the back escape before I change my mind.”
The two technicians did not make light of Shanobi Shaw’s generosity. They ran as fast as they could towards the other side of the lab where the secondary escape was located. As they left, Shanobi entered a few commands on the medical gear that was still hooked into the girls. Since they had served their purpose, he might as well make good use of them.
“Uh…you are going to call for backup, aren’t you?” said Cypher nervously.
“Quit wasting your breath and finishing your job, Cypher,” said Shanobi sternly upon entering the commands for the girls, “I’ll take care of this.”
Cypher did as he was told while Shanobi patiently waited near the front entrance to the lab, which consisted of a large sliding door that led to the secret passage from his office. He didn’t have to wait long. He could already hear the ominous sounds of blasts and falling bodies from the outside. The disturbance that had unexpectedly plagued this operation was drawing near. He had little doubt as to who was behind it so he prepared to be completely unsurprised.
The lab was finally breached when a powerful blast blew the heavy metal doors off the hinges, revealing three figures standing in the narrow corridor. Shanobi recognized two of them as Cyclops and Phoenix of the X-men, but the one that drew his attention the most was Emma Frost. She was leading the charge and looked obscenely pissed at him.
“SHAW!” she yelled in a rage.
“Ah, now there’s a pestilent voice I haven’t heard in a while,” said Shanobi snidely, “Emma Frost…still the semi-charming whore I see.”
“Quit trying to be less a bastard, Shanobi. Get ready for the worst day in your pathetic life,” threatened Emma as she stormed into the lab, “Since your scumbag father isn’t here, I plan on taking my anger out on you!”
“Charming and vindictive…you haven’t changed a bit,” he retorted, “No wonder my father wanted you as his queen.”
Emma looked poised to go into a berserker rage that would have put Wolverine to shame. Cyclops and Phoenix jumped out in front of her, ready to attack before this got uglier than it already was.
“Don’t tempt my ex-girlfriend, Shanobi. You’ve already dug yourself into a deep enough hole,” said Cyclops, his hand securely on his visor.
“Try to be smarter than your father for once. Tell us where the girls are,” demanded Phoenix.
“You sound as though I’m hiding them,” he laughed, “If you want them, they’re yours. I’ve no more use for them.”
Shanobi casually pushed a button on a small remote control in his pocket. Upon doing so, the gurneys holding the two remaining Stepford Cuckoos turned around via an automatic swivel, revealing to Emma and the two X-men what he did with these girls. When Emma saw them, her rage turned to horror.
Esme and Sophie had been ravaged by Shaw’s madness. They looked like they had been diseased, tortured, and desecrated. Every vein in their bodies was now discolored with this strange bluish color. Their skin became leathery and wrinkled, as if they had been artificially aged. To add to Emma’s horror, Shanobi activated the mechanism to remove the helmets so she could see their faces. It revealed expressions laced with agony. Their eyes had actually shifted color, now looking blood red and vacant of all humanity.
“My girls…” she gasped.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Phoenix, covering her in disgust.
“What did you do to them?!” said a very outraged Cyclops.
“I needed their psychic talents. It’s not my fault they were too weak to handle our psionic amplifying interface,” Shanobi shrugged, “Either they were a lot weaker than their mother or their genetics weren’t as strong as my father presumed.”
This was too much. Emma Frost had seen some horrifying sights in her life, but this was disturbing on a whole new level. Abandoning all charm and subtlety, the young telepath shifted into her diamond form and attacked Shanobi.
“YOU SICK BASTARD!” she yelled out.
“Warhawk, do you mind?” Shanobi called out.
In the ceiling right above Shanobi, a small compartment opened up and descended to the floor below. He landed just as Emma was within a few feet of Shanobi. He used his enhanced strength to slug her with a punishing haymaker. Even in her diamond form, she felt the punishing force and was sent flying clear across the room.
“Finally! I was getting really cramped in there. I hate these damn red alerts,” grunted Warhawk.
“Take your frustration out on these X-men and I’ll be sure you get a nice bonus,” said Shanobi.
“Consider it done,” he sneered as he cracked his knuckles in anticipation.
Not content to settle for hitting a hot blond, Warhawk immediately went for Cyclops and Phoenix. The two X-men went on the defensive.
