It is an exciting time. Humans are being born with extraordinary powers. But with that excitement comes conflict. And in the midst of this conflict, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men seek peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears such conflict. They hope their efforts can realize the full promise of mutation.
Unfortunately, some of that promise has been used to create weapons of great destruction. Colonel John Wraith made a career of this effort with Weapon X, the program that created Wolverine and Sabretooth. While this program ultimately failed, Wraith hoped to succeed with a more advanced endeavor in Weapon Plus.
This ambitious program turned a crippled French soldier, Jean-Phillipe, into the mercilessly efficient killing machine known as Fantomex. Armed with superhuman abilities, he nearly killed Wolverine and his clone, X-23. Wraith was already looking to take the next step. He hoped to sell Fantomex as the solution to the mutant problem. Then it all went horribly wrong.
While abducting mutants for experimentation in District X, Fantomex clashed with Jubilee, Bishop, and Multiple. In the process the AI that controlled his techno-organic blood, EVA, went haywire. Now he’s broken free from Wraith’s control and seeks a new mission. As the one who created the techno-organic material, Sage is caught up in a much bigger conflict and it’s up to the X-men to help her.
The streets of New York’s lone mutant neighborhood were as eerily quiet as it was possible to be in one of the world’s largest cities. The residents were still on lockdown. No one dared step out into the open. With news helicopters and police crowding around the area, they had plenty of reasons to stay hidden. This was the ominous scene where the X-men arrived.
“Don’t say it, Kitty. For once could you not blurt it out,” groaned an overwhelmed Bobby Drake.
“If she won’t say it, I will. We’re too late,” said Logan in a firm tone.
“God damn it to the tenth level of Hell!”
“Ease up on the melodrama, Bobby. Let’s figure out what happened here,” said Scott.
“I think Remy knows what happened. Fantomex done had himself a hell of a party,” commented Remy.
Having just arrived, the X-men assessed the damage. Scott, Bobby, Ororo, Logan, Laura, Remy, Kitty, Piotr, and Betsy saw signs of a conflict that had gotten out of hand. The whole street had been torn up for nearly two blocks. There were massive holes in the roadway going all the way down to the sewer. Some of them ruptured, causing water to flood certain areas. There were also a number of fires on some buildings near the smoldering remains of a few cars. A major battle had clearly taken place, but it ended before they even arrived.
It had Fantomex’s signature all over it. He made quite a spectacle of himself. The only ones not surprised by the damage were Logan and X-23. As they took in the vast array of scents, the former living weapons could tell the battle had gone horribly wrong.
“He was here. He’s still close,” said X-23 as she sniffed along the ground.
“If he is, his scent ain’t leading anywhere. It’s like it just disappeared,” added Logan.
“So why aren’t we hunting him down? The more we stand around, the more time we give him to escape.”
“He already escaped. That ain’t what worries me. Something went very wrong here and I ain’t referring to the damaged sewer lines.”
“You can figure that out just by scent?” said X-23 as she sniffed around more intently.
“I don’t need to smell it. It’s Weapon X. Something always goes wrong and innocent people always pay the price.”
Logan shifted his attention towards the others, who were tending to Fantomex’s latest victims. Bishop, Multiple, and Lara King took quite a beating. They were out cold when Betsy tried to rouse them with her telepathy. That didn’t stop Bobby from voicing his concerns about Jubilee.
“Where is she? Where’s Jubilee? Is she okay!” he exclaimed.
“Ow! Lower the volume, Iceman. I’ve got an duplicate army’s worth of headaches,” groaned Multiple.
“She’s...not here?” said Lara, who came around a bit more slowly than the others.
“Nyet, and neither is Tessa,” Piotr pointed out.
“It appears Fantomex took both her and Jubilee with him,” said Ororo.
“He took Tess? And everything this guy does just pisses me off even more,” said a very dazed Bishop.
The de-facto leader of District X shook off nagging injuries that surely required medical treatment and rose up. Scott and Ororo had to keep him from keeling over. He was obviously in a lot of pain, but was too pissed to let it slow him down. In addition to the injuries, Bishop noticed a lot of news choppers and media envoys converging on District X. This was not the kind of attention he wanted for this community.
“Damn that Fantomex sucka! District X doesn’t need this kind of shit,” he groaned.
“I wish I could offer a worthwhile explanation, Bishop. But this is one of those wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time type situations,” said Scott.
“What? You saying that he did this just for kicks?”
“If only that were the case,” sighed Betsy, “That charming bloke is someone we’ve been tracking. You see, this is not another instance of some bad people sending other bad people to hurt innocent mutants.”
“Then what the hell is it?” demanded Bishop.
“It’s more like bad people trying to do bad things in a way that goes horribly wrong to make it worse,” Kitty clarified.
“I got at least four broken ribs and a punctured lung. You want to be a little more specific before the pain makes me too pissed?”
“We just trying to be careful because it involves some stuff Tessa been trying to keep on the down low. This is just how it came back to bite her and it bit her hard,” added Remy.
“Wait…you’re saying Tessa is responsible for that jerk-wad?” said Lara King.
“Answer this without the attitude, bub…has Tessa ever been completely open about her past?” posed Logan.
Bishop and Multiple exchanged glances. If anyone besides an X-man had asked that question, they would have scoffed. Tessa was one of the reasons District X had been able to thrive. Questioning her loyalty never crossed anyone’s mind.
That didn’t change the fact that Tessa was a very secretive person. She never divulged where she got all the resources that helped her establish District X. It wasn’t something they questioned. They never had a reason to. Bishop and Multiple still remembered how Fantomex recognized Tessa. That heightened their suspicions and the X-men were the only ones in a position to help them.
“Now are you going to work with us or not?” asked Scott, “If we’re going to catch up with Fantomex, we need you to give us access to Tessa’s quarters.”
“And by access we mean even the stuff we know you’ve been hiding,” added Bobby, “You guys don’t trust us, but you’ll have to if you want to get her and Jubilee back in one piece.”
“Take it easy, kid. We’ll help you. But first, we need to do some major damage control,” said Multiple as made a few dozen duplicates of himself.
“We can help with that too,” said Ororo, “We’ll talk to the media if that will bring some order back to District X.”
“It’s a start,” said Bishop bitterly.
The Multiple clones already went to work, heading towards the boundaries where the media crews were gathering. Ororo followed suit along with Piotr and Remy. Normally, Bishop was serious about keeping District X self-sufficient, but this was one time where he couldn’t afford to be isolated.
“So are you going to show us Tessa’s unmentionables or not? That’s not my usual dirty joke by the way,” said Bobby strongly.
“Watch you’re tone, kid. You’re still in a rough neighborhood here,” said Bishop.
“You’ll have to excuse Bobby. He’s a little worked up about Jubilee. Although with the way things have been lately, I’m not sure what to make of it,” commented Kitty, which earned her a scowl from Bobby.
“Whatever your beef, don’t start pushing my buttons. This is some serious shit you’re asking and you X-men are lucky to get a pass like this.”
“Better share some of that luck when you get a chance,” came a voice form behind.
Bishop and the X-men turned around towards the wreckage of the helicopter to see one more figure join them. It was Captain Freeman, who had been stuck under a slab of concrete. He adapted his body to take the extreme force and grow the necessary muscle to fight his way out. He emerged just in time to eavesdrop on their conversation.
“Who are you?” demanded X-23, drawing her claws in a menacing manner.
“Take it easy kid, but not too easy. I’m as curious as you,” said Logan, scolding the new presence despite holding her back.
“Captain Freeman… I’m not going to ask what you’re doing here so I’ll just say it’s been a while,” said Scott as the mutant soldier approached.
“Not long enough,” replied the Green Beret apprehensively, “I’ve been caught up in a lot of messes that you X-men keep creating. Now you throw another one at me when I really could use some leeway.”
“Look for it elsewhere, fool. This ain’t your business,” threatened Bishop.
“Hey, I helped save your asses. And in case the uniform didn’t tip you off, I’m representing the United States government…an entity you don’t want to make enemies with,” said the Captain as he approached Bishop and the X-men, “Now I’m expected to report to General Grimshaw within the next twenty minutes. If I don’t tell him something other than the target has escaped, we’re going to have problems.”
“Is that that your way of asking to tag along on this mission?” said Betsy dryly.
