The next stage in evolution is unfolding. Humans are being born with extraordinary abilities. Professor Charles Xavier brought some of these gifted individuals together to form the X-men. Now they fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. But that hate and fear has led some to take drastic measures.
General Nathan Grimshaw thought he could keep the peace with his Mutant Security Agency. Recent events have cast doubt on his approach. This allowed Colonel John Wraith to re-emerge from obscurity. With the help of Reverend William Stryker and Graydon Creed, he put together a project called Weapon Plus. This project created Fantomex, the most advanced living weapon ever created. He already proved his worth by mortally wounding Wolverine and X-23. Now he’s on a more ambitious mission.
As Colonel Wraith introduced his new weapon to President Kelly, he sent Fantomex to the mutant community in New York called District X. He began his mission by abducting mutants in broad daylight. This led to a clash between him and District X’s defenders, but during the battle something unexpected happened. The techno-organic material that made Weapon Plus so dangerous was damaged. Now Fantomex is in a disturbed state that threatens more than just mutants.
“Come on, Bishop. Pick up! Don’t make me hack your phone and replace all your music with voice mails again,” said an anxious Sage.
It was a race against time. As soon as Sage heard about the disturbance in District X, she rushed out of the Xavier Institute and drove her car like a formula one racer. She broke more traffic laws in the past hour than she had in her entire life. If she sensed a cop along the way, she used her telepathy to cloud his mind. It was an egregious act that she wouldn’t do under even the most stressed of circumstances, but this situation was more than just stress. Her research and her past were finally catching up with her in the worst possible way.
She aggressively weaved through the city traffic just a few blocks from the boundaries of District X. She wasn’t making any friends with pedestrians or other drivers. She ignored several obscene outbursts and kept trying to get in touch with Bishop. He mentioned something about locating the source of the abductions. Then his call abruptly ended, leaving her with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
‘The past and the present are conspiring to torment me. I took a calculated risk letting Hank into my past. For once, my calculations were off. My past is now destroying my relationships, my research, and my life in District X. I must make everything right. Even if it’s beyond my brain’s computing capacity, I have to confront these transgressions before they confront me.’
Sage made the final turn down M-street, which led straight into District X. The traffic down this area quickly died down. A lot of drivers avoided these streets because they knew it was mutant territory. This allowed Sage to increase her speed the rest of the way. She was going nearly fifty miles per hour. Then the conflict she dreaded literally came crashing down upon her.
“UNGH!” she exclaimed.
It happened within the span of two seconds. A body came flying in and slammed right on top of the hood of her car. Just before it hit, she slammmed on the breaks. This stopped her momentum, causing the body to crash into the windshield. She unintentionally hooked the wheel, causing her car to steer into a light pole. It made for a very abrupt stop, prompting the air bags to deploy.
This left her momentarily dazed, but her computer-like mind kept going. Now mildly wounded and confused, she roughly slipped out of her car. As she did, she recognized the body that just crashed into her. It was Lucus Bishop he was in a great deal of pain.
“Bishop!” she exclaimed.
“Hnn…heya Tess. Sorry for dropping in like this,” he groaned as he laid wedged between the pole and the tattered windshield.
“Forget sorry, what the hell is going on here?”
Before Bishop could answer, a powerful explosion erupted from down the street. It unleashed an ominous blue flash that looked all too familiar to Sage. It was a relic from her life as Tessa and one that filled her with the worst kind of dread.
“Remember when I said we found the sucka behind those abductions?” groaned Bishop, still not able to get up, “Well…there you go.”
“That power…could it be?” wondered Sage.
“It ain’t those Friends of Humanity fools this time. This guy is way worse!”
“If this is what I think it is, you have no idea.”
Leaving Bishop to recover on his own, Sage ran full speed towards the source of the explosion. Her instincts and her computer-like reasoning skills allowed her to surmise the painful truth.
‘I guess this means it’s too late to avoid the past. Looks like I’ll have to calculate other options. For that, I’m going to need more than just brain power.’
Washington DC – White House
Colonel John Wraith had everyone in the palm of his hand. It had been a long time since he knew this feeling. Not since the heyday of Weapon X had he garnered this much respect. He had the President, the Joint Chiefs, and General Nathan Grimshaw’s full attention. It was a new high point in his long and convoluted career.
For the last hour or so, he had been laying out details of a bold new plan. It was a plan that took General Grimshaw’s initiative and went several steps further. He used a special holographic projector in the center of the room to show a rendering of Fantomex, the main prototype for Weapon Plus. He also used that projector to show some video he had filmed with Fantomex shortly before his mission to take out Wolverine. In depicting his skills and attributes, it offered a compelling and enticing package for President Kelly.
“As you can see, Weapon Plus is a quantum leap in more than just mutant containment. With this technology, a new generation of soldiers can be molded to protect this country for decades to come,” said Colonel Wraith proudly.
“Impressive,” said President Kelly, “I don’t know how many times I’ve said that already, but it’s still not enough.”
“Say it as many times as you need to, Mr. President. I think for all of us, it has become painfully apparent that normal humans aren’t equipped to handle the challenges posed by mutants. Even the best trained soldier stands little chance against mutants like Magneto, Charles Xavier, or even Toad. Take that same soldier, imbue him with the ability of Fantomex, and the odds are even. There will be no being on the planet, human or mutant, that we can’t hold accountable.”
“That’s a pretty bold statement, Colonel. There are a lot of powerful beings out there, some of which need more than this list of abilities you gave this Fantomex fellow,” said one of the Joint Chiefs.
“If you read the fine print, you’ll see that the list of abilities is tentative,” replied Wraith, “The techno-organic interface is highly adaptable. With the right programming, we can give the user enhanced agility, speed, strength, senses, and awareness. That’s what we started with for Fantomex because that’s all the data we have at the moment. Now imagine if we could catalog other mutant abilities the same way teenagers catalog music on their iPods. We could program a user to utilize a certain trait to perfectly counter whatever an unruly mutant or human may present.”
“Is that where this database comes in? The World as you call it?” asked the Secretary of Defense, who was going over some of those finer details.
“I’m interested in that issue too. I notice you were pretty vague about what this oddly named program entails,” commented the Secretary of State.
“It means what it says it means,” said Wraith in an almost casual tone, “The World will be a database of mutant abilities that we can program into our soldiers so they can adapt themselves in accord to the threats they face.”
“And I also noticed you offer no details as to how this database will be compiled or how it will work with the soldiers. You’re just as vague about where you obtained this techno-organic material. How exactly did you manage to develop this Weapon Plus program with your restricted resources?”
“No need to be apprehensive. I know my record is jaded to say the least. I will say I had a fair amount of help developing this program. I won’t say who is involved, at least for now. Such details don’t change the promise of this amazing technology.”
“Impressive or not, that lack of transparency doesn’t sit well with me, Colonel,” said President Kelly, “I was willing to hear you out because what you’re offering is very promising. I admit I’m deeply intrigued by Weapon Plus, but I was once on the armed services committee. I know the history of Weapon X. I also know how these programs tend to pan out.”
It wasn’t the first time Weapon X had been brought up in this meeting. Colonel Wraith did not shy away from it either. It was his way of making a stronger impression. It wasn’t enough to escape the taint of Weapon X. He had to make up for it in a big way.
“Mr. President, I never would have come to you out if I didn’t think I could do this and do it right,” said the Colonel, “Many of you know me for my history of championing living weapons. It has always been my feeling that the future of war and law enforcement won’t be fought with mere flesh. It won’t be fought with tanks and planes either. It is only through a merging of man and machine that our civilization can be secure.”
“You must admit that this merging of man and machine has been pretty messy at times,” said one of the more senior officers from the US Army who knew Wraith’s history.