“If you’re the only muscle Shaw hired, you’re in big trouble,” said the X-leader.
“I’m the only muscle anyone needs, X-man,” boasted Warhawk.
“Go Phoenix! I’ll take care of this,” he ordered.
“Good! I want a shot at Shanobi too,” said Phoenix.
The two X-men split off and Cyclops lured Warhawk towards him. Cyclops adjusted his visor and unleashed a concentrated optic blast right towards him. Warhawk didn’t even slow down. Using his agility, he narrowly avoided the blast and put up his arms to deflect any residual force. Cyclops tried to shift his gaze to hit him, but he wasn’t fast enough. Warhawk had superhuman reflexes, allowing him to get in and knock the X-leader back.
“Augh!” he grunted.
“Pitiful! I thought the X-men were supposed to be tough,” he boasted.
While Warhawk stood in momentary triumph over Cyclops, Shanobi took on Phoenix. It hardly seemed like a fair fight. Phoenix was disgusted with what this man had done and hadn’t forgotten the pain his father caused her during the incident with the Inner Circle. For his punishment, she made sure to tap an extra bit of cosmic force.
“You’re as sick as your father, Shanobi Shaw,” yelled Phoenix in a halo of cosmic flame.
“And you’re just as unreasonable so we’re even,” he grinned.
Shanobi waited for the last possible second before making his move. Phoenix was prepared to take him out with a blast of telekinesis and cosmic flames. Just as she was about to unleash her assault, Shanobi shifted his density and went completely intangible. In doing so he slipped right into the floor and narrowly avoided Phoenix’s onslaught. It took Phoenix a moment figure out what he had done.
It ended up taking her several seconds too long because just as she stopped her attack, Shanobi emerged from the floor behind her. As she turned around to defend herself, Shanobi hit her with a punishing uppercut. He changed the density of his hand in the process, making the blow extra forceful. Phoenix tried to instinctively deflect with telekinesis, but it was still too much.
“Ungh!” she groaned.
“And to think, the Inner Circle thought you to be the vessel of a cosmic force,” scoffed Shanobi.
Now Cyclops and Phoenix were down for the count. They wouldn’t be down for long. Shanobi didn’t need them to stay down though. Time was on his side and so was the element of surprise.
“Warhawk, time to regroup,” Shanobi called out.
“Aww, I was hoping for a few more rounds with the X-men,” he complained.
“You’ll get another chance,” he assured, “Right now, I’d much rather our guests fight someone a bit more appropriate.”
Using the same remote control he utilized earlier, Shanobi clicked another button. This caused the gurneys holding Esme and Sophie to release the restraints. They fell limply to the floor, landing on their hands and knees. The sudden feeling of freedom helped jar them from their daze and when they looked up, the first thing they saw was Emma Frost. She had just pulled herself up against a nearby wall after having been slammed into it by Warhawk. Now she was facing the girls she came to rescue.
“Mother…” they said in unison, their voices raspy and full of sorrow.
“Esme…Sophie…what did he do to you?” said Emma in a mix of anger and confusion.
“Not him…you!” seethed Esme.
“You…failed us!” added Sophie, “We cried out for you. We needed you.”
“Now look what we’ve become!” yelled Esme.
Emma froze where she stood, not certain of what to do. Her first inclination was to fight back, but these were her daughters. She couldn’t fight them, yet they had no reservation about fighting her.
‘So much anger and hatred. Shaw you devious monster…you turned my own daughters against me.’
While Emma stared down her approaching daughters, Shanobi and Warhawk stood behind Cypher. It looked like they were in for a real show. Cyclops and Phoenix were still down for the count and now they had a new obstacle. It was all working in their favor.
“How much longer, Cypher?” asked Shanobi sternly.
“Um…we’re at 81 percent,” he said nervously.
“Keep going,” he ordered, “Emma’s darling offspring should keep them occupied. Once we have the Genosha schematics, nothing will stand in my way.”
Genosha Military Base – Network Hub
“OUT OF MY WAY!”
The impatient growls of an angry Wolverine echoed through each level of security leading towards the network hub. This highly secure and highly guarded area wasn’t used to getting such vocal visitors. The Major who he encountered earlier was trying to keep up, using his clearance to get him through each level. At times, he had to use his authority just to keep the other guards from shooting at them. The way Wolverine was rushing through this place, it seemed like it was under attack or something.
