The X-men have used their extraordinary powers in many ways. In a world that hates and fears them, they stand as an inspiration for humans and mutants alike. They drew their own inspiration from their mentor, Professor Charles Xavier. They trusted him to lead them into a future that was ripe with conflict. That trust was shaken when he was crippled by an addiction to pain killers. While he struggles to recover, trouble on cosmic scale has emerged.
It comes at a time when there are enough Earthly problems to go around. The X-men are in the process of mending relations between Genosha, the Mutant Liberation Front, and the public in general. The Mutant Liberation Front under Toad did a great deal of damage. Part of mitigating that damage was getting Wanda Maximoff to lend aid to the rest of the world. In exchange, the many armies that once occupied Genosha have agreed to leave. It allows the island and its mutants to conduct their affairs with less scrutiny. This does not sit well as they have access to alien technology.
This source of this alien technology is also where a much larger conflict has emerged. Charles Xavier’s recent love interest, Lilandra Neramani, discovered that she was part of a royal bloodline for the Shi’ar Empire. This stellar collection of alien races is currently run by her half-brother, D’ken. He’s been gathering his forces, preparing an endgame with the help of the M’krann Crystal. The only hope of stopping him resides with Lilandra, who must venture to Earth in order to save trillions from a new terror.
Albuquerque, New Mexico – SETI Research Center
The night shift at one of the largest array of radio telescopes was as dull as any. The scientists, technicians, researchers, and administrative personnel often dreaded working these hours. Most of it was spent in front of a computer screen going over countless streams of data. Some of it was for general research. The main function of this array was to listen for alien signals. It was a laughable job for some and a legitimate passion for a select few.
At two in the morning, it was hard to get too passionate about anything. The two main researchers on duty were Dr. Joe Alonso and Axel Quesada. Joe was one of the few PHD scientists who spent a good chunk of his time researching extraterrestrial life. Axel was a grad student who landed an internship at this site. Most of the action was done during the day. Whenever he got stuck with the night shift, it was usually a good time to catch up on his reading.
“Axel! Put that book down already. We’re resetting the filters and I need you be on standby,” said Dr. Alonso, who seemed way too energetic at an hour like this.
“They look fine,” muttered Axel as he set his book down and gulped some coffee.
“I’d feel a lot better if you actually looked at the system.”
“Cut me some slack, doc. It’s two AM and we haven’t had a problem with the filters since I started working here.”
“It only takes glitch to render us deaf to the universe,” he retorted while frantically adjusting a series of dials, “We always have to be listening. An alien signal could be here and gone in a fraction of a second.”
“If ET is really that petty then they may not be intelligent to begin with,” scoffed Axel.
His lack of enthusiasm was annoying. Dr. Alonso was used to it. There weren’t a lot of researchers interested in actively listening for extraterrestrial life. Most were content to speculate and argue. He preferred a more active role. In his mind the only way to settle the debate was to actually locate extraterrestrial life. With a thick stack of papers in hand, Joe Alonso went up and down the long row of advanced electronics. He made careful adjustments along the way, hoping Axel was still enthused enough to do his job.
“I’ve heard those remarks before. I hear them every other week from my colleagues back at Cal Tech,” said Dr. Alonso, “I can’t say I blame them, but I can always say they’re answering the question before it’s even asked. They’re quick to bring up Enrico Fermi, the man who countered assumptions of extraterrestrial intelligence by asking why we haven’t heard from them.”
“Sounds perfectly reasonable,” said Axel, rubbing his eyes as he stared at his computer screen, “If aliens are really out there, then why aren’t they making this multi-million-dollar array more useful?”
“At least Fermi asked the right question. He never attempted to answer it,” Dr. Alonso went on as he worked faster, “So many assume that aliens are either too advanced for us to detect or couldn’t be bothered with this tiny speck of a planet. I don’t agree with that. Life seeks out life. That’s constant among all living systems. I believe there are other reasons why we haven’t heard from aliens.”
“Do those other reasons involve dialing the wrong number?” said Axel, already on the verge of falling asleep again.
“I don’t know so I’m not assuming. We pretend that alien life would be so incredibly complex. You graduated high school science. You know as well as anyone that life at it’s basic form is chemistry. Chemistry is guided by physics and mathematics. All are guided by the intricate systems of the universe. That’s why I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that alien life may be more human than we expect. In that sense it may not be rational. That is why we must be so careful with out approach. There’s no telling how we may…”
Then Dr. Alonso was unexpectedly cut off. Just as he was adjusting one of the dials, a loud tone blared through one of the channels. It was so loud it nearly cased Axel to fall out of his chair.
“Ahh! What the hell is that?” he exclaimed.
“I…I don’t know,” said a perplexed Dr. Alonso, “This channel was supposed to be clear. Perhaps the data filters failed to load?”
“At that frequency? No way!” said Axel, now fully awake, “Hold on, let me do a quick check.”
“Run the ET protocols just in case,” ordered Dr. Alonso.
“Now who’s the one assuming?” scoffed Axel.
“Humor me. I’ve never heard this before. It sounds…intriguing.”
The tone kept blaring through the countless channels that fed into the array. Axel ran through the usual diagnostics. It sounded different from the usual interference. That happened with these radio telescopes from time-to-time. It usually didn’t mean anything, but as Axel ran through the protocols he started getting a strange feeling.
As each diagnostic came back clear, the conclusions grew more ominous. The signal was strong, more so than any terrestrial signal coming in at this hour. It was clearly coming from space as well. It wasn’t nearby either. This seemed to be coming from outside Earth’s orbit, well outside the range of any satellite. It was too crisp to be something natural. It was enough to make Axel wonder. Could Dr. Alonso have been right?
“This is weird,” said Axel as he brought up a digital layout of the signal, “Whatever this signal is, it ain’t local. It’s definitely moving, but I can’t get a clear fix on it.”
“Why not? At stellar range the rate of movement should be negligible,” said Dr. Alonso.
“That’s just it, doc. This isn’t stellar range. Based on the numbers, it’s coming from within our solar system. I’m not sure if it’s a glitch or not, but based on what I’m looking at the source is heading towards us.”
Dr. Alonso tensed. This was a moment he had gone over countless times. This was it. This was an intelligent signal from the stars. It was a once in a lifetime moment. He grew so excited he dropped all his papers and ran to the nearest phone.
“I need to call my colleagues at the radio array in Mexico!” he said intently, “We need to verify this!”
Dr. Alonso was about to pick up the phone, but to his shock it rang just as his hand touched it. He froze for a moment and Axel looked up from his computer screen. Dr. Alonso hesitated to answer it, his heart rate still going a mile a minute. He eventually picked it up after the fifth ring.
“Hello? This is Dr. Alonso,” he said nervously into the receiver.
“I hope that’s not the Men in Black,” muttered Axel.
Nothing was said for the first few moments. Axel watched as the expression on Dr. Alonso turned from excitement to dread. He soon went from being a scientist on the brink of a landmark discovery to a man utterly terrified.
“It’s NORAD,” Dr. Alonso told his colleague, “We’re to cease all activity and delete all our logs at this moment. They’re sending someone from White Sands Missile Range to pick us up. They’ll be here in under twenty minutes.”
Jean Grey was used to restless nights. Part of being a good X-man involved being able to function on minimal sleep. Most of the time, she was able to manage a few days of sleeplessness. She rarely let a lack of rest affect her ability to function in class, train in the Danger Room, or participate on missions. So being fifteen minutes late for her morning class was pretty startling.
With her hair still wet from the shower, she rushed down the stairs with her books stuffed in her bag. She stumbled a bit along the way, losing one of her sandals in the process. If that weren’t enough, she was trying to carry on a conversation with Scott on her cell phone. Using their link would have been easier, but being this tired meant limiting her telepathy usage.
“So you’ll stay on Genosha for another two days and then spend one in DC,” she said while retrieving her sandal, “You go from convincing Wanda to keep Genosha peaceful to convincing President Kelly that she won’t screw it up.”
“You make it sound more daunting than it really is, which is actually quite a feat,” said Scott on the other line.
“I’m not implying that you can’t handle it. I’m just trying to figure out when you’ll have time to come home.”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“No, everything’s fine. The world hasn’t blown up since you left,” said Jean, panting as she descended the rest of the stairs, “I just miss you, that’s all.”
“I miss you too, Jean. I promise I’ll be back in time for our weekly date this Saturday and I intend to keep that promise.”
“I know and I’m looking forward to it, babe.”
