Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men have dedicated their lives to protecting a world that hates and fears them. And while they have overcome many challenges from both humans and mutants alike, few have been more devastating than the Legacy Virus.
It has been six months since the deadly plague left over 300 million people dead and the world is a different place. Nations have fallen. Economies have collapsed. Governments have dissolved. The road to recovery has been difficult, but humans and mutants alike are working to pick up the pieces. President Robert Kelly formed an international coalition with the United Nations to re-establish a sense of normalcy throughout the world. The mutant issue has taken a back seat, but it remains tenuous on both sides.
One of the biggest effects of the Legacy Virus was the destruction of many mutant communities. The mutant society known as the Morlocks now ceases to exist. Mutant communities all over the world have fallen apart. Now for months there has been a mass exodus of mutants to areas like District X and Genosha. This growing concentration of mutant populations has become a growing controversy.
Among these displaced mutants are those not softened by the tragedy. A new group known as the Mutant Liberation Front has emerged. Under the leadership of a stronger and more evolved Toad, they seek to take advantage of a vulnerable world.
New York City – Con Edison Power Hub
“What’s going on? What’s happening?!”
“Where did these things come from?!”
“We need to evacuate NOW!”
“Is it just me or is this whole building sinking?!”
It wasn’t every day that work at one of New York City’s most vital power hubs was this eventful. It was also never comforting to hear the cries of workers and technicians running for their lives. No emergency drills ever could have prepared them for this. They werer too overpowered and understaffed to fight back. They’re only recourse was to evacuate.
It all started about a half-hour ago when a strange fog rolled in, which wasn’t unusual for a morning like this. But that fog soon took on a horrifying new life when a massive swarm of mosquitoes and bees poured into the area. Snakes and poisonous reptiles soon followed, causing mass confusion for those inside and outside the complex. Within twenty minutes, the whole building was overrun. There was nowhere to hide. Swarming insects poured through every corridor, forcing all personnel to flee and leave this vital structure vulnerable.
Once the building was evacuated, the central area was completely vacant. This was where a large array of power transformers resided. A great deal of New York City’s power was tied to the function of this hub. In the center of all this dangerous hardware, a black gate of energy formed and two figures emerged. One was Gateway, the source of all such gates. The other was Toad, the once scrawny amphibious mutant who was now a powerful force to be reckoned with.
“Nice aim, Gateway! We’re right where we need to be!” said Toad proudly.
Gateway didn’t say anything. He just nodded in affirmation.
“Still giving everyone the silent treatment, eh? That’s okay!” said Toad, “People talk too damn much anyways. I used to talk too. Now I’m a doer. Actions speak so much louder than words!”
Gateway still didn’t respond. It didn’t seem to bother Toad. He let the quiet mutant remain on standby while he carried out the rest of his plan.
Swarms of insects continued buzzing around him, but they were his allies. They didn’t harass him or Gateway. They were doing their job, getting every human out of this building and as far away from it as possible. His bugs were talking to him as well, signaling that most of the workers were just about clear and emergency crews were on their way. He had to do what needed to be done before they arrived.
“Everybody back at the base has been bitching for months! They keep asking when we’re gonna make our move! Well if they bitch after this, I’m feeding them to my gators!” said Toad as he nimbly hopped around the central area, “I can’t believe I used to be such a short-sighted pussy. I now see the value of making a plan and waiting for the right time to strike. We’ve been spying, gathering, and organizing for months now. Today, the whole world finally notices!”
Toad was quick and efficient, slapping special devices that were no bigger than an average pillow onto the oversized transformers. These devices had to work in perfect unison for the desired effect. Their use would be the first shot of a much bigger attack.
“We got these do-hickies from Black Tom’s secret stash. And since he’s been MIA for months, I doubt he’ll miss them,” Toad went on as he put the final device into place, “They’re the kind of gizmos that will get you laid big time in certain parts of the world! They can turn a power grid into nothing more than a fancy jungle gym. It should get the ball rolling nicely if I do say so myself!”
Once Toad finished, he hopped back towards Gateway. He was still not saying anything. He barely watched Toad the whole time. It was a little annoying, but Toad had grown used to it.
“Why do I even bother?” he sighed, “You got our plane ticket home ready?”
Gateway nodded and opened up a fresh portal. Once it was ready, Toad took out a small remote control and hit a button.
“And the Toad said…let there not be light!” he proclaimed.
In an instant every one of the devices he planted lit up. Then a series of sparks shot out. Within seconds, massive discharges of lightning surged through the hub. The entire room was blanketed with electricity. It was so brilliant that it could probably be seen from outside by the terrified workers. It showed that these devices did exactly what Toad needed them to do. Yet he still wasn’t finished.
“Better get outta here before we get cooked!” said Toad, “But before we go, did you know there’s an underwater aquifer running under this building?”
Gateway didn’t say a word. He remained in a concentrated state, keeping the gate open even as sparks flew around him.
“Of course you did! You’re quiet because your smart,” shrugged Toad, “In that case I won’t explain what happens when a building’s foundations turn to mush!”
Toad then utilized the power that connected him with nature to deliver the final blow to this building. The sparks continued to fly even as he and Gateway disappeared into the portal. Once the two mutants was gone, the destruction escalated.
As the transformers blew one-by-one, the floors all over the area started collapsing, opening huge holes that revealed swirling mud that had the consistency of quicksand. Like a black hole, this mud swallowed anything that fell into it. It started with the transformers and the various electrical arrays. Within minutes, the entire building was consumed.
Outside, bewildered workers could only watch as the ground beneath the building turned to mud. They looked on with wide-eyes, almost forgetting about the swarming insects as the building collapsed in on itself until it was almost completely covered in mud. It was an amazing yet horrifying sight and the implications of such destruction were vast.
“Okay, who wants to call the higher ups and explain this to them?” asked one the technicians.
“Not in this lifetime. They’ll have me committed!” said the manager.
“They’re gonna find out sooner or later!” lamented one of the electricians, “If worse comes to worse, the entire Northeast will be without power!”
Panama Canal – Panama
“Ah the steamy jungles of Panama! I feel right at home!” said an overexcited Sauron as he flew through the humid skies.
“Plan your vacation another time, Sauron! When I get through with this place, every tree-hugging hippie on the planet will be shitting themselves!” said an equally excited Reignfire.
Sauron didn’t give much credence to this man’s boasting. Reignfire was actually fairly new, having come aboard about a month ago. He claimed to be a close relative to some mutant named Sunfire, who worked at that other mutant school in Boston that was run by a former X-man. He had similar powers to Sunfire, namely the ability to absorb solar radiation and project heat in powerful blasts. That’s why he was assigned to this mission.
They had been flying above the clouds for the last twenty minutes or so. This was to make sure that Reignfire absorbed enough solar energy to do what needed to be done. It got to the point where his whole body was glowing bright yellow. Sauron could feel the heat radiating from him. It was getting hard to keep a grip on him, which added to the urgency of the next phase of the plan.
“I’ll take us over the first target so you can stop boasting and start delivering!” said Sauron, “Remember the plan! Attack the locks! Minimize civilian casualties!”
“I don’t need to be reminded. I heard what swamp breath said during the briefing!” said Reignfire as he prepared for the assault, “Still don’t get why he wants us to spare the humans.”
“If you want to debate him, be my guest. You’ll only end up as food for his many pets!”
Reignfire scoffed. Even he wasn’t that foolish. He knew as well as Sauron that Toad had more than just pet animals with which to threaten them. He had a wide array of powers that nobody fully understood. Everyone had their theories about what was driving him, but nobody dared to test them. Toad’s powers did more than just give him the ability to control the environment around him. It gave them a reason to follow them.
Once they were below the clouds, their target came into full view. It was the Panama Canal, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. To shut it down would send global trade into a tailspin. That’s exactly why it was the perfect target.
“You can bust my balls later, Sauron! I can take it from here!” he said, “You have your duty and I have mine!”
“And not a moment too soon,” said Sauron dryly, “I’m sure you’ll get more pleasure out of this than I ever will.”