“I don’t deny that, but history has shown us that all great advances come with setbacks. Weapon X was one such setback. Weapon Plus is different. It completely changes the way that mankind instills order.”
“Order rarely comes from war,” said one of the Joint Chiefs, “Every officer knows this the day he puts on a uniform.
“That’s only because the approach to war hasn’t changed, even as the weapons become more advanced,” Wraith retorted, “Picture this scenario instead. Armed with this techno-organic material, we can inject a soldier and give him all the abilities he needs to complete the mission. Then when he’s done, we can remove the material so that he’s a normal red-blooded human again. We can even make it so he doesn’t remember anything about his mission. Hell, we can even make him think he spent the whole time at a spa in Tahiti.”
“This sort of technology could have some major medical benefits as well,” said the Secretary of the Defense, “If it was able to help this wounded soldier function again, then there are all sorts of uses for such a process.”
“It would also completely change the way we train our soldiers and conduct war,” said an officer for the Marine Corps, “This isn’t just a new ball game. This is a whole new sport.”
“Exactly! The potential is limitless,” said Colonel Wraith intently, “All I’m asking for is the chance to implement it as a vital part of our national security. How much easier would our lives be if we could wake up every morning knowing that mutants were under control?”
It was a very enticing notion. Looking at the holographic image of Fantomex, President Kelly and his military officials remained deeply intrigued. However, they also remained very skeptical. There were many things about Jonathan Wraith that rubbed them the wrong way. He was an old school military man with many skeletons in his closet. His failures always had a way of coming back to bite him. Even so, this didn’t make what he was selling any less valuable.
President Robert Kelly was in a difficult position. Looking around the room, he could see some of his military advisers drooling over this technology. His gaze then shifted towards General Grimshaw, who hadn’t said a word since he arrived. He made no secret of his disappointment in the Mutant Security Agency. The whole notion of holding mutants accountable to the law didn’t seem viable anymore. Even his best-trained MSA soldiers along with the X-men couldn’t prevent a prison escape from a handful of determined mutants. That said to him they needed an entirely new approach and he was offering just that.
“Say I gave the go-ahead, Colonel,” said President Kelly, “What would the next step entail?”
“First and foremost, I would like to go by General Wraith again. Colonel Wraith just doesn’t have the same ring to it,” he said with a half-grin, “Second, you would appoint me the Head of Personnel in the MSA. This along with a generous allocation of funding from Congress and I can get the ball rolling on creating special units of Weapon Plus soldiers. With their help and the completion of The World, we can take the peace back from the mutants.”
“You sound like you’re out to declare war of a sort,” said President Kelly suspiciously, “Need I remind you that my son is a mutant? And that we also happen to have a vital trade agreement with Genosha?”
“With respect to your son, that trade agreement is unfair and you know it,” said Colonel Wraith strongly, “Genosha is holding all the cards with their technology. If they wanted, they could use it to destroy us. Weapon Plus won’t just level the playing field. It was tip the balance in our favor.”
“Those are some pretty aggressive policies, Colonel,” said the Secretary of State, “Don’t you think we should avoid picking unnecessary fights when this new technology of yours hasn’t even been implemented?”
“There’s nothing unnecessary about it. Didn’t the incident at Fort Leavenworth make that clear? We can’t hold mutants to the same standard we hold humans because mutants are by definition apart from humanity. We can’t wait for another Magneto or Proteus to remind us how frail we normal humans are.”
He was preying on primal fears now. The thought of another incident like Fort Leavenworth didn’t sit well with anybody. The thought of relying on Genosha for the prosperity the country had enjoyed lately was even more unsettling. The United States and the entire human race needed a trump card. The Sentinels didn’t work out and the MSA’s effectiveness left plenty to be desired. Weapon Plus was a game changer. It could do so much good. However, since it came from the likes of John Wraith, it could do a lot of harm as well.
Wraith wasn’t daunted by the President’s reservations. He still had the edge. Just seeing President Kelly and his staff whisper amongst themselves showed that they were already enticed. The only one who seemed completely opposed was General Grimshaw. He remained fixated on the holographic projection of Fantomex, gazing at it as if he was trying to will it out of existence. Unable to resist rubbing salt in the wound, the Colonel approached the stoic officer.
“General Grimshaw, surely someone of your pedigree can appreciate what I’m trying to do here. After all, you had to watch first hand as your MSA soldiers failed in their mission,” said Colonel Wraith.
“I would be careful with my choice of words, Colonel,” said the General in a coarse tone.
“Oh come now, you sound as though I’m pouring acid on an infected wound.”
“Are you going to tell me I’m reading your body language incorrectly?”
“Quit making this personal, Nathan,” said Wraith, now hovering over the General in a predatory manner, “I know you don’t like me or any of the work I’ve done, but we’re on the same team here. All I’m asking is that you and the fine people in this government give me a chance. Honestly, what other reason could you have to reject Weapon Plus?”
General Grimshaw remained silent, not taking his gaze off the image of Fantomex. Many eyes including those of the President were now locked onto him. There really wasn’t much for him to say. Aside from the ethics of turning soldiers into weapons, he had nothing.
The silence was getting uncomfortable. Every moment that passed only added to John Wraith’s influence. This silence was only broken when General Grimshaw felt his phone vibrate. In a room this secure the signal was weak, but somehow it still came through.
Despite the scrupulous gazes of his cohorts, he looked down at his phone and saw that it wasn’t a call. It was a special text message with a video attachment. It came from an unknown source. It could have been a telemarketer for all he knew, but he still looked over the contents. When he saw it play out on the screen, his demeanor shifted.
“Actually, I do have a reason to reject your pet project, John. It turns out a damn good one just fell right into my lap,” he said as he pushed a few buttons on his phone.
“What are you talking about?” said Wraith, showing his first signs of nervousness.
“I’m talking about a messy incident unfolding in the middle of New York,” the General clarified, “You said something about Weapon Plus being completely stable. If that’s true, then how do you explain this?”
General Grimshaw held up his phone so that Wraith could see the screen. A number of the President’s advisers rushed over to see as well. What everyone saw was jarring. It consisted of a news report that was being broadcast all over the country. The headline cited District X in New York City as the scene of some major conflict. At the center of it all was Fantomex and if the grainy news images were any indication, he was not under control as Wraith boasted.
“Colonel Wraith…do you care to explain?” said President Kelly sternly.
Colonel Wraith tensed, his angry gaze still focused on General Grimshaw. Something had gone very wrong with Weapon Plus and the timing couldn’t be worse.
“I…need to make a phone call.”
Graydon Creed was never afraid to hold a grudge. It focused the mind and heightened the passions. Often that was necessary to overcome major obstacles. This was a case where a lifelong grudge became entwined with an intensely personal mission.
“We should kill them. Every one of them,” he said distantly.
“Relax Graydon. They will face final judgment soon,” assured the more calm and collected Reverend Stryker.
“It’s not soon enough. It’ll never end…not until every one of them is dead.”
These intense feelings of hatred boiled within Graydon as he walked up and down a row of unfortunate mutants. They were the mutants that Fantomex had spent the last day or so abducting. He would get a specific target from Arcade, venture out in broad daylight, and come back with an unconscious mutant in his arms. Sometimes the mutant was pretty roughed up, but that didn’t bother him in the slightest.
It was very efficient. Within twelve hours he had nearly two dozen mutants. They all had varying powers from physical manifestations to more volatile abilities. Because of this, they kept every mutant sedated. They sat lined up against a wall, their arms and legs bound with heavy shackles. Armed Purifiers watched over them for good measure. Yet this still wasn’t enough.
