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Volume 5 -- Issue 103 -- Shifting Tides

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Shifting Tides
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Humanity is on the cusp of a new stage in evolution. Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men fight for peace in a world that hates and fears that evolution. Human/mutant relations have been tenuous, but they have been kept in check by a treaty with the mutant nation of Genosha that exchanges advanced alien technology for peace. However, the strength this peace is still being tested.

The latest test came from Shanobi Shaw. Exploiting the activities of Colonel Wraith and William Stryker, he tried to hack the network on Genosha and steal the alien technology for his father’s company, Shaw Industries. His plan was thwarted by the X-men and their former member, Emma Frost. But victory came at a price. Emma lost two of her clone daughters, Esme and Sophie. Wraith and Stryker also succeeded in extracting Graydon Creed from prison. As the impact of this affair unfolds, a growing strain between the X-men and the Mutant Security Agency has formed.

Never-the-less, the X-men fight on. In addition to the issues surrounding the Genosha treaty, a number of personal dramas have been escalating in recent times. For some, it is only a matter of time before they manifest in a profound and inescapable way.


Xavier Institute – Classroom

Philosophy was one of those rare human endeavors that attempted to encompass everything about everything within a single framework. It didn’t just sound like an impossible task. It was an impossible task. Some of the smartest men throughout history dedicated their lives to this task. It was a field that Remy Lebeau was woefully under-qualified for at times. Ye he remained engrossed in it past the point of frustration.

‘Dang! Didn’t Remy already read this chapter? Is it possible Remy is so sleep deprived that he read it and completely forgot about it? Maybe Remy should have Jean and Betsy probe his mind to see how crazy I am.’

Remy was running on empty. He hadn’t slept in nearly two days. Nobody really noticed either because everyone in the X-men was operating on extremely limited sleep at this point. Since the missions at Colorado Springs and Shaw Industries, the team had a lot on their plate. Somewhere along the way they still had class. It was supposed to be their least stressful duty, but for Remy it took on the rigors of several Juggernaut battles.

Remy had been staring at his books for nearly four hours. He practically tuned out Mr. McCoy’s lecture a few hours ago and had since tuned everybody else during the study period that followed. Scott, Jean, and Betsy were in the middle of a few make-up assignments. Kitty, Bobby, and Piotr took a test earlier with Miss Munroe and had since left. Remy was supposed to go with them, but he remained stuck on one of his philosophy assignments that involved theories about human emotion. Unfortunately, this was one field Remy had been struggling with a lot lately.

‘Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke. Some femme named Lynda Barry said that. Remy guesses she had some problems in her love life as well. Wish I could come up with an insight like that. It be a heck of a lot easier than stayin’ up all night tryin’ to make sense of this shit.’

With a tired yawn, Remy sat hunched over his desk. He was the last person who should have been studying emotions. Emotions like love led to Belladonna’s death. Emotions like hate drove him away from his family. Then there were the emotions surrounding Rogue and Betsy that didn’t fit into any category. This should have been an opportunity. He and Betsy had been having problems lately. Their relationship had stalled and neither one of them seemed to be trying very hard to get it going again. It didn’t help that he still talked to Rogue constantly. He wanted to make things right. But if this was an opportunity to do so, then he wasn’t making good use of it.

“Remy…hey Remy!” shouted Jean from a nearby desk.

“Huh?” said the Cajun, jolted from his daze.

“Are you going to answer it or what?”

“Uh…answer what, cherè? We takin’ another pop quiz or something?” asked Remy incredulously.

Jean responded by telekinetically lifting up one of his books and batting him on the head with it in a not so subtle manner.

“Ow! What the hell was that for?!” he said, now fully alert.

“To wake you up,” replied Jean, “Your phone has been ringing for the past five minutes on your desk. If you’re not going to answer it, could you at least set it to vibrate? I need to make up a test and that ZZ Top ring tone is undermining my grade-point average.”

While Remy was rubbing his head, he looked down at his cell phone to see that Jean was right. He had been in such a daze he didn’t notice that his phone had been ringing. On the screen it said he had three missed calls, all from the same number. Remy immediately recognized the number and when it started ringing again, he answered it.

“Uh…Bonjoure?” he said under his breath.

“Dang it, Remy! What the hell is goin’ on over there? Ah’ve been tryin’ to call you all morning.”

“Rogue? You ain’t be callin’ Remy in the middle of the day just to yell at him, non?”

“If that’s what Ah wanted, don’t you think Ah would have called sooner?”

She sounded pretty upset. Something clearly was very wrong so rather than try to charm her out of her mood he gave her a moment to collect herself.

“Talk to me, Rogue. What’s goin’ on?”

There was a brief silence over the line before Rogue replied, but he could still hear the strain in her breathing.

“Ah…Ah need to see you, Remy. Ah don’t mean soon either. Ah mean right now.”

“Is this something we can’t talk about over the phone?” said Remy, trying to be tactful so as not to invoke the curiosity from the others.

“No…Ah need to tell you in person. How soon can you get to downtown Westchester? Ah ain’t far from S&L Barbecue.”

Remy looked at his stack of books and then down at his watch. His lack of sleep and constant frustrations with his assignment quickly faded. Rogue sounded desperate and her safety took priority over everything else.

“Hang on, Rogue. Remy will be there in fifteen minutes tops.”

“Thanks sugah. Just hurry the hell up!”

Remy turned off his phone and rushed out of the room without telling Mr. McCoy, who looked up from the test he was proctoring with Scott just in time to see the Cajun slip out. Betsy and Jean noticed as well. Jean had been a bit too focused on her quiz to sense what was going on, but Betsy’s curiosity was definitely heightened.

“Bloody hell! That call had to be from Rogue,” Betsy cursed, “Only she can get him running out the door like that.”

“You want to mellow out, Betsy? I think it’s a bad sign when a psychic starts sounding paranoid,” said Jean under her breath.

“That’s easy to say when your significant other is spends more time on the X-jet than his cell phone,” she scoffed, “I’m sick of being sidelined every time Rogue goes whining to my boyfriend. I don’t care how much trouble she’s in. We’re either going to confront this or we’ll take turns busting Remy’s balls!”

Following her lover’s lead, Betsy abandoned her assignment and ran off. Jean didn’t bother going after her. Betsy was frustrated. This had clearly been brewing for a while now. Months of Remy dividing his time between Betsy and Rogue was finally catching up with them. It was one of those personal issues that Jean knew not to get involved with.

Betsy’s departure drew the full attention of Scott and Mr. McCoy from across the room. They were looking towards Jean for answers, but she was in no position to offer any.

“Don’t ask,” she said with a groan, “I’m sure we’ll all find out by the end of the day.”


Downtown Westchester – Bayview Mall

“Hurry up, Peter! You’re one of the few men who can never complain about his muscles getting tired,” Kitty called out.

“Hold on, Katya. I am still trying to work this new iPhone you convinced me to buy,” said Piotr, who stood hunched over a display case in an electronics store.

“You’ve been trying for the last twenty minutes. Give it a rest already! Don’t waste what precious time we have between classes on gimmicky gadgets.”

Piotr Rasputin scrutinized this latest piece of American technology for a moment longer. He knew he was in for a challenge by agreeing to go shopping with an American girl at Bayview Mall. He thought he saw plenty of technology when he worked for the Russian Mafia, but most of it involved weapons or military grade electronics. Omega Red only sparingly dealt in consumer goods. It was a good thing too because Piotr doubted that even he could make sense of some of these so-called smart phones.

Piotr decided to learn the intricacies of American gadget later and left the store to catch up with Kitty Pryde. They didn’t have much time left before their next round of classes started. He probably should have stayed behind to catch up. But when Kitty invited him to the mall he instinctively jumped at the chance. She had become his insight into his new American life and was quickly becoming something more.

“Oh don’t look too frustrated, Farm Boy,” teased Kitty, “Even I can’t figure out some of these new phones, especially the ones with Genosha tech.”

“Yet you’re able to text and bring up a map of this mall with only one hand,” Piotr pointed out, “I’d say you’re ahead of the curve.”

“You’ll catch up,” she assured him, “Stick with me and you’ll be as cool as you are strong! And that may mean updating that wardrobe of yours.”

“Why? What is wrong with my clothes?” he asked, looking down at his simple white shirt and blue jeans.

“Nothing is wrong with it. There are just a few limitations to wearing the same stuff you wear to mow the lawn.”

“Limitations?” questioned Piotr.

