In a world that hates and fears them, the X-men use their mutant powers to achieve Professor Charles Xavier’s dream of a world where humans and mutants live in peace. That dream has endured plenty of nightmares along the way, but Xavier remained dedicated to it. Then that dedication came face-to-face with a devastating revelation. This time, it didn’t come from the likes of Magneto or human bigotry.
Charles Xavier’s health has had a profound affect on his life. He had to beat cancer twice while maintaining his duties to the Xavier Institute. During this fight, he underwent many risky treatments. But one of these treatments led to a powerful addiction to pain pills. The addiction was so devastating that it played a major part in the X-men’s recent loss to the Mutant Liberation Front. Now once human/mutant relations are on the brink and for once, Charles Xavier won’t be around to confront it.
In order to fight his addiction, Professor Xavier has stepped down. He placed Hank McCoy and Ororo Munroe in charge of the Xavier Institute. He also promoted Scott Summers to the role of Operations Commander. This means he’ll be the one leading the missions. It is a task wrought with complications as the X-men’s allies, such as the Mutant Security Agency, have turned against them.
Washington DC – Hard Times Café
The news had been grim for the past few weeks. Ever since the Mutant Liberation Front launched their attack, it had been one crisis after another. After a while some people were hardened to it. There was only so much bad news the public could endure before they started tuning it out. Sooner or later, a change had to be made. That change came in the form of a speech by President Kelly that was broadcast on all the major networks.
“This country has faced many tribulations. We’ve lost so much and yet there are forces out there seeking to take more. When it becomes apparent that our current methods cannot protect us, it is the job of the government and the people to fight back. That is why Congress and I have modified some provisions of the Mutant Security Agency. This department was tasked with holding mutants accountable to the law. But in wake of recent events, that role will have to expand. As such, the MSA will be scaling back its partnership with Genosha. It will also scale back it’s association with Charles Xavier and the X-men. We cannot rely on others to protect us from terror. In the coming weeks, the MSA will work closer with our brave men and women in the armed forces. The cost of liberty is great, but the strength of the human spirit will always be greater.”
At this point, Scott Summers stopped listening. He heard enough of the speech to understand the challenges before him. As the X-men’s newly anointed Operations Commander, he had the impossible task of maintaining civility between the X-men and the authorities. He began making trips back and forth to Washington DC. It was an uphill battle to say the least, but he wasn’t completely without allies.
“I wish they would turn that shit off. The news has been replaying that speech every hour,” said a disgruntled Captain Jack Freeman, who was working on his third beer.
“That’s probably by design. It’s President Kelly’s way of reminding the people that he’s in charge,” said Scott, “He wants to be hero this time. He wants to be the one that stops the Mutant Liberation Front.”
“Well at the rate he’s going, he’ll only be a hero to Stryker’s old supporters and defense contractors.”
“That’s what we’re hoping to prevent. That’s also why I’m glad you agreed to meet with me like this.”
“Don’t be too flattered,” muttered the Green Beret, “Since President Dick-Cheese took over, I’m taken about as seriously as Donald Trump.”
Jack gulped down the rest of his beer. Of all the people President Kelly’s new initiative affected, he was one of the hardest hit. He still couldn’t be discharged due to General Grimshaw’s influence, but he could be marginalized. Nobody in the MSA would touch him with a hundred foot pole. Even General Grimshaw had to keep his distance. That’s why he called Scott Summers for this private meeting in a random DC restaurant. Everyone was making plans and he wasn’t part of them. If there was any chance for him to make a difference in this battle, it was with the X-men.
Scott was grateful that Captain Freeman trusted him enough to seek help. He certainly needed it as he adjusted to this new role. He had to exchange his Cyclops uniform for a suit and tie so he could meet with the officials that Professor Xavier used to deal with. It was a different kind of challenge, but he still confronted it like any other mission. That meant using every available resource to put his team in a better position.
So far, the assessment was pretty bleak. President Kelly and General Grimshaw were trying to push the X-men to the side. They were shrouding themselves in a shell of secrets. It only took one slip-up from any side to make a bad situation worse.
“So explain to me how you and your schoolyard buddies are going to fix this,” said Captain Freeman as he set aside his beer, “Forgive me ahead of time if I don’t sound confident, especially after what you said about Professor Xavier being a junkie.”
“He’s not a junkie, Captain. He’s sick. There’s a difference,” said the X-leader strongly.
“You’re talking to a former stoner and drug dealer. I don’t know much, but I know what makes a junkie.”
“Regardless of what you think of Professor Xavier, he’s now out of the equation. Like any sick man, he’s getting treatment. We’re just lucky that President Kelly was polite enough not to divulge that information. We’re trying to keep it quiet.”
“Luck has nothing to do with it,” scoffed the Green Beret, “Revealing your biggest partner is in rehab kind of hurts your credibility.”
“Whatever you or the President thinks of him, we’re still not going to fix through this situation,” said Scott, “The Professor once said politics can’t be fixed. They can only be managed. Based on what you’ve told me, there’s a lot to manage.”
“Whatever you do, don’t expect me to be your right-hand man. I’m not in a position to sabotage anybody’s plans.”
“I wasn’t going to ask you to. That may not even be necessary,” said the X-leader, “You say President Kelly has been listening to this CIA stooge, Henry Peter Gyrich.”
“Stooge might be too kind a word,” muttered Jack, “If you ever do cross paths with him, push him down the nearest flight of stairs. That’s how big a prick he is.”
“I don’t doubt that. We’ve done some research on him back at the Institute. He used to run Black Ops on Genosha when Cameron Hodge was still running things. He actually helped that psychopath imprison mutants. He also specialized in gathering intel on mutant communities all over the world. We suspect his activities provoked the Morlocks all those years ago.”
“So he has a hard-on for mutants. Is that supposed to shock me?”
“At the very least, it should give us a reasonable expectation of his intentions,” said Scott, “He’s spent his career trying to neutralize mutants. We can expect him to use the Mutant Liberation Front as an excuse to launch something bigger.”
“Any idea what it could be?” asked the Green Beret.
“Not yet, but I’m more concerned about General Grimshaw.”
Captain Freeman suddenly felt the need for another beer. It wasn’t too difficult for him to divulge what President Kelly was up to. General Grimshaw was a different story. He was the man that made him who he is. Without him, he wouldn’t be a captain or a Green Beret or a soldier for that matter. Going behind his back like this was hard in a way he never expected.
“He’s not going to go to the same extremes as the President,” said Captain Freeman, “He wouldn’t. I know him.”
“It’s not the extremes that worry me. It’s Grimshaw’s competence that makes him a greater threat,” said Scott, “Whatever he has planned, it’s a given that he’ll carry it out with much greater efficiency than the President. He made that clear on the day we met him. He’s not our friend or our enemy. He fights the battles he deems important and I say this qualifies.”
“I don’t care what battle he chooses. I’m not going to betray him.”
“I don’t want you to betray anyone.”
“Then what do you call this?” scoffed the Green Beret, “You have any idea how many of the President’s goons I had to avoid just to meet you here?”
“You came to me because the people you work for are in the process of making a big mistake. With the Mutant Liberation Front making such a mess, we can’t afford that. And by we, I mean everybody…human and mutant. I’m trying hard to fill the Professor’s shoes. I don’t have his credibility or charisma. That’s why I need your trust, Captain. If and when someone makes that mistake, we need to be in a position to correct it.”
Captain Freeman looked across the table and studied the X-leader. Scott Summers was certainly no Charles Xavier, but he had the demeanor of a trained soldier. That was something Jack respected. It was one of the reasons he would only talk to Scott and no one else in the X-men. That didn’t make what he was asking any less difficult.
He was used to his country working against him. Now it was getting bad on a new level. Both President Kelly and General Grimshaw were bent on stopping the Mutant Liberation Front. He saw one too many signs that they were willing to blow the whole human/mutant conflict to hell. Like it or not, Scott Summers was his best bet for stopping this.
“My trust in you is shaky at best, Summers. But so far, you’re the only one with his head on straight,” said Captain Freeman.
“Does that mean you’ll work with me?” asked Scott.
“As long as I don’t have to work against General Grimshaw, I’m in,” he sighed, “If we’re going to screw anyone over, it better be Gyrich.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Scott with a light grin.
“So before I sneak back to the Pentagon and explain to them why I took an hour-long lunch, mind telling me the next part of your little plan? I’m still fuzzy on the details.”
“It’s a developing plan at best. I’m still adjusting to my role as Professor Xavier’s unofficial lobbyist,” sighed Scott.
“I’ll settle for a goal of any sort.”
