A new generation is being born with extraordinary powers. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding between this generation and those who hate and fear it. This fight has taken them to the ends of the Earth and beyond. Yet time and again their greatest obstacle has been politics.
Fresh off their triumph in Nova Roma, the X-men shift their focus to the ongoing conflict between Genosha and the governments of the world. The treaty with Genosha has created a new host of problems. In order to maintain the economic prosperity incurred by this treaty, governments like the United States must find a better way to police mutants. This has proven to be far more difficult than even Charles Xavier could have imagined.
The burden has fallen upon him and General Nathan Grimshaw to administer justice for mutants. Already, they’ve had to deal with some difficult cases involving well-known foes like Toad and Vertigo. Holding them accountable for their crimes has been difficult. Employing an effective form of punishment has been a truly daunting challenge.
Fort Leavenworth Prison – Mutant Wing
Justice was supposed to be blind. In an ideal world the accused never had to worry about the system viewing them with bias eyes. But in a real world, concepts like equality were impractical. The whole premise of mutants being held accountable to the law sounded good on paper. However, putting it into practice was another story.
“Will the defendant please rise?” announced a middle-aged judge from behind a heavily shielded barrier.
On the other side of the barrier, an ambivalent Vertigo stood up. She was facing the end of her trial for the crimes she committed in the streets of Westchester. It wasn’t taking place in a normal courtroom. She was already in the prison where her sentence would be served. She was dressed in prison garb and wearing a power-suppressing collar. She stood behind a special containment area with her defense lawyer and no fewer than ten armed guards from the MSA. It felt like she was already guilty as she faced her sentence.
“Miss Vertigo, if that’s what I can call you,” the judge said, “This trial has been mired in complications. Our records can’t even find any documentation of your history. So it is difficult to give a balanced ruling since your criminal record seems to exist in a vacuum. That is, of course, unless you’re willing to provide such information.”
“I explained this already, your honor. I exercise my right to remain silent on this matter,” said Vertigo flatly.
“And in doing so I’m left with little to go on in exacting my sentence,” he went on, “A jury has already found you guilty. Your behavior in Westchester has yielded charges of first and second degree manslaughter, felony-level property damage, and reckless endangerment. However, a verdict could not be reached on the attempted murder charge because your motivations have never been documented.”
“Again, I exercise my right to remain silent,” she said again.
“Which isn’t going to make the charge go away,” the judge reminded, “Because of your inclination to use your abilities so recklessly, we had to hold these proceedings here in Fort Leavenworth. We cannot offer you bail or allow you full use of your powers. We couldn’t even get a jury here out of concern for their safety. We offered suggestions for making this process easier. But time and again, you’ve refused without reason.”
“I have my reasons, your honor. I just prefer not to share them.”
“And because of that, I’m not inclined to offer a lenient ruling. That is why I am sentencing you to the maximum of ten years in prison, reducible only to seven for good behavior. You may appeal this decision. But until you cooperate, you will pay your debt to society. Do you have anything else to say on your behalf?”
Vertigo scowled the judge. He looked so high and mighty, sitting behind a thick glass barrier with MSA guards watching her every move. This didn’t feel like a trial. She was already in prison and had been living in a cell since her battle with the X-men. Sinister hadn’t come to extract her. She committed the ultimate crime of getting caught. As such, he was going to let her rot and there was nothing she could do about it.
“No, your honor. I don’t,” she finally said.
“In that case, your sentence shall begin immediately,” said the judge, pounding his gavel a final time, “Bailiff, please escort the defendant to her cell.”
Vertigo’s demeanor hardened as she was grabbed by a nearby officer and handcuffed. Before they could haul her off, her defense lawyer stood up and addressed her.
“It doesn’t have to end on this note,” he told her, “We can still fight the attempted murder charge. If those people you hospitalized survive their coma, we can appeal the sentence.”
“Don’t bother,” she said coldly, “It’s not going to make a difference. Nothing will make a difference at this point.”
The defense lawyer was taken aback. He was clearly drained from this trial. Vertigo could hardly blame him. Since her arrest, she had been deemed too dangerous to be treated like an ordinary criminal. That’s why they kept her in a special prison cell, which was located on a newly constructed wing of Fort Leavenworth prison. It was made specifically to house mutants, containing a variety of high tech equipment that kept them powerless and secure. Vertigo wasn’t the only one in this wing, but because of her affiliations she was kept among the most dangerous of mutant prisoners. That didn’t bother her though. She was used to being dangerous.
As the Bailiff escorted her out of the courtroom, Professor Xavier and General Grimshaw watched with mixed sentiment. They had been standing behind the barrier along with the judge. Scott and Betsy were with them, getting a first-hand taste of what justice was like for mutants under the Mutant Security Agency. So far, it left plenty to be desired.
“Is that it? Is the trial over?” asked Scott the judge and his associates got up to leave.
“Justice is never over. Although based on that woman’s behavior, I’d say this is as close as we can get,” said General Grimshaw.
“Yeah, it doesn’t look like Vertigo is going to appeal or anything,” said Betsy, who was versed in enough criminal law to make sense of these affairs, “Not that I want that bloke to try, but I can’t see how it would make a difference.”
“She’s been uncooperative from the moment you subdued her. I wouldn’t expect it to get very far,” said General Grimshaw.
“Yet I can’t help but wonder if that’s because she’s a deviant or because she senses the shortcomings of this system,” said Professor Xavier.
General Grimshaw’s expression hardened. Even when he tried to make good on the reforms he proposed, he faced undue scrutiny. Charles Xavier was still an idealist. Even when he knew how complicated politics could be, he wasn’t satisfied. That made him difficult to work with, even if he was still a vital partner.
General Grimshaw and the rest of the judicial staff began filing out of the courtroom. Xavier and his two X-men followed closely. The General didn’t expect them to and offered the same explanation he had given since this process was implemented.
“We’re treading in unknown territory, Charles. I didn’t invite you to these proceedings because I wanted to show you the progress we’ve made. I invited you to show you where we’re at right now,” Grimshaw explained.
“I appreciate the transparency the MSA has offered,” retorted Xavier, “However, I still have my concerns. A big part of your reforms was treating mutants equally under the law. When a judge hands out a maximum sentence like this, I don’t see that as being equal.”
“This woman hurt dozens of people, a few of which are still critical. I fail to see how the maximum sentence isn’t appropriate,” said Grimshaw.
“Need I remind you that you’re talking to someone who reads over these boring proceedings as a hobby?” said Betsy, “I read about a case in New York where some bloke who went on a joyride in a dump truck. He ran it into a gas station and injured just as many people as Vertigo. One of them even died. He only got a seven year sentence and his appeal will probably knock it down to five.”
“An act of foolish drunkenness is hardly as serious as a mutant who willingly uses their powers to do people harm,” reasoned the General.
“That doesn’t explain why the sentences for other mutants have been just as harsh,” Betsy went on, “What about the trial for Toad? The only thing he got convicted of was breaking in and accessory to a crime. Yet he got a nine-year sentence. There’s also that Stryfe fellow who invoked that riot during the inauguration. He caused a commotion, yes, but he got a seven year sentence. There are animal rights groups who firebomb laboratories that get shorter sentences than that!”
“Have you really been going over all these cases in your spare time?” commented Scott, impressed by Betsy’s assessment.
“Since I broke up with Remy, I’ve had a lot more free time on my hands. It’s a lot more productive than moping, that’s for sure,” she shrugged.
Her attention to detail wasn’t appreciated by everyone. It reminded General Grimshaw that he was responsible for these reforms. He was the one Professor Xavier trusted to put them into effect. If Betsy’s assessment was used as a basis, then it made for a less-than-flattering mark.
“You’re looking at me as though I can make dramatic changes to the justice system at the drop of a hat,” said Grimshaw, “This is a process. Fine tuning an imperfect system doesn’t happen overnight. Just ask any black, homosexual, or Native American.”
“Nobody is expecting you to work miracles, General,” said Professor Xavier, “My chief concern is that there are people within this system taking the right kind of chances. The process of fine tuning you described requires a certain level of risk.”
“This isn’t the climate for risk-taking, Charles. You of all people should know that,” retorted the General, “Genosha is still unsettled. The new economy from their technology is still setting in. That doesn’t even factor in unforeseen obstacles like our network getting hacked…or word getting out there’s some hidden city in the Amazon.”
“I thought you might appreciate that story,” said Scott, “All the publicity has taken some attention away from Genosha.”
“That doesn’t make it any less daunting,” he said, “The fact remains that this system is still young. There will be a lot of stumbling on the part of judges, lawyers, and politicians. It’ll get better with time, but right now these cases are serious business. Mutants like Vertigo, Toad, and Styfe are dangerous by themselves, but now they’re also convicted criminals.”
