Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men have faced a multitude of threats. They confront those threats using their extraordinary mutant powers. In a world that hates and fears them, certain conflicts escalate to a terrifying scale. Sometimes they extend beyond the world they know and into the cosmos.
Unbeknownst to the rest of humanity, they are not alone in the universe. Within their own galaxy, a vast alien empire run by the Shi’ar has reigned for millennia. These advanced aliens are well-aware of Earth and the human race, but for reasons not yet clear, they go to great lengths to avoid contact.
In the few instances where the Shi’ar have visited, they left a great yet unseen impact. They provided the knowledge and resources that fueled the work of Mr. Sinister. They are the reason why Genosha has always had access to such advanced technology. They are also why Earth is under a grave new threat.
Many years ago, an exiled Shi’ar hid on Earth due to a civil war. That lone Shi’ar went onto father Lilandra Neramani, the last of a bloodline that holds the key to the Shi’ar Empire’s future. It is now run by her half-brother D’ken, whose tyranny is pushing his people to brink of total destruction. As a result, Lilandra has returned to Earth with the help of the space pirate team, the Starjammers.
She now seeks help from the X-men. That help involves utilizing the Shi’ar technology on Genosha. It’s a risky move at a risky time. Even with Charles Xavier still recovering, they prepare for another cosmic confrontation.
Genosha – Central Warlock Factory
“Everybody out! Evacuate the assembly area this instant! Anyone who hesitates or asks questions winds up in a wheelchair for a week!” barked an assertive Wanda Maximoff.
It was a tense moment in one of the most important industrial facilities on the planet. Wanda arrived unexpectedly with Scott Summers following close behind. They were not in a very social mood. The small number of acolytes, including Quentin Quire of the Brotherhood, did not get a chance to ask questions. As soon as Wanda entered the central area, everyone began filing out. This left the entire factory in the operation of the Warlock drones.
“Oh this is going to end badly,” said Quentin under his breath.
“Don’t try anything foolish, boy,” said a tall mutant named Angelo Unuscione, also known as Unus, “I was just promoted to the Brotherhood. I prefer to keep my role…and my limbs”
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, Unus,” said Quentin, “Pretty much everything is out of your hands. We’re just the ones behind the elephant with the shovels.”
With nothing but bad omens, Quentin followed Unus and the rest of the acolytes out of the central area. He lingered for a brief moment, using his telepathy to assess the situation. He picked up only minor hints as to what was going on. He chose not to dig deeper, less he risk Wanda’s wrath. She was serious about this and as the undisputed ruler of this island, no one dared question her.
Once the acolytes were gone, Wanda led Scott up a flight of stairs to a control area that overlooked the main assemblers. She made it clear with each step that she did not like this. On their way to the facility, Scott told her about the situation with Lilandra and the Starjammers. She was not thrilled that her island being caught in the crossfire of a cosmic blood feud. In a way, it was inevitable that the aliens that made this technology would be drawn back to it. What made this so distressing was the timing.
“Not that I wasn’t enjoying the awkward silence, but I’m not sure if you’re taking this seriously or if you’re just overly pissed,” commented Scott.
“This is plenty serious for every kind of outrage,” she replied, “You tell me these Shi’ar have a peculiar aversion to Earth…one that predates the crash of the alien ship my father found. It’s all tied to these warring bloodlines of some alien royalty. Of which this human, Lilandra Neramani, is somehow a part of.”
“That’s another story entirely. The alien war is the bigger issue at hand. Professor Xavier had visions of this stuff when we were investigating that ship. Imagine a war bigger than anything your father tried to instigate. Then amplify it to a galactic scale.”
“I prefer not to speculate. Genosha has enough problems and we don’t need an alien civil war on top of them.”
“If we can get the Starjammer in and out of here as quickly as planned, Lilandra will be able to leave and take the threat with her,” said Scott.
“That better not mean she’ll take Warlock with her,” said Wanda, “As much as I prefer to stay out of alien blood feuds, this technology is vital to our survival.”
“I can’t make any promises on the details. Beast told me they just needed it to fix the ship. Beyond that, we’ll play it by ear.”
Scott had to be careful with his words. This was not the assessment Wanda wanted to hear. This facility meant a great deal to Genosha and her people. Scott looked out over the large array of Warlock assemblers. They were churning out large quantities of the power antennas that had been used to repair the power grid after the Mutant Liberation Front attack. He knew as well as Wanda that those components were a big part of maintaining human/mutant relations. If they somehow lost this capability, it would be catastrophic in too many ways to contemplate.
“You had better play it well,” she said as they reached the top of the stairs, “This is the main control area I told you about. This is the same factory where we built that advanced power plant we passed by earlier.”
“How you made something that big so fast is still beyond me,” remarked Scott.
“Between mutant powers and alien technology, the impossible is running joke. This is the biggest facility we have so it better be enough. I’m going to halt all production so that Warlock is ready for the Starjammer’s arrival.”
“How long will that take?” asked Scott as he checked his communicator.
“Too long if you keep asking questions,” retorted Wanda.
Scott went silent and let Wanda work. Within seconds, the dozens of Warlock drones working in the central area stopped what they were doing and redirected their efforts. They started meshing together in a blackish/gold mass, forming larger and stronger drones. These drones started moving the large box-shaped assemblers, clearing out an area for the Starjammer. It wasn’t clear how much space or material would be needed so Wanda was leaving nothing to chance.
It was still an awkward position. Having dealt with the Shi’ar directly, Scott understood the Shi’ar blood feud better than Wanda. She viewed this Shi’ar technology a lot like her father in that it was an asset for mutant kind. Neither she nor Magneto had no idea how these assets were linked to a much greater conflict.
“The main assemblers will on standby. This had better be enough for this Starjammer,” said Wanda as she initiated some of the security protocols.
“I can’t make any guarantees, Wanda. From what I know about Lilandra and Corsair, they’re not frugal when they’re desperate,” said Scott.
“They may have to make an exception. I’m bending over backwards for them and I haven’t even met them,” she pointed out, “I’ve heard of Lilandra, but what about this Corsair? You say he’s a human.”
“A jaded, embittered, and downright unpleasant human,” said Scott, “But he is human, as far as I know.”
“Well what’s he doing with the Shi’ar? How did he wind up with them in the first place?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. You can ask him when he shows up, but I must warn you. Corsair has a knack for…”
The X-leader was cut off by massive tremor that shook the whole factory to the core. It was so violent that he and Wanda fell back, having to hold onto the nearest rail and fight to regain their balance. Everywhere throughout the factory, the vast array of assemblers and drones stopped what they were doing and started sparking erratically.
“Warning! Warning! Cosmic energy signature detected. Error detected. Warlock protocol 28452 initiated.”
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON, CYCLOPS?” exclaimed Wanda.
“I have no idea!” replied the X-leader, “I was told they wouldn’t be here for another ten minutes! Something must have gone wrong!”
“WELL FIX IT!”
She was asking a lot of him and he wasn’t even sure if it was possible. As more tremors shook the factory, Scott got up from the floor and looked out over the main area. He saw there was a good reason for such violent shaking. Something had just blown the roof off the factory. Given the structure’s size, that was no easy feat.
