Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. As mutants, they are the next stage in human evolution, but with progress comes the potential for great danger. There are threats that come from humans and mutants alike. Some threats, however, are in a category all their own.
The man who calls himself Sinister has long been a menace like no other for the X-men. He’s a man of many secrets and one singular goal. He sees mutation as the key to something much bigger. Sinister’s many schemes have left the X-men reeling, but his latest plan promises to be his most ambitious. It also promises to be his most destructive.
Rogue, who has been working with Sage from District X, recently discovered that it was Sinister who helped Sebastian Shaw develop the techno-organic material that was used in Weapon Plus. And as it just so happens, some of the material from the ruins of the World was stolen from Genosha.
At the same time Sinister’s godson, Gabriel Summers, kept a secret from his brothers. With help from former X-man, John Proudstar, they uncovered evidence that Scott’s parents may still be alive. Now determined to uncover the truth, the X-men have assembled for another clash with Sinister.
Xavier Institute – Lower Levels
“Attention all X-men. Suit up and gather in the hanger immediately. We have an S-level threat. I repeat…we have an S-level threat.”
This urgent message from Charles Xavier was heard all throughout the Xavier Institute. All classes or activities ceased instantly. Scott and John Proudstar were already prepping the recently repaired X-jet with Hank and Ororo. Professor Xavier stayed in Cerebrum, investigating the mysterious circumstances that allowed them to locate Sinister’s Marauders so quickly. The rest of the team would have to catch up as they converged near the hanger.
“So much for finishing my criminology midterm,” sighed Betsy as she followed Kitty and Remy towards the hanger, “Remind me again. How bad is an S-level threat?”
“You ain’t been keeping up with the X-men’s lingo, have you?” commented Remy.
“If you did, you would know S-level threats are the equivalent of the X-files for the X-men,” said Kitty who was leading the way.
“I’m guessing none of us should be taking any comfort in that?” said Betsy.
“Let me put it to you this way…the last S-level threat was the Nova Roman battle against Sinister and Selene. Feeling comforted yet?” said Kitty harshly.
“Even if I wasn’t, your charming mood says it all,” muttered the British mutant.
Kitty’s brutal honesty was more brutal than usual. Every aspect of her personality was more brutal. It was a trend that Betsy, Remy, and others had noticed lately. Now was not the time to dig into it. They had just reached the entrance to the hanger. Before they went through, the elevator down the hall opened and the rest of the team emerged.
Bobby, Jean, and Piotr rushed down the corridors to catch up with their friends. They understood the severity of an S-level threat as well. For once, Bobby led the charge. There were no distractions with women this time. However, the same could not be said for Piotr.
“Kitty, wait up!” urged Piotr as he ran ahead to catch up with his girlfriend.
“Wow, is that what I sounded like when I lagged behind because of women problems?” asked Bobby, who was nearly knocked over when the Russian passed by.
“Let’s just say Peter’s a lightweight,” said Jean in an oddly flat tone, “I remember you being a lot less mature about it.”
“Says every teacher I’ve had since third grade,” said Bobby, rolling his eyes, “What about you, Jean? You look almost as distracted as Peter and not in a lightweight sort of way.”
“It’s worse than that, I’m afraid,” muttered Jean, “You know as well as everyone else Scott has been working on a few side-projects lately. He’s been banished to the couch on more than one occasion.”
“Ouch. How bad is it?”
“Not as bad as it could be. But I suspect his side-projects are about to get us all involved,” said the young psychic, “He still doesn’t worry me as much as Logan…who, by the way, won’t be joining us on this mission.”
“Logan is MIA again? What’s pissing him off this time?” said Bobby dryly.
“It’s…a long and disturbing story.”
The subtext alone was enough to stop Bobby from asking any more questions. Logan’s problems were usually best left out of the equation on missions. Whatever they were, they would probably come back to haunt the team some way and there was room for only one crisis at the moment.
Bobby and Jean met up with Betsy and Remy near the hanger. They entered the main area to see Hank and Ororo near the hatch while John and Scott were doing the final checks. The only ones that lingered were Kitty and Piotr. There had been a bit of strain between them since the Weapon Plus battle and Piotr had been trying to confront it.
“Katya, I need to…” he began.
“Time out, Peter. Before you begin the speech you rehearsed, let me say this,” said Kitty, silencing him in a way that the Russian wasn’t used to, “I know I’ve been giving you the cold shoulder. It’s my way of venting. I know it’s not healthy and I know you get caught in the crossfire, but it’s how I deal with this crap. I’m sorry and I’ll stop being a jerk. I promise. When this is over, we’ll have a nice long talk. Deal?”
Piotr was surprised by Kitty’s response. He expected the conversation to be a lot longer, even in wake of a mission. It showed he still wasn’t used to her upfront nature.
“I uh…was hoping to be a bit more sentimental as they say. But if this is the deal you are wanting, then I accept,” he said awkwardly.
“You’re sentimental enough without looking so deadpanned,” she said to him, “Now let’s not distract ourselves more than our skin-tight uniforms already do.”
Piotr nodded with a slight smile. He still wasn’t satisfied with not saying what needed to be said. This probably wasn’t the time or place to say it. So long as Kitty kept her promise, he would get his chance. And when he did, he vowed to make good use of it.
Piotr and Kitty caught up with the others, who gathered at the hatch. The engines were already firing up. Hank and Ororo looked as nervous as the rest of them. Scott looked more uptight than usual and the presence of John Proudstar was an unexpected addition. It was yet another sign that this was going to be a difficult mission.
“What we got going on this time? Why is Proudstar joining us?” asked Remy.
“John helped bring this to our attention. He wishes to see it through so he is tagging along on a provisional basis,” answered Hank.
“For a second there I thought he was standing in for Logan. Where is he anyways?” asked Betsy.
“I already asked that question. The best answer I got…he’s out,” said Bobby.
“Out? In what way?” asked Ororo, showing concern for her former lover.
“In a very Logan sort of way,” answered Jean, “I’ll fill you in later. I think we’ve had enough revelations dumped on us for one morning.”
Ororo saw something strange in Jean’s demeanor. As Logan’s former lovers, they had more insight into him than most people. Jean had the added benefit of being a psychic and her being this concerned was definitely a bad sign. Whatever it was, Ororo would have to pester her about it later.
Jean was tempted to fill in some of the blanks. She could sense everyone’s curiosity. That curiosity would probably turn to bewilderment if they learned what she just found out about Mystique. They couldn’t afford to be bewildered at the moment. While the others were filing into the jet, Jean lingered near the hatch. She kept her eye on Scott, who was radiating all sorts of emotions that had little to do with the mission.
‘You’re scaring me, Scott. These thoughts on your parents and finding Gabriel…it’s making you act out in ways I expect from Bobby, but not you.’
‘I know, Jean. That tends to happen when you discover a part of your past was a lie.’
‘Don’t get me started on past lies. I’ve already had my fill for the day. Could you at least promise me you’ll balance your right to be upset with your need to be in the right state of mind? You have a present family to deal with in addition to the one from the past.’
‘I know. And I promise I won’t put that family at risk for the sake of the truth. I also promise to give my girlfriend fewer reasons to be pissed at me.’
‘I’m not pissed at you, Scott. I’m worried. Show me that you can lay those worries to rest and we’ll call it even.’
Jean left her lover with those strong thoughts as he finished the final preparations. It pained him to put Jean through this sort of ordeal. It seemed unavoidable at times. Had this happened when he was dating Emma or Rogue, it would have been a lot easier. He never got as close to them as he got with Jean. This was unfamiliar territory for both of them, but that closeness gave him incentive to confront this issue for all the right reasons.
“Jean gave you the look, didn’t she?” commented John.
“What look?” asked Scott as he followed his former teacher towards the hatch.
“The look that includes a psychic chiding,” he clarified, “I fondly remember those when we were together.”
“And how often did your many clashes with Warpath complicate it? Or did you and Jean ever get to that point? Because if you didn’t, you have no idea how much that look hurts.”
John paused as he and Scott entered the jet. His former student had a point. His relationship with Jean had been different. He saw it in the way Jean looked at Scott when they passed each other on their way to the cockpit. This in addition to the prospect of facing his wayward older brother was not making this conflict any easier.
“If it hurts that much, then that’s probably a good sign,” suggested John, “Take it from someone who has been regularly frustrated by older brothers. The truth may piss you off, but it also makes other relationships more important.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” said Scott in a more serious tone, “I can’t afford to make a mistake with Gabriel. Now that the X-men are involved, the personal stakes are much higher.”
“And the non-personal ones?” inquired John.