“The goal has never changed,” said the X-leader, “We’re trying to preserve whatever peace is left between humans and mutants. I can say from experience that nothing good can ever come from a world full of pissed off mutants.”
Hollywood, California – Two Week Ago
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” exclaimed an enraged Arthur Centino.
“Jesus Art, you don’t have to yell!”
“YOU JUST TOLD ME YOU LOST ANOTHER GIG ON THE SAME DAY I’M BEING EVICTED FROM MY APARTMENT! I THINK I HAVE A RIGHT TO YELL!”
It had been a very bad day for Arthur Centino. He was a man who was used to having good luck and lately his luck had been going downhill in every possible way. He was an aspiring actor with a pretty face in a town that had plenty of them. The odds of anyone making it big in Hollywood were remote at best, but that was why Arthur believed he would succeed.
In addition to having the body of a male model, he was a mutant. His powers involved some complicated quantum effect he didn’t pretend to understand. All he understood was that somehow it made him extremely lucky. He could change the probability of something happening in his favor. It helped him get lucky growing up in Olympia, Washington. He was a street smart kid who had to fend for himself without a lot of parental help. Everything seemed to go his way when it came to contests, sports, or women. He thought it would help him become a famous movie star. Now his agent was telling him his luck had finally run out.
“Try and take it easy, babe. This just isn’t a good time for mutants. I’m sure you’ve seen the news.”
“I did…when I had an apartment,” said Arthur, still seething with discontent.
“Then you know people are a bit…well, hesitant when it comes to mutants. The Mutant Liberation Front has been to your kind what 9/11 was to Arab actors. All those prospects I told you about changed their minds the minute news broke about the Switzerland attack. It just isn’t a good time to be a mutant in any business, let alone show business.”
“You said I was good enough to beat the odds!”
“And I meant it. But these are odds you can’t change. This is something you’ll have to weather. It’ll blow over. I’m sure of it! Until then, you’ve gotta keep pushing that legendary luck of yours, even if that means going to every bingo tournament on the West Coast.”
“Funny, I heard you use that exact same bingo joke three months ago,” muttered Arthur.
“Sorry I haven’t had time to come up with new jokes, Art. I don’t know what else to tell you. A new opportunity will come along. I’m sure of it. I’ll let you know as soon as something comes up!”
“Spoken like a true Hollywood agent.”
Arthur didn’t wait for a response. He had heard enough from his agent for one day. He turned off his phone and spent the next few minutes fuming outside his apartment complex. He was three months behind on his rent and had just been evicted. He had less than fifty dollars in the bank, having spent most of his money on acting lessons and auditions. His career seemed to be over before it even began.
“Push my luck, he says. This city screws over even the lucky people. And I’m supposed to push it when I’m flat broke and out of work?” he muttered as he sat down at the curb.
It was beyond frustrating. Arthur went out of his way to avoid the whole human/mutant conflict. He just wanted to be an actor. Unfortunately, his agent made the bone-headed decision to use his mutant status as a way to set himself apart from the competition. He was told that it could be a publicity boon. It helped that he didn’t look inhuman and his powers allowed for more risky shoots that other actors wouldn’t attempt. It seemed so logical. Then the Mutant Liberation Front came along and the logic turned to stupidity.
No amount of luck could stem the fear that had gripped much of the world. Even he couldn’t get by on his luck forever. It could win him a few bucks at a casino and score him some beautiful women along the Sunset Strip, but it wouldn’t win him the success he craved. He needed luck of a very different kind now.
‘Come on…there has to be a way to push my powers a bit further. Isn’t there some way I can improve the chances of me getting that special call that every actor dreams of?’
Arthur concentrated hard. His left eye flashed, which happened when he used his powers. He wasn’t sure why that happened. He could care less if it gave him results. At first it didn’t seem to do him any good. Then his cell phone started buzzing, surprising even him in the process.
“Hmm…guess it is possible.”
Arthur eagerly answered the phone. The number was listed as unknown so it couldn’t have been his agent.
“Hello?” said into the receiver.
“Is this Arthur Centino? The actor for which I hear has quite the lucky streak?”
“This is him. Always on the look out to share that luck on the big screen,” said Arthur with new excitement.
“Ah, good to hear. I’m calling on behalf of Mojovision Productions. I don’t expect you to have heard of us. We’re somewhat of an upstart. Is that an issue?”
“As long as you’re not a gay porn company, that’s fine with me,” replied Arthur.
“Then I’ll skip right to the business aspect of this conversation. We have an exciting new production in the works. It’s a television show that requires a very special set of skills from its actors.”
“What kind of gig? Are those special skills you mentioned codewords for mutant powers?”
“I’m not obliged to get into details. I’ll just tell you it’s new, it’s exciting, and it has the potential to turn a long-shot actor into a major star. Now are you interested or not?”
It sounded too good to be true, even by Arthur’s standards. Hollywood was full of unscrupulous people that made big promises that rarely panned out. He had crossed paths with many of them. This could certainly be another one, but he was not in a position to pass up a new opportunity.
“Don’t bother contacting anyone else. I’ll take it,” he said.
“Wonderful! Now follow these instructions very carefully. We’ve already made preparations and we hope to start shooting very soon!”
Las Vegas – One Week Ago
Allison Blaire saw her music career take many turns. She had gone through some pretty devastating lows and some pretty exhilarating highs. And for a while, it seemed as though she was cementing her place in stardom. Then the Legacy Virus took all the energy out of the entertainment business and the Mutant Liberation Front derailed any hope of a comeback.
“So the Mirage gig is also canceled. That makes four in the past two weeks,” said a beleaguered Alison Blaire.
“I’m doing everything I can, Ali. There just isn’t a lot of demand for a mutant act,” said her agent, Kirby Jackson.
“I think you meant to say they were too spooked to do anything mutant related.”
“I never said that.”
“I may be a bleach blond pop star, but I’m not stupid,” said Alison dryly, “I once had the top-selling song on iTtunes and string of music videos that nearly crashed YouTube. Then the Mutant Liberation Front comes along and suddenly everyone forgets about me. Come on Kirb, even MC Hammer’s star didn’t fall this quickly.”
For once, Kirby didn’t give Alison an excuse. That pretty much summed up the fortunes of the Dazzler tour. When the economy was booming and mutants were simply controversial, she experienced her biggest success. The incident with the X-men turned her into a national sensation. Her first album surged on the publicity and she became one of the biggest acts in the country. Even during the Legacy Virus, she used her music as inspiration for those who had died. And just when it seemed she was back on track, the Mutant Liberation Front struck.
Now the angry protests that used to block her performances turned to genuine concern. The Mutant Liberation Front seemed to strike everywhere. Nobody was safe. Since so many mutants had been displaced by the Legacy Virus, any one of them could be working with them. Her stardom made her a big target. The tabloids used to run stories about her doing drugs and dating fellow celebrities. Now they were running stories about her being involved with the Mutant Liberation Front. And her romantic history with Lance Alvers of the Brotherhood of Mutants certainly didn’t help her case. Even if they were complete lies, they scared people away from her music.
This led her to put her latest tour on hold. She thought she could get back to her roots and do gigs in Las Vegas. Even her history with certain resorts wasn’t enough to land her any shows. She was a walking PR nightmare. Her career was in free fall and she wasn’t ready to let it go.
“Ali baby, you know I love you. We’ve ridden the Dazzler tour to the top of the mountain together. We’ve tasted the kind of success most acts only fantasize about,” said Kirby in a more serious tone.
“Kirby don’t…” groaned Alison, burying her head in hotel pillows.
“We have to face facts. The Mutant Liberation Front has changed the rules of the game. People are scared and nobody knows what will come of the whole mutant issue. If and when it blows over, we’ll have another shot.”
“After all the bad press we’ve gotten? Do you really think peoples’ memories are that short?” questioned Alison.
“We gotta hope for the best and prepare for the worst. You’ve had a great ride, Alison. You wanted to be a star. You became a star. You’ve made enough money off your gigs to take some time off and wait out this storm.”
“I’m not jaded enough to contemplate retirement.”
“I didn’t say you should retire,” he said quickly.
“I’ll say it again, Kirby. I may be blond, but I’m not dumb,” she said strongly, “I want to perform. I need to perform. It’s not just what I do. It’s who I am. You’re my agent. Find me a gig! So long as it’s not a strip club in an old porno theatre, I’ll take whatever we can get!”
Alison was putting Kirby in quite a position. He watched as his biggest act lay face down on her hotel bed, wallowing in their misfortune. She had a genuine passion for her art. The money was secondary. That made her special, but it also made her difficult. She was always craving more gigs and there was only so much he could do as an agent.