“I could go on a long and tedious lecture on men’s fashion. Or you could just trust me when I say a little style goes a long way for a man of your stature.”

Kitty grabbed the oversized Russian by the arm and led him along. It was almost comical, a powerful Russian allowing himself to be led by this petite teenage girl. Yet he couldn’t stop smiling. There was something about Kitty Pryde’s spirit that excited him. These past few months had given him a lot of reasons to enjoy her company and she kept giving him more.

The mall was crowded for the middle of the day. This usually didn’t make for a very productive trip, but having Piotr by her side made it plenty enjoyable. It wasn’t the first time she took Piotr out to Westchester either. She discovered not long after he joined the team that he had some catching up to do in terms of living a non-mafia life. He was used to living on a small farms or looking over his shoulder while on assignment for the Omega family and Kitty was intent on changing that. For what he went through, Piotr deserved better and she was going to be the one to help him.

Latched onto his arm, Kitty and Piotr navigated the swarmed crowds. They passed several shops and a couple of sales booth located along the way. The nearest clothing store was just up ahead and it would have to be the last stop they made before heading back to the mansion. They were almost there when a ditzy-looking sales girl with dyed hair and excessive facial piercings jumped out in front of them.

“Hi there! Aren’t you a cute couple? Care to try a special new fragrance exclusive we just got in this morning?” said the girl.

“Oh uh we’re not a couple. We…” but Piotr didn’t get too far.

“Oh so you’re the strong shy type? That’s great! I have just the fragrance for you,” said the girl, sounding like she had a few too many cups of coffee.

Before Piotr had a chance to refuse, the salesgirl grabbed a small black container that was no bigger than a can of soda and sprayed it right in his face. Not only did it not smell all that pleasant, but Piotr also felt a sharp sting on his neck.

“Ack! Chto za chert?” he cursed in Russian as he grabbed his neck.

“Hey! What gives?” demanded Kitty, “Is there acid in that thing or something?”

“Oh uh…hold on. This may be the wrong scent,” said the ditzy girl sheepishly, “Don’t worry! I’ve got the right one for you, missy.”

Working faster than Kitty could react, she grabbed another small container that looked almost identical to the last one. The girl then held it up to Kitty’s neck and sprayed it. Again, a bizarre scent and a painful sting followed.

“Ow!” she exclaimed, grasping her neck just like Piotr had done, “That’s it! You need to serious work on your sales pitch, lady.”

“Um…maybe this isn’t the right scent either?”

“Maybe you’re in the wrong profession, Little Miss Calvin Klein! Just be lucky you’re not selling pepper spray,” she said, shoving the girl away before she could grab another scent.

“Does that mean you don’t want a free sample?” she asked sheepishly.

“Please…no samples. I do not think these fragrances you speak of are for us,” said Piotr, still rubbing his neck.

“I don’t think they’re for anybody,” added Kitty, “Come on, Peter. Some new clothes should help get rid of that nasty scent.”

Kitty and Piotr briskly slipped away, leaving the ditzy girl standing awkwardly with the two unmarked fragrances in her hands. Despite their negative reaction, she continued to smile. Even if they didn’t buy any, she still got what she wanted out of her little pitch.

‘I had to denigrate myself in a way I’d rather wipe from my memory, but it worked. Heaven help me if my kids ever find out I stooped this low.’

The ditzy girl slipped away from the perfume booth and made her way through the bustling crowds until she was standing in a corridor that led to a back exit. Once she was out of public view, her eyes shifted yellow and she pocketed the two fragrance bottles. A quick glance at the bottom and it showed that these were anything by typical cosmetic containers.

From the bottom, there was a transparent piece of glass that allowed her to see into the bottle. Inside there were two small vials, each with a small bit of blood. That blood came courtesy of her two unwitting non-customers. From the looks of it, they didn’t suspect a thing. With the vials in hand, the mysterious girl took out her cell phone and made a fateful call.

“It’s me,” she said, her voice no longer resembling that of a ditzy teenage girl.

“Ah, right on time, Mystique. I take it your little excursion was successful?”

“It was a lot less eventful than I’m used to, but yes. It was a success. Those micro-needles you gave me worked like charm. Pryde and Rasputin didn’t suspect a thing.”

“Of course they won’t. If they haven’t come running after you by now, then chances are they won’t bother.”

“Like they’d catch me,” she scoffed.

“Glad to hear you’re so confident because your next little task may require a more direct approach.”

“How direct? Will it require that I take the form of another gaudy skank?”

“Not necessarily. Luckily, you’re lucky you’re next target will likely come to you because I don’t think you’re ready to confront them.”

“Are you questioning my resilience, Sinister?”

“Of course not. I just don’t trust you enough to handle certain components of this mission. You can still earn that trust. Get to the bus station across town and check in with my Vertigo once she’s done. She should have her sample ready by then.”

“Fine!” she said bitterly, “But be sure she got my last message. If she goes too far in the slightest, she’ll be sicker than her powers could ever make her!”

“I’ll be sure to pass along your sentiment. Now be a good ruthless deceiver and proceed with your mission. You still want the answers I have. Don’t make me reconsider my offer by slowing down my plans.”

There was a harsh click as Sinister hung up, leaving Mystique in a bitter yet familiar position. For months she had been doing this, carrying out Sinister’s errands as he called them. They often involved stealing advanced genetics equipment and getting blood samples from mutants. He wouldn’t tell her what they were for. He only told her assistance would give her the answers she craved. Taking on another human shape, she exited the mall in search of her next task.


Outside S&L Barbecue Restaurant

Remy arrived at his destination with great urgency, breaking a number of traffic laws in the process. But there was good reason for such urgency. It was rare for Rogue to get so worked up. She was the toughest woman he knew both literally and figuratively. Something had to be very wrong for her to call him in the middle of the day like this. He negated class and an already upset girlfriend to come after her. He would deal with the unpleasant fallout later.

He pulled up alongside the curb near the S&L Barbecue restaurant and scanned the area for Rogue. The restaurant looked as busy as any restaurant would during this time of day. There didn’t appear to be anyone out of the ordinary at first. Then he felt a distinct gust of wind from above. The Cajun looked up to see Rogue flying down and landing just off to the side of the restaurant. As soon as she landed, Remy got off his motorcycle and ran towards her.

“Cherè! There you are,” he called out, “Remy thought you said you was here already.”

Rogue landed and looked surprised by the Cajun’s outburst.

“Whoa there, Remy! Slow down,” she said, “You look like an army of Sentinels chased you here.”

“Don’t tell Remy you’re gonna belittle him for bein’ worried! You called Remy out of the blue sayin’ you was in trouble. How the hell you expect Remy to respond?”

“Wait…Ah called you? When did that happen?”

“Now ain’t the time for bustin’ Remy’s balls, Rogue. I ain’t in the mood for games!”

“Do Ah look like Ah’m playing a game?” said Rogue seriously, “Ah was just going about mah business, helping Kurt catch up on his online classes. Then you called and said you needed mah help!”

Now Remy was even more confused and even more worried. This didn’t make any sense. He knew Rogue well enough to sense when she was being coy and when she was being serious. She was every bit as bewildered as he was. Clearly, there were other forces at work here.

“Don’t give meh that look, Remy. Just so you know, Ah’d be perfectly fine if this was another one of your stupid jokes,” said Rogue, who was starting to worry as well.

“It be no joke, cherè. Something be very wrong here,” said the Cajun as he started scanning the area vigilantly.

“Any chances this is Bobby, Kitty, or the others messin’ with us?”

“Non, they be a lot way more imaginative than this,” he reasoned, “Someone be playing us. Someone wanted to get us out here in one place.”

“Why in the hell would anyone wanna do that?” asked Rogue, now looking around her suspiciously as well.

She and Remy got their answer a lot sooner than they expected. While they were looking around for possible threats, they were struck by an ominous yet familiar pulsating wave. It was hard to tell where it came from. But when it hit them, their world started spinning.

“Augh!” groaned Rogue, “Ah ain’t eaten yet, but Ah…Ah’m gonna loose it anyways.”

“Ungh…Remy too,” grunted the Cajun as he fell to his knees, “This feel…familiar. It feel like…”

Then a familiar voice came from one of the outdoor tables from the restaurant.

“Vertigo?” she said, “Took you long enough.”

The question over who tricked them was officially answered and it was anything but comforting. Rogue and Remy were now writhing on the ground, clutching their heads and stomachs through mind-numbing agony. From the table, a woman dressed in normal street clothes and a baseball cap confronted the two X-men. Through the pain they recognized her as Vertigo, one of Sinister’s Marauders. The source of the wave was coming from her and she wasn’t holding back.