Despite still being nearly three thousand feet above ground, Sauron released his grip on Reignfire. He fell swiftly through the tropical air right towards the first shipping lock on the Pacific side. About halfway through the drop, his whole body was engulfed in a halo of flame. And with this flame, he was able to fly through the air like missile.
Fueled by his solar powers, he soared towards the first lock. As he drew near, his presence was noticed by some of the workers. He lit up the sky like a shooting star. A ship was just about to pull in and his appearance didn’t seem friendly.
“What is that?” asked one of the workers in Spanish.
“I’m not sure, but that jalapeño burrito I ate is making a comeback!” said another.
Reignfire soared over the upper part of the lock, causing most of the workers to run for cover. He then settled into a steady hover just above the large lock doors, which were closed at the moment. Using his powers, he channeled the solar energy he absorbed into a concentrated burst.
“I feel the burn!” he proclaimed, “You will too!”
The powerful burst caused even more confusion among the workers. It warped and distorted the large mechanical gears that held the doors in place. Within seconds, they failed. Successive blasts caused them to completely topple over, crashing into the swampy river below. It carried with it a deluge of water that had still been draining from the lock. There was only one large ship in front of it and it ended up getting a very unpleasant shove out to sea.
“He destroyed the safety pumps! Alert all incoming ships!”
“It’s too late! He’s going for the others!”
Not content with destroying the doors on one lock, Reignfire soared upstream to take out another. By now alarms were sounding and canal workers were running for cover. Some of the security personnel tried to fire back, but their bullets burned up before they even got to Reignfire. He didn’t pay them any attention as he unleashed more solar blasts on the locks. Like before, he destroyed the gears and pumps. There happened to be a cruise ship nearing the lock at the time. Once the locks were destroyed, the ship was pulled towards the draining water. It ended up getting wedged against an outcropping of land just outside the lock entrance.
“Happy sailing, assholes!” taunted Reignfire.
Passengers aboard the cruiser and workers within the locks were left panicked and confused. The entire canal was compromised. Water was draining fast and there was no route for ships stuck inside the canal to take. One of the busiest shipping lanes in the world was being crippled.
Reignfire grinned as he heard all the commotion below. He didn’t speak Spanish so he couldn’t make out what they were saying, but he could sense plenty of fear and unrest. That was just what the Mutant Liberation Front was aiming for.
“This is too easy! Why did I ever bother doing odd jobs for the Omega family?” said Reignfire.
“Try not to enjoy yourself too much!” shouted Sauron as he flew by, “Take out the rest of the locks! I’ll handle the dams! The sooner we finish crippling this shipping lane, the sooner we can cripple others!”
“No need to for extra incentives! Hell, we should plan all our weekends like this!”
Reignfire accelerated in a burst of solar flame, narrowly missing Sauron along the way. He had to retrieve a large backpack containing high explosives that was left by Gateway after he dropped off Reignfire. Armed with these explosives, Sauron flew across the canal to the Gatun dam. Along the way some of the workers saw him. A few armed security personnel tried to shoot at him, but missed completely due to his speed and agility. Once he was over the dam, he made his move.
Flying along the special gates that controlled the flow of water, Sauron slapped the explosives onto the gears. These highly potent bombs were purchased from the black market, courtesy of the Omega family that Reignfire once worked for. There was no chance for this structure to hold up. As soon as the last bomb was planted, Sauron flew up high into the tropical air and activated the detonator.
“Time to get in touch with nature, humanity! You won’t be needing this anymore!” he proclaimed.
Powerful blasts soon rocked the surrounding jungle. The large gates around the dam opened up, letting out excess water from the canal. It poured out violently and there was no way to stop it. This along with the destruction of the locks ensured that the Panama Canal would be useless. For the Mutant Liberation Front, it was a small victory and it wouldn’t be the last.
Egypt – Suez Canal
The Suez Canal was always busy this time of day. A mutant named Strobe checked her watch to ensure that her timing was perfect. She had been transported here by Gateway moments ago. Her orders from Toad were to wait for just the right moment to make her move. That moment has arrived and nowt she would get to strike a blow against the people that shunned her.
A large cargo ship had just passed through the area. She was standing in the exact center of the canal. There were patrols from the Egyptian military going up and down the waterway. She had timed her arrival just right so that no one would see her. She arrived in a traditional Muslim veil that covered her body from head to toe. Once she reached the waterway, she shed the veil to reveal her shapely body in a tight-fitting paramilitary suit. She then dove right into the water, seeing another ship approaching in the distance.
‘The desert is a death trap. It always has been. Humanity needs to be reminded of their limitations. Just as mutants need to be reminded of their worth.’
Once floating steadily in the water, Strobe summoned the full force of her powers. She had the ability to generate massive amounts of heat, which came in handy while living in Chechnya. As a woman forced to always cover up her perceived shame from her sadistic parents, she was finally in a position to use it on her own terms.
“You humans have had this coming a long time!”
She wasn’t addressing anyone in particular. Her statement wasn’t just to the oncoming ship, but to everyone that made her life difficult. Now she was going to return the favor.
With her powers, she generated so much heat that the water around her started to boil. The heat was so great that even the sand nearby melted. Within minutes, the water around her was turning to steam. The superheated sand started flowing like lava. It seeped right into the water, boiling it even more. It didn’t take long for all the water and sand around her to gather. As the molten sand swirled, it started to collect and condense. And from the center of the waterway, a large glassy mound grew so rapidly that the captain on the approaching ship noticed it.
“The bloody hell is that?!” exclaimed one of the crewmen in a British accent.
“I have no idea, lad,” said the captain.
“Can we get around it?” wondered another.
“We’re in a canal. We’re either going to run it over or crash into it!”
This triggered alarms all throughout the ship. Strobe could hear them in the distance and through the heat, she grinned with perverse satisfaction. They knew they were screwed and she was going to make it sting.
More sand from the surrounding desert melted and swirled around her. The molten silica solidified within the water, gaining mass around Strobe. The mass grew a good several feet a second, both above the water level and below. After nearly twenty minutes of intense heat, the glassy mound was nearly half the size of the Great Pyramid in nearby Giza. It completely stopped the flow of water through the canal. And since it was so hot, the water couldn’t flow around it. By the time it reached the ship, it was too late.
“EVERYBODY HOLD ONTO SOMETHING! WE’RE GONNA HIT!” yelled one of the crewmen on the bow.
The silence of the desert was shattered as the ship crashed right into the glassy mound. It hit so hard that it strafed sideways at an angle before getting wedged right in the mound. Even as the ship crashed and spilled dozens of heavy containers onto the desert floor, the mound kept growing. It grew until it was the full size of the Great Pyramid.
Such a massive mound of melted silica meant that the water from the canal didn’t have a chance to flow through it. The presence of the ship ensured that this canal was officially shut down. From the top of the glassy mound, Strobe stood in triumph.
“You think this is bad?” she called out to one of the ship, “Just you wait! The worst is yet to come!”
Paris, France – Sewers
‘Funny how being in a sewer disgusts me in ways not related to the smell. I should be right at home. Instead, I’m pissed off. At least I know who to take it out on.’
This was the first time Callisto had been back in the sewers since the destruction of the Morlocks. It was not a pleasant feeling, having to relive the memories of so many needless deaths. The smell alone was enough to make her recall the piles of dead bodies that were once her people. Toad must have thought he was sending her into familiar territory by choosing her for this mission, but he had no idea how much this hurt.
“Callisto! Are you ready on your end?” came a voice.
Callisto tried to shake it off and focus on the mission before her. She and Caliban had been working for the last four hours on the Mutant Liberation Front’s next attack. It involved some creative modifications to the Paris sewer pumps. She and Caliban had been traversing the network of pipes all morning to set everything up. It was almost time to flip the proverbial switch. For Callisto, it couldn’t happen soon enough.
“Did you take care of the utility crews?” asked Callisto, who was still working on the last of the main sewer pumps.
“They’ve all been returned to surface, unharmed and unconscious,” replied Caliban.
“You didn’t see fit to rough them up a little?” she said dryly.
“Toad’s instructions were very clear. We’re to minimize civilian casualties. The world has lost all taste for death after the Legacy Virus.”
“Says who? They’re the lucky ones! They didn’t have to watch their entire community keel over before their eyes!”