Kirby was prepared to leave Alison to cool down for a bit. Then his Blackberry started ringing and Alison looked up from the bed.
“That better be the Bellagio un-canceling my show this weekend,” said Alison.
“It’s an unknown number, Ali. Hold on while I check this out,” he said.
Alison watched as Kirby stepped back for a moment to take the call. She tried to listen in, but it was hard to make out. She sensed Kirby was trying to protect her from further disappointment. He couldn’t blame her. She was a lot more anxious than she cared to admit. The last time she talked to her father, he suggested she come home for a week. She had thought about it at times, but she wasn’t ready to go running home yet. She wasn’t ready to stop being Dazzler.
While she listened, she noticed Kirby’s demeanor shift. It may or may not have been a good sign. Alison listened closer. Then with newfound energy, he turned around.
“Ali babe, how would you feel about doing a light broadcast gig for an upstart production company?” he asked her.
“Whatever it is, take it!” said Alison as she got off the bed.
“You don’t want to hear the details?” asked Kirby.
“To hell with the details! So long as there’s a stage and an audience, I’m in!”
Mojovision Studios – Present
The official Dazzler tour-bus arrived in Los Angeles early in the morning. When it pulled up to the designated studio in West Hollywood, Alison was leaning out one of the windows in anticipation. It didn’t look like much. In fact the studio looked like it had been renovated and painted over from an older building. There were a number of empty buildings around it as well. This could have been a bad sign or simply a product of being a new company.
“This is Mojovision Studios?” scoffed the driver of the bus, who also happened to play in the Dazzler band.
“Don’t start complaining. We can’t afford to lose another gig,” said Alison, “Kirby said someone would be here to greet us and I’m not going to waste my time whining.”
Alison didn’t even wait for the bus to fully stop before getting out through the front door. The rest of her band could go over the details with Kirby. She was intent on meeting whoever was brazen enough to hire a mutant act at a time like this.
She jogged across the parking lot to the front entrance. As she drew near she noticed a few security guards and some neatly dressed personnel in business suits. It was similar to what she had seen at other studios. Among them she noticed one figure who was dressed differently. He was a young man with medium-length blond hair in a strange-looking spandex jumpsuit. It looked like a uniform for a fighter pilot. Since no one else seemed to be approaching her, she confronted him first.
“Excuse me, are you Mr. Domo?” she asked.
The man turned around in a somewhat shaky way. He was wearing these unusual sunglasses and seemed unusually stiff, as if something had shocked him.
“I…I…Longshot odds,” he stammered.
“Uh…do you speak English, pretty boy?” said Alison dryly.
“We apologize, Miss Blaire. Mr. Centino is having a rough morning,” came a voice.
Alison turned around to see a middle-aged Asian man in an Armani suit approaching her. Next to him was a young Asian woman carrying a dark briefcase. They came off as somewhat stiff, especially for Hollywood types.
“Please forgive my tardiness. I am Mr. Domo,” said the Asian man, “We spoke over the phone yesterday. And this is my assistant, Miss Domo.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” said the young Asian girl.
“Likewise,” said Alison, putting on her professional demeanor, “So Domo and Domo? Is this studio family operation or something?”
“Oh Domo is not her real name, but while she’s on duty she insists on calling herself Miss Domo,” said Mr. Domo.
“That’s…odd, but I guess loyalty goes a long way in this town,” said Alison.
“More than you think,” said Mr. Domo, “My boss, Mr. Adams, instructed me to guide you through your orientation. We wish to begin production as soon as possible.”
“Oh believe me, I’m ready to start performing!” she said confidently, “As you can imagine, it’s been tough for mutant acts lately. I really appreciate Mr. Adams giving me chance.”
“Mr. Adams isn’t afraid to think outside the box. It’s how he hopes to make Mojovision the new standard in entertainment success,” said Mr. Domo.
“I’m all for high hopes. So what exactly does he have in mind?” asked Alison, “My agent said this was some kind of extreme sports show. We didn’t get too many details so I’m not sure how my band and I are going to get set up.”
“We’ll concern ourselves with the logistics later,” said Mr. Domo with an ominous grin, “As for the details, I think it’s best we show you. For that, I’m sure Mr. Centino will be happy to oblige.”
What happened next caught Alison completely off guard. The strange man with blond hair came up behind her and grabbed her with his powerful arms. It wasn’t a typical crazy fan embrace by any stretch. This was an outright attack.
“Oww! Hey, let go of me!” she shouted, “Who do you think you…”
“Hurry…run,” said Arthur in a shaky.
“Still struggling, are we?” said Miss Domo, “I guess I should have increased the power.”
“Power?! The kind of gig is this?”
As Alison struggled, she used some nearby sound to shoot off some energy bursts. One of them ended up knocking the sunglasses obscuring Arthur’s face. When Alison saw his eyes she gasped in horror.
“I believe that should provide a useful clue,” said Mr. Domo.
It looked someone wrapped a headband made of wires around the young man’s face. His eyes were forced open and the veins in his head were throbbing. From the wires, there were a series of red sparks going into his head. These sparks seemed to control the young man’s body. He clearly had no control over what he was doing. Dazzler tried to break free, but it was no use.
While Arthur had her in his grasp, Miss Domo opened the unmarked case she had been holding and took out another headband. It looked identical to the one Arthur was wearing, only fitted for someone else. Despite Alison’s struggling, the young woman calmly approached the bound pop star and forcibly put it on her. The moment it was applied to her head, the wires in the headband activated.
“Somebody help me! Please I…AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” she cried out.
“Do not struggle. It’ll only intensify the pain,” said Miss Domo in a tone every bit as calm as her boss.
Within seconds, the wires in the headband probed into Alison’s head and a wave of painful shocks surged through her body. Every limb went rigid, as if every muscle became cramped. She tried turning back towards her tour bus for help, but she noticed some of the security personnel from the building already surrounding it. They forced Kirby and her band mates back, shoving them back into her tour bus and locking the doors. There was no one who could help her.
Alison continued writhing in pain before she eventually fell to her knees. At this point, Arthur let her go. She was still conscious, her eyes wide-open in a vacant gaze. However, she could not move or speak. She was completely docile and that was just what Mr. Domo needed.
“Our main attraction has been subdued, Mr. Domo,” said Miss Domo flatly.
“With less-than-expected difficulty, no less,” said Mr. Domo as he stood over Alison’s body, “I’ll inform Mr. Adams that we’re ready to proceed. Mojovision is will go live this evening.”
Xavier Institute – Den
It was a surreal moment in the history of the X-men. For the first time, the team was conducting themselves without the guidance of Professor Charles Xavier. While classes and training did not change much, the mere knowledge that he wasn’t around was difficult. It was just as difficult trying to lay low after their failure in Switzerland. News about the Mutant Liberation Front’s triumphs was everywhere and it kept getting worse by the day, so much so that some of the X-men tried to avoid it.
“Seriously Jean? Over 300 channels and you insist on watching C-SPAN?” commented a restless Bobby Drake.
“There’s a documentary about the French Revolution on the History Channel that’s more interesting than this, luv,” said Betsy, who was sitting next to Bobby with a pile of books.
“Not that I wouldn’t mind something more exciting, I think we should keep up with what’s going on in Washington. With the Professor on Muir Island, the future of mutant affairs is now on Scott’s shoulders,” said Jean as she watched the broadcast intently.
“After spending eight hours in class, you’re still obsessing over the news?” sighed Betsy.
“That or seeing Scott in a position of power makes her hot,” commented Kitty, who was sitting across the room and working on her laptop.
“Are you going to tell me you don’t find authority just a little bit sexy?” joked Jean.
“Seeing as how you’re telekinetically gripping the remote, I’d say it’s nearing fetish territory.”
Jean shrugged off Kitty’s remark and went back to watching the broadcast. There was a major debate in the House of Representatives about mutants and Scott was in attendance. He had been in Washington all afternoon and was doing his best to fill Professor Xavier’s shoes. It was not an easy role for anyone, but Jean saw some good coming from this challenge. As the leader of the team, this seemed like a logical progression and Scott was doing as well as anyone could expect.
However, the others weren’t so enamored with Scott’s new duties. Betsy, Bobby, and Kitty were burned out from class. Hank and Ororo were now running the institute and insisted that they catch up with their studies. It seemed logical since they were always behind, but there was only so much catching up they could do. This afternoon was supposed to be a much needed break. Jean had finished her latest bio test and Kitty was still catching up on her laptop while Bobby and Betsy were trying to relax.