“Oh I’m not asking you. I’m ordering you under the authority of the MSA. More importantly, I’m ordering you to cooperate so the General has a good reason not to assume you’re part of this clusterfuck.”
It was not a nice way of offering help from the MSA. Nobody expected Captain Freeman to be in a good mood after the beating he took. While Bishop and the X-men didn’t appreciate his attitude, there was no getting around it. He was their link to the MSA and they were going to need the government’s help in resolving this crisis.
“If that’s how this is gonna go down…so be it,” said Bishop bitterly, “Now follow me. Tess had a little something in the archives that may help us figure out this shit.”
Washington DC – White House
“YOU CAN’T DO THIS! YOU’RE ROBBING THIS COUNTRY OF THE SECURITY IT NEEDS! YOU MUST LET ME MAKE THIS RIGHT!”
“That’s enough, Colonel Wraith,” said General Grimshaw firmly, “When I get through with you, the only rank you’ll have left will involve a cell section and a prisoner number.”
Colonel John Wraith’s proposal had officially been rejected. His attempt to make Weapon Plus the next generation of mutant law enforcement fell through the moment news broke of its failure. Now the very people Wraith tried to convince of his competence had to clean up his latest failure.
President Robert Kelly was beside himself. In his desperation to find a solution, he now faced an even bigger crisis. The news broadcast surrounding Fantomex’s failure in District X now blared on a small TV in the center of the conference table. His Joint Chiefs and a number of advisers watched the story unfold. It showed various shots of downtown New York City. Earlier footage of the living weapon John Wraith championed revealed some very deep flaws. Fantomex was out of control, attacking civilians, and causing massive property damage. It was a public and political nightmare.
“I shouldn’t be this surprised. I really shouldn’t. And yet…” he said while rubbing his sore temples.
“I know, Mr. President. And I’ll bet you season tickets to the Redskins that my headache is worse than yours right now,” said General Grimshaw as he watched two Secret Service agents restrain John Wraith.
“You’re lucky I’m not a football fan or I may just challenge that notion.”
“I would still win. You didn’t have the power to stop this man years ago. I did. I’ve seen time and again how living weapons fail. I could have fought harder to stop guys like John Wraith from taking us down this path. Now we all have to walk it.”
“Spare me further details, General. I’m not in any mood to reflect on the past right now. We’ve got enough going on in the present,” groaned Present Kelly.
“I’ve already ordered the MSA to do a sweep of District X. But based on what Captain Freeman told me, Wraith’s little toy is long gone.”
“Since this is national news, we now have to worry about the social and geopolitical impact. I’m sure I’ll be getting a call from Genosha within the hour. An attack on a mutant community won’t bode well for our fragile relations. We’ll have to show that we’re cooperating with District X. We need to hold hands and smile for the cameras if we’re going to save a little face.”
Watching the live broadcast, General Grimshaw understood where the President was coming from. There were shots of protesters gathering near the barriers to District X. There were also interviews of terrified civilians who didn’t have a lot of nice things to say in wake of this latest disturbance. They were going to be even more upset when they found out that this conflict had been instigated by a military experiment.
“I’m all for saving face, but I doubt that Fantomex will go into exile like Magneto. Whatever flaws Wraith put into him will only get worse the longer he’s out there,” said General Grimshaw.
“FLAWS? YOU THINK WEAPON PLUS IS FLAWED?” exclaimed the restrained Colonel Wraith, “IT WAS NEVER FLAWED! THIS IS BECAUSE OF SOMETHING THOSE MUTANTS DID! I’M SURE OF IT!”
Grimshaw’s usually stoic expression shifted. In an outburst of frustration he turned around and aggressively grabbed Wraith by the throat, shoving aside the two Secret Service agents in the process.
“And every word you say just pisses me off. This is your doing and you fucking know it!” yelled General.
“General Grimshaw, stand down!” ordered one of the Secret Service agents.
“Wait…let him work,” said President Kelly, who was enjoying the General’s outburst more than he cared to show.
“You hear that? The President of the United States just gave me permission to choke you to death,” said the General, “And believe me, nothing would be more satisfying. But right now, I have to clean up your mess. In order to do that, I need to know how you put Weapon Plus together and who helped you.”
“You really think I’d give you that kind of satisfaction? That I’ll willingly forking over my only bargaining chip?” grunted Wraith, coughing under Grimshaw’s grip.
“Bargaining chip? What makes you think you have that luxury?”
“If you want to stop Fantomex, you’ll allow it. Keep in mind, I’m the one who helped create him. I’m also the one who knows about the fail-safe built into it.”
“Fail-safe?” questioned Grimshaw.
“Yes…I was going to activate it with that phone call I meant to make. But you never let me,” said Colonel Wraith, turning the burden back on his adversary, “Now are we going to make a deal or would you rather risk attacking something you’re utterly unequipped to handle?”
His tone was snide in a way that made everyone in the room scold him. Colonel Wraith may be a pitiful excuse of an officer, but he knew the value of strategy. He knew how to play whatever wild card he kept in reserve. Grimshaw kept a firm grip on his neck, ready to call this man’s bluff. However, President Robert Kelly wasn’t willing to take that risk.
“Let him go, General. It looks like we’ll need him,” he said bitterly.
“Forgive me if I don’t find him credible, Mr. President,” said Grimshaw bitterly before giving the Colonel back to the Secret Service.
“Consider yourself forgiven,” said President Kelly as he stared down Wraith, “If Weapon Plus is as dangerous as you boasted, then we need that fail-safe. I’m not convinced you have it so you better prove me wrong.”
“Give me my phone and I’ll be happy to oblige…provided, of course, that you get the Attorney General to write up an immunity deal,” said the Colonel with a wry grin.
“Immunity? Do you honestly think I’ll let you play the lawyer card after the damage you’ve done?”
The President was inclined to put Wraith under a choke hold of his own. The thought sickened both him and General Grimshaw. Robert Kelly was prepared to counter Wraith’s offer with all the threats the office of the President could afford. Then his Secretary of State looked up from the broadcast with a cell phone in her ear.
“Mr. President…Wanda Maximoff from Genosha just called on a secure line,” she said grimly, “She’s asking to speak with you immediately.”
The President kept staring down John Wraith, who kept grinning because he knew that time was on his side.
“Tick tock, Mr. President. Are you going to work with me or are you going to explain to the leader of Genosha that you’re fumbling around in the dark?” he taunted.
“Shut up and sit down, Colonel. Don’t tempt me to use some of Richard Nixon’s old tactics,” said the President in a firm tone.
Despite a burning desire to see this man face justice, the President had a number of difficult issues to deal with. He exchanged glances with General Grimshaw. He was as upset as he was, but he understood their current predicament. This was his decision and it was sure to be a tough one.
“Set up a conference call with Genosha. And get in touch with the Attorney General while you’re at it,” said President Kelly bitterly, “We’ve got some papers to write up.”
“Aren’t you going to give the MSA or the X-men a chance to find this monster?” asked one of his Joint Chiefs.
“You heard the Colonel’s pitch. We have to assume we’re dealing with the ultimate living weapon. That means it’s highly unlikely that Charles Xavier will find a way to stop this thing before it gets worse.”
Xavier Institute – Hank’s Lab
Hank McCoy was more motivated than usual. The pursuit of knowledge had always been rewarding to him, but now the stakes were higher. Innocent mutants were in danger. His girlfriend was in danger. To save them he needed to uncover the secrets of the techno-organic material that made Fantomex so deadly. He and Jean had been working feverishly since before the X-men even left for District X. Once they got word that they arrived too late, the urgency of their work became even greater.
“Neuro-kinetic readings…still normal. System functioning…unchanged. Hyper-adaptive genetic transmodulation…not even slightly affected,” said Hank with growing frustration as he peered under a microscope, “I’m tempted to admire the level of refinement in my Tessa’s work, but with her in danger the only temptation I feel is utter frustration.”
“Easy with the animal growls, Mr. McCoy. We get that enough from Logan,” said Jean in a slightly calmer tone.
“I’m trying not to let baser instincts affect my work, but I…”
“Don’t bother trying,” she said, cutting him off before he could lament, “Instincts, especially when lovers are involved, can’t be set aside. Trust me on this.”
“I don’t doubt you for a second. I’m simply not used to being in this position.”