There was a harsh undertone to Callisto’s words. Caliban watched with mixed emotions as Callisto finished re-routing the pump and placed a special device on the valve. Even though she was focused on the mission, she could not hide her pain.
“Callie, you know I’m always here for you if you want to talk,” said Caliban in an understanding tone.
“Why would I want to talk?” scoffed Callisto as she programmed the device.
“You’re not the only one who lost something,” he reminded her, “You think I still don’t have nightmares about Healer’s dead body lying atop piles of corpses.”
“You must have a stronger stomach than me.”
“I’m trying to channel my sorrows into this new cause. I refuse to let it consume me. But I fear that you’re not making the same effort.”
Callisto chose not to debate Caliban. He knew her better than most. She had been such a passionate leader for the Morlocks. Even if her passion was sometimes misplaced, she always put their well-being above everything else. That made the destruction of the Morlocks all the more painful. Unlike Caliban, she was responsible for protecting her people. She failed at that task and now she was attempting to make up for it.
Everything was ready. Callisto activated the device on the pump and stood back. A series of red lights flickered on the device. Various gauges all over the pumps started escalating. A flashing green light in the upper right-hand corner ensured that the same was happening with every other pump they reconfigured. They had only minutes before the pumps overloaded.
“We’re all set,” said Callisto flatly, “I’ll signal Gateway to get us out of here.”
“You can’t ignore me forever,” said Caliban, “We’re going to talk about this at some point.”
“It’s not going to be today so you might as well drop it,” she said strongly.
Caliban shot Callisto a frustrated glare. She ignored it as a portal from Gateway formed in front of them.
“Hurry up, Caliban. I don’t want to be here when we affirm every French stereotype ever made,” said Callisto.
“If I refused to leave, would you at least contemplate talking to me?” he replied.
“Do I look like I’m in the mood to be tested?”
Caliban scolded hery, but decided not to push this matter any further. Callisto was not above leaving him behind. That’s how bad it had gotten for her. He had no choice by to follow her into the portal and hope that she would come around at some point.
The moment the two former Morlocks left, the oversized sewer pump reached a critical point. Several pipes exploded and a series of automatic gears kicked in. The sound of grinding metal echoed through the pipes. And it wasn’t just one pump. Every pump all throughout the city was reaching the same dangerous levels. Once it got to a certain point, the devices that Callisto and Caliban placed on the valves kicked in. Every safety measure was rendered defective. Then in a series of small bursts, the entire flow of the sewage system was reversed.
On the surface, few realized what was going on below. It was the middle of the day so the city of Paris was bustling with activity. It only became painfully apparent when raw sewage started flowing from every major sewer opening.
“Blegh! What is that smell?!”
“The sewers! They’re overflowing!”
“So much for my dream vacation to Paris!”
It didn’t take long for the streets to start overflowing with sewage. Cars swerved off the road. People covered their faces to guard from the smell. Some gagged and threw up. Others started running, but there was nowhere to go. It wouldn’t be long before every street in Paris was a river of sewage, thus rendering one of Europe’s biggest cities an uninhabitable waste zone.
China – Three Gorges Dam
“Hey! You’re not supposed to be-AHHHHHHH!”
Yet another worker at the Three Gorges Dam that didn’t get to complete his sentence. By now the mutant who now went by Kamikaze had lost count of how many he silenced. For the past two hours, he had been meticulously making his way through the elaborate dam complex, preparing for the Mutant Liberation Front’s next attack.
It was a cumbersome mission. He could have been done already if Toad hadn’t ordered him to spare as many lives as possible. It was a real inconvenience, having to stop every worker and armed guard along the way and then get them to a safe area away from the dam. Gateway provided special portals that dropped these men at least ten miles from the complex. They would need to be a safe distance away if they were to avoid the destruction that was to come.
“Consider yourself lucky,” he told the unconscious worker, “I could have killed you by making your glasses explode. If you can hear this, then let your friends know that the Mutant Liberation Front is taking a stand!”
Kamikaze signaled Gateway to open up another portal. Once it appeared, he casually tossed the worker into it, sending him far away from the danger that was about to unfold.
Now the central room containing the turbines was clear. There was no one left to stop him. The turbines that drew power from this massive damn were big, standing several stories tall. But their size didn’t make them less vulnerable. Connecting each turbine were a series of heavy duty conduits that fed into the central control area. These conduits were thick and heavily insulated. That would offer them no protection from the power that Kamikaze was set to unleash.
“With but one finger, I shall cripple this dam!” he proclaimed.
As he approached the cable, he took off his glove. Upon touching the thick bundle of wires, his hands began to glow brightly. This was the most potent aspect of his mutant powers. He could touch something and excite the molecules within it to the point where it exploded. Since this cable was connected to every single turbine, that explosive potential would be spread throughout the dam.
He concentrated hard, the glowing in his hand spreading quickly through the wires. It took over five minutes for this glow to follow the conduit to every turbine. It required a great deal of strain on Kamikaze’s part. By the time each turbine was glowing, he nearly passed out. The energy throughout the area was simmering. The wires and the turbines were now set to explode. It was sure to be a massive spectacle. It was also sure to send a message to the rest of the world.
“It is done! Get me out of here, Gateway!” he said into a communicator.
A dark portal formed in front of him. By now the floor was actually shaking as the energy within the turbines reached a critical level. Grinning at his work, Kamikaze entered the portal to rejoin the Mutant Liberation Front. Word of their exploits would soon spread and he was going to be there to celebrate.
Seconds after Kamikaze made his escape, every turbine within the Three Gorges dam exploded in perfect synchronicity, rocking the entire structure. An unstoppable wall of fiery force spread throughout the power-generating complex. This fire destroyed everything in its path, including any safety measures the facility may have had. In less than half-a-minute, the entire power-producing capacity of the dam was completely crippled.
Outside, it felt like a small Earthquake. The fireball from the dam rose up and could be seen for miles. The workers that had been transported out of the complex watched along with the locals as one of the most important structures in China was rendered inoperable. It was a terrifying sight that would have global ramifications.
District X – M Building
“Hmm…Remy,” said a tired voice, “How the hell are you still awake?”
“Remy’s busy,” said the Cajun flatly, his eyes fixated on a TV screen.
“Doing what? Watching the news?” she scoffed, “Why would you wanna watch that garbage when you could be doing something more productive? Like meh for instance?”
Remy was usually not inclined to look away from a beautiful woman, especially one that woman was naked and still bathing in a post-coital afterglow. It had to be a sign of bigger problems. He and Rogue went though so many obstacles for one another. Not being able to touch didn’t stop them from getting close. Now that Rogue could touch again, they were free to touch all they want and they had been taking full advantage of it.
For the past few months, they had been exploring this new relationship. There was nothing holding them back anymore. They could be a real couple. Rogue didn’t wait to get intimate. She got Remy into bed before they even went on their first official date. It was the beginning of an extensive catching up period as she put it. She had been denied such intimacy for so long and was intent on enjoying everything she missed, testing Remy’s stamina at times. He managed to keep up, if just barely. However, the frequent sex hid other issues that went unaddressed.
Wearing only a thin pair of boxers, Remy sat at the foot of the bed watching TV. Rogue’s room in District X’s M Building had some nice amenities, but she didn’t seem to make much use of them. There was plenty to watch at this time of day. Reports about mutant terrorist attacks were all over the news. It was the first major spike in activity since the Legacy Virus. For Remy, it meant the X-men would be very busy soon.
“This just in. Sources have confirmed an attack on China’s Three Gorges Dam. The Chinese government has yet to make a statement, but we’ve confirmed that power has stopped flowing from the complex. This has permanently disrupted the heavily trafficked shipping lanes around the Yangzi River and left millions without power. This comes on the heels of attacks in Paris, New York, Egypt, and Panama. A statement from the White House confirms that they were all perpetrated by the same group, the Mutant Liberation Front. While their attacks have been destructive, civilian casualties have been very low. There are conflicting reports about the group trying to minimize any death toll. It’s not yet clear if this group has ties to Genosha or other mutant communities. For the moment, every major city has issued high terror alerts. Please stay tuned for hourly updates as we…”
The report was cut off as Rogue muted the TV. She crawled up from under the sheets and slithered towards Remy, slipping her powerful arms around him and kissing his neck. He still didn’t turn away from the TV, watching images of the terror attacks blare across the screen. Usually Rogue didn’t have to work this hard to get his attention, especially when she was naked. So she stepped up her efforts, giving his near a light nibble to further entice him.