“Trust me. Whenever Sinister is involved, they’re high enough.”
Scott Summers had to divide his focus between being the leader of the X-men and seeking the truth about his family. As he gripped the controls of the X-jet, he was struck by an unfamiliar feeling. Being collected and strong wasn’t just a major aspect of his leadership skills. The secrets about his family caused him to falter in a way he always avoided. He tried not to let that show as the jet took off. Whether it was the past or present, Scott had to confront this and all the unknowns that came along with it.
Academy of Tomorrow – Emma Frost’s Office
Emma Frost had a short list of friends and a long list of enemies. Outside the X-men, she didn’t know a whole lot of people who would turn to her for anything more than a business proposal, a telepathic issue, or sex. So when someone called asking for a favor, it was cause for concern.
“I won’t attempt to understand what this encrypted email entails. You’ve already told me what I needed to hear,” she said over the phone as Warpath, Sunfire, and Dr. Nemesis stood across from her, “What I don’t understand is why you’re calling me of all people…yes, I know our history. Beyond the lurid details, we both want to see Sebastian Shaw’s legacy crumble…of course, I’ve been working on it as well…oh I have my share of leads. With this information, I should have enough…that remains to be seen. It won’t take long…Yes, I’ll keep in touch as well. Oh and before we get serious, thanks again Tessa. But when this is over, we’ll officially be even.”
Emma hung up her phone, looking tense yet determined. She was a hard woman to read. Warpath, Sunfire, and Dr. Nemesis weren’t psychic and even if they were, they had little hope of knowing what made this woman tick. Given her dedication to avenging her devious past, vengeance was likely a big part of it.
“I take it from that look on your face I’m due for another side-project,” said Warpath.
“And I am likely due for more overtime,” said Sunfire.
“You boys think too little of my motives. You wouldn’t be the first either,” said Emma.
“You give us one too many reasons, Emma,” said Dr. Nemesis, “I agreed to be part of your school because I was tired of Shaw Industries exploiting my genius. I have just as many reasons to despise Shaw, but I’ve managed to actually move forward with my life.”
“Don’t even pretend to show empathy, Nemesis. Shaw exploited me far more than he ever exploited you,” said Emma in a stern tone, “All he did was profit from your brilliance. He hurt me in ways no genius can understand. I can’tbuild a life and a legacy worth having until I rid myself of that bastard’s influence.”
Emma turned the computer screen of her laptop around so the others could see it. She opened the attachment email that Tessa sent her, another associate of hers from her Hellfire Club days. It contained the details she hoped to extract from Shaw Biotech. It also contained a few revelations that might allow her to crush Shaw once and for all.
“This is an early Christmas gift from Tessa, who also has her share of reasons to hate Sebastian Shaw. She managed to retrieve data that Mr. Proudstar here supposedly lost.”
“Wait…how did she get her hands on this?” said Warpath angrily, recognizing some of the data on the screen, “Was she the one who sent Rogue to Shaw Biotech?”
“Swallow what’s left of your pride, James. I’ve little patience for grudges,” said Emma harshly, “This data provides us with our best lead yet. It puts a name on the man behind Shaw Biotech’s research.”
“Dr. Nathanial Essex,” read Dr. Nemesis on the screen, “I know that name.”
“So do I. He gets around in the most disturbing ways possible,” said Emma, “Tessa confirmed what we both suspected. Sebastian Shaw wanted to use that techno-organic material. Weapon Plus confirmed he managed to refine it with Dr. Essex’s assistance. I’m convinced that Shanobi is going to use it to try and heal his comatose father.”
“How can you be so sure? Based on what you told us about Shanobi, it may be in his best interest to leave his father incapacitated,” said Sunfire.
“He’s a daddy’s boy. He’ll do anything to get his father’s approval, no matter how many times he’s belittled. That means he’ll try to save his life with the best resource he has at his disposal. At the moment, this techno-organic material is his best bet.”
Emma entered a few commands on her laptop to bring up a new screen. A series of maps came up, each covering a sizable part of the world. There were a series of yellow dots on every map and there were at least several on each continent. Emma focused on a select few.
“What you see before you is the extent of Shaw Industries,” she explained, “As you can imagine, Shanobi has many places to hide. There are facilities in nearly every country and so far, we’ve had little hope of keeping up with him.”
“I take it that has changed,” said Warpath.
“For the better,” affirmed Emma, “The data from Tessa also revealed that research on the techno-organic material never stopped, even after Dr. Essex mysteriously disappeared.”
“If they’ve been working on it all this time, then how come Sebastian is still comatose? Surely they would be parading such an achievement in all our faces,” said Sunfire.
“You’re right, Hiro. He would. That’s why it’s safe to assume their research has been stalled. Tessa made sure she left them with little to work with and Essex appears to have screwed them over. Only a handful of facilities are equipped to develop this exotic goop. Only one of those facilities also has the equipment to keep a comatose man alive.”
“Is this my next assignment?” asked Warpath, “How far am I going to have to go for this one?”
“More than you’re comfortable with, I assure you,” said Emma ominously.
The powerful telepath clicked on one of the yellow dots over a map of Europe. It was quite a distance from the other destinations Emma had sent him. She wouldn’t waste her time as such if she wasn’t completely certain.
“The Ukraine in Eastern Europe has had its share of economic upheaval. The inept governments in that part of the world jump at any chance to have a big company set up shop,” said Emma as an image of a facility came up, “I’ve heard of this facility. It keeps a very low profile. Shaw has been using it for years for very advanced and very illegal research. Thanks to the power of obscene bribes, he’s managed to import some of the best technology in Europe into that facility. Keep in mind, this in a country where the average iPhone has more computing power than the entire military.”
“Sounds like a fun trip,” said Warpath, “What’s the plan and when do I head out?”
“It’s very basic, James. And one I’m sure you’ll appreciate,” said Emma as she closed her laptop, “You’ll go to the facility, destroy all of Shaw’s research on the techno-organic material, and bring back proof of his operations that will overload Twitter.”
“You’re not going to ask that he be killed?” said Dr. Nemesis with a touch of disappointment.
“I’m not Shaw. I don’t order assassinations the way he order Chinese food,” she said seriously, “In another life I would demand that he be tortured horribly before his neck is unceremoniously snapped. This is not that life. I’d rather see this monster brought to justice.”
The influence of the X-men was clearly stronger than the influence of Sebastian Shaw. She was willing to go out of her way to hurt this man, but she was not willing to kill him though. Emma Frost had been down that dark path. Many of them had. It was why they trusted her. She was putting them in a position get off that path. She was still Emma Frost though. That meant she never did anything halfway.
“I’m going to stay in touch with Tessa. She’ll arrange for a swift transport to the Ukraine,” said Emma.
“When do I move out?” asked Warpath.
“Fifteen minutes ago,” she replied, “There’s a chartered plane waiting for you at Logan International Airport. Tessa has you listed as a consultant to Ukrainian business interests.”
“I’m starting to like this Tessa’s resilience,” said Dr. Nemesis, “Please tell me she shares your fondness for imported lingerie.”
“Too bad she’s into men with blue fur and muscles you’ll never have. Besides, I need you and Sunfire to remain here. We have students to look after and a few loose ends to resolve.”
“What kind of loose ends?” asked Sunfire.
“The kind that will cause us one too many headaches if left unchecked,” said Emma, “Don’t make me go over the details. I’d rather focus my energy on making Sebastian Shaw’s life a living hell before someone else beats me to the punch.”
Washington DC – Pentagon
“Please General, don’t keep giving me the silent treatment. I can still do this mission!” said an exasperated Jack Freeman.
“I’m not giving you the silent treatment, Captain. I’m trying to say no in the most tactful way possible,” said General Grimshaw, who walked progressively faster towards the main MSA hub.
“Sir, just hear me out!” urged the Green Beret, “I know I botched the Shaw Biotech mission, but I can make up for it. I’ve been going over some chatter from the NSA. They traced Warpath to Emma Frost from the Academy of Tomorrow. She seems to know more about Shaw than we do. Just an hour ago she had Warpath board a chartered plane to Eastern Europe. That must mean…”
General Grimshaw stopped walking and turned around. He gave Captain Freeman a look that would cause even the toughest soldiers to flinch. The Green Beret had been following him since their meeting this morning where they went over the fallout from the Shaw Biotech mission. Grimshaw had many reasons to be upset and even more reasons to put this behind them. So when Captain Freeman insisted on seeing it through, it annoyed the accomplished officer in way too many ways.
“That’s enough, soldier! This mission is over. Or did I not make that clear enough during your debriefing?” said the General firmly.