“I have to say, I’m disappointed. You X-men are supposed to be cunning,” she taunted as she approached them, “Yet all it took to outsmart you was a few tactful phone calls.”

“Ungh…that what this be about?” grunted Remy, “Sinister be lookin’ to abduct us again?”

“You can tell him…to kiss mah-augh!”

Rogue’s insult was cut off by another more neauseating wave by Vertigo. She was not just looking to slow down the two X-men. She was looking to fully paralyze them. They had no chance at fighting back. After only a few seconds of bombardment, they were nearly unconscious.

“Don’t presume anything. Sinister is smarter than that,” grinned Vertigo, “He has no plans for a reunion…not yet anyways. But you still have something he wants and Sinister always gets what he wants.”

“Hnn…” groaned Remy, trying to respond.

“Easy there, pretty boy,” she said, placing her foot on his neck to shut him up, “Now hold still. This will only take a minute. Just be lucky you’re already in too much pain to feel what I’m about to do.”


Meanwhile

Remy Lebeau was a dedicated lover when he needed to be an insufferable pain whenever possible. As soon as he went out searching for Rogue, he was followed closely by a very curious and very annoyed Betsy Braddock. She had dealt with Remy’s infatuation with Rogue since the beginning of their relationship. She understood they shared a close bond and that Remy often went out of his way to see her. However, there were times it bugged her. She expected it to be a complication at some point, but she never expected it to manifest like this.

She arrived at S&L Barbecue just in time to see Rogue and Remy in a heated conversation. She rode on Logan’s spare motorcycle. Since he was on duty in Genosha, she figured he wouldn’t mind. Even with her reckless driving, she struggled to keep up with Remy. She was in the right mind to tear into him for being such a lousy boyfriend. Unfortunately, Vertigo beat her to it.

“Bloody hell! There goes my justification for calling Remy a total sod,” groaned Betsy, “He owes me big time for this.”

Vertigo didn’t notice Betsy approaching. Once her targets were completely docile, she took out a small handheld device that looked like a glue gun that was tipped with a special needle leading into a glass vial. Using this device, she pressed it against Remy’s neck and pushed a button to extract the sample. After securing the sample she moved onto Rogue, which would be more difficult because of her invulnerable form.

“This adamantium needle better do the trick,” said Vertigo as she changed up the vial.

Acting fast, she pressed the device against Rogue’s neck and began extracting the sample. That’s when she heard an angry female voice interrupt her efforts.

“Stop whatever the hell you’re doing and back the fuck off!” she shouted.

“Oh hell, you can’t be…”

“Serious?” shot Betsy, “How’s this for serious?”

The young woman attacked Vertigo, pulling off an acrobatic jump kick that knocked Vertigo right off Rogue. She tried redirecting her vertigo wave, but she wasn’t fast enough. She was hit hard again with another forceful kick that sent her flying back towards the restaurant tables. This ended up causing some commotion from the bewildered customers inside.

“Who the hell is that?” exclaimed one of the waitresses.

“Looks like one of those mutants,” said an older woman sitting at a table.

“Somebody call the MSA!” said the restaurant manager.

This was the problem with luring her targets out in broad daylight. It was bound to attract attention, especially if it got bad. This could only make her mission more difficult.

“Ungh! This is the last thing I need,” grunted Vertigo.

“Too bad! You’re getting it anyways,” said Betsy, forming two psionic blades as she stood over the dazed Marauder.

“You know I would love to stick around and make you writhe in pain for this whole city to see. But I’m in a hurry so do us both a favor and get the fuck out of my way!”

Vertigo grabbed a nearby chair from a table and threw it right at Betsy. She sliced it into pieces with her blades. In doing so she gave Vertigo enough of a window to return to her feet and run past her. Sprinting at full speed, she reached down and grabbed the device that was still sticking out of Rogue’s neck. It was on just long enough to get a sample, which was all she needed to complete her mission. She didn’t need to waste time fighting the X-men.

“Don’t you dare run!” said Betsy with her blades still glowing, “I came here to take my frustration out on somebody. Since you paralyzed my boyfriend, you’ll have to do.”

“That sounds like so much fun,” said Vertigo dryly, “I’ll put that on my to don’t list and get back to you.”

“So you’re going to make me chase you?”

“If you want to waste your time, then by all means!”

Vertigo kept running full speed, using her vertigo wave to disable some pedestrians along the way. Betsy looked at her ailing boyfriend and then back towards Vertigo. In a fit of burning frustration, she chose to go after Vertigo.

While Betsy ran after her, Remy and Rogue emerged from their dazed state. Vertigo’s attack was a lot more focused than their previous encounters. But Vertigo didn’t stick around to finish the job, which meant they were still conscious and could go after her if they could fight through the agony.

“Ungh…Betsy,” moaned Remy as he pulled himself up.

“Not so dang loud, Cajun! Mah head ain’t stopped poundin’ yet,” grunted Rogue.

“Remy takes it from the attitude that you be okay, chere,” said the Cajun as he helped her up, “Now come on! We got to go after Vertigo.”

“You want mah help in goin’ after your girlfriend?” she scoffed.

“Ain’t you the least bit curious about what the hell just happened? A trick like this ain’t done for the hell of it. If you don’t want answers, fine. But Remy’s goin’ after them!”

Remy was annoying as hell with his logic sometimes. If Vertigo was pulling tricks like this for Sinister, then he was definitely up to something and that was never a good thing. Having already had her powers messed up by that madman, she wasn’t going to let him get away with whatever he had planned even if it involved helping Remy’s girlfriend.

“Fahne,” she said begrudgingly, “Ain’t like you’re equipped to handle two pissed off women.”

“You be too sweet, cherè,” said Remy, who was already following Betsy and Vertigo’s trail, “Now hurry up and get airborne! We best be catchin’ those two before they do serious damage.”

“Give mah head a sec to settle,” said Rogue, still rubbing her head, “Dang, how many other ways can this afternoon go to hell?”

“If Sinister be involved…plenty.”


Westchester Bus Station

Jubilation Lee hadn’t left District X much since she joined forces with Bishop, Madrox, and Tessa. Aside from New York City, she had little reason to travel. It wasn’t just because she had plenty to keep her busy. The world was still pretty hostile towards mutants. Even with the Genosha treaty providing an economic incentive to not hate mutants, there was still plenty of anti-mutant sentiment.

This didn’t prevent Bobby Drake from convincing her to ride out to Westchester and visit him. He had made the arduous trip to District X numerous times. It was only fair that she make the effort to visit him as well. Since he and the X-men had been so busy lately, they hadn’t really had much time to hang out. That caused a bit of strain that neither of them were in the mood to confront. Perhaps this little visit would help them both.

‘I live on a block where two known teleporters live in the same building. Yet here I am riding the bus. Something is seriously wrong with this picture. It hardly seems fair. Then again, I should be used to missing out on everything fair.’

Jubilee let out a restless sigh upon stepping off the greyhound bus. The station in the north part of Westchester was fairly busy. It was the middle of the day and there were plenty of people going about their business. Jubilee made sure she dressed a bit more tactfully than she did in District X, sporting her favorite sunglasses along with a pair of dark jeans and a yellow jacket. Once off the platform, she began scanning the area for Bobby. He promised to meet her so they could make the most of their limited free time.

“Hey Jubilee! Over here!” came a voice through the crowd.

“Ah, there’s my supremely cool boy toy!” said Jubilee, picking out Bobby from the crowds.

“Ready and waiting for nearly fifteen arduous minutes.”

Jubilee smiled and made her way through the crowds to meet up with Bobby. As soon as she reached him, they shared a quick embrace and an affectionate kiss. It was a nice feeling which almost making up for the lousy bus ride.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” said Jubilee, “I couldn’t convince this girl back in District X to teleport me the whole way. Something about only going to places she knows.”

“Well we all can’t be as bold as you, Jubilee. So try not to hold it against her,” teased Bobby.

“Nah, you know I’m not the kind to hold a grudge. I still managed to guilt her into loaning me a few bucks for the bus trip.”

“That’s my girl! Always finding a way to win.”

Bobby grinned proudly and slipped his arm around her waist, leading her towards the rear exit to the station. There were a lot of people still coming in and it was a lot less crowded down this area. Plus, it was out of sight enough for Bobby to get them moving on one of his ice slides.