“I won’t argue that, General,” said Professor Xavier, “They committed crimes. They should be held accountable. What concerns me though is that there won’t be enough effort in reforming these mutants into productive members of society.”
“That’s another work-in-progress that’s even further behind than the court system. If you can find any way of turning thugs like these guys into model citizens, I’d love to hear it. Until then, they’re criminals. They must face their punishment.”
Fort Leavenworth Prison – Holding Cells
Vertigo returned to her containment cell without incident. It was a solemn trip through what was essentially her new home. Surrounded by armed MSA agents every step of the way, it was hardly inviting.
Fort Leavenworth prison wasn’t very hospitable to begin with. It was officially a military prison. Since the MSA was a wing of the Department of Defense, it was only natural that this would be where the unlucky mutants they arrested would be imprisoned. The majority of the facility was only medium security, but the new mutant wing was beyond maximum.
It was pretty high tech. Every wing had multiple levels of security. There was an army of guards armed with special anti-mutant weaponry monitoring the facility 24/7. There were hoards of secret anti-mutant safeguards, most of which were hidden. The cells themselves had a very sterile feel to them. They were composed of advanced alloys and plastics. They could even be electrified if the inmate got too rowdy. Having seen some mutants get seriously hurt from it, Vertigo had no intention of testing them.
“You know the drill. And now that you’re officially convicted, don’t expect as many visits from your lawyer or any friends you might have,” said one of the guards, “Good behavior gets you a few privileges, but none of them involve using your powers. In here you’re as human as can possibly be.”
It disgusted her, being rendered so human. However, Vertigo kept her silence. She didn’t wish to give these men the satisfaction of her despair.
Her cell was located in a row in an area where some of the top mutant prisoners were held. Among them was a strange-looking figure huddled in a corner who looked like a cross between a human and a Pterodactyl. Across from him were three cells that each housed identical triplets. Alone, none looked too threatening. She assumed that when put together, they were a force worth containing in these cell. A cell close to hers was especially reinforced, housing a man with messy white hair and a powerful build. He gave her a strange smile when she passed by. Vertigo ignored it. However, she couldn’t ignore the figure in the cell across from hers.
“Hey! There she is, fresh back from her day in court,” said an all too relaxed Mortimer Toyenbee, “How did it go, Vertigo? Did that technicality I told you about work?”
“Fuck off, Toad,” was all Vertigo said to him.
“I’ll take that as a no. Too bad,” he shrugged, “But don’t you worry. We’ll all get a taste of justice. It’s only a matter of time.”
Vertigo scolded the amphibious mutants, but refrained from cursing him out. However, the MSA guards were much less subtle in silencing the rebellious mutant.
“Can it, Toad! Don’t make me put you back in solitary,” barked one of the guards.
“What good will that do? It ain’t much different from these luxurious accommodations,” he quipped.
“It can be made much less luxurious if you want,” threatened another guard, “We can have it so the only one you have left to talk to is that imaginary friend you won’t shut up about.”
“At least he’s polite, which is more than I can say for certain wannabe soldiers who couldn’t get a cushy mall cop gig.”
That was the last straw. With a new prisoner being added to the wing, the MSA had to set an example. While a few of the technicians were opening Vertigo’s cell, three other guards stormed over to Toad’s cell and opened it up.
“That’s it! You want to spend the rest of your sentence in a dark hole? You got it!” shouted the guard.
“You coming onto me or something?” teased Toad.
As soon as the cell opened, one of the guards stormed in and struck the amphibious mutant with a stun gun. He didn’t yell out in pain. He only groaned in discomfort as he fell to the ground. Oddly enough, he kept grinning, even as the two other guards pulled him up and dragged him out of the cell. They even made sure Vertigo saw him.
“You see that, Miss Vertigo?” said one of the guards, “That’s what you get for having an attitude. Unless you want to end up as crazy as Toad, you’ll play by the rules.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said flatly.
The technicians finished opening her cell, which was set to be her home for the next seven to ten years. By the time she got out, who knew what the world would be like? Her role in it could be rendered utterly meaningless.
As she entered her cell, Toad continued his defiance. Even though he was limp from the paralysis, he delivered a message to Vertigo and the other prisoners.
“Don’t listen to these pricks. They think locking us up will change us. They don’t know shit! They’re just pissing into the wind and whining when it stains their boots.”
“Shut up, you little punk. You’re as annoying as you are ugly,” barked one of the guards, giving the lanky mutant a rough shove.
“Not nearly as ugly as you’re gonna be,” said Toad ominously, “Just you wait. Sooner or later, evolution will kick in and you’ll be playing by our rules. Then you’ll be the criminals.”
Xavier Institute – Main Classroom
‘When work becomes relaxing, it is a clear that whatever you’re doing for pleasure isn’t sufficient. I must be doing something wrong. My regular duties shouldn’t make me feel this complacent.’
Hank McCoy was used to burying himself in his work. Usually, it was because he had so much to do and only so many hours in a day with which to do it. But recently, burying himself in work was a reprieve of sorts. It gave him a desperately needed break from the drama surrounding him and Sage.
He was falling back into more comfortable habits, spending his days teaching his students and continuing his lab work. This afternoon he was proctoring an exam for Bobby, Remy, and Jean. The three of them were hard at work, once again having to catch up with what their X-men duties made them miss. That was all anybody had been doing since the Nova Roma affair. Hank almost regretted missing it. Adjusting from something that whimsical would be a lot easier than what he was going through.
“Hank? Hank, did you hear what I said?” came a voice nearby that startled him from his daze.
Hank turned to his right to see Ororo standing next to his desk where he had been hunched over for the past hour or so.
“Oh…I apologize, Ororo,” she said sheepishly, “I uh…didn’t hear you.”
“I didn’t expect you to,” she replied in a humored tone, “I was just telling you that I was here to take over if you wanted. You’ve been on a marathon of sorts and it looks like you could use a break.”
“That’s the last thing I need at the moment. I prefer to stay productive.”
“Color me skeptical, but if you were really concerned with productivity, then you would have told Remy to stop texting Rogue in the middle of an exam.”
Hank looked up from his laptop, taken aback by this revelation. He looked over towards Remy nervously and then towards Ororo, who looked like she was trying hard not to laugh.
“It’s okay. I already threatened him with two midnight runs in the Danger Room if he didn’t stop. He’s back on task again.”
“Which is more than I can say for myself,” he sighed as he closed his laptop, “Tell me, did you decide to punch in for your last lesson of the day to make me look foolish? Or are you going to make this an impromptu intervention.”
“Hank, just because I’m your ex-girlfriend doesn’t mean I go out of my way to make you look foolish. I’m not that kind of person,” she said in a more sincere tone.
“I know. But sometimes I wish you were. I could stand to be humbled from time to time.”
“Since when is your humility in question?”
“Since it became painfully clear that I don’t have enough during times of duress,” he responded.
Hank packed up his laptop and gathered his books, preparing to turn things over to Ororo. As he did, the beautiful African woman he once shared so much passion with remained concerned. Since their return from Nova Roma, Hank was constantly on edge. He could still function, but was noticeably off-balance.
“I’ll leave you in charge, Ororo,” he told her, “There is approximately 32 minutes remaining in the exam. Then you can begin your lesson.”
“I already finished my final lesson with Kitty and Piotr,” she replied, “I thought I could spell you a bit while the Professor was on his field trip to Leavenworth with Scott and Betsy.”
“Is that all?” Hank questioned, “You and I dated long enough to pick up on each others’ subtleties. I know when you know that something’s wrong.”
“Does that mean you’ll save me the trouble of asking you about it?”
“Now is neither the place nor the time,” he said in a low tone, “I doubt you would want to hear it anyways. This is the woman that drew me away from you. Now she’s drawing me away again, this time in a manner that goes beyond secrets.”
He sounded dire. Ororo hadn’t seen him like this since they broke up. Hank McCoy was usually the most positive person she knew. He would always find a way to rationalize his spirits. Now with Tessa in the mix, his logic fell short. She hadn’t grown all that fond of Tessa since Hank started seeing her. However, it did concern her when she had such a profound effect on him.
Hank prepared to leave the classroom. Ororo figured he would barricade himself in his lab and continue working. But before he could get too far ahead of himself, she grasped his shoulder and turned him back to face her.
“Hank, it wasn’t just secrets that tore us apart,” said Ororo in a kind tone, “I know we haven’t had many heart-to-hearts since we broke up. Me getting involved with Logan has certainly made that difficult.”
“He did leave you quite tired if I recall,” he made, trying to turn away.