Graydon Creed was sick to his stomach just being around these monsters. Prison had only hardened him. Men like Colonel Wraith sought to use mutants. Reverend Stryker merely demonized them. He was the only one with the guts to go the distance. He wanted to exterminate them. It was the only way humanity would be saved.
“Try and calm down, my friend. Even God-given destiny requires patience,” said Reverend Stryker with a calming gesture.
“You really have that much faith in John Wraith’s ability to sway the President?” said Creed cynically.
“Faith is part of my trade. I’ll only say that my faith in Wraith is limited,” the Reverend elaborated, “But like it or not, we need him and he needs us.”
“For now, you mean,” Creed pointed out.
“That was implied. Wraith is confident he can get back in the military’s good graces with Weapon Plus. He may be right. Even if he has the government’s full backing, he’ll still need us to complete The World. Say what you will about him, but he’s a paranoid son-of-a-gun. He’s not going to let the military control every aspect of this project.”
“I still don’t see how that would give us any leverage.”
“You’re forgetting we can prove he broke you out of jail and that he broke a long list of laws to put Weapon Plus together. This says nothing about his already tainted reputation from Weapon X.”
“That would still leave us vulnerable. Even if he gets me a pardon from the President like he promised, he’ll have little use for our partnership once he gets the backing he wants.”
“You’re also forgetting that I can be a paranoid son-of-a-gun too,” said Stryker with an ominous grin, “Do you really think I would go into business with a man like Wraith and not have a backup plan?”
“Are you telling me you do?” asked Creed curiously.
“Let’s just say I have some important materials in secure places that will make Wraith think twice about screwing us over.”
Graydon Creed’s nerves eased somewhat. Reverend Stryker was a resourceful man. There was little doubt that he had taken precautions. It was a much needed check on Wraith’s influence. However, it still left him feeling unsettled.
Walking up and down along the line of bound mutants, Creed continued to contemplate the scope of this plan. Everything was getting more ambitious now. Putting Weapon Plus together was the most tedious part of the mission. This part was all about logistics and it was here where Creed diverged from his associates.
“I want to take comfort in our mutual paranoia, but we’re still facing the same obstacle,” said Graydon, “Say Wraith delivers on all his promises. I’m pardoned. You’re put back in a position of influence. Weapon Plus moves ahead and the World is completed. What then? Do we just sit by let these new warriors patrol the streets, helping little old ladies cross the street when they’re not policing mutants?”
“You’re being a bit facetious, Graydon. Once Weapon Plus is fully implemented, we’ll have the power to take on every wretched mutant soul on this planet,” said Stryker.
“The question remains…will we use it?” he asked as he scolded a few mutants that looked especially inhuman, “So long as mutants still draw breath, we’ll all be in danger. The only solution that could possibly preserve our future is complete and utter extermination.”
“I appreciate your desire for Old Testament style justice, but genocide is a hard sell in this day and age.”
“Call it whatever you want, Reverend. That doesn’t make it any less necessary. These monsters are a resilient breed. They’ll be the death of us all if we don’t act soon. It may get to a point where even Weapon Plus isn’t enough to stop them.”
Reverend Stryker was tempted to reassure his friend, but some of his points had an element of validity. They were placing a lot of faith in Weapon Plus. Colonel Wraith assured them that once The World was complete, they would be able to defeat any mutant. That still assumed that mutants didn’t evolve some new edge of their own. It was daunting thought, but Stryker wasn’t foolish enough to think that genocide was an acceptable resort. Even if it was necessary, history would not see them as the holy crusaders they truly were.
“Perhaps we should check in with Arcade,” suggested Stryker, pulling his friend away from the mutants, “Colonel Wraith should be done with his meeting soon. He’ll want an update on The World.”
“I’m sure he will,” said Creed flatly, “But this isn’t over.”
“I don’t expect it to be over anytime soon. Right now, we need to remain focused. Fantomex should be arriving with a new mutant within the hour. We need to stay a step ahead of the game in case something goes wrong.”
“At this fragile stage, Reverend…pray that doesn’t happen.”
The two men turned around with every intention of staying focused on their plan. As they did the lights above them flickered. It seemed natural at first. Then they flickered again and this time it was accompanied with a light rumble. It wasn’t a natural rumble either. It caused Wraith and Creed to tense, along with every Purifier in the area.
“What’s that, sir?” asked one of the Purifiers.
“That would be God not answering our prayers,” he said ominously.
At that moment, Arcade came storming into the area. If his labored breathing was any indication, they were about to get bad news.
“Reverend Stryker, sir…we have a problem,” he said through ragged wheezing.
“Please tell me this is another case of your computers not having enough memory,” said the Reverend.
“I wish,” he groaned, “You know how we’ve kept tabs on Fantomex since the beginning? Using that AI in his blood to keep him under control?”
“Let me guess. You’ve lost contact,” seethed Creed.
“Worse…the AI just overrode our protocols. The mission we laid out for him…he’s not following it anymore. He’s doing his own thing now.”
“What kind of thing?” demanded Stryker.
“If you want to see for yourself, turn on the news. I don’t think you’ll like it.”
Creed and Stryker exchanged glances. This was exactly what they feared. Once again, John Wraith overestimated his ability to control his ambitions. The lights flickered again, indicating that there was quite a mess unfolding. It also indicated that this was the end of their partnership with Colonel Wraith.
“Damn you and your cursed soul, Wraith! What have you gotten us into?” groaned Stryker.
“Forget Wraith! What do we do?” exclaimed Arcade.
“He made is bed. Now he must lie in,” said Creed as he turned back towards the mutants, “However, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some fruits from his labor.”
“No…it doesn’t,” said the Reverend as he turned to his Purifiers, “My holy warriors, we’re officially on the Exodus contingency. Gather your materials and prepare our prisoners. We’ll be taking some drastic measures very soon.”
Xavier Institute – Classroom
It was never easy, focusing on class wok when a crisis was unfolding. Since Logan and X-23’s recovery, the trail of Fantomex went cold. While Logan healed, the Professor investigated a few more leads. None panned out. The threat of Fantomex seemed far more immediate so that issue was put on hold. There was only so much the team could do and right now they were stuck waiting.
While Scott and Jean were helping the Professor, the rest of the team busied themselves with less nerve-racking activities. For Piotr, Kitty, Betsy, Remy, and Bobby, this involved catching up on assignments and quizzes. Ororo was also teaching a few lessons while Hank worked with the Professor. As strange as it seemed, doing school work was the best way to calm their nerves.
“I believe that’s the last English lesson I have in my itinerary at the moment,” said Ororo, who had been lecturing Bobby and Remy while Kitty, Betsy, and Piotr did some online assignments.
“You actually ran out? And here I was thinking we were ten assignments behind,” said Bobby, who was organizing his next string of assignments on his laptop.
“We are behind, Bobby. Especially you,” said Ororo with a half-grin, “I believe this is the first lecture you made it through without texting Jubilee.”
“That’s because we agreed to tone it down. We were annoying the hell out of each other trying to keep in touch. So we’re simplifying everything.”
“Translation, you two be on the downside,” commented Remy in a flat tone, “Probably just a matter of time before you get bored and start texting Amara.”
“Hey! Low blow, man,” complained Bobby.
“Let it go, Bobby,” coaxed Ororo, “Try and stay focused. I need you to keep catching up on your class work so I don’t have to justify having classes over the weekend.”
Bobby groaned and went back to work. It seemed nobody could resist taking stabs at his personal life. It wasn’t like he tried to put himself in these awkward positions. Lorna and Kitty were hard enough to get through. Jubilee was different, but Amara’s entry into the fray sure didn’t help. He thought being caught up with so many women was supposed to be a good thing. Now Bobby was seriously questioning that assumption.