As soon as they were out of sight by a comfortable enough distance, Jubilee got a little friendlier with her lover. She leaned into his embrace and slipped a hand into his back pocket. She was officially ready to forget about the bus ride and focus on making this visit as productive as possible.

“So what are your plans for my first visit to Westchester? This place isn’t nearly as big as New York City so forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical,” said Jubilee.

“Go right ahead. Skepticism is a good thing. It’ll leave you all the more surprised once you see what I have in store,” boasted Bobby.

“Will it involve more than a trip to the mall or a sampling of all those ice cream joints you told me about?”

“Are you questioning my choices in ice cream?” he said with fake offense.

“No, but let’s just say I have high expectations,” said Jubilee playfully, “The lousy bus ride did give me some time to work up a little anticipation. I think it’ll be good for us. I know we haven’t had a lot of time for each other lately and I know you’ve had your concerns about what we’ve got going on. Well today we’re going to clear the air.”

“Really? You’re serious?” said Bobby with more intrigue.

“You bet, Iceman! You’ve been patient with me all this time. It’s only fair I return the favor.”

Bobby’s expression shifted as Jubilee gave him an affectionate smile. This caused him to stop walking for a moment. They were almost at the exit, standing right alongside a couple of buses that weren’t in use. His grip around her waist tightened somewhat and he looked a little distant. Jubilee was a bit taken aback. She expected a reaction from him, but not like this.

“Um…everything okay, Bobby? Did I just make a total fool of myself?” asked Jubilee warily.

“No…not at all,” he assured her.

“So why are you looking at me like I just threw up on your shirt?”

Bobby paused and looked away for a moment. Jubilee was getting really worried now. Something seemed really wrong. It was hard to tell what it was. Bobby usually wasn’t this hard to read.

“It’s not you, Jubilee. It’s just…you’re making this really hard for me,” he said in a strangely distant tone.

“Why? What’s so hard about it?” she asked in a confused tone.

“Remember how I said I wanted to surprise you? Well now I’m not sure you’ll be so surprised anymore.”

What happened next caught Jubilee completely by surprise. Bobby’s embrace went from affectionate to hostile. With a sinister gleam in his eye, he roughly shoved her back against a nearby truck. He shoved her so hard that when she hit, it left a sizable dent. Jubilee was left dazed, confused, and in quite a bit of pain.

“Augh!” she cried out, “B-B-Bobby?!”

“Don’t make this harder than it has to be,” he said in a voice that sounded completely unlike the Bobby she knew.

Jubilee’s defensive instincts kicked in. Bobby, or whoever this was, caught her off guard before. He wouldn’t do so a second time. Through the lingering soreness, she unleashed a concentrated fireworks blast. He responded with a nimble maneuver that looked very unlike his style, ducking out of the way and pulling off a punishing roundhouse kick that hit her square in the chest. This knocked her right back into the side of the bus, deepening the dent from before. Now dazed again, Bobby lunged forward and grabbed her by the neck.

“Ungh! You…you’re not Bobby!” grunted Jubilee.

“What makes you so sure about that?” he said dryly.

“Hnn…his grip isn’t this lousy and he doesn’t hit like a girl!”

The mysterious looked excessively bemused. This girl’s detective skills were even worse than her fighting skills.

“I’d rather not say something ominous here and spoil the fun,” he replied with a grin, “Now relax. By the time you wake up this will all be over.”

“Like hell I will!” said Jubilee, trying to knee him in the gut.

“Oh just for that, I’m not going to be as gentle as I planned.”

Jubilee’s counterattack failed. The knee to the gut was off target and did little damage. Not loosening his grip for a second, this person who clearly wasn’tBobby gritted his teeth and head-butted Jubilee as hard as he could. This effectively knocked the teenage girl out so that she went limp in his arms.

Once satisfied that Jubilee was out cold, he let her fall limply to the ground so that he could do what he needed to do. As he stood over her, his eyes flashed yellow and his form changed shape to a more appropriate form.

“Three down in less than an hour,” muttered Mystique, “Not bad, but it’s not like Sinister will ever be impressed.”

Working quickly, the shape shifter took out another extraction device that was similar to the ones she used on Piotr Rasputin and Kitty Pryde. After taking a quick look around to make sure there weren’t any witnesses, she knelt down and pressed the device up against a vein in her neck. With the push of a button, a small blood sample was collected and stored in a glass container.

Mystique now had her third and final sample for the day. It was a good thing too because this was one mission where she had to hide more disgust than usual. She had already done plenty of rotten things for Sinister since he enlisted his services. She hoped to avoid having to confront the X-men or those close to them. It wasn’t just because they could ruin everything either. Her kids were still involved and she wanted to do as little harm to them as possible.

Now Sinister was really pushing it, especially after revealing that Rogue was one of his targets. She was sickened to think that at this very moment she was being attacked by another one of Sinister’s Marauders.

‘You better have been gentle with her, Sinister. I don’t care what kind of leverage you think you have on me. The second my daughter gets hurt, every promise you’ve made me means precisely dick.’

Mystique pocketed the sample along with the other two she collected earlier and prepared to head out. Then her communicator started buzzing. She wasn’t supposed to check in until she met up with Vertigo. If someone was calling her now, then that could only mean something was going horribly wrong.

“Damn it all to hell!” she groaned as she answered the call, “What is it now?”

“There’s been a slight change of plans, Mystique.”

“Define slight, Essex,” said the shape shifter angrily, “Did that bitch, Vertigo, hurt my daughter?”

“You’re in no position to demand, but your daughter is not the problem so I’ll let it slide. It appears Vertigo did not anticipate an unexpected guest on her mission. She’s currently being chased through downtown Westchester by Psylocke.”

“This is my problem how?” scoffed Mystique.

“Oh it’s very much your problem when those samples are at risk. While I’m confident in Vertigo’s skills, I always have room for doubt. So I want you to head downtown and tactfully make sure that those samples are secure.”

“And if she ends up being incompetent and clumsy?”

“She knows the consequences of failure. I’m assuming you do as well. As such, I expect a successful excuse-free report by the end of the afternoon.”

The line went dead and Mystique was left to scorn Sinister from afar. This day had been bad enough. Now she was going to have to compensate for Sinister’s lack of skilled associates. At the very least she could swing by and make sure Rogue was okay.


Downtown Westchester

“Go faster, you overpriced heap of junk!” cursed Vertigo towards the unmarked car she was stuck driving.

“Should have opted for speed over style, luv,” Psylocke shouted out from behind, who was closing fast on her motorcycle.

The chase that began with Gambit and Rogue had turned downtown Westchester into a racetrack. Vertigo had a head start on Psylocke, but the car Sinister gave her was not built for a race. It would have been nice to have a motorcycle. But since her face and powers were hard to hide from the authorities, she had to drive this undersized and inconspicuous coupe. It certainly wasn’t built for speed, which became painfully apparent as Psylocke rapidly closed the distance.

To make matters worse, the afternoon traffic in downtown Westchester was abysmal. She had to weave in and out of lanes, drive over curbs, and run several traffic lights. This caused plenty of commotion, including several fender benders. It was a lot easier for Psylocke because she could weave through the lanes faster and circumvent the obstructions. Since they were surrounded by large office buildings and the highway wasn’t for another few blocks, Vertigo was essentially boxed in.

“Out of my way, damn it!” Vertigo shouted as she honked the horn, “All that advanced technology and Sinister makes me drive this Ford piece of shit.”

She could hear the engine of Psylocke’s motorcycle closing fast. She tried to accelerate, weaving through more cars and looking for a clearer path. She saw up ahead a heavy traffic jam that went from side to side, leaving her with no way to maneuver. It forced her to take more aggressive tactics.

“A traffic jam this early in the afternoon? Figures!” she grunted.

Still picking up speed, she rolled down her window and leaned out. She saw Psylocke pulling within a mere fifty feet of her. Taking matters into her own hands, Vertigo unleashed one of her vertigo blasts. It was bound to cause plenty of unwelcome damage and attention, but she could not afford to be tactful at this point.

The wavy pulse quickly expanded behind her and consumed both Psylocke and a few other cars. Both the cars ended up swerving off road. One of them crashed right into a fire hydrant while the other collided into a median. Psylocke maintained control of her motorcycle despite a sudden onslaught of nausea. Since the wave wasn’t focused, the effects weren’t as bad as they could have been. This allowed her to focus enough to counter the attack.

“So that’s the way you want to play, bitch?” grunted Psylocke, “You’re lucky I’m already pissed so consider this an act of mercy.”