Through the gaping hole, he could see the Starjammer hovering overhead. That wasn’t all he saw. Hovering just below it was a figure surrounded in white hot fires. Scott recognized it immediately and was quickly filled with a new dread.
“There’s no time for bewilderment, Cyclops. We must act quickly. The very essence of the cosmos depends on it!”
Earlier – Aboard Starjammer
After linking up with the rest of the team, the mood on the alien ship was tense. Logan, Ororo, and Betsy changed into their uniforms as soon as they boarded. They met up with Hank, Jean, Bobby, Kitty, Rogue, Remy, and Piotr in the passenger area just outside the cockpit. They were on their way to Genosha where Scott was working out a plan with Wanda to get them access to Warlock. They were set to arrive soon. After that, the plan got more complicated.
The X-men wrestled with the details, assuming that this would be more than just a pit stop for repairs. Even Lilandra and Corsair didn’t seem to know how far this would go. Corsair was the one flying the jet and no one dared talk to him. He was not in a social mood to say the least. Lilandra didn’t have much to say either. After hearing from Jean about what happened to Professor Xavier, she was more anxious than before.
“Miss Lilandra looks quite upset. I hope she’s okay,” commented Piotr, who was sitting in the back are of the compartment along with the others.
“Okay bein’ relative and all,” said Remy, “It ain’t every day you find out your paramour turned into a pill-poppin’ drug addict.”
“I am certain Jean used nicer words than that, Remy,” said the Russian mutant.
“Doesn’t matter how polite she was. There’s only so much you can do to soften a blow like that,” said Kitty sadly, “It might have been easier to fill her in after we’re done playing our part in an alien version of family feud.”
“She’s a telepath, Kitty. Do you really think we could keep this from her?” said Bobby.
“She’s the one all worked up about that D’ken psycho,” she added.
“Who happens to be her half-brother, mind you,” Rogue reminded.
“You think that makes much of a difference?” quipped Kitty.
“Hell yeah, it makes a difference. Adding family to the mix always makes a difference,” said Rogue strongly.
“You would know better than most, cherè,” said Remy, “Right now, I don’t think that be bothering her as much as the Professor. Family troubles be hard enough. Throw your lovers into the mix and it’s many times worse. That’s why it ain’t something that can be swept under the rug. We don’t know where we stand in this fight so it’s best to get the cold hard truth out in the open.”
The philosophy student in Remy always made an interesting assessment. It was hard to argue for or against it so nobody tried. The truth about Xavier’s health problems were hard enough for them to accept. It could only be worse for Lilandra, who had to deal with this on top of a galactic civil war.
The Shi’ar leader hadn’t said a word for nearly five minutes. Hank and Jean were the ones that broke the news to her. It was a difficult story to tell. While it sank in, Jean attempted to console the beleaguered woman. Hank didn’t have the strength to offer more details. Jean was better at consoling fellow psychics so he joined Logan, Betsy, and Ororo. They were sitting across from Lilandra, still taking in this unexpected conflict.
“How’s she doing, Hank?” asked Ororo anxiously.
“There is much room for improvement, Ororo,” sighed Hank, “She was looking forward to meeting up with Charles. Being caught up in a Shi’ar civil war has taken a toll on her.”
“Now she comes back and finds out her boyfriend is in rehab,” muttered Logan, “Hell, it would have been easier if she found out he was cheatin’ on her.”
“Bloody hell, Logan! Can’t you go a day without setting new standards for insensitivity?” said Betsy.
“Just saying it’s fucked up. It helps to have perspective,” the feral mutant shrugged.
“In this instance, we should still make an exception,” said Hank, showing equal disdain for Logan’s remarks, “We’re all involved now. The least we can do is not add to the burden.”
Logan grumbled to himself. He was as annoyed with this predicament as Lilandra. He could have been in Boston by now, spending an afternoon with Laura. Instead he was caught up in another alien plot. It was enough to make him crave an extra case of beer.
“I’ll spare Lilandra the added bullshit. So long as she doesn’t send us to the front lines of this shit,” said Logan, “There’s a whole lot of this alien crap that gets my blood boiling.”
“Oh please, running out of whiskey in the middle of the day gets your blood boiling,” said Betsy, “I thought you might enjoy the chance at doing your own alien autopsy.”
“It ain’t as fun as it sounds,” grunted the feral mutant, “The Shi’ar didn’t exactly come in peace. According to Sinister, their fancy gadgets helped make Weapon X possible.”
“They were the means, Logan. Not the end,” said Ororo in a calming tone, “We’re trying to help them. Holding a grudge isn’t very productive.”
“It ain’t just Weapon X, Ro. These aliens ain’t afraid to mix it up with humans. Just look at that Corsair guy. He’s been caught up in this shit for way longer and he’s more in need of a beer than me right now.”
“War has a tendency to wear on anyone, Logan. Human or alien,” Hank pointed out.
“Well if Corsair is any clue, we’re in for some serious shit,” said Logan as he stared towards the cockpit, “Something about that guy stinks and it ain’t just war. I’m all for helping friends, but if we’re as fucked up as him in the end then it ain’t worth it!”
“Let’s not lick our wounds before they’ve been inflicted, Logan,” said Hank, “Lilandra says the war is at a critical point. If we don’t tip the balance, we may not have time to become as jaded as Mr. Corsair.”
Hank’s rationalization skills were usually comforting. This time, he seemed to reach his limits. Logan shook his head and kept grumbling. Ororo and Betsy couldn’t say they were reassured either. They looked towards the cockpit along with Logan. They could see Corsair staring blankly ahead at the cloudy skies in front of them. He had the look of a man who had lost so much and was so wounded by this war. He probably heard their conversation about him. His silence implied that he could care less what they thought.
Corsair’s cold demeanor spoke volumes for the effects of this conflict. They clearly wore on Lilandra as well. She was once so confident and optimistic in the future. When the going got tough, she would simply work harder. Now she was nearly as jaded as Corsair. While holding back tears, she rubbed her sore head in frustration. It was like everything in the universe was working against her.
“Charles,” said Lilandra, finally breaking her silence, “Why would he do this to himself? Did my leaving have something to do with it?”
“No Lilandra. This wasn’t because of you,” said Jean.
“I don’t believe that, Jean. You may think you know him, but when you love someone that deeply…well, you can make the connections.”
Jean was about to counter this point. She decided not to. In her experience with Scott, she knew first hand what those connections were like. Lilandra’s love for Xavier was strong, much more so than she thought she understood.
“Charles once told me that his health always humbled him,” she said sadly, “It reminded him that he was living on borrowed time. He felt that having survived cancer, his body would eventually turn on him again. He was always so intent on making the most of this time. It makes it easier for him to justify taking such foolish risks!”
“I admit it was foolish. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have done it if you had been there?” asked Jean.
“Because when I was with him, it didn’t feel like borrowed time. He once joked that perhaps he survived because he was destined to meet me. We both laughed, but I didn’t think it was funny. He may have been right. If only I had been there for him, he may have thought twice.”