“If you really love Tessa, then get used to it quickly. You can either torment yourself even more or use it as motivation to work harder. I think you’re smart enough to know the right decision.”
Hank had to pull himself away from his work to settle down. Jean Grey may have been his student, but she was much wiser when it came to matters of the heart. Her history with Scott and her previous lovers granted her experience that simply couldn’t be learned. She managed to remain calm while he berated himself up for not getting the answers he needed to save Tessa.
It didn’t help that their resources were limited. After Tessa discovered that the techno-organic material she had stashed away had been stolen, she worked to create another sample. On such short notice she could barely produce enough to fill a small chemistry beaker. That was the only tool they had in uncovering a means to stop Fantomex. Tessa told them the AI that governs it, EVA, was the key. That same AI was also what made the material so robust. Every test revealed a new obstacle.
“Before you make your choice, let me give you a rundown of the tests I’ve done,” said Jean, putting the focus back on their work, “First off, I share your frustration. This techno-organic goo fights dirty. It’s like every molecule is a computer and each computer is surrounded by firewalls.”
“Yes, I would say that analogy is appropriate,” sighed Hank, “Attacking one section only causes the others to compensate.”
“It keeps adapting and adjusting depending on the mission it’s given. That AI stays in the driver’s seat. That means anyone who has this flowing in their veins is bound and gagged in the trunk.”
“That would fit the profile of Weapon X’s business practices,” added Hank.
“While I can’t think of a way to disrupt that AI, one test did find something that could be useful,” said Jean as she brought up some data reports on her computer.
Hank moved in closer to see for himself. He could interpret this data better than Jean since she was still a student. It consisted of a few external analysis of the techno-organic material. Something this complex had too many moving parts to remain uncluttered. That meant there had to be some sort of logic to its structure.
“Your earlier suspicions weren’t that far off,” Jean continued, “This techno-organic material is similar to the stuff Genosha uses to make their tech. Warlock’s makeup is a lot more sophisticated. That stuff goes down to the atomic level. The stuff Sage developed only gets to the biological level.”
“Hence its relative fitness to act as artificial blood,” said Hank as he printed out some data, “Yes, I see the similarities and the limitations. I also see some unusual mechanisms holding it together.”
“Yeah, that caught my eye too. To hold something like this together, you need more than your basic chemistry set. The scanners picked up some light transmission on the radio, infrared, and UV spectrum. There were also traces of some psionic activity as well. It’s too low for me to sense, but it’s definitely there.”
“That is likely a result of a sentient AI. Psoinic readings could naturally emerge if the system remains ordered.”
“Could attacking that psionic energy be the key to stopping it?” pondered Jean.
“It’s doubtful. The AI has too many other communication mediums to utilize. However, this does give me an idea.”
Hank was starting to sound like his old inquisitive self again, his concern for Tessa acting as a source of inspiration rather than dread. He rushed back over to his desk where he had his laptop plugged in. It was linked up to the rest of his network, allowing him to transfer the data from Jean’s end to his. With this data, he ran a series of computations. Jean walked over to see what he was up to, hopeful that this could be their first lead.
“While the psionic activity may not be the key to stopping the techno-organic material, it may give us a means of tracking it,” said Hank as he brought up a few new screens, “If the substance emits psionic energy, then we may be able to track that energy. It’s too faint for even an advanced psychic to sense. But with Cerebrum, it should allow us to pin-point Fantomex’s location.”
“So the crazy son-of-a-bitch won’t be able to hide from us. It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s a start,” said Jean, “We should talk to the Professor about this.”
“Provided, of course, he’s not as frustrated as I am trying to get help from General Grimshaw,” said Hank as he kept working.
“Since this has already made the news, I’m assuming he’ll have enough reason to overlook the prison incident.”
“We can only hope,” he said as he saved some of the data on a flash drive, “I’ll let you take this to him. The interface is simple and he should be able to implement it.”
“You’re not going to explain the nuts and bolts of it to him?” questioned Jean.
“I can’t. I must remain focused on the task at hand,” he said strongly, “Tracking the techno-organic material isn’t enough. We must also find a way to destroy it. I’m certain Tessa left some fail-safe built into AI. Being the man she’s trusted with her body and heart, it is only appropriate that I be the one to find it.”
Outside District X
‘Heavenly Father, guide me through the den of the wicked. Protect my soul and that of this blessed one as we save your children.’
It had been a long time since Isaac played the part of a holy warrior. Growing up with the Branch Davidians, he was instilled with a very militant brand of faith. He was firing off guns and going through basic military training when most boys his age were still in grade school. For a time, he was on a violent path. Then the Davidians fell apart and he had a chance to choose a different path. That’s when Father Hansen came in. He was a good teacher who abhorred violence, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make use of his training.
Having infiltrated a small construction zone outside of District X, he and Rogue carefully made their way through an unmarked building. He followed her closely, not making a sound as they traversed the structure. The building appeared fairly normal from the outside. On the inside it wasn’t much different. As soon as Rogue flew him into an opening near the roof, there wasn’t much else aside from piles of building materials and discarded tools. However, it was the lower levels where all the action took place.
This was where the Purifiers resided. This was also where the abducted mutants were likely being kept. Rogue led them down a few flights of stairs and a ladder to get to the first sub-level. Then things got tricky. There were cameras and alarm sensors lining the halls. Every few moments a couple of armed Purifiers would patrol the walkway. They moved with urgency, hinting that something was wrong.
“These fellas look worried,” commented Rogue as they remained behind a nearby corner.
“As well they should be. They’re willingly aiding the wicked,” seethed Isaac, eager to attack their enemies.
“Will you quit it with the hellfire and brimstone!” she replied in a hushed tone, “We can’t rely on gods and angels to get past these fellas. Ah can’t muscle mah way past them either. They’ll just use that as an excuse to hurt the hostages.”
“So what do you suggest we do?” he asked intently.
“The hell if Ah know. Ah didn’t date Cyclops long enough to pick up on advanced tactics.”
Rogue sounded as frustrated as he was. Isaac watched her peer behind the corner to see three Purifiers restlessly pacing along a particular door. This was likely where they were keeping the mutants. Time was of the essence and they couldn’t afford to be stuck.
Intent on finding a solution, Isaac looked around the immediate area. They were still surrounded by various construction equipment and piles of materials. Nothing seemed particularly useful against the Purifiers and their automatic weapons. Then something near the staircase they entered through caught his eye. It was a pile of sawdust next to some wooden scraps. Looking back towards the Purifiers, he had an idea.
“Tell me, Miss Rogue…do you smoke?” he asked her.
“If you’re gonna start preaching on the evils of cigarettes, you should know Ah’ve been trying to cut back,” said Rogue dryly.
“Then I take it you haven’t quit yet. That’s actually a good thing,” said Isaac with an ominous grin, “Give me your lighter. I have a plan.”
Rogue looked at Isaac skeptically. This guy was an unusual character that followed an unusual theology. But since she wasn’t coming up with anything on her own, she decided to give him a chance.
“Okay, sugah,” she muttered as she handed him her lighter, “Just don’t make meh regret this.”
“You won’t. God is on our side so I know this will work.”
Holding the lighter firmly, Isaac carefully slipped back towards the stairs they used to enter this level. Rogue carefully followed him, making sure he didn’t cause too much noise. She watched as he gathered some scraps of wood and piled them into a small area near the back. Anything plastic or metal was discarded. He also took a few piles of sawdust and lined the area around the pile.
Once the pile was of sufficient size, he looked around for something else. He rushed back and forth with Rogue, gathering some assorted newspapers and discarded construction booklets. Once he had enough, he rolled them up to form a thick wand of paper.
“Is this as crazy as it looks?” she asked him, “Are you gonna try and smoke them without smoking us ourselves out in process?”
“I’m willing to lay my life on the line to stop these heathens,” he assured her, “Do you believe these so-called Purifiers are just as willing in their agitated state?”
“Not that it makes a difference, but Ah guess you’re gonna test that theory regardless of what Ah say,” said Rogue.
Rogue wasn’t coming up with anything so she let Isaac carry out this risky plan of his. She stepped back as he carefully lit the wads of paper with her cigarette lighter. Within moments it was a burning torch. And with it, he set fire to areas around the wooden pile. As soon as it started burning, he retreated towards the steps and Rogue followed. From there they stayed put, waiting for their opportunity to arise.