While maintaining careful control of her motorcycle, Psylocke formed a psionic blade in her right hand. With skilled maneuvering, she managed to escape from the wave for a moment. This allowed her vision to clear long enough to throw the blade right towards the car. It ended up hitting the rear left tire of Vertigo’s car, causing it to burst.

As soon as the tire went out, Vertigo was forced to stop her attack and re-establish control of the car. She didn’t have it for very long though. The blown tire was so bad that it caused the whole vehicle to swerve off the road.

“Son-of-a…OH SHIIIITTTT!” yelled Vertigo.

Her grip on the wheel was not strong enough nor was the car stable enough to avoid the rocky trip that followed. It ended up careening past oncoming traffic and crashed right into a hotdog stand before slamming against the side of an office building. The spectacle caused the owner of the hot dog stand and over two dozen pedestrians to run for their lives. By the time the car came to a screeching halt, the airbags deployed and Vertigo was left dazed and with a sizable wound on her forehead.

“Crazy drunk driver,” yelled one of the pedestrians.

“Someone call the police!”

The commotion did not bode well for Vertigo. While the pedestrians cleared out and the chaos spread, Psylocke pulled up on her motorcycle and parked near the curb. Upon removing her helmet, she approached the now mangled car.

“This day’s just going to keep getting worse for the both of us. You should quit while you’re behind,” Psylocke called out.

“Hnn…why must you insist on being so annoying?” grunted Vertigo from inside the car where she was still stuck.

“I came here expecting to confront my boyfriend about being such a prick lately. Since you’ve managed to screw up that plan, I might as well confront you instead. Except with you, I can’t rely on the promise of make-up sex.”

“How nauseatingly sweet,” she said dryly.

Psylocke neared the car with two psionic blades fully formed and ready for combat. Vertigo kept wrestling with the seatbelt and door of the car. It took some struggling, but she managed to break free and force the door open. As soon as she fell out, she took aim at Psylocke with her vertigo beam.

“Back off!” she demanded, “I’ve no time for your schoolyard hissy fits!”

“Then you’ll have to make time,” retorted Psylocke as she narrowly avoided the beam.

Psylocke employed the full force of her ninja skills, doing a few acrobatic maneuvers to avoid the vertigo beams. Now that Vertigo wasn’t firing from a moving car, her aim and focus was better. It still wasn’t good enough to catch the nimble X-woman. As Vertigo tried desperately to subdue her, she stumbled away from the car and started running away from her.

“A little early to be playing coward isn’t it?” she taunted as she did a skilled backflip to avoid the beam.

“It isn’t cowardice. It’s strategy,” said Vertigo.

Psylocke ignored her remarks and launched another attack. She ran up along the now mangled car and charged towards Vertigo for what would have been a finishing blow. But this played right into her enemy’s strategy.

As soon as she was airborne, her ability to maneuver was gone. This meant Vertigo had a clear shot and Psylocke did not realize this until it was too late. As she descended towards Vertigo, she was helpless as the determined Marauder unleashed another powerful vertigo beam.

“Bloody hel-ahhhhhhhhhh!” Psylocke cried out.

“Happy landings!” grinned Vertigo.

Now consumed with nausea, Psylocke’s skilled acrobatics turned into an unceremonious tumble onto the hard pavement below. She crashed right along the street next to Vertigo, landing right near a newsstand and losing her psionic blades in the process. Vertigo was plenty inclined to make her suffer even more than she had with Rogue and Gambit. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the luxury of holding a grudge.

“There are so many ways I can make you suffer right now,” she taunted, “But I’m a little behind schedule so I’ll have to save my wrath for another time.”

“Hnn…you’re still a coward,” groaned Psylocke through the pain.

“And you’re the fool who jumped right into my beam. Which would you rather be?”

Vertigo hit her with one final blast before sprinting full speed in the opposite direction. Some pedestrians were still in her way, forcing her to use another vertigo beam to clear a path. It left behind ailing civilians and a very upset Psylocke who was still reeling from earlier.

‘Damn you, Remy. Damn you for making me care too much to run after you like this. I know jealousy and anger are an unhealthy mix for any relationship. This only makes it even more pathetic.’

Since Psylocke’s pain tolerances were higher than the surrounding civilians, she pulled herself up faster. She was still a bit woozy and in no condition to get back on her motorcycle. She couldn’t even see Vertigo anymore through the crowds. She was going to be a lot harder to catch at this point. If she was going to make this outburst of hers productive, she needed a new strategy.

That strategy arrived through the air via Rogue and Gambit. They landed right next to Psylocke as soon as they saw her and Gambit quickly helped her up.

“You okay, Betsy? Did Vertigo get you with that puke ray too?” said Gambit.

“I’m fine. I’m amazed to see you actually give a damn,” said Psylocke flatly, shaking off his help.

“Cherè don’t…” groaned the Cajun.

“Save the make-up sex for later. Where is that walking hangover?” said Rogue firmly.

“Trying to limp away and doing a very pathetic job of it, what else?” replied Psylocke, pointing down the street towards Vertigo.

She wasn’t moving nearly as fast as before. The earlier car crash had injured her more than Vertigo was willing to let on. She clearly had a bone fracture in her leg and was clutching her ribs. The pain was apparent as she limped along, gritting her teeth in agony with each step. When pedestrians got in her way, she used her vertigo beam to immobilize them. It filled the streets with pained cries, making her a threat that had to be taken down.

“Dang, we can’t have that femme get away with making other folks feel just as pathetic,” said Gambit.

“You two gonna help meh stop her or are you gonna need a few more lovers spats?” said Rogue dryly.

“You’re really tempting me, aren’t you?” quipped Psylocke, “Well I’m not giving you the satisfaction.”

“A simple yes would have worked too,” said Rogue dryly, “Ah don’t think we’ll be needin’ any elaborate plans from Cyclops for her. Ah’ll cut her off. You two hit her with some fire power.”

“Like fish in a barrel,” said Gambit as he eyed the wounded mutant, “And Bets, promise me you’ll be saving the melodrama for later.”

“I promise. Can’t say it’ll make much of a difference,” said Psylocke dryly.

Resisting the urge to further belittle her lover, Psylocke went along with her Gambit to take on this renegade Marauder. She figured the sooner she took down Vertigo, the sooner she could find a more effective means of dealing with their long list of problems.

Psylocke and Gambit prepared to attack while Rogue flew up over them. They closed on Vertigo fast, who could not limp away fast enough due to her injuries. Along the way they passed over a number of groaning pedestrians. This kind of outburst was sure to earn her the ire of the MSA and a prison cell at the very least. She eventually reached a corner near a busy intersection.

At this point, she had to stop and catch her breath. She had to lean on a signpost for support. At least two of her ribs were broken and her knee was killing her. She was nearing the limits of her pain tolerance.

“Stay back! Don’t come any closer,” yelled Vertigo.

“Yeah right,” scoffed Psylocke as she and Gambit drew near, “Keep pretending you’re not willing to attack innocent civilians just for the hell of it.”

“I’m warning you! Come any closer and I’ll unleash a wave that will cause the worst traffic disaster in history.”

“Probably still be better than the Jersey Turnpike,” said Gambit as he took out a fresh deck of cards.

“You think I’m bluffing?”

“Non, Gambit thinks you just stupid,” said the Cajun as he turned towards his girlfriend, “Bets, you still okay with taking your anger out on someone other than Remy?”

“Gladly!” she said bitterly.

Vertigo was about to unleash another vomit-inducing wave. This time Psylocke was ready for her. Using her telepathy, she attacked with a powerful psychic onaslaught. It was a tactic she probably should have used earlier. But now that she was focused on ending this before any further damage could be done, she was able to hit Vertigo’s mind in a way that ended her attack in the most painful of ways.

“Ungh!” grunted Vertigo, “Get out…of my…mind!”

“Those shields are tough to keep up with a bone bruise and broken ribs, aren’t they?” taunted Psylocke, “Lucky for you, I don’t have to break any more bones to beat you.”

“You already be showing your hand, cherè. Now we showing ours,” said Gambit.

With Vertigo paralyzed from Psylocke’s telepathy, she was in no position to dodge an incoming charged card. It hit the sign post she was leaning on and exploded with a sharp burst that both bruised her eardrums and knocked her flat on her back.

“Augh! I swear I’ll…” she began.

But Vertigo did not get to finish her threat. Once on her back, the only thing she saw was a clear blue sky and an ominous figure descending towards her. It was Rogue, the same woman she had attacked so callously earlier.