“Then what’s REALLY bothering you? It sounds like you haven’t slept since I left. Are you still having those dreams?”
“Has a lack of sleep ever bothered me before?”
“You avoided the question so I’ll assume that’s a yes.”
Jean groaned to herself as she walked briskly towards the classroom. Even over the phone, Scott was very perceptive. It was no use hiding her problems. These dreams were having an obvious impact on her. She hadn’t been this disheveled since she started manifesting her Phoenix powers. That ended up getting pretty messy. She didn’t need something like that happening again at a time like this.
“If you want, I can cut my trip to Genosha short,” said Scott in a worried tone, “I can spend the night at the mansion before heading to DC.”
“No Scott. What you’re doing is important. It’s much more important than your girlfriend’s erratic sleeping habits,” she told him.
“They’ll become important if they keep getting worse.”
“Well right now, it’s not the most pressing issue with the X-men. So let’s not treat it as such,” said Jean, fumbling a bit with her books as she neared the classroom.
“You’re still giving me a lot of reasons to worry about me, Jean.”
“I know and I’m sorry. But it’s like you say in the Danger Room. You fight the battles you can win before you fight the battles you’re not sure of. I’m looking into this with Mr. McCoy and Tessa. The more we learn, the more we can deal with it. In the meantime, focus on your part as ambassador to the people who want to blow each other up.”
There was a brief silence over the phone. Jean could tell that Scott was still worried. He didn’t take issues with her powers lightly. He wasn’t wrong to do so. That’s part of what made him such a good boyfriend. It also made him difficult because he was always trying to help. There were still some issues that she had to address on her own.
“Promise me you’ll keep me updated,” he said over the line, “If it gets really bad at any point, I need to know. I don’t care if I’m in the middle of a fist-fight with Quicksilver. I want to know if my girlfriend is okay.”
“I promise you’ll be the first one I call if it gets to that point,” she told him, “Until that call, you have people to deal with and I have exam.”
“I’m still calling back this afternoon to check in.”
“You damn well better,” she said with a slight grin, “Dreams or no dreams, just hearing your voice helps.”
“Same here. Say hi to the others, Jean. I love you.”
“Love you too, babe. See you in a few days.”
The call ended just as Jean reached the outside of the classroom. She was still struggling to hold her books and papers in her bag. Scott had by far the more difficult task of assessing the damage on Genosha, yet here she was struggling with the most basic parts of her routine.
Upon gathering herself, she entered the classroom. The lesson had already begun. Hank was at the front of the room while Bobby, Kitty, Piotr, Rogue, and Remy were seated at their desks. Upon seeing Jean, they all looked back. It was pretty awkward for her, coming in this late and looking so messy. Perhaps her dreams were getting to her more than she cared to admit.
“Glad you could join us this morning, Jean,” greeted Hank, “You do understand I’ll have to mark you tardy.”
“I know, Mr. McCoy. I’m sorry. I’ve been having a rough morning,” groaned Jean as she sauntered towards her desk.
“Rough? It looks like you got in a fight with your pillow and the pillow won,” commented Kitty.
“You were actually later than meh for once,” added Rogue, “That’s a disturbing first.”
“It be even more disturbing if it becomes a trend,” said Remy.
“Give me a break, guys!” Jean groaned, “I didn’t sleep much last night and my boyfriend’s on Genosha trying to get along with Wanda freakin’ Maximoff. A little sympathy wouldn’t hurt. I’d hate to telepathically force it into your minds.”
“We’ll save such uncomfortable psychic feats for the Danger Room later on,” said Hank, “For now, let us focus on our physics lesson for today. I think you’ll be surprised how useful understanding quantum particle systems can be.”
“If it can do the job of a double espresso, I’m all ears,” said the young psychic.
The beleaguered young woman sat down in a desk next to Piotr. Hank then resumed his lecture while Jean booted up her computer. As she took out her books, she rubbed her tired eyes. Dreams shouldn’t be this exhausting. Even the Phoenix Force was drained. At least cosmic entities didn’t need as much sleep. Until she figured this out, she was in for some lousy mornings.
“Are you sure you are okay, Jean?” asked Piotr under his breath, “You usually do not threaten psychic attacks this early in the morning.”
“Some of us adapt slower than others, Peter,” sighed Jean, “I’ll be fine. I’m still a ways from shutting people up with my mind.”
“That is good to know. I hope it does not get to that point.”
“Me neither,” she sighed, “By the way, where’s Betsy? Is she going to be later than me this morning?”
“Nyet, she was excused,” said the Russian mutant, “Something about a field trip with Comrade Logan and Miss Monroe.”
“Field trip?” questioned Jean.
“I do not know the details. However, Betsy seemed quite upset when she mentioned it. I think it had to do with Warren.”
It sounded like a much better excuse to be upset than losing sleep over dreams. Jean was tempted to ask more, but with class in session this wasn’t the time to bring it up. Her own issues hadn’t distracted her from the issues surrounding her friends. Warren had issues that went beyond a mere lack of sleep. If Betsy was in a position to resolve it, then she should take it. This would give the X-men one less issue to worry about. They already had as much as they could handle.
New York City – Worthington Industries
“Warren, you insensitive bloke. How do you find so many ways to drive me crazy?” said a very angry Betsy Braddock.
The executive office of Warren Worthington III was one of the nicest offices outside of the CEO suite. It had a great view of Manhattan and a very nice balcony, which was important for a man who could fly. Betsy had been here before. Warren spent a lot of time here when he wasn’t being treated for his condition. She came to confront him with more than simple hand-holding this time. This left her deeply frustrated when she arrived because Warren was nowhere to be found.
His office had been mostly cleaned out. His computer was gone and so were the stacks of files he often kept around his desk. It was a bad sign for Betsy. It indicated to her that something bad had happened and she wasn’t around to help him through it. One of the reasons she was making this visit was because Warren hadn’t so much as texted her in weeks. He was in a vulnerable state the last time she met up with him. She thought he was lucid enough not to do something stupid. It turns out she was wrong.
“He left here in a damn big hurry,” said Logan as he sniffed the air around him, “Doesn’t smell like he bathed much either.”
“Could he be in trouble?” asked Ororo, who was standing next to him, “You said he was under a lot of stress.”
“Wings is an X-man, Ro. Stress ain’t the problem here. It’s something else!” said Logan with adamant certainty.
“With Warren, it could be any number of things,” said Betsy as she paced around the empty office, “I thought he was doing better. His wings stopped deteriorating from the treatments. He was getting his appetite back and looking less like a war refugee.”
“Then Logan is probably right,” reasoned Ororo as she started looking around, “This has nothing to do with his health. He had to be plenty able if he cleared his office so quickly.”
“Why do I get the feeling this involves another fuck-up from his old man?” said Logan.
“That’s usually more than enough to upset him. It must be pretty bad if he’s being this brash.”
Logan and Ororo looked around intently for more clues as to what happened here. Warren left the X-men because he believed he could do more good at his family company than he could at the institute. He never would have believed that if his father hadn’t changed his approach towards mutants. Warren’s mutant status was still a closely guarded family secret. It never took much to strain their relationship so there was no telling what could have happened.
For Betsy, the reason was secondary. This was a lot more personal for her. She had been growing closer to Warren ever since he got sick. He leaned on her for support. He came to trust her with his insecurities and fears. She valued as much as he valued hers. For him to up and leave without so much as a goodbye note felt like a slap in the face.
‘I stayed with you that night you couldn’t stop throwing up. I gave up many nights of peaceful sleep to talk to you over the phone while you were in pain from treatment. Now you just stand me up like this? I knew something was wrong when you stopped returning my emails. I brought Logan and Ororo with me because nobody else could reach you either. We were ready for a full-fledged intervention. Now you pull this on us. How could you, Warren?’
Betsy found herself looking over the empty desk. Logan and Ororo had already sifted through the drawers. There was nothing of value inside. All that was left was a picture of him and the X-men that he always kept on his desk. It was an image of him when the team was still wearing masks. He looked so focused and vibrant in the picture. It was hard to believe that he was so conflicted. A lot of it came from his illness, but his family issues never seemed to leave him.
Betsy picked up the picture and looked at it distantly. As she held it, she noticed that the back was loose. The frame had been opened recently. As she looked close, she noticed a folded up piece of paper inside.
“Hmm? Maybe he’s not such a sod after all,” she said.
“What is it, Betsy?” asked Ororo.
“Please tell me you found something. I’d rather not tear apart such a nice-lookin’ room with my claws,” said Logan as he ran over.