“Forgive me, sir. You know I’m slow on the uptake,” said Captain Freeman in a calmer tone, “But I think you’re letting this go too quickly.”
“Too quickly? Captain, you left a private building that the US government has no business being in a charred mess. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to explain to the Joint Chiefs why my most trusted soldier was in the area?”
“That explosion wasn’t my fault!”
“I believe you, but I’m in the minority. Shaw Industries is a dangerous enemy with lots of influential people in its back pocket. They already suspect someone illegally broke into their facility and destroyed their property. They’re already filing lawsuits that have consumed what precious little time I have…time both of us need to spend repairing our relationship with Genosha.”
“I know the politics are working against us, sir. But you had me investigate Shaw Industries for a reason, remember?” reminded Captain Freeman, “After Xavier told you about their experience with these people, you suspected they may be a threat. And I’ve spent a good chunk of my time confirming that.”
“Confirming a threat is only part of the battle, Captain. You know I don’t like fighting partial battles.”
“All the more reason to take this intel seriously,” the Captain urged, “Shaw Biotech was a fiasco, but it did offer some vital clues. We can turn this failure into a success because someone else seems to be following those clues for us.”
“You’re giving too much credit to Emma Frost,” said General Grimshaw, “She’s a school teacher, a former hedge fund manager, and an ex-stripper last I checked.”
“She’s also a former X-man. That in and of itself should be more than enough,” said Jack, “We may be close to a badly needed success for the MSA. Think of how much good it will do if we reveal a shady company like Shaw Industries did work on the techno-organic material. We could have a bone to throw at Genosha and they would end up being the assholes if they called us irresponsible.”
It was a compelling point from someone not known for making them. Jack Freeman usually didn’t think in terms of politics. He avoided putting his missions into any sort of political context, but this was personal for him. He put a lot of time and effort into investigating Sebastian Shaw and he refused to let it end in failure.
General Grimshaw didn’t doubt there was potential for this operation to help their cause, but Shaw Industries was a taboo subject. It was right up there with Big Oil and Big Pharma as political hot potatoes. If they could somehow link them to the Weapon Plus affair, it would be a boon for the MSA and mutant relations. It still came with a great deal of risk. Shaw Industries had a history of being annoyingly resilient.
“General please…” Captain Freeman urged, making it clear he wasn’t letting this go.
Grimshaw took a deep breath and prepared to respond. He was interrupted by a female lieutenant rushing towards him from the MSA wing.
“General Grimshaw, sir. We have a situation,” she said.
“As if we don’t have enough,” he sighed, “What is it, Lieutenant?”
“It’s Charles Xavier. He’s placed an urgent call with the MSA command.”
“Charles Xavier called command? Why didn’t he call me personally?” wondered Grimshaw, assuming Xavier hadn’t lost that special phone he gave him.
“You can ask him yourself. He’s on the hot-line as we speak,” she said, holding up a secure military-grade phone, “He mentioned the name Nathanial Essex.”
General Grimshaw tensed angrily at that name. That was a name nobody dared whisper within military circles. Charles Xavier had faced this man under the alias, Sinister. It was an alias well-deserved. If Xavier specifically mentioned Essex by name, it meant he was trying to get his attention and it worked like a charm.
“Get MSA command on the line,” said the General as he took the phone, “Coordinate our response division with the National Guard. Tell them we’ve got a situation.”
“Yes sir,” said the lieutenant.
“That’s a lot of firepower for a situation, General,” said Captain Freeman, “What about Shaw Industries?”
“We’ll have to table that issue, Captain. This is bigger than Shaw…much bigger,” said the General as he started walking towards the MSA hub.
Captain Freeman followed closely, no longer arguing about his mission against Shaw Industries. He now had a new focus and this seemed much more pressing. He listened closely as General Grimshaw talked to Charles Xavier over the line.
“Talk to me, Xavier,” he said into the phone, “You better have a good reason for saying the name Nathanial Essex and it better be a real crisis.”
Cascade Mountains – Mount Rainier
The Marauders landed at their destination and went to work. Sinister imposed some pretty strict time limits on this mission. Not only did they have to work in hostile conditions atop one of the tallest mountains in North America, they had to assemble another complex array of Sinister’s equipment. Even with mutant powers, it was a challenge. The winds were high, the air was thin, and clouds were thick. These conditions were supposedly necessary for this machine to work effectively. Sinister was ambiguous about the reasons, but the Marauders were used to that.
The only ones who were had some clues to this plan were Gabriel and Madelyn. They had been coordinating the construction since they landed. Their jet dropped them off in a flat clearing near the summit before settling into a stationary hover a few hundred feet lower. It also dropped off several large crates containing the components. There were six in total with a larger seventh containing the device that had the most vital components. In the center was another spherical container like the one back in Sinister’s lab. It was surrounded by several shells of metallic panels, all of which were covered with sensitive electronics and powerful amplifiers. The outermost shell fed into the six other components, which were shaped like large aircraft engines.
They were already in the process of powering up as Blockbuster, Arclight, Harpoon, and Riptide linked them together. Vulcan and Goblin Queen worked on the central component, doing a series of checks to make sure the device was fully operational. They were all covered in heavy winter gear and staying on schedule proved difficult and frustrating.
“This is by far the worst locale Sinister has ever chosen to do an experiment,” groaned Arclight as she blew into her hands to warm them up.
“Worse than mission where we learned the horrors of Indian public bathrooms?” said Blockbuster, using his strength to set the last of the six smaller components into place.
“I don’t know about that,” said Riptide, “I would say this is a close second.”
“I say this is worse,” said Arclight strongly, “I get that Sinister can’t tell us the details of these experiments. There are too many psychics in this world who can rip it from our minds. At the very least, he owes us a vague explanation.”
“Even if he did, I bet you would still be bitching about it,” said Harpoon, who was hooking up a series of heavy cables.
“We’re on an active volcano, Harpoon. Don’t test me.”
There was plenty of tension. The winds picked up and blowing snow blanketed the area. Arclight toughed through the cold and helped Harpoon connect the rest of the cables while Riptide and Blockbuster installed the heavier components. The machines were already humming with activity. The high tech components were lighting up, showing little aversion to the cold. It was still a rough environment for a frustrating mission.
“You think you have the right to most pissed? I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Sabretooth not tagging along for this,” Harpoon pointed out.
“There’s only so much I care to complain about,” said Arclight as she entered some commands on the keypad of a machine, “Besides, I’d rather Sabretooth not tag along for anything.”
“I second that,” said Riptide, “I still don’t get why Sinister brought him aboard. It’s not like he’s a big help. He’s mentally unstable sociopath with the attention span of a flea.”
“I’m sure Sinister has his reasons. He always does,” said Arclight.
“Doesn’t mean they’re good reasons…or sane reasons for that matter,” Harpoon argued.
“I never said they were. There’s a lot about this plan that rubs me the wrong way. I’ll be glad when it’s over so we can get what Sinister promised us. He says this will be our last mission. He may be a deranged son-of-a-bitch, but he’s a man of his word.”
“He better be,” said Blockbuster upon finishing the last round of heavy lifting.
The Marauders were almost done. The six smaller components were set up and ready for activation. Setting up Sinister’s machines was never terribly difficult. That was the benefits of having alien technology and he really pulled out all the stops with this one. They needed all the tech they could get if they were to pull this off.
Vulcan sensed their unease as he and the Goblin Queen worked on configuring the central console. He couldn’t blame them. Sinister was using some unorthodox tactics with this mission. Even as Sinister’s godson, he had his doubts. But they didn’t stop him from finishing this mission.
The Goblin Queen used her telekinesis to assemble the smaller pieces into the main component. She even had some of her goblin minions make several tweaks around the device. Vulcan focused primarily on the central panel where he launched a series of pre-programmed operations.
“The Warlock material you obtained from Genosha is working flawlessly, my love,” said Vulcan, “The core should be ready in less than ten minutes.”
“Marvelous,” she said flatly, “Sorry if I don’t sound as excited as I should.”
“You’re not going to start complaining about the cold as well, are you? That special coat with built in heaters should keep that beautiful body of yours plenty comfortable.”
“It isn’t the cold that bothers me…not entirely anyways,” said the Goblin Queen.
“I hope it’s not our dear Uncle. He wants this mission done so that’s what we’re doing.”
“It’s not the mission, Gabriel. It’s our dear uncle’s state of mind that concerns me,” she said, her tone becoming more serious, “I get that he’s distraught over Selene. I am too. What I don’t get is why he’s resorting to something like this. It feels too…final.”
“It’s not,” Vulcan pointed out, “You know our uncle as well as I do. Nothing is ever truly final. Everything is a process with him.”