They didn’t have to wait long. Within minutes the pile was ablaze and the whole lower area was filled with smoke. That smoke eventually reached around the corridors to the Purifiers guarding the door.
“Smoke? Damn it, how much more can go wrong?” groaned one of the Purifiers.
“Is this part of the Exodus contingency?” asked another.
“Hell no! This god-forsaken structure is only making our jobs harder,” said the leader of the group grimly, “Hurry! We have to put it out.”
Every Purifier guarding the door rushed down the hall to take care of the fire. While they were braving clouds of smoke, Rogue and Isaac stayed back near the stairs so they wouldn’t be seen. Once the final Purifier had passed, they snuck past them using the smoke as cover. The air was still clear enough by the door for them to catch their breath.
“Nice job, sugah. You’re pretty clever for a man of the cloth,” commented Rogue.
“I’m humbled by your praise, blessed one,” he replied.
“Call meh Rogue. And Ah ain’t as blessed as you think,” she told him, “If Ah were, then Ah wouldn’t have such a nasty feeling about what’s behind this door.”
With the Purifiers occupied, they were ready to proceed. Before they entered, Rogue carefully placed her ear to the door to make sure there weren’t any surprises behind it.
“Ah don’t hear anything, but those captured mutants are here. Ah can feel it,” she said strongly.
“So let’s rescue them,” said Isaac.
“We will,” Rogue assured him, “But first, we need to do a little more spying. Something big is goin’ down and we need to find out what it is. No one goes through the trouble of abducting mutants in broad daylight without having a pretty nasty motive.”
Xavier Institute – Cerebrum
It was a race against time. The X-men and the guardians of District X were feeling the pressure. Fantomex was on the loose and there was still no plan for stopping this tenacious living weapon. Professor Xavier had been working hard to coordinate with General Grimshaw and the MSA. The General was already aware of the crisis. He couldn’t get any details as to what he was doing so Xavier tabled that issue for the moment. For now, The X-men had their own leads to follow.
Using Cerebrum, the Professor got in touch with his X-men. They were reporting in from the archives in District X’s central building. From there, Bishop helped the team upload a number of files to the institute network. While this was going on, Jean arrived with the data Hank had given her. Scott was on the main communication link to get an update.
“We’re about halfway done with the transfer, Professor. Bishop is cooperating. The X-men are helping Madrox smooth things over with the authorities. The media fervor seems to be settling somewhat, but I think he’s still protecting Tessa’s personal data.”
“I hope you’re not pressuring him to release everything to us. We can’t expect District X to share all their secrets,” said Professor Xavier through the link.
“I’m not the one applying the pressure, sir. It’s Wolverine and X-23 who are being really impatient…even more so than Bobby. They want to know everything about everything, regardless of how much it annoys Bishop.”
“This is intensely personal for them. I expected them to be impatient.”
“I never expected anything less. They want another shot at Fantomex and the rest of us want our first.”
“You’ll get it soon enough,” assured the Professor, “As we speak, Jean is using Cerebrum’s psionic amplifiers to locate Fantomex. She and Hank believe they discovered a means of tracking him.”
“I want to say that’s good news, sir. But I’m concerned about our total lack of a plan here. This guy mortally wounded Wolverine and took on District X. I don’t think a direct attack would be the wisest tactic here.”
It was not lost on Charles Xavier that Fantomex nearly killed one of his X-man. It was also not lost on him that this was a product of Weapon X. Living weapons were tenacious foes and it wasn’t just because of their physical abilities. There was often a level of mental damage that made them even more dangerous. Logan still bore many mental scars from Weapon X. There’s no telling what sort of scars Fantomex carried in his current state.
Xavier felt another headache coming on. This one was worse than before. He needed to pause for a moment so he could collect himself before he responded. Scott was still in the background with the others, working feverishly with Bishop to keep the data streaming.
“Are you still with me, sir? Is everything okay?”
“I’m fine, Cyclops,” assured Charles Xavier, “Keep transmitting the data. I’m forwarding to Hank’s lab as we speak.”
“We’ll keep at it. What does he expect to find with this data anyways?”
“We’ll know soon enough. In the meantime I’m continuing my efforts with General Grimshaw. He’s been somewhat occupied, but he is certainly aware of this crisis. He’s already issued special orders to hunt down Fantomex.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what Captain Freeman told us.”
“Captain Freeman? He’s there with you?” said the Professor with a touch of surprise.
“He’s made his presence known to say the least. He’s willing to work with us, but he’s as hostile as the rest of the MSA. Apparently, he and General Grimshaw don’t have much faith in us.”
“I see,” said Xavier.
This was a potential complication. Having someone like Captain Freeman on their side could prove useful in the fight against Fantomex. At the same time, it could add to the growing strain between the X-men and the MSA.
“I figure we’re stuck with him. Guess we can use this as an opportunity to regain some of that lost trust.”
“Be careful with such an opportunity. Captain Freeman may be a mutant, but his loyalty is to Grimshaw,” said Xavier, “Encourage the team to work with him rather than despite him. If you get a chance, see if he can call in some backup from the MSA.”
“Somehow I doubt he’s feeling generous right now.”
“It never hurts to ask,” said Xavier, “Once we find out where Fantomex is hiding, we’ll need to strike with overwhelming force if we’re to stand a chance.”
He could tell that Scott was still hesitant, but Xavier believed that he was the best one to manage this fragile situation. He had a personal connection with Captain Freeman. As the son of a military family, he could relate to the reclusive mutant soldier. They needed him as an ally right now. There was too much at stake.
Xavier was prepared to convince Scott of the captain’s worth, but he never got his chance though. To his left, Jean Grey had been working on the Cerebrum interface. In an instant she went from deep concentration to utter horror.
“Professor!” she exclaimed.
“What’s going on over there, Professor? Was that Jean?”
“Hold for a moment, Cyclops,” replied the Professor.
He didn’t even get a chance to pause the transmission. Jean literally threw off the helmet and rushed towards her mentor with great urgency.
“I found him. I know where Fantomex is heading,” she said breathlessly.
“Calm down, Jean. Tell me what you sensed,” coaxed Xavier.
“You won’t be calm when you hear this. That program Mr. McCoy wrote to track his faint psionic signature picked up a trail. But that trail is a straight line pointing at one particular location…Genosha.”
Now it was Professor Xavier’s turn to grimace. Fantomex causing a spectacle in District X was bad enough. If he got to Genosha and started causing trouble, then that would have ramifications on a global scale.
He was so preoccupied pondering the horrors that he forgot the transmission to Scott was still live. And it wasn’t just the X-leader that heard Jean’s news. A few others in the background heard it as well.
“Did she just say what I think she said?” exclaimed the voice of Captain Jack Freeman.
“Are you shitting me? Fantomex is heading for Genosha!” roared Logan, who shoved Scott out of the way from the broadcast for a moment.
“I know what I heard. So why aren’t we already on our way there?” said an equally enraged X-23.
The outbursts were so forceful it caused a great deal of static in the transmission. Charles Xavier didn’t have time to go over the long list of ways this was terrible news. With Jean sharing the worry, he returned to the console. That lack of a plan Scott mentioned earlier was even more apparent now.
“There is little time for dread, X-men. We must act!” said Xavier strongly.
“Damn right, we will. I’m calling the X-jet right now. That alien tech Hank installed better be working!” said Logan over the link.
“Don’t start overreacting yet, Logan. You’ll need your outrage for later.” he warned, “We’re still not clear on Fantomex’s plans. Make sure Bishop continues transferring the data from the archives and meet up with the X-men helping Multiple. Set a course for Genosha and don’t make any drastic moves until I can get in touch with Wanda.”
“No drastic moves…right.”
“Logan don’t…” the Professor went on.
It was too late. Logan wasn’t about to waste time hammering out the details. He was too focused on seeking out Fantomex. No plan was needed in his book. They just needed a location and that was it.
This left Xavier even more concerned. There was no sense in contacting Logan again. He probably had the team rushing out of Tessa’s quarters and towards the X-jet at the moment. It wouldn’t take long for them to be on their way. Xavier wasn’t convinced that this was a good thing.
“We’re playing a dangerous game with Fantomex…one in which the rules aren’t yet clear,” mused Professor Xavier.
“You think that bothers Logan? I can feel Scott’s emotions through our link and you don’t want to know the curses he’s yelling at Logan right now,” said Jean, hugging her shoulders with worry.