Remy had been just as attentive during the lesson, but not nearly as focused. He hadn’t said much since Logan’s recovery. Everyone had been a little messed up by seeing Logan nearly die. Being the philosopher of the group, it got him thinking. Since Ororo knew this side of him so well, it drew her concern.
“That’s the most you’ve said all day, Remy. I hope you’re not restricting your words to jabbing at the personal affairs of others,” said Ororo in a more concerned tone.
“Sorry cherè. You know Remy’s mouth goes on autopilot when my mind be occupied,” said the Cajun.
“So it’s still bothering you. Logan’s near-death encounter still hasn’t sunk in for you either,” she surmised.
“I’m surprised it ain’t bothering you more, Stormy. You dated him. You know him a lot better than the rest of us. Guess it’s easier to get over when you be distracted by your own ex. Tessa sure made an impression, non?”
“That’s another low blow, Remy.”
“Yeah, and against a woman who can throw you in a tornado,” added Bobby, who couldn’t help but listen, “I think you need to work on that autopilot you mentioned.”
“Remy will work on his mouth later. Right now, I’m still hung up on the smaller picture. If someone like Logan can get that close to cashing in his chips, what’s that mean for the rest of us? We all keep dividing our time between playing hero and makin’ the grades, but to what end? I know we trying to make the world a better place and all. What Remy don’t know is where we find time to keep ourselves grounded.”
Ororo thought for a moment about such musings. It wasn’t Remy’s most provocative statement. He was usually focused on the big picture. This was the first time the more personal aspects of their lives confounded him.
“We all have our own way of dealing with it, Remy. Given the circumstances, I think we’re doing the best we can,” she told him.
“Yet Remy keeps asking himself, could we be doing better?” he pondered, “Not to single out Drake here, but he’s actually doin’ a better job than the rest of us. He keeps himself in check by staying close to a pretty femme. He may be a bit clumsy at times, but he makes it work better than most of us.”
“Wow…for once I’m not insulted. It almost sounds like you envy me, Remy,” laughed Bobby.
“Don’t be throwing the wrong words into the mix, homme. This be about the concept and not the person,” retorted Remy, “That concept also applies to the other femme that almost bit it. That girl, X-21 or something, did something to Logan when he woke up.”
“Well how could she not? She did say she was his clone,” Ororo pointed out.
“Non, it was more than that. When Logan saw her, he seemed different from the angry drunk we been seeing lately. And this be right after he comes back from the edge of death. So Remy is left wondering…is that the other mission we need to be focusing on? Finding connections with others? Maybe it’s because some of us be single right now, but not having those connections makes that whole life/death struggle seem pretty trivial.”
Remy was once again stuck. The deeper meanings behind the X-men’s struggles always posed some provocative questions. This was provocative on a very different level. It went beyond being a hero or fighting for a cause. It was personal. Having broken up with Betsy and still being hung up on Rogue, he had his share of personal matters to work on.
Ororo also found herself pondering those questions. She didn’t fancy herself as a deep thinker like Remy, but she was someone who needed to stay grounded. Being so in tuned with nature, it was easy to lose herself in the chaos of the winds. She had been holding her own for a while now. She wasn’t with Hank or Logan anymore. She didn’t have that deeper connection with anyone other than her friends and students. It never really bother her until now.
‘Maybe you should try teaching sometimes, Remy. You know how to teach some very difficult lessons. You should consider yourself lucky. You have Rogue to fall back on. Me…I don’t know who I have.’
Ororo left Remy and Bobby to carry out their assignments. While she had been lecturing, the others were finishing up their quizzes. They had been pondering many of the same issues, but their take wasn’t nearly as serious. There was too much going on to start dreading.
“I think I’ve had enough physics lessons for a day. I’m up for a new challenge,” sighed Kitty as she stretched her arms, “Maybe I should pay that girl in the infirmary another visit.”
“You mean Logan’s mini-me? Why in the bloody hell would you want to do that?” asked Betsy, who was still focused on her criminology lesson.
“Well I did lend her some clothes. Aren’t I obliged to check in?”
“I wouldn’t say you’re obliged, luv. I would just say it’s foolish. That girl has been pretty anti-social since she woke up.”
“Aren’t you the least bit curious as to why?” asked Kitty as she started putting away her books, “I thought you were the institute detective.”
“Some mysteries are best left unsolved. This may be one of them.”
“What makes you say that? Are you scared she may throw a tantrum? Because Logan does that at least once a week,” she argued.
“If I were scared, I wouldn’t have lasted this long in the X-men, luv. The reason I’d keep my distance from the girl is the same reason judges handcuff convicted murderers in a court room. I saw the look in that girl’s eye when she woke up. She has the look of someone with a lot of blood on their hands. Even if she is a clone of Logan, she lacks his spirit. So until she finds that, I think we’re all better off leaving her alone.”
It was callous, but logical. Kitty thought back to what Professor Xavier told them about X-23. Logan had been searching for quite some time and not finding her played into his grumpier than usual mood. The Professor also revealed that this girl was a clone of Logan. The details of who would do such a thing were still a mystery. But if they were anything like Weapon X, then it was a safe assumption they did significant damage to that girl.
“It may be for the best, Katya,” said Piotr, looking up from his English assignment, “Like Logan, she is coming back from a near-death experience as well.”
“If she’s strong like Logan, she should be over it by now,” argued Kitty.
“Maybe physically, but mentally she still needs time. If you insist on going, it may not be wise to go alone.”
“Why? You want to be my body guard in addition to my boyfriend?” she teased.
“Nyet, but in my experience there is strength in numbers when you’re trying to reach out to someone,” he said a grin.
“Sounds like a great saying from a former communist country,” made Betsy.
“I take it that’s your way of saying you don’t want to be amongst those numbers,” said Kitty.
“I’m not saying it because I have no sympathy for the girl. In addition to her being about as friendly as a wounded grizzly, the bloke who nearly killed her is still on the. I don’t get the feeling she’ll calm down until we find him.”
“Why should she be in a hurry to find a guy who nearly killed her?” questioned Kitty.
“Because it’s personal for her and for Wolverine,” said Betsy, “It’s not the Fantomex part that concerns them. If she and Logan are going to be something resembling normal again, they need to settle their score with him first. That’s how vindictive blokes like them work.”
“I wouldn’t say Logan is vindictive, but I will say he does hold a grudge,” said Kitty.
“Against someone who almost killed him? I would call that more than a grudge.”
“Maybe it is. That doesn’t mean we should be overly patient with X-23. The more time we give her, the harder it will be. Besides, we have no idea how long we’ll have to wait until Fantomex makes another move.”
This matter clearly wasn’t going to get resolved anytime soon. Anyone who successfully beat Logan in a one-on-one battle was more than capable of staying hidden. If they hadn’t found a trace of Fantomex by now, then that was a good sign they were stuck at the moment. Betsy still didn’t see that as reason to provoke X-23 or Logan for that matter. They clearly weren’t in the mood to open up about it.
Betsy had plenty of other points to make in addition to completing her class work. Kitty was also still on the fences with respect to visiting X-23. Before she could make her decision though, the doors to the classroom burst open and Logan came storming in.
“Class is over, kiddies! We got a mission,” he barked.
“A mission? Did you find a lead on Fantomex?” asked Ororo as she and the rest of the student’s rose up from their desks.
“Hell no! It blew up in our face like it always does,” said Logan, anger mixing with his urgency, “It just hit the news. That walking bag of puss is going nuclear in the middle of District X.”
“A new Weapon X is going berserk again? Why am I not surprised?” groaned Remy.
“Did you say District X? Then Jubilee is probably in the thick of it!” exclaimed Bobby, now sharing Logan’s urgency.
“Then you’ll move your ass moving faster and suit up. Cyke already has the jet powering up in the hanger. We need to be on it five minutes ago.”