“Ah think you’ve sworn enough for one day. Time for a time out, missy. You’ll need it for when your new friends at the MSA gets here,” said Rogue as she landed by her side and took off her gloves.

“Hnn…gonna be sick,” was all Vertigo got out.

“Then consider us even…for the most part.”

Rogue silenced her once and for all by placing her hand on Vertigo’s forehead. This drained her of her remaining energy, causing her to pass out within seconds and effectively ending her rampage. What started as a trick on Rogue and Gambit turned into a disaster in broad daylight on the streets of downtown Westchester. There were still dozens of bodies lying around, all groaning in agony as a result of her attack. It was quite the public spectacle and would require some significant cleanup.

“Guess that’s the end of that,” said Gambit with a sigh of relief.

“Partially anyways,” said Psylocke distantly, “There are still some unpleasant loose ends to resolve.”

“You mean besides you evesdroppin’ on us?” said Rogue dryly.

“Are you going to be a bitch about it and tell me I wasn’t justified?” shot Psylocke.

“Considering how it turned out, Ah’ve earned that right,” sadi Rogue, “Obviously, Sinister played a trick on us and you fell for it.”

“Like you wouldn’t have been worse had I not shown up,” retorted the young psychic.

“Are you lookin’ for a thank-you now? Because you’ll end up in another body before Ah ever give you that.”

Gambit forced himself between the two women. This day was turning out badly for him on so many levels. He was not equipped to deal with this now.

“Knock it off, you two!” he shouted, “Much as Remy enjoys seeing two beautiful women fight, we got us a serious mess here.”

“If you’re going to try and avoid this again…” Psylocke began.

“Remy ain’t avoiding anything this time. This time, Remy’s gonna play it safe and take it one step at a time,” said the Cajun, “And the next step ought to be getting in touch with Professor Xavier, giving the MSA a call, and taking a moment to cool the hell down. Can we do that before we go at each other’s’ throats?”

Rogue and Psylocke kept staring each other down. Emotions were still running high, but the damage Vertigo did wasn’t going away on its own. Without saying a word, the two women conceded to Gambit’s request. However, it was now more apparent than ever that some difficult decisions had to be made.


Later

The rest of the afternoon was one prolonged clean-up effort. It all came together pretty quickly. The local MSA department was mobilized along with police and EMTs. Several blocks of Downtown Westchester were cordoned off so that the victims of Vertigo’s attack could be treated and Vertigo herself could be safely contained. It made for a more hectic rush-hour, but it kept a bad situation from getting any worse.

Rogue, Remy, and Betsy stuck around to help out. Rogue flew around and gathered the ailing pedestrians, Betsy used her telepathy to make sure Vertigo stayed unconscious, and Remy informed the MSA officers of what happened. It was a process they had grown accustomed to over the past few months. It was tedious and cumbersome, but it had to be done. Since the X-men had a relationship with the MSA, they needed to be part of the process.

“This woman is disgusting in an entirely new way,” commented the lead MSA officer, “My team has counted over three dozen cases of seizures and nausea. Half are already on their way to the Emergency Room. By my count that’s at least 20 counts of aggravated assault.”

“That enough to put her in a cell until the next ice age?” asked Remy.

“With the report you’ve given and plenty of witnesses, I’d say so. General Grimshaw is big on processing mutants like her quickly and efficiently.”

“Whatever be making his people look good,” said Remy, rolling his eyes, “Just be careful with this femme. She be involved with some bad people and she may know a thing or two worth knowing.”

“Don’t worry. Once she gets a taste of our new prison cells, she’ll sing like Lady Gaga.”

Remy didn’t share the officer’s confidence as he watched them haul away Vertigo on a special gurney. In order to make sure she didn’t cause any trouble, they had her hands and feet completely bound with metal shackles. They also had an IV going into her arm that would help keep her unconscious during her trip an MSA mutant isolation chambers. While Remy was relieved to see her get hauled off, he couldn’t help but wonder what she had been up to. She worked for Sinister and he hadn’t forgotten what that monster did to Rogue. If he was playing a new game of sorts, then that was definitely cause for concern.

Whatever the case, Vertigo probably wouldn’t give the MSA much to work with. Sinister was too smart to let that happen. This was sure to be another one of those lingering threats would plague the X-men, as if they didn’t already have enough.

‘The hell are you after, Sinister? It ain’t enough you put Rogue through all this personal hell by screwin’ up her powers. Now you be wanting more? What game are you playing?’

There were plenty of questions and Remy didn’t have the energy to answer them. He had more immediate concerns involving his girlfriend and his former would-be girlfriend. Now that Vertigo was secure, Betsy could lift her telepathic safeguards. He struggled to make eye contact with her at first. This whole mess had been made more volatile by some of the issues they had been having lately.

“Feeling better yet, Betsy?” he asked her, “Be nice to know if Remy needs to prepare for another fight.”

“Don’t get too melodramatic on me, Remy. The past few hours have given me plenty time to cool down. I sure as hell needed it.”

“That be putting it mildly,” commented Remy.

“Hey, it’s not like I didn’t have a reason to be upset,” she retorted, “I admit I overreacted. But can you seriously blame me?”

“Don’t know. Depends on how long this has been brewing,” said Remy.

“Considering how we’ve done a bloody good job of ignoring it, I’d say long enough.”

Remy didn’t argue her point. In a ways, he was the guilty one here. He gave Betsy one too many reasons to lash out at him. That didn’t make what she did any less excessive. It was a sad sign about the state of their relationship and the burden was still on his shoulders to confront it.

While the two lovers processed this awkward moment, Rogue came flying in. She had just finished helping the EMTs load the last civilian into an ambulance. She was part of this issue too and true to her name, she didn’t shy away from such conflict.

“Hey uh…Ah guess Ah’m interrupting something so Ah won’t bother asking,” she said, “But Ah have a pretty good idea of what you two are gonna talk about.”

“All the more reason to give us some space,” said Betsy bitterly.

“Why should Ah? If Ah’m a part of this, shouldn’t Ah have a say?” she argued.

“Cherè, let’s not pour hot sauce on this overcooked dish here. This be between Remy and his girlfriend.”

“No, Ah ain’t gonna be chased away,” said Rogue strongly, “Ah’ve got something to say and you two might actually save yourselves a spat or two by listening.”

Betsy angrily glared at Rogue, but Remy held her back. Rogue had a point. She was part of this, even if they didn’t want to admit it. For that reason, she deserved a say in this conflict.

“Now clearly, Ah caused more than a little trouble into paradise when Ah went to Remy a while back. Ah wasn’t lookin’ to mess up anybody’s relationship. Ah just needed a friend.”

“Really? You know, you do have other friends who don’t happen to be my boyfriend,” retorted Betsy.

“Ah know Ah do. It ain’t like Ah don’t talk to them, but like it or not Remy and Ah relate to one another ways beyond our thick accents. It’s been…strange not being in the X-men. This crap with Amanda and mah brother takes up plenty of mah time. And to be honest…Ah ain’t as equipped to deal with it as Ah thought. That’s why Ah reached out to Remy. If it’s been messin’ things up between you two, Ah’m sorry.”

“I’m not looking for an apology, Rogue. I don’t doubt your sincerity even if I question the emotions behind it all,” replied Betsy.

“So then what’s the problem? Why do we gotta make a spectacle of all this?” asked Remy intently.

“The problem has to do with me being a telepath. I can still sense the little things you two are too oblivious to notice. I often get the sense that your intentions and Rogue’s are having more or fan effect than you realize.”

“Hey, don’t expect meh to apologize for the stuff Ah ain’t got control over. Your concerns about meh and mah emotions ain’t mah fault,” retorted Rogue.

“Even if it is certifiably mental, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” she argued, “When I saw Remy run off the moment he heard that you were in trouble, that sent me over the edge. And now that we know this was all a trick by Sinister, I have even more reasons to be concerned.”

“You make it sound like we be plotting against you,” Remy quipped.

“I know that’s not the case. It wouldn’t even bug me as much if it were. What really upset me was that you never even suspected this could be a ruse. You just reacted. Your emotions did the thinking for you. When a girl sees that, it’s hard to wrap your head around. After grossly overreacting, she eventually comes to an inescapable conclusion.”

Betsy paused for a moment. She offered Remy an affectionate gesture, but it was light and fleeting. She then turned to Rogue, who tried to hide her reaction. Being a telepath, Betsy could make the necessary connections. They were as painful as they were clear.

