Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. Over the course of this fight, the conflict between humans and mutants has manifested in many ways. Some have been more deadly than others.
For much of this conflict, authorities have tried to contain mutants. Some efforts have been overly ambitious, like the Sentinels. Others have been more diplomatic, like the Mutant Security Agency. As the brainchild of General Nathan Grimshaw, the MSA was supposed to be the police force that held mutants accountable to the law. But Toad’s recent escape from Fort Leavenworth Prison exposed significant deficiencies in that system, which some are all too eager to exploit.
One program that tried to contain mutants in a particularly brutal manner was Weapon X. This program was behind the likes of Wolverine and Sabretooth. However, the inability to control these living weapons was the program’s downfall. That doesn’t mean the concept has been abandoned. In recent clash, Wolverine came face-to-face with a new version of Weapon X. He called himself Fantomex, but his roots are in a much bolder program known as Weapon Plus.
Undisclosed Location – Two Weeks Ago
“Today is the day, Reverend. All our hard work has led to this moment,” said Colonel Wraith as he stood beside Reverend William Stryker.
“It’s about time. I put a lot of faith in you, Colonel. And so far I’ve seen little in return,” said the reverend.
“That all changes today. You’re about to see firsthand the fruits of our labor.”
Reverend Stryker still found it difficult to trust Colonel Wraith. He was right up there with the devil himself in terms of being trustworthy. At least this time there was something tangible to go on. Thanks to a very gracious Graydon Creed, they finally had the resources they needed. With his Purifiers providing the manpower and Creed providing the funding, they assembled what promised to be the solution to the ultimate mutant menace.
Like Weapon X before it, this plan brought them back to Canada. Instead of a government lab, they set up shop in an old factory owned by Graydon Creed’s company. Despite being a fugitive, he still had access to considerable wealth in offshore accounts. His family also owned a number of businesses and those in Canada faced far less scrutiny than those on the other side of the boarder. This particular factory was once used to manufacture pharmaceuticals, making it perfect for this ambitious undertaking.
Graydon Creed had been working day and night since he was freed from prison. Under Colonel Wraith’s guidance, he paid to renovate this factory to the necessary specifications. Once completed, the finished product to the form of an elaborate setup based around a special gurney. From that gurney, a series of elaborate wires and tubes fed into a semi-circular dome just above the area. The interior of this dome was covered with lights, pumps, monitors, and an array of advanced genetics equipment. It had all the marks of a Weapon X project. However, this one wouldn’t be nearly as crude.
Outside the dome was a row of computers where this ambitious process would be tightly controlled, something that had been lacking from its predecessor. The mind behind that control was the eccentric yet brilliant Arcade.
“Check one, check two, check twenty, and I can now say that every server is officially online,” he said proudly from behind the main console, “For once, our computing needs will not be an issue.”
“That’s the luxury you can afford with a payroll like mine,” said Graydon Creed, who was going over a final check-list, “With the right connections, you can access all sorts of components that aren’t in your typical Best Buy catalogue.”
“Does that mean you can get me an early prototype of the new iPhone?” asked Arcade.
“I could, but I prefer to use my wealth in a more productive manner.”
Creed thoroughly surveyed the work surrounding the elaborate setup. The Purifiers had been working for twelve hours straight alongside a few specially contracted technicians he had bribed for their assistance. While Arcade set up the computers, much of the work was focused on the dome over the gurney. Dozens of laborers and technicians carefully configured every part of the array. The bulk of the components were in place. Everything just needed the proper fine tuning.
“Give me a final status check and don’t hesitate to voice concerns. You won’t be making any less if we have to delay this any further,” Creed called out.
“No need this time, Mr. Creed,” said one of the technicians confidently, “The pumps and IV drips are ready.”
“So is the mutagen dialysis interface,” announced another.
“We’re also wired up with plenty of juice,” said one of the workers, “The generators are going full throttle.”
“That means you should be getting your first round of data, Mr. Arcade.”
“It’s coming in as we speak and processing a million times faster,” affirmed Arcade, “We’re only missing two more ingredients at this point.”
“Then I suppose it’s all on Colonel Wraith’s shoulders now.”
Graydon Creed gave the Colonel a thumbs-up to indicate they were ready. Wraith nodded and signaled towards the side entrance to the research area. On command, the door opened and three Purifiers entered with a man in a wheelchair. Reverend Stryker had to look away when the man came into full view.
It was not a pretty sight. The man was horribly disfigured. His legs were frail and atrophied, his spine was bent awkwardly, and half his face was horribly scarred. This man was someone who had taken the brunt end of a brutal war. Wraith told him a bit about this man ahead of time. His descriptions didn’t do justice to the gruesome details.
“It’s time, Monsieur Jean-Philippe,” said Colonel Wraith as he welcomed the wounded man, “I hope you’re as excited about this treatment as the rest of us.”
“Don’t p-patronize me, C-Colonel,” said the man, stuttering heavily through a frail voice, “I use t-t-to only get excited when I-I had a mission or a woman, which e-e-ever came first.”
“Make it through this and you’ll have plenty of both,” assured Wraith, “That little stunt you pulled in Balkans rendered you wounded and impotent. Now you can get that vitality back, but it will come at a price.”
“I-I-I’ll pay it, gladly. I-I refuse t-t-to be a cripple. But know t-t-this. I’m nobody’s t-t-tool. I-I-I’ll be your soldier. I won’t be your s-s-slave.”
“I’m not asking you to be more than we need you to be. This is for mutual benefit, remember? You get what you want. I get what I want. The lesser details can be sorted out later. Now save your breath and your strength. You’re going to need it.”
The crippled Jean-Philippe tried to get more words out, but ended up going into a coughing fit. That was an unpleasant side-effect of having lungs burned from chemical weapons. What he had to say was inconsequential at this point. He already made his decision. Colonel Wraith didn’t force him like he had with Wolverine and Sabretooth. This was different and hopefully better for both sides in the long run.
Colonel Wraith stood back with Reverend Stryker and watched the Purifiers go to work. They wheeled the wounded soldier into the array just as the workers and technicians retreated behind safety barriers. The system was ready. It began and ended with this unfortunate yet fitting volunteer. He was pretty frail, looking like he little strength left in his wounded body. He keeled over into more coughing fits while the Purifiers were helping him onto the gurney.
“He seems oblivious,” commented Reverend Stryker, “Did you give him the full story?”
“I told him what he needed to know. That’s it,” said Colonel Wraith.
“I’ll take that as a no.”
“I doubt that would change his mind. Jean-Philippe wasn’t crippled at birth. He was born and raised in France. He moved to England where he joined the Royal Marines. It’s the only place a man like him could make a semi-honest living. I say semi-honest because for much of his life, he was your typical underground fighter. In the marines he got paid to fight dirty.”
“I figured he wasn’t the stereotypical European pacifist,” said the Reverend.
“He’s nothing of the sort,” said Wraith as he watched the Purifiers wire Jean-Philippe up with IVs, “Being a soldier didn’t just allow him to fight. It made it easier to follow his second great passion.”
“Let me guess. It’s something that involves explosions.”
“Not quite, but close. It involved women,” said Wraith with a grin, “He’s what men in your trade may call a professional hedonist. He did what made him feel good and never apologized for it until it came back to bite him.”
“Do I even want to know the details?” said the Reverend.
“It’s not as nefarious as you think. He was part of a counter-terrorism unit in the Balkans. While on a routine incursion, he had the misfortune of being caught in an ambush involving chemical munitions. Of his twelve-man squad, only he survived.”
“Lucky devil,” said the Reverend.
“Not really,” Wraith retorted, “He probably wishes he hadn’t survived. He’s been living out of a veteran’s hospital for the past five years. Wounded and disfigured, he can’t fight anymore nor can he woo women as he once did.”
“And somehow that qualifies him for being the first subject for Weapon Plus?” questioned Reverend Stryker.
“When you see the end result, you’ll realize how irrelevant that question is.”
Reverend Stryker looked towards the Colonel curiously. He enjoyed being coy when it came to his plans, which rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. It was part of what got him demoted. However, the Reverend was willing to overlook this provided Weapon Plus delivered the holy weapon it promised.
