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Volume 5 -- Supreme Reflections -- Sage

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Sage
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Sage’s Reflections (AN: Takes place shortly after issue 116)

Life is an unsolvable equation. There are a near infinite number of calculations that go into the most basic of human functioning. Even the most advanced computers in existence have difficulty making sense of such data. People act so amazed when they see their cell phone run some advanced application, but on a fundamental level every computer functions in a fairly simple manner. They’re all products of mathematics.

I’ve always found a comfort in numbers. No matter what you do, two plus two will always equal four. It’s the anchor of reality. For most of my life, it was the anchor of my whole being. My life has been driven by cold, hard numbers. Until recently, it was the only thing I was passionate about. Sometimes I believe it would have been easier if I was born a computer. Having these human elements along with a computer-like mind is difficult. Although it does have a few perks that I’ve come to appreciate.

Sage was sitting at the desk of her elaborate computer array wearing only light bath robe. It was late at night. District X had only minimal activity at this hour. Even a community of mutants in the middle of New York City had to settle at some point. There was always potential for chaos and she was responsible for being on top of it. As the chief visionary of District X, the systems that kept this society going went through her.

Much of her time was spent behind a computer screen. Having a computer-like mind required her to have more than just a standard PC. She had an elaborate array of advanced computers that couldn’t be found in any electronics store. Every piece of hardware and software was custom made, built to work with her unique data processing skills. It allowed her to run programs at a superhuman rate. Like a computer, her mind was always processing data. At times she could barely keep up with herself.

“Hnn…Sage?” came a voice from across the room.

Sage looked up from her elaborate array, reminded that she was not alone tonight. Hank McCoy was lying in her bed, wearing only a pair of briefs. She thought he had fallen asleep. After their heated lovemaking a few hours ago, she expected him to be out cold.

“Go back to sleep, Henry. I’m just checking up on a few things,” she assured him.

“Mmm…very well,” he said in a groggy tone, “Although this bed is cold without you.”

“Coming from a man with fur, I’ll take that as an urgent statement,” retorted Sage.

“Does that mean you’ll come back quicker?”

“I’ll be right there, love. I promise. Just let me finish up.”

Hank growled lightly in response. It was his animalistic way of saying yes. It was one of those proclivities that Sage had come to love about him. Hank was a man of such contrast, so brilliant yet so primal. He had the best of both worlds. It made him strong both physically and mentally. It was a kind of strength that Sage envied.

Hank McCoy has it figured out. Even if the equation of life is unsolvable, he’s solved more of it than I ever will. He’s a brilliant man, but he’s able to balance that brilliance with a powerful sense of humility. He can be feral one moment and intellectual the next, never fully losing control of his faculties. I once tried to calculate the chances of me meeting someone like him. The sum had so many digits I got a headache. I then tried to calculate the chances of me falling in love with him. That number was incalculable, even for me.

At one point in my life I thought I wasn’t equipped to love. That’s not to say I was bitter or anything. I just didn’t think I had that program loaded into my brain. Hank McCoy changed that. He’s reached me on an intellectual and emotional level I never thought possible. It’s not like I was incapable of emotion. I just had it turned off most of my life.

Only a handful of people know the details of my life. Hank is among the elite few. I live a life under two names. Most of the world knows me as Tessa. That’s the name I chose for myself. That’s the name I’ve gone by for most of my teenage and adult life. Sage is the name I was born with. It’s actually not my only name. I was born Diana Sage Fox. It’s a name you won’t find in many databases or records. I’ve worked very hard to keep it that way. At an early age, I learned the value of anonymity.

I was born into a war torn world. My father was a diplomat and my mother was a computer programmer in what was once Yugoslavia. I arrived just in time to witness the waning years of the Soviet Union. I barely had a chance to meet my father. He was killed by a Serbian sniper when I was three. I don’t remember much about him so I didn’t have time to get attached. It sure turned my mother off. She always seemed detached, as if she had turned off her emotions. It was a trick I would later utilize in a more advanced fashion.

My whole childhood was a progression of chaos and conflict. I lived with my mother in a small one-room apartment. It was in the middle of an area wrought with ethnic wars, guerrilla attacks, and political strife. My mother used to work for the old Soviet government. When that went under she got a job working for the failing Yugoslavian government. It was like being a janitor on a sinking ship. She never felt at ease. She was always looking over her shoulder. I remember one time when I was five I dropped a dish onto the floor and it shattered. My mother reacted like it was a live grenade and rushed me into a nearby closet. It took a while for her to be convinced that it was nothing serious. It would set the tone for a very sheltered life.