“I have the energy now, don’t I? You’ve allowed your troubles with women to affect your judgment before. I would rather not see someone as smart and as kind as you fall into old habits again.”
“If knowledge serves me right, and it always does, not being emotionally affected by matters of the heart are traits of a sociopath.”
“It’s also a sign of insanity to keep doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results. Honestly Hank, do you want to walk that road again?”
Hank turned away from his former lover. Ororo may not be able to match his IQ in terms of academics, but when it came to emotional understandings she was the equivalent of Nobel laureate. This was part of why they didn’t work out. She was being her usual compassionate self while he fell into the same emotional traps. On a purely logical level, it was nothing short of incomprehensible.
“I would rather find my own path, my dear,” he told her, “Please do not burden yourself with my personal shortcomings. The X-men have enough to concern themselves as it is.”
Hank attempted to walk away again. This time Ororo let him go. She watched Hank walk out of the classroom, not sure if her words made any difference. She sat down behind the desk in a fit of frustration. As she prepared to continue her duties, she received a telepathic message from Jean Grey.
‘Don’t wave the white flag yet, Miss Munroe. You got him thinking. That’s something to go on.’
‘Have you tried talking to him too, Jean?’
‘I’m not his ex. I’d have a better chance at getting him to grade on a curve. Besides, I have my own thick-headed lover to deal with.’
‘Then I don’t expect you to dedicate too much energy to this issue. If memory serves me right, you are in the middle of an exam.’
‘I’ll take that as a polite way of telling me to get back to work.’
Ororo smiled towards Jean, who focused back on her exam. It was reassuring to know that she could still get through to Hank even if they weren’t together anymore. If she could do it as an ex, then surely Tessa could do so as his lover.
Outside Fort Leavenworth Prison
The weather in this part of Kansas varied wildly this time of year. One day it was sunny without a cloud in the sky. The next day it was an all-out storm. Today was somewhere in between. There had been a thick overcast throughout the area for the past two days now. At a place like Fort Leavenworth, which was built in a sea of farmlands, it made for a dreary setting. The guards stationed at the perimeter overlooking the Missouri River had to find ways of staying focused as they carried out their sentry duties.
“Ain’t no way the Chiefs are making the playoffs this year. Even in a division like this, they’ll be lucky to finish with an eight and eight record,” groaned one of the sentries.
“What would you rather do? Root for the Royals instead?” scoffed the other sentry.
“Hell no! Baseball is almost as boring as sentry duty. I figure I’ll stick to college football until the draft. I don’t even want to read the sports section until the season is over.”
“That mean you won’t play in our fantasy pool this year?”
“After losing three hundred dollars and being banished to the couch for a whole month by my wife? I’d rather be locked up in the mutant wing dressed as Magneto.”
The other guard rolled his eye. Talking sports was supposed to make the time go faster, but some people still found reasons to complain. It wasn’t like this job was terrible. They got paid a decent salary to stare at the river for most of the day. Most of the action was in the mutant wing now. Since the MSA set up shop here, the rest of became an afterthought. That was just fine with them. They didn’t need the scrutiny.
It was still taboo though. The MSA operated in their own wing and didn’t interact much with the rest of the prison. It rubbed some of the others here the wrong way because they acted as though they were better for taking on such a difficult task. No one would argue that policing mutants was a dangerous job. That didn’t make it okay to be an asshole about it.
“Fine, you don’t want to talk football? Then what the hell do you want to talk about?” he asked his fellow guard.
“I’d rather not talk at all. I’ve got two more hours before I get off. Then I’m going home to a much nicer prison with the wife,” said his associate as he leaned over the guard rail and stared out towards the river.
“You almost sound bored. Maybe you should apply for a job in the mutant wing. I hear it pays better.”
“I’d have to lose a lot more money in fantasy pools to consider that,” he scoffed, “This job is exciting enough. Not that I have anything against mutants, but putting the pricks who abuse them in a place like this makes me feel uneasy to say the least.”
“Why? You’re not scared of them, are you?” his friend teased.
“I spent a year in the marines. They trained the fear out of us during basic. The uneasiness comes from what I call the universal law of degenerates. Where ever they go, they attract trouble. You put enough of them in one area and you’re asking for it.”
His friend shook his head, deciding not to make another comment. They argued enough about sports. They didn’t need to argue about mutants. They went back to their sentry duties. The overcast made the skies a bit darker. Some thick fog was starting to come in from the river, which wasn’t unusual. It often meant there would be some rain or a drizzle. It was nothing to get worked up about. Then one of the sentries felt something that didn’t seem right.
“Hey, did it just get really muggy all of the sudden?” he said, loosening his collar.
“Is this you trying to prove I’m paranoid or something?” scoffed his fellow guard.
“No, I’m serious. It just got really freakin’ muggy for some reason. It’s like someone just turned up the humidity. Does this happen often in Kansas?”
Paranoia turned into serious concern. The two guards looked closer at the incoming fog. As it descended over the complex, the air got even sticker. It was like being dropped into a tropical jungle. In an area like this, it wasn’t just abnormal. It was impossible.
Through the fog something even more ominous emerged. A strange buzzing noise came in from the banks of the river and followed the fog towards the prison. As it got closer, the buzzing became louder. The source turned out to be a huge swarm of bugs that were following the fog right through the heavily secure gates. Before they knew it, the two guards were hit with an onslaught of mosquitoes, bees, wasps, and dragonflies.
“Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off!” cried the guard as he frantically tried to swat them away.
“Cool your jets! They’re just bugs,” grunted his associated, trying to protect his face.
“You don’t understand. I’m allergic to bee stings. One too many bites and-AUGH!”
That was as far as he got. With naked aggression, dozens of bees stung him right in his face. The sudden influx of venom caused his body to go into shock and within seconds his face swelled up like a balloon.
“NOOO!” his partner exclaimed as he rushed to his friend’s aid.
He tried in vain to help him, but it was no use. He was already having a terrible reaction and the insect swarm showed no signs of letting up. The pestilence just kept coming. It shouldn’t happen in an area like this. As this mysterious onslaught covered the complex, he heard other ominous signs down below.
“Good God…” he gasped as he looked down from the observation deck.
As if the bees weren’t enough, another swarm of creatures followed the fog into the heart of the prison. Armies of crocodiles, frogs, snakes, toads, and boars attacked the front gates. The guards unlucky enough to be in the way fired wildly with their guns, only to get bit by crocodiles and poisoned by snake bites. The formidable defenses that were so good at keeping humans out did nothing to prevent these animals from getting through. The bugs flew right through, snakes slithered between the cracks, and the crocodiles climbed right over.
As the fog poured over the area, the bugs were guided by an unseen hand towards every electronic panel or ventilation opening in the complex. Within seconds, sparks erupted from the fuse boxes. And as the electrical systems failed, the fog unloaded a massive downpour of rain. It added further confusion to the guards and soldiers trying to make sense of what was going on.
“SOMEBODY HELP ME! I THINK I’VE BEEN POISONED!”
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? WE BEING ATTACKED BY A SWAMP OR SOMETHING?”
“GET INSIDE! HURRY! SEAL EVERY OPENING BEFORE SOMETHING GETS IN!”
But it was too late. The bugs had already found their way. The pouring rain fell so fast it turned puddles into muddy death pits. It couldn’t have been natural. This strange onslaught of nature had to be guided by something. Whatever or whoever was behind it, the fog headed straight for the mutant wing and there was nothing that could stop it.
Fort Leavenworth Mutant Wing – South Entrance
Professor Charles Xavier had seen enough of the justice system for one day. He now had a clear idea of how much work needed to be done in terms of mutant justice. He, Scott, and Betsy followed General Grimshaw through the secure corridors to the rear exit. The judge, lawyers, and court officials came with them, looking all too eager to leave.
“I’m sorry this visit wasn’t more productive, Charles. I hope I didn’t give the impression that you would be thrilled with our current status quo,” said General Grimshaw.
“No need to apologize, General. You’ve never attempted to paint a rosy picture. I didn’t expect you to start today,” replied Xavier.
“So should I expect you and your people to rattle a few cages once you’ve had some time to meditate on this?” said the General.
“You’re talking to a couple of telepaths here, General. We don’t need much meditating when it comes to bullocks like this. I think you have a vague idea of how we’re going to respond,” said Betsy.
“I’m sure it’s going to keep me, Congress, and every lawyer in Washington up until the crack of dawn.”
“You said it yourself, General. There’s a lot of work to be done. Expect the X-men to be involved,” added Scott.
General Grimshaw was less than pleased, even if he wasn’t surprised. He respected the X-men and the way they constantly sought to improve the world. What he didn’t appreciate was their preference for the ideal over the practical.