“Or it could’ve been worse. We don’t know. We can’t know,” added Jean.
“In either case, I just…I wish I could have been there. He’s not the only one who has been in pain. I went from a simple activist to the last hope of an alien civilization. Billions of aliens as innocent and scared as any human now expect me to stop D’ken. I’m not sure I can be that royal savior they expect me to be. I know if Charles was by my side, he would give me the strength.”
“I wish he was here as well. I’m sure he would say all the right things,” said Jean with another comforting gesture, “That gives us all the more reason to get through this. Look at it this way. By the time you defeat D’ken, the Professor should be better. Then you’ll be able to bust his chops over all his foolish decisions.”
“As appealing as that sounds, I’m not sure I can defeat D’ken at this point,” she said, “He’s working on something big…something I can sense, but cannot understand. For all I know, he’ll have succeeded by the time we fix the Starjammer. How can we have so much at our disposal yet still be so powerless?”
Jean didn’t offer an answer. Nobody seemed to have an answer. It was enough to give Lilandra another headache. This was something Charles was good at dealing with, being powerful in some ways and limited in others. For all she knew, she may not see him again. It was difficult to contemplate. Turning back towards Jean, she tried to carry herself with greater strength.
“I’m sorry for brooding, Jean. I just feel so helpless in that…”
The Shi’ar royalty stopped in mid-sentence when she saw a strange look on Jean’s face. She was clutching her head as well, but it looked much worse than a headache. It was as if something was attacking her from outside and she was trying to shut it out.
“Jean? Are you alright?” asked Lilandra with more concern.
“What’s going on?” said Logan, who noticed as well, “What’s wrong with Jeannie?”
“The crystal…it’s getting stronger. We cannot stop it if we continue wasting time!”
“Whoa! That didn’t sound like Jean,” said Rogue, the rest of the team taking note as well.
“It isn’t,” dreaded Hank, “It’s the Phoenix Force!”
“Does that mean it’s about to get worse?” dreaded Lilandra.
“I’ve little time to explain. I must push the limits of my power once more! Hang on, X-men!”
A blinding white flash erupted through the ship. Lilandra and the rest of the X-men covered their eyes as Jean casually floated up in her seat, now surrounded by cosmic flames. They had seen her utilize the Phoenix Force before, but not like this. These flames were different. They were white hot, burning with a different kind of intensity. Some of the X-men tried to get up, but were telekinetically forced back into their seat.
“Jean! Phoenix! What are you doing?” exclaimed Ororo.
“What needs to be done.”
In another blinding flash, Jean’s Phoenix uniform changed. It shifted back to the full body outfit that she wore when the Phoenix Force first manifested in her. However, instead of green or dark read, the outfit was white. It seemed to match the white hot flames that were surrounding her. While the X-men were watching this in amazement, the Starjammer was suddenly jolted by a new round of turbulence.
“What the hell is going on back there?” yelled Corsair from the cockpit, “The power core just surged and none of the controls are working!”
“That’s because I am in control right now. It is only through the cosmic power of the Phoenix that we have a chance at stopping the coming destruction.”
Corsair wrestled with the controls. He ended up getting telekinetically shoved back into his seat, his limbs held down as if they had a hundred pounds of weight bearing down him. He could only watch as the Starjammer was completely engulfed in white flames. As more turbulence surged through the ship, it started moving at even greater speeds. Back in the passenger area, the rest of the X-men held on through the added G-forces.
“Whoa! Does stopping destruction have to be this rough?” groaned Bobby.
“Do you really need to ask?” muttered Rogue.
“This discomfort is necessary. We will arrive at our destination in under two minutes. Do as I say and you might survive.”
“Might?!” exclaimed Corsair.
“Do not argue with the Phoenix Force, Corsair! It is a losing battle!” said Hank, who gripped his seat tightly, “She knows what she’s doing! Let us see where she takes us! She may lead us to the answers we seek!”
Central Warlock Factory – Present
Scott Summers watched in amazement as his lover took control of the Warlock factory in a big way. Hovering just above the gaping hole she tore in the roof, she unleashed a wave of her white flames throughout the facility. These flames swirled like dust in the wind, seeping into every Warlock assembler and drone. The advanced AI seemed just as confused, letting out yellow sparks as the cosmic being reconfigured it on the molecular level. Every drone and assembler turned into small blocks that formed a fluid-like cloud.
While the X-leader was taking in this sight, Wanda emerged and ran out from the observation deck. She was not one to stand around in awe. As far as she was concerned, someone was usurping Genosha’s most valuable resource.
“Quit staring, Cyclops! Attack her already!” yelled Wanda.
“No Wanda! Wait!” Scott urged.
Wanda ran out into the swirling flames, her hands glowing with purplish hexing energy. She unleashed a wave of attacks on the hovering figure. Phoenix was only stunned for a moment. When she looked down and saw the angry Wanda Maximoff, she barely flinched.
“I’m sorry, Miss Maximoff. I cannot allow you to interfere.”
With a callous gesture, she unleashed a wave of white flames towards the Genoshan leader. She tried to use her hexing powers to deflect it, but was completely unprepared for cosmic caliber force. Her powers were shattered like glass and she was thrown back as if she had been swept away in a tornado.
“AHHHHHHHHHH!” she cried out.
“Wanda!” yelled Scott, still in the observation deck.
He didn’t see her land. He wasn’t sure if she was okay. With growing dread, Scott ran out from the observation area and out into the main assembly area. He encountered more swirling white fires. They were hot, but did burn him. Looking up at Jean, he saw a mix of confusion and desperation. He also saw that Jean and the Phoenix Force were not on the same page for once.
“Damn it, Phoenix! Why did you do that?” she exclaimed.
“I told you. It was necessary.”
“Don’t give me that! You could have killed her!” yelled Jean.
“She’ll be fine. All that matters now is repairing the Starjammer.”
“Don’t shut us out again, Phoenix! We’ve been down this road before! Let’s not do it again!” said Scott through the fires, “I can feel how conflicted you are. This is not the way to handle it! You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Oh Scott, I don’t want to go through this again either. A piece of my flame is still within you. Just as a larger piece is within Jean. Unfortunately, I know what I’m doing. I’m not able to stop it.”
“You’re wrong! You have the power! You can stop it!” said Scott strongly.
“Haven’t I taught you enough about making the right choices?” added Jean.
“This is where your mortal understanding is limited. For this is not my choice. I am not the one guiding this process. It is the crystal that beckons me. I cannot turn away from it anymore than an atom can escape a black hole.”
“The crystal? What crystal?” questioned Scott.
The Phoenix could not or would not provide an answer. It kept expanding its reach, unleashing more white flames. One-by-one, every Warlock component and drone in the factory was completely engulfed. Their gold-on-black complexion turned into a silvery white on black. As sparks continued to fly, the vast Warlock material kept swirling around until a massive glob of alien matter was concentrated near the Starjammer.
With a powerful gesture, the Phoenix Force directed the matter up into the ship. As soon as it made contact, the countless bits of matter were absorbed into the ship. In the process, the entire physical makeup of the Starjammer morphed into a new configuration.