“Maybe I should’ve opted to pay Warren another visit,” sighed Betsy, “It would be a nice change of pace between Miss Munroe’s classes and Mr. McCoy’s training.”
“Speaking of fetishes, how is our favorite feathered friend?” asked Bobby.
“I’m…not sure,” sighed Betsy, “He’s been doing okay. Better than he was a month ago, that’s for sure.”
“I’ve tried emailing him. He’s not too talkative anymore. I don’t think he even laughed when I sent him that joke about Toad’s body odor.”
“His sense of humor is recovering slower than the rest of his body,” she said, “I’m really starting to worry about him. He was such a charmer when we first met at the club. Now he’s so vulnerable and it feels like I’m the only one he opens up to.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” suggested Jean, “Usually when someone is vulnerable, they’re more honest and open. And if he’s reaching out to you that must mean he cares about you.”
“Go back to your power fetish, luv. I’m not sure we’re at that point yet,” said Betsy distantly, “Although I sometimes sense that if I don’t help him, he’ll make another stupid decision.”
“Warren has never been known for thinking things through...especially when beautiful women are involved,” said Bobby, “If it gets bad, there will be signs. But for now, your greatest concern should be when Mr. McCoy asks us to test that new Danger Room scenario he’s working on.”
If only Betsy could share Bobby’s confidence. Even though he and Jean had known Warren longer, she was still the one he turned to. He made himself sick in more ways than one. Since Professor Xavier left, she spent most of her free time talking to him. He was doing only marginally better since she last visited and there was little indication that his health was improving. It left Betsy with many uneasy feelings.
Betsy was content to rest her eyes and so was Bobby, who only recently stopped taken medications for his concussion. While Jean continued watching attentively, Piotr walked in from the kitchen. He was as restless as the others, having spent most of his time in the Danger Room or gym. He sat down next to Kitty, who still had her leg in a cast.
“Good evening, Katya. How is your leg?” he asked her.
“Healing way too slowly,” she said, looking down at her cast, “Even with alien technology, Mr. McCoy says I have to keep the cast on for the rest of the week. Even by then he probably won’t let me back in the Danger Room.”
“Consider yourself lucky. Since Logan left this morning, I’ve been helping Comrade McCoy with his latest Danger Room program.”
“Logan left without telling anyone? There’s a surprise,” said Kitty, rolling her eyes.
“I wish he hadn’t. A healing factor would have been nice this afternoon,” said Piotr, rubbing his head a bit, “I won’t say the new scenario is a work-in-progress. I will only say the so-called glitches Beast is trying to resolve are painful even with metal skin.”
“Believe me, I’d trade places with you if I could,” sighed Kitty, “I feel like I’m going crazy just sitting around like this. It’s great I’m actually caught up with class, but I’m not used to sitting in front of a computer screen all day!”
“If you’re looking for excitement, you can try your luck in the kitchen,” offered Piotr, “Miss Munroe agreed to let Remy make dinner tonight. I barely escaped before he could offer a taste of his famous Royal Flush chili.”
“Ooh, remind me to order a pizza later,” cringed Kitty, “The last time I ate that stuff my taste buds were fried for three days.”
“I have no desire to put my stomach through such rigors either. Perhaps a better plan is for me to take you out for dinner tonight. If you are really this restless, a night out might be just what we both need.”
Kitty smiled at Piotr’s suggestion. Ever since the Legacy Virus, he was learning the intricacies of being a good boyfriend and learning them well. All those issues about the darker parts of his past weren’t holding them back anymore. Their relationship had developed into something stable and genuine. It was good for both of them, especially when the mood of the team was so tense.
“Suddenly my leg doesn’t feel that sore anymore,” she said while offering a coy gesture to her lover.
“Is that a yes or nyet?” quipped Piotr.
“My Russian is still a bit rusty, so I’ll just wait while I finish up some stuff online. Then I can limp up to my bedroom and plan our little…”
Kitty’s response trailed off. She was already in the process of closing down her online assignments when something caught her eye. Piotr was taken aback for a moment because Kitty wasn’t easily distracted when it came to talking about dates.
“What is wrong, Katya? I hope you are not changing your mind,” said Piotr.
“Don’t sweat it, Petey. We haven’t been dating that long,” she replied, “Something’s wrong with my laptop. I keep getting these weird pop-ups. Now it’s not letting me close anything.”
“Pop-ups?” said Bobby from across the room, “You’ve been swapping videos on Facebook again, haven’t you?”
“Don’t start, Bobby. You’re the one who watches YouTube videos of shark attacks during Miss Munroe’s lectures,” said Kitty as she continued struggling with her laptop, “It looks like I’m not the only one getting this pop-up. I wonder what’s so important that subliminal advertising isn’t enough?”
Kitty attempted to shut down every program she was running. At this point Piotr grew curious as well. On Kitty’s screen, there was this strange live-feed video that kept coming up every time she tried to close it. Kitty was pretty tech-savvy so this was cause for concern. At one point she was ready to shut the whole computer down. Then one of the pop-ups started streaming a new video and this time it was much more jarring.
“Welcome to Mojovision Productions! Where there are no rules and the stakes are always high!”
A series of images flashed on the screen, many depicting the face of a man whose eyes alone was enough to turn anyone off his product. Along with these images were some ominous graphics that were disturbing even by internet standards. Kitty’s eyes widened as she saw more of the feed. Piotr grew concerned as well. This didn’t look like pop-up they could easily ignore.
“Uh…guys?” said Kitty, “You better come take a look at this!”
Mojovision Studios – Control Booth
“Hello world! Mojovision has officially arrived and the world of entertainment will never be the same!” proclaimed an imposing figure in an overbearing voice.
“We’ve already broadcast the introduction video, Mr. Adams. We stopped recording over five minutes ago,” said Mr. Domo in a flat yet exasperated tone.
“I know we have, Mr. Domo. I just feel like saying it out loud again. I never got this sort of thrill while working at Chandilar Enterprise. I want to savor it before I’m too busy counting the ad revenue.”
The enthusiastic voice of Matejovsky Adams masked the serious tasks that Mojovision Studios had undertaken. Mr. Domo and his assistant were in a strict business mentality, as was the vast support staff. This was a crucial moment for the company. Their first broadcast was about to go live and it was as ambitious as the ego that made this possible.
Matejovsky, or Mojo as others called him, was not a typical Hollywood visionary. He certainly didn’t look the part. He stood six-and-a-half feet tall and was quite obese, weighing at least three-hundred and twenty pounds. His skin was very pale and his hair was white, but it wasn’t because he was old. He was an Albino who carried himself with the kind of arrogance that only Hollywood could breed. But some were willing to contend with that arrogance in order to put together this daring project.
The control room was organized like a NASA command center. It had TV monitors mounted on every wall and an array of computer terminals throughout the room. This was not the kind of equipment that could be found in an ordinary studio. Much of it was so advanced that it wasn’t set up for handling a TV production. However, Mojo had made the necessary adjustments. It took many years and a substantial amount of his personal fortune, but it was about to pay off in a big way.
At every terminal was a neatly dressed analyst wearing a headset. They all had a similar demeanor to Mr. Domo. On every monitor was production data ranging from internet traffic to broadcast signals. The mood was tense and Miss Domo was leading the team.
“Our analysts have established live feeds on every major network and a few private networks we managed to hack,” reported Miss Domo, “Our ads have already gone viral. Facebook and Twitter are abuzz with our production. The latest report indicates our web-traffic is a few hundred gigabytes below our threshold.”
“Do me a favor and expunge all negative words from your vocabulary. From here on out, I only want to hear how this production is re-writing the entertainment game,” said Mr. Adams as he gazed at the monitors in anticipation, “I went through a lot of trouble to acquire this hardware. It’s a decade or so ahead of the competition so your people should have their hands in every communications hub on the planet!”
“There’s only so far we can go with ads, Mr. Adams,” said Mr. Domo, “We need to get the content streaming in order to reach the levels you’re aspiring towards.”
“Please Domo, call me Mojo. By the time we’re finished, I’ll have all the mojo in Hollywood!” he proclaimed, “You and your overpaid IT boys worry about keeping the uplink active before the FCC barges in. I’ll provide the content in abundance!”
“That’s assuming our two stars will last,” said Mr. Domo, always the pragmatist.
“You underestimate their worth. I never would have chosen them if I didn’t know they could handle the other hardware I acquired. Speaking of which, it’s time to boot up the preliminary program. I want a feed going into the main stage in two minutes!”
“Right away, sir,” said Miss Domo.