He and Xavier didn’t shake hands like they normally did before they parted ways. He was leaving in a convoy with the judge while Xavier was leaving in the Velocity, which was parked outside on a landing pad. It was not a pleasant set of circumstances from which to part ways. And there was nothing either one of them could say to make this easier.
“We’re giving that bloke a long list of reasons to hate is, Professor,” commented Betsy.
“So long as we keep his respect, we can still mutually benefit one another,” said Professor Xavier as he watched General Grimshaw walk off.
“There will be a limit to those benefits, Professor,” said Scott.
“Until we reach that limit, we must continue pushing,” he said strongly.
Professor Xavier was about to lead his X-men out of the complex. Then the lights throughout the area began flickering unexpectedly. It wasn’t a very subtle flickering either. A number of lights abruptly burned out. There was also a noticeable shift in the ventilation. The air became much more humid and very uncomfortable.
Xavier and the X-men weren’t the only one who noticed this. General Grimshaw and his associates picked up on it too and were equally unnerved.
“What’s going on? There a power surge or something?” said the judge, who had to loosen his collar from the heat.
“No…not in a building this overfunded,” said the General sternly, “Something’s wrong.”
“What is it, sir?” asked one of the MSA soldiers.
“I don’t know, but I have a bad feeling and it isn’t just the piss-poor salary I get for this job,” said the officer as he turned back towards the X-men.
Charles Xavier was already doing a telepathic scan and so was Betsy. They were both picking up on some strange activity. It was coming both from outside and within the complex. And it wasn’t just psychic either. This was something different and disturbing in a whole new way.
As their minds processed what they were sensing, a number of guards rushed in from the other end of the terminal looking like they had just emerged from their worst nightmare.
“General Grimshaw, we need to seal you and your squad inside,” said one of the guards breathlessly, “All of Fort Leavenworth is going into lockdown!”
“Lockdown? What’s going on? Are we under attack?” he demanded.
“Uh…yes and no,” the other guard answered.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” said one of the MSA captains.
Professor Xavier and Betsy stepped in to answer. As disturbing it may be, the guard’s answer may be entirely appropriate.
“I think I may be able to explain,” he said in a grim voice.
“I’m all ears, Professor. How bad is it?” asked General Grimshaw strongly.
“That…I’m not entirely sure of,” said Xavier cryptically, “But I can tell you where the source is. I don’t think anyone here is going to like it.”
Mutant Wing - Solitary Confinement
‘You’ve waited a long time, Mort. You’ve always been everybody’s whipping boy. You were scrawny, ugly, and weak. Nothing more than a deformed street punk. That all changes now. A new power is calling you. Will you accept the charges?’
Mortimer Toyenbee stood still as a statue, staring at the thick confinement door in front of him. In his solitary cell there was little to look at. He had a small bed to his left with a toilet/sink right next to it in a cell that could barely qualify as a closet. There were no windows, only a pale fluorescent light above him. A few moments ago that light started flickering, but it wasn’t just shoddy wiring. He could feel something coming. The very forces of nature were reaching out to him and he was reaching back.
A smile never left his face as he stood patiently. Outside he could hear some panicked guards running back and forth. They had no idea what was about to happen to them. They were in for quite a shock.
It started in his toilet. The water unexpectedly rose and bubbled, turning greenish brown in the process. As it rose, a number of reptilian creatures poured out. They included snakes, frogs, toads, and lizards. They all flowed with the murky water, overflowing from the toilet and rapidly accumulating into the cell. Toad didn’t panic for a second. He remained perfectly still, letting the waters gradually submerge him. As they rose a brownish green scum formed around him, covering his body and forming a strange brownish shell.
“Come to me! I’m ready!” he proclaimed.
The water from the toilet poured in more rapidly. It poured in so fast the water rose to a depth of nearly four feet. By then the lizards, frogs, snakes, and toads completely surrounded the thick shell that took up almost the entire chamber. It was like a cocoon of sorts. Every creature and organism was drawn to it. And within this exotic environment, Mortimer Toyenbee underwent a remarkable transformation.
“YES! YEEESSSSSSS! COME ON, EVOLUTION! SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!”
As the young mutant seethed within the cocoon the water level kept rising. It was now nearly seven feet in height. At this level the pressure started to strain the heavy cell door meant to keep Toad locked inside. For the guards outside, it was an ominous sight.
“What the hell is going on in there? Is Toad trying to drown himself?” exclaimed one of the guards.
“To hell with Toad!” said another guard, “We need to get the hell out of this wing before…”
Both guards were quickly distracted by a loud bang on Toad’s cell door. It was so loud and so forceful that the heavy barrier warped under the force. It looked like someone was using a battering ram, trying to force the door of its heavy hinges. As it warped, streams of swampy water poured out. The two guards watched, holding their guns tenuously in preparation for whatever was trying to get out of that cell.
“Refresh my memory. Toad was supposed to be the weakest member of Magneto’s crew, right?” said the guard nervously.
Before the other guard could answer, the door was literally blown off the hinges with extreme force. The minute it failed, a tsunami of water poured out and washed the two guards down the hall as if they were caught into treacherous river rapids.
“AUUUUGGGGHHHH!” they cried out as they struggled feebly against the current.
Once the water had finished pouring out of the cell, a new figure emerged. It was Toad, but not the same Toad those men were referring to.
“No…not anymore,” proclaimed Toad in a stronger voice, “I’ve evolved beyond weakness,”
He was truly a new man. Standing in the ruins of his cell, Toad had a new body that was a far cry from his previous form. He had grown over a foot taller, now towering at six-and-a-half feet tall. His once lanky build was now bulging with muscles that were on par with a professional athlete. In addition, his skin tone was now a darker shade of green and a lot more toned. He no longer bore the putrid, disgusting imperfections that made him so hideous to others. This toned skin extended to his face, which looked a bit more human now despite being shrouded by his long dark hair. But behind that human look, there was a man who evolved beyond his humanity into something so much greater.
The new Toad casually stepped out of his cell, holding in his hand a mangled power suppressing collar that was ripped off during his transformation. These humans thought they could contain him. He was going to prove them wrong in a way that was going to hurt.
“My makeover is complete,” he grinned, cracking his knuckles in anticipation, “Magneto failed to embrace this evolution. Guess it’s up to me to lead the charge now. And I know just where to begin.”
New York City – Yankees Stadium
“Come on, Petey. Hurry up! We’re going to miss the opening pitch,” said an excited Kitty Pryde.
“I’m coming, Katya. I still cannot get this hat to fit!” said the oversized Russian, who had been fiddling with a baseball cap since they got off the subway.
“You can fix it when we get to our seats. I didn’t finish two tests before sunrise so I could miss the Cubs beating up on the Yankees!”
For all his strength and skills, Piotr Rasputin still found it difficult to keep up with this girl. What she lacked in stature, she made up for in energy. She was not the kind of girl to be overly careful with new relationships. After that fateful kiss in Nova Roma, she made it abundantly clear that she wanted to go further. Part of that involved going out on this little date she organized. She purchased two premium tickets to a baseball game and she wanted him to share the other ticket. He was not versed in the art of going out with an American girl, but this was as good a place to start as any.
They were approaching the main gates to the stadium. But first, Kitty had to make sure her date looked the part. He didn’t have any sports gear to wear. His dress sense was very plain. She worked on changing that before they arrived at the park. She bought him a Cubs T-shirt and cap so they could root for her hometown team together. The cap was a few sizes too small, but it was bearable. Piotr gave up trying to fix it as soon as Kitty latched onto his arm and led him into the stadium.
“You almost look nervous. Don’t tell me this is the first baseball game you’ve ever gone to,” said Kitty.
“Nyet, I’ve been to sporting events before. However, in Russia the only sport we deal in regularly is hockey. Even then I never got into it. I was always too busy working,” said the Russian.
“Well we work hard and play hard here in America,” said Kitty proudly, “We have sports of every kind. There’s soccer, baseball, football, and hockey. Baseball just happens to be in full swing right now.”
“So it would seem,” he said, looking over at the large crowd of baseball fans, “Have you always been a big fan as you say?”
“I wouldn’t say I’m an all-out sports junky, but I always followed the home team.”
“I thought the Yankees were the home team.”
“They are since we’re in New York, but to me my team will always be the Cubbies,” said Kitty proudly, “That along with the White Sox, the Blackhawks, and the Bears.”
“Are they baseball teams too?”
“Not all of them,” laughed Kitty, “Those teams are for other dates. If, of course, you want them to be.”