“Slow down! We’re near the final checkpoint,” yelled the Major.
“Your gizmos are being hacked and you want us to slow down?” exclaimed Wolverine.
“You want to get locked out? No? Then let me do my job.”
The Major ran full speed behind Wolverine. The feral mutant had to slow down a little so that the armed guards they encountered along the way could at least make out that he wasn’t something to shoot at, although some were clearly tempted though. Wolverine ignored all their suspicions. Based on what Professor Xavier told him, he didn’t have much time to work with. As they neared the final checkpoint, alarms started going off.
“That better be a fire drill,” grunted Wolverine.
“Those are the network security alarms. Our analysts must have finally hit the panic button!”
“About freakin’ time! Why didn’t they do that sooner?”
“They probably didn’t know how bad it was. We have protocols for stuff like this.”
“By the time you finish scratching your asses, you’re hardware will be wiped clean. Now forget the damn protocols and pick up the pace, damn it!”
The Major flashed his security badge to several nearby officers and electronic scanners, allowing him and Wolverine to move forward. They were almost there. The final barrier was in sight. It needed facial recognition, biometrics, and keycard activation in order to enter. The Major had all of that, but it was cumbersome to enter and Wolverine had little patience.
The Major worked as fast as he could to get through, swiping his key card and placing his hand on a nearby scanner. Even after he entered the data, the doors opened exceedingly slowly. It was too slow for Wolverine.
“You sure this is the last door we gotta bust through?” asked Wolverine.
“Yeah, why?” said the Major curiously.
Wolverine didn’t bother answering. He drew his claws and plunged them right into the doors, prying them open with an extra touch of force. This angered the Major, but he didn’t get a chance to chide the feral mutant for his actions.
“Hey!” he exclaimed.
“Send Uncle Sam the bill. I’ve got work to do,” snarled Wolverine.
Leaving the Major Kirby behind, Wolverine stormed into the main network hub. It was smaller than he thought and fairly cramped. Every wall was laced with large computer servers with wires running everywhere from the ceilings into nearly every nearby terminal. In the center of the room was a large collection of tables where a bunch of uniformed analysts and assorted officers were working. They all looked pretty alarmed, but they had long since figured out they were being hacked.
“Hey! You’re not supposed to be here,” yelled one of the officers.
“I am now, bub! came to this dump to check on security and it looks like yours is pretty damn lousy,” said Wolverine.
“Why you…” began the officer.
“Sir!” yelled a nearby analyst, “He may be able to help us. We’re at a real loss here.”
“That’s putting it mildly. For some reason we can’t figure out, this attack is coming right from the servers at NORAD. It’s like we’re hacking ourselves.”
“Let me guess…you can’t lock it out,” surmised Wolverine dryly.
“All internal communications are encrypted. This attack is recognized as one of them. Because of that, we can’t stop it from accessing all the data about the Genosha technology.”
Wolverine held back a profanity laced tirade. Chuck was right about this treaty. It attracted attention from all sorts of dirt-bags. He was no computer expert. But these eggheads knew if this technology got stolen, then the Genosha treaty would be as worthless as the paper it was printed on.
Wolverine refused to let that happen. Since Beast wasn’t with him there was little hope he could stop it the high tech way. Looking around the heavily wired room, he quickly formulated a plan.
“So you pencil-necks really can’t stop any of this shit?” grumbled Wolverine as he paced around the room, following the wires.
“We’re trying, but they’re almost through to Warlock interface. If they get inside that, then we’re screwed.”
“Figures,” said the feral mutant, “You tech heads are smart enough to make this shit work, but not smart enough to add a freakin’ off switch. Guess that means I’ll just have to pull the plug.”
The officers and analysts didn’t pick up on what Wolverine was in implying. Then only figured it out when they followed Wolverine’s gaze. He followed the path of the wires in the ceiling to a series of cables running from the various servers and into a hollowed out part of the wall. Many had a “Danger: High Voltage” warning. It was a warning Wolverine would not heed.