While my mother was paranoid, she did find ways to keep me out of trouble. Since there weren’t many toys to play with, she gave me old computer parts to fool around with. I didn’t know what they were at the time. I would just take them apart, put them together, and plug them in to watch the blinking lights. It wasn’t the most entertaining activity in the world, but it did begin my fascination with computers. It was a fascination that would become a big part of my life.

I never made my mother’s life difficult. I let her be paranoid while I learned as much as I could about computers. By the time I was seven, I created my first integrated circuit. By the time I was nine I was writing my first programming codes. By the time I was twelve I made my first full working computer. In many ways my computer was my best friend. It was so ordered and predictable, based in the cold facts of math and physics. It was a welcome reprieve from the chaos that had consumed my surroundings.

I never developed much of a social life. I wasn’t a complete recluse, but I did come off as strange to other kids my age. I spent so much time around computers that I acted like one at times. I was like a machine, disciplined and focused.

I remember one time when my mother took me out to the markets, we passed by a field with a bunch of kids playing soccer. My mother asked if I wanted to play. I told her I didn’t. We kept walking. Then one of the kids kicked the ball so hard that it flew over the goal and hit me right in the head. My mother overreacted of course, but I shut it out. When two boys came over to get their ball, they apologized. I told them it was no big deal and gave them their ball back. They were a little troubled by my demeanor because I had a rather noticeable bruise on my head. Boys being boys, they poked at me and asked if it hurt. I told them it did. I wasn’t wincing or anything so they didn’t believe me. From there it got ugly.

They started teasing me, trying to make me express the pain I was feeling. It was definitely there, but I didn’t allow it to process. Soon those boys were cursing me out, calling me a freak because I couldn’t understand the concept of pain. My mother had to forcibly restrain those boys to get them to stop. The whole time I didn’t show a lick of emotion. It didn’t just disturb those boys. It worried my mother as well.

Perhaps I should have been concerned. It seemed like an anomaly, a girl walking around with the demeanor of a machine. It was the first sign to me and my mother that I was not normal. It didn’t bother me because I was still young. I hadn’t learned to process the finer details of human social norms. That would be a challenge for most of my life. It was that failure to process my own humanity that led me down a very dark path.

Sage stopped typing on her computer array for a moment. On one of her screens, she tapped into a live video feed of the south end of District X. This was where most of the residence areas were. At this hour there wasn’t much activity, but there were a few figures still out and about. Among them was a young teenage mutant girl with yellow skin and purple hair. She couldn’t have been older than 14. Next to her was her mother, who was also a mutant. She had yellow skin as well, but with a more scale-like complexion. They were carrying a heavy load of groceries into one of the apartment buildings. They were smiling and laughing together as one might expect for a mother/daughter relationship.

Sage watched the scene play out before her. She remained fixated on the live video feed until they disappeared into the apartment complex. It didn’t remind her about her mother as much as it did about how she was growing up. Her mother was not a mutant nor was she a bad parent. She was as dedicated as any daughter could ask for. All the difficulties weren’t her fault. It was Sage who put her mother in so many difficult positions. It was tragic in a sense because she didn’t realize how hard her mother had it until much later.

The whole soccer incident prompted my mother to make a difficult decision. I was different and in our current surroundings, I was too vulnerable. The Balkans weren’t going to stabilize anytime soon so she pooled her every last resource to send me to a private school in Germany. I don’t know how she pulled it off or why she didn’t do something sooner. I guess she felt so tied to the conflict in the area that she couldn’t imagine leaving it. That conflict wasn’t for me. I’m glad my mother came to that conclusion. It would be the final act of good parenting she would ever do.

On the day I was sent off on a train to Germany, I had no idea that it would be the last time I would see my mother. I actually don’t know what happened to her. I’ve looked into it, but people disappear in that part of the world all the time. As far as I know, my mother is long dead. She sacrificed everything for me and for that I’ll always be in her debt. She was a good mother and she made sure that the conflict I left behind didn’t follow me. That included giving me a new name to go by in Germany. That name was Tessa, which in many ways would define me more than Sage.

When I arrived in Germany, I was greeted with an old friend of my mother’s who worked at this private school. I was only twelve at the time so she took care of me. Once classes started, I didn’t need much taking care of. This private school wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t sub-standard. It was a special school for gifted children who skipped grades. It was full of many socially awkward people such as myself so I felt right at home. Classes ran all year round so there was always work to do. I made a habit of keeping myself busy, soaking up every bit of knowledge my brain could process.