Piotr shifted awkwardly. The notion of him and Kitty Pryde actually dating was still sinking in. He had no experience in this matter. He never had time. He was always busy looking after his sister or being on call for the Russian Mafia. Having a personal life was almost alien to him. Now this outgoing American girl was breaking him out of his once impenetrable shell.
“I’m sorry, did I just get six steps ahead of myself instead of the usual two?” she asked him.
“Not at all, Katya,” he said quickly, “I want there to be other dates. I am under no illusions as you say.”
“So why do you sound so uncertain? I thought I’ve been painfully blunt. I like you. I want us to go on dates. If for no other reason, to see if there’s something between us.”
“I think we are somewhat beyond that point. You would not have kissed me if that were not the case. And I would not be acting this foolishly if I did not like it.”
“So why are acting as though you’re walking on a minefield?” she asked intently, “Are we going too fast? Are we going to slow? Talk to me, Peter.”
The Russian mutant rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. This was one of those times when his physical strength was not enough. Facing this beautiful young woman, he was vulnerable in a way he was not used to.
“It is not going fast or slow that is the problem. You must understand this is difficult for me. For much of my life, I’ve been conditioned a certain way. Those ways make it hard for me to be anything but the imposing Colossus.”
“Yeah, I guess I overlook that at times,” said Kitty, now feeling a bit awkward herself.
“I never said I want you to overlook it. I need someone to push me away from that world. Illyana used to fill that role. Now she has other concerns that I do not wish to impede. The X-men have done their share to fill that role, but only to a point.”
“So where do I come in?” she asked.
“You’ve already done more than your share. That I won’t deny,” he said, offering her a tender gesture, “I am still a product of where I came from and the mistakes I’ve made. I am simply trying to do my part while not making it too difficult on us…if there is to be an us.”
Kitty smiled at his sincerity. For someone on what was technically their first date, he was already setting himself apart. This wasn’t a typical teenage crush. She was an American girl from the suburbs. He was a farm boy turned mob enforcer from Russia. He wasn’t trying to avoid the truth and she wasn’t trying to live in a fantasy land either. It was going to be a major challenge for them and they both had to be willing to make the effort.
“So…can we still have a good time this afternoon? I apologize if I am not making this very fun,” he said sheepishly.
“Don’t apologize, Peter. It’s better to clear the air now before it starts to stink,” she said with a reassuring smile.
“Why would it stink?”
“I don’t know. That’s something I heard Remy say.”
“You got advice from Remy before asking me out like this?” said the Russian with a humored grin.
“I asked pretty much everybody. That’s how important you are to me,” said Kitty, locking onto his arm again.
“I appreciate that, Katya. But for now, I am content to rely on instincts.”
“Totally! I’ll try to limit the dating advice to my instincts. And right now my instincts are telling me we should get to our seats, get a few hot dogs, and enjoy our date.”
Piotr kept smiling and followed the whims of Kitty Pryde into the stadium. He felt a lot more optimistic about this date after getting a few things off his chest. Kitty was more understanding than most women. She also knew how to maintain that special charisma that made her so alluring. Perhaps this was the beginning of something special.
With the air now cleared, Piotr and Kitty approached the main ticket gate. Their little conversation made it so they had to get near the back of the line. This was okay with them. A little heart-to-heart was worth missing the first pitch.
They didn’t have to wait too long to get to the entrance. The only thing that concerned them at this point was being dressed in Cubs gear within a sea of Yankees fans. There were cheers and boos for the opposing team all around, which was to be expected. Kitty and Piotr ignored it for the most part, but when they got to the main gate the usher gave them a bit of a look.
“Nice attire,” he said dryly, “You really think I’m going to let people like you in?”
“Such a friendly city,” said Kitty, sensing the guy was just playing around, “I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be all about sportsmanship.”
“That’s the old New York. I’m part of a new wave,” he said jokingly, “That wave means we don’t take kindly to you folks stinkin’ up our home!”
“If this were at Wrigley Field you would be a dead man by now,” made Kitty.
“This ain’t the windy city, sweetheart. You and your oversized buddy here will have walk back to where you came from before I…”
This playful exchange suddenly turned ugly when out of nowhere a man in dark clothes lunged in and punched the usher right in the jaw. Kitty and Piotr fell back along with a number of terrified patrons. They watched in shock and horror as this mysterious man tackled the usher to the ground and punched him repeatedly.
“You dare talk down to those of blessed blood? You dare speak ill of the lord’s gift to humanity? You and your kind are heathens! You will burn in the fires of divine judgment!”
The enraged man landed three more punches to the face against the usher. A number of people ran away while others called out for assistance.
“Security! We’ve got a madman here.”
“Must be a Red Sox fan.”
From another entrance down the street, a few uniformed officers started running towards the scene. Before they arrived, Kitty and Piotr sprang into action. They each grabbed the man and pulled him off the usher. Piotr used his size and strength to hold him back while Kitty rushed to aid the usher.
“Get the hell off him!” Kitty shouted to the assailant as she knelt down to the usher, “I’m so sorry. Do you need an ambulance?”
“Ungh…” groaned the usher, coughing up some blood, “Didn’t know…Cubs fans…were so violent.”
“I don’t think he was talking about baseball,” she said as she tried to wipe the blood away from the man’s face.
While Kitty tended to the usher, Piotr pulled the attacker back. He was still seething, but slowly calmed down as it dawned on him what just happened. He quickly realized he may have made a big mistake.
“That’s quite enough from you,” said Piotr firmly, “What madness is this? Attacking a man who was clearly just joking?”
“Heaven help me. It happened again. My heart has overpowered my mind,” the man cried.
Once he settled, he slipped out of Piotr’s grip. The Russian let him go upon sensing that he had calmed down somewhat. The strange man in dark clothes then turned around, looking towards Piotr and then at Kitty. He was still breathing hard and could see the police running right towards him. Sensing his time was limited, he bowed respectfully to the two mutants with a strange gesture.
“Forgive me, blessed ones. I, Issac, have betrayed you again. As God as my witness, I shall repent by the altar of the Church of Humanity!”
With these ominous words, the man who called himself Isaac ran full speed into a confused crowd. He disappeared from sight just as the police arrived. Some stayed to assist the usher while others ran after the attacker.
“Hey you! Somebody stop that guy!” one of the officers yelled.
“Where the hell did he go?” exclaimed another.
It seemed unlikely that they would catch him. In a crowd like this there were too many ways for him to disappear. Piotr and Kitty didn’t go after him, choosing instead to stick around with the usher. It was quite a shift for them. Their first date was more eventful than they expected. With others now tending to the usher, Kitty and Piotr exchanged confused glances.
“Okay, any idea what that was about?” she said, “Didn’t the others say something about some crazy street preacher?”
“I do not know, Katya,” said Piotr, “However, I may have a clue.”
Piotr opened his hand to reveal something that fell off the attacker when he grabbed him. It was decorated necklace with a Christian cross at the center. However, there was something different about this cross. It had a strange symbol built around it, giving it a unique appearance. This along with the attacker’s mention of something called the Church of Humanity indicated they had something worth investigating.
Fort Leavenworth – Mutant Wing
Every prison was built to thwart any effort at escape. The prisons that housed the most dangerous criminals had to take every possible precaution. When Fort Leavenworth was expanded to house mutant prisoners, General Grimshaw was explicit in his instructions. Every angle had to be covered. No details could go overlooked. But even he could not anticipate a scenario like this.
“The power is failing. The vents are completely clogged. And anyone stuck outside is essentially croc chow,” said the warden of the mutant wing, “Could someone explain to me how this could possibly happen without mutant powers?”
“There’s no need for an explanation. We’re definitely dealing with a mutant attack,” said General Grimshaw, “I’m much more interested in locking this place down so none of the other prisoners get out.”
“The Professor read the engineer’s mind during his scan. He’s cowering under his desk right now, but if his thoughts are accurate there’s a self-sustaining backup generator in the lower east wing,” said Psylocke, “We need to activate that to keep all the cells sealed.”
“Then that’s where I’m going,” said General Grimshaw assertively, “Warden, you’re leading me there. X-men, can I count on you to subdue the prisoners and find out which one of them is behind this?”
“We’re as curious as you, General. If it’s okay with you, we’ll lead the MSA to the main wing. Together, we’ll put a stop to this!” said Cyclops.
“We damn well better,” he said, giving a signal to his MSA soldiers to indicate they should split off.
General Grimshaw kept running straight ahead with the warden. Two dozen fully armed MSA soldiers followed Cyclops and Psylocke as the turned left at a nearby junction and made their way towards the holding cells. Since the power was faltering and time wasn’t on their side, Cyclops used his optic blasts to blow through the barriers. He kept his visor on hand just in case and this was definitely one of those cases.