With his claws still drawn, Wolverine braced himself and slashed through the cables. This shocked the analysts and the officers. They watched in horror as the feral mutant severed each cable, plunging every server and computer in the room into darkness and causing a shower of dangerous sparks in the process. In an instant the whole system was shut down and the area plunged into darkness.
“You crazy son-of-a…” began one of the analysts.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” roared and officer as he took out his weapon and his flashlight.
By now Wolverine was signed from the sparks and his hair was messy from the static. It wasn’t the most painful experience he had endured. It wasn’t that comfortable either. But with no network online, this cyber-attack had been stopped dead in its tracks.
“You’re welcome, bub,” muttered Wolverine, “Trust me, you’ll thank me once you figure out how bad this shit could’ve been.”
Skies Over Colorado Springs
The mood aboard the C-130 gunship was as tense. Reverend Stryker and Colonel Wraith were not pleased with one another. This extraction plan for Graydon Creed had taken a horrible turn. They had unwittingly unleashed the Juggernaut and he was laying waste to their manpower and this whole operation. He had already killed some of Stryker’s best Purifiers. The Reverend certainly didn’t take kindly to such losses. Wraith wasn’t too thrilled either, although he was more concerned about this could undermine his operation.
The two men were simmering, but weren’t inclined to attack one another. They were strapped to their seats near the mid-section of the plane as the bulky aircraft made a desperate move to extract Creed and the Purifiers. It involved the jet flying at a much lower altitude and at less-than-safe speeds. Everyone besides Arcade was strapped in, preparing for what was sure to be a rough ride with little hope of a major payoff.
“Damn you, Wraith! Damn you for putting my Purifiers in harm’s way!” seethed a fuming Reverend Stryker.
“That’s the third time you’ve said that, Reverend,” retorted Colonel Wraith, “If you want an apology, don’t expect anything until the mission is over.”
“What mission? Thanks to you my men are at the mercy of that monstrosity. Even if this foolish extraction works, it will take a miracle from Heaven to get the rest of them out.”
The two men continued to seethe. While they were burning up with anger, Arcade never stopped working. He had strapped himself into his special chair behind the computer array and kept typing, refusing to be out-hacked. It wasn’t easy with the turbulence, but he kept trying. There seemed to be little hope of breaking through again.
That’s when something unexpected happened. Despite Arcade’s skills and the vast array of hardware at his disposal, it seemed like an obscene stroke of luck.
“Well I’ll be…” he said with an ominous grin, “Reverend, it looks like Heaven may have just given us such a miracle.”
“That better not be more jargon, Arcade,” warned Stryker.
“I’m serious! The lock on my signal was just released. Whatever moron hijacked it, his connection was just severed. Either his hardware is shit or he was too stupid to recharge the batteries to his gear.”
“Is there a better reason why we should share your excitement?” asked Colonel Wraith.
“Simply put, I have my connection back,” said Arcade as he started feverishly typing again, “That means I can tap into the prison’s defense system. I’m guessing they have a failsafe for Juggernaut. With a little tweaking, I should be able to remotely activate it.”
Wraith and Stryker exchanged looks. It seemed this mission may succeed after all. Stryker still wasn’t too thrilled because of the men he lost. At least now he had reason to believe that he wouldn’t lose any more. Colonel Wraith grinned, making it clear that he intended to use this.
“There’s been a change in plan again,” Wraith yelled towards the cockpit, “Level us out a bit. Minimize the turbulence so our friend here can work!”
“That’s a tall order, Colonel. We’ll do our best,” said one of the pilots.
“I don’t need much. Just enough to keep me from throwing up,” said Arcade, now back to his confident self, “Based on these schematics, this prison has a psychic pulse generator built into the guard towers. Assuming these guys were smart enough to keep Juggernauts psychic dampening gear away from him, this should knock him out.”
“Then I suggest you hurry up and activate it!” urged Stryker, “I refuse to lose any more of my Purifiers on this God-forsaken mission.”
“Let him work, Reverend,” coaxed Colonel Wraith, “If we can safely extract Creed, we’ll officially be back on track. I promise when you see what his resources, you’ll know the losses you suffered today will not have been in vain.”
“You had better be right, Wraith,” threatened the Reverend.