Logan didn’t stick around to make his point. He stormed back out of the classroom, fully expecting the others to follow. Bobby was already running full speed with Ororo and Remy following close behind. Kitty, Piotr, and Betsy got moving as well, leaving their assignments behind along with their debate over X-23.
“What were you saying again about being overly patient, luv?” asked Betsy as she saved her assignments before heading out.
“Spare me the gloating, Betsy. The mystery solved itself this time,” replied Kitty, “Now I have a new concern. Just how we’re going to beat a guy that almost killed Wolverine?”
Sage sprinted full speed down the vacant streets of District X. Bishop was still recovering behind her, sluggishly crawling off the hood of her mangled car and stammering to his feet. He was in poor fighting condition and not equipped to help. Now far from where she crashed, she could see a string of flashing lights erupting from the middle of the street. She recognized some of them as energy blasts from Jubilee. The rest were of a new and exotic variety.
By now news helicopters had descended over the area. The flashing lights and along with a number of building fires quickly caught the attention of the local news. This disaster was blaring on live TV all over the world. Sage’s failures were now public, adding to her already heavy burden. As she neared the source of disturbance, she caught a glimpse of the form her research had taken.
“Those ignorant fools! What have they done?” she exclaimed.
In the middle of an intersection, Fantomex was on a rampage. His body was twisting and contorting in bizarre ways as if he was having a seizure. His eyes were giving off bright bluish flashes of an unknown energy. This energy formed strange balls of light around him, which erupted in all directions and caused significant destruction to anything they touched. This was the spectacle that the news cameras were focusing on. It had all the makings of an a major disaster that was just getting started.
Jubilee and an army of Multiples were trying to subdue him, but every attempt appeared to be in vain. Jubilee’s energy blasts didn’t do much damage. If anything, they only further enraged Fantomex. Multiple sent wave after wave of duplicates to fight him. Most got caught in the random energy bursts. Those that did get through were overpowered by his superhuman strength. At times it seemed like Fantomex was in several places at once. Everywhere he went, everything in his path fell.
“Tessa! Where the hell have you been?” yelled one of the Multiple clones.
“And don’t you dare tell me you were stuck in traffic,” yelled another.
“Nice to see you too, Jamie. And if you must know, I was working with the X-men in hopes to prevent this from happening,” she replied.
“Well it is happening. So what’s your Plan B?” exclaimed Jubilee.
Now standing just outside the chaos, Sage watched as ten new Multiple clones tried to surrounded Fantomex. Another outburst of white energy shot out, causing Fantomex’s arms to swell to twice their previous size. With this size came added strength, which he used to effortlessly swat away Multiple’s attack.
“Out of my way!” said Fantomex through a strangely modulated tone.
“Your way? You’re in our neighborhood, pal!” spat Jubilee.
Despite this stunning show of power, Jubilee fired back with a fresh round of energy bursts. Fantomex’s arm returned to normal and he went on the offensive. With blinding speed, he evaded each blast. Along the way he took out three more Multiple clones. Jubilee tried to redirect her blasts in the process, but it was no use. Fantomex was moving so fast that he was a complete blur. He eventually stopped right next to Jubilee and grabbed her by the throat.
“Ack!” she choked under his iron grip.
“You’ve provided enough distractions. I’ve finished updating the protocols to my mission. That means I can continue with the next step. Unfortunately for you, it involves a rather uncomfortable procedure.”
The strange veins in his body started glowing brighter. Fantomex’s grip on Jubilee became so tight that her eyes were starting to roll into the back of her head. When Sage saw this, she acted quickly.
“Stop! That’s enough…EVA,” yelled Sage as she stormed towards the imposing figure.
Fantomex turned towards her. Upon doing so, his reaction was unexpected. The flashing around him ceased and his expression changed. His grip on Jubilee lightened as well, allowing her to breathe again. And in a strange show of emotion, the imposing man gasped as if he was looking at a long lost loved one.
“You…I know you.”
“I suppose you should,” she said firmly, “I have the dubious honor of having created you. Or at the very least, I created what made you who you are.”
“Who I am is not as important as what I am. And yet…just seeing you here once again changes my protocols. If you created me, then you know my mission. You can help me complete it.”
“I’m not sure if this is the man or the machine talking so I’ll cut to the chase. You’re mission is over. This is not what you were meant to be.”
“Your words do not match my programming. Are you trying to deceive me? Or is this your way of testing me?”
“Ungh! Hey uh…when you get a chance, Tessa…could you get your friend to let me go?” grunted Jubilee, still struggling in his grip.
As soon as Fantomex heard that name, something within his twisted mind resonated. In an instant, vast amounts of calculations started adding up.
“Tessa…I know that name. It IS you. You’re the one EVA speaks of. You’re the one she needs to finish my mission!”
“I just told you, your mission is over. If EVA is as active as I know she is, then listen to me and de-activate this instant,” said Sage.
“Clearly, your programming needs to be updated as well. But that is not a problem. I promise I shall not fail you. I will finish what we…what you started.”
Sage didn’t get a chance to confront this madness. Fantomex ran towards her at speeds that Sage had no hopes of avoiding. In the blink of an eye he was standing mere inches from her. In another blink he reached and grabbed her by the neck with his other hand.
“Aagh! No…EVA,” grunted Sage.
“EVA? Who the hell is-UNGH!” groaned Jubilee, feeling his grip tighten again.
With Sage and Jubilee in hand, Fantomex underwent another dramatic change. The glowing veins in his body came to life again. From his chest and face, the exotic techno-organic material that made up his blood flowed to his hands. Sage and Jubilee watched as the veins around his arms started glowing. As they did more balls of energy erupted around them, giving the news choppers above a dazzling light show that was sure to boost ratings. Then to their horror, a series of fleshy tendrils emerged from around his hand and snaked their way to the veins in their necks. As soon as they penetrated into their skin, the strange glowing material flowed into them.
“AHHHHHHHHHHH!” they both cried out.
“Yes! My new mission is underway. EVA is processing the data from your blood. Now we can begin compiling the World.”
Xavier Institute – Hanger
“Hurry up! Everyone on the jet before I fly it out of here myself,” barked an anxious Bobby Drake.
“This can’t be a good sign. Iceman is actually taking this mission seriously,” commented Kitty Pryde as she entered the hanger with the rest of the team.
“His girlfriend is in trouble, luv,” Betsy pointed out, “That’s instant maturity with no nagging necessary.”
“As if Cyclops wasn’t uptight enough,” groaned Remy.
There had already been a number of surprises with this mission and it hadn’t officially begun yet. Kitty, Betsy, Piotr, Ororo, and Remy had just finished suiting up and were making their way into the X-jet, which was ready to take off. Scott and Logan were on board manning the controls. Bobby was impatiently waiting outside the hatch, urging everyone along. Professor Xavier was waiting as well, lingering near the staircase leading up to the hatch.
“We’re ready to go, Charles. Where are Hank and Jean?” asked Ororo.
“They’re staying behind, as am I,” explained Professor Xavier, “I want them to continue their work on Tessa’s research. If they find a flaw in the techno organic material, we’ll relay that information to you as soon as possible.”
“Can Comrade McCoy not do the work on his own?” questioned Colossus, “Fantomex nearly killed Wolverine. We may need the Phoenix Force to deal with him.”
“I understand that, but there’s another reason she’s staying behind. I don’t have time to explain the details. Just trust me when I say it’s necessary.”
“We trust you. We understand. Now let’s go!” exclaimed Bobby, trying to rush everybody into the jet.
“Cool your jets, Drake. Leave being a dick to Summers,” said Logan, who emerged behind to pull the young mutant away from the hatch.
“Bet you wouldn’t say that if Jean or Storm were the ones in danger,” muttered Bobby.