I actually started ahead of my grade level the first year. I skipped over another the next. My teachers would give me books to read, problems to solve, and projects to do and I would process them like a supercomputer. Some of my teachers called me a living computer. They may have been more right than they intended.

I believe it was around this time my mutant powers started manifesting. My mutation involves enhanced mental faculties that allow me to process information at superhuman levels. I can analyze and remember in a way that’s not too different from a computer. In sifting through my memories I believe my mutation manifested gradually started at age 10. By the time I was 15 my mind was fully booted so-to-speak. I must have read every textbook from every department at that school. I had learned six languages, memorized every known collection of Greco-Roman literature, and mastered every known field of advanced science. I was the school’s golden child. However, as gifted as I was there were problems. Sometimes even a powerful computer is vulnerable to a grave malfunction.

Sage turned her attention away from her computer screens and towards a nearby window. In it she saw her stoic reflection. There was no emotion on her face. She had turned them off as she so often did when she was working. It helped her be more efficient, but there were times it caused problems of a very personal nature.

‘I feel only what I allow myself to process. It’s as convenient as it is a curse.’

When she turned her emotions on, she watched her face tense. It was often a difficult process. Turning on emotions was like overloading an ill-equipped system with new data. This difficult process that so few understood was the heart of so many problems. Being able to turn her emotions on and off was a blessing at times. In some instances it put a strain on her sense of humanity.

It started when my telepathy manifested. It was in the middle of winter and there was two-and-a-half feet of snow on the ground. I was on my way to my next class. Along the way, I saw this girl walking her dog. She was about my age and I remember she was friends with someone at the school. I was just ten feet behind her. We were nearing an intersection when this car skidded uncontrollably. It veered right off the street and onto the sidewalk. It missed me and the girl, but it ran right over the dog. It was a pretty sickening scene. The wheel ran right over this small Scottish terrier and it let out this terrible cry. It was enough to cause quite a commotion.

The girl was hysterical. She cried out in a mix of anger and anguish, bursting into tears as she looked at her dog’s mangled body. The driver of the car got out looking equally horrified. The girl was so devastated she fell to her knees. Me being so socially awkward, I didn’t deviate from my usual emotionless demeanor. Then something happened to kick-start my latent limbic system.

I started picking up on these thoughts and feelings. They felt completely alien to me. I quickly surmised they weren’t mine. The next thing I know my mind is completely overwhelmed. I sense the thoughts of the girl. I sense the thoughts of the driver. I sense the thoughts of everybody around me who was shocked at the scene. It was the first time I had been so overwhelmed. I started screaming and seething, every logical faculty of my mind shutting down as if my mental computer had been overheated.

While everyone was still focused on the dog, I ran full speed back to my dormitory. I completely forgot about class and locked myself in my room. For the next two hours I cried and groaned. I kept hearing all these stray thoughts. Processing them was next to impossible. I was on the verge of the mental equivalent of a system crash.

Eventually my teachers realized I had missed class and came looking for me. When they found me in such anguish, they rushed me to the clinic. I was then sedated and given a chance to rest. This helped my mind reboot in a sense. When I awoke my mind was in control. I still heard these thoughts and voices, but it wasn’t so overwhelming. The school called in a doctor from a local hospital and he told me what had happened. While I was unconscious, they ran a blood test that answered my burning questions. I was more than just abnormally gifted. I was a mutant, a telepath to be precise.

This certainly changed things, but it wasn’t too shocking. I was already different in a number of extreme ways. Being a mutant didn’t seem that outlandish. Once I knew what I was, I could process it. I learned as much as I could about telepathy and mutation. I soon surmised that my mental faculties were a result of my mutation as well. It wasn’t too long before I was in control of my psychic abilities. Most telepaths struggle for such control, but having a computerized brain helped. While being a mutant didn’t affect how I saw myself, it did affect the people around me.

I noticed a significant shift in how my teachers looked at me. I wasn’t gifted anymore. I was a freak. Those were their exact thoughts. My brilliance wasn’t a result of a natural aptitude. I just had a mutation that made me smart. I didn’t like that nor did I take kindly to it. This helped create a new problem.

Now that I was psychic, I was forced to confront the emotions I had long negated. I found it difficult, having to process these inherently illogical sentiments. That’s why I trained myself to turn them off. It made everything much easier. However, even when they were off the mere knowledge of what other people thought of me changed my mentality. Suddenly, I wasn’t content with just being smart. I had to grow a bit of an ego. This in a girl who isn’t good at processing emotions is a ticking cosmic explosion.