“Which is why I’m so worried,” the Goblin Queen reasoned, “He’s treating this like an endgame. He never said it overtly, but I can feel it. You heard the order he gave shortly after we took off in the jet. He’s not even trying to hide his activities anymore.”
“It’s all for a purpose,” said Vulcan confidently.
“I’m sure it is. That doesn’t mean his purpose is rational.”
The Goblin Queen turned her attention to the central core. She recalled her goblin minions. Their work was nearly complete. This machine was ready. As she traced her hand along the advanced electronics, her worries escalated. This was beyond anything Sinister had ever attempted before. As always, he kept some of the details from them. Usually, that never bothered her. This time felt different.
“What do you think this latest gizmo does, Gabriel?” the Goblin Queen pondered, “Is this so-called Legacy program really going to affect the whole world?”
“I only know what you know. Project Legacy is about gathering data…a lot of data.”
“That’s what Sinister said. I’m wondering what it means.”
“Does it matter? He says once launched the genetic information from every human and mutant on the planet will be integrated into his network at the lab. Once he has that, he’ll have everything he needs to do what he needs to do.”
“It’s not what he’ll do with the data that concerns me. It’s the time-frame he’s working under,” replied the Goblin Queen, “He’s practically immortal. He can afford to be patient. So why is he doing this all at once? What is he willing to unleash to get everything he wants all at once?”
They were not unreasonable questions. Vulcan fell silent as he contemplated the possible answers. Their uncle had really changed since they lost Selene. He wasn’t just cold and calculating anymore. He was unstable. For a man of Sinister’s aptitude, that was very dangerous. They were already taking a huge risk with this mission and all the unusual quirks it entailed.
Before Vulcan and the Goblin Queen could discuss this any further, a powerful roar echoed from the clouds. It wasn’t the wind this time, nor was it the machines they were using. Through the blowing snow and high winds, the X-jet descended over the area. The rest of the Marauders saw it as well and rushed over.
“X-men!” grunted Blockbuster, “They’re late.”
“It would be an amazing first. Usually they show up at the worst possible time,” said Riptide.
“Does this mean what I think it means, Vulcan?” asked Arclight.
“It does,” said the oldest Summers brother as he gazed up at the jet, “It seems the X-men detected my little beacon.”
“I guess that file Sinister leaked to White Cell worked quite nicely,” said the Goblin Queen.
“These family issues were bound to come up sooner or later. It might as well be now,” said Vulcan.
The powerful mutant stepped ahead of the Marauders to confront the approaching X-jet. His eyes glowed brightly as the hatch opened and the X-men came out in full force. As expected, Cyclops led the charge. He rode a telekinetic bubble with Phoenix, Iceman, Beast, Storm, Gambit, Psylocke, Colossus, Shadowcat, and Thunderbird following behind. The X-men weren’t too thrilled to be confronting the Marauders and the Marauders weren’t too thrilled about facing the X-men either. However, Cyclops appeared more motivated than the others.
“GABRIEL!” shouted Cyclops, “It’s time we had a little brotherly chat.”
Canadian Boarder – Diner
“Damn that furry elf! What’s takin’ him so freakin’ long?” muttered an impatient Logan.
It had only been five minutes since the feral mutant arrived at the diner. It might as well have been five hours. During that time, he had been sitting in a booth near the back of the diner sipping coffee. The feral mutant was not in a patient mood. He needed answers and he needed to get back on the road. If that weren’t nerve racking enough, he needed to do this without revealing to Kurt what he just learned about Mystique.
He just finished his second cup of coffee when he saw a familiar flash from the area down the hall near the restrooms. Logan watched to make sure no one was looking. The two waitresses on duty were serving the customers near the front of the diner and nobody had come out of the rest room recently. As such, there was no commotion when Kurt and Illyana emerged.
“Vhere here, Herr Logan,” announced Kurt under his breath as they sat down.
“Not to bust your balls, but what took you so damn long? I thought Petey’s sister here could teleport anywhere on the planet,” said Logan in his frustration.
“I am still learning my way through,” said Illyana in her thick accent, “It is not as easy as it sounds.”
“I also had to dress appropriately as you can see,” said Kurt, gesturing at his attire, “So please, mien friend. Try and temper your anger so we can do zhis.”
Logan held back more anxious grunts as he set aside his coffee. He must have looked like a total wreck. Illyana started at him as if he had just walked out of a sewer pipe. At least she was dressed appropriately, wearing clothes any average 15-year-old would wear. Kurt had to be a bit more elaborate. He had on a jacket with a hood, dark pants, and black gloves. He also wore sunglasses and a baseball cap for good measure. Already, the German mutant looked pretty uncomfortable and it wasn’t just because of his disguise.
“So if I remember vhat you told me over zhe phone, you vant to contact my mother,” said Kurt seriously.
“Yep, and last I checked you weren’t as pissed at her as Rogue. I figured you have some way of reaching her.”
“You’re assuming my mother is zhat rational.”
“I’m also assuming you’d give a damn if she was,” Logan retorted, “So do you have something or not?”
Kurt hesitated for a moment. He had seen Logan get worked up before, but not like this. He had this strange look in his eyes, as if he was going to completely lose it if he didn’t do something. It was a distinct shift from the usual ill-tempered mood he was used to seeing, but it did not stop Kurt from delivering what he promised.
Reaching into his coat pocket, Kurt pulled out a special unmarked cell phone. It didn’t have a brand name on it or anything. It looked like it had been built from scratch. Without giving it any further thought, he slid it over to his feral friend.
“Zhis is zhe other reason vhy ve took so long. I had to retrieve zhis from a safety deposit box in a bank in Frankfurt,” Kurt explained.
“It ain’t no fancy smartphone so I’m guessing it ain’t as easy as dialing some random number,” said Logan as he took the phone.
“Nein, my mother likes to maintain her mystique, as you can imagine,” said Kurt, “Before ve parted vays, she gave me zhis phone as an emergency line. I suspect she wanted me to use it zhe day I decided zhe X-men were wrong and she vas right.”
“Good thing that day never came. You sure this piece of junk works?” said the feral mutant skeptically.
“It vas made from stolen electronics and uses a signal encryption protocol zhat cost more zhan a Ferrari. Zhat also makes it illegal in no fewer zhan thirty countries.”
It sounded like precautions someone like Mystique would take. Logan turned on the device and despite being in a deposit box for years, it powered up. A long string of computer code flashed across the screen, indicating this phone didn’t work like an ordinary phone.
“Real cute,” he said dryly, “So how do I use this hunk of junk?”
“You can’t call her just yet. You must first enter zhe access code,” said Kurt as he reached over and pushed a few buttons on the dial pad, “Zhen you must send a message to zhe only number stored. It vill activate a GPS beacon zhat should lead you right to her. Vhen you get to vithin twenty miles of it, you’ll be able to call her. But I cannot guarantee she’ll pick up.”
“I don’t need no small talk. I just need to find her.”
“I should also varn you zhat zhe battery and range in zhat device is limited. If she’s somewhere remote, it may run out,” added Kurt.
“Don’t worry about that, elf. I got that covered. I just need this thing to point me in the right direction.”
Logan proceeded to follow Kurt’s instructions, sending out the message to the only saved number on the device. This activated the GPS. It took no more than thirty seconds to get a general location. Now he had everything he needed to find the woman he failed all those years ago.
This was the all Kurt could do to help his friend. As he watched Logan follow the protocols, his curiosity grew. He still trusted this man as he would any X-man. However, this involved his mother and that gave him plenty of reason to be concerned.
“Are we done here?” asked Illyana.
“Nein…not yet,” said Kurt as he looked at the feral mutant more seriously.
“I’d say we are,” said Logan as he saw the GPS data coming in, “You can stay for the bacon, but I gotta hit the road.”
“Not vithout telling me vhat zhis is about, Logan,” said the German mutant, grabbing Logan’s arm to prevent him from leaving.
“Elf, I ain’t got time for show and tell,” said the feral mutant impatiently.
“Zhat’s too bad because I have a comatose girlfriend in case you’ve forgotten. I’ve all zhe time in zhe vorld. I did you zhis favor and since it involves my mother, I zhink I have a right to know vhat you’re up to.”
Logan resisted the urge to shove Kurt aside. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Kurt was right. This was his mother in addition to being his former lover.
“I ain’t gonna kill her if that’s what you’re worried about,” said Logan.
“I doubt you could, even if zhat vas your intent,” retorted Kurt.
“Point taken, but you’re askin’ me to tell a long ass story. You’ve been outta the loop for a long time, Elf. A lot has happened while you’ve been sipping wine in Nova Roma.”