The young woman guided the army of analysts to their next set of tasks. They were closing in on the big moment. Mojo made his way to the front of the control booth where he had set up a series of one-way windows that overlooked the vast stage below. It didn’t look like much from his perspective. At the moment there was large opening that stretched the length of a dozen football fields and stood a dozen stories high. It seemed bland. But once the show began, it would be a very different story.
From this vantage point, Mojo stood atop a circular platform. Moments later a series of hovering cameras shot up from one of the consoles. These were the size of basketballs and very advanced. No other production company had equipment like this to work with and Mojo had every intention to take full advantage of them. As the cameras settled around him, Mr. Domo handed his boss special microphone.
“We’re ready to go live, Mr. Mojo,” said Mr. Domo.
“Excellent!” said Mojo as he fixed his suit and tie, “Proceed with waking our stars. It’s time captivate the world in the name of Mojovision!”
Mojovision Studios – Main Stage
Alison Blaire was living a nightmare. Everything that had just happened was too crazy to be real. She was conscious, yet not in control of her body. She couldn’t move or talk. She could barely think. Her thoughts were so jumbled and spacey. It was like being in a dream that she couldn’t wake up from. She only regained some sense of coherence when she felt someone rip off the strange metal headband that had been forced on her earlier.
“Get up! I know your head is probably killing you, but you need to get up!” said an urgent voice.
“Hnn…am I still dreaming?” groaned Alison.
“If I say yes, will you spare me the nervous breakdown?!”
Alison fought of dizziness and nausea to return to her feet. Her vision cleared and she recognized the figure that was yelling at her. It was Arthur Centino, the man she met outside the studio earlier. He was no longer wearing that strange headband that rendered them paralyzed. It looked like he had been alert for a while and was trying to figure out what was going on.
In their paralyzed state, someone had moved them into this strange open area. They were standing in the middle of a vast room that consisted of gray walls, a domed ceiling, and no doors. Somewhere along the way Dazzler noticed someone had changed her clothes. She was wearing this elaborate, skin-tight spandex body suit. It was cut in a revealing way, not unlike her old showgirl costumes. Except this outfit had these strange metal wires weaved into them. Arthur’s had the same design, indicating they were equally screwed.
“Please tell me this is just some elaborate ploy by a deranged fan,” she groaned.
“Sorry, but deranged fans don’t go to lengths like these,” said Arthur, “Now are you going to buck up or am I going to have to drag you around by your hair?”
“Okay, first of all, who the hell do you think you are?” said an appalled Alison, “And second, do you know who you’re talking to?”
“Of course I know who you are, Allison Blaire. I saw your last Rolling Stone cover where your thong was showing. And to answer your first question, I’m Arthur Centino since you obviously forgot. As a mutant actor who can’t get arrested in this town, I shouldn’t be offended. Then again, these are extreme circumstances!”
“You’re an actor? And a mutant?” she said, now even more confused, “How the hell did you get caught up in this? And what the hell is this anyways?! ”
Alison quickly got her answer when a large holographic figure formed above them. The whole ceiling turned into three-dimensional screen, depicting the oversized frame of Matejovsky “Mojo” Adams. Along with his appearance came a series of hovering cameras. They quickly surrounded the two mutants. They also contained speakers that helped project the oversized figures booming voice.
“Welcome to the world of Mojovision, my new superstars! I am Mojo, the host and visionary behind this groundbreaking series!”
“Please tell me I’m being Punked,” groaned Alison, “At least then I would get to meet Aston Kutcher.”
“I don’t know what sort of entertainment you’re selling, fatso! But count me out! I’m an actor! Not a guinea pig!” spat Arthur.
“I don’t recall giving either of you a choice. This is not some bland game-show or some coarse reality TV ploy. I’ve watched for years as TV, movies, and all forms of media decline into utter filth. No one is willing to push the envelope anymore! Instead the mindless masses are content to watch grainy videos on the internet of talentless nobodies humiliating themselves. Well I refuse to accept that! So I’ve gathered the many resources I’ve attained through years of working in field of advanced holography and put together a program like no other! Watch as a new era literally forms before your eyes!”
Arthur and Alison were as upset as they were confused. With Mojo’s image still hovering above them, the world around them became wavy and blurred. They watched as the bland gray arena transformed into a new scene.
It took on the form of something right out of a sci-fi show. They now found themselves in deep space standing on an asteroid. In front of them was an alien planet with pink clouds and a red sun. Behind them was a massive alien ship that looked like it was copied from an old episode of Star Trek. They even felt the floor beneath them move. It didn’t feel artificial in the slightest. It felt so real they nearly lost their balance.
“Ugh…did we just get drugged or something?” groaned Alison.
“I wish,” groaned Arthur.
“Do NOT adjust your set! You are not dreaming, but it’s the next best thing! Mojovision productions employs the most advanced hardware in what I call augmented reality. What you see looks, feels, and even smells real. I could go into the advanced particle physics that allow for such feats, but who wants to watch a show about that? This is entertainment! Not education! All you need to know is that these majestic projections can hurt you as if they were real. Allow me to demonstrate!”
From the alien ship behind them, a massive door opened. And from that door a dozen insect-like robots came flying out. They let out horrific screeches while their eyes glowed bright pink. They flew right towards Arthur and Alison, quickly surrounding them and hovering a mere ten feet over their heads. At first the two mutants froze, not sure what to make of it. Then one of the robot’s eyes lit up and fired a powerful energy blast at them.
“Holy…” gasped Alison.
“Duck already!” exclaimed Arthur.
Having to utilize his luck powers, Arthur shoved Alison away from the blast. He narrowly avoided being struck. His street smarts kicked in with his acting skills and he rolled with Alison away from the robots. By the time he was back on his feet, Alison was still in shock.
“Whoa…that was too real!” she groaned.
“Precisely! That’s your primary motive as entertainers. To be real in a world of bland reality! This is what Mojovision shall produce! On one side, a struggling actor with uncanny luck! On the other, a well-known pop star in a situation she desperately wants to escape! Both stuck together and caught up in an endless struggle! To survive is a long shot at best! In fact, that’s what we’ll call it! Dazzler and the Longshot! The action! The drama! The sex appeal! All being broadcast live for the world to see!”
“I don’t know what you are or aren’t taking pal, but you need to up the dosage!” yelled Arthur.
“There’s nothing crazy about it. The market is ripe for this kind of entertainment! The Mutant Liberation Front has put mutants on everyone’s mind! We’re going to tap into that market and milk it for all it’s worth! So with an encrypted signal and a line to every major broadcast frequency on the planet, let the show begin!”
Mojo’s holographic image faded, leaving Alison and Arthur to fend for themselves. A series of blaring alarms went off. More hovering cameras emerged from the ground, zooming in on them as they took in the scene. From the alien ship, more compartments opened. Two dozen more insect-like robots buzzed towards them, their eyes glowing with menacing firepower. Alison and Arthur started backing away, looking around for any possible escape.
“So uh…Longshot, huh?” said Alison.
“Actually, my name is Arthur. But right now, I don’t think that matters,” he said as he watched the robots surround them.
“Any idea what we should do?”
“Well running sounds like a good way to start, but I’m open to suggestions!”
With no time to linger, the two mutants sprinted away from the alien robots as fast as they could. The deadly robots followed them, firing off more concentrated energy blasts that narrowly missed. There weren’t too many places to run in this exotic setting. There weren’t many places to hide and no clear means of escape.
With little direction in mind, Arthur and Alison traversed the rugged terrain with the menacing robots buzzing behind them. They managed to make it into a maze of boulders and hills, providing them some cover against these creatures. Arthur had to use more of his luck powers to keep Alison from slowing them down. She was nearly hit by energy blasts on three occasions, adding to Arthur’s frustration. Being a pampered pop star, she was not used to running for her life like this.
“A little burst of speed would be helpful right now!” shouted Arthur as one of the alien robots narrowly buzzed past them.
“You’re not…being helpful!” she panted, almost losing her balance again, “Need to…catch my…breath!”
“For someone who dances half-naked on stage, you’re in lousy shape!”
They Arthur tried to push her forward so they could take cover behind a bolder. This time his luck powers weren’t enough. Alison tripped over on the rocky terrain, nearly falling flat on her face. Arthur grunted in frustration and tried to pull her up. Then one of the alien robots buzzed right over them and threatened to blast them.
“Come on, Diva! Move already!” urged Arthur.
“It’s official! This gig blows!” she grunted.