Scott braved the swirling matter and tried to reach out to the Phoenix. It was like stepping into the middle of a tornado. Looking up at Phoenix and Jean, he could tell they were both distressed. It was changing the Starjammer and likely causing even more confusion for the others inside. The Phoenix Force was reacting to something it didn’t fully understand. They could not fight this. There was no escaping this mysterious force.
“I am sorry, Scott. I am sorry, Jean. I must heed the call that beckons me. I cannot fight it without your support or that of your friends. Were I my old self, I would be able to handle this. As an ember, my flame must grow. I cannot do that without your guidance…or your love.”
“We want to help, Phoenix! Just tell us what we can do!” said Scott.
“I…I wish I could. This feeling…it’s so strange. The only way I can properly explain it is to show it to you. For this, you and the X-men must prepare to confront the greatest of dangers.”
Skies Over Genosha
‘I can feel it. The power is getting stronger. It’s reaching out to others. I doubt they’ll understand it. How could they when they haven’t experienced it like I have? Erik once told me we always fear what we don’t understand. This is one instance where understanding is more distressing than ignorance.’
Professor Charles Xavier had crossed more lines in the last few hours than he had in many years. He didn’t just defy doctor’s orders again. He used his powers to forcibly subdue and deceive. He even took control over the mind of Moira MacTaggart, a dear friend and former lover. Back on Muir Island, he telepathically forced her to lead him to the hanger. She deactivated all the security measures so he could fly the jet out on his own. Along the way he passed Forge. He telepathically scanned his mind to learn all the controls for the jet. Once he had everything he needed, he sent Forge and Moira away to their bedrooms where they would forget everything that happened.
It was an egregious intrusion. It nearly exceeded the pain that still lingered from his addiction. That pain remained secondary. As soon as he took off in the jet, he hit the afterburners and accelerated to supersonic speeds. He arrived over Genosha airspace moments ago. The next step may force him to cross even more lines.
‘I’m a fool. I allowed myself to become this weak. If I hadn’t been recovering from my addiction, I could have detected this sooner. It’s likely my X-men are already involved. It’s guaranteed that Lilandra is involved as well. They’re all in danger because of me. I must get to them. I must make amends for being too weak for them!’
Xavier maneuvered the jet in lower. He emerged from a patch of clouds, still flying at high speeds as he passed over the capital city of the island. This jet was almost as advanced as the X-jet, containing stealth technology in addition to supersonic speed. He hadn’t been attacked by Genosha’s air defenses or that of the naval blockade. So it was safe to assume that he hadn’t been detected yet. He adjusted some of the flight controls to slow the jet down. He was still following this psychic disturbance that had been causing him so much discomfort.
‘The scanners still aren’t picking up any disturbances. No one on Genosha seems to be aware of any troubles either. For some reason, the psionic signature is intensifying nearby. But where exactly is it centered?’
As Xavier settled the jet over the citadel, he noticed something in the distance. Gazing out through the front window, he saw what looked like a burst of fire rising up. The scanners picked it up as well, but couldn’t make sense of the information.
“No…I can’t be too late!” said Xavier in a determined tone.
Gripping the controls again, he re-ignited the afterburner. The jet accelerated rapidly, heading north towards the Warlock factories. He recognized those cosmic flames. If these psychic feelings were valid, then the crisis was about to escalate in a terrifying new way.
“Hang on, my X-men,” he said strongly, “I will not let you down. Not this time!”
Central Warlock Factory
The transformation on the Starjammer was nearly complete. The already advanced space craft had a powerful new appearance. Its outer skin was now composed of the silverish/gold complexion that once composed the Warlock drones. Sparks continued to fly as nearly every ounce of Warlock matter was absorbed into the ship. All the while, the Phoenix Force kept unleashing more flares of white flame. They soon surrounded Scott, who was now trapped in the chaos.
“The repairs are almost complete. We’re almost ready to depart.”
“Depart to where?” demanded Scott.
“To wherever the source has gathered. I’m trying to fight it, but we are beyond the point of no return. We must leave or we will all perish.”
Scott was then lifted into the air by the white flames. He struggled against them, but there was no escaping. He was slowly drawn towards Jean and the Phoenix Force. She looked every bit as nervous. They had no idea where the Phoenix was taking them and there was no way to stop it.
“Scott…I can’t fight this! Neither can the Phoenix!” Jean cried.
“There has to be another way! Talk to the Phoenix! Tell it dig deeper!” urged Scott.
“I’ve done that! It’s no use! The Starjammer is powering up! You need to be inside with the others!”
“Please Scott! Listen to me! There’s no other way!”
Scott continued ascending past his hovering girlfriend. He tried reaching out to her, but it was no use. He was telekinetically pushed towards the spacecraft. As he drew near, the loading bay at the bottom opened up. Standing inside were Corsair and Hank, who had been trying to make sense of the Starjammer’s transformation since it began.
“Beast, I could use an explanation!” said Scott.
“Your guess is as good as mine, I’m afraid,” said Hank as he helped Scott into the craft, “Near as I can tell, every system is being integrated with Warlock. She’s not just fixing the ship. She’s taking control of every component!”
“I don’t like being ship-jacked so you better do something about that girl before she takes us on a cosmic joyride!” spat Corsair.
“She says there’s nothing we can do. Everything has already been set,” said Scott as he gazed out towards his girlfriend.
“Bullshit! If she won’t cooperate, then I’ll give her some incentive!” said Corsair.
To Hank and Scott’s horror, the grizzled pilot took out high tech handgun and pointed it towards Jean. Even though she could probably deflect it, Scott instinctively pushed him out of the way before he could fire.
“No! You hurt her and I’ll rip out your other eye!” yelled the X-leader.
“Knock it off, kid! You’re on my ship!” spat Corsair.
The two men wrestled vigorously for the gun. Hank was about to try and break them apart. Then the Starjammer was hit with a new round of turbulence. This time it did not come from the Phoenix Force.
“By stars and garners, what now?” he groaned.
Looking out from the loading dock, he saw another ship flying towards them. It had just grazed over them as it roughly settled into a hover over the factory. It was not another alien ship. This one was definitely human. Hank recognized the design as belonging to Forge from Muir Island. While he struggled to figure this out, Jean already uncovered it.
“Oh my…Professor?” she exclaimed.
“Charles? Is he in that jet?” asked Hank.
“He stole the jet and he’s flying it by himself!” said Jean, “He just told me in a jumbled telepathic message!”
“Assuming that’s not an inappropriate joke, what’s he doing here? There’s no way he’s in any condition to assist!”
It was hard to believe. As much as they missed Professor Xavier, this was not the time for a reunion. It seemed that Jean wasn’t the only one who picked up on his telepathic message. Lilandra came storming into the loading bay where she stepped over Corsair and Scott.
“Damn it, Lilandra! Get back to the passenger deck!” yelled Corsair, who was pinned against the wall by Scott.
“Forget it, Corsair! Charles is here!” said Lilandra as she stood next to Hank, “He says he knows something about these disturbances!”