“So you’re gonna make meh work for it this time? Ah’m game, sugah!” said Rogue playfully.
“Ain’t no game this time. You should be worried too. This be a game-changer,” said Remy in a serious tone.
“Don’t ya mean wildcard?”
“Call it whatever you want, cherè. When a gang of mutant terrorists starts making waves, it only be a matter of time before the X-men get involved.”
“All the more reason join meh under the sheets and make some waves of our own,” she quipped.
“Since when does late morning sex stop terrorists?” questioned Remy.
“Never said it stopped anything,” Rogue shrugged, “If nothin’ else, it’ll keep our strength up.”
Rogue had a strange way of rationalizing things now that she could touch. Intimacy seemed to be the solution to all her problems. Remy enjoyed it plenty while they were all still recovering from the damage left by the Legacy Virus. But that was months ago. The world around them was changing and they weren’t changing with it.
“You got a strange outlook on life, Rogue. You get your powers under control and suddenly everything has an easy answer,” said Remy.
“Who said it was easy? Ah didn’t gain control of mah powers. I lost ‘em. Well, the absorption part anyways, but it ain’t too big a loss.”
“So as long as you can still bench a fully loaded dump truck, you be happy?”
“Not entirely,” she said, sneaking her hand around his chest and tracing a daring path down his abdomen, “Ah do have other needs that ain’t gonna fill themselves.”
“And you can fill these needs better just lounging around District X?” questioned Remy, still not affected by her seductive gestures.
“Do ya really wanna have that conversation again? Or do you wanna turn the TV off and enjoy yourself?”
“Remy figured you would say that. And it ain’t puttin’ Remy in the mood,” he retorted.
Much to Rogue’s disappointment, Remy slipped out of her grip and got off the bed. She watched with a bed sheet still covering her nude body as Remy gathered his clothes. He looked as disappointed as her. This was the first time she saw him leave her bed with a disgruntled look on his face.
“Seriously? Watching the news now gives you an attitude?” questioned Rogue, “You’re usually so light-hearted when disaster strikes.”
“If Remy be overreacting, then you be under-reacting, cherè,” said Remy as he put on his pants and shirt.
“You sound like a new mutant terrorist group doesn’t bother meh.”
“Does it?” he asked her.
“Of course it does! Why wouldn’t it?”
“Maybe the idea of not layin’ around, catching up on class, and having sex bothers you. Maybe the idea of actually being an X-man bothers you.”
“That’s just crazy and from you, that’s saying something!” said Rogue defensively.
“Is it, cherè? Every time someone else brings up re-joining the institute, you change the subject. I know your list of reasons. You been helping District X with the influx of refugees. You still got some stuff you be talkin’ about with Isaac. That be all well and good a few months ago. Now it’s less like a reason and more like an excuse.”
Rogue wanted to scold the Cajun, but that wouldn’t have made his point any less valid. He wasn’t the first person that brought this up, but hearing it from him left a stronger impact. Everything he said was true. After the Legacy Virus, she stayed in District X and focused on helping Tessa, Bishop, Multiple, and Jubilee clean things up after the Legacy Virus. There was a large influx of mutants from mutant communities all over the world that collapsed. Bringing so many mutants into a limited area brough with all sorts of complications, but most of those complications didn’t require her strength and flight abilities to resolve.
She remained silent as Remy put on his shoes and trench coat. As much as she enjoyed his visits, they had been avoiding the most obvious issue. District X was stable now and she had too few reasons for being here. She never officially quit the X-men and she still saw herself as an X-man. Her reluctance to rejoin them was quite telling.
“Don’t be taking this the wrong way, Rogue. You know Remy still loves you, non?” said the Cajun upon tying his shoes.
“Ah know. Ah love you too, Remy. We’ve demonstrated that many times in bed together,” she sighed, “Ah just…”
“I know. Being in control changes everything, cherè. It makes some things easier. Problem is some things ain’t supposed to be easy. Everything that’s worth having involves a challenge. You usually real good about rising to a challenge, especially when the chips be stacked against you. Well now you been dealt a better hand. Don’t be afraid to bet big.”
Rogue usually rolled her eyes at Remy’s card puns, but this time there was some substance behind it. Ever since she regained her ability to touch, she had been doing everything the easy way. Being with Remy and helping out in District X didn’t exactly require X-men caliber skills. She was becoming complacent. There was no way around it. She had a firm grasp on her life for the first time in recent memory and she wasn’t doing much with it.
While she pondered this notion, Remy prepared to leave. He didn’t leave Rogue on a bitter note or anything. He still walked up to her and kissed her tenderly on the lips.
“I’ll be in touch, mon amour,” he told her, “The Professor’s gonna be mobilizing against these fellas. But in the meatime, remember this…whenever you decide to be a part of the X-men again, Remy will be there.”
Rogue smiled lightly. She didn’t try to coax him into staying. As an added gesture, he presented a new card to her before. This one was a joker. It sent a clear message and Remy made sure she understood it.
She gazed distantly at the card even as Remy left. The TV was still on, but muted. Her eyes drifted between the card and the reports. At the moment the news was showing footage of the attack on the Panama Canal. In that footage there were new mutants that the X-men hadn’t encountered before. This new threat was something very different. She couldn’t hide from it while Remy and her friends were facing it head on. With the joker card still in hand, she reached for her cell phone to make a call.
“Isaac…it’s meh,” she said into the phone as soon as it was answered, “We need to talk. It’s time we start making plans.”
Later – Pentagon
The Legacy Virus changed many aspects of the human/mutant conflict. The devastating plague that killed over 300 million people in the span of a week struck humans and mutants equally. It was not a plot by anti-mutant zealots or mutant extremists. It was unleashed by a single madman. In the aftermath humans and mutants were forced to work together. Such a partnership was tenuous at best, but Professor Charles Xavier tried to make the most of it.
Now it appeared that this partnership was ending. The unity had been eroding for a while now. The destruction of so many mutant communities and the mass migration to places like Genosha and District X caused a great deal of instability. The X-men worked with the MSA to manage that instability, but that work was being undermined by this recent string of terrorist attacks. Whatever hope Xavier had of using the Legacy Virus tragedy to build a strong foundation for peace was crumbling before him. It was enough to give him a fresh round of headaches.
“You okay, Chuck? You look hung over minus the fun of getting shit faced,” said Logan, who was standing beside the Professor with the rest of the team.
“I’m fine, Logan. Just restless, that’s all,” said Xavier while still rubbing his head.
“Like we haven’t heard that before,” muttered Betsy.
“There has been a new wave of mutant terror attacks. I think we all have a right to feel sickened,” quipped the Professor, “General Grimshaw wouldn’t have asked the whole team to meet here if the situation weren’t dire.”
It sounded like an excuse, but there was plenty of truth in his words. The rest of the X-men weren’t beaming with hope either. Scott, Jean, Hank, Ororo, Kitty, Piotr, Iceman, and Remy were all standing with them at the front of a special briefing room. Only the top brass of the MSA as well as the President had access to this room. When General Grimshaw entered with a number of high class subordinates, the seriousness of this situation was clear.
“Greetings, Professor. I’m sorry, but we’ll have to skip the meet-and-greed. The most I can say is I appreciate you assembling your entire team to join us in this meeting,” said Grimshaw.
“I’m as anxious about this situation as well, General,” said the Professor, “Will President Kelly be joining us?”
“He’s a busy man and not in the usual sense. The Secret Service has him in an undisclosed bunker, but he’ll be participating none-the-less,” said the General.
While the rest of the MSA officials sat down at the table, the General took out a remote control and pushed a button to activate the video screen on the left side of the room. As soon as it was on, a live video feed of the President blared on the screen. He looked as restless as the X-men. He was also a different man since his son passed away, which made working with him all the more difficult.