Her anxiety gave way to frustration and in a burst of anger, she used the noise from the robot’s screech to form a series of bright energy bursts. When they hit each robot alien, they sparked briefly before blowing up. It surprised Arthur, but not enough to stop him from dragging Alison by her collar behind a bolder for cover.
“Damn…you should lead with that next time!” said Arthur.
“Sorry, but I’m a singer! Not a super-hero!” she retorted, “I’m used to entertaining people with my powers! Not blowing things up…at least not intentionally.”
“Well you’ll have to change your act if you want to get through this! I’m lucky, but if I have to drag you around by your hair, then neither of us is making it very far!”
Alison’s frustration continued to grow as more alien robots started swarming from the ship. She just met this guy and already he was belittling her.
“Hey! I’m no less pissed than you are, Longshot! I don’t care how lucky you claim to be, but we’re stuck in this crazy show!” she reminded him, “The only way we’re going to make it through this is if we play by Mojo’s crazy rules!”
“Playing by crazy rules only leads to more craziness! We need a better plan than that!” retorted Arthur.
“Well like you said earlier, I’m open to suggestions! But so long as you’ve got the luck and I’ve got the firepower, we can buy ourselves time!”
Another round of energy blasts rained down on them, striking the bolder and forcing the two mutants to the ground. Arthur didn’t like the idea of fending for this overprivileged diva. Then she showed off her powers again, unleashing another light burst as an alien robot flew right over them and was hit. Attitude or not, she had some firepower to go along with his luck. And they were going to need that if they were going to get through this.
“Fine…we’ll try and make this buddy cop thing work!” he said.
“Then I say we skip the let’s-stick-together speech and start running again!” said Alison, “If we’re going to fight back, I’ll need my share of lucky shots!”
“I’ll take care of that, but only if you promise set aside your own ego and work with me here! You’re not a pop star in here! You’re a target, just like me!”
“Deal!” said Alison, “That doesn’t mean this sucks any less!”
Now that they were on the same page, Alison and Arthur focused on the challenge before them. They ran out from behind the bolder and into the line of fire. More robot aliens swarmed around them. Alison unleashed a barrage of energy bursts. Arthur added to them by using his luck powers to ensure those bursts hit their targets. It helped clear their immediate surroundings, giving them plenty of room to run. For a moment, it looked like they were getting the upper hand. Then in the distance a new alien ship appeared.
“You can’t be serious!” groaned Alison.
From the new ship, a fresh wave of aliens emerged. This time they were not flying robot insects. Instead, they were horrifying humanoid creatures with slimy tentacles for faces and claws for hands. They each stood around six feet tall and had this slimy goop dripping down their skin. It looked as disgusting as it smelled. Dozens of them leaped down from the ship and onto the rocky terrain where they set their sights on the two mutants.
“I’d say that’s pretty damn serious!” said Arthur.
“How much luck can you manage against those?” asked Alison.
“Not enough to avoid running! Let’s go!”
With alien robots above them and alien monsters in front of them, Alison and Arthur ran for their lives. Mojo was not making it easy for them. He was completely in control. If this madness really was being broadcast all over the world, then hopefully somebody would be disgusted enough to come do something about it.
Xavier Institute – Den
“Whoa…and I thought American Idol was dangerous,” said a bewildered Bobby Drake.
“And to think I actually used to admire American TV. Now I’m not so sure,” said Betsy.
“On behalf of all Americans, I formally apologize for this insanity,” groaned Kitty.
It was a bizarre spectacle. Everyone had crowded around Kitty’s laptop as the Mojovision broadcast was streaming live from the internet. It caused such a commotion that Ororo and Remy rushed in from the kitchen to see what this was all about. Hank joined them soon after, having been summoned from the lower levels by Ororo. They were in agreement with Kitty, Bobby, Betsy, Piotr, and Jean. This was disturbing on a new level.
“Is this really being broadcast all over the world?” asked Ororo, unable to turn away from the computer screen.
“Near as I can tell, it’s all over the web. It’s already up to twenty million viewers on YouTube and growing by the second,” said Kitty, who was tracking the stats.
“Guess watching a couple of mutants fight for their lives is entertaining to some folk,” commented Remy.
“It’s not just the internet either. Check this out!” said Jean, who was across the room standing in front of the TV.
The rest of the team looked up and saw what Jean was referring to. In addition to the internet feed, this twisted show was being broadcast on live TV. It showed Arthur and Alison fighting off a wave of alien creatures. At one point Arthur was surrounded. He had to deck one of the aliens across their slimy face in a graphic scene that was disturbing in every detail. It was too twisted to be real, but it was there for everyone to see.
“What channel is that, Jean?” asked Piotr.
“It’s one of eight that are now broadcasting this garbage,” said Jean as she flipped through a few channels, “I’m not sure if they’re doing it on purpose, but I image that twenty million is growing even faster.”
“I bet they’re just hoping that they get to see a couple of mutants butchered,” said Betsy.
“I’m pretty sure the FCC has a policy against snuff films,” said Bobby.
“For mutants, they may make an exception,” said Kitty.
“While I hope that isn’t the case, this Mojovision it is sparing no expense in making a spectacle,” said Hank as he took a closer look at the TV broadcast, “There’s no way those affects are typical CG effects. The hyper-realism and detailed environment suggest quantum-vectored holography.”
“Which to non-Nobel Prize winning physicists would mean?” asked Bobby.
“They’re using the same technology that we use in the Danger Room,” Hank clarified, “Seeing as how very few people have access to that technology, the implications are quite distressing.”
“Distressing enough for someone at the MSA to do something about it?” asked Ororo.
“Doubtful,” said Jean, “For all we know, they’re writing this off as some overblown publicity stunt.”
It was an unusual predicament. This was not an attack by the Mutant Liberation Front or a conflict with some mutant-hating extremist. This was a publicity nightmare from someone with a sick imagination. Two innocent mutants being used as cannon fodder for mindless entertainment was something the X-men couldn’t allow.
“Please tell me we gonna do something about this,” said Remy.
“I already got a text message from Scott,” said Jean, whose phone went off while everyone was watching, “He’s already prepping the X-jet. He expects us to be suited up and ready for battle as soon as he swings by.”
“I would expect no less,” said Ororo, “We must stop this madness before it gains a following!”
“The saddest part is this isn’t the worst idea for a TV show,” sighed Bobby.
“It’s still top five, homme,” said Remy.
Jean turned off the TV, signaling the rest of the X-men to get moving. The only exception was Kitty, whose leg was still in a cast. She attempted to get up anyways only to be thwarted by Hank.
“Don’t tell me. You’re making me stay behind, aren’t you?” groaned Kitty.
“Kitty, your leg isn’t healed yet,” coaxed Hank.
“So what? Scott still has his ribs wrapped in bandages!” she retorted.
“This is no time to argue who has a greater pain tolerance. Someone must stay behind and monitor the broadcast. I’ll set you up in the War Room before we depart.”
“Do I even need to describe how unfair that is?”
“Katya…” said Piotr, who lingered behind after the others had run off, “You’re already hurt. There is no need for you to risk further injury.”
“I hate it when you give me that puppy-dog look,” groaned Kitty.
“Listen to your significant other, Kitty,” urged Hank, “We can handle this. Someone needs to stay behind and unless you can convince Logan to take your place, you’ll have to fill that role.”
“Like he’s going to be any less helpful,” she muttered.
“If it will make you feel better, I’ll make it up to you when this is over,” said Piotr, “We’ll go on that date and I’ll take you to your favorite restaurant. I’ll even buy you desert at that bakery you like.”
Kitty was still not thrilled with the idea. Looking down at her leg, she cursed her body for not healing faster. Frustration aside, Mr. McCoy and Piotr had a point. She would only be a liability. It wasn’t like they were going up against the Brotherhood or the Mutant Liberation Front either. They were just going to pull the plug on this disgusting excuse for a TV show. It still didn’t make being sidelined any less annoying.
“It better be a fully loaded cheesecake,” she muttered.
“That’s my, Katya,” grinned Piotr.
“I’ll conclude that we have an understanding, Kitty,” said Hank, “While Mr. Rasputin goes to suit up, I’ll set you up in the War Room. There’s a special task I need you to complete. If these people are using the same technology we utilize in the Danger Room, it’s vital we do a few broadcasts of our own.”
Kitty reluctantly followed her teacher while Piotr ran off to join the others. If she can’t contribute with her powers, she might as well use her computer skills. She was no super-hacker, but if someone else was using their technology, then it may give them an edge.