“Wanna say that a little louder, bub?” said the feral mutant in a menacing tone.
The young mutant fell silent, yet remained tense. He was clearly worried about Jubilee. Logan had his share of worries as well. They were going up against a guy that nearly killed him and now Fantomex was following the Weapon X tradition of losing control. That put a greater burden on his shoulders than anyone else.
With Bobby somewhat subdued, Ororo and Piotr followed the others into the X-jet. Logan lingered a bit longer near the hatch. He kept looking towards Xavier, who seemed to have another headache was bearing down on him.
“I know this is intensely personal for you, Logan. I won’t bother asking that you remain calm. I only ask that you allow the team to help you through this.”
“Since my record going solo is so lousy, you ain’t gotta ask that hard, Chuck. Except this time, we ain’t doing anything halfway. We need to wipe Weapon X out of existence,” said Logan intently.
“That’s what I’ll be working on with Cerebrum,” said the Professor, “The only way we can stop men like Wraith is with help from the government. That means going through General Grimshaw.”
“Since that army stiff blackballed us, I ain’t gonna count any help from him.”
“I’ll do what I can to get through to him. Like it or not, we’ll probably need him.”
“You ain’t gonna get on your knees and beg, are you? That is, if you could.”
“Ignoring your lack of sensitivity to the handicapped, I’ll work something out. General Grimshaw resents Weapon X every bit as much as we do. He’ll have more than enough incentive to assist us, making it all the more vital that you subdue Fantomex.”
“No worries there, Chuck. We’ll throw everything we got at that asshole. If Weapon Plus is supposed to be an upgrade, we may need even more than that,” said Logan.
“Then the X-men will have to find a way to deliver. They always do,” said Xavier strongly.
The X-men were used to pushing themselves beyond their limits. Weapon X had a knack for going the extra distance and Weapon Plus would probably go even farther. Logan was prepared as always, but it was not lost on him that he nearly died a few days ago. The personal stakes were just as high as the threat Fantomex posed to the world.
He was about to offer Charles Xavier his usual assurances. Then to both their surprise, the doors to the hanger opened and X-23 entered. She was in the X-uniform Logan left her as well. Seeing her wear it brought a rare grin to Logan’s face. It looked good, consisting of black spandex pants with a tight fitting crop top that had a large red X on the chest. As she made her way to the jet, she looked every bit as intent on stopping Fantomex as Wolverine.
“Guess a few extra ways couldn’t hurt,” he said as X-23 ascended to stairs to the jet, “I had a feeling you wouldn’t blow us off, kid.”
“Don’t call me kid,” she said flatly, “I’m your clone. You shouldn’t be surprised.”
“Right…I’m sure that’s the only reason,” he said dryly.
X-23 tried to scold him, but for some reason she couldn’t. She had to make sense of that later. For now, she had unfinished business against Fantomex.
“I won’t bust your chops,” he told her, “I know you wanna get back at this prick as much as I do.”
“Then let’s focus on that. We can discuss the other details later.”
“That mean you’ll stick around instead of running off?”
“Provided I don’t change my mind,” she said, “Now let’s go!”
Logan kept grinning. X-23 didn’t show it, but his words definitely resonated with her. It was the first time he managed to reach someone without Jeannie, Ororo, or the Professor doing it for him. Given the circumstances, this was a hell of an accomplishment. For once, he may not have completely screwed this up.
While Logan was encouraged by X-23’s inclusion, Professor Xavier showed a bit more concern. There were still a lot of questions about this girl that needed answering. There were also certain dangers her involvement could bring that Logan was plenty aware of.
“She needs to be part of this, Chuck. Give her a chance,” said Logan upon sensing the Professors apprehensive gaze.
“It’s not just her I’m worried about. I remember you telling me how unstable she was,” he reminded her.
“All the more reason to let her tag along,” the feral mutant shrugged, “She can take all that instability out on Fantomex.”
“Logan, this is serious.”
“I know that. And she knows that too. Let’s just agree it’s a fucked up situation and go with it.”
There was no time to debate this issue. The engines were all fired up and the blast platform had been activated. Professor Xavier remained concerned as he watched his X-men prepare to embark on another dangerous mission. There were many unknowns whenever Weapon X was involved and he had a feeling that the unknowns they encountered with Weapon Plus would present the most danger.
Outside District X
‘Heavenly Father, grant me strength. If this is another test, please understand that I am woefully unprepared.’
Isaac silently said his prayers with the full knowledge that God would not grant him any miracles. He didn’t deserve any at this point. He was on a mission to repent. He never expected it to be easy. He didn’t expect it to be this difficult either.
Isaac arrived near District X just in time for chaos to unfold. He was in a taxi nearing the boarders of District X when ominous flashes started erupting in the distance. They were ominous enough to make the taxi driver stop in the middle of the street along with many other cars. He even let Isaac go without paying his fare. While others ran from the danger, he looked closer. What he found was a tribulation worthy of Job.
By now a number of police barriers had been set up to prevent anyone from entering District X. Isaac got as close as he could without alerting the police or the news vans that were arriving in droves. He slipped into a few backstreets and snuck along an old apartment building that was in the middle of being renovated. Most of it was cordoned off by construction gates. But with so much concern surrounding the activity in District X, nobody paid much attention to his trespassing. He had broken the law before in the name of his faith. He was willing to do so again if that’s God required of him.
While trying to get a closer look at the disturbance in the distance, he noticed something more distressing. A number of shady figures kept slipping back and forth through the barriers. They were dressed as EMTs and police, but Isaac recognized them as something far more sinister. He saw it when he noticed a special patch on their collars.
“The Purifiers! The devil’s hands have been busy,” he said to himself, “It would appear I’m too late to prevent them from bringing their share of hellfire. If this is what I must subdue to purify my soul, so be it.”
It was more daunting than he expected. Even his militaristic upbringing with the Branch Davidians couldn’t have prepared him for this. Huddled behind a piece of heavy construction equipment, he watched as more disguised authority figures slipped in through the gate. He could tell they were up to something wicked because they were carrying sub-machine guns. They were unlike anything the police utilized and probably illegal as well. And if their words were any indication, they were up to many more illegalities.
“Hurry up! The Reverend ordered all sentries to remain inside,” said one of the figures, “Something went wrong and we have to employ the Exodus contingency.”
“Why? Did someone uncover our operations?” asked another.
“I don’t know. That light show two blocks from here may be a better reason.”
“Either something has gone horribly wrong or something has once again disrupted our crusade,” said the last figure to pass through the gate.
“The wicked always find a way,” said a disguised police officer as he locked the gate, “Let’s not concern ourselves with the reasons. Right now, we need to contain the specimens. The Reverend still has plans for them.”
“God help us if we don’t follow through this time.”
Isaac held back his disgust. The mystery surrounding the abducted mutants was essentially solved. These agents of the devil were behind it. Only those truly corrupted could speak so poorly of those with blessed blood. Now they thought they could slip away in the chaos they had wrought. If the authorities weren’t going to exact divine justice, then it was up to him.
“Blasphemous fools!” he seethed, “God will not save you now. There will be only hellfire for these sins you’ve committed.”
Once the figures slipped into the building, Isaac prepared his next move. He wasn’t armed and he wasn’t in a position to put up much of a fight, but he had every intention of following these men inside and showing them the wrath of God. He didn’t have a plan. He had to rely on the Lord to guide him.
Taking a deep breath, he prepared to follow them. He barely took two steps before two powerful arms grabbed him from behind and pulled him back.
“Augh!” he gasped.
“Shush it, pal! One more word and we’re both target practice,” said a stern feminine voice.