“Nothing is going to stop them from confronting Fantomex,” he said strongly, “That means we’ll just have to work faster in uncovering Fantomex’s plan. I believe it may be the key to stopping him and those who were foolish enough to create him.”
“Hurry up! Let’s get a move on,” urged Reverend Stryker to his Purifiers, “The Exodus contingency is in full effect. We need to be out of here in under ten minutes.”
William Stryker and Graydon Creed worked quickly to purge this build of any evidence that they had been here. It became increasingly apparent that Colonel Wraith’s plan for Weapon Plus had gone horribly wrong. The news reports revealed that Fantomex was no longer under their control. The mere fact that Wraith hadn’t called them indicated that he had left them out to dry.
Without Wraith, they had to fend for themselves. Stryker and Creed still had plenty of resources to salvage for their cause. They had money and manpower to continue their crusade against the mutant race. They also had Arcade, who was still on a short leash with them. His hacking skills would be a valuable asset, although he didn’t seem nearly as concerned about escaping as he should have.
“This is getting uncomfortably creepy. Fantomex has disappeared, but we’re still linked to EVA,” said Arcade as he went over streams of data, “The mission data is reworking itself. We may still have access to a sub-channel in the AI.”
“Quit stalling, Arcade. The mission is over,” urged Reverend Styrker, “Has Wraith not made it abundantly clear that he’s screwed us over?”
“It’s not Wraith that worries me. I doubt he knew what he was dealing with when he stole this techno-organic material. There seems to be a string of encrypted code inside the system. Either this is something he wasn’t aware of or it’s something he kept from us.”
“I don’t care what that arrogant heathen knows or doesn’t know. As far as I’m concerned, his Weapon Plus program is a failure. Now if you don’t wish to fail with him, you’ll pack up your computers and follow us!”
Arcade still hesitated to leave this matter unresolved. The hacker in him never liked leaving a code uncracked. Looking around at the Purifiers as they frantically packed up their gear, it looked like he wouldn’t get a chance to decode it.
Arcade wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t be able to complete this mission. Graydon Creed had his share of unfinished business as well. While the Purifiers were doing most of the work, he remained fixated on the mutants that Fantomex had abducted. They were still bound and gagged, terrified by what was going on around them. Their terror only enraged him, knowing he wouldn’t be able to finish them off. The Exodus contingency that Stryker implemented left no room to take these mutants with them. It meant he would be leaving them alive and that was something that made him sick to his stomach.
“We should kill them before we leave,” said Creed strongly.
“Brother Creed, nothing would make me happier than to send these hapless souls back to Hell where they belong. Unfortunately, time is not on our side even if God is,” said Stryker as he passed by Creed.
“I don’t care if there’s a risk. I refuse to let these monsters just walk away.”
“They will all face divine judgment. That you can be sure of,” said the reverend, “Right now, we have to assume that the failure of Fantomex has put Wraith in a vulnerable position. He’s probably trying to weasel his way out of this as we speak and you can assume that involves making us accomplices in his game.”
“I’m not afraid to go back to prison if that’s what it takes,” said Graydon strongly.
“Be reasonable, Graydon. You won’t be able to serve our cause from behind bars. We need to get away and regroup. There will be other opportunities. Let’s not sacrifice the whole crusade for the sake of a small battle.”
Every part of the reverend’s argument made sense. Even so, Creed hesitated. The Purifiers had already gathered most of their materials and placed them into unmarked crates. They were about to wheel them up through a special passage that led to a parking garage where they could make their escape. He was expected to go with them so his money could keep funding their crusade. That still meant leaving these mutants alive and dealing with the revulsion that evoked within him.
While Creed and Stryker wrestled with the failure of this mission, Rogue and Isaac watched from the secondary entryway across the room. They arrived just in time to see the Purifiers preparing their escape. They also saw the mutants that had been abducted. They looked scared and desperate. They needed help and it was up to them to deliver.
“William Stryker…that unrepentant heathen. I should rip out his tongue so he can’t preach his false gospel!” said Isaac under his breath with simmering anger.
“Ah appreciate the sentiment, sugah. But we need to focus on saving those mutants. Ah don’t think Graydon Creed is gonna walk away without hurting them,” said Rogue, her voice just above a whisper.
“So what do you suggest? I don’t suspect another distraction will work here.”
“That fire you set earlier ain’t gonna do the trick. If the smoke ain’t reached this area yet, that means those fellas behind us were able to put it out. Now we’re basically boxed in, enemies behind us and enemies in front of us.”
“You don’t sound too worried,” commented Isaac.
“Why should I?” she said with a slight grin, “This is the point in the mission where the X-men are at their best.”
Isaac stayed close as Rogue carefully snuck through the poor lighting, staying along the walls and behind piles of building materials. The Purifiers were distracted so they didn’t pick up on her presence. She carefully worked her way along the west wall and towards the south where the mutants were being kept. Along the way Isaac clutched the cross he was wearing around his neck, gathering his strength for the next move.
About twenty feet from where the mutants were standing, a stack of plastic crates containing assorted weapons was ready to be rolled out with the others. Two Purifiers rushed over to haul them away.
“Help me with this,” said one of the Purifiers, “These are heavy and we don’t have time to make multiple trips.”
“I’ll take the back. You stabilize the front,” said the other.
The two Purifiers began coordinating, setting aside their weapons and preparing to move the crates. They were already on a gurney. Because of the weight, they wouldn’t move very efficiently. As a result, the one that got behind the stack had to push extra hard to start moving the load. The lone Purifier pushed so hard he didn’t notice Rogue walking up behind him and reach for him with her bare hands.
“Take a load off, sugah. Looks like you could use it,” she grinned.
The Purifier didn’t get a chance to express any shock. The moment Rogue touched his bare face he was drained of life energy and collapsed. This was quickly noticed by the other Purifier, who ran around to see what was going on.
“What’s happening? Don’t tell me you’re…”
“He is,” said Rogue, cutting him off as she reached for him as well.
This time the drain wasn’t so silent. Rogue stepped out into the open as she grabbed this hapless Purifier, sending him into a deep unconsciousness. This drew the attention of the other Purifiers throughout the area. It also drew the attention of Reverend Stryker and Graydon Creed. The moment they saw Rogue, they recognized her as someone who didn’t belong here.
“Intruder!” yelled one of the Purifiers.
“Worse…an X-man!” yelled Graydon Creed.
“Hurry and subdue her, my Purifiers!” ordered Stryker.
“And here Ah was thinking this would be a nice Sunday school lesson,” taunted Rogue.
The time for sneaking was over. Rogue launched her full attack. Just as they were drawing their weapons, Rogue took to the air and flew across the area. She struck Stryker and Creed first, knocking them to the floor with enough force to leave them moderately concussed. This way they wouldn’t be able to hurt the abducted mutants any more. It also left her open to take the brunt of the Purifier’s attack.
“She attacked Reverend Stryker. Shoot her!” yelled a number of Purifiers.
“Go ahead. Ah got a few itches that need scratchin’ anyhow,” said Rogue.
Six Purifiers boldly stepped into her path and fired off a stream of rounds, each of which bounced right off her. Rogue’s invulnerable form protected her and her strength allowed her to ram right through them, knocking them all out as if they were bowling pins. More attempted to fight back. Rogue drew their fire towards the east end of the area not far from where Arcade’s equipment resided. The remaining Purifiers tried to surround her while Arcade coward in her presence.
“You crazy bitch! You don’t know what you’re doing,” said Arcade.
“Then by all mean, sugah…enlighten meh,” said Rogue.
Despite the Purifiers surrounding her, Rogue reached and grabbed Arcade’s face to drain him of his energy. This effectively shut him up and endowed her with his knowledge. It also cleared the way for Rogue to take on every Purifier. They continued attacking with reckless abandon. Some tried shooting her with handguns while others tried fighting her the old fashioned way. Whichever tactic those chose, Rogue countered with ease.
The three Purifiers that tried to shoot her were disarmed swiftly by a sweeping kick that broke all their hands. While they writhed in pain, six more tried to pile on top her. She casually shoved them off, kneeing two in the gut to knock the wind out of them and tossing the rest across the room with her strength. Several more tried to shoot her. One even tried shooting her in the head. This momentarily stunned Rogue, but not enough to slow her down. She made sure that particular Purifier paid, grabbing him and draining him to further deplete their numbers.