Once Jean-Philippe was strapped in, the Purifiers retreated behind the safety barriers along with the workers. As soon as they were set, Arcade and a few technicians proceeded with the next step. The machines were already humming with activity. The large dome over the gurney lit up with various electronics and started lowering so that it covered the wounded soldier.
“Is-is this normal?” Jean-Philippe called out from the gurney.
“We know what we’re doing. Don’t make us overthink,” said Graydon Creed from outside the dome, “Mr. Arcade, are we ready?”
“Just did a quick diagnostic. We’re all set,” affirmed Arcade from behind his console.
“Good,” said Colonel Wraith, “That means I can add the final ingredient.”
While Stryker and Creed got behind safety barriers, the Colonel approached a specific area on the outer section of the dome. In his hand was an unmarked briefcase he had been holding since they arrived. The contents within were rare and precious. He had to go to great lengths to obtain it, but it was painfully necessary to make this work.
With careful hands, Colonel Wraith opened up the briefcase and took out a cylindrical canister. Inside was a silvery blue substance that was as exotic as it was potent. After checking the substance, he carefully loaded the canister into the specific slot.
‘Shanobi Shaw may have screwed me over at the prison. At least I returned the favor. I doubt even he knew about this sample of techno-organic material. The luck I needed to obtain this is incalculable. I’ll have to return quite a few favors once Weapon Plus is fully operational.’
The Colonel made sure the substance was fully loaded. Once satisfied, he retreated back to the safety barriers with Graydon Creed, Reverend Stryker, and Arcade. The final piece that would make Weapon Plus a reality was in place.
“We’re officially ready,” said Colonel Wraith, “You may begin.”
“Not a moment too soon either,” said Arcade as he cracked his knuckles, “I’m running the protocols now and looking forward to some fireworks.”
“Does this mean I should keep my Purifiers on standby?” asked Reverend Stryker, “I know your history, Wraith. Experiments like these have a tendency to get messy.”
“Not this time, Reverend. We’re using an entirely different road to get to the same destination.”
“Based on what you told me about the history of Weapon X, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the finished product,” said Creed intently, “I can think of no more fitting tactic than to use the best of humanity to fight off the worst of mutant filth.”
Creed’s sentiment was shared by many. He, Wraith, and Stryker stood with burning anticipation. The moment of truth was upon them. Weapon Plus had begun.
Inside the dome, the crippled Jean-Philippe could barely make out what was going on. His dazed mind and damaged body didn’t even notice the IVs going into his flesh. It was even harder to understand what all this complex equipment above him was doing. There was a lot of electrical activity. Lights and sparks were flying everywhere. As this was going on, Jean-Phillipe noticed some strange fluids being pumped into the IV tubes. His anxiety grew as the fluid reached him. As soon as it entered his body, a new feeling consumed him.
“Hnn…It b-b-burns!” he grunted.
It was pain, but not of the kind he was used to. His insides started burning. His thoughts became incoherent and his body became rigid. For a moment, Jean-Philippe’s entire sense of self was thrown into disarray. His veins and muscles bulged in a grotesque display of bodily strain. Within minutes they swelled to nearly twice their normal size. His skin tightened and his whole physique started changing.
Through this agonizing procedure, Jean-Philippe thrashed and tensed within the restraints on the gurney. He was in such distress he didn’t notice an exotic silver fluid flow through the large IV tube going right into his neck. When this fluid entered him, his entire body underwent a radical transformation. The scars on his back and face were overrun by a dark grayish matter. His veins changed color, shifting from a purplish red to a light blue. His muscles continued bulging, so much so that it put great strain on the restraints keeping him on the gurney.
Soon, Jean-Phillipe had a build even greater than the one he had in his heyday as a Royal Marine. It was as if this silverish fluid was re-sculpting his body from the inside out, shaping him into a new man. It didn’t stop at his body either. This same fluid entered his brain where another painful transformation began.
“I-I f-f-feel it! It still burns! It…ARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!”
His pained cries were so load they could be heard outside the dome. Wraith, Stryker, and Creed remained oblivious while the workers and the Purifiers tried not to listen. There was some anxiety that this could turn into another Weapon X failure. However, Colonel Wraith remained completely confident.
“Wow…guess these computers aren’t as fancy as I thought. They can’t keep up with the new data!” said Arcade as he worked to keep up with the incoming streams of data.
“Should we start worrying now?” asked Reverend Stryker.
“Will you give it a rest, Reverend? It’s working,” said Colonel Wraith.
“If crashing the system was part of the plan, then mission accomplished,” said Arcade in a more urgent tone, “These medical readings that I’m totally unqualified to understand look serious. I’m not sure I’m even getting a pulse in this guy anymore.”
“Does that mean we’re losing our hapless volunteer?” asked Creed impatiently.
“Wait for it…” urged Wraith, ignoring their anxious gazes.
The next few moments were tense. A series of green lights lit up along the outer skin of the dome. There were more noises coming from within. It was hard to tell if they were cries for help or just random bursts of rage. Arcade remained confounded while the rest of the Purifiers gripped their weapons cautiously. For a moment, it seemed like something bad was about to happen. Then it all stopped.
There was a brief moment of silence. The lights flickered and the dome shook a bit. The computers were still going and data was still coming in. The technicians were still struggling to make sense of it. Finally, Arcade saw a new message pop up on one of his computer screens.
“Uh…I think it’s over,” he said.
“So it would seem,” said Graydon Creed, “But was it a success?”
Colonel Wraith didn’t answer. He kept on smiling as the dome over the central area rose. A thick wave of mist poured out. It obscured the view inside for a moment. Then a calm and imposing figure emerged from the mist. As he came into view, a series of confused and intrigued gasps echoed throughout the area.
Jean-Philippe looked like a new man in more ways than one. His body was no longer crippled. His physique was now perfectly toned, if not flawless. However, it was his skin that caught everybody’s attention. All over his body, there were strange silvery veins lining his flesh. They looked like circuits on a microchip. They especially dominated his face, surrounding a vacant expression that looked more machine than human.
“Good Lord!” gasped Reverend Stryker.
“Take a good look, gentlemen. You’re officially looking at the next generation in mutant containment,” proclaimed Colonel Wraith, “The best Weapon X had to offer now meets the best the sentinels had to offer. Jean-Phillipe is officially no more. Now he is Fantomex, the first but by no means the last of Weapon Plus.”
Fantomex returned from his first mission unscathed and vindicated. Like a machine, he obediently followed every order. He killed his predecessor, thus rendering him the only true living weapon. When he arrived at the base, he was greeted by the Purifiers, who led him into the secure complex to meet with his superiors.
Like the perfect soldier, he stood at attention before Colonel Wraith, Reverend Stryker, and Graydon Creed. The three men set up a special meeting area in a room adjacent to lab that made him Weapon Plus. Having already received a report before he left Los Angeles, they greeted Fantomex with much-deserved approval.
“Very nicely done, Fantomex,” said Colonel Wraith triumphantly, “You handled my old headache, Wolverine, better than expected. Not only did you kill him. You humiliated him. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to finally say that out loud.”
“He was weak and outdated,” said Fantomex in his mechanical tone, “He took the bait you gave me without reservation.”
“As I suspected he would,” affirmed the Colonel, “It’s yet another bonus left from Shanobi Shaw. While I don’t have much data on his little knock-off of his, I’m more than content to know that Weapon X has finally met his deservedly gruesome end.”
“Perhaps this will add to your contentment, sir.”
Fantomex knelt and presented the special knife he used to stab Wolverine. It was still stained with his blood and his scent. When Colonel Wraith grasped it, his hands trembled with excitement. At last he was free from the shadows of past failures. Weapon X was a taint on his record that he spent a lifetime trying to expunge. Now after all these years he both succeeded and improved on his original goal.
“I take it you’ll sleep much easier knowing your greatest failure won’t stab you in your sleep, Colonel,” commented Reverend Stryker.