“It looks like Warren didn’t leave as quickly as we thought. The world doesn’t know he’s Angel. That picture on his desk of him in uniform should have been a clue,” said Betsy, her inner detective scolding herself as she took out the piece of paper.
“What’s it say?” asked Ororo intently.
Besty unfolded the paper and read over it. Logan and Ororo came over as well so they could see. As Betsy read over the messy handwriting, a lump formed in her throat. Her growing feelings for Warren turned into full blown emotion.
“Hey guys. If you’re reading this, you’re every bit as smart as I hope you are and my office is completely empty. First off, don’t worry about me. I’m okay. I’ve been better, but something has come up that’s more serious than my condition. It’s something I can’t discuss with the X-men. You guys have enough to worry about on your end. I’ll fill you in on the details once they become clearer. Until then, I need to keep this quiet. Don’t make a big deal about it. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it was best for all of us. I’ll be in touch as soon as possible. In the meantime, best of luck to you all. Tell everyone at the mansion that I’ll see them soon. Keep the X-men going. The world needs it. Your fellow X-man, Warren Worthington III.
PS: Betsy, if you’re reading this I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. But none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for you. For that, you have my deepest thanks and maybe a little more. You gave me the strength. Now I’m doing something with it.”
After reading the note, Betsy handed it to Ororo. She needed a moment to gather herself. She walked back towards the balcony and hugged her shoulders. That special mention at the end struck her. She had given him strength when he had been at his weakest. That spoke volumes to her in ways that were difficult for even a psychic to express.
“What the hell is so dangerous that the X-men involved?” said Logan, “We beat up Magneto and Sinister for crying out loud! Does he really think we can’t handle it?”
“I don’t doubt we could. That doesn’t mean we should, Logan,” Ororo pointed out as she looked over the note, “This sounds like something he wants to handle personally.”
“Right,” scoffed Logan, “Because it works out so nicely when bird boy decides to go solo! He ain’t even at full strength!”
“He’s stronger than you think, Logan. Even if he is sick,” said Betsy.
“Of course you think that. You’re the one who’s been playing nurse with him and not in the way that costs an extra hundred bucks,” said the feral mutant dryly.
“Logan don’t,” said Ororo, scolding her former lover.
“Listen to your ex, Wolverine,” said Betsy strongly, “You don’t want to make light of this. Not unless you want a telepath implanting images of Toad making out with Sabretooth in your mind!”
Logan snarled, making his discontent clear. It was understandable. He knew better than most how going on solo missions often got messy. That wasn’t Betsy’s concern. Warren could handle himself. He proved that to her throughout his treatment process. What worried her more was Warren’s intent. They were never clear.
“He thinks he knows what he’s doing. I’m inclined to believe him,” said Betsy, “Warren has always been good at setting goals. He’s even better at pursuing those goals. That’s what made him a good X-man. It’s the details that often catch him off guard.”
“I also think he understands that, Betsy,” said Ororo.
“He damn well better after making himself sick,” muttered Logan.
“That’s why I’m going to keep investigating,” she said, taking back the note from Ororo, “I want to take a closer look at Worthington Industries. I need to know what he’s gotten himself into.”
“That’s going directly against his wishes,” Ororo pointed out.
“I know. He may not appreciate it, but that’s what you do for someone you care about. Sometimes you have to risk pissing them off in order to help them.”
“That’s probably the most fucked up way to handle a relationship I’ve ever heard,” said Logan.
“That doesn’t mean its wrong,” retorted Betsy.
She was not going to be dissuaded. She was not going to wait for Warren screw up. Ororo and Logan couldn’t blame her. They didn’t care to see him do something foolish either. He would probably be upset with the team if they tried to interfere, but with Betsy it had a personal stake. That kind of motivation went a long way.
“We need to stick around and dig a little deeper. There has to be something else here that’ll tell us what’s going on,” said Betsy as she put the note away.
“So you’re really going into full detective mode. Wings must’ve really done a number on you,” commented Logan, “Not bad for a sick guy.”
“I understand your desire to look after Warren, but perhaps we should get the others involved,” offered Ororo, “Especially if you’re right about him missing certain details.”
“Not yet. We don’t know how bad it is,” said Betsy, “I’m sorry if it’s asking a lot. I know you were set for a mini-date with James Proudstar and Logan has his weekly meeting with Laura.”
“Now wait just a moment! It’s not a date,” said Ororo, blushing a bit at Betsy’s choice of words, “Second…”
The African woman was silenced when Logan pulled her aside.
“Let’s not start that argument. My ears are still ringing from the last time I brought it up,” he said, “But I happen to agree with ninja girl here. We need to catch up with bird boy before he does something stupid. I’ll call Laura to let her know. She’ll understand. So will Proudstar.”
“I’m surprised you’re showing this much concern, Logan. Do you really think it’s that bad?” asked Ororo.
“Of course it’s bad! The man wants to handle this alone. If someone’s gonna barge in on him, it might as well be his teachers and a pretty girl that he has the hots for.”
It was skewed logic even if it was completely valid. Ororo was convinced that Warren was getting himself into trouble. In his sickly state he may not be as capable if he had to fight his way out. It made more sense to get the whole team involved. It would also go against Warren’s wishes. He trusted them enough to leave a note. It would be wrong for them to abuse that trust too much.
“Very well,” she conceded, “I’ll call Hank back at the mansion and let him know we’re staying in New York a bit longer.”
“Thanks, Miss Munroe,” said Betsy, “It shouldn’t take too long. I’ve come to know Warren pretty well. I have a pretty good idea how I can find him.”
“Hell hath no fury like a woman with a detective fetish,” made Logan, “Just do me a favor, Bets. When we find out Warren made another boneheaded mistake, knock some sense into him even if it hurts. He’ll listen to you more than he’ll listen to me.”
“He’ll learn his lesson. That I promise you,” said a determined Betsy.
“I hope it’s not too late. For all we know, he could already be long gone,” added Ororo with more serious concern.
“No matter where he is, I’ll find him. I’m the daughter of a famous detective. I’ll take care of it,” she said confidently as she left the office, “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover so follow me while I make a few calls. Unless there’s another alien invasion, we’re not stopping until we find him!”
Dark Side of the Moon – Starjammer
“Is it ready yet, Corsair?” groaned an impatient Lilandra.
“I’m working with a damaged ship, empress. Cut me some slack,” groaned an equally frustrated Corsair.
“We’re wasting too much time. I have people on Earth we can trust. Surely they can cover a discreet landing.”
“If it were that easy, you think I wouldn’t jump at the chance?” quipped the pilot, whose hands were dirty from hours of work, “This isn’t a private jet or a fancy yacht. It’s an S-class TX-A928 fighter/cruiser with warp capacity. It’s the sort of thing you don’t parade around on a planet not used to seeing them. I was in the military. When you fly something like this into their airspace, they notice. That’s why I need to get the cloaking device working again and make sure we know where we’re going when we head in.”
Lilandra kept pacing restlessly. The Starjammer had been parked in a crater on the moon for nearly a day. Her headaches hadn’t gotten any better since then. She kept feeling this stinging pain in her mind. It was definitely psychic in nature, but she couldn’t focus in on it. The source was definitely coming from Earth and that’s where they needed to be.
Getting there had been easy. Getting to the surface was a very different challenge. The last time the Shi’ar paid a visit to Earth, they did so with a powerful cloaking device that ensured the authorities wouldn’t detect them. The Starjammer had a cloaking device as well. Corsair had been working on fixing it for the past several hours. They had also been scoping out landing sites. The key was finding the technology they needed to fix the Starjammer and getting back to the rebels. Lilandra did some research in between her pacing. They had few options and all of them were risky.
Corsair wiped the sweat off his face as he made a few more adjustments in the engine room. Having worked with alien technology for nearly two decades, he learned all aspects of basic repair. Raza would have fixed it sooner, but after several tweaks to the quantum temporal regulators he had the main systems working again.
“It’s not pretty. Chodd would still call me a brainless meat bag if he saw it,” said Corsair as he closed the panel and put away his tools.
“Will it work?” asked Lilandra.
“Barely,” he replied, “But barely will have to do. Now before I risk my ass and my ship again, I’d like to know the plan.”
“I’ve already decided how we’re going to do this. I’ve been doing more than pestering you during these repairs,” she said as she followed him back to the main bridge.
“Could’ve fooled me,” Corsair muttered.
“I’ve been catching up on Earthly affairs. According to the signals I intercepted, the alien technology from past Shi’ar missions has become mainstream. They don’t seem to know it’s alien, but I know it is. It has the same properties as the classified hardware my family company guards.”