“I don’t care if he knows the meaning of life! He’s going to get us all killed!”
“Or he could save us all! If you’re against that, then you’re beyond help!” retorted Scott.
Corsair was in no position to do anything. Scott kept a firm hold on him, ensuring he wouldn’t do anything to hurt Jean or the Professor. He was going to give them both a chance whether he wanted to or not.
Outside the ship, the others watched anxiously as the lower hatch to the hovering jet opened. At the bottom of the hatch was Professor Xavier. He was in his wheelchair and wearing the same clothes he wore the day he left for Muir Island. They couldn’t tell if he had sufficiently recovered. They watched and held on as the turbulence escalated.
“Professor!” Jean called out.
“Get ready, Jean! I’m coming down!” said Xavier strongly.
“Coming down? What are you…”
What he did next surprised and horrified everyone that saw it. With reckless abandon, he pushed himself out of his wheelchair so that he fell right through the hole in the roof. Horrified by his actions, Jean instinctively caught him with her telekinesis. She then guided him through the swirling white flames of the Phoenix Force, which were now concentrated around the Starjammer. He settled within a few feet of Jean, who was both baffled and relieved to see her mentor.
“Damn it, Professor! Do I even want to know what you went through to get here?” she asked him.
“You can scold me later, Jean,” Xavier told her, “I’m here because I know what we’re dealing with. I sensed it even within a psychic isolation chamber!”
“How is that even possible in your condition?” she questioned.
“If you know what this is then you also know it cannot be stopped.”
“You’re wrong, Phoenix! It can be stopped! It must be!” he said strongly, “You’re about to make a terrible mistake! By heeding the call of the M’krann Crystal, you’ll be transporting yourself and the X-men into a battle they cannot win!”
“How can you be sure of this?”
“I used the M’krann Crystal to summon the Phoenix Force before. My mind is attuned to it. That is why you must trust me. I’m still in pain and my health is far from optimal, but I can do this!”
Both Phoenix and Jean wrestled with this. Their trust in Professor Xavier was shaken when he hid his addiction to pain killers. His health had become a liability. His judgment had been clouded. Now they had to overlook all of those flaws and trust that this man knew what he was doing. Neither of them fully understood what was happening. If he was right, then the M’krann Crystal was about to lure them to their doom. In the end there was only one viable choice.
“Okay Professor…I trust you,” said Jean.
“So do I, Charles Xavier. Do what you must do.”
“Thank you,” he said graciously, “Now open your mind to me. This is going to be a difficult feat.”
Jean closed her eyes while the Phoenix Force settled. Time was running out. Nearly every Warlock component had been absorbed into the Starjammer. The white flames were intensifying around the ship. Charles Xavier had to act fast. So with Hank and Lilandra watching anxiously from the ship, he placed his hands on Jean’s head and went to work.
‘The power that’s calling out to you…I’m going to shut it out. Do not listen to it. Listen to me instead.’
‘The crystal…it’s so strong. I must go to it!’
‘You will, Phoenix. Just not like this.’
Through his frail body and beleaguered mind, Professor Charles Xavier relentlessly probed Jean’s psyche. It was like plunging into an inferno of living flames. Along the way he felt the confusion and resolve of the Phoenix Force. It was far different from when he first fought the Phoenix psychically. It was like a scared child being pulled into the unknown. He had to not only pull it back, but comfort it as well.
As he probed deeper, the white flames shifted. He and Jean’s fiery form ascended towards the ship along with the last of the Warlock materials. Now the skin of the Starjammer was shining with the intensity of a star. Hank and Lilandra had to move back inside. Scott had to let go of Corsair as well. The air was thick with volatility. Something had to give.
“We must get back to the passenger deck!” yelled Hank.
“But Charles…” said Lilandra.
“Knows what he’s doing,” he said as he pulled Lilandra away.
The cargo bay started to close. Just as it was almost sealed, a powerful shockwave erupted around the Phoenix. It surged into the ship, causing another massive tremor. It threw Scott, Lilandra, Corsair, and Hank clear across the bay.
“HANG ON!” yelled Scott.
“I will if you let go of me!” yelled Corsair, still tangled with the X-leader’s grip.
Outside, the moment of truth had arrived. The white flames around the Phoenix Force were so intense that it was like being in the middle of a nuclear explosion. They rose rapidly into the air, bumping the jet Xavier arrived in along the way. Soon they were hovering a hundred feet over the decimated Warlock Factory.
Through this powerful display, the Professor’s focus never waned. He concentrated harder, searching desperately for a certain area within Jean and the Phoenix’s psyche. He followed the burning cries of the M’krann Crystal. It was latching onto this cosmic force with unparalleled might. He eventually found the source at the center of the Phoenix’s cosmic flame. It was a pinkish light that was pulsating as if it was ready to explode. It caused Jean and the Phoenix so much confusion. So with every ounce of telepathic strength he could muster, he formed a psychic block around the light.
‘Stay with me, Jean. You too, Phoenix. I’m going to block out the crystal.’
‘Wait! If you do that, it may destabilize my power!’
‘That’s a risk we’ll have to take.’
The Phoenix Force didn’t resist him despite its reservations. It allowed Professor Xavier to finish the job. Just as the pinkish light was about to burst, he formed a large psychic barrier around it. As this was happening, the energy around the Starjammer surged. Then like a shooting star, it took off and accelerated into the heavens at high speeds.
‘It’s time, Phoenix. Do it now!’
‘Yes…I’m free once more. Hold on, my friends!’
In a volatile moment, the Phoenix Force unleashed a new wave of white flames. These flames engulfed her, Professor Xavier, and the Starjammer. Now beyond the atmosphere of the Earth, the cosmic power guided them into the depths of space. Just as they passed the moon, the Starjammer and everything within the cosmic flames disappeared.
The Phoenix and the Starjammer left an uncertain path in its wake. Down in the Warlock factory, the drones and assemblers were gone. In addition, the hovering jet from Muir Island was violently rocked by the turbulence. With no pilot on board to stabilize it, the jet tumbled out of the air and into the gaping hole in the roof of the structure. The nose of the jet broke off as it grazed along the edge of the opening. Debris and flames fell right into the facility. There was nothing below to absorb the impact. There was also a lone figure lying unconscious with nothing to protect her. It was Wanda Maximoff and as the jet crashed, a wave of flame surged towards her.
Just as the destruction was about to consume her, two powerful arms grabbed her unconscious form and pulled out away. It was Alex Summers, who had been trailing Scott and Wanda out of curiosity. His suspicions proved valid as he pulled Wanda behind a large metal container.
“I’ve got you, Wanda!” he said as, “For this, you can never hex me again.”
The fiery impact filled much of the factory. Wanda was still unconscious so Alex shielded her with his body. He felt a few burns and stings along the way. The blast was so intense that it shook the container and the very foundation of the factory. By the time it passed, the whole building was unstable.
Alex lingered a bit, still shielding Wanda until he sensed the worst was behind them. There were still large fires burning around the wreckage. More chunks of the ceiling fell, causing cracks in the floors and sides of the structure. Through the smoke and debris, Alex stood up. Wanda seemed okay, but she took a pretty heavy blow. This factory took an even greater blow. He didn’t see everything that led up to this destruction. That didn’t change who was responsible.