The Colonel continued to exude confidence even if the Reverend didn’t share it. He was not going to make light of this sudden reversal of fortune. To him, it was a sign. Fate was now on his side. Either that or the man who tried to screw him over did a lousy job of it.
‘I don’t know what stunt you tried to pull, Shaw. All I know is you failed spectacularly. What I wouldn’t give to see how pissed off he would be with you right now, Shanobi.’
Shaw Industries Corporate Headquarters – Secret Lab
“Oh shit! Please don’t let this be what it looks like.”
“Mr. Ramsey, if this is another joke I’m not laughing,” said a very irritated Shanobi Shaw.
“Again, sir, it’s no joke! I just lost the connection to Genosha,” exclaimed Cypher, “The entire uplink has been severed. It’s like someone cut the power and backup power.”
“So turn it back on!”
“I can’t! It was cut from the other side. And I can’t hack what isn’t turned on.”
Shanobi’s once confident poise was shattered. The Genosha technology had been within his grasp and now it had been abruptly cut off. He could have strangled Cypher where he stood if he didn’t have more immediate threats to worry about. Now those threats were a lot more severe because time was no longer on his side in his battle against the X-men.
This sudden shift in Shaw’s fortune did not go unnoticed. Cyclops picked himself up and set his sights on Shaw and Warhawk. Emma was still facing her two disfigured Cuckoos and Phoenix was close by, having recovered from Shanobi’s earlier attack. Now that the pieces were finally coming into place, they realized that Shanobi Shaw had a bigger agenda than they suspected.
“So that’s what this is about? Stealing Genosha technology?” said the X-leader angrily.
“You make it sound so illogical,” scoffed Shanobi, “This isn’t some dramatic mutant struggle. This is business. That deal has undermined Shaw Industries from day one.”
“And that makes it okay to destroy it along with the fragile peace it’s brought?”
“Whine all you want about peace. It’ll never be as profitable as conflict.”
Cyclops heard enough. If Wolverine was here he would have gone into a berserker rage by now. It was one thing to undermine the peace the X-men had worked so hard to defend, but doing it out of pure greed put Shanobi Shaw on a new level of evil.
“As if torturing Emma’s daughters wasn’t enough, I’ve officially run out of reasons not to blast you into the East River,” said Cyclops.
“Seeing as how I’m in a very foul mood, you’re more than welcome to try,” said Shanobi, cracking his knuckles.
“Not before I get my shot,” said Warhawk.
The imposing figure didn’t wait for Shanobi’s orders. He immediately attacked Cyclops with his enhanced agility. This time the X-leader was ready for him. He fired a few concentrated shots that Warhawk was able to easily dodge. Just as before he ducked to the side and tried to swoop in for a punishing blow, but Cyclops didn’t let him get to that point though. Once he got in close enough, he adjusted his visor and let out another optic blast. This time he fired at Warhawk with a wider arc that even advanced reflexes couldn’t dodge. It caught Warhawk by surprise and he was sent flying.
“Augh!” he grunted as he hit the gurneys that once contained Sophie and Esme.
“I may miss once, but I never miss twice,” proclaimed Cyclops.
“That assumes you’ll get a second shot. Since this operation has been a major disappointment, I intend to take my frustration out on you X-men,” seethed Shanobi.
“By all mean,” said the X-leader with a battle ready poise.
Shanobi adjusted his density so he could attack Cyclops with extra durability. As he approached in a rage, the X-leader unleashed another round of concentrated blasts. Unlike Warhawk, Shanobi didn’t even try to dodge them. They hit head on, but did little to slow him down. His density was so great that he was immune from the damage of such blasts. It forced Cyclops to change his tactics.
Once Shanobi got in close, he tried to crush his enemy with a punishing haymaker. Cyclops was able to narrowly avoid it, watching as Shanobi left a large dent in the floor. The X-leader was forced to play defense, backing up and avoiding Shanobi’s attacks while using his optic blasts to slow him down. It was a temporary tactic that wasn’t going to win the fight, but it would buy time for his teammates.
“Emma! Phoenix! We need to finish this! What’s happening on your end?” he called out.
“Sorry darling, but I don’t think finishing this is possible anymore,” lamented Emma.