Sage scolded her reflection in the window. She had to look away, less her emotions get the better of her. It was her greatest struggle. Sage could keep her emotions turned off all the time if she wanted. She had long since concluded that she shouldn’t. It was vital she turn them on so she could feel the impact of her actions. The whole conflict over whether she could do something versus whether she should was a conflict that led to many struggles. It was in these conflicts that Sage had to contend with an unfortunate truth.

“I’m a fool,” she said under her breath, “A damned fool.”

Being labeled a freak didn’t exactly inspire me in the classical sense. If anything, it pushed me to cross lines and go further. If I was going to be a freak then I was going to be the freak that outdid them. I was going to outdo all of humanity. I was going to use my brilliance to change the world.

For the next three years I entered a series of accelerated learning programs. I literally took every subject I could. I spent 20 hours a day in class or behind a computer screen, processing and absorbing information. I took tests from all the top schools including Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, MIT, and Princeton. I didn’t just seek to pass the tests. I wanted to make a joke of them.

By the time I was 18 I was probably the most educated person in Europe. Along the way I formulated a plan on how to turn my brilliance into something tangible. I began focusing my efforts on biotechnology. I crunched the numbers and concluded that the impact of any technology was limited to a human being’s ability to process it. I could create the greatest scientific marvel in the history of man, but it wouldn’t mean anything if nobody could understand it. Biotechnology promised to change that. By improving the very biology of humans, they could process the world more efficiently like I did. My goal would be to develop a means of doing so that was centuries ahead of it’s time.

I graduated with every possible honor from my school. I based my final dissertation on the future of biotechnology. In it I coined the term techno-organic material. I theorized that by blending nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and neuro-biological interface that humanity wouldn’t just be able to maximize their potential. They would be able to exceed it in a way that evolution could only envy. I laid out the math, the physics, and the feasibility of such substance. I received a high mark for the paper, but many in the scientific arena thought my proposal was impractical if not impossible. I took that as a challenge to prove them wrong.

Once I graduated I could have done pretty much anything. I started going by Sage again, no longer afraid of the dangerous world around me. Even with the stigma of mutants, there were still plenty of organizations willing to pay top dollar for my services. I could have had a six-figure salary without breaking a sweat. I wanted more than that. My ego was too bloated. I wanted a chance to turn my theories into reality. Nobody, not even national militaries with deep pockets, was willing to take a chance. Then I found out a man named Sebastian Shaw had read my dissertation.

While I was in Switzerland trying to get work with an advanced biotech company, he approached me. I immediately sensed something devious about him. Sebastian Shaw is a man that carries a sinister aura wherever he goes. I was still young, only 19-years-old and too ambitious for my own good. Even with my brilliance, I fell for his charm. He said he was intrigued by my theories. He wanted me to join his company, Shaw Industries, and develop it.

I didn’t ask him what he wanted to do with my techno-organic material. I didn’t even ask him if I would maintain full control over my work. He was the first man with vast wealth who believed in my work. That was all that mattered to me at the time. I only probed his mind deep enough to figure out he wasn’t leading me on. I agreed to work for him.

However, Sebastian Shaw is anything but charitable. He made it clear that if I was to have access to his resources, there were certain conditions I needed to fulfill. At the time I was willing to do anything to turn my research from theory to reality. I have a genius level IQ, yet I was unable to surmise how much those conditions would haunt me.

Sage had to turn her emotions off again. She was getting too worked up. Looking back towards her computer array, she watched the vast streams of data fly by. It was remarkable how easy it was for her to process this data. She could interface with computers the way most people rode a bicycle. It took a special mind to make sense of it all yet she still felt so foolish.

It was a conundrum that baffled her for years. How could someone so smart be so devious? She had no one to blame but herself. Her parents weren’t at fault. Her mother did all the right things for her. It couldn’t have been her youth. Even juveniles had enough sense to know when they were in a bad situation. There were times when every bit of logic indicated that she was doing something wrong. Yet she still went through with it. No amount of genius could overshadow that caliber of foolishness.

It was official. I was Sage, chief biotech researcher for Shaw Industries. Unofficially, I was also the top bioengineering chief for the Inner Circle. That was a very venerable position to be. It paid very handsomely. It paid far more than I thought was possible and came with plenty of benefits. It was the conditions that had the greatest impact.