“I’m too excited to sleep,” he replied with a seething grin, “This is big! We finally have a game-changing resource at our disposal. If Fantomex can take down a mutant as menacing as Wolverine, then there’s no mutant that can threaten us.”
“That will make expunging them from the face of this planet that much easier,” said Graydon Creed.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Graydon. We can’t just send Fantomex into the wild to start hunting down mutants. That would be tactically unsound.”
“Then what do we do next with our new crusader? Surely you’ve thought that far ahead,” said Reverend Stryker.
“You don’t become an officer without knowing a thing or two about strategy, Reverend. And the first rule any officer learns is that before you go off to war, you always have to make sure you’re in a position of authority.”
Colonel Wraith approached Fantomex with pride. The obedient figure stood as still as a statue. He was a far cry from snarling beasts like Wolverine and Sabretooth. A being of this power had the potential to accomplish Weapon X’s original goals and settle some old scores.
“As it stands right now, we are still enemies to the State. With General Grimshaw running the show, we’re in no position to do anything about the mutant menace,” explained Colonel Wraith.
“He has the President’s ear. He’s also the one that brokered the Genosha deal that has given the President plenty of incentive to avoid our crusade,” reminded Reverend Stryker, “I’m all for taking him on, but the man is quite entrenched.”
“The fight may be more fair than you think,” said the Colonel, not taking his eyes off Fantomex, “Recently, the General’s plan to imprison and prosecute rebellious mutants went horribly wrong. He found out the hard way that Fort Leavenworth wasn’t secure enough to contain these monsters. It has upset a key component of his initiative.”
“Is that supposed to surprise me in the slightest?” scoffed the Reverend.
“Hardly,” said Graydon Creed, “They’re finally learning that these monsters can never be controlled. We must convince the world that the only way humanity can be safe is to destroy them all.”
“That will take a lot of convincing, Graydon,” said Wraith, “And we’ll never move forward if General Nathan Grimshaw is still wearing a uniform. To bring him down from his perch, we have to show President Kelly that we have a better way.”
“And how do you intend to show him?” asked Reverend Stryker curiously.
Colonel Wraith kept grinning as he turned away from his creation. Stryker and Creed now showed more confidence in him. He rewarded their cooperation by showing them what Weapon Plus was capable of. They were both eager to use Fantomex to pursue a much bolder plan. While their zeal for fighting mutants was admirable, they could only succeed if they proceeded with the utmost tact.
“Like any good officer, we must present to him an enticing proposal,” he said, “As he stands, Fantomex won’t make much of an impression. One of the reasons he succeeded against Wolverine was because we provided him with the intelligence and resources to do so. Now the burden is on our shoulders to do this for other mutants.”
“There’s no shortage of mutants out there. We could always air-drop him on Genosha and show how he fares against the world’s most menacing rogue nation,” suggested Reverend Stryker.
“Tempting, but I think the President would be more impressed with something on the domestic front,” retorted Wraith, “There’s an entire ghetto of mutants in New York City that has been the source of many headaches. A demonstration there would leave quite an impact.”
“I think I know the area you’re talking about, but I’m somewhat hesitant to venture into that lion’s den a second time,” groaned Graydon Creed.
“I promise you this will turn out better,” assured the Colonel, “District X is perfect place to stage the next step in Weapon Plus. It’s a little step I call The World.”
“The World?” questioned Reverend Stryker, “Not very original, but this time I’ll cease my skepticism until I understand what it entails.”
“This one isn’t too difficult to explain, my friend. Let me put it to you this way…if we can ensure we’re always a step ahead of our enemies, then every mutant in our path will meet the same fate as Weapon X.”
Xavier Institute Infirmary – Later That Week
Former Weapon X-23 hated hospitals. Few places made her more uncomfortable. It reminded her too much of the labs that created the horrors she escaped. Nightmares and memories of this experience still plagued her with every breath she drew. So it was a little strange when she insisted on staying in the infirmary after she recovered from her clash with Fantomex.
Professor Charles Xavier said the poison had been flushed from her system and she had been given a clean bill of health. That didn’t really excite her. She remained cooped up in the infirmary, pushing away anyone who tried to talk to her. Jean Grey, Ororo Munroe, and Hank McCoy all attempted to be friendly with her, but she had no inclination to make friends. She really had no inclination to do much of anything at this point.
Alone and curled up in a fetal position, the girl once designated as X-23 completely shut herself off. She barely noticed when the infirmary doors opened and Logan entered.
“Hey kid. Still giving the silent treatment?” he asked as he approached her bed.
“Don’t call me kid,” she said flatly.
“Guess that’s a no,” said Logan with a slight grin, “If I called you Laura instead, would you at least try talking? Or do we need to resort to charades?”
The distraught girl didn’t answer this time, but Logan was not dissuaded. He pulled up a chair and sat down at her side so she was facing him. He was silent as well for a moment. He had a lot of questions for this girl. She wasn’t in any condition to answer them so he settled for something simpler. If this girl really was connected to his past and to Weapon X, then that made her a part of the never-ending struggle that was his life.
“Before you get hostile on me, you should know I didn’t come to annoy you. I just brought you a change of clothes. Kitty’s about your size and she’s got so much carp in her closet she could afford a little charity,” said Logan as he laid out a set of clothes on a nearby table.
“I don’t need your charity,” said Laura as she turned over to look away.
“Well what are you gonna wear? The clothes you had on before were ripped to shreds,” he pointed out, “Besides, that shit was hooker gear. You shouldn’t be wearing that to begin with.”
“Why not? It’s how I’ve survived.”
“By what? Turning tricks for dirt-bags with a thing for under-aged girls? That ain’t survival. That’s…hell, I don’t know what the hell that is.”
“What do you know? And why do you even care?” she said bitterly.
“Don’t do this to me again, Laura. You talk like I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t give a shit when I finds out someone cloned me.”
“It’s not just that, Wolverine. If you really cared, you would have let me die. That’s what I wanted you to do the first time I found you. That’s why I’ve been avoiding you all this time. Because if you can’t end this for me, then I don’t want to bother with you.”
Logan muttered some curses to himself as he set the clothes atop a nearby stand. This was unknown territory for him. This was unknown territory for anybody. This poor girl was every bit as damaged as he was. Talking to troubled youths was Professor Xavier’s expertise, but he could not dump this burden on someone else this time. He was the only one who understood this girl. He may be the only one who could help her.
“So that’s all you want? To end it?” said Logan a bit more harshly, “Hate to break it to you, but you and me are pretty durable. Death doesn’t come easy to us.”
“Don’t remind me,” she said bitterly.
“You know, maybe you ain’t my clone after all. I sure as hell ain’t that big a coward…fixing to die rather than hunt down the assholes who made my life so miserable.”
Laura turned over and shot Logan an angry gaze. Even if she had a death wish, she didn’t take kindly to being called a coward. Her glare did little to dissuade Logan. He continued to look at her in a way that made her feel vulnerable in a way she was not used to.
“I want to help you, Laura. I want to take down the assholes who made you X-23. Even if you would rather pack it in, I ain’t gonna stop fighting.”
“Whatever,” she muttered, hiding her anger within a bitter sorrow.
“And while I’m out doing what you won’t, you’re free to stay here. I spoke with the Prof and he can set you up for as long as you want.”
“I don’t want to…” she began, but Logan finished for her.
“Yeah, I know. You don’t care for charity,” said Logan dryly, “I’m guessing you got a burning urge to break outta here. I know because that’s what I tried to do when I first woke up in this place. And I can tell you flat out that it’s a mistake. There’s nothing out there that’s gonna make the pain go away. The more you run from it, the more it hurts. Do you really wanna put yourself through that?”
Laura closed her eyes and turned away again. She could still feel Logan’s gaze on her. It struck her in a way she couldn’t escape. She was tempted to lash out at him. It came as an even greater surprise when Logan placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“I’ll leave you to figure it out,” he told her, “In the meantime, I’m gonna look for Fantomex. If you want join the fight, you’re more than welcome. But before you decide anything, I’ll give you the same advice I got when I was in your position…stop and think. For once, don’t follow those crazy killer instincts. Think about what you’re gonna do, what you want, and how you wanna go about getting it. I wanna be there for you, but only if you’re gonna keep fighting.”