“These boys ain’t playing nice, Isaac. Now would be a good time to contribute,” she called out.
“I’m already doing my part, Rogue. And I intend to do much more,” said Isaac from across the room.
Rogue had every Purifier occupied. All the guns were pointed at her, leaving Isaac a clear path to the abducted mutants. He emerged from where he was hiding, stepping over the two Purifiers that Rogue took down earlier. With his cross in hand, he set his sights on Reverend Stryker and Graydon Creed. He went for William Stryker first, grabbing him by the neck and punching him mercilessly.
“Your sins have finally caught up with you, William. You’ve spent years preaching a false gospel…using the Lord as an excuse to do the devil’s bidding!” yelled Isaac, throwing several more punches to the already dazed reverend.
“Augh!” grunted Stryker, feeling his head throb from each blow, “You…I know you.”
“You should,” said Isaac with burning anger, “You clearly didn’t get the message before. Allow me to remind you!”
Isaac raised his fist and prepared to hit Stryker again. He was stopped unexpectedly when Graydon Creed shot up behind him and pulled him into a choke hold. This forced him off Reverend Stryker and dragged him away from the mutants he was trying to save.
“Aagh!” yelled Isaac with unbridled rage.
“You dare aid these monsters?” yelled Creed, “I don’t care if you are a man of the cloth. You deserve to die with them!”
The enraged man choked Isaac with all his strength, using his arms to lock him in so he couldn’t escape. While Graydon Creed had Isaac within his grasp, the bloodied Reverend Stryker crawled away. His vision was blurry due to his concussion. He could still see all his Purifiers struggling against Rogue. Few were still conscious. This mission had already been lost and the toll was rising. With this in mind, he stammered to his feet and limped towards the back entryway.
‘God, grant me strength. I shall continue to do thy bidding, but today I’ve failed you.’
Isaac watched with blind rage as Reverend Stryker slipped away. Rogue didn’t notice since she was too preoccupied with the Purifiers. That man was his theological antithesis. He needed to take this false prophet down for both his mission and his soul. Yet here he was, watching him escape.
“Damn you…your soul is damned to Hell, Stryker. You will…atone for your sins, I…shall see to it,” said Isaac intently, who was still stuck in Grayond Creed’s iron grip.
“You have your own sins to atone for,” grunted Creed, “You walk with these monsters…you die with them!”
He tightened his grip, choking Isaac with more ferocity. Isaac felt the world around him spinning. His lungs cried for oxygen. He kept thrashing and struggling, but it was no use. Creed had him at his mercy.
He refused to go down at the hands of the wicked. Thinking fast, Isaac reached around for anything to use against Creed. He eventually found his cross, which never left his neck. Going mostly on instinct, he ripped the necklace off and gripped it firmly at the top. Then in a move that shocked Graydon Creed, Isaac used the cross to stab him right in the left eye.
“AHHHHHHHHHH!” Creed cried out in pain, releasing his grip in the process.
“Ungh…maybe now, you’ll see the light,” said Isaac as he rose up and caught his breath.
It took a rather ghastly tactic, but it got the job done. Isaac looked down at Graydon Creed with little pity, wiping off the blood and assorted eye parts from his cross. Between the hit he took from Rogue and the blood spewing from his eye, Creed was in no condition to fight. He lay in agony on the floor, clutching his face and cursing everyone around him in incoherent words. Once he put his cross back around his neck, Isaac set his sights back on Reverend Stryker.
While Isaac was collecting himself, Rogue finished off the last of the Purifiers. Ten armed men made one last desperate attack, trying to shoot her from all angles. Some ended up shooting each other. Those that didn’t were met with a swift spin kick that took out four Purifiers and a couple of haymakers. Those that remained were easily drained with a simple touch to the face.
Once every Purifier had fallen, Rogue turned her attention back to Isaac. She saw him stammering towards where Styrker had escaped to. As much as she wanted to catch that bastard herself, they had other concerns.
“Let him go, Isaac. He’s long gone now,” she told him.
“I won’t! If we let Stryker get away, he’ll be free to preach his false gospel,” said Isaac.
“You’ll give him even more to preach about if you walk away from these mutants!, Rogue retorted, “Don’t follow your anger. Trust meh on this. You gotta take care of the little things first.”
Isaac looked back at the bound mutants, many of whom were still terrified about the noises they had been hearing. The sound of gunfire made them think they were about to be executed. They needed his help more than he needed to go after Stryker. Even if that false prophet got away, the Lord was sure to give him more opportunities to exact justice.
“It’s a mistake letting him get away,” he said as he turned back towards the mutants, “But I’m used to living with mistakes.”
“Now that’s the kind of preaching Ah can get behind,” said Rogue with a smile, “Go ahead and free the mutants. Keep ‘em calm and get them outta here as fast as you can.”
“It will be done,” he assured her, “What about you?”
“When Ah drained their hacker friend here, Ah got a bit more insight than Ah was expecting. This whole abduction plot feeds right into a few other missions Ah’ve been trying to resolve.”
Rogue cracked her knuckles and made her way to Arcade’s computer array, which was still running. She set Arcade’s unconscious body aside and sat down in his seat. Tapping into the hacking skills she took from Arcade, she went to work accessing his systems.
As she began typing, Isaac began freeing the mutants. Using some special keys he took from one of the Purifiers, he unlocked their heavy restraints and pulled off their blindfolds. Many of these mutants were young or weak. They were quite frightened so Isaac calmed them as best he could.
“Who…who are you?” said a scared young mutant girl who couldn’t have been older than 12-years-old.
“I’m not one of the devils who did this to you,” he assured her, “I’m here to reaffirm God’s love of the blessed.”
Isaac’s presence was welcomed by the wary mutants. One-by-one he freed them. Some were injured and needed help to get back to their feet. The holy man took great care in tending to them. They had little clue as to what was going on and few cared to know.
While they were content to leave this horrible place behind, Rogue continued hacking her way through Arcade’s network. It didn’t take long for her to bring up a series of files detailing this sinister mission. When she saw what she was dealing with, it sent a chill down her spine. It also vindicated some of her earlier suspicions.
“So they are using that techno-organic goo Tessa has meh chasing,” she said, “Ah sure would hate to be this Fantomex fella. There’s even some kinda signal coming from him. It keeps on blathering about this whole World crap. Better put this Arcade fella’s skills to good use and dig deeper.”
Skies Over Genosha
It was a rocky ride aboard the X-jet. As soon as the X-men departed from District X, Cyclops and Wolverine hit the afterburners so they could get to Genosha as quickly as possible. The alien technology Beast installed was put to full use, pushing the jet towards speeds that surprised even Captain Freeman, who was along for the ride. They entered Genoshan airspace in less than an hour. They followed the psionic trail being tracked Cerebrum. It led them over the sensitive parts of Genosha where the Warlock technology was housed. However, such an intrusion didn’t go unnoticed.
“Attention X-men! This is Quicksilver. You are flying in way too close for comfort. My sister’s still chatting with your Professor so unless you want to start trouble you’ll…”
The blaring message from Quicksilver was abruptly cut off by Wolverine. He drew a claw and actually shoved it into the speaker, shorting it out to silence the transmission.
“You know, there are easier ways to shut Pietro up, Wolverine,” commented an angry Cyclops.
“We ain’t got time to play twenty questions with them. Hell, Quickie won’t even let us ask one,” scoffed the feral mutant.
“I’m still not clear how that justifies destroying our transceivers.”
“If the Prof wants to contact us, he’ll tap that brilliant mind of his,” said Wolverine, “Now ain’t the time for diplomacy. We gotta find Fantomex and beat that techno-blood outta him. Maximoff will thank us later…to a point anyways.”
Cyclops shook his head in frustration. He understood Wolverine was eager to confront this man that nearly killed him, but that understanding only went so far. His presence had been unbearable since this mission began. When all this was over, Wolverine better get his act together or their problems would only get worse.
While he and Wolverine manned the cockpit, the rest of the team sat anxiously in the passenger area of the jet. Iceman, Storm, Gambit, Shadowcat, Colossus, and Psylocke waited for the mission to unfold. Iceman was more serious than usual because of his concern about Jubilee. He wasn’t the only one though. X-23 and Captain Freeman sat near the back, not knowing what to expect from tagging along with the X-men. X-23 was completely silent. No one dared talk to her. However, Captain Freeman was a bit more curious.