Professor Xavier described a pretty gruesome picture based on his psychic scans. There was some strange psionic message calling out from somewhere in this prison. And from this message, a very unique attack descended upon this complex. The conditions and living systems of a swamp were consuming the area. Animals ranging from crocodiles to pond scum were drawn to the area along with pouring rain and fog. Somehow they were being directed to attack and cripple the complex in a manner not unlike Storm’s weather-control powers. Professor Xavier, who remained at the South Entrance along with the judge and his staff, kept in touch telepathically as they neared the cells.
‘You’re getting closer to the source, X-men. It’s just up ahead through the level five security barrier. Those emergency key codes the Warden provided should give you access.’
‘Let me guess. This is where the worst mutant prisoners are held. I’m sure Vertigo is in there enjoying the hell out of this.’
‘That appears to be the case, Psylocke. There are currently two dozen mutants being held in that wing. There are dozens more in the wing below. Wherever this disturbance is coming from, you must stop it before every prisoner is allowed to escape!’
‘I’m not nearly as concerned about where this disturbance is coming from as I am who is behind it.’
‘I share your interest and your concern, Cyclops. I’ve been trying to figure that out, but I’m getting some conflicting thoughts. It’s as if there are two minds behind this and the identity is somewhere in between. Yet at the same time it sounds familiar.’
‘I guess we’ll see for ourselves soon enough.’
Cyclops and Psylocke arrived at the final barrier. The two squads of MSA guards behind them arrived in full force, watching as Cyclops punched in the code the Professor gave him telepathically. As they waited, the lights flickered even more. The power seemed likely to fail at any moment. If it did, they would have a much harder fight on their hands. That said nothing of the other mutant prisoners in this complex, many of which were probably just as eager to escape. Adding to the discomfort was the growing humidity in the air. It felt as though they were walking into a swamp in the middle of summer.
“Damn, it’s like a sauna in here. What the hell happened to the ventilation in this place?” groaned one of the MSA officers.
“Forget the heat. What the hell is that smell?” said another.
“That’s our target taking away the home field advantage,” said Cyclops as he finished punching in the code, “He’s making it so the conditions give him the advantage.”
“In a prison? What the hell kind of advantage is that?”
“You can ask him yourself,” said Psylocke, “Because it looks like we’re about to meet him.”
Each MSA officer readied their weapons, preparing for battle against what was sure to be an exotic foe. They waited tenuously through more power surges as the heavy security door slowly opened. As soon as they entered the level five wing, they were greeted with a disturbing sight.
“Oh my…” gasped many of the officers.
“What in the bloody hell?” exclaimed bewildered Psylocke.
“Hello? Can somebody tell me what’s going on out there?”
“What’s with the power? You going to gas us or something?”
“Forget the gas! What about that smell?”
The frantic voices of the mutant prisoners were full of dread. The usually uneventful cell block of the level five wing had suddenly become more chaotic. The lights started flickering. The ventilation system started churning out muggy, murky air. In a few cells the toilets started to bubble, making it even more uncomfortable for these already despondent mutants.
Among those more curious than concerned was Vertigo. She had just begun to adjust to life in her cell and now it was taking a turn for the bizarre. She huddled around the narrow window that allowed her to look out into the wing. Amidst the flickering lights she saw a number of guards running back and forth,. At one point the lights went completely out and it was impossible to see what was happening. While attempting to peer through the darkness, she and the rest of the prisoners heard some deafening bangs. The terrified cries of guards soon followed.
“SHOOT HIM! SHOOT HIM BEFORE-AUUUUGGGGHHHH!”
More smaller bangs followed, filling the wing with ominous noises. While Vertigo was trying to make out what was happening, she noticed some water coming in from under her cell door. It wasn’t ordinary water either. It was murky pond water. She instinctively stood back. The loud bangs soon found their way to her cell door. It was like something was ramming them from the other side. Whatever or whoever it was, it was pretty strong.
Within moments, the door was knocked in and the new and improved Toad entered. He had just kicked the door down with his new strength and was standing atop a very large crocodile for good measure.
“Sup babe. Vertigo, right?” he said casually.
“And just who the hell are you?” she demanded.
“A messenger,” he answered ominously, “You’ve just been paroled.”
Toad then used his oversized tongue to latch onto the power suppressing collar around Vertigo’s neck and rip it off in one swift motion. This immediately gained Toad some credibility despite his less than seemly appearance.
“You interested in some action? Or you wanna stick around and rot in this joint?” he asked her.
“I just got handed a ten year sentence and I’m out of a job. Consider me intrigued,” she replied.
“That’s the spirit! Let’s see how many others share it,” said Toad with a grin.
Vertigo followed Toad out of her cell and watched as he proceeded to free more mutant prisoners. The next one he freed was Stryfe. The one in the cell next to hes was the man who looked part pterodactyl that went by the name Sauron. As soon as they were freed and their collars removed, they were as intrigued as Vertigo.
“Many thanks for the early release. It almost makes up for the swampy odor that accompanies you,” said Stryfe as he dusted himself off.
“That gonna be a problem?” asked Toad wryly.
“You could smell like an elephant’s ass for all I care. These people stink way worse,” scoffed Sauron, “I fight my way out of the Savage Land, get my mutation all screwed up, and turn into a walking Jurassic Park mascot only to get arrested? Far as I’m concerned, this so-called system is fucked.”
“Glad you’re so pissed off. I think everyone in this wing shares your feelings,” said Toad.
“What do you plan to do about it? Stage an old fashioned prison riot?” asked Vertigo.
“If so that would be horribly unoriginal,” commented Stryfe.
“You guys look at me like I didn’t learn anything from watching Magneto screw up. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve grown a bit since then,” he said, flexing his new muscles, “I’m working with a clarity that old bucket-head could only dream of. I don’t just have a plan. I have a vision…one I think every mutant in this prison might appreciate.”
“Do we even have time to free everybody?” questioned Stryfe.
“Relax! We’ve got plenty of time,” assured Toad.
But the moment he uttered those words, the security barrier at the other end of the wing started to open. The lights flickered back on again, showing the power hadn’t completely failed. As the halls were illuminated once more, it revealed a more than cumbersome obstacle to this so-called vision.
“You were saying?” he said dryly.
Cyclops, Psylocke, and the two MSA squads stared down the surprisingly imposing presence of Veritgo, Stryfe, Sauron, and a very different-looking Toad. Surrounding them were a couple of crocodiles, snakes, and lizards. Swampy water continued to flow from the other end, which was clearly being guided. It was also not lost on the two X-men that none of these mutants were wearing their power suppressing collars. This along with Toad’s transformation left quite an impression.
“I honestly don’t remember this from the briefing,” said one of the MSA officers.
“I’m as surprised as you guys,” said Cyclops as he stepped forth to confront his old foe, “It’s been a while, Toad. You’ve been working out from the looks of it.”
“Jealous much, Cyclops?” grinned Toad, flexing his muscles.
“Are you kidding? I’m actually glad,” said the X-leader while adjusting his visor, “Now maybe you’ll present more of a challenge.”
“Oh I’m packing more than dashing good looks, pretty boy. I’ve got a few new tricks that Magneto only wishes he had.”
Toad raised both hands and summoned a hoard of mosquitoes from the ventilation systems in the walls and ceiling. These pestilent bugs had been working their way through the ducts since they arrived and through the amphibious mutant’s whims they attacked Cyclops in a concentrated assault. It happened so fast he was unable to fire off an effective optic blast.
“Ack! The hell?” he grunted upon getting a face-full of bugs.
“So it is you. You’re the one controlling these swamp creatures,” said Psylocke, having pieced together the strange telepathic signatures she sensed earlier, “Where did you pick up a trick like that?”
“From a special someone who wants me to do this!”
Toad sent more swamp creatures to attack his enemies. Waves of frogs, snakes, and lizards swarmed down the hall towards the two X-men and the MSA. They presented an unorthodox obstacle that would make subduing Toad and the source of this disturbance a lot more difficult.
“Crazy blokes never make it easy,” groaned Psylocke, “Hope none of you have any animal phobias.”
“I got the cure for phobias right here,” said one of the MSA officers as he took aim with his assault rifle.
Not waiting to be overwhelmed, the MSA opened fire. They sprayed the entire hall with high powered rifle-fire. Their weapons were designed to subdue mutants, but they worked just as well on raging animal life. Psylocke got into the act as well, forming psionic blades and using them to strike the larger animals like the snakes and lizards. There were a few that made it through, but it wasn’t enough to stop them completely.
Cyclops remained focused on their objective. His head still swarming with mosquitoes, he adjusted his visor to a wider arc and unleashed a broad optic blast that helped clear the air around him. Despite some nasty bites, he set his sights on Toad and the others.