He kept a gentle hand on her for a bit longer before leaving her to make her choice. She didn’t respond, but Logan knew she had listened. If she was truly his clone, she would make the right decision. For once, nobody was going to make it for her.
Once Logan left, Laura felt cold and alone again. His warm touch left some lingering feelings. They were feelings she still didn’t understand and running from them was the easiest way out. But it was also cowardly and she was not created to be a coward. She wasn’t created to have anything resembling free will either. That left her at an impasse.
‘Keep fighting or run…what do I do? Why do I have to feel this way? Why does it have to be this hard?’
In thinking about it, as Logan had suggested, she grew even more conflicted. She turned over and found herself staring at the set of clothes Logan left for her. They consisted of a simple pair of blue jeans, a red shirt, and underwear. But there was also something else beneath it that didn’t look like ordinary clothes.
Curious, Laura unfolded them. She saw that the other outfit was a uniform. It was all black with a large red X on the chest. Logan certainly didn’t leave it here by accident. He was clearly sending her a message.
As she looked at this uniform, she thought back to Fantomex. She thought back to where she came from as well, recalling all the horrors she had faced. It was through these horrors that her choice became clear. Clenching this uniform, she knew what she had to do and made a fateful choice.
Church of Humanity – Archive
The Lord worked in mysterious way. Many pastors, prophets, and preachers said this on a regular basis. Father Ryan Hansen had used it once or twice during his sermons, but he often went out of his way to avoid it. He saw it as a theological dead end, a fanciful way for people to avoid saying they didn’t have a clue. He was humble enough to admit his ignorance. But when it came to how God managed the heavens, he didn’t believe in mysteries. He believed that God heeded the cries of his children.
The recent visit of Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men was a big moment for his church. After talking with them, he believed he now played a larger part in God’s plan. The X-men now considered his church an ally. He spent the last few days sending them materials on his church’s activities and his plans to reach out to mutants and humans alike. Charles Xavier was generous enough to provide materials of his own, including a generous cash donation and how to handle certain mutant abilities. It promised to usher in a bold new partnership that would serve God’s plan in many ways.
He was so excited that he hadn’t slept in over a day. He spent much of his time in the archive, making plans and sending the Xavier Institute scans of his research. He had been hunched over the same desk for hours at this point. His concentration was only broken when an unexpected visitor entered the room.
“Father Hansen, I need to speak with you,” said a troubled Isaac.
“Isaac, I thought we agreed you would rest that overworked mind of yours,” said Father Hansen as he looked up from his desk.
“I know. I’ve been trying. But my mind simply can’t keep up with my spirit. It rarely does, especially I’ve done so little to make up for my recent transgressions.”
Father Hansen sighed and rose up to confront his troubled friend. Isaac was a rare soul whose piety was more of a burden than a blessing. He often took it upon himself to atone for more sins than the average soul, of which he had many. He offered him a concerned gesture, but Isaac didn’t accept it. He would not allow this burden to be eased.
“My friend, you must stop doing this to yourself,” urged Father Hansen, “I know your spirit was hardened while you were with the Branch Davidians. They put the fear of God into your soul more than they did the love of God.”
“My soul isn’t hardened. It’s merely brittle,” he retorted, “You were the only one willing to piece it together after I left that unholy path. I understand now that I was misguided. After you welcomed me into the Church of Humanity, I’m ready to return to the righteous path.”
“While I’m honored you have embraced my church, you tend to let your passions get the better of you. That’s why you need to rest and pray.”
“No Father Hansen. That’s the last thing I need,” said Isaac strongly, “The past two incidents with the X-men are still burdens on my soul. I must do something to repent.”
The impassioned man clasped his hands together in an effort to plead with Father Hansen. It put him in an awkward position. Isaac made it clear that he could not simply turn off that passion of his. He needed something to hold his wounded soul together.
“Please try to calm yourself, Isaac,” said Father Hansen with a calming gesture, “How exactly do you seek to repent?”
“I’ve already worked that out. Some of the mutants at our last mass told me there has been an influx of new mutants into District X. The recent prison escape at Fort Leavenworth has put many mutants in precarious predicaments.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that news as well. Are you suggesting we expand our reach to this area?”
“We must do more than just expand. Some of these mutants are quite wounded, both physically and spiritually. Allow me to go there and help heal them with the power of the Holy Spirit. It would be the most fitting way for me to make up for my previous outbursts.”
He was driven. Isaac was never one to do anything halfway. Father Hansen always admired that about him, but it also worried him. Isaac did not respond well when he was pushed and there were a lot of unholy forces out there that would push him.
He still contemplated this proposal seriously. There was plenty of merit in becoming more active in District X, but he doubted that it would be without complications. However, he also knew he could never keep Isaac’s spirit contained within the walls of his church. With this in mind, he made a decision.
“Please Father Hansen! All I ask of you is a chance,” he said more desperately.
“Okay Isaac. I’ll give you my blessing,” said Father Hansen in a calmer tone.
“Oh thank you, sir! I promise I won’t let you down.”
“Don’t worry about letting me down. We’re all part of a much bigger plan now. We can’t be selfish when it comes to our own souls. We have to trust God and place the souls of others before us.”
“I understand. God will put me in the right place to do my penance. That I’m sure of.”
Xavier Institute – War Room
It had been a rough couple of days at the Xavier Institute. In that time, the team caught its collective breath. Classes were back in session. Ororo went back to teaching lessons for Kitty, Remy, Piotr, Betsy, and Bobby. In the meantime Professor Xavier worked extensively with Hank and Tessa on learning more about this techno-organic material. Scott and Jean were present as well, opting to make up their classes in order to help with this dangerous new threat.
“So let me get this straight…that same techno-organic material that you used to save Logan and Laura was also behind Fantomex?” said a baffled Jean Grey.
“I’m not saying I know for sure. I’m drawing likely conclusions from what Logan told me,” said the ever stoic Tessa, “He mentioned that Fantomex shed silver blood. That confirms what I’ve long feared. Someone has implemented my research.”
“Just who could that someone be?” pondered Scott Summers.
“Given how complex the science is behind this research, the list is quite short,” said Hank.
“We’ll need to narrow that list even more. If attacking Logan was merely a demonstration, there’s no doubt they’ll try to attack again in a much bolder manner,” said Professor Xavier, rubbing his head from another headache.
There were plenty of blanks to be filled. Professor Charles Xavier urged Tessa to stay at the mansion to help them figure this out. Thanks to her, they were able to save Logan and Laura from certain death. Her revelations about her techno-organic research proved instrumental in devising a treatment. That same treatment, however, was now being scrutinized for another reason. And that scrutiny caused all sorts of havoc on the Professor’s already precarious health.
“Are you going to be okay, Professor? You’ve been rubbing your head like that for the last hour,” said Jean.
“I’m fine, Jean. Just more frustrated than usual,” he replied, closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
“We all are, Charles,” said Hank, “I would have a headache too if I had been trying to get in touch with General Grimshaw for the past five hours.”
“He’s still not returning your calls?” said Scott.
“I’ve left multiple voice mails, but I’m not expecting him to return them anytime soon,” said the Professor, “The General and I haven’t spoken much since the incident at Fort Leavenworth. I suspect he’s been on damage control with the President.”
“Do you think that’s all he’s doing?” said the X-leader skeptically, “He seemed pretty upset with us after we let those prisoners escape.”
“How was that our fault? It’s not like the man advertised that prison as being perfect,” said Jean.
The timing of this incident couldn’t have been worse. Relations between the MSA and the X-men were strained at best. Now they were on the brink of breaking down completely. The trust between Charles Xavier and General Grimshaw had been shaken. He could even abandon it completely if the X-men gave him too many reasons to do so.
“He has every right to be upset. The system we’ve worked so hard to build has been letting us down,” sighed the Professor, now seeming to collect himself, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this Fantomex has shown up just as the MSA is dealing with these recent failures.”