“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t stand being this mental about all these conflicting feelings,” she told him, “It’s too much strain on me and on you two for that matter. Our lives are stressful as it is. So why don’t we save ourselves the trouble and make one aspect of it just a little bit easier?”

“So…that mean what Remy think it means?” said Remy in a low tone.

“We’ve already lasted longer than we should have, luv. I came to you because I needed help pulling myself together in a new life within a new body. Well we’ve scaled that mountain. We’ve run our course.”

“You really gonna stand here and tell Remy you’re completely okay now?” he asked skeptically.

“Not remotely,” she replied, “But come on, Remy. Don’t make me list the reasons why it isn’t working. I’ll just say thanks for everything and let’s try to make this little transition period less awkward than it could be.”

There weren’t any tears or heartfelt apologies. There wasn’t even a hug or an argument to be made. Elizabeth Braddock and Remy Lebeau just stood in silence. The message was clear. They had enough drama for one day. They seemed content to let all the rest of the details remain unsaid.

After one last meaningful glance, Betsy turned away from Remy and walked back towards her motorcycle at the other end of the block. Remy watch her, but did not follow. Betsy made her point and he agreed with it. This was the right thing to do. As his gaze remained fixated on Betsy, Rogue remained by his side with a somewhat awkward demeanor.

“Did you and Betsy just break up?” she asked him, finally breaking the silence.

“Why? You looking to be Remy’s fallback gal already?” said Remy flatly.

“What? Dang it, Remy! Are you really gonna go back to flirting again?” exclaimed Rogue in an exasperated tone.

“It’s how Remy copes,” he said, his tone not changing, “Maybe Remy ought to be a bit more broken up than he should. It be hard, given Remy’s history with women.”

“So what’s your strategy? Get over one girl by gettin’ on top of another?” said Rogue dryly.

“I could do that,” he said as he turned to face her, “But for now, Remy will settle for a friend.”

Rogue half-expected something more philosophical. Instead, she got a sincere look and a light smile. It wasn’t the classiest way for a man to handle a breakup, but it wasn’t the most dishonest either. He cared for Betsy and wasn’t looking to drag her into such an emotionally charged conflict. It was probably the most honest look she ever got from Remy. She couldn’t hug him or kiss him, but she could offer her a comforting hand.

As Rogue and Remy stood on the curb and digested everything that had transpired, Bobby Drake came running from across the street. He was already short of breath and looked even more exasperated than they were.

“Hey guys!” he called out, “Professor Xavier called and told me about the big fight with Vertigo. I would have been down to help sooner, but something seriously weird happened with Jubilee. First, I was late because somebody borrowed my bus pass without asking. Then when I get there she’s pissed in a way I’ve…”

By the time Bobby reached Rogue and Remy, he found out that they weren’t even listening to him. They each had these strange looks, indicating that whatever happened here was much more interesting than his eventful encounter with Jubilee.

“Uh guys? Did you just here a word I said?” he asked.

“Sorry there, homme. It’s been a crazy day,” said Remy.

“Yeah…real crazy,” said Rogue, still sharing his tone and smile.

“Come on! It can’t be crazier than what I just went through,” scoffed Bobby, “What happened anyways?”

“Ah’d rather not talk about,” sighed Rogue.

“Neither would I. Right now, Remy be content with big old pot of gumbo and some barbeque chicken wings.”

“Already on the road to recovery, Ah see,” she laughed, “Might as well tag along to make sure you don’t overstuff yourself with breakup guilt.”

“Breakup?” said Bobby, now more confused than ever, “Who broke up? What the hell is going on?”

Rogue and Remy were already on their way towards the nearest barbeque place. They were ready put this day behind them while Bobby was still clamoring for details.

“Come on, guys! Don’t leave me in the dark like this. What happened?”

Bobby went chasing after Remy and Rogue, seeking clarity on this exceedingly chaotic afternoon. The MSA and the local authorities had everything under control. Vertigo was in custody and the people were safe. Any lingering loose ends could wait.

While the X-men were leaving the scene, the MSA prepared to seal Vertigo in the back of an armored van. Still unconscious on the gurney, she wasn’t going anywhere. The MSA officers were about to close the van and lock it. Then a balding, middle-aged male EMT worker came rushing towards them.

“Wait!” he called out.

“Damn it, doc! We’ve gotta get this perp to a containment cell,” said one of the MSA officers that had been trying to close the doors.

“Well if you want her to stay unconscious, you’ll let me in to make one final calibration to the sedatives,” said the EMT, “That way she doesn’t wake up before you get her in a cell.”

This revelation was enough to get the MSA officers to step aside so the EMT could enter the van and do what needed to be done. He was only in there for about ten seconds. The officers didn’t even bother to look at what he did. Once the EMT stepped out from the van, he nodded in affirmation. Now they could get this dangerous mutant away from Downtown Westchester.

“Is it ready now?” said the officer dryly.

“It’s ready,” assured the EMT.

“It better be. For the shit this woman has done, there isn’t a cell dark enough for her miserable ass.”

The doors to the van were promptly closed up and locked. Once the officers gave the thumbs up to the driver, the van drove away along with a heavy MSA convoy to a holding cell where she wouldn’t be able to carry out any more missions for Sinister. However, that didn’t mean she hadn’t succeeded in her mission.

Once the van was out of sight, the lone EMT reached into his pockets and pulled out two small vials of blood. They were the samples Vertigo collected from Rogue and Gambit earlier. Once the EMT made sure they were safe, his eyes flashed yellow briefly with a smug sense of satisfaction.

‘Serves you right, Vertigo. Sinister had the audacity to send you after my children. I hope they stick you in a cell right next to Toad. But now the X-men know Sinister is up to something. Since I’m not one of his mindless henchmen, it may be wise for me to take some precautionary measures.’


Unknown Location

Nathaniel Essex had been a busy man. While the rest of the world indulged in the technology from the Genosha treaty, he was hard at work with much more ambitious plans. In many ways the fragile peace forged by Charles Xavier and the authorities was a blessing. Everyone was so focused on maintaining the economic boom that they he was allowed to work without scrutiny. Nobody was in a position to outwit him and everyone that could’ve stopped him was too distracted.

The past six months had been tedious to say the least. Science, especially when it came to mutants, was a painfully slow process. Since enlisting the help of Mystique, Sinister had been conducting a series of experiments involving the mutant DNA he extracted from Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. Those experiments required a number of costly components, many of which had to be carefully acquired or outright stolen. Each experiment brought more progress and with each successive step, he made sure his operations remained secret.

Unfortunately, the evolving nature of his experiments forced him to risk such secrecy. In order to attain the necessary data, he needed genetic samples from more mutants. Some of those mutants included the X-men and those close to them. Since time was working against him, the risk seemed worth taking. However, his latest report from Mystique showed that even the most careful plans could encounter complications. He had been on a secure communication line for the past half-hour, learning from the shape shifter how Vertigo’s mission went horribly wrong.

“So Vertigo managed to get herself arrested? A pity…no, don’t bother breaking her out, Mystique. Time in prison will allow her to reflect on her failure…of course not, I’ve already taken precautions. Rest assure, she won’t reveal anything about my operation…I just know. Stop worrying and tell me you have the samples she collected…excellent! Then return to base. I’ll have your next mission for you soon…oh don’t you worry. We’re nearing the home stretch as they say. You’ll get what you want soon enough. We both will.”

With a sigh of minor annoyance, Sinister closed the secure line. He turned his attention back to his experiments, which had taken up nearly every square inch of his new lab. Since the X-men destroyed his previous lab, he set up shop in one of his many backups. An array of bio tanks and chemical vats fed a tangled web of plastic tubes, each flowing with an array of complex chemical concoctions. They all converged around an area near the back of the lab where the fruits of his labor would emerge.

Having stood by his side every step of the way, Gabriel Summers watched with far less patience. All this science talk was not his specialty. He had been a part of Sinister’s plans from the beginning and was determined to see them through. While Sinister didn’t seem worried about their current status, Gabriel had his share of concerns.

“So we’ve lost Vertigo and now the X-men are aware of our activities,” Gabriel surmised, “I think it’s safe to say this latest gamble has backfired horribly.”

“I wouldn’t say it backfired in a horribly, my boy. We still got what we needed. Mystique is on her way back with the samples,” said Sinister confidently.

“Except now Xavier and his cronies will be on alert. It’ll be much more difficult to stay under the radar, especially if we end up having to acquire more samples.”