“So people are walking around with Shi’ar tech and don’t know it? I’m not sure if I should be relieved or ashamed.”
“It gets more complicated than that, I’m afraid. The source of this technology is from Genosha. If I recall, a Shi’ar vessel crashed there in the distant past. Somehow Magneto managed to reverse engineer the ship’s Warlock protocols.”
“They have a functioning Warlock?” said Corsair with new intrigue.
“Indeed they do,” affirmed Lilandra, “You know as well as I do that Warlocks are very rare. They’re the backbone of the Shi’ar economy for a reason. They can synthesize various advanced components from raw materials. That includes the parts we need.”
“That should save us a lot of time. We just need to swoop in, hijack Warlock, get our parts, and get out before anyone knows we’re there.”
“You’ve been gone a long time, Corsair. Earth is a very different place. You weren’t around to see Genosha become ground zero for human/mutant conflict.”
“I can barely keep up with alien politics. How am I supposed to understand why humans and mutants want to kill each other?” made Corsair.
“I don’t expect you to. I bring it up because to get to that Warlock, we need to get through the many layers of security Genosha has in place. Look at it this way…if you had a monopoly on alien technology wouldn’t you want to protect it?”
Corsair groaned. He was probably hoping for too much, expecting that they could just use a stray Warlock to get the ship fixed. His crew had been captured and D’ken was pushing the rebels to the brink. He was in no mood for patience.
“So what do we do? Ask them politely and hope they’re in a giving mood?” said Corsair dryly.
“I don’t think we have the luxury of being polite. If we’re going to use Warlock to get this ship going again, we’ll need to borrow it,” said Lilandra.
“By borrow you mean steal?” he surmised, “Coming from an empress, that’s pretty underhanded.”
“Since when has royalty been afraid to bend the rules? This is bigger than Earth! This is bigger than the Shi’ar Empire! D’ken wouldn’t be making all these desperate moves if he didn’t have something cosmic in scale planned. So to get to that Warlock on Genosha, we’ll have to enlist some help.”
“Please tell me you’re not implying who I think you are,” said Corsair.
“I am,” said Lilandra sternly, “We’re going to call the X-men! Before you start complaining, know that I’ve already sent out an encrypted signal to the Xavier Institute. Now that the cloaking device is fixed, we’re going to meet up with them. If you don’t like it, you’re free to stay on this moon.”
This mission kept getting progressively worse. It was bad enough Corsair had to return to Earth again. Now he had to enlist the help of those super-powered kids again. Even though they held their own against D’ken’s elite guard, they weren’t equipped for a conflict like this. They were adding too many moving parts to their already dire predicament. The more they added, the greater the chance that something would go wrong.
Xavier Institute – Classroom
“Jean…it’s almost time. I hope you and the Phoenix are ready for this.”
“Hnn…Stranger?” groaned a groggy Jean Grey.
“Hey Jean! Wake up already!” shouted the angry voice of Kitty Pryde.
Jean nearly jumped out of her skin as she was jolted from her light slumber. She shot up to realize that she was still in class. The lecture had ended and she was in the middle of an assignment. Somewhere along the way, she fell asleep on top of her physics textbook. There was even a puddle of drool on the middle of the page.
She was even more tired than she thought. That dream from earlier was getting more vivid. This time she nearly reached the man that called himself Stranger. She never got a chance because Kitty literally yelled into her ear. She was the only other one left in the classroom. Everyone else was gone already.
“Hnn…Kitty? What’s going on?” groaned Jean as she rubbed her eyes.
“What’s going on? Didn’t you hear Beast’s announcement?” Kitty exclaimed.
“Announcement?” she said in a confused tone.
“Jeez, you must have been knocked out or something! Beast just received a message from Lilandra Neramani! She and that Corsair guy are back! That means we’ve got an alien problem on our hands and we need to suit up!”
Jean wasn’t as shocked as she should have been. The X-men had clashed with Shi’ar aliens before. When Lilandra left with the Starjammers, their conflicts with aliens were limited to the technology left behind on Genosha. She wouldn’t have returned unless something was wrong. It was an unwelcome surprise to many, but for Jean it brought a different kind of dread.
“Logan and Miss Munroe are already on their way back,” added Kitty, “We’re calling up Scott in the War Room in under ten minutes. That means you need to wake yourself up and pretend you haven’t been falling asleep in class!”
“Enough with the screaming, Kitty,” groaned Jean as she rubbed her eyes, “I’m awake. I’ll meet you guys downstairs.”
“You sure? You don’t sound very anxious for someone who just learned we have another alien problem,” she pointed out.
“I…well why should I be? We’ve dealt with it before. We’ll deal with it again. Worrying about it won’t make it any easier. So let’s get moving!”
Kitty shook her head and ran off ahead of Jean. Either she was really that tired or really that tough. She didn’t have time to pester her about it. This was big. The X-men needed to gather in full force.
Jean didn’t bother catching up with Kitty. Her mind was still juggling many conflicted thoughts. These dreams about Stranger came out of nowhere. Now the Shi’ar were back in town. It was too convenient to be a coincidence. She wasn’t the only one that noticed it either.
‘I have a bad feeling about this, Jean. These dreams with that being and now the Shi’ar have returned…something is very wrong with the cosmos. I can feel it within my very flames.’
‘You’re not the only one, Phoenix. There’s definitely a connection. We won’t figure it out or get a decent night sleep until we confront it! We need to stay sharp because cosmic level problems tend to attract cosmic level complications.’
General Grimshaw had just returned from Genosha. It had been mere days since the final troops withdrew from the country. He had a lot on his plate. He had to re-organize the naval blockade around the island while providing President Kelly regular updates. All eyes were on Genosha and how these actoins would change human/mutant relations. Now a potentially bigger conflict had emerged.
General Grimshaw ran down the lower-east wing of the Pentagon as fast as his arthritic knees would carry him. He arrived in Washington less than an hour ago via military transport. He left Captain Freeman with the naval blockade, entrusting him to watch over the situation on Genosha. Earlier this morning, he received a series of top secret messages from the NSA. NORAD was tracking a new threat and for once it wasn’t mutant related.
“Someone give me an update,” ordered Grimshaw as he stormed through the secure doors, “Give me a minute-by-minute breakdown of everything that’s happening.”
“General Grimshaw, sir,” said a Lieutenant who was nearly knocked over as he barged in, “President Kelly is on line five. The Secret Service is moving him to the situation room so they can monitor keep tabs as well.”
“Don’t patch him in until I know what to tell him. Now who the hell uncovered this anomaly and what are they doing about it?”
“I think I’m the one you want to talk to,” said a middle-aged woman in a strange uniform with green hair and sunglasses, “My name is Special Agent Abigail Brand. I’m here on behalf of the NSA and CIA. I know you don’t have a very cozy relationship with either department, but you’ll have to make an exception. I’ve based my whole career on incidents like this.”
General Grimshaw’s gaze narrowed on the neatly dressed woman. She seemed out of place here in the Pentagon. Her uniform was not that of a typical military officer. It consisted of a blue and green body suit with special tags in addition to the usual United States embroiders. She seemed to have command of the room. Every major analyst was either at their post or monitoring the various feeds on a number of large computer screens. Despite her appearance, she had a tough demeanor that commanded respect.
“Abigail Brand? Head of the Pentagon’s special Sentient World Observation and Response Department,” Grimshaw recalled, “I had a feeling you would already be on top of this.”
“Just call us SWORD now,” she said, “It’ll save us time and breath, both of which we don’t have. I assume you received the intel?”
“That depends? Are all these agents cleared for us to speak openly?” asked General Grimshaw, gesturing over the dozens of analyst working around them.
“I’ve locked down this area. They’ve all been briefed,” assured Abigail Brand, “They know what we’re dealing with to a point.”
“Make sure it stays that way. Any knowledge of other-worldly activity is a strictly need-to-know for the few cleared to know it type issue,” said the General, walking past her as he approached the main computer terminal.
“We’re dealing with aliens here, General. No need to be cryptic,” said Brand, “This isn’t the X-files.”
“Even they were more competent than this,” he said with growing frustration, “We’ve kept our ear to the ground every millisecond of every day since the 50s. We know this planet has been visited by outside forces before. We know Genosha has access to alien technology. We’ve spent billions keeping an eye out for more aliens. So how is it that a couple of geeks from SETI picked up on a signal?”