I tolerated Shaw’s conditions. Looking back on it, I don’t know how I could stand to be in my own skin. Some of his requests were simple enough. I had to live on the premise of one of his buildings. This way he could keep an eye on me and everything that I used. I also had to sever any ties I had in Europe, which wasn’t much of a stretch because my mother was long gone. Then there were the more disturbing conditions.

At the time I wasn’t exactly eye-candy. Geniuses aren’t known for being sexy. I was a lanky, thin, pale young woman that could walk down the street in underwear and not get harassed. Shaw insisted that change. He put me through a series of surgeries. I had a face-lift done to make my complexion more vibrant. I had breast implants more than doubled my bra size. I had my hips and thighs reshaped a bit for a more feminine frame. I also had several extensive skin treatments that made my skin smoother and softer to the touch. By the time it was complete, I felt like a porn star. It’s how Shaw likes his women. Even the smart ones need to titillate his loins.

The man is a misogynistic bastard, but I brushed off any disgust for the sake of my work. While I was undergoing surgery, Shaw was setting up my own secret division within Shaw Industries. He made my work part of his off-the-books black budget program. This meant there would be no official documentation. I would be free of scrutiny and any ethical concerns. This in addition to the most advanced lab equipment dirty money could buy and it was a science buff’s wet dream.

I don’t remember thinking too much about the consequences. I just remember diving head first into my research. The next few years would be a trial-and-error period. I spent days on end conducting experiments, crunching numbers, and extrapolating data from various components of my techno-organic theories. Advancements came through bits and pieces. I essentially had to rewrite the physics books and adding a good chunk to the biology books in the process. I was doing something nobody had even dared to put on paper yet. I was my own Manhattan Project, except I was looking to unleash something far more destructive than an atomic bomb.

After the trial-and-error period, I spent a few more years going through the prototype period. This is a time when I actually synthesized the proto-material that would become true techno-organic matter. This is where Shaw’s resources really came in handy. I was able to procure rare isotopes, radioactive elements, and meta-materials that aren’t available in your standard chemistry kit. I started off by synthesizing a material that could interact with living cells. I then used nanotechnology to make the material programmable. I used a series of rare isotopes and chemical systems that made the material malleable. The whole time I honestly didn’t feel as though I was doing something dangerously stupid.

My work sucked up a lot of resources from Shaw’s budget. At times I pissed off other departments hungry for research money. At one point Shaw himself grew concerned. I gave him constant updates on my progress. He always pushed me to go further and I always responded. I took it as a challenge, thinking even less of the implications. Then one day I crossed a line that threw all aspects of logic into chaos.

Sebastian Shaw paid a visit to my lab. He was no longer content with reports. He wanted to see something tangible. Lucky for him, I had the latest prototype ready. I arranged a special experiment with this black lab rat. I remember it vividly. The rat was in a sealed glass container. The techno-organic material was so minute you could fit all of it into a thimble. I made sure Mr. Shaw had a front row seat. I explained to him that with the techno-organic material, I could impose new genetic material directly into the specimen. That included mutant DNA.

I kept my emotions off the entire time so I wouldn’t be nervous. The whole experiment lasted no longer than fifteen minutes. I personally went through each meticulous step, programming the techno-organic matter and carefully injecting it into the rat. At first it didn’t have much effect. Then like magic, it worked. The rat grew to twice it’s size and it’s fur changed from black to white. I know a trick like that doesn’t impress many people. That’s why I decided to throw some snippets from the X-gene into the mix. This caused the rat to sprout wings so it could fly. Within the glass box, it actually flew around to grab a piece of cheese hanging from a hook at the top of the container. It broke every law of biology. To say Shaw was impressed would have been an understatement.

In that very instant I became one of his prized gems if that’s the right word. After the experiment he rewarded me with a special dinner. He had some of the most expensive food I’ve ever seen delivered and it was probably the best meal I ever ate. Whatever contentment I felt from that food was soon reversed because on that same night, Shaw seduced me. I should have been smart enough to reject him. I should have been utterly repulsed by the idea. Yet I was too entrenched in this research. So I did it. I gave myself to Sebastian Shaw.

It was a vile act. My skin crawls to this day every time I think about it. I’m ashamed to profess that Sebastian Shaw was the first man I slept with. He was not a very tender lover. He was dominating, forceful, and possessive. He treated me as if I was his golden goose with big breasts and nice legs. I remember feeling scratch marks on my back afterward. It was during this terrible act that my brilliant mind finally came to a realization.

This man was a heartless monster. He was cold, calculating, and completely without conscious. While he was ravaging me, I realized that I wouldn’t be in this position if I wasn’t like him to some extent. At that moment, I realized that my ambition had led me down a very dark path.