“Even if it is a coincidence, I’m more concerned about someone exploiting it,” said Tessa, “Based on what Wolverine told me, Fantomex has all the skills and tactics that I expected while I was developing my techno-organic matter.”
“If the beating he took was any indication, I would say the science is settled,” said Scott, “Are there any other parts of this techno-organic goop you can tell us about?”
“Without actually seeing the man, I can only speculate. But on a strictly scientific level, the possibilities are pretty terrifying,” said Tessa as she started pacing.
Using her computer-like mind, Tessa brought up an image on the War Room’s holographic computer. She had configured a model based on what Wolverine told her. With this information, she formed a rudimentary image of what they could be dealing with. It wasn’t very detailed, displaying a muscular man dressed in a white body suit. With only her research to go by, Tessa contemplated all the grim scenarios.
“If the people behind this abomination are resourceful, they would have exploited the mutagenic synthesis properties of the techno-organic matter,” said Tessa as she manipulated parts of the hologram.
“And is that a bad thing or a really bad thing?” asked Jean.
“It depends. What this means they can use it to manifest certain abilities on par with advanced mutations. Since he barely flinched when Wolverine stabbed him, I suspect a healing factor was one of those abilities.”
“So does that mean this stuff turned him into a mutant?” asked Scott.
“Not necessarily, Scott,” said Professor Xavier, “If it did, Cerebrum would have picked up on it. I already did a scan of the Los Angeles area and found no such mutant manifestations.”
“And for good reason,” added Tessa, “The material doesn’t induce mutation. It doesn’t have to. The techno-organic material can manifest those effects without the fuss of having mutant DNA. However, the breadth of those mutant-like skills is limited. EVA isn’t equipped to manifest high level mutations like telepathy, telekinesis, or ice powers.”
“So what else could it impart?” asked Jean, “Anything besides the advanced skills of some super strong, super-fast, super-killing assassin?”
“Not a whole lot, unless the people who stole my research managed to overcome some major limitations. For now, I suspect Fantomex is limited to enhanced healing, agility, senses, and strength. He did mention he was Weapon Plus so we can probably assume he’s like a Wolverine 2.0.”
“All the skills with none of the attitude,” said Scott, “That’s a pretty deadly combination. It also narrows that list of who could be behind this.”
“Indeed it does,” said Professor Xavier intently.
His thoughts quickly drifted to Weapon X. They seemed like the most logical suspects. Weapon X had been dormant for quite some time, but no one assumed they were completely gone. John Wraith was still out there and so was Dr. Cornelius. If they were to question anybody about Fantomex, they would certainly be a good starting point.
“I think we’ve all come to that conclusion by now, Professor. Weapon X certainly has the know-how and the malice to do something like this,” said Hank.
“Plus, the whole Weapons Plus label is sort of a give-away,” added Jean.
“It seems quite likely, which is why I’ve been trying to get a hold of General Grimshaw,” said Professor Xavier, “He knows John Wraith. He has almost as much respect for him as he does for Toad at the moment.”
“I don’t know this Wraith character, but he sounds like an arrogant prick,” said Tessa.
“That would be flattering, to say the least,” said Scott.
“If that’s true, then it poses another potentially greater danger,” said Tessa as she resumed her pacing, “If he’s the one that stole my research, I doubt he and his people understand it as well as I do. They probably don’t know that I was never able to perfect EVA’s AI protocols.”
“Exactly what kind of danger could that pose?” asked Jean.
“You’ve seen all the Terminator movies, Jean. That should give you an idea of what an imperfect AI is capable of. EVA may be working for Weapon Plus now, but those imperfections are bound to catch up with them sooner or later. When they do, there’s no telling what EVA may attempt. I programmed her with the intent of organizing and controlling mutant manifestations. It doesn’t take much imagination to surmise how that could go wrong.”
It was a notion nobody wanted to contemplate. It seemed almost as dangerous as the men behind Weapon X having someone like Fantomex at their disposal. An underdeveloped AI could add all sorts of complications at a time when they could ill-afford such a major conflict.
For Tessa, the larger implications weren’t quite as dire as the personal implications. This was her creation. Even if Weapon X was responsible for unleashing it, she had been responsible for creating it. Any damage it did would be her burden to bear. She had to hide so many fears under her stoic demeanor. Only Hank could surmise the conflict raging inside her.
“We won’t let it get that far. We’ll find Fantomex and the nefarious men behind it,” said Hank confidently as he attempted to console his lover.
“We already have leads,” said Scott, “If we can get through General Grimshaw’s irritated mood, then we can have both the X-men and the entire US Government come down on Colonel Wraith.”
“We’re not backed into a corner just yet,” said Professor Xavier, “We can overcome this if you’re willing to let us help you, Tessa.”
Tessa allowed her emotions to show again. She even managed a smile of sorts, relieved to see that she had earned the trust of the X-men. Saving Wolverine certainly helped. Now they were looking to return the favor and she was fully willing to embrace them.
Before she could though, her cell-phone went off. When she looked down to see the message displayed on it, this moment was abruptly ended. The burden of her past had no intention of giving her time to prepare for the consequences of her arrogance.
“It would appear we’ll have to work together in a different capacity now. Bishop is reporting some activity in District X that demands my attention,” she said as she looked over her phone.
“What kind of activity?” asked Hank anxiously.
“If the number of F-bombs he dropped in this message is any indication, I assume it’s not the pleasant kind.”
This put a serious damper on their efforts. Professor Xavier’s headache returned to him while Scott and Jean groaned in exasperation.
“Is this something else the X-men can help with?” asked Scott.
“No. District X is still my responsibility,” replied Tessa, “Besides, someone needs to keep researching Fantomex and the X-men are the only ones equipped to do so.”
“But you know more about this techno-organic material than we do,” argued Professor Xavier, “We need your assistance in figuring out the extent of this new threat.”
“In addition to figuring out how we’re going to stop it as well,” added Jean.
“I’ve already provided Hank with all the data on my research. His lab is more than capable of unlocking whatever secrets I’ve yet to unlock. You also need to keep pushing General Grimshaw. If Weapon X is active again, we need to corral them before Fantomex becomes another entry in their long list of fiascos.”
It wasn’t the best way with which to deal with this problem, but Tessa would not be dissuaded. She had already turned off the War Room computer and was gathering her things. District X was her home. Nothing the X-men could do would keep her from protecting it.
“We’ll do what we can, Tessa,” assured Professor Xavier, “Thanks again for all your assistance.”
“I’ll only be worthy of that thanks if we destroy Weapon Plus and every trace of my research,” she said in a tone burning with more emotion than she was used to.
“Then be sure to keep us in the loop,” said Scott, “We’ll need to keep helping each other if we’re all going to succeed.”
“I will,” Tessa affirmed.
She was about to rush out of the War Room. Before she could get too ahead of herself, Hank grasped her arm and turned her back around. He was probably the only force on the planet right now that could stop her from rushing back to District X.
“Wait Tessa, you’ll need this before you leave,” he told her.
Hank pulled her into a quick yet passionate kiss, helping to stir more emotion in her usually stoic demeanor. It surprised her at first, but she found herself kissing back. From this simple gesture, she drew a strength that she sorely needed.
“Indeed I do. How could I be so forgetful?” she said with a slight smile.
“Keep it in that powerful memory of yours,” said Hank, “It may be possible to bear one burden on your own. But when others start overwhelming you, that’s when the value of friends and lovers becomes most important.”
“Let’s go, Lara! We’re burning daylight here,” said a more forceful than usual Jubilee.
“Slow down and shut up while you’re at it, Jubilee. We’re not even supposed to be here,” said a breathless and anxious Lara King.
“Says Mr. I’d-Rather-Hide-Than-Fight, otherwise known as Bishop.”
“Who is in charge last I checked. This is the sort of thing that got Alex Summers in trouble.”
“You know, for someone who goes by an unoriginal nickname like Lara the Illusionists, you don’t lie to yourself enough,” retorted Jubilee, “And if you’re going to take some chances, you can’t be afraid of a little trouble.”