“I didn’t leave to take a vacation, Logan. I’ve also been keeping up vith zhe X-men so I’m not as ignorant as you zhink.”
“You’re gonna have to be ignorant for just a little bit, bub. I really can’t explain it…not without it getting messy as hell.”
“Now I am confused again,” said a dazed Illyana.
“Zhat makes two of us,” said Kurt, not diverting his gaze from Logan, “Can you at least tell me how zhis involves my mother?”
“All I can say is I ain’t looking for a fight. I’m looking for answers,” Logan told him, “She has something I need and I have something she needs.”
“You zhink you can just valk up to her and talk it out? Zhis is my mother we’re talking about,” he reminded.
“That’s exactly why you gotta trust me, Elf. I give you my word I won’t make it uglier than it already is. I’ll also make sure you know the truth when this shit storm has settled…all of it.”
“Vhat kind of truth are you talking about? I come from a vorld vhere zhe definition of truth is often ambiguous.”
“Ain’t nothing ambiguous about this. It’s the kinda crap that fucks up both the past and the present. So unless you wanna make the future just as messy, you’ll step aside and let me finish this.”
Logan was asking a lot of him. Kurt had enough burdens to bear with Amanda being in her current state. Logan was throwing his mother to the mix and that was one burden too many. At the same time, this was clearly important to Logan. Logan knew something and he was never one to keep secrets unless there was a very good reason.
“You gave me your word, Herr Logan. Don’t forget zhat,” he said to the feral mutant upon letting his arm go.
“I won’t, Elf,” said Logan as he reached into his pocket and put some bills on the table to pay for his coffee.
“Vhen you do catch up vith my mother…be careful,” he added.
“No worries there, bub. I’ve got a long list of reasons not to screw this up.”
Logan offered no more hints as he slipped out from the booth and left the diner. Kurt and Illyana lingered, watching until their feral friend was out of sight. Usually when Logan got this worked up, there was something much bigger trouble brewing.
“Now can we go? I feel even more uncomfortable than when we first arrived,” asked Illyana, tugging at Kurt’s jacket.
“Zhat’s one more zhing ve can agree on,” said the German mutant, “Something terrible is about to happen. I can feel it.”
“Is that not more reason for us to get back to Nova Roma?”
“Ve vill, Illyana,” he assured her, “But first, ve need to make another pit stop. Zhere is something else from my mother I need to retrieve.”
Cascade Mountains – Mount Rainier
“Attack on my mark, X-men,” ordered Cyclops to the rest of his fellow X-men, “But remember…Vulcan is mine.”
“Go for it, Cyclops. I’m aiming for the spooky glowing machines,” said Iceman.
“It’s always the spooky glowing machines,” said Shadowcat.
The X-men attacked the Marauders in full force. Cyclops, Phoenix, Iceman, Beast, Thunderbird, Storm, Gambit, Shadowcat, Colossus, and Psylocke landed from their telekinetic ride about fifty feet from the Marauders. Vulcan stood in their path with Blockbuster, Arclight, Riptide, Harpoon, and the Goblin Queen behind him. They took defensive positions, ready to defend Sinister’s experiment. This wasn’t going to be a simple case of biding time. Their strategy would have to be a bit more robust.
“You have your orders, Marauders. Follow them to the letter,” announced Vulcan.
“Oh this is gonna be such a blast,” said Arclight dryly.
“I’m as enthused as you are, Arclight. Suck it up,” ordered the Goblin Queen.
“Coming from you that could be taken so many ways,” muttered Riptide.
Madelyn Pryor made the first move. With the X-men approaching fast, she used her mystical talents to open gateways for her demon minions. Dozens of them came pouring out, screeching with inhuman cries as they relentlessly attacked. The goblin hoards split off and converged on each X-man, looking to tear them apart.
“I hate these bloody things,” grunted Psylocke as she formed two psionic blades to fight them off.
“I don’t remember your cousin doing this trick the last time I faced her. Don’t remember her getting a boob job either,” said Thunderbird, using his strength to rip two goblins off his head.
“Maddie has gained some assets since you left,” explained Phoenix, who had a telekinetic bubble protecting her, “But she’s still a complete bitch.”
“That I never doubted.”
The Goblin Queen’s minions only temporarily slowed the X-men down. Colossus, Thunderbird, and Psylocke easily fought them off, earning minor scratches in the process. The ones that attacked Storm and Phoenix didn’t even lay a hand on them due to a mix of wind blasts and telekinesis. Iceman froze each goblin that attacked him in a solid block. Shadowcat helped Beast phase through the ones that attacked him. She tried to help Cyclops as well, but he didn’t need it. He barely even noticed that one of the goblins landed a sizable scratch on his back as he charged towards Vulcan.
“GABRIEL!” he yelled as he angrily tackled Vulcan into the snowy terrain.
“Did I do something to upset you, little brother?” grunted Vulcan.
“You can stop being so damn coy. I know the truth. I know our parents survived that plane crash.”
“Ha! Took you long enough. Still…you think that’s the full story?” he said ominously.
“Hell no! And I’m willing to beat that story out of you if I have to.”
Cyclops prepared to unload on his older brother. Vulcan used his distracted state to his advantage, kicking the X-leader off and striking with an attack of his own. The battle between the Marauders and the X-men was an afterthought. Their struggle was personal.
With Vulcan and Cyclops attacking each other, the rest of the X-men carried out the mission. As they overpowered Goblin Queen’s goblin attacks, they stared down the outnumbered Marauders. But they didn’t appear all that concerned. The glowing machine behind them may have had something to do with it.
“I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the machine they’re guarding is significant to Sinister’s plan,” said Beast.
“Guess that means we either pull the plug or blow it up!, said Gambit.
“I do not see any plugs, comrade,” said Colossus.
“Then we go with blowing it up,” grinned the Cajun as he took out a fresh deck of cards.
“I’d love to see you try, pretty boy,” said Blockbuster, cracking his knuckles.
“Either these guys are losing their edge or they’re just getting lazy,” said Iceman.
The X-men broke off to isolate each Marauder as they had planned. Phoenix took on the Goblin Queen. Colossus and Thunderbird ganged up on Blockbuster. Psylocke and Gambit took on Harpoon. Iceman and Storm set their sights on Riptide. Beast and Shadowcat lingered back, clearing out the rest of the goblin hoards. This prompted Arclight to come to them.
“I’m more pissed than usual so I’m going to end this quickly,” said Arclight, her hand now glowing with a ball of purplish energy.
“As if we ever catch you guys on a good day,” quipped Shadowcat.
“In case you’ve forgotten, we’re on a snow-covered mountain that’s prone to this.”
Arclight reinforced this point by slamming her fist into the ground, causing a wave of force that destabilized several layers of snow. Large chunks of the bitter cold powder broke off and completely inundated Shadowcat and Beast. They didn’t yell or look too shocked so Arclight kept her guard up and made her way through the snowy mist to finish the job. She was stopped in her tracks when she felt a large hand reach up from the snow and grab her by the ankle.
“In case you’ve forgotten, Miss Arclight, a careful manipulation of phasing powers allows any solid body to easily move through fluid environments,” said the collected tone of Beast.
“Let go of me you furry rodent!” she ordered.
“Rodent? You need to watch more Animal Planet,” said Shadowcat from below the snow.
Arclight felt a hard tug on her ankle. In one of the more disorienting sensations she endured in battle, she was phased right into the thick layers of snow. Shadowcat grabbed onto her leg along with Beast, who provided the extra strength needed to push her into the snow so that she was submerged from the neck down. While she sank downwards, Beast and Shadowcat phased upwards. Once they were on level terrain again, Shadowcat gave Arclight a good kick in the head to take her out of the fight.
“Aagh!” groaned Arclight, now too dazed to use her powers.
“That’ll teach you to mess with a girl who aced her physics mid-term,” taunted Shadowcat.
“Was that really necessary?” asked Beast.
“It worked, didn’t it?” she shrugged, “Now I’ll keep phasing us so we can get to that machine. The sooner we shut it down, the sooner we can get some place warmer.”
“They’re not going to make it easy for us. But strangely, they’re not making it too difficult either,” said Beast suspiciously as a few stray goblins came their way.
“I’m not complaining, but I’m sure I’ll have to soon enough,” said Shadowcat as she grabbed his hand.
Beast set aside his suspicions and carried on with the mission. There were still a few goblins lingering around them and with Arclight down for the count, they set their sights on Shadowcat and Beast. Channeling his old football skills, Beast braved the blistering cold and set his sights on the machine.