“You guys know how to travel in style,” he commented, “I’ve flown in some of the most advanced aircraft in the world. This thing makes them look like they run on propellers.”
“You’re going to get suspicious of us, aren’t you?” asked Shadowcat cynically.
“Because if you are, please note that we’re not going to divulge every secret of our work,” said Storm firmly, “You’re here because you demanded to be here.”
“You’re lucky I don’t know dick about tech stuff or I may start interrogating people on how you got your hands on this fancy thing,” said Captain Freeman, “Right now I’m focused on more immediate concerns…like why Fantomex would want to come here.”
“Doesn’t seem like much of a mystery,” said Psylocke, “This is where Genosha manufactures the technology they export.”
“I’ll bet one of those buildings down there is housing Warlock,” said Shadowcat, “Genosha makes a pretty big deal about guarding it. That thing is the key to all that tech the rest of the world can’t get enough of.”
“Could that be what Fantomex is after? Could he be trying to steal Warlock?” suggested Colossus.
“If that be the case, then we damn well better stop him,” said Gambit, “A fella that crazy with voodoo that potent be a nasty combo.”
“We won’t let it get that far,” said Storm strongly.
“We better not,” said Captain Freeman, “Because if we fail, I’m authorized to call the General and order a strike on everything within a ten mile radius of that freak show.”
“That better not imply something nuclear,” said Psylocke suspiciously.
“Yeah, we are on Genoshan soil you know. You want to risk starting a war just to win a battle?” said Shadowcat more apprehensively.
“Far as I’m concerned, a war would be far less damaging than Fantomex getting his hands on that Warlock,” replied the Green Beret without flinching.
This did not sit well with the X-men. They all shared the same apprehension towards the mutant solider. He was willing to use extra firepower to stop Fantomex. Given their history with Genosha, they knew better than anyone how that could turn into something much worse.
Everyone soon shifted their gaze towards the windows so they could survey the landscape below. It was very early in the morning in this part of the world. The sun was just rising and the structures below were just coming into view. This area was near the quarry where the alien ship was discovered. It was also by far the most secure part of the island. It was surrounded by a vast network of walls and barriers. These obstacles guarded six advanced buildings, each constructed from Warlock. They had a very alien feel to them, bearing technology that was centuries ahead of its time. So far nothing seemed amiss. Given Fantomex’s cunning, that could change very quickly.
Iceman looked over this landscape with more focus than usual. He was sitting in the seat in front of X-23. For once, he wasn’t very talkative or cracking jokes. It put him in a state of mind he wasn’t used to. X-23 picked up on this, being all too familiar with such feelings.
“Are you going to let it consume you?” she asked him, finally breaking her silence.
“What? You talking to me?” asked Iceman incredulously.
“Before you play dumb, let me point out I’ve noted that look in your eye since District X. I’ve seen it before,” said the former living weapon, “That blind irrational anger…it’s infuriating. You only get it when certain emotions run high…except they aren’t always the right emotions.”
Iceman looked back towards X-23. Then he turned back to the window. This girl really was related to Wolverine. That sounded like something only he would understand. It took a moment for him to process what she was asking. When it came to him he clenched his fists and sighed.
“I think I have a right to be pissed off,” he told her, “This guy has Jubilee.”
“Is she your lover?” X-23 asked.
“Yeah…well, on some levels.”
“I see. That would explain the irrational part. I was conditioned all my life to suppress emotions. So whenever I did express them, they rarely came out right. I assume you were never conditioned in such a way. That means you don’t understand what you’re feeling as much as you think.”
“Is this your way of poking fun at me? Because I get enough of that from Kitty,” said Iceman with growing frustration.
“I could care less about your personal affairs. I’m more concerned what may happen if that irrational anger jeopardizes the mission. I want to take this guy out too. But if you’re so worked up that you become a liability, then that’s going to be a problem…for everybody.”
This girl didn’t mince words. She also made a compelling case. This wasn’t the first time one of his lovers had been in trouble. Lorna got caught up in world-threatening affairs on more than one occasion when they were together. Even then, he wasn’t this anxious. It implied that there was something different between his relationship with Lorna and the one he had with Jubilee. Whatever that difference was, it turned his emotions on this matter from a strength to a weakness.
X-23 didn’t berate the young mutant more than she needed to. Her focus was entirely on this mission. All the training and conditioning that turned her into an effective killer was boiling to the surface. In her mind she scrutinized every possible outcome. The only thing keeping her from accomplishing her mission was not knowing where he was.
“How much longer?” she called out, “I thought you said you could track this man.”
“We can and we are,” said Cyclops from the cockpit, “Fantomex isn’t making this easy. We only know from the psionic signature that his trail leads to Genosha and it ends somewhere around this area.”
“So what’s keeping you from pinpointing his location?” X-23 said with growing impatience, “I already know he’s close. I can smell his stench,”
“I smell it too. It’s pissing me off more every second we don’t find this prick.” said Wolverine.
“Try to think happy thoughts, Wolverine. You’ll get your chance,” assured Cyclops, showing his share of frustration as well, “Fantomex will make his presence known sooner or later. He doesn’t strike me as someone who can resist making a big entrance.”
“You talk like he’s Magneto. I’ve been in that prick’s shoes before. I know how living weapons think. And the whole spectacle thing ain’t part of it.”
“If you have any insight that might point us in the right direction, we would love to hear it,” said Storm from just outside the cockpit.
“That’s just it. I ain’t sure what I suspect,” he conceded, “All I know is something here doesn’t add up. One bit that keeps bugging me is how this prick could fly all the way to Genosha so damn fast. Does he got flight powers we don’t know about?”
“Now that you mention it, that does seem a little off,” said Gambit, the philosopher in him growing curious as well.
It was something that no one really questioned to this point. It offered some disturbing possibilities, none of which sat well with Wolverine or X-23. The rest of the X-men soon shared that suspicion as well.
As some pondered this matter, Cyclops flew the X-jet around for another pass over the main factory. They were approaching the central structure when he received a frantic telepathic message through his psychic link with Jean Grey.
‘Scott! Scott, where are you? I can’t reach you on the com-link!’
‘I’m here, Jean. Those links are down thanks to Logan. What’s going on?’
‘Please tell me you’re not over Genosha yet. Whatever you do, don’t fly over the factories on the coast.’
‘It’s a bit late for that. We just arrived a few moments ago. Why? What’s wrong?’
There was a brief silence in his mind. The X-leader could literally feel his lover’s dread through their link. Something had to be very wrong on her end or theirs.
‘Scott…you need to turn the X-jet around NOW!’
‘Why? I thought Cerebrum tracked Fantomex to Genosha.’
‘That’s just it. He ISN’T there. That trail of psionic energy we’ve been using is a ruse. It’s some kind of sophisticated illusion. I had to use the Phoenix Force to see through it.’
‘An illusion? But if he’s not on Genosha, then where is he?’
‘It’s the X-jet, Scott. He’s with you on the X-jet.’
Cyclops was immediately filled with dread. His grip on the flight controls tensed and his frustration now matched Wolverine’s. In their determination to find Fantomex, the X-men may have made a horrible mistake.
“Something wrong, Cyke? You look like someone shot you in the ass,” commented Wolverine.
“X-men…I just got a message from Jean,” he said in a dire tone, “I know how Fantomex made it to Genosha.”
“Don’t keep us in suspense. How the hell did he pull that trick off?” asked Shadowcat.
Cyclops was about to answer. Someone else ended up answering for him from the back of the jet near the first aid equipment. In a moment of shock, a presence emerged as if it had stepped out from an invisible cloak.
“You naïve little child, you’ve much to learn,” came a familiar voice, “Why go through the trouble of pulling a trick when it’s so much easier to let others do the work for you.”
The X-men all turned towards the sound of the voice and to their horror, it belonged to Fantomex. Emerging from his illusion, he revealed that he had been standing in the back of the jet the whole time. The unconscious Sage and Jubilee were still at his side, utterly oblivious to what was happening.
“I knew that scent was too close!” roared X-23.
“So he was on the jet the whole time?” exclaimed Iceman.