A little trouble was hardly an accurate description of the situation in District X. Lara King, who had been a resident since this all-mutant community began, was not used to breaking the rules. Less than an hour ago, Bishop and Multiple sent out an emergency message to every resident. They were officially on high alert. A new threat had emerged for District X and everybody was expected to follow the necessary protocols.
It all started early in the day. District X was going about its business as always. Tessa was on a leave of absence so Bishop, Jubilee, and Multiple walked the streets to keep an eye on things. Then mutants started disappearing. There were no cries for help. They just vanished without a trace. After what happened with Pixie during the Bastion incident, this did not bode well. Now everyone was on lockdown. Nobody was to leave their homes and everybody had to keep track of everybody. That’s what put Lara in such an awkward position.
Lara was one of Jubilee’s close friends. She had been a runaway since she was 15, shortly after her mutant abilities manifested. She had the ability to form vivid illusions and she didn’t always use that ability very wisely. One such use involved blackmailing one of her teachers at school. This ended with her being expelled and kicked out of her house. She wandered aimlessly for a while until she found District X. She usually didn’t get caught up in Jubilee’s guard duties. But since she was breaking the rules again, she needed some form of backup. She also needed cover in the form of her illusions.
“Are you still up for this, Lara?” asked Jubilee as she stopped near a vacant curb, “I need you to make sure we’re as invisible as two teenage girls can be.”
“The best I can do is making it look like we’re a couple of flies. I wish I could make us completely invisible, but that’s not how my powers work,” said Lara, who had to lean over and catch her breath.
“I hope it’s enough. We don’t know what or who we’re dealing with here other than they’re fond of abducting innocent mutants.”
“You think it could be those Friends of Humanity goons again?”
“If it is, they’re in for another painful lesson,” said Jubilee strongly.
The young mutant made her way down the M-street. This was an area right along boarder between District X and the rest of New York City. It was not far from where their friend, Pixie, was abducted and beaten by the Friends of Humanity. It seemed like a good place to start, although Lara had reservations.
Jubilee was acting more reckless than usual. Lara couldn’t remember struggling this much to keep up with her. She had always been dedicated to protecting District X, especially after what happened with Alex Summers. However, this felt different. She gave the impression that there were other reasons for this behavior.
“Is it really just the Friends of Humanity you want to beat up on?” asked Lara, having to jog to stay close, “Or have you found some bizarre way to make this personal?”
“Our friends and neighbors are being abducted in broad daylight. It’s already personal,” said Jubilee as she carefully scanned the vacant areas of District X.
“I meant personal in another way. You’ve been pretty moody lately. Does this have something to do with Bobby Drake’s last visit?”
“Can we please not talk about Bobby Drake?” she groaned, “We’re kind of in the middle of a crises here.”
“All the more reason to bring it up. You’re usually not so aggressive when it comes to breaking the rules,” argued Lara, “He’s been bugging you lately. I get that. What I don’t get is why it’s getting to you.”
Jubilee ignored her remarks as she carefully scanned a string of buildings along the street. Most of these buildings were vacant or used for storage. She saw a few mutants inside huddling close together, waiting for the crisis to pass. Some even waved to her, but she didn’t wave back. Lara didn’t make her feel that friendly by bringing up Bobby Drake. They were still going out together in their usual capacity. But for some reason, that had become a problem.
“It used to be that he annoyed you whenever he wanted to get serious,” Lara went on, “I know your policy towards boyfriends. You’re not looking to get attached. For whatever reason, this has been a problem for Bobby.”
“This isn’t far from where the third mutant disappeared earlier today,” said Jubilee, still not acknowledging Lara’s words, “I’m not seeing any CSI style clues here.”
“Then something changed,” said Lara, “First, there was that incident when you last visited him, which left you with a nasty concussion.”
“More like two,” muttered Jubilee under her breath.
“So Bobby tries to make it up to you, but things stay rocky. He keeps giving off vibes that he’s not respecting your attachment policy. Then for some reason I can’t begin to understand, he got upset when you weren’t jealous about that Amara girl he told you about.”
“What? The one he saw naked?” she said, finally acknowledging Lara’s comments, “Big deal! He’s seen me naked too.”
“That’s where I get confused,” said Lara, “He comes clean, you’re okay with it, and he’s not even relieved. Did you send the wrong message or something? That maybe not being jealous hurt his feeling somehow?”
“He’s Bobby Drake. He’s known for juggling snowballs. Not for his critical thinking skills.”
“Be that as it may, it’s clearly frustrating you as much as it’s frustrating him. Why else would you two keep upsetting one another?”
Jubilee walked with less urgency. Lara’s words finally forced her to slow down. Even if this wasn’t time to discuss personal matters. But as she looked into more unlit buildings, she realized how distracted she was. Bobby Drake had done a number on her since they hooked up. Since he was an X-man, he set the bar pretty high. Meeting him on that same level was challenging in more ways than she expected.
“We’re letting this affect our work here, Lara, But I’ll admit it anyways. I’m messed up about Bobby,” she told her friend, “I’m starting to wonder if we’re hitting that proverbial wall. The guy wants more out of this relationship than I do. We aren’t seeing eye-to-eye anymore and it’s getting to me. Maybe after this is over, you can sit down with us and act as a mediator or something. Would you be willing to lend that kind of support?”
Jubilee expected Lara to refuse outright or run full speed in the opposite direction. She may have been a friend, but friendship had its limits. Yet surprisingly, she heard nothing. Rolling her eyes, Jubilee turned around.
“Okay, that’s probably asking too much, but I…”
The young mutant froze. As soon as she turned around, she realized why Lara hadn’t said anything. Somehow she had been so distracted that she didn’t realize an imposing figure in a white body suit sneak up on her, put her into a choke hold, and press his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t speak. It happened so quickly and silently that it could only have been pulled off by the same man who abducted those mutants.
“Whoa!” she gasped, “I don’t recall you being a resident of District X.”
“Pardon me for interrupting your conversation, Madam. But the mission of Weapon Plus takes precedent over your trivial life,” said a stern yet calm Fantomex.
“I’ll show you trivial!” spat Jubilee.
The young mutant fired off a blinding burst of energy blasts. It lit up a good portion of the street. However, it did no damage to Fantomex. With Lara King still firmly in his arms, he maneuvered out of the path of the attack so he was now behind the bewildered Jubilee. He moved so fast it almost seemed instantaneous. Even Lara was impressed.
“Your retaliation is as pathetic as your friend’s illusions,” said Fantomex, who easily maintained his grip on Lara despite her struggles, “With my enhanced senses, they were no more difficult to uncover than a typo on a child’s essay.”
“You sound pretty full of yourself. You’re definitely the kind of asshole who would abduct innocent mutants in the middle of the day,” spat Jubilee.
“There are no innocents. There are only targets. And you and your friend here happen to be one of them.”
Washington DC – White House
General Nathan Grimshaw had been in a constant hurry lately. Progress was no longer the objective. Saving face had become a top priority. The Mutant Security Agency was shown to be weak and ineffective. It was a harsh dose of reality that prompted him to re-think his approach. It didn’t make him any friends. He still wasn’t on speaking terms with Charles Xavier. Now much of his time was now spent discussing a new course of action. He also had to spend a lot of time reassuring President Kelly that he could fix this.
His mission was rapidly changing. He was on his way to a closed door session that he was already late for. Along the way he made a secure call to Captain Freeman, who had been consumed with other duties not related to their current crisis.
“Are you sure you want me to halt my investigation, sir? I’m not ignoring that angry tone in your voice, but the more I look into Sebastian Shaw, the more I want to shoot him. This guy has done way worse than just help Graydon Creed escape prison.”
“The affairs Shaw Industries are officially a secondary concern, Captain. We’ve got a lot on our plate at the moment and we need to focus on the main course before we can get to desert,” said the General sternly.
“If the President is as upset about the prison break as you said he was, maybe I should lay low. I doubt he’ll want to hear from a mutant right now.”
“That’s exactly why I need you here,” retorted Grimshaw, “The very existence of the MSA is being called into question. Even I’m starting to question my own assumptions about mutants.”