“Can you hear us, Mr. President?” asked the General.
“Yes, General,” he affirmed, “Please be quick with this meeting. I’m addressing the nation within the hour.”
“We won’t be long. By now we’re all aware of everything that has happened over the past 36 hours,” began Grimshaw, “All over the world, a new team of mutant terrorists have launched a series of attacks on major infrastructure. These attack are coordinated, well-organized, and well-planned. There’s no chance a few unsavory lowlifes got board and decided to kick a wounded planet when its down.”
“We’ve all reached that same conclusion, General,” said Professor Xavier, “The big story is well documented by the news. It’s the finer details we’ve yet to uncover.”
“Details like how could a new group of mutants got this coordinated without raising any red flags from here or Genosha,” Scott pointed out.
“I’m still not convinced Genosha isn’t tied to these attacks somehow,” said Kitty in a cynical tone, “Every time we hear from them, all they do is complain about the trouble they’re having with all the new mutants on the island. Sounds like a cover to me!”
“That doesn’t mean they’re involved, Kitty,” Hank pointed out, “Genosha has too much to lose to get back into the terrorism business.”
“That’s what we’ve concluded as well,” said the General, “Genosha’s issues are akin to bad immigration policy. Anyone on the Mexican boarder can tell you how messy that is, but none will tell you that it breeds terrorism. That’s why we’ve concluded that this is something completely new.”
“How new?” asked the President over the video screen, “This kind of terrorism wasn’t even a footnote in my daily CIA briefings.”
“That’s because this isn’t your ordinary terrorist organization, Mr. President. These guys mean business in a way that is very different from all our previous experiences with mutant outlaws.”
The General turned towards one of his subordinates, who in turn handed him a black briefcase. Upon opening it, he took out a large stack off files and tossed them across the table so the X-men could review the information they contained. At the same time the officer operating the projector uploaded a digital copy of these files to the President. When they saw what the files entailed, some distressing details emerged.
Within these folders were high-resolution images of the attack sites. They were much more detailed than anything the news was broadcasting. They showed the destroyed locks of the Panama Canal, the ruined turbines of the Three Gorges Dam in China, the completely blocked Suez Canal, the rivers of sewage flowing through Paris, and the large sink-hole where New York City’s most important power hub used to be. Beyond the details, the damage was quite startling.
“Ugh, and to think I wanted to take a trip to Paris,” said Jean upon seeing pictures of people wading through sewage.
“There are so many French jokes I could make right now, but none of them would be appropriate,” said Bobby.
“The rivers of shit get your attention? But not the glass pyramid in Egypt?” said Logan.
“Are you going to argue that a glass pyramid is the strangest sight we’ve seen, comrade Logan?” Piotr argued.
“Point taken, but this is overkill in an entirely new and completely fucked up way!”
“And just what kind of damage are we dealing with here?” asked Ororo.
“A lot,” replied General Grimshaw, “New York City and a good chunk of New England are experiencing major blackouts. The attack on that power hub has crippled some of the most important areas in the country. It may be a week before we can get power flowing again.”
“Bet that don’t bode well for Wall Street,” commented Remy.
“Let’s just say the people looting the stores did better in the stock market than any investor,” said the General, “The same holds true for the other attacks. By crippling the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal, two of our most important shipping lanes is impassable. Europe and the Middle East are running around with their pants on fire trying to get everything flowing again. China’s got it even worse. Losing the power capacity of the Three Gorges dam has put a stop to some of their major industrial centers. As for Paris…well, I’ll just say that rivers of raw sewage are not inspiring a lot of confidence throughout Europe.”
“All this while the world is still recovering from the Legacy Virus,” said Xavier solemnly as he looked over some of the images.
“It also ends whatever temporary truce that humans and mutants had beforehand,” added Grimshaw, “But if you’ll look closer at the report, you’ll see the most puzzling bit of data. As devastating as these attacks were, very few people were killed or hurt.”
It was a remarkable statistic that had been highlighted in the files. The number of casualties was so low it couldn’t have been sheer luck. There have been attacks from Magneto and Juggernaut that had a higher body count than this. In some ways it was reassuring. In others it was distressing in a whole new way.
“Um…this is a good thing, right?” questioned Kitty.
“People not dying is usually a good thing,” said Bobby.
“Funny, I still don’t have a good feeling about it,” said Betsy.
“And you’re in good company,” said General Grimshaw, “According to reports from the CIA, the terrorists went out of their way to ensure the loss of life was minimal. In some cases they actually got everybody in their way to safety before launching their attack.”
“Kinda defeats the purpose of terrorism, don’t it?” commented Logan.
“Maybe terrorizing people isn’t their objective, Logan,” argued Scott as he looked at this from a more strategic viewpoint, “They’re hitting targets that make up modern infrastructure. People can’t appreciate the impact of such an attack if they’re dead. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they want as many people alive as possible for what they have planned.”
“You’re not the only one who reached that conclusion, Cyclops,” said the General, “These mutants aren’t like Magneto. They’re not looking to conquer humanity. They’re looking to take us down a peg.”
“Who’s to say that it’s not just some glorified PR stunt?” questioned Jean, “By sparing lives they could just be setting themselves apart from guys like Magneto and Sinister.”
“I don’t think these fellas be concerned with their public image, Jean,” said Remy, “Folks that blow stuff up like this usually have an endgame in mind.”
“So if they’re not out to destroy humanity, what sort of endgame could they be working towards?” questioned Ororo.
“The answers may lie in the mutants heading up this group,” said the General as he retrieved a new batch of files, “A few locals near the attack sites say they call themselves the Mutant Liberation Front. Some of the mutants identified aren’t big names per se. Most are displaced mutants from the Legacy Virus. However, there are a few familiar faces.”
The General presented the files to the X-men. These files were much thinner than the first batch. They contained mostly pictures, but on these grainy pictures were a few figures the X-men had encountered before. Everyone recognized Callisto and Caliban as former Morlocks. Sauron was one that Scott and Betsy recognized from the prison break at Fort Leavenworth. However, one in particular stood out from all the others. It came from an image taken by a security camera at the New York City power hub.
“Is that…Toad?!” exclaimed Kitty.
“Whoa…you were right, Betsy. He has been working out,” commented Bobby.
“Would you believe me if I said he looks bigger in this photo than he did back at Leavenworth?” said Betsy.
“The hell did he do to himself?! You guys give him steroids or something?” said Logan.
“We’re as confused as you are,” said General Grimshaw, “You saw the reports from the prison break. Toad underwent a very unusual transformation while in custody.”
“Such a transformation cannot be natural,” said Hank as he looked at the photo closer, “Did you ever do a physical on him? Did you find any traces of mutagen or some other genetic anomaly?”
“We never got the chance,” said the General, “Whatever he did to himself, Toad is now packing some serious firepower. He’s also packing some new charisma. We suspect he may be the one leading the Mutant Liberation Front.”
“Toad leading?” questioned Bobby, “I’m not sure if I should laugh or gag.”
“It’s not the same Toad. I know. I saw it first hand,” said Scott, recalling the nightmare from Leavenworth.
“And I sensed it,” said Professor Xavier, “Toad’s newfound power may be the driving force behind these attacks. It may also be why I haven’t been able to track him with Cerebrum. His mind has transformed as much as his body.”
“I am more confused on why anyone would follow him,” said Piotr, “If he is leading this group as you claim, what could he be promising them? Surely he has incentive of sort.”
“It must be pretty appealing for them to be this coordinated,” said Jean, still fixated on the pictures.
There were many questions surrounding Toad’s transformation. Looking at this recent image of him, it was hard to believe that this imposing figure was the same lanky punk who rarely presented much danger. Now he wasn’t just overpowered. He was a leader. He had an army of mutants willing to do his bidding. That made him dangerous in a completely new way.
Over the video screen, President Kelly was looking at the same images as everyone else. He was even more distressed than the X-men. A new mutant terror organization was the last thing he needed. He shouldered so many burdens since the death of his son and his ability to be reasonable was more limited.
“I don’t care about the how or whys surrounding Toad. Right now, I need a plan for bringing him in!”