Sage closed her eyes and took deep breaths, struggling to keep her emotions turned off. She went back to typing on her computer array. In between monitoring the feeds from District X’s security feeds, she found herself bringing up some old files. They were encrypted documents she gathered from her time at Shaw Industries. They covered some of the basics surrounding her techno-organic research. It was remarkable in a purely scientific sense, but was tainted by Shaw’s dirty grasp.

From one of these encrypted documents, Sage brought up a few images of her earliest depictions of the completed techno-organic material. It was nothing fancy, consisting of rudimentary molecular charts that described the atomic makeup of the material. When Hank first saw this, he was amazed. He must have spent six hours analyzing it. While he found it fascinating, Sage saw the dirty imprints of Sebastian Shaw.

“I’ll never escape it,” she said to herself, “Even if I could, I most certainly shouldn’t. I need to feel this guilt.”

There is only so much logic can do. There’s no ethical molecule and there’s no morality equation. It’s all subjective. So when someone with a computer for a mind starts processing these feelings, it’s bound to cause a crash of sorts. I remember waking up the day after I slept with Shaw. I felt so sick and dirty that I spent a full hour in the shower. It was by far the coldest shower I had ever taken. I remember vividly sitting on the floor, hugging my knees and crying. It was the first time I actually cried. It was also the first time I had to put a value on my research.

At this point my work was so close to a major breakthrough. I had the techno-organic material. What I didn’t have was the AI to run it. I had laid out plans for EVA, the codename I gave to the program. Without the AI, the techno-organic material was just a fancy bit of goo. Shaw was expecting me have a test subject ready within a week. It would have been a huge breakthrough. The secrets of mutation and the ability to control them was within my grasp. There was so much good this technology could do. It could evolve man and mutant beyond their biological boundaries. Yet even with that promise, the price to get this breakthrough was too high.

I decided on the floor of that shower that I would not give Sebastian Shaw this technology. A man like him could use it to reek untold destruction. Logic broke down this time. It was logical to finish my research for the good of mankind and it was also logical to sabotage it so Shaw wouldn’t get it. This is where I had to turn all my emotions so I could do what was right and not just what was logical.

To pull this off, I needed help. At the time, Emma Frost was as aspiring member of the Inner Circle. She too had been recruited by Shaw and she was beginning to see how sick he was as well. We had chatted a few times. I wouldn’t call us friends, but we were able to relate to one another. We were both telepaths and we both were sacrificing our souls for selfish desires. So she was the only one I could turn to if I was to pull this off.

It was quite an elaborate affair. I couldn’t make any suspicious moves because Shaw spied on everyone who worked for him. So I used telepathy to work out the details with Emma. Her role was minor. She just had to be in the area when the plan unfolded. It started with what was officially a routine experiment to prime the techno-organic material. Unofficially, I installed a few snippets of encrypted code. This code caused a dangerous level of chemical catalysts to become concentrated in a small area. No one who didn’t have a PHD in chemistry could have known what this would do.

It happened very quickly. As I ran the program Emma Frost did her part. She altered the perceptions of the people who were working with me so they didn’t know what I was up to. Then in 2.5832 seconds, itthe central container exploded. It wasn’t just a spark either. Given the chemical concentrations I used, the blast was big enough to utterly vaporize the center of the room.

While this was happening, I slipped out through a utility panel that led into the ventilation system. Emma kept everyone oblivious by making them think I had vaporized in the blast. Since it was so intense, it knocked out the cameras and sensors as well. After making it through the vents, I used my own telepathy to manipulate one of the utility workers to let me out and forget he saw me. I also made it so he let me borrow his clothes and use his car.

As far as I knew, it was a perfect escape. I laid low for a good two weeks before I was confident enough that Shaw had lost track of me. I lost my research and the chance to unlock the secrets of mutation, but I gained something much greater. I now had a much clearer sense of humility. I could no longer base all my actions on cold, hard logic. I needed to do what was right. If I was going to use my gifts wisely, I needed another approach.

I came way too close to giving Sebastian Shaw the keys to limitless power. I couldn’t simply relegate myself to a faceless existence. It would have been too easy. I could have made a new identity, got a high paying job, and lived a life of comfortable obscurity. That would have done nothing to repent for what I had done. That’s how District X became part of my life. Rather than use my gifts to help an entire world, I would start small and use it to help those most in need.