“Damn you, Scott!” Alex cursed, “What have you done now?”
Shi’ar Empire – Rebel Territory
“Ugh…what happened?” groaned a sore Betsy Braddock.
“Are we dead yet?” groaned an equally sore Bobby Drake.
“If so, death sucks!” said Kitty.
It was like waking up with a bad hangover. It happened so fast yet it felt like a lifetime. One moment they were holding on while the ship hovered over Genosha. Then as the Starjammer morphed around them, it took off like a rocket. The next thing they knew they were engulfed in these white fires. Now they were a baffled as they were ailing.
They also awoke to find two new figures lying in the passenger area. Professor Xavier and Jean Grey appeared somewhere between the take-off and the white flames. They were both still unconscious. Jean was still in her White Phoenix uniform as well. Something very strange had just transpired and the X-men had to start making sense of it.
“Jean…and Charles?” exclaimed Ororo as she emerged from her daze.
“Rise and shine, everybody! We got a situation!” said Logan, shaking off the discomfort and getting out of his seat.
“Hnn…just a few more minutes?” said Remy, who was still rubbing his head.
“We ain’t got time to rest! This day ain’t done fucking with us!”
“When is it ever done?” groaned Rogue, “What the hell just happened anyways?”
“I am not so worried about what has happened as I am what will happen,” said Piotr.
One-by-one, the X-men pulled themselves out of their seats. Logan and Ororo rushed to Jean and Xavier. They did a quick check to make sure they were okay. Both were still alive, but out cold. If they had the answers they needed, they were going to have to wait.
“So that was the Professor I sensed,” said Betsy as she saw Xavier’s unconscious form.
“Guess I owe you twenty bucks,” grumbled Kitty, “What’s he doing here? He didn’t finish his detox early, did he?”
“Somehow Ah doubt he cared about his health when he threw himself into this mess,” said Rogue.
“Then maybe he be healthy enough if he’s back to his old self,” added Remy.
“We can pose these questions later. I’m sure he’ll have a good reason,” said Ororo as she laid out the Professor’s unconscious form.
“Don’t you mean excuse?” said Logan, who was looking over Jean, “I’m more worried about Jeannie.”
“I was picking up on some pretty intense psychic energy. I don’t think it was the Phoenix Force acting up either,” said Betsy as she scanned Jean’s unconscious mind.
“Then what was it?” barked Logan, “Where’s Hank and Lilandra? They better have more clues than we do because this ain’t the time for twenty questions!”
Even as the soreness waned, the confusion lingered. Something strange had clearly occurred. There were a lot of questions that needed to be answered. Before they could even ask one, the Starjammer was hit with a new round of turbulence.
“Damn it to hell! What now?” exclaimed Logan as he and the others stumbled.
“Well when you’re right you’re right, Logan,” groaned Bobby.
More tremors followed. These were much different than the ones they felt earlier. This one felt like something was hitting the ship from the outside. As the X-men struggled to maintain their balance, the doors across the deck opened. Hank and Lilandra had returned from the cargo bay. Scott and Corsair were following close behind.
“Thank heavens! Charles and Jean made it on board,” said Hank.
“I think this means my hunch was right,” said Lilandra.
“What is this hunch you speak of?” questioned Piotr.
Another jolt struck surged through the Starjammer. Hank opened the doors to the cockpit to reveal at least part of the truth. When the X-men saw what was out ahead of them through the visual display, they paled with newfound dread.
They were not on Earth anymore. They weren’t even in their own solar system anymore. They were in an entirely new solar system overlooking a completely alien planet. The planet looked quite different from Earth.
It had a greenish/blue atmosphere. From the side they could see, the surface was three quarters land and one quarter ocean. Around it were two smaller moons, each of which looked inhabited by alien cities. They all shined in the light of another sun, which looked quite similar to their sun back home. It was an amazing sight. It would have been great if they could take it all in. Unfortunately, there was a full blown alien war obscuring the beauty.
It was greater in scale than any war they ever experienced or read about. There were two clear sides. The attacking force heading towards the planet were in these massive cruisers that looked like it was modeled after a bird of some sorts. The defending force had equally numerous battle stations that looked like large spinning tops that were orbiting around the planet and the moons. From these stations, hundreds if not thousands of star fighters flew out and relentlessly attacked. As it just so happened, the Starjammer was right in the middle of it all.
“Please tell me that’s just uncut material from the last Star Wars movie,” groaned Bobby.
“I’m afraid not,” said Lilandra, “The Phoenix Force didn’t just fix the Starjammer. She powered up the ship’s warp drive and transported us right into the Shi’ran quadrant.”
“Is that good news or bad news?” asked Kitty warily.
“Both,” answered Corsair as he stormed past them, “It means your friend here just transported us into the middle of an interstellar war zone!”
“How can D’ken have made it this deep?” wondered Lilandra, “He was two full star-systems away when we left!”
“He must be pulling a hail mary!” reasoned Corsair, “We need to fall back and get to the Shi’ran alpha station!”
“Is any of this supposed to make sense?” asked Rogue.
“I’ll spoon-feed it to you later! For now, hold onto your butts and pray that girl of yours fixed the shields!” said the grizzled pilot.
Corsair stormed into the cockpit and took the controls. Without even strapping himself in, he placed both hands on the avionic sticks and started maneuvering the Starjammer. He wasn’t very gentle with it either. He had to fly between the path of two large squads of interceptors.
On D’ken’s side, he was throwing XRS-103 attackers. On the rebel’s side, they had the equally destructive ZRE-492 interceptors. Both spacecrafts had the firepower to blow them into cosmic dust. He had to get clear of the incoming fire before he could even think about signaling the rebel command station.
It turned into another bumpy ride. Instead of taking hits from the incoming space fighters, the Starjammer was rocked by Corsair’s reckless flying. In the passenger area, the X-men stumbled back to their seats. Lilandra and Hank lingered to get Charles’s unconscious body into a safer position. Logan did the same with Jean. While he secured her into one of the seats, Ororo caught up with Scott. He was still lingering near the door leading into the passenger area. It looked like he took a few extra blows during his fight with Corsair.
“Hurry Scott!” she urged him, “We had best strap ourselves in before Corsair gets too reckless!”
“What about Jean?” he said in a daze, “I…I can’t feel her anymore.”
“She’s fine, Cyke,” barked Logan as he strapped Jean into a seat, “Now get that ugly ass of yours in a seat!”
“Listen to him, Scott! Impolite it may be!” said Ororo as she hurried him along, “We can address Jean’s predicament once we find some kind of hide-away from this chaos.”
Ororo grabbed the X-leader by the arm and shoved him into a nearby seat. His gaze drifted over towards Jean, who appeared safe in the seat next to Logan. He still couldn’t feel her through their link. It was as if her mind was shut off completely. There was something going on inside her. Even if he couldn’t sense it, he could still feel it.