The former X-man was oblivious to Cyclops’s fight with Shanobi or even the revelation about him trying to steal Genosha’s technology. She was too caught up in her confrontation with her estranged daughters.
The two girls who once shared Emma’s natural beauty had been maimed beyond recognition by Shanobi’s experiments. Since being released from their restraints, they crawled towards Emma with anger and pain in their eyes. Their disfigurement made it difficult for them to even stand up, but that wouldn’t stop them. Emma didn’t try to avoid them. She stayed in place, remaining in her non-diamond form so she could reach her girls telepathically.
‘Mother…you failed us.’
‘You must suffer.’
“Please, my girls…don’t make me use discipline that we need to save for Shaw,” she yelled, “This is Shanobi’s handiwork talking! Not you!”
“Wrong!” seethed Esme in a sinister voice, “You had your chance. You left us behind.”
“You must know our pain,” yelled Sophie.
“Stop being selfish brats and listen to me!”
“We’re through listening!” the two girls yelled.
Esme and Sophie shot up and attacked their mother. Emma shifted to her diamond form, yet still wasn’t able to stop the two girls from grasping onto her and clawing at her like a couple of rabid animals. She was inclined to push them off, but these were her daughters. A host of conflicting feelings kept her to fight back. All she could do was defend herself and listen to their pained cries.
“DIE MOTHER! ACCEPT YOUR PUNISHMENT!” yelled Esme.
“REMOVE THIS SHELL! WE’LL MAKE YOU AS UGLY AS YOU MADE US!” roared Sophie.
“Girls…stop this!” grunted Emma, using her arms to fight off the relentless clawing, “Let me help you. Stop helping Shanobi!”
They refused to listen. Since Emma couldn’t use telepathy while in her diamond form, there was no way to reach them. Shaw had once again found a way to hurt her on a profound level. It was not a pleasant feeling and only deepened her hatred for him and what she nearly became.
Esme and Sophie kept clawing at their mother. However, their attack was abruptly halted when the two girls were pulled off Emma by a telekinetic force by Phoenix. She had recovered from the blow she endured earlier and decided to help Emma since Cyclops seemed to be holding his own against Shanobi.
“I hate to give you parenting tips, Emma. But it looks like these girls need discipline,” she said as she suspended Esme and Sophie in mid-air.
“If only it were as simple as giving them a time out,” she said with a groan upon returning to her feet, “Do you think you can hold them?”
“I’ll throw some cosmic power just to make sure. Trust me, they’re not going anywhere.”
Phoenix flashed a bit of her cosmic flames and focused her telekinesis so it formed a sizable bubble around Esme and Sophie. While they were disfigured and full of hate, they were no match for her psychic talents.
Now suspended about six feet off the floor, they continued to thrash and yell angrily. They never took their sights of Emma. They gazed at her with murderous intent, making clear all their pain and anguish they had suffered. For a moment she just stared back, taking in their hateful glares. She eventually shifted out of her diamond form so she could use her telepathy again. That seemed to be the only way she could reach her girls.
“FACE US, MOTHER! ACCEPT YOUR FATE!” yelled Esme.
“I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU, MOTHER!” cried Sophie.
“I want to believe that’s Shaw’s influence talking. If only I could allow myself to be that foolish,” said Emma dryly, “You girls are definitely my daughters. You have in you the bitterness and drive that I’ve carried with me all my life. I had to re-learn how to love, care, and feel empathy again. If you let me, I can show you.”
“YOU’VE NOTHING WE WANT!” they said in unison.
“You’re immature brats who don’t know what’s good and decent. You only know the lies and treachery that Shaw has taught you,” she said with a touch of maternal scorn, “Hate me all you want, you’re still my daughters. I’m going to undo the damage Shanobi did. I’m not going to let you turn into what I nearly became.”
There was a touch of anger mixed with her sorrow. Emma Frost wasn’t about to let her maternal instincts make her weak. This was a personal mission in addition to being another desperate act of redemption.
With Phoenix holding the two girls tightly in her telekinetic grasp, Emma placed her hands on her temples. She concentrated hard, channeling as much of her telepathic talents as she could muster. She aggressively probed Esme and Sophie’s mind, not bothering with subtlety or restraint. She had a lot of damage to sift through because of Shanobi’s meddling. She refused to fail her daughters and give Shaw the satisfaction.