“We’re still looking into that, General,” said Brand, “We’ve already detained the two scientists that detected it. We made sure no one else picks up on it. Only NORAD has the ability to monitor the signal. At least they did before it disappeared.”
“If you lost it somehow, I’ll spend the next week annoying the president until he guts your funding.”
“We didn’t lose it. The signal is fading in and out, as if it’s trying to cloak itself.”
“That implies that it’s intelligently controlled,” reasoned General Grimshaw.
“We know it’s intelligently controlled. Our space telescopes detected some ion vectors around the orbit of Jupiter a few days ago. It’s definitely not natural. It has all the marks of a ship or probe. We suspect it’s a ship because it changed course a few times, almost as if it was damaged. We traced the vectors back to Earth. Then it went completely dark, stopping right around the outer orbit of the moon.”
“Did it crash?”
“We had a lunar research probe in the area. If there was a crash, we would have detected it. We suspect the ship landed. It’s either hiding or stranded. We’re trying to bounce some signals off a few more satellites to get a fix on it. That’s where we are now.”
General Grimshaw looked up at the main monitor. There was a large image of the moon being projected in 3D. On the dark side there was a red blip marked as a potential landing site for the alien anomaly. The many analysts sitting at various computer terminals were working feverishly to get more data. This was a tense moment. Alien activity was a serious matter. There was a reason why such information was never leaked to the public. This was something that could turn society inside out. They had enough issues to worry about and aliens would only make things worse.
“As if mutants weren’t enough,” sighed General Grimshaw, “What kind of alien craft are we dealing with here? Is it another one of those bird people.”
“Their official title is Shi’ar,” said Brand, “And no, we don’t know if it’s them or someone else.”
“If there’s one, there should be more. Have we done a sweep of the solar system since the anomaly arrived?” asked the General.
“Near as we can tell, there’s only one. It’s not very big. Based on the vectors it’s probably no bigger than a couple of 747s.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Past incidents have usually included small swarms,” said the General.
“Well this one’s different. We’ve got just one ship and no reason for it,” she replied, “Like all the others, this thing doesn’t want to be seen.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why do they insist on being so shy? I get that Earth is probably the rural Alabama of this galaxy, but they’re clearly interested in our planet. There has to be something here for them. Otherwise they would’ve ignored us. What could these creatures possibly want?”
“I’ve spent most of my career asking those questions. I’ve often dreaded the answer, but something tells me it’s more disturbing than we imagine.”
General Grimshaw kept staring at the screen. He was clearly conflicted since he wasn’t used to dealing with aliens. Not many officers were. Abigail Brand was one of the rare few. The study of alien intelligence had always been an obsession with her. There were many mysterious surrounding the subject. Just knowing they were out there was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out why they had an interest in Earth, why they never made their presence known, and what they were after. Some saw it as a sci-fi nightmare. She saw it as a threat. In her mind, it was a threat greater than any mutant.
While Abigail Brand and General Grimshaw mused over their next move, a number of analysts began looking over some new data. The blip on the map started moving. Suddenly, they detected more ion vectors. This time it was different.
“General! Agent Brand! We’ve got a fix with the satellites!” announced one of the lieutenants, “We’ve got a weak lock on the vessel!”
“What’s it doing? Can you track it?” asked Brand as she rushed over to one of the computers.
“We were, but the ion vectors disappeared within seconds,” said one of the female officers sitting at a nearby desk, “According to infrared scans, the alien ship took off again. It started traveling around the moon and then it just disappeared.”
“Disappear in an alien context has many meanings. Either be specific or find a new job!” shouted Brand.
“That’s the only way to describe it, ma’am,” said another officer who was wearing a special headset, “NORAD just confirmed it. The ship took off and disappeared from every form of detection.”
“Were they at least able to determine the direction of the final vector?” asked General Grimshaw in a less hostile tone, “Was the ship moving towards us or away from us?”
The analyst checked the incoming data from NORAD. His pale expression essentially told the story.
“It’s moving toward us, sir,” he said in a shaky voice, “Given the estimated velocity, it could be here in a matter of minutes.”
“And we can’t track it anymore,” surmised Brand, “I’d say that’s a big problem.”
General Grimshaw and Agent Brand exchanged glances. The analysts continued to scramble for more data. It was clear from the way they were panicking that they weren’t going to find anything. This alien craft wanted to stay hidden. So if it was hostile, they wouldn’t know until it was too late.
“We’re need to discuss this with President Kelly,” said General Grimshaw.
“That goes without saying,” said Brand flatly.
“Set up an encrypted channel and tell NORAD to remain on high alert!” he said as Brand followed him to a secure meeting room, “If this thing shows up again, we need to know where and when. This isn’t the first time aliens have crossed paths with Earth. It better not be the last.”
Xavier Institute – Backyard
The X-men were in full uniform and ready for a mission that was as unusual as it was unexpected. When they found out that an old conflict involving the Shi’ar Empire had returned, no one was thrilled. Their battle against the Shi’ar Empire’s elite guard was still fresh in their minds. They had enough going on with the Mutant Liberation Front cleanup and the idea of facing them again did not sit well.
Daunting or not, this was big. Class was abruptly canceled and the team was mobilized. Hank, Bobby, Jean, Rogue, Remy, Piotr, and Kitty gathered in a clearing within the woods surrounding the institute. They all waited anxiously for the first part of this alien plot to unfold. In their limited experience with the Shi’ar, it often got volatile in some very disturbing ways. According to Hank, it should literally be upon them at any moment.
“I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever get a break of any kind ever again,” groaned Bobby, “It’s like rapid fire! We defeat the Mutant Liberation Front and then aliens decide to attack again!”
“They’re not attacking, Bobby. They need our help,” said Piotr, “We should be willing to give it to them. This is far bigger than the Mutant Liberation Front.”
“Remy’s all for charity, but ain’t we got enough bad cards in our deck?” made Gambit, “I ain’t forgotten the whole Star Wars deal these Shi’ar got going on. Is it really a good idea to get caught up in that shit?”
“Ah’d like to spend the week lounging by the pool mahself, but that ain’t our style. Aliens or no aliens, when there’s a problem we don’t run away from it,” said Rogue.
“I do not think we can,” added Piotr, “Comrade McCoy says that this message came directly from Lilandra Neramani. Is she not a friend to which we owe a great deal?”
“She’s gone out of her way for us on more than one occasion. If it wasn’t for her, President Kelly would have ridden the whole anti-mutant bandwagon into the White House. So I guess we owe her,” said Kitty, “She’s also Professor Xavier’s unofficial girlfriend so we’re kind of stuck in the middle.”
“That reminds me. Does she know about the Professor’s condition?” asked Bobby.
“Somehow Ah doubt that came up when she was screaming out her distress call,” said Rogue.
“Well she’s probably going to ask why he’s not here. Who wants to explain that he’s rehabbing from a crippling addiction to pain killers?”
“Not it!” said Kitty quickly.
“Come now, Katya. I expect that from Bobby, but not you,” said Piotr with a slight scold.
“Not it!” said Remy as well, earning a scold from Rogue as well.
It was a sensitive issue, but one that could not be avoided. Lilandra was going to notice Charles Xavier’s absence. She had no idea what he had been going through since she left. It was sure to be devastating. Nobody wanted the grim task of breaking the news to her. No matter how dire her situation, Professor Xavier’s personal problems were bound to effect them.
This was not lost on Hank or Jean as well. They had been keeping in touch with Lilandra and the Starjammer. When they received the signal, it was encrypted in a way that only the computers in the Xavier Institute could decipher. Having worked with Shi’ar technology before, Hank equipped a phone with advanced electronics so they could use it as a beacon. Lilandra told them that they would swing by and pick them up in the ship. She sounded like she was in a major hurry. While they waited, Jean helped him get in touch with the rest of the team.
“Okay, we’ll meet you both there in under a half-hour,” said Jean, who was on her phone talking to Logan, “Make sure you, Betsy, and Miss Munroe are out of the city. We don’t need people reporting any crazy UFO sightings…no, we don’t want that either. I also called Scott. He’s going to be waiting for us on Genosha…yes, he’ll have to be involved. We’re already working out a plan. I’ll fill you in on the details once we pick you up…I will. Tell Betsy she can resume her search for Warren later. We need everybody for this.”
“That’s an appropriate assessment if ever there was one,” said Hank, who was making a few tweaks on his phone.
“Try explaining that to them,” said Jean as she put away her phone, “Logan didn’t appreciate having to cancel his day with Laura. I think I heard thunder in the background so Ororo isn’t too happy either.”