“Should I be worried, sir?”
“We should all be worried, Captain. As it stands, our current policy is failing. The MSA and the X-men couldn’t stop Toad from escaping justice. The President, and the public for that matter, are not going to give us a mulligan here. They want a better way of doing things and they want it one week ago.”
“And what exactly would that entail? With all due respect, General, if they’re on the extreme end, then they’re usually not better.”
“That’s what I intend to discuss with President Kelly. I have my own ideas, but at the moment every option is on the table.”
“Some of those options could be pretty dangerous, sir.”
“Which is exactly why you need to get back to Washington within two hours,” said the General strongly, “I need you and everyone else in the MSA on hand. Whatever the President decides, I doubt we’ll have much time to react.”
General Grimshaw ended the call. It was unusual for him to speak to his most trusted soldier so harshly, but he was on edge in way too many ways. In the back of his mind he understood Captain Freeman’s reservations. Whatever decision the President made regarding mutants, it was going to affect him. It offered all the more motivation to do the right thing or at least do what was least harmful.
Upon putting his phone away, the General fixed his uniform and prepared to enter the meeting. This was a portion of the White House that was sound proofed and highly secure. Only those with top level clearance could set foot inside. He was among the few with that clearance, but at the moment it was more a burden than a privilege.
‘I should never try bullshitting Jack Freeman. He’s not that bright, but he knows our situation. He also knows he’ll be on the chopping block if President Kelly decides to go back on some of our agreements. Of all the people to blame for this clusterfuck, he’s the least deserving. Damn you, Charles Xavier! Why couldn’t you stop Toad before he made such a mess of everything?’
General Grimshaw took a deep breath to prepare himself for what was sure to be a tense meeting. Two Secret Service agents stood by the chamber door and checked his identification before letting him in. But as soon as he walked into the room though, he was greeted with an unexpected and unpleasant sight.
“Ah, glad you could join us, General,” said Colonel John Wraith, who looked too content sitting next to President Kelly.
“Jonathan Wraith?!” exclaimed the General, “How in God’s name did you get clearance for this meeting?”
“I gave it to him, General,” said President Kelly, who stood up along with a few of his Joint Chief officials, “There has been a change in the agenda.”
“If it came on behalf of this man, Mr. President, I assure you it’s a mistake.”
“I don’t think you’re in a position to point out mistakes, General,” said Wraith smugly, “You and your Mutant Security Agency made a promise to this government and you haven’t kept it. So I’m here to offer an alternative and the President has chosen to hear me out.”
“And before you make a scene General, please understand that you brought this on yourself,” reminded the President, “You forced me to consider alternatives and Colonel Wraith has offered something very promising.”
“And I intend to keep that promise,” he said with an ominous grin, “As we speak, my people are preparing a little demonstration. If you’re interested, General, you’re welcome to see for yourself.”
General Grimshaw scolded Wraith with a gaze that could melt steel. This man was trying to usurp him. He wasn’t even trying to hide it. Since he was under the harsh scrutiny of the President and the Joint Chiefs, he was in no position to call him out. All he could do was wait to see what John Wraith had in store and prepare to be disgusted.
“You want to complete your mission, pal? You gotta go through me!” yelled a defiant Jubilee.
“If you insist,” replied Fantomex flatly.
Jubilee fired off another high-powered burst towards Fantomex. She aimed right for his head so as to avoid Lara, who was still stuck in his grasp. He avoided the burst just as he did before. This time Jubilee wasn’t impressed. She kept on firing, going on the move as well so she didn’t give this guy an easy target. He continued dodging at superhuman speeds, moving in a blur all across the street.
It was a lot more than Jubilation Lee expected to find. She found what she was looking for. This man was definitely behind the earlier string of abductions. He moved so swiftly and stealthily. It looked as though he wasn’t even trying. He was toying with. He probably did the same with all the other mutants he abducted. That made him the only one capable of these crimes and Jubilee had no intention of letting those crimes go unpunished.
“Hold still! And let go of Lara while you’re at it,” she grunted through her blinding energy busts, “What kind of asshole uses a teenage girl as a human shield?”
“I was merely trying to prevent her from helping you escape,” said Fantomex calmly, “But if you wish to remove her as a variable, I can certainly oblige.”
The imposing figure pulled off an acrobatic flip over a parked car, which ended up taking the brunt end of Jubilee’s attack. It damaged and dented the car, eventually setting it on fire. Upon seeing this, Jubilee halted her attack. During this window, Fantomex tightened his grip on Lara. He held her up about a foot off the ground, showing no concern as she struggled to break free.
“Let me go!” grunted Lara.
“As you wish,” said Fantomex.
But before he obliged her, he released one hand from her waist and roughly struck a small area around her neck. This strike hit a nerve cluster that made Lara’s body go entirely limp.
“Augh!” she cried out.
It was like someone short-circuited her body. Her face contorted awkwardly as she lost consciousness. Once she was out cold, Fantomex tossed her limp body against a boarded up building like it was a rag doll. Upon seeing this, Jubilee was even more enraged.
“What did you do to her?!” she exclaimed.
“I did exactly as you requested. I let her go. She is alive, but only to the extent that she remains a part of my mission,” replied Fantomex.
“Whatever this part or mission is, I’m going to ruin it and you!”
Jubilee unleashed another barrage of energy blasts. Now that Lara wasn’t in the way, she didn’t have to hold back. She fired off the biggest fireworks display she could manage without setting fire to the surrounding buildings. It engulfed the entire street, shattering lights and blowing out a few windows. It was so bright that Jubilee couldn’t see if Fantomex dodged it this time. When the light and noise faded, he was nowhere in sight.
Still cautious, Jubilee carefully scanned the scorched area for any signs of him. She remained ready to fire back at a moment’s notice, keeping all her senses on high alert. She expected any number of surprises from this mysterious yet devious figure. However, it still came as a complete shock when she felt two powerful arms grab her from behind.
“Ow! How did you…” she grunted.
“I don’t recall your role in my mission being a matter of choice,” said Fantomex, who had skillfully avoided the attack and snuck up right behind her, “Now you and your friend will join the others in preparation for the next step.”
“The only step left for you is getting your ass kicked!”
“Such an outcome would not be highly unlikely and not conducive to the mission,” he scoffed.
Jubilee struggled defiantly, even shooting off a few more energy blasts. Fantomex kept a firm grip on her arms so she couldn’t aim towards him. That minimized the threat she posed. No matter what she said, she would join her friend in his mission.
Fantomex was prepared to knock Jubilee out just as he had done with Lara King. Then an unexpected obstacle emerged in the form of a powerful red energy beam that struck his blindside. This time he was the one off guard. The red beam had been so powerful it caused him to lose his grip on Jubilee, but he maintained his balance by using his unique abilities to manifest a more durable form.
“Hmm…what’s this?” he wondered as he was pushed back by the beam.
“That would be us, sucka!” came the angry voice of Lucas Bishop.
“The ass-kicking our friend just mentioned…it’s more likely than you think,” said Multiple, who was standing right next to him.
Bishop and Multiple emerged from an alley between two buildings from across the street. They rushed to Jubilee’s aid. As they ran, Multiple made three dozen copies of himself. Every one of those copies swarmed Fantomex, giving him no room to evade or run.
Despite this show of force, Fantomex remained undaunted. All that was different now was the number of the annoyances hindering his mission.
“By resisting you’re making this all the more painful for your kind,” warned Fantomex.
“By our kind do you mean us here in District X? Or mutants all over the world? Or just everyone who’s not dumb enough to dress like a lazy ninja?” said one of the Multiple clones.
“Because either way, that gives us plenty of reason to teach you a painful lesson in tolerance,” said another.
The three dozen clones all converged around Fantomex. They tried to dog-pile him and hold him down. Fantomex responded with a defensive stance and skillfully fought back. He roughly shoved off the initial wave with ease, but the second wave was a bit trickier. So many bodies made it difficult to maneuver with his usual speed. The attack quickly bogged him down, allowing Bishop and the original Multiple to reach Jubilee.