Along the way, the Goblin Queen tried to slow them down. While she was in a telekinetic battle with Phoenix, she opened more gateways to unleash more goblins. Shadowcat phased through the onslaught while Beast fought off the demonic creatures with only minor scratches. The Goblin Queen tried to open more gateways, but Phoenix fought harder than usual.
“Quit relying on your little pets, Maddie! Hasn’t that novelty worn off by now?” barked Phoenix as she broke her telekinetic defenses.
“Good to see you showing some grit, cousin,” grunted the Goblin Queen.
“Flattery won’t make this hurt any less.”
Phoenix summoned forth a round of cosmic flames. The aura of the Phoenix Force briefly surrounded her, which she then channeled into a spear-like blast. When it struck the Goblin Queen, her eyes widened. She didn’t even attempt to put up a telekinetic shield this time. Instead she jumped to the side, tumbling through the snow while getting moderately grazed along the way.
“Hmm…I take back what I said, Jean. That’s not grit you’re showing,” sneered the Goblin Queen, “What’s wrong? You and your boyfriend having trouble in bed? You look like you need a good lay.”
“And you look like you need a jail cell and medication.”
Phoenix unleashed another burst, forcing the Goblin Queen to go on the run again. She wasn’t used to running from her cousin’s blast. Her attacks were a lot more punishing this time. It would have been foolish to confront them directly. It still wasn’t enough to discourage the Goblin Queen. The more she saw her cousin lash out, the more vulnerable she made herself.
‘Jean, tapping this much power is unsettling. I’m struggling to maintain balance.’
‘I’ll make it up to you later, Phoenix. Right now, I need to vent and if anyone is going to suffer, it might as well be my darling cousin.’
The Phoenix Force had to wrestle with her host’s distressed state. She threw a lot of cosmic power into this battle, which was always dangerous. Emotions ran high and not just on their end.
Phoenix’s powerful bursts affected the nearby battle with Storm, Iceman, and Riptide. The fiery flashes coupled with telekinetic force nearly threw Storm off her wind stream. Iceman could barely form one of his ice slides, which did little to help them in avoiding Riptide’s attack. He had been spinning at high speeds since they made it through the last goblin attack. Just like in Nova Roma, he unleashed a barrage of boney spikes. The wind and snow made aiming difficult. Iceman’s ice shell protected him while Storm had to stabilize her winds.
“Yeow! Take it easy over there, Phoenix. I shouldn’t have to work this hard to keep my ice shell up in these conditions,” said Iceman as he was burned by some cosmic fire.
“I don’t think she’s listening, Iceman,” said Storm, putting some extra distance between herself and Riptide, “I’ll give her detention later if you stop Riptide cold in his tracks.”
Riptide didn’t do anything fancy. He slowly fell back, keeping up his attack to put more distance between himself and the two X-men. Iceman decided to get creative. Using all the snow around him, he formed two large glove-like shells over his hands. With the snow blowing and Storm’s winds acting as cover, he charged towards his adversary.
“Hey Riptide! You a boxing type or an MMA type?” asked Iceman as he drew closer.
“Back off, popsicle boy! Or I’ll turn you into ice cubes,” threatened Riptide.
“In a place like this, that may take a while,” he taunted.
Riptide turned his entire onslaught towards Iceman, trying to throw as many boney projectiles towards him as possible. They flew in hard and fast, chipping away at Iceman’s icy shell. They made sizable cracks, but didn’t get through. With so much snow and ice to work with, it was like trying to chip away at concrete. It gave Iceman more than enough time to rush in and level Riptide with a punishing haymaker.
“Argh!” groaned as he fell flat on his back.
“Your turn, Storm!” said Iceman.
“This should make us even for all those stitches I had to get after our last encounter,” said Storm firmly.
The African mutant moved in closer, riding a tornado of snow and wind. She then formed a blinding swirl of snow around Riptide. It was so blinding he couldn’t even get back to his feet. The added wind made it difficult to do another spin attack. Eventually, the wind was so strong that it lifted him into the air and spun him around in a way that rendered him disoriented. By the time the winds died down, he plunged head first into a snow bank.
“Didn’t figure you for the vengeful type, Miss Munroe,” commented Iceman.
“To be fair…those stitches hurt for weeks,” added Storm as she settled into a hover.
“Hate to think how long these guys will be hurting. They’re not even trying.”
“Yes, I noticed that too. It’s unsettling,” said Storm more seriously.
It did seem a bit odd. She remembered Riptide employing much better strategies during their fight on Nova Roma. Looking towards the other battles that were going on, she didn’t see the other Marauders trying much harder.
Harpoon seemed hopelessly overmatched against Gambit and Psylocke. He stood boldly between them, armed only with two energy bolts. He wasn’t looking for backup from his teammates. He wasn’t looking to make the first move either. He let Gambit and Psylocke bide their time.
“Well luv…are you going to just stand there or what?” said Psylocke impatiently.
“Ladies first, sweetheart,” quipped Harpoon, “I got all day.”
“Really? You setting yourself up to fold before you hand even dealt?” questioned Gambit.
“What can I say? I’m feeling lucky.”
Gambit was just as curious as Storm. Harpoon didn’t even try to attack. Either it was part of some elaborate scheme or he had already conceded defeat. That didn’t bother Psylocke as much. She took his lousy tactics as a gift.
“If you insist, I’ll try to make it quick,” said Psylocke.
“Better a hot chick than some goofy Cajun,” grinned Harpoon.
Psylocke launched her attack, using her psionic blades to aggressively slash towards his torso. Harpoon blocked the slashes with his energy bolts and countered with a quick sweep kick that Psylocke easily jumped over thanks to her ninja agility. He lunged towards her and tried to impale her with his energy harpoons. He ended up leaving himself vulnerable because Psylocke ducked away and got in a position to knee him right in the gut. She then used her psionic blades to destroy his energy harpoons.
“Ungh! You were wrong. That wasn’t quick at all,” grunted Harpoon through the pain.
“You’re lucky I was holding back,” she said.
“Good to know.”
Harpoon spun around and quickly formed two new energy bolts. As he fell back he threw them at Psylocke’s arms so that she dropped her psionic blades. It also caused some unpleasant gashes on her arms.
“Ack! Now you show some backbone,” said Psylocke through the pain.
“That’s not all I’ll show you,” said Harpoon with a lecherous grin.
He picked himself up from the snow and prepared to attack again. Before he could take his first step, a charged playing card drifted in front of his face and exploded. Within seconds, he was flat on his back again.
“Ugh…maybe next time, babe,” groaned Harpoon.
“The way you treat femmes, you don’t deserve no next time,” said Gambit, pushing the tip of his staff against Harpoon’s throat.
Harpoon got the message and fell silent. He didn’t look inclined for a counterattack, but Gambit kept his foot on his chest just in case. Psylocke continued rubbing her wounded wrists, walking over to make sure Harpoon was down for the count.
“I was going to take him down, you know? Since when do men go out of their way to save their ex-girlfriends anyways?” said Psylocke in a somewhat disappointed tone.
“Remy don’t doubt you, cherè. And Remy wasn’t comin’ to save you. Remy was ending this fight quickly so we got more time to think,” he said suspiciously.
“What’s there to think about? Wasn’t the mission to neutralize these blokes?”
“It ain’t our mission that worries me, cherè. It’s theirs,” he said.
While Gambit pondered these peculiarities, the battle next to him unfolded in a similar way. Blockbuster was using the same tactic Harpoon used against Colossus and Thunderbird. He allowed the two X-men to surround him. He didn’t attack or coordinate with the others. He just stood his ground, cracking his knuckles and biding his time.
“Come on you guys! I getting cobwebs over here,” said Blockbuster.
“You sound overly eager to get your ass kicked,” said Thunderbird.
“Maybe I’m just that good,” he shrugged.
“I don’t know an English word that describes how foolish that is,” said Colossus in a stern tone.
The Russian mutant finally made his move, moving in and attacking with a powerful right cross. Blockbuster got his arms up and blocked it, but the force was so great it forced him a few feet to the side. Despite being only slightly stunned, he struck back and hit Colossus with a jab of his own. His strength was right up there with the Russian, but it didn’t do much damage to his metal skin. Colossus put that skin to good use by hitting back with a head-butt square on the forehead.
“Errrrr! You fight dirty, you commie bastard!” said Blockbuster as he stumbled back.
“That’s child’s play. If you care to keep testing me, I’ll show you a few tricks you can’t learn outside of Spetznaz,” threatened Colossus in a menacing tone.
“Ha! Sounds like fun,” he grunted.