“She’s still involved with James Proudstar, isn’t she?” said Hank, his tone shifting a bit.
“You sound worried,” she pointed out, “Even when alien conflicts are catching up with us again, your ex-girlfriend still gets your attention.”
“I apologize if my mindset is a bit fragile. I could say the same for you too, Jean.”
The young psychic did a worse job hiding her anxious state than Hank did in hiding his concerns for his ex-girlfriend. Everyone had noticed it. She had been pretty detached since before this even began. She couldn’t blame it on a lack of sleep anymore. Her dreams about Stranger and the connection she felt to this conflict all too apparent.
“If you can handle it, so can I,” said Jean, “Where are we with the Starjammer?”
“I appreciate you changing the subject to something more pertinent,” said Hank as he turned his attention back to his phone, “According to the beacon, the Starjammer is on it’s final approach. It’s heavily cloaked so it won’t draw attention from the authorities. However, that may be somewhat superfluous assumption.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Jean warily.
“Corsair and Lilandra are assuming that the best human technology can’t keep up with a Shi’ar cloaking device. I don’t think they got the news that humanity gained some additional ground when Genosha started selling it. So there’s a chance that someone was able to pick up on the Starjammer.”
“Well I don’t see any black helicopters. That counts as a good sign, right?”
“That’s still assuming too much,” said Hank, “Near as I can tell, it hasn’t caused any anomalies on the electromagnetic spectrum. That doesn’t mean they’ll go completely undetected.”
“Let’s hope everyone is still hung over from the Mutant Liberation Front,” said Jean, “If we’re lucky we’ll link up with Lilandra, help her out with whatever she needs, and be done with it before J. J. Abrams makes a movie about it.”
“Did you really just use the world lucky in a sentence, Jean?” said Kitty, “I can tell by your tone that even you don’t believe it’ll be that easy.”
“Is it so much to ask for?” she said, tensing at the idea of more complications.
“I would say so,” said Hank as he put away his phone, “Lilandra said the Shi’ar rebellion was in peril. Her half-brother, D’ken, has become desperate in a way that would make even Magneto nauseous. She needs our help getting the Starjammer fixed so she can get back to the rebels. She may also need our help dealing with whatever D’ken is preparing.”
“If that means going into space and playing Luke Skywalker, I think we’ll need a fair warning,” said Bobby, “We have a hard enough time dealing with psychotic tyrants here on Earth.”
“We may not have a choice,” said Hank ominously, “If what Lilandra told me is accurate, D’ken’s madness could affect Earth as well as countless other worlds. There’s no telling what sort of nefarious forces he’s conjured!”
“We have a better idea than we think,” said Jean, her eyes flaring with cosmic flames.
“What do you mean?” asked Piotr, who noticed this flare along with the others.
Whenever Jean flashed the Phoenix Force unexpectedly, it was usually a bad sign. She had already been acting strangely. If there was something as dangerous as a cosmic entity involved, it was almost too terrifying to contemplate. Hank was about to ask her again when a sharp gust of wind blew through the area.
“They’re here,” said Jean, her eyes still flashing.
The X-men looked up and saw a large area of the sky become wavy and distorted. Within moments, it revealed the imposing form of the Starjammer. The cloaking device that had shrouded its re-entry was lifted. It kicked up more wind as it hovered over the area, the vertical thrusters rustling the nearby trees. From the underbelly of the craft, an entrance ramp opened to reveal a figure standing within the ship. It was Lilandra and she looked even more beleaguered than she did before she left.
“It’s good to see you again, X-men,” she greeted, “I don’t mean to sound bossy, but you must get in! We need to pick up the rest of your teammates!”
“I’m okay with skipping the formalities,” said Kitty, “Unless Jean isn’t done freaking us out.”
“Ungh…not a good time, Kitty,” said Jean, clutching her head.
“You sure you’re okay, sugah?” said Rogue with a concerned glance.
“I’m fine!” she said, shaking it off, “She’s right. We should get going.”
“Much as I enjoy arguing with a stubborn psychic, I’m inclined to agree,” said Hank, who was already making his way up the ramp, “We had best stay on the move if this marvelous piece of alien engineering is to avoid detection.”
“If you say so, teach,” sighed Remy, “Never you mind how much bad voodoo be following us.”
“Does voodoo even apply to aliens?” said Bobby dryly.
“Call it what you want, Drake. At some point someone’s gonna have to stop and think about what’s going on. That way we ain’t so shocked when it bites us in the ass.”
It was all happening so fast. Lilandra wasn’t giving them much time to take in their new role in this alien plot. She rushed them onto the Starjammer, eager to make up for lost time. Remy, Bobby, Rogue, Kitty, and Piotr followed Hank onto the ship. Jean needed a brief moment to gather herself.
In addition to being rushed, this ordeal was not helping Jean’s strained mind. For a moment the Phoenix Force flared in a way she hadn’t experienced before. It was not unlike the feeling she experienced in her dreams with Stranger. Looking up at the ship, she felt the same chill down her spine. It was like Lilandra’s unexpected return was connected to Stranger’s warnings. The feeling lingered as she followed the others on board. Along the way, she confronted the older woman’s anxious gaze.
“Where’s Charles? Are we picking him up as well?” asked Lilandra intently.
“Oh no…Beast didn’t tell you, did he?” groaned Jean.
“Tell me what? Where’s Charles?!” she exclaimed.
The others looked back as the hatch behind them closed. Now Lilandra was even more anxious. She arrived expecting to see Charles or at least get a message from him. If the look on Jean’s face were an indication, something terrible had happened since she left.
“You’ve been gone a while, Miss Neramani. A lot has happened,” she said sadly, “We’ll fill you in along the way. I must warn you though. It’s going to make you sick to your day worse than it already is.”
Genosha – Earlier
“Yes…I understand. I’ll get right on it…Don’t worry, Hank. I’ll make sure she understands.”
Scott Summers was already having a rough day. It got a lot rougher with the phone call he just received from Beast. He was in the middle of an important tour of Genosha’s capital city. Now that the foreign troops were gone, a long overdue rebuilding process could begin. Buildings, roads, and infrastructure had been badly damaged. The area around the citadel was especially tattered. Wanda and the Brotherhood were focusing their efforts and making this section of the island more robust. Volunteers from all over the island arrived to help out. Now he had the unpleasant task of complicating this process even further.
‘Of all the times for a Shi’ar blood feud to re-emerge. Lilandra sure is asking a lot of us. At the same time my girlfriend is having cosmic dreams again. I’m not a fan of coincidences. I’m also not a fan of asking Wanda Maximoff for more favors. Of all the vital assets, Lilandra wants what’s possibly the most important resource on this planet. This isn’t going to start well, let alone end well.’
Scott took a deep breath as he put his phone away and made his way towards Wanda. She and Pietro were coordinating a number of construction sites near the citadel. Armed with Warlock tools and led by a few mutants with enhanced strength, they laid down a series of pipes and roadways leading into the city. Along these roads were a series of beacons and statues, which also doubled as antennas that received power from the alien generator on the island. Dozens of other mutants carried out basic construction tasks like wiring electronics, hauling away garbage, and making sure the materials were in place.
“Someone with big muscles and a strong stomach do something about those old sewer pipes!” yelled Pietro, who was running around the area at a rapid blur, “If we’re going to make our country strong, we need to make sure it doesn’t smell like shit!”
“Some of these pipes are a hundred years old. Even my stomach has limits, Pietro!” said Blob, who was doing some of the heavy lifting.
“Don’t waste time arguing with him, mate. Speedy’s on a power trip. The only sound that matters is his own bloody voice,” said Pyro.
“Am I the only one that thinks he’s a bit more of an asshole than usual?” asked Mercury.
“It could be worse. At least Lady Maximoff is keeping him on a leash,” said a young female mutant that was setting up some new power antennas.
“Lady Maximoff?” questioned one of the larger mutants hauling off loads of broken concrete.
“Yeah, I mean she is the leader. I was one of the protesters and she proved herself in my book. I think she’s earned a little distinction.”
It was a sentiment shared among many others. Wanda Maximoff had shown that she was as strong a leader as her father. Scott heard these comments as he walked by. He had mixed feelings about Wanda’s growing status. Even though she proved to be more reasonable than her father, she was still his daughter. Certain family traits didn’t fade easily.
With Wanda’s heritage in mind, he stepped through the rubble just outside the Citadel. The perimeter was still in ruins from the protesters. Wanda was standing in the courtyard going over some plans with Mellencamp. She had been all over the place, coordinating the project. Hopefully, she wasn’t in too bad a mood.