“We’ve been working on that, Mr. President,” said General Grimshaw through the video line, “As you recall, Toad escaped from Leavenworth and we’ve been trying to track him down ever since.”
“Well the stakes just got a lot higher! I have the president of China, Panama, and France calling in any minute. The mayor of New York City is also breathing down my neck. They want answers and I need to give them something!”
“I understand, sir. We’ve had public notices circulating since Toad escaped. But no one has come forward,” said the General in a calmer tone, “We’ve been working with the CIA and NSA. They haven’t found anything either.”
“That is unacceptable, General! This man was in OUR custody and we let him slip through our fingers! That means all this damage is our own fault!”
The President’s tone was getting hostile. It did not sit well with the X-men, whose trust in him was always tenuous at best. Professor Xavier tried to ease the growing tensions.
“Mr. President, we had no idea what we were dealing with when you captured Toad,” he reminded him, “Whatever he is up now clearly involves forces we don’t understand.”
“Ignorance is never an excuse, Professor Xavier!”
“I’m not saying it is. However, the fact that Toad has been able to evade detection since his escape speaks volumes of his resourcefulness. For all we know, he’s hiding somewhere that is completely outside the scope of the MSA, the United States government, or any government for that matter. This means the X-men are your best bet to locate him.”
“Forgive me if I don’t find that very reassuring.”
“I’m not expecting you to. But now that lives are at stake, I promise to make the Mutant Liberation Front our primary focus. I’ll work with the MSA, but I require both trust and patience on your part.”
Professor Xavier could feel President Kelly’s scorn through the video screen. He had seen that look before, but not like this. He suspected that the President blamed him for the death of his son. Had he discovered the remedy for the Legacy Virus sooner, he may have survived. Whatever understanding he may have had while dealing with a mutant son was essentially nullified. This made their partnership with the MSA all the more strained.
“My list of choices is limited, Xavier. I expect you and your X-men to do what you always do, despite the complete lack of oversight and accountability.”
“We are holding ourselves accountable, sir. So is the rest of the world,” said Xavier.
“Only in the sense that a weatherman is held accountable for the rain. We give your X-men a lot of leeway. You’ve done a lot of good in the past, but the world is a different place now. This Mutant Liberation Front is changing it even more. If this trend continues, I’ll be forced to re-examine how the United States government deals with the X-men. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some anxious people to address.”
The video feed was abruptly cut. President Kelly had clearly heard enough and didn’t expect to gain anything else of use. Professor Xavier and the rest of the X-men were left deeply unsettled by his words. Dealing with President Kelly was never easy. His anti-mutant bias never faded even before he lost his son. Now they were in a very difficult position with little room for error.
“Well I think the horse’s ass just got a little constipated,” muttered Logan.
“I actually think that went better than expected,” added Betsy.
“Guys…you do know that’s the President you’re talking about, right?” said Jean in an annoyed tone, “He could probably end the X-men with a simple phone call!”
“He may actually be inclined to do so,” said General Grimshaw, who seemed just as disturbed by the President’s words, “Robert Kelly hasn’t been the same man since he lost his son.”
“Be that as it may, he’s right about one thing. The world is a different place,” conceded Xavier, “We need to adapt to it faster than we’ve been doing. The Mutant Liberation Front must be our top priority.”
“That mean we be gonna start tearing through minds in search of these crazy hommes?” asked Remy.
“We’ll continue to do what X-men do, but we’ll have to do it better. Hopefully, that will be enough to overcome the threat posed by Toad,” affirmed Xavier.
“And if it isn’t?” questioned Hank.
“I’d rather not contemplate that possibility, old friend.”
The Professor was already clutching his head as a fresh headache consumed him. It was almost time for another dose of his pills. He couldn’t be around his students when it happened. He was still keeping his medical issues secret, much to Cecilia Reye’s dsmay. He had to endure and so did his students. They had headaches of their own as they contemplated what this new mission would mean.
In recent times the Legacy Virus negated any need for excessive heroics. This allowed the X-men to step back a bit and process this new world. For some, it still hadn’t sunk in. There were many changes going on outside and from within the team. Ororo, Hank, and Remy were especially unsettled about such prospects.
“Guess this means Remy be paying fewer visits to Rogue on his off time,” said Remy.
“The same goes for myself and Tessa, I’m afraid,” sighed Hank, “New challenges always seem to find us.”
“The timing could be better,” muttered Ororo, “This is not what I need right now.”
“Why is that, Stormy? Will this be cuttin’ too much into your gardening time?” questioned the Cajun.
“Depends on your definition of the word gardening,” said Betsy, “This is going to make it harder to meet with James Proudstar at South Boston bars, isn’t it?”
“Proudstar? You mean Warpath?” said Remy, who hadn’t been keeping up with everything since Rogue took up so much of his time.
“I’d rather not talk about,” said Ororo, hugging her shoulders a bit.
“You stackin’ Remy’s deck or something? I seen that look on your face before, Stormy. I know when it be serious.”
“Cut her some slack, Cajun,” said Betsy, coming to Ororo’s aid, “You gave me enough trouble when I started visiting Warren in my private time. Don’t put Ororo through that either. We could all do without it.”
Remy shifted uncomfortably. When two of his ex-lovers conspired against him, it was never a good sign. He had enough going on with Rogue. He didn’t have the energy to get involved with the affairs ex-girlfriends.
It seemed there was nothing left to discuss. The President gave them their new mission. They had to find the Mutant Liberation Front and stop them before they did any more damage. General Grimshaw’s subordinates got the message as well. They were already packing up, facing just as daunting a challenge as the X-men. Professor Xavier turned towards the General. He did not guard his thoughts for once. He was just as anxious about President Kelly’s statement as everyone else.
“I think this meeting is over, Professor Xavier,” said the General.
“And not a moment too soon, it seems,” said Xavier with an exasperated sigh, “My X-men will officially be on standby from here on out. I’ll do routine sweeps with Cerebrum and keep you in the loop if I find anything.”
“Be sure that you do,” said the General, “I’ve got some of my people out following leads as well.”
“By people I take it you mean your pet Green Beret,” said Logan skeptically.
“As far as I’m concerned, every option is on the table,” said General Grimshaw, “If I were you, I would work under the assumption that there’s no room for error. Some of those options are not pleasant and I’d rather not exercise them. The President’s patience is paper thin. The only thing that will gain us any leeway at this point are results.”
“GET BACK HERE, SHRIMP BOY! WE’RE NOT FINISHED WITH OUR LITTLE CHAT!” yelled a very angry Captain Freeman.
“I told you! The name is Squidboy!” said a winded aquatic mutant as he ran through the darkened streets of the city.
Captain Jack Freeman’s patience was razor thin. He had been working non-stop since rolling blackouts had crippled most of the Northeast. Since he just happened to be in the area surveying the local MSA, General Grimshaw had him coordinate with the National Guard to maintain order. There was plenty of looting, petty crime, and rioting to go around. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, the General also had him track any clues that would lead them to the Mutant Liberation Front. That’s what led him to confront this slimy mutant who called himself Squidboy.
In the months following the Legacy Virus ordeal, Captain Freeman tried to take General Grimshaw’s advice. He tried to get away from being a soldier. It didn’t work as well as he hoped. If anything, being out of action made him on edge. Now that there was a major conflict going on, he could re-focus his efforts. This Squidboy had supposedly made a series of encrypted phone calls to an unknown source. The NSA suspected from the chatter that it could be linked to the Mutant Liberation Front. When Captain Freeman asked the boy about it, he ran. And in the middle of blacked out Boston, there weren’t too many places to run.
“Ow! Hey, watch it!” said a civilian that Jack nearly ran over.
“Whoa! What the hell is that?” said another who was shoved aside by Squidboy.
“Out of the way, people! This is official MSA business!” shouted Captain Freeman, “Anyone who stops that fish boy gets a break on their taxes!”
“Again, it’s Squidboy! Do you even bother with people skills at the MSA?” said the boy.
Captain Freeman grew increasingly annoyed. Only a couple people decided to take him up on the tax breaks. However, they had no luck getting their hands on Squidboy. His scaly skin was as difficulty to hold onto as a real fish. He was now heading down a new street, but he wasn’t trying to ditch him in the alleys or in a building. He had a destination in mind. Wherever it was, he was going to stop this kid before he reached it.