Mojovision Studios – Main Stage
Arthur Centino and Alison Blair managed to survive the first round of Mojo’s madness. As Dazzler and Longshot, they endured an onslaught of alien monsters and robots. They were surrounded and cornered at one point. It forced Longshot to push his luck further, making it so the robot insects malfunctioned at just the right time. This caused them to shoot the slimy alien humanoids that were trying to attack them. It bought them a long enough window for Dazzler to hit the rest with her energy blasts. For a moment, it seemed they could catch their breath. Then Mojo changed the rules.
Now the two mutants found themselves in a new setting. It was a foggy night with a large moon hovering overhead. Under this creepy ambiance, they found themselves standing in a vast graveyard surrounded by old tombstones. From these graves, an army of zombies crawled up from the ground and attacked.
“Brains…must eat brains!” one of them said.
“Mutants…so yummy!” said another.
“From sci-fi to horror in less than ten seconds! Mojo’s swinging for every demographic!” said Longshot as he narrowly escaped the grasp of three hungry zombies.
“I almost miss the killer aliens!” grunted Dazzler as she tried to blast her way through six more figures, “These guys aren’t making nearly as much sound! I’m a little low on firepower here!”
“I’d help you if I could, but luck isn’t very destructive last I checked!”
Longshot continued to improvise, his eye flashing constantly to change the odds in his favor. As one zombie lunged for him, it ended up impaling itself right on a jagged tree branch. Two more went for him and he narrowly escaped their grasp. All the training he did for action roles was paying off in ways he never expected. As he rolled along the ground, more zombies shot up from the ground. He had to kick away their reaching grasp, backing away towards a freshly dug grave. In a stroke of luck he didn’t cause for once, he happened to back right into a shovel and pick-axe.
“Guess that can be destructive as well,” he grinned.
Longshot grabbed the pix-axe, having to wrestle it away from an emerging zombie. He began swinging and hit one zombie right in the head, causing it to fall. Two more tried to sneak up behind them. He took them both down, hitting one in the head and getting the other in the neck. This cleared a fresh path for him. Picking up the shovel along the way, he ran back towards Dazzler.
The beleaguered pop star was still trying to fight off the zombie hoards with her powers. She kept unleashing barrages of energy blasts. However, they were smaller and less potent than the blasts she used against the aliens. These zombies didn’t screech like those aliens did, giving her less sound to utilize. And her own frustrated grunts weren’t enough to augment the blast. This allowed the zombie hoards to get uncomfortably close.
“This is almost as bad as doing gigs at biker bars!” groaned Dazzler.
Three zombies attacked her. She fell back, blasting all three of them enough to stun them. However, she ended up backing into a zombie that grabbed her by the hair. Immediately she was pulled back and felt sickening breath of the undead figure.
“Ahhhhhhhhhh! Get it off me! Get it off me!” she cried out.
“Close your eyes and cover your mouth, Diva!” yelled Longshot as he approached.
Just as the zombie was about to bite into Dazzler’s neck, Longshot swung hard with the shovel. He struck the zombie right in the head, hitting him so hard that it caused some of his necrotized flesh to splatter. It covered part of Dazzler’s hair and face. She nearly vomited on the spot, falling to her knees and resisting the urge to hurl.
“Ugh! I think I got some in my mouth!” she gagged.
“Still not as bad as having your brains eaten! Now get up!” urged the aspiring actor.
Dazzler needed a moment to collect herself. Longshot had to grab her by the collar again and drag her along with him. He discarded the shovel, keeping the pick axe in the other hand as he led her away from the approaching zombie hoards. A few lone zombies tried to get in their way. He took them down with the pix axe or ran right past them, using a little extra luck to ensure they missed. He led the bewildered pop star through a series of dead bushes and trees. They eventually arrived at a large stone mausoleum.
“Hnn…slow down! I think I left my stomach a hundred feet back!” groaned Dazzler.
“You’ll have to look for it later. We need to take a page out of those zombie survival video games and work together!” said Longshot as he looked up at the structure.
“I don’t even play video games and I hope that doesn’t involve hiding in a tomb!” she exclaimed, “For all we know there are more zombies inside!”
“Who said we were going to hide in it?” he replied, gripping the pick axe more intently, “If I remember your screaming earlier, your power involves turning sound into zombie-killing blasts, right?”
“I hope you’re going somewhere with this.”
“Say I made some extra sound for you…like maybe a large stone structure collapsing on itself. Would you be able to turn that racket into a blast capable of sending these flesh bags back to their graves?”
“Damn, and I was hoping you actually had a plan,” groaned Dazzler, “Never mind the fact I’ve never done it before! How do you expect to bring down a stone tomb with nothing but a pick axe?”
“Let me worry about that. Can you do it or not? Answer me now so we go back to running aimlessly through this mess!”
Dazzler still hadn’t recovered from getting zombie brains all over her. Longshot was looking at this two-story stone mausoleum like he could really bring it down. It seemed impossible. Everything about this day seemed impossible. Looking back towards where they came from, she could see the army of zombies closing in on them. One extra-large energy blast should at least buy them some time. She usually saved those extra potent blasts for the finales in her concerts. Unless she wanted to keep running until she collapsed, she needed to try.
“Fine! I can do it!” said the pop star as she stared down the zombies, “If you’re going to bring that thing down, you better start chopping!”
“Trust me, with a little luck you can bring anything down!” said Longshot intently.
While Dazzler waited anxiously, Longshot ran up to the mausoleum. It was a pretty big structure, lined with every type of gothic imagery. It was nearly two stories tall and likely made of granite and marble. It was not the kind of structure that went down easily.
“A few lucky shots! That’s all I need!” grunted the aspiring actor.
His eye flashed again. Then he swung the pick axe and struck the base of the mausoleum. By whatever lucky forces, it caused a series of cracks to form all throughout the structure. It didn’t bring down the building, so he hit it again. More cracks formed, causing more instability at the base. All the while, the zombie hoards were getting closer.
“Any time now, Mr. Lucky!” exclaimed Alison.
“Just one more!” he said confidently.
With another flash of his eye, Longshot swung the pick axe as hard as he could. This time the lucky shots added up. A series of deafening rips echoed through the graveyard as the stone fractured. The whole mausoleum was coming down. When Longshot saw this, he ran back toward Dazzler as fast as she could. He could tell she heard the deafening noise.
“Do it, Diva! Let her rip!” urged Longshot.
“Here goes…” she said with bated breath.
This was a new feat for the pop star and one she wasn’t wholly confident about. She set all doubt aside and concentrated her powers in a way she had never done before. As the building behind her crumbled in a series of loud rumbles, Dazzler used the sound to form a bright ball of energy between her hands. With each successive rumble, the ball grew bigger. The zombies were a mere thirty feet away. Their numbers were overwhelming and they were ready to tear into them.
“You want star power, Mojo? Here’s your star power!” yelled Dazzler.
As the noise from the crumbling mausoleum peaked, the determined pop star unleashed her energy blast. It was by far the biggest blast she ever attempted. When she let it go, it lit up the gloomy graveyard in a blinding white light. That light quickly expanded outward like a wave, unleashing the devastating energy in a wide arc. Once this wave hit the incoming zombies, they were cut down like weeds. Some were snapped right in half. Others were sent flying like rag dolls, tumbling around until their necks snapped.
It was all over in a matter of seconds. Dazzler was left drained, but the plan succeeded. She and Longshot stopped the zombie attack, giving them a chance for a much needed breather. Dazzler was content to collapse onto the ground. Longshot was there to catch her, keeping her on her feet and helping support her as she caught her breath.
“Damn…and I thought the name Dazzler only described the crazy clothes you wear on stage,” said Longshot.
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” she grumbled.
“I was going to tack on a few thank-yous and comment how you’re tougher than I thought. But I could go back to belittling you if that would make you more comfortable.”
Dazzler managed to smile. He had that Hollywood charm, even under these extreme circumstances. She wasn’t sure if he was just trying to sound strong or if this was just who he was. By working with him, they pulled through, at least for now. It helped make this unplanned partnership all the more vital.
“Look, I’m sorry if I sounded like your babysitter back there. I’m as thrilled about this gig as you are,” said Longshot in a more honest tone.
“Don’t apologize. I’m the over-pampered the singer who was desperate for a show. Guess it was only a matter of time before someone took advantage of me,” sighed Dazzler.
“That’s Hollywood for you. Just be glad you’re not a mutant actor,” he grumbled, “I came to this town thinking I could be the next big action star. Then the Mutant Liberation Front stopped those dreams cold in their tracks. Hell, a few days ago I was kicked out of my apartment.”
“Are you telling me your life story to make me trust you more?”