“Wanda, I need to talk to you. In private,” he said, barging right past Mellencamp.
“I thought you were busy sending a report to the MSA, Mr. Summers. And I’d prefer a little tact if you don’t mind,” said Wanda in a harsh tone.
“My name is Scott. Or Cyclops. Or deluded fool, which you were fond of for a good chunk of my teen years,” said Scott, maintaining his urgent tone.
“Be careful with your tone. You’re on my island last I checked,” she said sternly.
“I know you’re doing all you can to assert yourself, but right now I need to talk to you about something that doesn’t involve politics. It requires that you be Wanda Maximoff for a moment.”
Wanda hardened at the X-leader’s tone. She was not in a position to be weak anymore. She had little patience for anyone talking down to her. Scott Summers was among the few who still dared. There were even fewer she still respected enough to hear out.
“Fine,” she said flatly, “Mellencamp, give us some space. Go check on Pyro and Quentin.”
“I’ll gladly give you your own zip code, ma’am. Please don’t hex me if it sounds like I’m eager to get away,” Mellencamp replied.
“I don’t care how uncomfortable you are. Just do it,” said Wanda, making her lack of patience painfully apparent.
Mellencamp was a pretty tough mutant. He had to be in order to have a place in Genosha’s acolytes. That same toughness withered under the gaze of Wanda Maximoff. She was a different person since she lost her sister. She wasn’t quite at Magneto’s level of arrogance, but she was definitely matching his charisma. It didn’t sit well with Scott for a moment.
“I hope you’re not going to be that harsh all the time, Wanda. The world is a little tense in case you haven’t noticed. Your people need hope more than fear,” commented Scott.
“Do you want to scrutinize my handling of this impossible situation? Or do you want to tell me what this so-called private matter entails?” said Wanda, taking little heed of the X-leader’s advice.
“Right, that’s another crisis we’ll tackle down the line,” he replied, “The one that needs our attention involves a new issue that just came up. It involves the alien technology you’ve been using as leverage.”
“What about it?” she asked, her tone even more hostile, “If some rogue government or greedy company is asking questions, I can give them detailed instructions to piss off.”
“No. This isn’t about someone local who’s interested in this technology.”
“By not local you mean?”
“Don’t jump to conclusions, Wanda. It’s not that big a threat…yet,” said Scott cryptically, “I’d rather not make a big deal about this. The X-men have uncovered a hell of a problem and in order to resolve it, we need full access to Warlock.”
“English isn’t my first language, but I’m perfectly capable of recognize bullshit when I see it,” scoffed Wanda.
“Call it whatever you want. This is serious!” said Scott in a stronger tone.
“You really think this is appropriate?” she said, “Asking to use this island’s most valuable resource?”
“Seeing as how the X-men have saved this island in the past, I think it’s entirely appropriate,” reasoned Scott, “It’s also worth remembering that this technology didn’t come from nowhere. The aliens that built Warlock haven’t forgotten about it. You think humans are trouble? The X-men have faced some of the aliens behind that tech. You would do your people a big favor by not having to face them yourself.”
His tone was still disrespectful on so many levels. Like her, Scott had changed since Professor Xavier stepped down. Not long ago, he would never have been this brazen. He was putting her in a difficult position. She had a massive rebuilding effort on her hands. He was telling her that the alien technology she was relying on could be under threat. The only way to avoid that threat was to let the X-men use it. There were so many things wrong with that request that she should have hexed him for daring to ask.
Then she thought back to what her father said about the technology when he first uncovered it. She remembered him saying how any beings capable of technical wizardry wouldn’t do it just for fun. A civilization didn’t develop such technology unless there was a big conflict to drive it. Genosha and the mutant race had enough conflicts on their hands. There was no way they could handle some new alien threat.
“What exactly do your X-men need Warlock for?” she asked less threatening tone, “What sort of conflict are you trying to avert?”
“I’ll give you the same details the others gave me, but I can only tell you on the way to the Warlock Factories,” said Scott.
“Very well, but I intend to oversee everything. If I don’t like where this goes, I won’t hesitate to pull the plug.”
“I’m working under the assumption that this could go wrong in any number of ways. I would expect nothing less.”
“Very well,” said Wanda as she took out a small handheld device from her pocket, “I’m calling a transport sphere. I’ll also inform Scanner at the main factory to clear out the other acolytes. I’d like to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
“Believe me, Wanda. The feeling is mutual,” said an already exasperated Scott Summers.
Wanda led the X-leader back into the Citadel. Along the way, Scott started explaining the situation as it was described to him by Beast. As he followed her to the transport level, Alex Summers watched from across the courtyard.
Scott and Wanda hadn’t noticed that he was eavesdropping on their conversation. Nobody seemed to notice him much since he returned from his fight with the Mutant Liberation Front. Losing Lorna had damaged his fighting spirit in a big way. While he grieved over her, he kept his distance from everyone. He still fumed over how Lorna was caught up in this mess and how nobody was able to save her. Now it sounded as though Genosha was going to get caught up in another affair they never provoked. In his bitter grief, this was something he couldn’t ignore.
‘What kind of shit are you bringing to this island now, Scott? I don’t care how many times your X-men have saved the world. Your people keep bringing your fights to Genosha. It cost Lorna her life. Well that’s going to stop. I’ll see to it personally.’
New Jersey Turnpike – Rest Stop
“Hey! Little Miss Ninja, get off the phone already! They’re almost here!” barked Logan impatiently.
“I heard you the fifth time, Logan. Just give me another minute!” replied an aggravated Betsy from a payphone.
This day was going from lousy to outrageous. A potentially big personal crisis was giving way to a potentially bigger cosmic crisis. It had only been mere hours since Betsy, Ororo, and Logan began digging deeper into Warren’s recent behavior. Then they got an emergency message from Beast saying that the Shi’ar blood feud they got a taste of a while back had returned. It was a much bigger conflict with the potential to do far more damage than Warren’s personal struggles.
This forced Betsy to make a difficult decision. She was going to have to put her search for Warren on hold. It did not sit well for a moment. This terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach kept telling her that Warren was going to do something foolish. For all she knew, he had already done it. This gave her all the more reason to seek him out. Unfortunately, her concern for him would have to wait. An issue with the Shi’ar required every available X-man so she would have to entrust someone else to look into it.
“I need to go now, Brian. Can I trust you to look into this?” said Betsy into the payphone next to a vending machine.
“You’re asking a lot of me, luv. Or are you technically my cousin now that you’re in her body?” said an accented voice on the other side.
“Will you quit it with the jokes about my body already?!” grunted Betsy.
“Well pardon me for having a bloody hard time adjusting! You’ve dropped a lot on my lap recently. First I find out you switched bodies with our uncle’s daughter. Then I find out you’re with the X-men. All this after we weren’t on speaking terms for years.”
“Well I’m dropping the silent treatment! Consider this a peace offering if you want. I’m practically graveling here. I know you’ve got resources at MI-6. I know you’ve used them for personal reasons before. I need you to use them again.”
“Is this a request or blackmail?”
“We’re talking over bloody payphones with untraceable phone cards. If I was trying to blackmail you, I’d be a lot less careful,” Betsy retorted, “Now can you do this for me or not?”
There was a brief silence over the line. Betsy could practically see her brother rolling his eyes at her. She rarely asked him for help like this. They hadn’t exactly been the closest of siblings even before she switched bodies. Yet she still trusted him implicitly and he knew it. So it didn’t take a psychic to foresee his response.
“Fine, I’ll do it,” he said in a begrudging tone, “I swear you’re giving me that puppy dog look over the bloody phone.”
“No matter what body I’m in, that look still works,” she replied with a slight grin, “Remember, the name is Warren Worthington the third. He’s a rich man and knows how to cover his tracks. So don’t expect this to be easy.”
“I’ll find him, luv. You’re not the only one who inherited dad’s detective skills. But this bloke better be as volatile as you claim. If he’s just some random guy you’ve got the hots for, I’m uploading your baby pictures to BBC website.”
“He’s more than worth it. If I’m right, you’ll see what I mean when you find him.”
“Guess I’ll have to take your word for it, overvalued it may be.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to do this if it wasn’t important. I would love to do this on my own, but I’ve got bigger problems that I can’t talk about over a phone.”
Betsy looked back towards Ororo and Logan. They were talking into their communicators. The others were almost here.
“We’re out of time, Betsy! We need to go now!” said Ororo.
“I’m coming, Storm!” replied Betsy.