“If you’ve got nothing to hide! You shouldn’t be running!” Jack called out.
“Like I haven’t heard that before!” scoffed Squidboy, “The last mutant I know who stopped to chat ended up behind bars! I’m not saying anything to you!”
“Maybe that mutant was just stupid! Don’t fall into the same trap!
“That mutant was my mother! Now you can kiss my scaly ass!”
The young mutant was almost home free, but he was low on stamina. He could sense Captain Freeman closing in. There was nothing about this man that he liked. He had the same disposition as the people who used to call him a monster back home. Whatever questions he wanted to ask, Squidboy was fairly certain that he shouldn’t give the answers.
Once he turned the last corner, he saw his destination at the end of the street. Despite his tired legs, he ran full speed. There weren’t many people in his way anymore. Once he got into the confines of his home, he would be safe. He was less than a block away from the front entrance when a hand grabbed him from behind and shoved him against the wall by a very angry Jack Freeman.
“Augh! Come on, man!” he grunted.
“You could have made this much easier on yourself, kid,” said Captain Freeman in a menacing tone, “I didn’t want to chase you through Downtown Boston in the middle of a blackout! You made that decision!”
“Ack! You threatened to arrest me!” said Squidboy through the man’s grip, “I’m only 14-years-old! What crime could I possibly commit?!”
“Kid, when I was your age I did enough petty crime to get my own reality show,” retorted Captain Freeman, “But there’s nothing petty about what you did! I asked you before and I’ll ask you again! Who did you call earlier today? If you have nothing to hide, why did you use a blocked number and an encrypted signal?”
“Hnn…don’t I have rights here?”
“When mutant terrorism is involved, your rights mean precisely…”
But before Captain Freeman could complete his threat, a new figure emerged from behind the front gate. It was a figure Captain Freeman had faced before. When he saw what was going on, he put a stop to his interrogation.
“Let him go, Freeman!” barked the menacing voice of James Proudstar.
“You?!” exclaimed Captain Freeman, “What the hell are you doing here, Warpath?!”
“I could ask you the same question. You’re strangling one of my students outside my own home. Or did you not notice?”
Jack looked at Warpath strangely. Then he took in his immediate surroundings and realized where he was. It just so happened that he was standing less than a hundred feet away from the front gate of the Academy of Tomorrow. He knew about this place. It was another school for mutants that was run by a former X-man, Emma Frost. Looking back towards Squidboy, he realized that the situation took on a very different dimension.
“Ah hell…” groaned the mutant soldier.
“I would’ve told you if you asked nicely,” said Squidboy as he slipped out of Captain Freemna’s grip, “Those calls I made were to the Academy. I’m a student here. This is where I live.”
“And they were encrypted because?” questioned Captain Freeman.
“For the same reason the X-men encrypt their communications,” said James, “We’re a private organization, Captain. We have a right to protect our students from scrutiny from outside threats…such as an overzealous soldier who doesn’t look both ways before he crosses the street.”
“You know I could call General Grimshaw and he could find at least a dozen ways that sort of thing is illegal.”
“And Emma Frost will call an army of lawyers to argue that it isn’t,” said James, “Now unless you want to go another round with an Apache warrior, I suggest you leave my student alone and go back to pissing off someone else!”
The Apache mutant cracked his knuckles to show he was ready for whatever choice Jack made. The restless soldier turned back towards Squidboy, who looked about as menacing as any 14-year-old at this point. Despite his frustration, he backed away. He had clashed with Warpath enough in the past to understand that it was a waste of time.
“Seriously mister, if you want mutants to answer your question, you should look up the word please in the dictionary,” said Squidboy.
“Don’t push it, Squidboy. You’re already in trouble for going out when Sunfire specifically told every student to remain in their dorm,” said James, “Now go back and we’ll talk about detention.”
“Detention?! You can’t seriously…”
“When are we not serious?” said the Native American mutant, not giving the boy a chance to argue.
Squidboy resisted the urge to make his case. With a disappointed groan, he walked passed James Proudstar and towards the Academy. He was sure to get another lecture from Emma Frost. With that in mind, he might have been better off letting Captain Freeman catch him.
The Apache warrior remained outside the gate, staring down Captain Freeman for harassing his student. Everyone was on edge because of the Mutant Liberation Front, but that didn’t mean he tolerated his own students being harassed. The mutant soldier showed little remorse, but he also showed all the symptoms of a man who wasn’t in a clear state of mind.
“You look like shit, Freeman,” commented James.
“That better be your way of saying get out of my sight,” said Captain Freeman.
“I’m not big on metaphors. It takes a very screwed up guy to go around chasing young mutants you think might be a terrorist.”
“You act like that sort of thing is impossible.”
“I teach in a school with kids who can turn a pot of boiling water into a bomb. Impossible isn’t in my job description,” James argued, “Trust me, if one of our students was linked to mutant terrorism, we would roll out the red carpet for guys like you.”
“Given our history, I thought you wanted to trust me as much as you wanted to kiss me,” quipped Captain Freeman.
“Like it or not, we’re in the same boat, Captain. We’re both shouldering the load these new terrorists are putting on us. People in our position need a level head. And without mincing words, you’re head is about as level as a drunk monkey. Either do something about it or we’re not the only ones you’re gonna have problems with.”
James Proudstar stared the mutant soldier down a bit longer before returning to the Academy. Captain Freeman didn’t move from where he was standing. Even as the Native American mutant closed the gates behind him, the mutant soldier was left to fume.
There was no use arguing the facts. James Proudstar was right. He wasn’t thinking clearly. He wasn’t as sharp as a Green Beret ought to be. General Grimshaw warned him about being too consumed by war. After the Legacy Virus, he thought he could handle just being Jack Freeman for awhile. So far he was doing a good job of proving himself wrong. If this Mutant Liberation Front was as big a threat as everyone feared, then he needed to get it together.
‘Pull yourself together, Jack! You’re no good to anyone if you keep screwing up like this. You don’t have the luxury of being a blunt instrument anymore. You have to use what few brain cells you haven’t killed to get the job done. It may suck, but there’s more than a mission at stake here.’
Jack Freeman left the gates of the Academy of Tomorrow. His spirits were low, but he kept his poise. It was becoming increasingly difficult as the stress of constant conflict got to him. He would have to adapt in more ways than usual to hold himself together.
Back within the grounds of the Academy, Squidboy got as far away from the conflict as possible. He got into enough trouble with Warpath and that crazy soldier. He had pressed his luck enough for one day. He was just outside the student dormitories when he slipped off to the side for a moment. At first he simply took a moment to caught his breath. Then to his surprise, a dark portal opened next to him.
“You better tell me you kept your mouth shut, Squidboy. Otherwise you-know-who is going to be very upset,” said a familiar voice.
“Mr. Stryfe?! I…”
“Spare me the excuses! Did you or didn’t you talk?!”
Squidboy looked around to make sure there was nobody that could hear them. If someone eavesdropped on this conversation, Stryfe would not hesitate to take them out. Squidboy didn’t want that. He had enough on his conscious already.
“I…I didn’t say anything,” he said nervously.
“Did you happen to hint anything?” said Stryfe, “The last thing we need is that thick-headed Green Beret snooping around! You must have left some clue for him to suspect you!”
“I did exactly as you said! That’s it! I covered my tracks completely!”
“Are you dead certain?” asked Stryfe intently.
“I’m certain. I used the calls I made to the Academy as cover to transmit the data files you needed. I can still do more. Just give me a chance!”
Stryfe sneered at this clumsy young mutant. He was putting the whole operation at risk. The Mutant Liberation Front was making its first push and they couldn’t afford any weak links. This kid was an important part of the next push. He was in the perfect position as one of Emma Frost’s students. They needed him to maintain that position at least until the time was right.
“Very well,” said Stryfe, “Your orders still stand. Make sure we don’t have to have this conversation again.”
“We won’t. I’d rather face endless detention than have conversations with you, Mr. Stryfe,” said Squidboy dryly.