“Xavier has enough on his plate with the Genosha treaty. I don’t foresee him dedicating nearly enough resources to stop me at this point. We’re too close to the crown jewel of my experiment!”

“You’ve been saying that for months,” said Gabriel dryly, “It’s always one step after the other. The end never comes!”

“That’s how science works, Gabriel. It never ends. It’s always a process, working towards bigger and better fruits,” said Sinister distantly as he admired the intricacies of his work.

“Well those fruits better bloom soon because if the X-men do end up interfering, we had best have the upper hand. I’m still itching for a rematch against my baby brother and his playmates,” he seethed, his eyes flashing bright red for a moment.

“You’ll get your rematch, Gabriel. Try and contain that vast reservoir of energy within you. You’ll need it now that Vertigo was foolish enough to get caught. That defining Summers leadership will have to guide the Marauders through the last few missions.”

“Not that I’m against upstaging my brothers, but that may obstruct my other duties…one of which involves keeping an eye on Mystique,” Gabriel reminded.

“Yes, I know how much you enjoy that responsibility,” said Sinister.

“You know how I feel about that woman. Everyone, including Selene, feels the same way. She’s not to be trusted and this latest incident will give her more reasons to screw us over.”

Gabriel’s concerns weren’t without merit. The decision to enlist Mystique had not been popular. He was the only one who pushed for it. Selene had a bit of history with her when she clashed with the Azazel. She knew better than most how much trouble she could cause. In a sense this was exactly why Sinister chose her. It all came down to having the right leverage.

“I’ll tell you exactly what I told Selene…let me worry about Mystique. I know how to keep her in line,” said Sinister strongly, “She’s a determined woman, but she won’t risk losing the answers she knows I have.”

“She better not. Otherwise I won’t hesitate to finish her like I know Selene wanted to years ago,” said Gabriel bitterly, “Speaking of which I noticed that she, Madelyn, and Exodus have been very busy lately.”

“What’s wrong, my boy? Is your lady love too busy for the decadent debauchery you two so frequently enjoy in your free time?” said Sinister wryly.

“That’s one of the reasons,” admitted Gabriel, “Decadent or not, I think I deserve to know why the rest of the Marauders have been left in the dark.”

“You make it sound as though I’m keeping secrets,” he scoffed, “Do you really think that poorly of the man who gave you all the power you’re so fond of wielding?”

“Does that mean I’m right?”

“No, it just means this is the first time you’ve bothered to ask,” retorted Sinister wryly, “There’s nothing ominous about it. Selene has just  been working on a plan of her own that happens to coincide with mine.”

“I don’t see how frequent trips to South America coincide with anything we’re doing,” said Gabriel skeptically.

“Oh I assure you it will! In fact, I think you’ll like what she and Madelyn have been working on,” said Sinister ominously.

“You know I don’t like surprises.”

“You may after this,” he grinned, “Now do you want to be an ungrateful brat or do you want to help me as I’ve so often helped you?”

Gabriel tensed under Sinister’s harsh tone. He had enough firepower to devastate entire city blocks and the arrogance to use it, but that didn’t mean he was without respect. Sinister was like a father to him, even more so than that pitiful excuse he had for a biological father. He owed this man everything and this ambitious plan of his promised to give even more. He was in this to the end regardless of his suspicions.

“What is the next step, my dear Uncle?” said Gabriel respectfully.

“That’s my boy,” grinned Sinister, not taking his eyes off his experiment, “First off, I want you to give the unfortunate news about Vertigo to the rest of the Marauders. Then I want you to tell them I’ll be bringing in a replacement.”

“Already? Who could you get to fill in this quickly?” he asked.

“Someone who owes me a few favors and happens to share your sentiment towards Mystique,” said Sinister ominously, “He won’t have the same ability as Vertigo, but he more than makes up for it in raw muscle. Like Mystique, he just needs the right incentive.”


Xavier Institute – Logan’s Dormitory

It was just past midnight when Logan returned from his latest trip to Genosha. He arrived in time to find out there had been an incident in Downtown Westchester. One of Sinister’s goons came out from the woodwork and all kinds of trouble. Rogue, Remy, and Betsy contained the situation, but it was still disappointing. Logan preferred being on the front line of the action, especially when Sinister was involved. It was a hell of a lot more exciting than the shit going on in Genosha.

Since the whole hacking incident, things had been a lot quieter on the island. The military base stepped up their security and so did Wanda. The ports were now more closely monitored than the White House and all the connections going in and out of the island were more secure. He checked every one of them just in case, even if it meant annoying some overpaid military officer or giving the Brotherhood even more reasons to hate him.

It wasn’t completely uneventful. Every so often something would go wrong or someone would slip up. Sometimes a mutant or an underpaid contractor would cause trouble that required the use of his claws. He was always there to stop them without making too much of a mess, albeit not enough to prevent him from annoying nearly everyone he worked with.

‘These trips back and forth to Genosha are almost as rough as a three day bender. Long stretches of nothing with the occasional brawl…guess that’s what Chuck thinks I'm the one for the job. I already missed out on some action. Probably would have been a lot quicker taking down Vertigo if I was there to maul her. Bet I could have gotten her to spill the beans on Sinister's latest shit storm. I sure as hell would like another shot at that pasty faced dirt bag.’

It was a missed opportunity. Logan hadn’t forgotten how Sinister messed him up during their last encounter. He also hadn’t forgotten about the secrets he revealed. This was a guy who admitted to working on Weapon X with a smile on that deranged face of his. If anyone could shed light on his past, it was Sinister. One day he would get another chance to beat the truth out of him. This latest incident seemed to indicate that he'll get an opportunity sooner rather than later.

‘I’ll be ready for you next time, Sinister. Now that I ain’t drunk all the time, I’m ready to take you're ugly ass down. Hell, between you and Genosha, I may just have enough time for another quick bender.’

With more disgruntled groans, Wolverine stripped off his uniform and went to grab a bottle of Jack Daniels from his dresser. As he did, he noticed there was an unmarked envelope under it.

“The hell? We stop using email or something?” he said as he reached down to pick it up.

The former living weapon sniffed the envelope and found no discernible scent. That revealed one of two possibilities. Either the one who left it was a freak of nature or someone went to great lengths to make sure there was no smell to tip him off. He also felt something thick inside the envelope, indicating there was more than a letter inside. Curious yet cautious, Wolverine drew a claw and opened it.

Inside he discovered a hand-written letter and what appeared to be a dog tag. The dog tag caught his attention first. It didn’t have anything revealing on it. In fact, it looked brand new. It only had one bit of information on it and that was the name, Logan. Something about it still seemed off so he turned to the letter for answers.

Logan,

I know you don’t want to hear from me, but for some reason I feel compelled to write this. As we speak, I’m caught up in something big. It may be bigger than I suspect and will likely blow up in my face. So just in case, I’ve made you my failsafe. That dog tag you’re holding is no ordinary dog tag. It has in it a special transceiver that will activate the moment I’m in over my head. I can’t tell you what it will do. I can only tell you that when it activates, you’ll know it. You may not care, but I know you’ll do what needs to be done. Don’t ask me how I know. I just do. I’m looking for the same answers you are. That way we can spare ourselves further frustration and go back to hating each other. Just hold onto that dog tag and don’t let anyone else know about this letter.

Mystique

PS: Keep an eye on my kids while you’re at it.

Logan’s grip on the letter tensed. The paper crumbled in his hand as a range of emotions came over him. This was yet another cryptic message from Mystique, who he almost kissed a second time when he last saw her during the Cambrian affair. There were a lot of unanswered questions between them. For reasons neither one of them understood, something kept drawing them together.

He could have just tore up the letter and tossed the dog tag. It would have been the easiest and most logical thing to do. He should probably go to the Professor as well and let him know that Mystique is up to something. Maybe Hank could cut the dog tag open, fool with the electronics, and track it to her. It made perfect sense. Every logical whim was urging him to do this. But something else kept urging him otherwise.

Without further contemplation, Logan folded up the letter and stashing it in his dresser. Then he took the dog tag and put it in his pocket. Something inside him compelled him to do as Mystique requested. It was stronger than the myriad of rational forces telling him otherwise. It made no sense. Nothing involving Mystique made sense. He took little solace in the knowledge that she was just as messed up about it as he was. Until one of them found some answers, this mysterious feeling would continue to affect them.

‘I know I’m gonna regret this. The rate I’m going, all the distractions and booze in the world ain’t gonna help. I need answers. At least with Mystique going crazy too, I ain’t the only one.’


Next Issue: School Daze

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