Jean wasn’t his only concern. While Ororo helped strap him into his seat, he noticed something in the palm of his hand. It was a necklace of sorts. It was a silver-metal chain with a dog tag and a locket. He wasn’t sure where it came from at first. Then he thought back to his fight with Corsair. When he grabbed him, he remembered ripping something from his neck. He didn’t think too much of it at first. Then he looked down at the tag and read the name on it. The X-leader’s daze turned to pure shock.
“No…it can’t be!” he gasped.
“If you’re gonna freak out, can you save it for later, Scott?” said Rogue, who was sitting nearby, “We ain’t got the luxury of a nervous breakdown!”
Scott fell into another daze, even as the Starjammer rocked with turbulence. He looked up towards the cockpit where Corsair was operating the controls. Many confliction emotions consumed him. He couldn’t confront any of them until they made it out of this.
The Starjammer swerved around, doing a complete U-turn and heading towards one of the moons orbiting the planet. In the process the two waves of alien star-fighters met and clashed. Now they were maneuvering and swirling around the area as well, shooting at anything that passed within their line of sight. Both sides ended up shooting at the Starjammer, firing high energy laser pulses and rail guns. Thankfully, the shields had been replenished. They were able to deflect the blasts. The bigger challenge was to avoid crashing into the other ships.
“We need to get a signal to the rebel command!” shouted Lilandra, who was still tending to Charles.
“Are you asking me to multi-task?” scoffed Corsair, “In case you didn’t notice, I only have two hands and I need them both to fly this damn thing!”
“If D’ken’s forces don’t blow us into cosmic dust, then our own fighters will,” reminded Lilandra.
Having to think fast, Lilandra turned to Hank. He had worked with Shi’ar technology before. He was the only one capable of utilizing these controls.
“Hank, if I telepathically broadcast the instructions, can you activate the quantum communication panel?” she asked.
“A chance to operate alien computers?” he said as he undid his restraints, “No urgings are necessary, Miss Neramani.”
“Why can’t you do it?” asked Betsy as more turbulence rocked the ship.
“I’m not leaving Charles,” she said, clinging to his unconscious form, “Besides, Hank’s mind works faster and time is factor.”
“When is it not?” quipped Hank as he cracked his knuckles, “I’m ready, Lilandra! Send me the instructions and I’ll put them to extensive use!”
Hank braved Corsair’s reckless flying, using his enhanced agility to make his way into the cockpit where he sat down at the communications console. He strapped himself in just as Corsair pulled a daring barrel roll to avoid ramming into one of D’ken’s fighters. Once in place, he opened his mind and allowed Lilandra to project his thoughts.
“You sure you can work that thing, Bigfoot?” asked Corsair, still focused on the swarming attackers.
“It’s a computer. Whether human or alien, the basic tenants are the same,” said Hank confidently.
Corsair didn’t waste his energy belittling him. They were flying near one of D’ken’s cruisers. Now they weren’t just targets of the attacking space fighters. They were catching fire from the cruiser’s vast arsenal. He saw larger energy blasts surging past them. He was able to narrowly avoid them, but too many hits from the cruiser and their shields would be reduced to nothing.
The Starjammer picked up speed while the cruiser kept accelerating. There seemed to be no strategy. It was just charging into the thick of the rebel forces. As it neared the planet, the space battle intensified. It motivated Hank to work faster.
These alien systems were very advanced and it took a while for him to work out the details. With Lilandra’s help, he caught up quickly and brought up several holographic screens. One of them was a map depicting all the major positions of the rebel forces. The other was akin to a radio tuner. Using this tuner, he adjusted it to Lilandra’s specifications.
“We appear to be logging in through an encrypted channel,” said Hank, “We should be in contact with the main rebel base any moment.”
“How long before we get a response? I’m getting sea-sick back here!” shouted Kitty as Corsair did several more barrel rolls.
“Don’t you mean space sick?” quipped Bobby.
“Shut it, Iceman!”
Kitty’s question was answered by a blaring voice through the ship. It wasn’t in an English tone and it sounded very upset.
“Starjammer! Is that you? How the hell did you warp to this sector so quickly?”
“Nice to see you too, Deathbird. We’re fine, by the way,” said Corsair in the Shi’ar language, “Now if it’s not too much trouble, can you tell the squadrons to stop shooting at us? We need an escort to the base.”
“Our main base is under fire in case you haven’t noticed. We’ve fallen back to the Chandilar-13 moon base. We should be safe here for a while, but D’ken is throwing everything he has in every direction. We may have to fall back again soon.”
“So long as it’s not now, give us a clearance to land. We’ve had a very bad day and I’d like to end it in one piece,” said Corsair.
“You’re in good company. I’ll order the delta squadron to guide you in. You and your team will have a lot of explaining to do to the Command Council!”
“It’s good to be home,” said Corsair dryly.
As the channel closed, Corsair did another U-turn with the Starjammer. He sent the thrusters into overdrive, following the scope away from the cruiser. He headed right towards a new wave of interceptors from the rebels. This time they didn’t fire at him. They recognized the Starjammer as a friendly force. It came as a relief in some ways. The rest of the X-men still weren’t sure if this was a good thing.
“I’m not sure what you said or who you were talking to, but it did not sound friendly,” said Piotr.
“Yeah, it sounded almost as bad as Wolverine,” commented Kitty.
“Almost,” scoffed Logan.
“That’s how Deathbird always sound,” muttered Lilandra, “Believe it or not, that’s the nicest tone I’ve heard her use in quite some time.”
“So we leave a world of hostile humans and enter a world of equally hostile aliens?” surmised Remy, “How is that a fair trade?”
“This war has been difficult on everybody. We’re all on edge in so many ways,” said Lilandra as she cradled Charles’s head, “We’ve reached a critical point. Once Deathbird hears about what we encountered on Chandilar, she’ll have even more reasons to be upset.”
“And you expect us to make a difference?” scoffed Logan.
“I’m sorry that you had to be dragged into this, X-men. I didn’t mean for it to happen this way,” she said sadly, “But you’re all here for a reason. Charles says he knew something. The Phoenix Force wouldn’t have brought you along if it wasn’t necessary.”
“We’re certainly willing to help, Lilandra. The X-men are your friends,” said Ororo, “We just need to know what we’re up against.”
“We’ll figure that out. I promise,” said Lilandra, “This threat will affect us all. I can feel it. We may be the only ones in a position to stop it.”
“Aliens or no aliens, it’s still right up our alley,” grinned Rogue.
Lilandra smiled warmly at the X-men’s dedication. Even though this wasn’t their war and they had been thrust into it unexpectedly, they still had the courage to do the right thing. It was a trait they clearly learned from Charles Xavier. The Shi’ar needed that kind of heroism.
The turbulence finally settled within the Starjammer. They outran the cruiser and were now fully surrounded by rebel interceptors. They formed a large escort convoy, which Corsair followed. They shifted to inter-planetary speeds, escaping the main battle and making their way to the other side of the planet where the moon base was located. For a moment, they could catch their breath. It was certain not to last. This war had been a drain on the Shi’ar and countless others. It had to end and the X-men may be the key.