Stryfe scowled the young mutant before returning to the portal. Even if he didn’t appreciate this plan, it wasn’t in anybody’s interest to have it fail. It was bad enough that Toad’s was keeping him on a short leash. He didn’t need loose ends making his situation worse.
As soon as Stryfe disappeared along with the portal, Squidboy leaned back against the wall to breathe a sigh of relief. He was playing a dangerous game with these people. He needed to work harder on not screwing it up.
‘Jeez! After a day like this, detention actually sounds nice.’
Genosha – Capital City
Genosha was a very different place after the Legacy Virus. Their population had been decimated. Their people had been traumatized. Despite having alien technology at their disposal, Wanda Maximoff and those in charge of this all-mutant country were powerless. For a time they lacked the manpower to hold the island together. Ironically, the loss of so many lives from the virus led to issues that involved overcrowding.
“ARE YOU GOING TO HIDE INSIDE YOUR PALACE FOREVER, MAXIMOFF?”
“I CAME ALL THIS WAY AND I CAN BARELY GET A BITE TO EAT! WHAT KIND OF MUTANT PARADISE IS THIS?!”
“THE HUMAN SOLDIERS ON THIS ISLAND ARE GETTING PRETTY HOSTILE! THEY THINK YOU GUYS ARE INVOLVED WITH THESE TERRORIST ATTACKS! THEY BETTER NOT BE RIGHT!”
These voices were among hundreds of displaced mutants lingering outside the citadel gates. They all had their share of grievances. This was the only place left for them after mutant communities all over the world had fallen apart as a result of the Legacy Virus. They came to Genosha with promises of a mutant haven. They arrived to find a country that was barely getting by. The recent terror attacks added even more strain. It was more than Wanda Maximoff was equipped to bear.
From the observation deck of the Citadel, she hugged her shoulders anxiously. Even though she was safe within this high tech fortress, she felt like a prisoner. This new influx of mutants was very different from previous newcomers. They were not among those that helped build this country into the mutant haven it now was. They came in expecting so much, but got so little in return. Wanda couldn’t blame them for being restless. Genosha’s resources and infrastructure was still recovering and civil unrest wasn’t making the rebuilding process any easier.
“You know you could hex them like you always do with me. It would at least shut them up,” said a restless Pietro Maximoff.
“I could. And it would only give them more reason to protest,” she sighed.
Wanda kept her distance from Pietro, not caring for any half-hearted efforts at consolation. He was joined by Lance and Lorna. The angry protests were not lost on them either. They shared in her angst. Genosha was increasingly fragile at a time when it needed to be strong.
“Has Havok checked in?” asked Wanda flatly, “He, Blob, Pyro, and Kid Omega were supposed to be patrolling this area.”
“I received a call from Havok a half-hour ago. He says he’s still busy breaking up that riot on the north shore,” said Lorna, not hiding her concern for Havok.
“I still don’t get why they’re yelling at us,” scoffed Lance, “They want us to get Genosha going at full speed, but they’re getting in our way at every turn!”
“They’re frustrated, Lance. They have a right to be,” said Wanda, “Genosha still hasn’t recovered from the Legacy Virus.”
“Funny, they don’t seem to be getting that message no matter how many times we explain it to them,” said Pietro.
“Our explanations are half-hearted at best. We should be doing more for our people,” said Wanda, “We have the Warlock factories running at full capacity, but most of it is dedicated to producing exports. Like it or not, we still have to abide by the treaty we signed. It certainly doesn’t help that the destruction of the Legacy Virus nearly tripled demand for our goods.”
“Well we need goods of our own!” argued Lance, “Those factories could be producing shit to make food, water, and every other essential these people are demanding! Why can’t we give the President an IOU so we can get our shit together?!”
“Because he’s under as much stress as we are, Lance,” replied Wanda, “Our technology has been vital for rebuilding efforts all over the world. It has helped preserve the fragile peace we’ve enjoyed through this process. If we start cutting people off, they’re not going to be too understanding.”
“So we’ll turn the protesters on them,” reasoned Lance.
“And put innocent mutants in danger? Not while I’m in charge,” said Wanda strongly.
The beleaguered ruler never took her eyes off the protesters. They didn’t just sound angry. They sounded desperate. To them, Genosha was their last hope. They needed this country to work because every other mutant society had crumbled. There was nothing she could do to make all their troubles go away. Their situation was getting increasingly complicated, especially after the recent terror attacks.
“We’re going to have to make a gesture of some sort,” said Lorna, who approached her half-sister despite her hostile disposition, “We need to gain their confidence. Especially after the recent string of mutant terror attacks.”
“That’s going to be next to impossible, even though I’m usually good with long odds,” muttered Wanda, “They already think we’re involved.”
“Are we?” asked Pietro.
“Of course not! Why the hell would we get caught up in terrorism?!”
“I could think of a few reason,” quipped the speedster.
“If you list one, you’ll be cleaning up after Blob for the next six months!” spat Wanda.
“Take it easy, Wanda. You know how Pietro talks faster than his brain can process,” said Lance, earning him a scold from Pietro, “Let’s face facts. We have a bit of a history with terrorism and it’s perfectly logical for people to draw conclusions. Even if they’re wrong.”
“And they are wrong!” said Lorna strongly, “We’ve been down that road before. We don’t need to deal with it again.”
“Then we need to think long and hard about how we’re going to interpret these attacks,” Lance went on, “We don’t know much about the Mutant Liberation Front other than they have a much cooler name than us.”
“That’s debatable,” said Pietro, rolling his eyes.
“We shouldn’t take sides just yet. At least not until we understand what they’re game is,” Lance continued, “If we work with Xavier and the humans, some will interpret that as being weak. If we start favoring the Mutant Liberation Front, that’ll make us targets. We have enough on our plate as it stands so for now, neutrality is probably our best policy.”
“That may be the most reasonable thing you’ve ever said, Lance. Are you feeling okay?” said Pietro snidely.
“Hey, I live here too! You think I enjoy seeing it go to hell?”
Lance and Pietro exchanged angry glares while Wanda contemplated his advice. Even if it did come from Lance, his points were still valid. Genosha was weak and they couldn’t risk making it weaker. She couldn’t keep relying on Charles Xavier or the governments of the world to vouch for her. Genosha needed to be strong on its own accord and the Mutant Liberation Front was undermining that.
At the same time, she had no idea who they were or what they’re agenda entailed. From what she heard, they were not just run-of-the-mill terrorists. They were attacking strategic targets and for some reason they were minimizing civilian casualties. They were well-organized and clearly had a plan of sorts. She couldn’t be certain of the correct decision until they knew all the facts.
“Your concerns are duly noted, Lance,” said Wanda, “For now, I have no intention of picking a side. But we can’t remain neutral forever.”
“I don’t see why we can’t at least work with the X-men,” said Lorna.
“Because we relied on the X-men during the Legacy Virus and they couldn’t save us,” said Wanda, “The only way our people will be safe is if we can learn to save ourselves. That’s why I’m going to confront some of these protesters and accelerate the rebuilding efforts. It’s what father would do.”
“Before or after he went crazy?” asked Pietro.
“Shut up! You’re coming with me,” she said as she turned around and grabbed her brother’s arm, “Lorna, get in touch with Havok again. Lance, you’re going to meet up with them at the North Shore. If we’re going to be strong, we need to start acting like it!”
Wanda continued to drag Pietro away from the observation deck. Lorna sighed, trying to stay one step ahead of her exhaustion as she followed her siblings. Lance lingered a bit, shaking his head at Wanda’s ambitious yet underwhelming efforts. There was no easy fix here and if the Mutant Liberation Front continued their campaign of terror, it was bound to get worse.
“Like father like daughter my ass,” scoffed Lance.
Lance stayed behind long after Lorna and the Maximoff twins were gone. He intended to follow Wanda’s instructions, but not before he made a phone call. Once he made sure no one was looking, he took out a small unmarked communicator and called a specific number.
“It’s me,” he said into the phone, “I have a message for Toad. Tell him I bought him some time on my end….no, we’re still on thin ice. I’m sure they’ll come around though. Especially after they see what you guys have in store!”
Up next: Terror Sell
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