The young telepath turned her attention back to her brother. As much as it pained her, she had to leave Warren behind for someone else to handle.
“I’ll get back in touch with you as soon as I can,” said Betsy, “If and when you find Warren, I trust you to do the right thing.”
“No worries, luv. You don’t graduate from the top of your class at the British Military Academy without knowing a thing or two. Just be careful out there. I’d like a chance to get a return favor from you later on.”
“You’ll get that chance. I promise. Take care, Brian.”
“You too, Betsy.”
She hung up the phone quickly, not giving herself a chance for second thoughts. Betsy still had reservations about Warren. She would have to deal with them once this alien threat was resolved.
Having made the necessary arrangements, she ran out from the rest stop to join Logan and Ororo near a couple of picnic tables. About a half-hour ago, clouds settled over the area and it started to rain. This gave them the cover they needed. By the time she reached her teammates, they were ready to go.
“Bout time you finished chewing off your brother’s ear,” said Logan, “Hank just called in. The Starjammer is right over us. They got our uniforms on board.”
“Already? How bad has it gone so far?” asked Betsy.
“Beats me, but we gotta make a pit stop at Genosha of all places. I’d say it’s pretty bad!” said Logan.
“We’ll find out soon enough,” said Ororo as she put her communicator away.
The African woman checked around to make sure no one was watching too closely. They were behind the rest stop where they had parked the X-van. The rain was keeping people inside and passing cars couldn’t see them. Once she was certain they were in the clear, Ororo summoned her powers. As her eyes turned bright white, a dense fog formed around them. Once they were completely engulfed in this fog, she summoned a series of brisk winds to carry them up into the clouds.
“I’ll make sure Mother Nature covers our tracks,” said Ororo, “The Starjammer is hovering in the middle of a cloud so we shouldn’t draw too much attention.”
“Even if it was sunny, this is Jersey. I doubt an alien ship is the strangest thing these people ever saw,” remarked Logan.
“Be that as it may, we must work quickly,” said Ororo as they ascended into the cloudy abyss, “Hank said Scott will meet us on Genosha. Lilandra and Corsair are in quite a rush. They say time is of the essence.”
“When is it not?” sighed Betsy.
“If you’re still worried about bird boy, give it a rest,” said Logan, “Even if he really gives more than a damn about you, he’ll understand.”
“It’s not just him, Logan,” said Betsy, bracing herself as they neared the hovering ship, “The X-men have been juggling a lot of problems lately. We’ve held it together just barely. You can only play the odds so long before they catch up with you.”
“You make it sound like we’re more lucky than good,” scoffed Logan.
“Even if we’re that good, we have our limits. Between problems on Earth and problems with aliens, I feel like we’re reaching those limits,” she said, “It’s times like this I wish Professor Xavier was still with us. He’s better than anyone at pushing those limits.”
It was a sobering thought as the three X-men reached the Starjammer. It appeared as an ominous shadow in the clouds. The hatch was already opened and the others were waiting inside. There was little time to process what was going on. They had to confront this alien threat and once again they had to do it without Charles Xavier.
Muir Island – Psychic Isolation Chamber
‘The power…every mind…every sensation…burning up from the inside! I feel it! It’s growing! It…’
Charles Xavier fell out of his bed, clutching his head as a new round of agony engulfed his frail mind. Having already endured the most extreme levels of pain, he should have been used to the discomfort. However, this didn’t feel like pain from his addiction to experimental drugs. This was pain of a very different kind.
It shouldn’t have been possible. He was still in a psychic isolation chamber. He shouldn’t have been able to sense anything. Yet somehow, this powerful psychic surge was reaching him. As his pain from his detox lessened, the pain from this new feeling grew. He couldn’t keep hiding from it. He had to dig deeper. Even if he wasn’t fully recovered, he needed to take this chance.
So despite his discomfort, he pulled himself up into his wheelchair. Moira was probably on her way. She would likely coax him back into bed. He couldn’t let that happen. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t. Disregarding his health had gotten Charles Xavier into a great deal of trouble already. Once gain, he was compelled to take another risk.
‘My mind has been isolated for too long. I’ve been missing something…something that goes beyond the pain. There must be a reason I’m feeling this! I’ll never uncover that reason if I stay locked in this chamber.’
With energy well beyond his sickly form, he wheeled to the chamber door. During the worst of his suffering, Moira locked it so he couldn’t get out. Recently, she lifted that restriction, but only after he promised her that he would stick to the detox program. It was a promise he would have to break.
He had little reservation as he unlocked the heavy seal. A brief warning sign flashed on a small screen. Xavier ignored it and clutched the heavy handle of the door. As he pushed it open, he could already sense the psychic dampening fields weakening. By the time it was fully opened, he could hear frantic footsteps from down the hall. Moira and a couple of nurses were rushing towards him.
“Charles! What are ye doing?!” exclaimed Moira.
“His neural-chemical balance hasn’t fully stabilized yet,” said one of the male nurses, “If he strains his powers, it could undo much of the process he’s made!”
“I’ve got a sedative ready in case!” said the other younger nurse.
Professor Xavier did not acknowledge their cries. He barely even heard them. With determination he hadn’t felt in quite some time, he wheeled out of the chamber and into the psychic maelstrom. As soon as he was clear of the door, he felt it. Like a dam that could finally release some built up pressure, the mysterious psychic feeling overwhelmed his fragile mind.
“Ungh! I…I feel it!” he grunted while clutching his head.
‘A bright light…it’s so vast. More psychic energy than I’ve ever sensed before! It…it isn’t coming from an outside force. It’s everywhere! As if the very universe is filled with it! It’s…in pain. Just as I was in pain. What could be causing this? What could possibly be powerful enough to…’
Then it hit him. Another psychic surge inundated his mind. This time it was much clearer because it didn’t have to penetrate the psychic isolation chamber. In a flash, he saw a series of images. They depicted a gruesome scene he had witnessed before. This time there was something new. When it flashed across his mind, the discomfort turned to revelation. Suddenly his pain became completely secondary. He knew what was going on. Moreover, he knew who it involved.
“My god, it can’t be!” he gasped, “The M’krann crystal…the Shi’ar…Lilandra. Even my X-men! I cannot lose them! I won’t!”
Moira and the two nurses were less than ten feet away. He could sense that they were ready to force him back into the chamber. He couldn’t allow that. So on a whim he made a fateful decision.
“I’m sorry, Moira. Forgive me,” said Xavier solemnly.
In a move that defied so many of his deepest convictions, Charles Xavier unleashed a telepathic attack. He reached out with his mind to Moira and the two nurses. They froze where they stood just as they were about to confront him. Their faces contorted at the sudden intrusion.
“Augh! My head!” cried the male nurse.
“Charles! What are ye doing?” cried Moira.
He turned to the younger nurse, who looked deeply uncomfortable. Her eyes were practically bulging from the unfamiliar feeling of having her mind probed. Xavier sent a new round of telepathic instructions, which overtook her body. She watched herself in horror as she took out the sedative she mentioned earlier.
“What’s…happening?” grunted the younger nurse.
“No Charles! Don’t!” urged Moira.
In an act the nurse did not consciously choose, she injected the male nurse in the neck. She injected only half of the sedative. She then stuck it in her own neck and injected the other half. Within seconds, the sedative took effect. The two nurses went limp and fell to the floor unconscious. Charles checked their minds to make sure they were okay before turning back to Moira.
“I understand you have a supersonic jet that you let Forge enhance,” said Xavier, “Take me to it. I need to borrow it.”
“Charles…please,” urged Moira, her body still stiff.
“Please Moira. I would never do this if it wasn’t necessary. My X-men are in danger! Lilandra is in danger! A great many others are in danger, which is why I must leave! I understand I’m not fully healed. That is a chance I must take. So I’ll need you to forget about this completely when the time comes. I’ll also need you to take me up to the landing pad, get my clothes from storage, and activate the jet. It’ll be okay. I promise.”
There was no point in debating. Xavier didn’t even give her a chance. With his powerful mind, he took over her completely. He guided her behind him so she could wheel him out of the facility. He also scanned her mind for all security codes and information regarding the jet. She moved in a daze, her body no longer under her control. Xavier was already working on making sure she wouldn’t remember this. She was going to wake up in her bed thinking it was just a bad dream. Eventually she would know just how real it was.
This was bigger than her. This was bigger than his illness or even his X-men. A psychic threat of unprecedented proportions had emerged. More than just humans and mutants were at risk. The entire universe may be in danger of cosmic destruction.
Up next: Outer Limits Part 2
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