“I think I just proved how valuable that trust can be,” he pointed out, referring to the mausoleum, “You don’t know me. And I only know you from your last TMZ interview. Like it or not, we have to play Mojo’s game. The only way we stand a chance at surviving is if we work together.”
“That still sounds like a losing battle to me. That Mojo creep is making all the rules and playing us like puppets. How are we supposed to beat that?”
“The same way any struggling musician or aspiring actor beats anything,” explained Longshot, “By playing along and waiting for a lucky break. When it comes, we take advantage of it!”
“And if it doesn’t come?” questioned Dazzler.
“It’ll come. Trust me,” said Longshot, his eye flashing to reassure her.
He was asking a lot of her. Having been down the arduous road to stardom, she understood where he was coming from. She had to survive countless failed shows before she got the lucky break that made her a star. Now she had to survive a show of a different kind. This was no act. This was survival. Longshot was someone who was still on that arduous road she once labored through. She had to meet him along the way if they were going to make it through this.
“Okay,” she sighed, now more focused than before, “You better be as lucky as you are charming, Mr. Longshot.”
“You’re not the first girl to say that to me. Although you are the most famous,” said Longshot with a slight grin.
“My fame means squat right now. I officially accept that,” said the pop star strongly, “I promise to stop playing the part of the whinny prima donna, but only if you promise to stop playing the part of the egotistical tough-guy.”
“Well I am an actor last I checked,” he shrugged.
“There’s no room for acting. We’re not in Hollywood. You’re not that kind of guy. If you were, you would have left me to those aliens. I don’t need an actor. I need a guy I can trust. Can you play that role?”
She no longer sounded like a famous singer. She was as determined to get through this as Longshot. Being in Hollywood often meant taking on a different persona. He had been in that aggressive, self-promoting persona since he arrived. That wasn’t going to do him any good here. He had to be the guy who survived working his way out of Olympia, Washington from nothing. So long as Dazzler was trusting him, he needed to do the same.
“Fine, I’ll do my part. And that’s not an acting pun,” said aspiring actor.
“Glad that’s settled. Now would you mind letting go of me? I finished catching my breath a minute ago,” she said with an awkward grin.
“Oh uh…sure,” said Longshot awkwardly.
He almost forgot he had been holding her up since he caught her. Even with newfound trust, it was hard to forget that she was a beautiful woman and he was a man prone to awkward moments. He let go of her and had to look away for a moment so he didn’t come off a bigger jerk than he already had.
This moment of awkwardness was short lived though. Just when it seemed they were catching their breath, they heard a loud howl across the cemetery. From the devastated trees, several new creatures emerged and they weren’t zombies either. They were another horror cliché and of a very dangerous variety.
“Now he’s throwing werewolves at us?” groaned Dazzler, “I miss the zombies already.”
“Still beats alien robots,” said Longshot as he took on a more alert poise.
The snarling and howling escalated. The two mutants watched as a dozen wolf-men prowled through the cemetery, closing in on them with predatory intent. The first one to emerge stood atop a pile of unmoving zombies and set its sights on the two mutants.
“We’re going to have to start running again, aren’t we?” groaned Dazzler.
“They aren’t making more noise than a collapsing mausoleum. So I’d say yes!” said Lonshot, who was already running.
“Figures,” said the pop star as she ran closely behind him, “That lucky break you mentioned better happen soon! I’d rather not relive every horror movie ever made! I’d like to have some energy left to take down Mojo!”
“You will! That fat tub of lard can’t hide forever!”
Mojovision Studios – Control Booth
Mojo Adams was literally drooling as the numbers came pouring in. He was making entertainment history. Millions of people all over the world were captivated by his inaugural project. Watching two mutants fight for their lives was a ratings bonanza. It involved life-threatening violence and extreme exploitations in illegal technology, but if this was what the public wanted he was more than happy to provide it.
In addition to the numbers, he watched his two stars shine in their performance. They survived the first of Mojovisions many obstacles. Not only were they providing the over-the-top action that this production demanded, they were developing a certain chemistry as well. That chemistry was sure to further boost the ratings. At their current pace, they would shatter broadcast records for decades to come.
“Yes! Bring the fans of Lifetime and Bravo in with that scintillating chemistry,” seethed Mojo, “Oh how I wish I had two sets of eyes! One to watch our two shining stars thrive! Another to watch these ratings reports!”
“Our latest tally has us in the 50 million range,” reported Mr. Domo, who remained more reserved than his animated boss, “And that’s just domestic. We’re still trying to ascertain how many international viewers have tuned in.”
“We’ve hacked our way into several networks in South America and Asia,” said Miss Domo from one of the consoles, “Exact figures have not been compiled yet, but early estimates indicate viewership over the 47 million range.”
“We’re getting into Super Bowl numbers people!” proclaimed Mojo, “What about our ad revenue? How many zeroes can we expect in the final number?”
“Through our online ad campaigns alone, the figure has exceeded 30 million dollars and is growing by the second ,” said Mr. Domo, using a tablet computer to go over the reports, “We’ve been imposing other ads within our broadcasts. Several companies are paying millions for ten seconds of face time.”
“Then double the asking price! Tell them our audience is reaching historic levels and they’ll need to pay a premium if they want to be part of it!”
“Our marketing team is already on it. However, we have gotten some rather nasty inquiries from the likes of the FCC,” added Mr. Domo.
“Oh please! Nobody has taken those clowns seriously since they introduced the concept of a wardrobe malfunction. Put them on hold and keep them there for all I care!”
“They may not be the only ones we should concern ourselves with,” said Miss Domo, “Our online activities have earned us the ire of every major network, one of which includes your former employer at Chandilar. It is only a matter of time before they call their friends in the government to come after us.”
Mojo refused to come down from his exhilarated state, but the mention of his old associates at Chandilar was cause for concern. Sustaining a production this big was certain to make them a target. They had to be prepared if they were to profit from this venture.
While Mojo was still ecstatic at the incoming ratings data, one of the consoles near Miss Domo started blaring. One of the analysts that monitored incoming threats had detected something. Or more specifically, they detected someone. Mr. Domo approached to console and saw what they were facing.
“This time has arrived sooner than expected, Mojo,” said Mr. Domo, “Putting two mutants in a death trap and broadcasting it live has attracted attention from others with more pull than the FCC.”
“Unless federal regulators started wearing spandex, I assume you’re referring to the X-men,” said Mojo, not taking his eyes off the main monitor.
“I did warn you that using mutants in this endeavor would attract their attention.”
“And I took that into account, Mr. Domo! I have every intention of dealing with the X-men. If they play their part as I’ve anticipated, our ratings will explode to Big Bang proportions!”
“And if they don’t play their part?” asked Mr. Domo.
“Oh they will! I’ll see to it!” said Mojo ominously, “Or in a more accurate way, my lovely assistant will see to it!”
Mojo snapped his fingers, signaling one of the analysts to open the door to his right. Once that door was opened, a new figure entered the control room. This figure was a woman with some very unwomanly features. She was tall, standing over six-feet. She had a well-developed frame that was covered by skin-tight uniform similar to the ones that Longshot and Dazzler were dressed in. She wore a special helmet that contained a unique eye censor. But her most distinguishing feature of all were six extra arms, each wielding a different weapon.
Her presence prompted Mojo to finally turn away from the monitor. He smiled as the multi-armed woman approached. She wasn’t too thrilled to be in his presence. She wasn’t overly disgusted either. She understood her role and so did Mojo.
“I hope you’re ready, Rita,” said Mojo.
“You know I haven’t gone by that name since you busted me out of prison, Mojo,” she said strongly.
“My apologies…Spiral,” Mojo corrected himself.
“That’s better. And yes, I’m ready! Those X-men screwed up the uprising on Genosha that I went out of my way to be a part of. As far as I’m concerned, they deserve to get humiliated on global TV.”
“And they shall!” he promised her, “They are on their way as we speak and I expect you to roll out the red carpet for them just as we planned!”
“I will and I won’t be subtle either,” said Spiral menacingly, “Just make sure the cameras are rolling when they’re begging for mercy!”
With simmering anger, Spiral stepped back and was consumed by a ring of blue light. This light transported her out of the Control Room and into position. In addition to her arms, she could teleport over a considerable distance. That skill would prove valuable once the X-men arrived. It was sure to be a spectacle that Mojovision would capture in all its glory.
“Places everybody!” Mojo announced, “Act Two of the show is set to begin! Dazzler and Longshot have proven themselves worthy stars! Now they get a supporting cast! For the sake of our audience, let’s make it a spectacle they’ll never forget!”
Up next: Impossible Odds Part 2
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