“You just had to go out looking for trouble, didn’t you girl?” scolded Bishop as he helped her up.
“Hiding is not my style. I assumed you knew that,” said Jubilee as she shook off some lingering soreness.
“I assumed you would be smarter. Guess I was wrong,” he quipped.
“We’ll discuss disciplinary measures later,” said Multiple, “Now what’s the story on this guy?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” groaned Jubilee, “He says he’s on a mission and for some reason it involves abducting mutants.”
“That part we figured. And he’s doing this all by himself?”
“He’s more skilled than that ridiculous outfit implies. He was even able to see through Lara’s illusions and sneak up on us.”
“Must have some superhuman shit going for him like Bastion!” said Bishop, “You sure he’s the chump behind the abductions?”
Before Jubilee could answer, a series of groans rang out from Multiple’s army of duplicates. In a show of strength, Fantomex shoved off seven Multiples who were trying to pile on top of him. Then like a football player running through a crowd, he charged right through over a dozen bewildered Multiple clones and did an acrobatic jump that landed him right in the middle of the street. This left Multiple’s clone hoards dazed and impressed.
“Yeah…I’m fairly sure,” Jubilee finally answered.
“Damn!” commented Bishop.
“I’m gonna need more backup,” groaned Multiple.
The bewildered duplicates all pulled themselves up and formed more duplicates for their army of Multiples. Within seconds their ranks swelled from three dozen to six dozen. They now surrounded the entire street, focusing their efforts entirely on this one figure.
“You mutants are becoming quite bothersome,” said Fantomex, his tone still as stoic as ever.
“It annoys the hell out of us when you abduct our residents so I’d say we’re even,” said the lead Multiple.
“Now how about we make it uneven?” said one of the many clones.
Fantomex clenched his fists in preparation for another fight. From every direction and every angle, the army of Multiples attacked him. This time they were more coordinated. They didn’t just try to hold him down or distract him. Their goal now was to completely subdue him. Fantomex would not make that easy for them, nor would he let it distract him from his mission.
Speed and agility clashed with sheer numbers. Six Multiples attacked at once, each trying to throw a punch or a take-down maneuver. Fantomex defended himself, pulling off a series of sweep kicks to stave off the onslaught. His added strength allowed him to knock down a few of the Multiples in a single blow. Five others leaped in behind them, launching a series of jump kicks that forced Fantomex to make evasive maneuvers. He endured a number of hits, one of which was right to the face. This left him stunned and vulnerable to more strikes.
Fantomex quickly gathered himself and struck back with a series of advanced combat maneuvers, showing superhuman speed as he struck ten Multiples in rapid succession. When he threw a punch into another one the duplicate actually disintegrated. That did little to dissuade the others. More Multiples charged in, attacking in full force.
In addition to Multiple’s attack, Bishop and Jubilee added some fire power to the mix. Bishop led Jubilee atop a nearby parked car so they could get a better shot. Multiple’s armies were not letting up. They had surrounded him and were landing their share of blows. It was only a matter of time before they added up.
“This asshole has some fancy moves. Is he a mutant or Bastion 2.0?” asked Jubilee.
“That’s what Tess is gonna figure out once we knock this sucka out,” said Bishop, his eyes glowing bright red, “Think you can pull off another Independence Day style blast?”
“After what he did to Lara? I can did several,” she said confidently.
Jubilee put on her special sunglasses, which she only wore when she unleashed her most powerful attack. With Bishop’s hand already glowing ominously, they took aim at the center of the street. With Multiple surrounding and occupying the imposing figure, there was nowhere for him to evade.
“Yo Madrox! Tell your bothers to brace themselves,” Bishop shouted.
“We can take it, Bishop,” said the main Multiple, who was just outside Fantomex’s range.
Over dozen Multiples surged towards Fantomex, narrowing the space with which he could fight even more. For a brief moment, the living weapon was trapped between a hoard of Multiple clones. It was during this moment that Bishop and Jubilee took their shot. In a blinding flash of bright yellow energy bursts and a concentrated red beams, a punishing wall of energy struck Fantomex. It was so forceful that it caused the street around him to crack and rupture.
“Unnngghhhh! Mustn’t…stop…my mission!” grunted Fantomex.
He used his arms to guard his face. His durable form helped protect him, but the blast tore through his white body suit and inflicted significant wounds around his arm, legs, and torso. A large chunk of Multiple clones were caught in the blast as well. The prime Multiple recalled them before the blast struck. He ended up having to recall all the duplicates within a twenty foot radius of the figure. By the time the blast faded, there was a crater-like indent in the street. Yet remarkably, Fantomex was still standing.
“No way!” exclaimed Jubilee.
“That…was most…unpleasant,” seethed Fantomex, his voice sounding a little slurred now.
From his wounds, he bled his silver techno-organic blood. Part of his face was now exposed and a decent chunk of his body suit had been blown off. There were still plenty of Multiples around him ready to fight. He stammered forward with every intent of fighting back. After only two steps, the damaged street gave way.
“Whoa! Fresh pothole,” said Multiple as he and his duplicates stepped back to avoid falling in.
“Think that did the trick?” asked Bishop.
“I’m not getting my hopes up, but let’s find out!” said Jubilee.
They got down from the car and rushed to the outer edge of the hole. They joined Multiple and cautiously looked down into the destruction. The hole didn’t go all that deep. It was about a ten-foot drop from the street to the flowing stream of sewer water below. Along the edges of the hole were various wires and cables that carried power and what not throughout the city. Some of them were sparking dangerously, showing just how punishing the blast had been.
Fantomex had landed flat on his back. The water was only a few inches high and reeked of sewage, which was more than enough to keep him conscious. Despite bleeding from the wounds on his upper body, he rose to his feet and looked up towards his adversaries.
“Only minor wounds,” he said menacingly, “You will not disrupt my mission. I am the ultimate weapon made flesh. I am the ultimate solution to the mutant menace. If you continue to fight me, you will…”
But before Fantomex could finish, one of the sparking power lines from the street popped free from an entanglement of concrete. The thick wire that carried the force of the New York City power grid within it, landed right in the stream of sewer water where Fantomex had been standing. As soon as it struck, the imposing figure was hit with a surge of electricity.
Blinding sparks filled the area and Fantomex was completely engulfed in a bluish halo of electrical energy. The most disruptive and painful part of the shock came from his blood. The silver techno-organic material that acted as his blood had still been bleeding into the water. So when the wire hit, the electricity traveled right through his blood and all throughout his body. It literally cooked Fantomex from within.
“Ooh…that shut him up,” said Jubilee, all too satisfied to see this man fall.
“Save your victory dance, Jubes. I’m getting some bad vibes up in here,” said Bishop as he and Multiple anxiously watched on.
As Fantomex endured these painful shocks, his body underwent an ominous transformation. The veins in his body bulged and throbbed, causing his muscles to contort in bizarre ways. A white, silvery lining then formed around those veins. It was like his blood vessels were turning into fluorescent lights. The brightest of those lights came from his eyes, which now glowed with an ominous blue hue.
More of his white body suit burned off as he underwent this transformation, leaving him exposed from the waist up. At one point he hunched over and ripped off his mask, exposing a face that had become just as disfigured as his muscles. Jubilee, Bishop, and Multiple winced in disgust when he looked up. This man was no longer the calm, collected figure that fought so gracefully. Something within had gone horribly wrong and it was getting worse by the second.
“Ooh boy…I think we just made it worse,” lamented Multiple.
“On the contrary…you have freed me,” said Fantomex in a strange new tone that sounded part machine and part human, “It all makes sense now. EVA…I can hear her speaking to me. She’s telling me the mission must go on, but not as my superiors ordered. Capture and contain mutants is no longer sufficient. Instead, I shall integrate them.”
“Okay, I’m starting to miss the old asshole who just wanted to kill us,” said Jubilee.
“Kill you? Ha! Why kill when you can control? Alone mutants are a menace. Together and through me they will become something greater than Weapon Plus. They will become WEAPON ULTIMATE!”
Next Issue: Weapon Plus Part 2
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