“Auggghhhhhhh! Get out…of my…head!” cried Esme.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh! It hurts! Stop it! I…will…kill you!” exclaimed Sophie.
‘Go ahead, girls. Let it out. It’ll be over soon.’
Emma relentlessly attacked their psychic defenses. Like her, Esme and Sophie were talented telepaths. Their minds had been pushed beyond their limits due to Shaw’s handiwork. Because of this, their thoughts were a jumbled mess. There was no logic behind their emotions. Shanobi overloaded their minds so that only basic feelings like pain, anger, rage, and hatred could register. She wouldn’t be surprised if he planned such torment from the beginning. Damage or no damage, Emma refused to accept that their minds were beyond repair.
Through intense focus, Emma sifted through Esme and Sophie’s damaged psyche. She had to take them on at once since their minds were so deeply interlinked like that of Celeste, Mindee, and Phoebe. It was like trying to reprogram a computer blindfolded. Only a skilled mind could pull this off.
“Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” the two girls seethed.
“That’s it, girls…we’re almost there. Let your mother undo Shaw’s treachery,” grunted Emma.
Esme and Sophie could feel Emma reaching the deepest recesses of their minds. They could already feel thoughts and emotions being connected in ways they hadn’t felt before. It was painful, disorienting, and downright traumatic. For their young and damaged minds, it was too much.
Just when Emma was on the verge of making some vital connections, the two girls linked their minds and channeled a massive outburst of psionic energy. Their eyes flashed bright red and their faces contorted with a new kind of rage as they unleashed the pent up energy.
“ENOUGH!” they both yelled.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Phoenix and Emma yelled out.
In an instant Emma was forced out of their minds and Phoenix’s telekinetic hold on them was shattered. Both women fell to the floor, their heads throbbing from psychic exertion. However, Esme and Sophie remained hovering. They were now being held up by their own psionic energy and they kept gathering more.
“Ungh…I hope that’s not a trick you taught the other Cuckoos,” groaned Phoenix.
“It isn’t. This is more of Shaw’s handiwork,” grunted Emma.
They were now more enraged than ever. With their eyes glowing bright red, they maneuvered themselves so they were hovering right over Emma. As they did, they unleashed massive pulses of psionic energy that ripped through the whole lab.
“NO MORE! IT…IT’S TOO MUCH!” they both cried out, “THIS MUST END! FOR ALL OF US!”
“I think they’re losing it, Emma,” exclaimed Phoenix.
“No…they never had it to begin with,” said Emma grimly.
More psionic waves ripped through the area. They were so powerful they knocked over tables, destroyed electronics, and disrupted the lights. Phoenix had to use her telekinesis to shield herself while Emma reverted back to her diamond form. This onslaught of psionic energy distracted Cypher from his computer array, knocking him clear out of his seat. It kept Warhawk down from the shot he took earlier and also affected the ongoing battle between Cyclops and Shanobi.
Shanobi hadn’t been able to lay a hand on Cyclops since his battle began. The X-leader kept evading him while striking back him with a steady dose of optic blasts. Shanobi sensed Cyclops was trying to wear him down. He was a long way from doing so, but after seeing Esme and Sophie lose control he saw an opportunity to good to pass up.
“I’ve had enough of this,” he said, “As much as I’d love to spar with you peasants, I’d rather not make this day any more disappointing.”
“If you’re going to try and run away, you’re not just a coward. You’re an idiot for thinking we won’t come after you,” said Cyclops as he hit him with another blast.
Shanobi easily absorbed the blast and grinned ominously.
“Look who’s talking,” he laughed, “You’re an even bigger idiot for thinking I don’t have an escape plan.”
Cyclops tried to blast him again. This time Shanobi changed his density so he went completely intangible. This not only allowed Cyclops’s blast to go right through him. It allowed Shanobi to literally run right through him. Once past him, Shanobi ran towards a special panel on the wall. He had to brave some punishing psionic waves in the process, but once he reached it he slammed his fist against a large red button on the panel. Almost immediately, a blaring alarm sounded.
“Warning. Emergency sequence activated. Initiating protocol X-154.”