Isaac soon found himself pinned against a nearby wall, a powerful hand gripping his neck and holding him up. At first he struggled, refusing to let anything stop him in his holy mission. Then he looked at the figure who grabbed him and quickly recognized her.
“You…I know you,” Isaac choked out, “You’re…an X-man! You’re the one they call Rogue.”
“For the record, Ah’m on sabbatical from the X-men. On another record, you got some big time explaining to do. If you know who Ah am, you know Ah can suck the life outta you for answers.”
“Please…there’s no need,” he urged her, “I assure you I’m not one of those heathens. I’m here on a mission from God.”
“Funny, Ah here these jerks say the same thing,” she argued.
“If they do, then allow me to correct them…preferably in a way that hurts.”
Rogue looked at this man strangely. When Tessa put her on this little investigation, she emphasized the importance of keeping a low profile. The moment word of these abductions got out, Tessa sent her a text message telling her to set aside the other tasks she had given her and focus on this. Her investigation led her to this building and now to this unexpected guest.
He certainly wasn’t dressed like the others. He was wearing an all-black outfit with a large silver necklace. That necklace had a Christian cross on it, but not in the same style the Purifiers wore. In her experience religious men usually didn’t take kindly to mutants. They looked at her with disgust, but this man looked at her as though she were a celebrity or something. He trembled within her grip, almost as if he welcomed her deadly touch.
Despite her better judgment, Rogue let him down. If she was dealing with the kind of people she suspected, an ally of any kind would be a welcome reprieve.
“Dang, you really ain’t one of them, are you?” she said to him, “Not only are you better dressed, you ain’t even armed.”
“I abhor such cowardly methods,” said Isaac as he caught his breath, “Thank you, blessed one. Please forgive my clumsiness.”
“Blessed is the last word Ah would use for mah self,” said Rogue dryly, “Not just because of mah many personal issues, but you do know those fellas you just saw were the Purifiers, right?”
“Indeed I do,” he said bitterly, “I still can’t fathom how they could dare adopt such a perverse title.”
“Well William Stryker is a perverse kind of guy. Please tell meh that name rings a bell.”
Isaac scowled. That was wasn’t just familiar. It filled him with an unholy hatred.
“Stryker! That false prophet?” he exclaimed.
“Keep it down, sugah,” urged Rogue, “You made it easy enough for meh to find you. Don’t make it easy for Stryker’s boys to do the same.”
“I would rather die that submit to that reprobate scum! He is the antithesis of what the Church of Humanity stands for. I can think of no more appropriate heathen to be responsible for these atrocities.”
“It ain’t just him,” she said in a lower tone, “Ah’ve been trailing these fellas for hours. Ah had to put off some pretty important work to sort this out and Ah can safely say this is bigger than Stryker.”
“Bigger how?” asked Isaac.
“Follow meh, if you wanna find out. But stay quiet this time. If you’re gonna help, you’re gonna have to learn a little tact.”
Isaac nodded with little hesitation, holding back further bursts of outrage. Now was not the time for preaching. This woman was an X-man. She was equipped and blessed to deal with these dangers. Even if the dangers were greater than he anticipated, he never considered turning his back on this mission.
Focusing on the task at hand, Rogue carefully moved along the side of the building towards where the Purifiers had entered. Isaac followed close behind. Tessa didn’t just task her with uncovering who was behind these abductions. She wanted her to rescue the mutants they had taken. That meant this scouting mission also had to be a rescue operation.
Rogue carefully peered around the corner. She watched as the last Purifier entered the front door and locked it behind him. She could have easily overpowered him and broken the lock with her strength. But if these guys were as well-equipped as they looked, then there were probably alarms all over the place. This is where having dated Scott Summers paid dividends.
Channeling the knack for strategy that made him such a good leader and boyfriend, Rogue looked up to see an opening. There were a few narrow windows that were only loosely sealed. Taking Isaac in her arms, she flew up to pry one open so they could enter this ominous domain.
“Hang on, sugah,” she said quietly, “Ah ain’t gonna lie to a man of faith. This is probably gonna get rough.”
“I’m ready,” said Isaac in a low, confident tone, “We are saving the lives of the innocent while punishing the wicked. I know many say this, but I can say with complete conviction that God is on our side.”
“God damn it all,” groaned a very sore Lucus Bishop.
The battle against Fantomex kept taking disturbing new twists. It was disturbing enough when Fantomex threw him half a block down the street, going so far as to time it so he crashed right into Tessa’s car. He cracked no fewer than three ribs and probably had some internal bleeding. He remained conscious and that was enough to keep him going. By the time he dragged his battered body back to the fight, Fantomex threw another twist into the mix. With news choppers swirling around capturing every moment, he stood in the middle of the street holding up Tessa and Jubilee by the neck.
They had been hopelessly outmatched. All around the area, there were Multiple duplicates lying motionless on the ground. The prime Multiple was somewhere within this mess of bodies, most likely incapacitated since no new duplicates were being created. Now there was no one left to stop this man. With Tessa and Jubilee in his grasp, Fantomex demonstrated some bizarre body chemistry to link into their veins like a computer. As he drew their blood, the two women were further weakened.
“Ungh! What is he…doing?” grunted Jubilee.
“I’d rather…not say,” groaned Tessa.
“EVA has analyzed your blood. The first wave of data has been processed.”
All seemed to be going accordingly. Then a familiar figure emerged from down the street.
“Hey sucka…process this!” shouted Bishop.
Despite his injuries, Bishop charged up for another blast and fired off a concentrated red beam of energy. Fantomex saw this coming and easily dodged it with his agility. Bishop prepared to fire another shot. However, Fantomex used this as an opportunity to demonstrate a new ability.
He casually let go of Jubilee, allowing her weakened form to drop to the pavement. Then with his free hand, he fired off a wave of energy bursts that looked exactly like Jubilee’s.
“Aw hell!” groaned Bishop.
Gritting through the pain of his injuries, he ducked behind a few cars to avoid the barrage. Each car quickly caught fire, forcing him to move even faster. Along the way he tried to fire off more shots of his own, but Fantomex kept dodging them with ease.
“That’s quite a skill. I look forward to processing that as well,” he said through his strangely modulated tone.
“This fool doesn’t fight fair,” Bishop grunted as he narrowly avoided an incoming blast.
The damage spread with each subsequent blast. They were putting on quite a show for the news cameras. It only added to Bishop’s frustration. This guy was turning District X into a war zone and his side was losing. He kept firing back, taking a few hits along the way to soak up the energy so he could add some extra burst. This didn’t help much because Fantomex was so agile that he couldn’t land a shot on him. To make matters more difficult, he still had Tessa in hand.
“Jubes! Multiple! If you ain’t dead yet, I could use some help,” shouted Bishop as Fantomex’s burst set fire to another building.
“Hnn…can barely move,” groaned Jubilee.
“I uh…need to gather myself,” said a few stray Multiple duplicates.
Bishop grunted in frustration and changed his tactics. Channeling his energy into more forceful bursts, he aimed for the street again. When he unleashed his blast, he created another sizable hole in the street right under where Fantomex was standing. This time he was agile enough not to fall through. He further frustrated Bishop when he pulled off an acrobatic leap, doing a few somersaults in midair before landing only a few feet from the bewildered mutant.
“I believe you’re finished being a nuisance,” said Fantomex callously.
“Like hell I am!”
Bishop tried to fire another shot, but Fantomex casually struck him with a powerful roundhouse kick. This broke a few more ribs and sent him tumbling across the street towards where Jubilee was lying.
“Ungh!” he groaned.
“Like I said…you’re finished.”
Now Bishop was in too much pain to get up. He tried, but his body wouldn’t allow him. He could only grit his teeth in defiance as Fantomex casually approached.