Blockbuster appeared for another charge. He seemed to forget that Colossus wasn’t his only combatant because he was kicked in the back by Thunderbird, sending him face first into a pile of snow.
“Umfh!” he said in his muffled tone.
“That was too pathetic even for a lug head like you,” commented Thunderbird.
“Hrrrrr! Just you wait,” said the hulking mutant as he tried to get up.
“For what?” demanded Thunderbird, putting his foot right on the back of Blockbuster’s neck, “You guys obviously aren’t giving us your A-game. I thought the Marauders were supposed to be tough.”
“They are,” said Gambit as he and Psylocke ran over to join them, “I be just as interested in an explanation.”
“As if I’d tell you, X-punks,” said Blockbuster with a face full of snow.
“Let him get up. I will get him to talk,” said Colossus in a strong tone.
Thunderbird seriously considered Colossus’s offer. He picked up on what the others were sensing as well. They were hard pressed for answers. Then Beast and Shadowcat came running by.
“No need to for aggressive interrogation. We’ll figure this out at the source,” said Beast as acrobatically he leapt over the downed Blockbuster.
“The source being that flashing gizmo,” said Shadowcat as she phased through a few lingering goblins, “Once we pull the plug, we can have these guys fill in the blanks.”
“You’ll be sorry if you think you can…” began Blockbuster.
“Shut up!” said Thunderbird, pushing his face down further into the snow, “I wasn’t around to kick Magneto’s ass with the X-men. Don’t make me use you to compensate.”
Blockbuster fell silent and so were the rest of the Marauders. Iceman and Storm finished restraining Riptide. Iceman froze his legs to make sure he couldn’t attack again. Phoenix was still locked in combat with the Goblin Queen. She had her wayward cousin on the run. The Goblin Queen was still sending her goblin minions to slow her down, but didn’t try to finish her off. Phoenix remained too distracted to pick up on what the others had. However, she was still in a better state of mind than Cyclops.
The X-leader remained oblivious to everything except his brother. They exchanged brief energy blasts, but because of their family ties it did no damage. Vulcan’s eyes kept glowing while the energy simmered behind Cyclops’s visor. From the moment it began, it was a stalemate. But Cyclops clearly had the upper edge. Vulcan knew something Cyclops didn’t and he was ready to beat it out of his older brother. He barely noticed when the Goblin Queen was forced aside by a telekinetic burst from Phoenix. Vulcan was momentarily distracted, allowing Cyclops to throw a hard knee to the gut and hit his older sibling across the face with a punishing jab.
“Ungh! I’m almost impressed, Scott. You’re not holding back for once,” said Vulcan as he rubbed his jaw.
“I tend to get upset when family members keep secrets…even if those family members don’t give a damn to begin with,” said Cyclops.
Vulcan tried to counter the X-leader’s attack with an uppercut. Cyclops avoided it and struck his brother again, this time in the ribs. He hit so hard he heard a crack, indicating some real internal damage. It sent Vulcan into a world of pain. As he keeled over, Cyclops got behind him and pulled him into a choke hold. Now at his mercy, he could ask the questions he desperately needed answered.
“Errrr! You’re mad at me for keeping secrets? Honestly Scott, that’s so petty,” grunted Vulcan within his brother’s grip.
“What’s petty about our parents being alive?” yelled Cyclops.
“You act like it was my fault. Was I mistaken for thinking you were smart enough to figure it out?” taunted the oldest Summers brother.
“I had no reason to believe otherwise. Then you dropped that little hint back in Nova Roma.”
“So now you know,” grunted Vulcan, having to gasp for air, “So what?”
“Now you’re going to tell me the rest. You obviously know more than I do,” said Cyclops, tightening his grip on Vulcan’s neck, “So enlighten me! Rub it in my face if you want. What happened to our parents?”
“Don’t you mean parent? As in singular?” he taunted, his voice starting to crack.
“Is that another hint or more mind games?” demanded the X-leader.
“I would love to tell you. Unfortunately, we’re almost out of time.”
Cyclops had to remind himself that there was a mission going on. He looked around and saw the Marauders had been defeated. The only remaining threat was the Goblin Queen and her goblins. But even that threat was waning as Phoenix kept up her aggressive attack. It didn’t seem right. It was too easy. They had to be missing something.
While Cyclops took all this in, Beast and Shadowcat stood at the device trying to find the answers. Beast unlocked a control panel on the side and Shadowcat was walking around the six connecting components, looking for a means of shutting this thing down.
“These smaller bits here look like power cells,” commented Shadowcat, “The energy they’re generating is pretty dense. I can’t phase through it.”
“You really have been keeping up with your physics homework,” commented Beast as he looked over the main control panel, “So much power implies there’s something very potent lying within.”
“Potent as in explosive?” said Shadowcat warily.
“That would be very unlike Sinister. I don’t see him going through all this trouble to craft something as crude as a bomb. This device is utilizing Warlock technology. You don’t use Warlock technology if you intend to blow it up. I can’t help but wonder what lurks within this core.”
“Want me to take a peak?” she offered.
“No…not yet. I need to analyze the interface.”
Beast worked quickly while Shadowcat paced restlessly. She kept surveying the smaller components that connected to the core. Even though Beast assured her it wasn’t a bomb of sorts, it sure felt like one. It wasn’t lost on her that they were atop an active volcano. If there was something explosive about this contraption, she wasn’t looking forward to seeing it go off.
Shadowcat worked her way back to the core where Beast was still working. He had to do a little light hacking, but not as much as he thought. It was as if Sinister wanted them to figure out what this device did. A few ominous images flashed upon the screen. These images offered clues as to what was inside the core. All signs pointed to something far worse than he imagined.
“By stars and garners…” he gasped.
At that very moment, Shadowcat’s hand trailed over a flashing light and the whole structure erupted with new activity. The six smaller devices connecting to the core lit up, radiating a new energy so intense it was like a miniature sun. This light fed into the core, causing it to glow as well. It forced Beast and Shadowcat back in a daze. They watched anxiously as a mysterious silvery halo formed around the core.
“Whoa…what did I just touch and how do I untouch it?” lamented Shadowcat.
“I don’t think it’s something you did, Shadowcat,” said Beast distantly, “Those readings I saw…this device was overloading before we even arrived. It’s purposefully unstable. Now it’s reaching critical mass!”
“Is that why they laid down for us?” pondered Psylocke, “Because they already knew their little toy here was in overdrive?”
“It isn’t very clever, but it isn’t stupid either,” commented Thunderbird.
“They want us to call their bluff. Remy ain’t got no problem with that,” said Gambit as he took out a few charged cards, “Let’s just cut the power. Easy fix. Ain’t nothing on this mountain needs to erupt here today.”
“Better aim carefully, comrade,” warned Colossus, “I’d rather not see that thing go off.”
Setting his sights on the six connecting components to the core, Gambit threw a round of cards towards the contraption. It seemed like the most reasonable course of action. If cut the power, the threat should be neutralized.
However, the others didn’t see the data that Beast had seen. The moment he heard about Gambit’s plan, his brilliant mind pieced together the other clues. When it finally clicked, he came to a dire conclusion that prompted him to act on an impulse.
“WAIT!” exclaimed Beast as he jumped in the path of the cards.
“Beast!” exclaimed Shadowcat as she watched her teacher jump into harm’s way.
The cards exploded near Beast before they struck the machine. The X-men watched in horror as their teacher momentarily vanished in the blast. Gambit was especially horrified as he and the others rushed to his aid.
“Aw hell…” groaned Gambit.
“Hank!” Storm cried out, who had finally caught up along with Iceman.
“What the hell just happened?” exclaimed Iceman.
“I don’t know, but now I’m even more confused,” said Psylocke.
Gambit ran towards Beast with Colossus, Thunderbird, Storm, Psylocke, and Iceman following close behind. Shadowcat reached him first, who checked to see if he was okay. He was lying flat on his back in the snow, looking dazed yet conscious. Shadowcat helped him sit up while checking for any wounds. He had a few burns on his fur and some wounds that would need treatment, but nothing serious.
“I never thought I’d say this, but that was not smart, Mr. McCoy,” said Shadowcat as the others gathered around.
“Had…no choice,” stammered Beast as he rubbed his head, “Had…to stop it.”
“Stop what?” demanded Gambit, who helped him up as well, “What’s the hell is in that thing that ain’t worth blowing up?”
Beast was still dazed. He was in no condition to explain himself. He tried to fight his way through his pained state so he could warn his fellow X-men. Then they received an unexpected interruption.
‘X-men! I need you to listen carefully!’
“Professor Xavier?” said Shadowcat as she and everyone else heard his familiar voice in their heads.