“Who’s the idiot now?” Shanobi taunted, “Come along, Warhawk.”
“You mean I don’t get another shot at…”
“Not unless you want to be caught in the blast,” yelled Shanobi.
Warhawk grunted angrily from the other side of the room, but followed Shanobi’s orders. Using his agility, he followed him towards a special opening in the wall. Cyclops was poised to go after him, but he felt something tug on his foot.
“Wait!” yelled Doug Ramsey, who was still lying on the floor.
“Let go, kid! I have to…”
“No! I can help you,” he said, “Shanobi has wired this whole area to blow. I can stop it…mostly anyways.”
Cyclops grunted in frustration. He should have known Shanobi would do something this devious. He was his father’s son after all. Looking over towards Emma and Phoenix, he saw that they were still in trouble. He couldn’t leave them behind. He had to help them in any way he could. At the moment, this kid was their best bet.
“Can you give me a good reason trust you in under ten seconds?” said Cyclops.
“That asshole, Shanobi, left me behind and didn’t even try help me escape with him. What do you think?” replied Cypher.
“Good enough for me,” said the X-leader, “Now if you’re going to do something, do it now. I doubt Shaw programmed a lot of leeway with this thing.”
Cypher got up with the help of Cyclops and started typing furiously on his array. It was still active despite the damage caused by Esme and Sophie. Armed with his knowledge of codes and ability to break them, he tapped into the Shaw Industries network and prepared to shut down the self-destruct sequence. He was going to be cutting it close though.
Within seconds, they could already hear the hard rumbles of small explosions from the surrounding rooms. Shanobi wasn’t just making an escape. He was covering his tracks. In the process he probably hoped to blow them up as well. Cypher wasn’t about to give Shanobi that kind of satisfaction after having exploited his talents in one too many ways.
“I found the emergency hard lines. I’m almost there!” said Cypher.
“Well hurry! Those tremors are getting uncomfortably close,” yelled Cyclops.
While Cypher worked furiously, Phoenix and Emma were left to confront Esme and Sophie. They barely noticed Shanobi getting away and the alarms threatening further destruction. They had a more immediate threat with these powerful yet damaged young girls. The pulsating psionic forces were getting more erratic. Emma and Phoenix tried to get through to them, but the barrier was too strong.
“ALL WILL PERISH! ALL WILL DIE! THE HURTING…WILL STOP!” cried the two girls, their voices now mixed with sorrow as well as anger.
“No! Don’t give into the madness. You’re my daughters. You’re better than this!” Emma called out.
They still weren’t responding. Emma was running out of ways to talk them down. With growing desperation, she turned back to Jean.
“Phoenix, now would be a great time to tap that cosmic power of yours,” said Emma.
“I’m trying,” said Phoenix as she struggled to concentrate, “So much psychic energy! I’ll need a moment to…”
But that moment never came. Before Phoenix could utilize her cosmic abilities, a powerful explosion ripped through the area. It came from the ceiling right above them, which happened to be an area that Shanobi rigged with explosives. When it went off, it sent shockwaves and flames downward towards Esme and Sophie. In the blink of an eye, it completely consumed them.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” they exclaimed as their barrier broke.
“MY GIRLS!” cried Emma as she reached for them.
“EMMA!” Phoenix exclaimed.
Emma didn’t even get a chance to go after them. The powerful blast from the explosion didn’t let her. When Phoenix saw this, she instinctively put up a protective barrier. As she did this, Cypher finished deactivating the self-destruct sequence to prevent any further explosions.
“Got it! That should do it for the self-destruct sequence,” proclaimed Cypher upon entering the final commands on the console.
An ominous silence fell over the room. The explosions stopped. The alarms went silent. However, the blast had completely consumed the two Stepford Cuckoos. In the process it stopped their psionic outburst. However, Emma could sense that it stopped more than that.
Through the flames she couldn’t even see the outline of her girls. She didn’t need to see them though. Her once dormant maternal instincts revealed the bitter truth. Esme and Sophie were right. She had failed.
“No…not like this,” she said, her words wrought with sorrow, “Esme…Sophie…DAMN YOU, SHAW! DAMN YOU TO HELL!”
Next Issue: Prison Break Part 3
Read Comments ( 5 )