Sage continued to sift through the encrypted documents. In addition to details surrounding her research, there was another part to the file that was equally telling. It was a death certificate, one that Sebastian Shaw himself had filed with the city. On it was the name Diana Sage Fox. She had been the woman that died in that lab accident. In some ways a part of her did die in that explosion.

Sage represented a side of her that she hated. She represented the blind, amoral ambition that once drove her. It was a part of her that she could not escape with any level of genius. She had to close her eyes and look away from the document. Even as someone who valued truth, sometimes lies were needed to do what was right.

Now that Sage was officially dead, I went back to my old alias, Tessa. Being declared dead meant a lot of my official documentation and assets were to be seized. I made sure that’s how the rest of the world perceived it. While the proverbial wheels were in motion, I quietly siphoned off my finances and erased records of my life as Tessa back in Europe. I got help from Emma again, who was able to corroborate with others in Shaw Industries to ensure Shaw thought I was dead.

It took a while to get everything in place. I turned Tessa from a nickname to a completely new identity. With this identity, I began my long journey towards penance. I didn’t have to go very far to find a place where I could put my talents to good use. At the time District X was in it’s early stages. It emerged in a part of New York that had been ravaged by a double dose of gang violence and economic collapse. The city was looking to flat out level the area and rebuild it. The mutants living there had other ideas.

There wasn’t much organization around District X to say the least. In essence it was an area where mutant gangs clashed with both non-mutant gangs and the city. It was not a fair fight. Leading this hapless effort was Lucas Bishop, a man with a lengthy rap sheet and a tough demeanor. His mutant powers made him a problem to other gangs so he started rallying other mutants. It got pretty violent. It could have turned into an all out urban war had I not intervened.

When I approached Bishop, he was skeptical. I think the surgery Shaw gave me actually helped. I don’t think he looked at my face for the first five minutes of our meeting. What I offered was more than just a plan. I offered legitimacy. I told him that I could use my powers and my computer skills to legitimately take control of the district’s assets. The land, the buildings, and the streets would legally be ours. We would actually have the law on our side. Bishop wasn’t a big fan of law enforcement so he didn’t think it was possible. He still gave me a chance and I made good use of it.

Tapping all the assets I had gained from Shaw, I quietly purchased the land around District X. It was actually quite cheap. Many of the owners were eager to get these run-down, crime-ridden properties off their hands. The properties were then consolidated into a pseudo-corporation titled District X. Once all the paperwork went through, the city begrudgingly had to acknowledge it. We had to go to court a few times because the city really wanted to demolish those properties. They lost the case and we had our district.

Once the authorities got the gangs out, I sent out an open invitation to mutants everywhere over the internet. There were many mutant ghettoes all over the world, but none were as well organized as District X. The promise of a stable life was quite strong. Even Bishop was surprised when he saw the influx of mutants from all over the country. These were not thugs or gang-bangers. These were normal mutants. They didn’t seek to use their powers to be superheroes or supervillains. They just wanted to live their lives.

As our community grew, we banded together and started rebuilding the district. Bishop was still a bit rough around the edges. He saw District X as gang turf and was a little rough at defending it. I had to coax him repeatedly to get him out of that mindset. I convinced him to become more of a guardian. If District X was going to succeed, it needed people to watch over it.

During the clean-up period, we organized an old office building into the heart of District X. This is where I could monitor and manage the area. I programmed a series of computers to make District X a secure, stable community. The mutants could come to us for information on starting a business, getting an education, and finding work. It was like the unofficial mayor’s office of the district. Around this time we also met up with Jamie Madrox, a mutant who had been living in various mutant communities for years. Later on we met Jubilee, who was another young fighter who was eager to carve out a home. We became the backbone of District X’s order. It was an order that quietly prospered.

Seeing District X go from a run down urban wasteland to a thriving little community was more rewarding than any research I had ever done. Over the next few years, it became something special. Never before had a mutant community become so well-organized and prosperous. Even the city was impressed. It certainly didn’t reject the taxes we paid. There were still problems. Every now and then some anti-mutant zealots would stir up trouble and we would have to confront them. I felt so much pride when I saw the mutants around District X defending their homes. Having had such a limited relationship with my own family, my brilliant mind was finally at peace with my heart.

I had found my place. I had a home I could be proud of and a life I wasn’t ashamed of. As time went by I came to see myself as Tessa more than Sage. I wanted to distance myself from that old life as much as I could. However, I couldn’t completely get away from my old habits. I was still a curious mind. I still researched mutants in my spare time, looking for breakthroughs that would help District X and mutants all over the world. This is what led me to cross paths with the man I currently share my bed with, Hank McCoy.