“Don’t know what’s gotten into you, Toad. But I’m pretty sure I don’t like it,” said the X-leader.
“Me neither,” said Psylocke as she skillfully decapitated a snake that tried to bite her, “Your little temper tantrum stops now.”
Looking only mildly threatened, Toad turned to the mutants he freed.
“You guys really wanna let the X-men throw us back into cells?” he said, “If not, keep them busy while I hatch out a plan.”
“You’re going to wing it, aren’t you?” scoffed Stryfe.
“Less talking, more fighting!”
Toad jumped off the oversized crocodile he was on and looked over the other cells near him. With little room to argue, Stryfe followed Sauron and Vertigo in an attack. Sauron took to the air and let out a deafening screech. He swooped in at high speeds and knocked down four MSA officers who still had their weapons pointed at the animals.
“You’ll never lock me up again,” he exclaimed.
“Forget the snakes. Shoot the dinosaur!” said one of the officers.
Six of the MSA officers near the back of the group aimed their weapons upward and fired at the flying Sauron. He went into evasive maneuvers, avoiding the onslaught and drawing their fire. This allowed Vertigo to launch an attack with her vertigo wave. The initial attack triggered a familiar queasiness in Psylocke and a couple of MSA officers. However, Psylocke did not give her a chance to unleash her full fury.
“Sorry, luv. I skipped lunch,” she grunted as she fired a psionic blast of her own
“No matter. There’s plenty left for you to lose,” spat Vertigo, who clutched her head and intensified her attack.
Vertigo’s struggle with Psylocke kept Cyclops and the MSA officers coherent enough to continue their attack. Sauron was still drawing fire and the rest were keeping Toad’s animal friends at bay. Cyclops aided them with wide-arced optic blasts to better clear the hall, allowing them to move forward. This is where Stryfe entered the struggle, summoning his long-suppressed psionic powers to enrage and control.
“GET OFF MY FOOT, ASSHOLE!” yelled one of the MSA guards in an unexpected rage.
“YOU WANT TO GET BITTEN BY A SNAKE? GO AHEAD!” yelled another.
“BOTH OF YOU, SHUT UP! OR I’LL SHUT YOU UP!”
A total of eight MSA officers lost their focus and their self-control. They turned their attention away from the battle in front of them and attacked each other.
Two men were knocked on their backs and one of them was so busy throwing punches at his comrades he didn’t notice a snake come up to his ankle and bite him. The rest just dropped their weapons and stared beating up on each other. One tried to keep his weapon and shoot everyone on sight. Cyclops saw this and used his optic blasts to shoot the weapon out of his hand. He then turned his attention to Stryfe.
“You must be pretty lazy, getting others to fight for you,” said Cyclops.
“It’s not lazy if it gets the job done,” grinned Stryfe.
He used his powers to direct two MSA officers towards Cyclops. They lashed out at him with misguided rage.
“I’M SICK OF YOU BARKING ORDERS!”
“I’LL RIP THAT STUPID VISOR OFF ALONG WITH YOUR FACE!”
Cyclops resisted the urge to hit these two men with optic blasts. They were supposed to be on their side and hurting them would only cause more problems. He used a couple of take-down moves, tripping up one of the officers and kicking him to the side. The other came in from behind and the X-leader responded by grabbing his arm and throwing him to the ground.
Stryfe remained undaunted. He kept using his powers to corrupt more MSA officers to further obstruct their attack. The minds of the X-men were too strong so he did not seek to corrupt them. He simply used the weaker MSA officers to buy time.
“I hope you’re not expecting us to do all the work, Toad,” said Stryfe.
“Relax, old timer! I know what I’m doing,” said Toad confidently.
While Stryfe, Vertigo, and Sauron were keeping his enemies busy, Toad walked up the nearby line of cells. Many mutants were clamoring for his assistance. They were desperately seeking escape and this may be their only opportunity.
“Get me out! I can help you. I melt things,” said one mutant.
“Don’t listen to him! He can barely melt butter. I can block senses,” said another.
“Block senses? That’s it? Free me! I can fly and spit fireballs.”
Everyone had their case to make. Toad wanted to free them all, but had to be selective. There were a few cells in particular that sparked his interest. They were not far from where his old cell was and each contained three identical figures. The label on their cells each read Kleinstock and they seemed somewhat timid at first.
“Harlan, Sven, and Eric,” said Toad as he read over their cell titles, “Heard you guys brag about busting into a bank once. From where I’m standing, you don’t look equipped to do much busting.”
“Please…let us out,” said Eric.
“Alone, we are weak,” said Sven.
“But together, we can help you,” said Harlan.
Trusting them on their word, Toad freed them just as he had with the others. He used his powerful legs and got some assistance from his crocodile friend to bust down the cell doors. With the power failing more and more, it was much easier this time. As soon as they were free, he removed their power suppressing collars. Once they were off, they made good on their word.
The three brothers nodded as Sven jumped on Eric’s shoulders and Harlan jumped on Sven’s. Once together, there was a quick flash of light. When it faded, there were no longer three identical brothers. There was only one nine-foot tall, heavily muscled figure.
“We are one!” they proclaimed, “The Kleinstock brothers are weak no more.”
“Not bad,” said Toad, looking only somewhat impressed, “So are you going to return the favor or what?”
“Glad you brought that up, Mr. Toad. As it just so happens, my old partner is locked up here too. He should make whatever vision you have more attainable.”
Toad maintained some skepticism, but a grin never left his face as he followed the Kleinstock brothers across the hall to another cell. It happened to be one of the few cells where the occupant wasn’t clamoring to be freed. The hulking mutant made quick work of the cell door, ripping it off the hinges and reaching in to retrieve an old-looking and somewhat frail figure with a dark complexion.
“Today’s our lucky day, Gateway. Hope you’re ready to put those Aboriginal survival skills to good use,” said Klienstock as he ripped off the power suppressing collar.
“Survival? Is that all this all this geezer can do?” questioned Toad.
“Not even partially,” scoffed the triplets, “Gateway’s a teleporter. That’s what landed him in jail. He can get us and everyone in this joint clear across the world without breaking a sweat. Go on…show them.”
Without saying a word, Gateway nodded and closed his eyes. As he did a large dark mass formed in front of him. The mass grew until it was about six feet in height, looking like a gateway to somewhere that was surely far more pleasant than this place. It was more than enough to convince Toad of his potential.
“Nice!” he said with a wide grin, “That ought to save us the trouble of busting down every door in this joint.”
Toad was gaining the edge with each passing moment. He had never experienced this kind of power. He was poised to take every mutant deviant under his wing and lead them against a world that rejected them. Where Magneto failed, he would succeed.
This activity did not go unnoticed by Cyclops and Psylocke. They saw Toad’s new allies while fighting off Vertigo, Sauron, and Stryfe’s mind-controlled victims. Sensing they needed to make a push, they stepped up their attack.
“I take back what I said earlier, Stryfe. You’re not lazy. You’re pathetic,” yelled Cyclops.
The X-leader fought off another one of the mind-controlled MSA officers and set his sights on Stryfe. With a quick adjustment of his visor, he fired a concentrated shot that hit him point blank and knocked him on his back. This freed the MSA officers, allowing them to refocus their efforts on the evasive Sauron.
“Huh? Why the hell is my head burning?” groaned one of the officers.
“Quit bitching and take your anger out on the flying dinosaur above you,” yelled another who hadn’t been controlled.
Training and discipline took over and the officers retrieved their weapons. Once armed, they unleashed a new barrage of rifle fire on Sauron. He had been trying to come in for another attack. The new barrage forced him to abandon his run. He tried flying away, but the limited space of the wing made that difficult and he took a few hit.
“Damn wings! I must be rusty,” he grunted as some bullets tore through his wings
Sauron tumbled out of the air back towards Toad and the others. As the MSA fought him, Psylocke stepped up her attack on Vertigo. She had been using her telepathy to hold back her vertigo beam. It had been a stalemate for the last few minutes. Then the young telepath played dirty, forming a psionic blade in one hand and throwing it right towards Vertigo. In her focus she couldn’t avoid it and was struck right in the upper thigh.
“Augh!” she cried out.
“Guess you’re rusty too, luv,” grinned a somewhat drained Psylocke.
With Toad’s allies struggling, Cyclops and Psylocke lead the MSA officers on a fresh charge towards Toad. Some who were injured had to stay behind, but they still had a sizable force of at least a dozen officers backing them up. They confronted their adversaries just as they were about to free more prisoners.
“Enough with the power trip, Toad. This ends now!” yelled Cyclops.