‘I was able to get through to the MSA. General Grimshaw has agreed to send reinforcements. As we speak a B-1 bomber is approaching your area. I detected some strange energy readings so he’s going to target the source with a precision bomb. If you’re close to that energy get away as quickly as you can. The bomb will drop in under a minute.’
The X-men froze at this news. They still hadn’t made sense of what was going on, but now both time and their own allies were working against them. Since this was Sinister they were dealing with, Professor Xavier made a push to get help from Grimshaw. It looked like they were getting it, but it may not have been the kind of help they needed.
“Guess that settles that,” said Thunderbird urgently, “Grab Beast and start moving! One way or another, this thing is going to blow.”
“Hnn…no. You don’t…understand,” coughed Beast.
“It’s a little late for understanding, Hank. You’re not throwing yourself in front of this thing again,” said Storm as she helped Thunderbird get Beast to his feet.
“The device…” he said, struggling to break from their grip.
“We’ll have to deal with it after it’s in pieces,” said Shadowcat, “Right now, I’d like to be out of the blast range of the other bomb.”
With the injured Beast in hand Thunderbird, Iceman, Storm, Shadowcat, Gambit, Psylocke, and Colossus retreated from the device. The Marauders started moving as well, although they weren’t nearly as surprised. They met up with Arclight and Riptide, who were emerging from their earlier defeats. Up in the sky, they could hear the B1 bomber closing in along with the X-men. Even through the clouds and blowing snow, they could see it drawing closer.
The only ones who didn’t notice were Cyclops and Phoenix. They were still locked in combat with Vulcan and the Goblin Queen. Phoenix had worn herself out with so many cosmic bursts and was now locked in a telekinetic grapple with her cousin. Cyclops still had his older brother in a choke hold, but when he saw the other X-men running from the device his family dramas fell to the wayside.
“This is gonna get messier than I thought,” seethed Vulcan.
“Messy how?” demanded Cyclops, on the verge of choking his older brother to death, “What the hell is in that thing? Why aren’t you worried about his blowing up?”
Vulcan coughed from a lack of air, but still had enough breath to scoff at Cyclops’s request. The X-leader put more pressure on him. At this point the Goblin Queen took notice of her lover’s predicament. As much as she wanted to better her cousin, she understood the dangers of staying here for the fireworks.
“Sorry Jean. Like you, my love for Summers men trumps my hatred for you,” grunted the Goblin Queen.
Deciding to play dirty, the Goblin Queen allowed Phoenix to break her telekinetic grapple. She managed to jump to the side, but still endured a rough blow. She endured the pain and used Phoenix’s distraction to her advantage. With a fresh burst of telekinesis she blew a heavy load of snow in her face. Then for good measure, she opened up one more gateway so three of her goblin minions could pounce on her.
“Ahhhh!” Phoenix cried out, blinded by the snow and pained by the demonic attack, “Damn you, Maddie!”
“You’ll get another shot, cousin. Just not anytime soon,” taunted the Goblin Queen.
While Phoenix fought off her goblins, the Goblin Queen rushed towards Vulcan. Cyclops saw her coming the moment he saw Jean cry out in pain. He tried to hit her with an optic blast, but she hit him first. The Goblin Queen used a rough burst of telekinesis to shove him away from Vulcan and break his choke hold on him in the process.
“No! We’re not done yet, Vulcan!” grunted Cyclops as he tried to recover quickly.
“You are now,” said the Goblin Queen, giving him another telekinetic shove for good measure.
The blast knocked Cyclops a good ten feet away from Vulcan. This allowed the Goblin Queen to help her lover back to his feet. By now the B1 bomber was almost overhead. The bomb was probably on its way. That meant they had to be somewhere else.
“That’s our cue, my love. They won’t get their answers, but we’ll get ours,” said the Goblin Queen.
“Not a moment too soon either,” said Vulcan through a few rough coughs, “Get us back to Sinister’s lab. By the time we confront him, we’ll all know the full truth.”
The Goblin Queen embraced her lover tightly and cast a transport spell. Cyclops and Phoenix didn’t recover in time. Once Cyclops was back to his feet and just after Phoenix fought off the last goblin, Vulcan and the Goblin Queen were engulfed in a yellow light. In a flash they disappeared.
“Damn it, Gabriel! You did it to me again,” seethed Cyclops, staring at the spot where his older brother had stood.
“You’re in good company, babe,” said Phoenix, wincing at some of the scratches that her cousin’s goblins left, “They’ll never stop pissing you off. Misguided family members are like that.”
“I think it’s even worse this time, Jean,” Cyclops mused, “I get the sense Gabriel wanted us to find him. That may be why that trick with Cerebrum worked on the first test. For all I know, he made sure John found that file!”
“If that’s the case, then he’s even a bigger dick than my cousin.”
“It’s still not the worst part,” he said grimly as he turned to the machine, “I think we may have just done exactly what Sinister wants us to do.”
It was a chilling thought. If they had helped Sinister with their tactics, then it was too late to go back. The bomber overhead had dropped its payload. Sinister’s machine was going to blow up one way or another.
Cyclops and Phoenix met up with the rest of the X-men and took cover. The Marauders took cover as well, ducking behind rocks and snow banks. They closed their eyes and covered their ears as the B1 bomber flew overhead, the roar of the engines kicking up a large cloud of snow. Within this cloud, the precision bomb struck Sinister’s device right at the core. But the resulting explosion was anything by ordinary.
In a blinding flash, a silvery light erupted from within the fire and smoke of the bomb itself. This light mixed with the yellowish energy that had been fed in by the power cells. The explosion triggered a reaction. The silvery light rose up into the air a lot faster than the smoke and fire. As it rose, it dispersed into a strange mist. That mist quickly spread out over a wide area. Within seconds it faded into nothingness along with the blast. It had unleashed something and the Marauders were the first to feel it.
“What the hell?” groaned Arclight, looking at her skin and seeing a strange lesion form.
“What did Sinister just do?” said Harpoon, who felt similar lesions on his face.
“I don’t know, but I don’t feel so good,” groaned Riptide, who suddenly looked ill.
The X-men sensed it too. Shadowcat, Psylocke, and Beast felt some strange legions form on their skin as well. It was an ominous sign that they had just made a terrible mistake.
“Guys…I don’t feel so good either,” said Shadowcat anxiously.
“Neither do I, luv,” groaned Psylocke, having to lean on Thunderbird for support.
“That’s not shrapnel,” said Thunderbird as he looked at the lesions, “What the hell is going on?”
The horror of what just happened was only beginning to set in. Then from his daze Beast emerged, the legions on his body acting as grim confirmation. He was too late. The X-men had failed. Now there was no telling how far the damage would spread.
“It has begun,” said Beast in a weak tone, “Sinister…has won.”
‘Gotta move faster. Damn you Remy for not pickin’ up your dang phone! You and the X-men better not be on a mission. You don’t wanna let this monster outta its cage.’
Rogue flew full speed from District X in New York City to Westchester and just arrived at the mansion. She didn’t even bother to knock, opting to fly right through the front door. She had made several attempts to call the others on her cell phone. She didn’t get an answer. That likely meant that everyone was on a mission. That didn’t bode well if it was the mission she suspected.
Upon plowing through the front door, Rogue flew towards the elevators. Even though she wasn’t an active member anymore, she was still cleared by the mansion’s security system. She was able to make it past the biometrics and get the elevator moving. She didn’t bother searching the rest of the mansion. If her gut feeling was right, then Professor Xavier was in the lower levels managing this conflict. She might still be able to help the X-men if she could get to him.
“Come on! Hurry up you hunk of junk,” urged Rogue as she waited impatiently.
When the elevator door finally opened, she took to the air again. Flying was faster than running and time was already working against her. The lower levels were ominously silent, indicating that the X-men were already in the field. She followed the twisting corridors of the lower levels towards Cerebrum. When she arrived she found that the chamber door was already open and the machine was active.
“Professor!” she cried out, “Whatever you have the X-men doing, pull ‘em back now. Tess and Ah found something you should…”
Rogue stopped in mid-sentence as she entered the central area. Sure enough Professor Xavier was at the main panel. He had the helmet on and his head was hung low. He wasn’t concentrating or doing a psychic scan or anything. He looked like he had a terrible headache, which offered a telling clue as to what just happened.
“Professor?” said Rogue anxiously.
“I sensed your arrival Rogue,” he said in a low tone, “I’m sorry, but you’re too late.”
“Don’t give meh that despair shit. It can’t be that bad already!”
“But it is,” said the Professor grimly as he removed the helmet, “And it’s about to get much worse.”
Next Issue: Dark Legacy Part 2
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