Sage turned away from her computer array and back towards the bed. By now Hank was fast asleep again. He was lying in a somewhat awkward position, snoring lightly with his animal-like grunts. It was somewhat comical, a man so brilliant looking so disheveled.

“Oh Hank…you’re able to make a profound statement even when you’re sleeping,” she said with a slight chuckle.

Hank had found harmony with himself. He embodied the kind of balance that she used to struggle with. It was no stretch of logic to surmise why she fell so deeply in love with him.

I didn’t expect to grow so close to Hank McCoy. While District X was coming together, the X-men were in their mask-wearing phase. They used their powers to fight crime and corruption in a world that hated and feared them. They did more good with their powers in a day than I did in a lifetime. So naturally, I was drawn to them.

When the X-men unmasked, I did some research about them. I found out who Scott Summers, Jean Grey, James Proudstar, Rahne Sinclair, and Bobby Drake were. I even found out who Angel was, even though he kept his identity closely guarded. It was Hank McCoy who really caught my attention. I remember coming across some of his college work. I was surprised with how consistently brilliant he was. I was even more surprised when I learned of the transformation he underwent. So after digesting his work and public accolades, I contacted him. I had no idea he would change my life so much.

I don’t think he had any idea how much I would affect his life as well. At the time, he was dating Ororo Munroe. I had no desire to disrupt that relationship. I was merely curious. We started exchanging emails about our research. Those emails turned to web chats. Then they became phone calls. I had never really interacted with someone who could match my intellect. It was exhilarating in many ways. I actually looked forward to turning on my emotions around him. I only realized how strongly I felt towards him when I saw the strain I put on his relationship.

I still feel guilty about it. Even though Hank says he and Ororo were simply not meant to be, I can’t help but think I made it worse. I made it apparent that there was an intellectual gap between him and Ororo. I kept widening that gap by giving him more reasons to talk to me than her.

Eventually, it led to Hank and Ororo breaking up. I felt terrible about it. I still sense that Ororo harbors a bit of a grudge to this day. For a while Hank didn’t talk to me. He didn’t talk to anybody. I continued reaching out to him. I had to meet him. When he finally agreed, it was a profound moment. I remember the look in his eyes and the emotions projecting from his mind. He was truly enchanted with me. When I first felt those powerful arms around me, I became enchanted with him as well.

They were so different from Sebastian Shaw’s. For once I let my emotions overshadow my critical faculties. It was a rush of cosmic proportions. I never really knew or understood love until Hank became part of my life. I’ve since learned that no matter how brilliant a mind may be, a heart is always needed to balance it out.

Sage allowed her emotions to come back on again. With no more energy for computer work, she put her systems on standby and rose up from her seat. She then made her way back towards her bed where she could join her lover. Along the way she let her bathrobe fall to the floor, leaving her fully nude as she slipped under the bed sheets.

Hank was still fast asleep. That didn’t stop Sage from cuddling close to his warmth. She loved the feeling of his blue fur on her naked skin. It was a feeling that defied logic. That no longer bothered her as it once did. The emotions she once kept turned off flowed freely. They provided the sorely needed balance between Sage and Tessa.

I’ve taken my relationship with Hank further than I thought possible. I took a big chance when I told him my birth name, Sage. At the moment he’s the only one who calls me that. He does so in private. It’s our own little secret that brings us a little bit closer.

It came close to tearing us apart recently. When I enlisted Hank’s help to aid me in recovering my techno-organic research, I was letting him in on a part of myself that I don’t share with many others. I kept secrets from him…painful secrets that caused undue strain. Telling him about my research, Sebastian Shaw, and the techno-organic material was the most strenuous obstacle our relationship faced to that point.

Yet we got through it. He helped me uncover the truth about Shaw. He and the X-men came to my rescue when Fantomex came so close to destroying us all. His willingness to endure such turmoil with me is all the logical proof I need to determine that this is the man for me. This is the man I love with all my heart. Together, our minds and our hearts are like two opposing ends of a magnet. We’re drawn to one another by this powerful force that defies reason.

There’s a chance that my research is still out there. Weapon X used it. There may be others that are using at this very moment. However, I do not dread this possibility. I know that with Hank by my side, we can overcome the past mistakes made by Sage. While Tessa may be the respected woman that helps run District X, Sage has a long ways to go. So long as Hank McCoy is here to give Sage and Tessa the love they so need, I can safely assume that the unbalanced equations within my soul will be solved.


Next Issue: Mystique

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