“Now that I have my creator’s telepathy, I can sense many mutants in this area. I’ll need to surmise a way to process them all. Until I do, the data in your blood will be a worthy addition to The World.”
Bishop braced himself for more pain. The veins on Fantomex’s hand were still glowing bright white from when he grasped Jubilee. In his tattered state it would push his survival limits to the brink.
His fingertips were within inches of his neck. The slithery white tendrils were already reaching for the nearest vein. Then he abruptly stopped. The telepathy he utilized from Tessa alerted him to a new danger. That danger made itself known when a large shadow fell over them. Fantomex looked up to see a large helicopter descend towards him. Only this wasn’t a news chopper. It was a fully armed Apache attack helicopter.
“What’s this?” he wondered.
“Hey pretty boy! You’re on the wrong side of town,” yelled the threatening voice of Captain Jack Freeman.
In a death defying stunt that surprised even Fantomex, Captain Freeman jumped out of the side of the helicopter and plunged head first towards the imposing figure. He landed within inches of him, striking with unexpected force. The Green Beret adapted his body so that he became extra dense. This ensured that he hit so hard it ruptured the already decimated street. It was enough to surprise Fantomex, causing him to stammer back. While he had this element of surprise, Captain Freeman threw in a punishing haymaker that sent Fantomex flying back towards a burning car. He even dropped Tessa in the process, landing next to Bishop and Jubilee.
While Fantomex lay stunned, the Green Beret tried to help Bishop and Jubilee back to their feet. They were clearly in no condition to fight, but they still resisted his help.
“Ungh…what the hell are you doing, soldier boy?” grunted Bishop.
“I know District X doesn’t care much for authority, but I hope you’ll make an exception,” said Jack as he pulled the wounded man up to his feet.
“You just fell three hundred feet from a helicopter. You ain’t no cop.”
“You’re that soldier, aren’t you?” said Jubilee, who was still woozy, “The one from the MSA?”
“That going to be a problem?” asked Captain Freeman.
“I don’t give a damn about your problem. If you got some shit that makes you that strong, forget about us and finish that sucka off!” exclaimed Bishop, “Trust me…he won’t be down for long.”
Captain Freeman looked towards the burning car to see that Bishop was right. Fantomex was already back on his feet. The hot flames of the burning car did nothing to slow him down. All it did was burn off more of his body suit, leaving most of his flesh from the waist up exposed. He looked even more deformed now, the circuit-like veins pulsating all over his body. He also looked more pissed.
“That was uncalled for. You dare obstruct my mission?”
“I more than dare,” grinned Captain Freeman.
The Green Beret waved to the Apache helicopter above, giving the signal for the next attack. The pilot got the message and maneuvered the attack chopper around so that it was facing the seething figure. Then the co-pilot fired two hellfire missiles from the aircraft’s weapon payload. When the missiles struck, a powerful column of flame erupted along with a punishing blast that shattered every window in a two-block radius.
In an instant Fantomex disappeared within the flames. Hot shockwaves ripped through the nearby cityscape, giving the news choppers all the more fodder for this chaotic scene. Bishop, Jubilee, and Captain Freeman were momentarily blinded by the blast. It left another large crater in the streets of District X. However, there was no sign of Fantomex within this hellish inferno. It was a lot of firepower to focus on just one man, but Fantomex seemed more than deserving.
“That ought to shut him up,” said Captain Freeman triumphantly.
“Don’t get too full of yourself. This fool is more durable than he looks,” warned Bishop.
“Doesn’t look like much now,” said Jubilee, who was finally starting to pick herself up.
“We’ve got at least six more hellfire missiles if there’s anything left. That should be more than enough,” assured the Green Beret.
Bishop and Jubilee continued watching anxiously, looking for signs of Fantomex. While they were processing this hellish scene, Sage emerged from her unconscious state. She coughed up some blood, her breathing still ragged from Fantomex’s choke hold. When she looked up and sensed what was going on, she was overcome with a very sick feeling.
“No…” she gasped.
Suddenly, a series of firework-like energy blasts erupted through the smoking flames from behind the creator. These blasts struck the rotors of the helicopter, causing it to destabilize and spin out of control.
“That’s not good” groaned Captain Freeman.
“You think!” exclaimed Jubilee.
Jack grabbed the wounded Jubilee and Tessa while Bishop limped through more pain. With only seconds to act, he tried to get them out of the path of the incoming helicopter. However, it fell too fast.
“BRACE YOURSELVES!” warned Captain Freeman.
It crashed nose-first into the mangled street, kicking up a large number of dust and concrete chunks. The Green Beret was forced to guard the three wounded mutants with his body. He took the brunt end of the crashing helicopter, sending him tumbling through the mangled streets.
Jubilee and Sage fell to the wayside, spared from most of the damage. Bishop managed to make it off to the, but his already weakened body was unable to endure the added punishment and he passed out. Jubilee and Sage fell unconscious as well, their unmoving bodies coming to a rest a few dozen feet from Captain Freeman, who was now covered under a pile of concrete debris.
When the helicopter finally came to a rest, the smoldering aircraft was in several pieces. The tail had broken off, the rotors were warped beyond recognition, and jet fuel was leaking everywhere. The pilots inside were mortally wounded. There was no one else around to save them. The whole street was left eerily silent.
The only conscious presence to emerge came through the raging flames left from the missile attack. Fantomex acrobatically jumped through the flames and landed gracefully landed outside the smoldering crater. His flesh was burnt, his silvery blood oozing from his flesh. These wounds rapidly healed, resulting in more deformations that caused the glowing veins in his body to swell. He was seething with frustration, but remained eerily calm. As he assessed the damage throughout the area, he re-evaluated his mission.
“This is too tedious. There must be another way to accomplish my mission,” he mused.
Fantomex stood silently for a moment. His eyes flashed ominously, almost as if someone was talking to him.
“Yes…I understand. The World is the key. It would be inefficient to assemble the pieces one-by-one. I must initiate the Legacy Protocols. It will require some…unusual tactics. But with the abilities at my disposal, I can make it work.”
Fantomex wasted no time in implementing this protocol. With everybody out cold, he had a narrow window with which to work. Using his superhuman speed, he retrieved Jubilee, Bishop, and Sage and laid them out neatly in the middle of a clearing. He also sifted through the scattered bodies of Multiple duplicates, using Sage’s telepathy to locate the prime Multiple. Once he found him, he laid him next to the others. As he did, all the duplicates disappeared to leave the streets much less cluttered.
Once the Multiples were gone, his final target was revealed. About half-a-block down the street, Lara King was still unconscious. She had been out through this whole ordeal. She was clearly not a fighter. That was of no consequence though. It was her ability that made her so vital.
“You, my dear, will be quite useful,” said Fantomex.
Grabbing her by the neck, the living weapon brought her back to the others. Along the way he passed the rubble where Captain Freeman was residing. He didn’t have time to drag him out so he didn’t bother. His abilities were redundant. For this strategy to work, he needed cunning over brute strength.
With Bishop, Jubilee, Sage, Lara, and Multiple all laid out side-by-side, Fantomex could begin the next step. He knelt down over each of them and placed his hand near their neck. As he did, the same glowing tendrils from earlier extended from his hand and latched onto a vein. Once attached, he drained a small amount of blood. In that blood was the key to The World. As it coursed through his system, EVA scanned and processed it.
“Yes! More data…more abilities…more possibilities.”
One by one, he did this for each of them. Within minutes he scanned Bishop, Multiple, and Lara. Now armed with their powers, he took Sage and Jubilee in his arms.
“I’ll finish what you started, Tessa. Weapon Plus does not understand my mission. You’re the only one who can possibly understand now. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is going to matter. The World shall be the key. It shall be our legacy.”
Next Issue: Weapon Plus Part 3
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