“You want to add more years to your sentence? Be my guest,” said Psylocke, “And don’t expect us to offer plea bargains.”
“Really? You’re the only ones standing in my way?” said Toad dryly, “Haven’t I made it clear that I’m not the same Toad? I’ve evolved!”
“If anything, you’ve devolved. You’re still the same punk you’ve always been,” spat Cyclops, “What makes you think you’re less crazy than Magneto?”
“What makes you think I don’t have the firepower to bust through you X-punks regardless of how crazy I am?”
Toad got his answer in a less than pleasant manner. Up until this point the lights had been failing, the vents had been clogged, and everywhere within this prison complex was in utter chaos. In an instant that all changed.
A fresh surge of power suddenly surged through the system. Every light in the area started working again. In addition, the vast array of electronics and security fail-safes had the energy they needed to reactivate. The remaining cells in the wing engaged a series of special locks while a number of hidden barriers rose up to seal the entire level. Even the ventilation system started working again, pumping some much needed fresh air into the area. It was a dramatic shift and the timing couldn’t have been better.
“You were saying?” said Psylocke wryly.
“That’s probably General Grimshaw activating the backup generator,” added Cyclops, “That means every possible safeguard and emergency plan can go into effect now, some of which your swamp buddies may not be able to handle. Are you crazy enough to risk it?”
Toad’s demeanor finally faltered. The change in the air and lighting no longer gave him the advantage. There were still many mutant prisoners clamoring for freedom and the mutants he freed so far would not be enough to carry out his vision. Looking back towards Stryfe, Sauron, and Vertigo, he saw he didn’t have the muscle to fight his way through. That forced him to make a decision.
“Magneto may have been crazy enough. Me…I got a few more brain cells working for me,” said Toad.
“You mean we’re not going to free the other prisoners?” said the Kleinstocks in a disappointed tone.
“We’ll get to them. Every one of them,” he promised, “You all hear me? You ain’t gonna rot in this joint for long!”
“I think you really are crazy enough,” said Cyclops, “You actually think we’re going to let you escape?”
“We don’t have to,” said Toad ominously.
With another quick gesture, Toad summoned one more wave of insect attacks. With the vents working and the power back on, he couldn’t use the full force of his abilities. He had to guide whatever mosquitoes, bees, or wasps were still in the area. Luckily, some made it through the vents before they were reactivated. Guided by Toad’s whims, they swarmed around the X-men and the MSA without mercy.
“Damn it! Not again,” grunted Cyclops, getting a face full of wasps this time.
“Get them off! Shoot them already!” yelled Psylocke.
While the X-leader adjusted his visor again, Toad and the Kleinstocks retrieved Sauron, Stryfe, and Vertigo. Sauron had struggled back to his feet while Vertigo and Stryfe needed support to walk off under their own power. With their enemies distracted, Toad turned to Gateway.
“Take us somewhere tropical, Gateway. We got plans to make and the weather here stinks!” he ordered.
The Aboriginal mutant remained silent, only nodding to acknowledge Toad’s command. Without so much as a gesture, his eyes started glowing and a dark glowing ball of pink energy formed behind him. This ball quickly expanded, forming a sizable portal that was now their ticket to freedom.
“For the record, I’m still skeptical of these plans you speak of,” said Stryfe as he and the others made their way towards the portal.
“You won’t be for long,” said Toad confidently, “These humans think they know justice. By the time we’re through with them, they’re gonna be the ones locked up.”
He spoke with the kind of poise that only Magneto had displayed. Skeptical or not, Toad earned the trust of these mutants so they followed him into Gateway’s portal. Toad was the last one to enter. But before he left, he shot the X-men and the MSA one last snide grin.
“No! Don’t let them get away!” yelled one of the MSA officers.
“I’ve got this,” yelled Cyclops.
Despite the heavy interference from the bugs, the X-leader adjusted his visor again and fired off a series of optic blasts. These wide-arced blasts quickly cleared the air of bugs, but not before Toad and his comrades disappeared into the portal. Cyclops tried in vain to fire another blast at them. He ended up hitting nothing but the back wall.
It was a frustrating end to a frustrating battle. Even though the power was back on and the rest of the cells were secure, they let a powerful new enemy escape.
“Damn it! They’re gone,” cursed Cyclops.
“They’re more than gone, luv. They didn’t even leave a psychic trace,” said Psylocke, who tried to follow them with her telepathy.
“What does that mean? Is it over now?” asked one of the MSA officers.
“I’d be okay with it if they took this whole swamp theme with them,” said another.
“I’d be even more okay if they didn’t take more prisoners like they said they would.”
“Forget what they didn’t take. This is still very bad,” said Cyclops grimly.
“I’ll say,” said Psylocke as she batted away a few more bugs, “Where do you think Toad got that upgrade of his? He’s like Magneto, except he smells like a dead pig.”
“I don’t know. That’s something else we’re going to have to figure out,” said the X-leader as he stood over where Toad had disappeared, “Whatever the case, I don’t think this bodes well for this new system of mutant justice…if there was any to begin with.”
Fort Leavenworth Mutant Wing – Lower East Wing
The fight to get the power flowing had been eventful for General Grimshaw and the warden of the mutant wing. While the X-men and the MSA fought to contain the prisoners, they braved poorly lit corridors, pools of putrid swamp water, and various hoards of aggressive animals that included snakes, mosquitoes, and crocodiles. Armed only with side-arms and a few rifles they borrowed from the guards, they fought their way to the emergency power generator.
When they reached their destination, the warden scrambled to use his keys and emergency codes to get it running. Some of the components had been shorted out by the humidity and some stray bugs. Grimshaw managed to fix the faulty wiring. Once the power started flowing again, it came as a huge relief.
“We did it, General. This baby’s humming like dragster!” said a breathless warden, “I think this crazy ordeal is over.”
“Maybe for you,” said the General in a less than enthused tone, “I’m going to have a lot to talk about in my next meeting with the President.”
“You’re not going to fire me, are you?” asked the warden anxiously.
“Far as I’m concerned, my job is in greater jeopardy than yours.”
The warden leaned back against a nearby wall to catch his breath, not sure if he should feel better or worse from the General’s words. He was perfectly content to have a prison that was still intact. With all the many dangerous mutants being kept here, that was the best he could hope for.
General Grimshaw was not nearly as relieved. The damage had been done. In the course of every battle there were turning points and this certainly felt like one. So much of this conflict revolved around holding mutants accountable to the law. Nobody expected humans and mutants to be on the same level with the law overnight. After a mess like this, however, that goal was even further than he expected. It was so far it may very well be out of reach.
The General was already going over many scenarios in his mind. He was going to have a lot to discuss with President Kelly when he got back to Washington. He was so deep in thought he barely noticed Charles Xavier sending him a telepathic message.
‘You did it, General. I just got word from Cyclops and Psylocke. With the power back on, the emergency lockdown has been initiated. I also sense the conditions improving outside.’
‘Thanks for sharing the good news first. Now tell me the bad news. How many escaped?’
‘Only a handful, thankfully. The rest are still secure and accounted for.’
‘A handful is still too many in my book.’
‘I assure you my X-men will work with the MSA at recapturing them immediately. We’ve dealt with some of these miscreants before. We know how to handle them.’
‘I wasn’t just referring to playing bounty hunter, Xavier. Remember how I said that this new justice system for humans and mutants was a process? Well this little incident proves we’re officially falling behind.’
‘Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, General.’
‘Don’t patronize me. There’s a lot to take from a fiasco like this. The US government went out of its way to construct a prison where mutants can pay their debt to society. Yet it wasn’t enough. We still couldn’t punish these criminals. Because of the power they wield, we could not hold them accountable.’
‘Pardon my outrage, but you’re overreacting in a very dangerous way, General. One failure here does not constitute failure all around.’
‘Last I checked, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. I’m a General. I don’t have the luxury of being insane. I have to rethink my approach in a very significant way.’
‘By significant I hope you don’t mean extreme.’
‘I’ll do what is necessary. This conversation is over. Now get out of my head.’
‘Wait! We must…’
The General closed his mind, shoving Xavier out in a not-so-subtle manner. He already knew what the man was going to say. Charles Xavier was a dreamer and an idealist. Admirable that may be, it wasn’t the world General Grimshaw worked in.
Looking back towards the dazed warden, the decorated officer saw the kind of anxiety he would have to work around. He thought he could treat mutants too much like humans, but they couldn’t be handled like humans even if they were human. No ordinary man or woman could have caused this kind of chaos from within a maximum security prison cell. If he was to accomplish his original mission, he needed a new approach beyond what Charles Xavier was willing to consider.
Next Issue: Divine Intervention
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