“Courtesy of Miss King’s illusions,” the living weapon clarified, “They really are quite remarkable. As are Miss Lee’s here. Allow me to demonstrate.”
With the shock still reverberating through the X-men, Fantomex casually tapped the powers he absorbed from Jubilee and fired a concentrated blast. The whole jet was then illuminated with firework-like bursts. They blew right down the central isle and into the cockpit where Wolverine and Cyclops were sitting. They instinctively shielded themselves and ducked to the side. The blast missed them, but it hit the flight controls. As soon as it did, the jet was rocked with a fresh wave of turbulence.
“Damn it! He fried the controls!” exclaimed Cyclops.
“I do apologize, but this is where I get off,” said Fantomex casually, “If I were you, I would fasten your seat belts and make sure your tray tables are in an upright position. It’s going to be a rough landing.”
“I’ll show you rough!” yell X-23, trying to get up from her seat.
“Hold that thought.”
Before the feral mutant could undo her restraints, Fantomex fired another energy burst. This time it was directed towards the hatch on his right. It was powerful enough to blow the door open and send powerful shears of wind coursing through the jet. It also allowed Fantomex to slip out with Sage and Jubilee still in his arms. In doing so he revealed that he not only snuck onto the jet. He stole one of their parachutes as well.
“Thank you for the lift, X-men. I can take it from here,” he called out.
“Damn that crazy bugger,” grunted Psylocke over the wind.
“He’s smarter than he looks,” groaned Captain Freeman, “Please tell me this jet has some high tech safety measures.”
“It did…until Fantomex shorted them out,” snarled Wolverine.
“I still have some avionics. I might be able to glide in for a landing,” said Cyclops.
“Might?” questioned Gambit.
“Well a little help couldn’t hurt. Storm, I need an assist from Mother Nature. Iceman, I need that hatch sealed.”
“I’m guessing this means we’re in for another crash landing,” groaned Iceman.
“A crash landing is still better than a crash,” reminded Storm.
The anger over Fantomex fell to the wayside. Surviving this bumpy descent was now their primary concern. Iceman used his ice powers to form a thick shell of ice over the open hatch, temporarily sealing the cabin. Storm put her powers to work as well, her eyes shifting bright white as she summoned a series of tornado-like winds under the crippled jet. It helped stabilize the aircraft, but it would still need some guidance going down.
“You guys should know the drill by now. Sit tight and hang on!” urged Cyclops.
“It’s insane how used to this I am,” said Shadowcat.
The turbulence continued as the X-jet sputtered through the air and towards the rough terrain below. Cyclops clutched what was left of the controls, having to grasp a couple of melted gears. It was even harder than he expected. Sparks few everywhere and none of the jet’s instruments could help him. Despite some fumbling, he managed to grasp enough of the controls to activate the wing flaps. This helped the jet stabilize into a rough glide. Storm’s tornados outside kept it from nose-diving, carrying it in a corkscrew-like path towards the ground. It was still not a pleasant descent to say the least.
“You stick this landing, Cyke…and I won’t call you a prick when you blame me for this,” grunted Wolverine as the ground outside approached uncomfortably quickly.
“I’m going to hold you to that, Wolverine,” said Cyclops.
The X-leader pulled up on the faulty controls as hard as he could, raising the nose of the jet so that it pointed up at a narrow angle. As this happened a fresh round of turbulence filled the jet. Everyone held on and resisted their churning stomachs.
When they reached the surface, Storm sent one last sharp gust of wind under the jet to cushion the blow. It still resulted in a rough landing. The belly of the jet skipped along the rocky terrain, causing another round of shaking. It was like a ride on a faulty roller coaster. The jet skidded along the surface for several hundred feet before it came to a rest. By the time it was over, the X-jet was crippled and everyone inside was dazed.
While the X-men pondered how their mission had gone so horribly wrong, Fantomex prepared to take the next step with his. Shortly after jumping from the X-jet, he deployed his parachute and used it to guide him towards the surface. He still had Sage and Jubilee in hand, having strapped them to his side with a harness. He made sure to time his jump so he passed right over one of the buildings in the Warlock factories. Once he was directly over top of one, he made his next move.
“The right mission requires the right tools,” he mused.
Tapping the power he absorbed from Jubilee and Bishop, he formed a concentrated ball of energy in his hand and unleashed it directly down at the very center of the circular-shaped factory. When it struck, it blew a clear hole about eight feet in diameter through the structure.
This deafening commotion was enough to finally rouse Jubilee and Sage from their unconscious state. Sage was the first to arise. When she felt the brisk air and no ground beneath her feet, she knew she was in trouble. Jubilee was a bit woozier. Being knocked out made it more difficult for her to process what was going on.
“This is very bad,” mused Sage.
“Hnn…is it morning already?” groaned Jubilee.
“You might want to go back to sleep, Jubilee. You’ll spare yourself the nightmares.”
Ignoring her advice, Jubilee opened her eyes just in time to see Fantomex carry them towards the opening he just made. Before she was even fully alert, he grabbed onto them and released the parachute so that he fell full speed down the hole and into the building.
“WHOOOAAAAA SHIT!” she exclaimed.
“Quiet. This is actually the easy part,” said Fantomex.
They fell ten full floors before hitting solid ground. When they landed, they hit with such a hard thud they left an indent in the floor. Such a fall would likely kill a normal human being. Because of Fantomex’s durable form, he remained unscathed. The jolt was enough to put Sage and Jubilee back into a daze. Their heads were still throbbing from earlier and now they were back to being too woozy to stop this madman.
Now on solid footing, Fantomex took in his surroundings. He landed exactly where he hoped he would. He was now standing on the ground floor of this elaborate complex. All around him were a series of high-tech, alien-looking machines. They all bore the distinct makeup of Warlock, the creature that had granted Genosha the alien tech that made it so powerful. There were two dozen box-like arrays, all of which had tubes that fed into a spherical vat in the center. It was the contents of this vat that Fantomex needed.
“I understand, EVA. One mission ends. Another begins,” he said.
As Fantomex approached the vat, a number of mutant workers stormed the area. They were the acolytes that worked to secure Genosha and included some of Magneto’s old forces such as Mellencamp.
“We’ve got an intruder. Stop him!” he said as he led a pack of acolytes towards Fantomex.
“You’re already too late,” said Fantomex.
The living weapon was only slightly inconvenienced. Using Jubilee and Bishop’s power again, he fired off another concentrated blast towards Mellencamp and his forces. He made sure he struck one of the arrays, causing it to crumble so that it fell right into their path. He didn’t need to subdue every one of them like he had the mutants at District X. He just needed a little extra time to finish the job.
Fantomex made good use of that time, redirecting his aim towards the vat. He fired off another blast, this time it was smaller and more concentrated. It blew a whole right through the metal vat, allowing a stream of blackish gold matter to pour out.
This was the unique matter from Warlock from which the alien technology was based on. It was not unlike his techno-organic blood. That’s exactly why it was so perfect for his mission. The veins on Fantomex’s hands started glowing again and as they did, he reached in and grabbed thick clump of the blackish-gold material.
“Reprogramming has commenced. Begin construction.”
A series of thin glowing tendrils shot out from his hand and into the matter. Once connected, the blackish matter changed color to a silvery gray. It now resembled Fantomex’s techno-organic blood, showing that he now had complete control over this material. With it, he ordered the exotic substance to spread out and encompass the entire area. Within seconds it consumed the entire floor of the factory. When Mellencamp and the Genoshan security force saw this, they quickly panicked.
“What the hell is that?” said one mutant.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think we should let it touch us,” said another.
“Agreed! All factory security fall back,” ordered Mellencamp.
No one needed to be ordered to flee. Everyone in the immediate area and throughout the facility ran full speed away from the expanding substance, not looking to find out what happened if it touched them. The only ones who couldn’t run were Jubilee and Sage, who were caught right in the middle of it.
Having recovered again form the impact of their landing, Sage arose just in time to see what was going on. She watched as the silvery matter covered everything around her. Once covered, the exotic substance literally reshaped the area and began constructing something Sage hoped would never be completed.
“Is…is this what I think it is?” wondered Sage.
“You’re my creator, Tessa. You should recognize the fruits of your labor,” said Fantomex intently, “This is the culmination of my mission. All the data we’ll ever need shall be housed here. On this spot, The World shall rise!”
Next Issue: Weapon Plus Part 4
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