Chandilar – Imperial Palace
D’ken hadn’t left his throne room in what felt like ages. He remained obsessed with his final project. From atop this grand structure, he looked out at the massive construction array that dominated much of the planet’s landscape. The echoes of endless construction and unrelenting toil filled the air. The two massive antennas were nearing completion. It wouldn’t be long before he could proceed with the final step. This was his ultimate triumph and no one dared stand in his way.
One of the few brazen enough to confront him was Jason Wynegarde. This annoying human was the only one who showed no concern when he openly disagreed with him. So it was never a surprise when he barged into his throne room unannounced. Since he ordered Gladiator not to crush him, he did so constantly. D’ken barely flinched when he heard his doors burst open once more.
“I have news D’ken. And once again, your own people are too terrified to give it to you,” said Wynegarde as he approached the Shi’ar emperor.
“I assumed my people were done busying themselves with such needless tasks,” scoffed D’ken, “The project is nearly complete. I need not be distracted by pointless battle scenarios.”
“You’ll have to make an exception this time. It involves your half-sister again,” said the old psychic.
D’ken turned around and scowled at the feeble human. Wynegarde remained undaunted, even as he approached with seething frustration.
“Choose your next words very carefully, Wynegarde. Your usefulness to me is very close to ending,” he said coldly.
“I had no intention of being disrespectful,” he said with a half-grin, “The attack force in the Shi’ran quadrant offered an interesting report. The Starjammer returned unexpectedly and a string of decoded transmissions confirm that Lilandra is with them.”
“So they escaped my wrath, hid on the edges of the empire, and chose to return to the base after they repaired their ship. Why is this worth my time?” asked D’ken.
“That’s where the details get sketchy. The Starjammer’s return coincided with a burst of unusual readings from the M’krann Crystal. The signature was very similar to what I sensed during my investigation into the Phoenix Force back on Earth. If that fiery mutant girl I told you about is with her, then assume the Phoenix Force is with them as well.”
“We already knew the Phoenix Force was likely to get involved,” D’ken pointed out, “So what if they have her? So what if those other humans you told me about are with her? Why should I be concerned?”
“Because they’re not mere humans. They’re the X-men. It’s in our best interest not to ignore that. In my experience, they have a knack for defying cosmic forces. Even if we can handle the Phoenix, there is a chance the X-men may screw it up.”
The prospect of Earth-dwellers ruining his moment of triumph was infuriating in ways that defied all Shi’ar understanding. It was outrageous how some lowly speck in the universe could cause their empire so much trouble. The sins of his ancestors once again haunted his greatest endeavors. If he had his way, he would exterminate every last human. He would settle for a victory in this key battle.
“How much longer until the crystal array is ready?” asked D’ken coldly.
“At our current pace, five days,” said Wynegarde, “May I assume you wish to step it up?”
“Tell all the workers they are now to finish in three days or they will have every last molecule of their body burned to a cinder. Lilandra is working faster than I anticipated. We must finish before she and these X-men interfere!”
“Why not just send the Imperial Guard to occupy them?”
“I cannot spare the manpower. Not with the rebels guarding them,” said the Shi’ar Emperor, “If these humans are anywhere near as pestilent as you, then I must make arrangements. Tell Gladiator to prep the shuttle for launch. I will oversee the core on Chandilar-2 myself.”
“Glad to hear you’re adopting a more hands-on attitude,” grinned the old psychic, “What other preparations do you intend to make?”
“I prefer not to share that with a sniveling human like you,” scoffed D’ken, “You’re still getting what you desire. So stay out of my way and fulfill your purpose. I’ve had enough of this endless war. I’m going to end it and none will stop me! Not Lilandra! And certainly not these X-men!”
The Shi’ar Emperor stormed out of his throne room, shoving Wynegarde aside in the process. The old psychic was not too disturbed by D’ken arrogance. D’ken had ignored every other warning from his generals and advisors, staking everything on this massive project. The presence of the X-men and the Phoenix Force prompted him to go even further. This unheralded tyranny may actually work to his advantage. It was inevitable that Charles Xavier would become involved. Even if he and his X-men could thwart D’ken, he could not stop the sheer breadth of what was about to transpire.
Chandilar-13 – Rebel Moon Base
The mood aboard the Starjammer finally eased somewhat as they escaped the main battle. The interceptor convoy was able to get the ship to a less hostile area. They were then escorted through a series of monitoring stations orbiting Chandilar-13, getting clearance along the way from the rebels. Once they made it past the final station, the Starjammer descended with the interceptors to a large complex near the north pole of the moon.
The complex itself was pretty large. It wasn’t so much a base as it was a large city covered in a massive dome. It was built right into a series of craters and connected by what looked like tubular highway systems. There were dozens of other large domes around the moon, but they didn’t look inhabited. They looked like defense posts, making much of the surface look like a planetary fortress. Even from high above, the X-men could see a lot of activity. The battle on the other side of the planet had ships moving in and out of the base. It was quite a sight, seeing a conflict on such a massive scale.
“Damn…all this hardware is for fighting some war?” commented Kitty.
“It isn’t just some war, Kitty. This conflict has been going on for generations,” said Lilandra solemnly.
“With all this technology, why do you bother?” asked Betsy, “I mean, what’s the point?”
“Since when has war ever had a point?” quipped Ororo.
“I’m not saying it has to. I’m just saying that if the Shi’ar race is so advanced, how come they haven’t evolved beyond war?”
“That’s a common fallacy about aliens. It’s often assumed that the more advanced they are, the more peaceful they are,” said Hank as he emerged from the cockpit.
“Why is that so dang wrong? Ain’t bigger brains supposed to make fightin’ a waste of time?” asked Rogue.
“It’s a matter of evolutionary biology, Rogue,” he explained, “The smartest creatures in nature tend to be predators. By their definition, predators must be smart. The only way a predator like humans or Shi’ar come to dominate the food chain is by waging war on the competition. As we’ve seen with humanity time and again, being dominant doesn’t erase what generations of biology honed to perfection.”
“So the Shi’ar just be taking it a step further,” surmised Remy, “By waging more war than the other guys, they get pretty dang good at it.”
“It isn’t always like this, I assure you,” said Lilandra, “There have been times when the Shi’ar Empire was peaceful and prosperous. From what I learned about those eras, such peace was always fragile. It wasn’t until my family bloodline got involved that all this conflict would erupt. That’s why I must be the one to end it.”
It was a surreal concept, the horrors of war being apparent in any being regardless of them being human. It seemed such conflict was universal. It offered a new perspective to the X-men’s struggle, one that made it even more daunting.
It gave them plenty to think about as the Starjammer settled into a hover over a major landing area near the center of the domed city. A series of air locks opened to allow the ship inside. Some of the interceptors broke off and returned to other areas. The ones that remained escorted it inside.
Once they were through the air lock, the Starjammer descended towards a designated landing area. They appeared to be in a large space port of sorts. There were no runways, just large disk-shaped landing areas. The biggest one in the center was designated for the Starjammer. Once they finally landed, Corsair emerged from the cockpit.
“Home sweet home,” he said dryly, “I just got another signal from Deathbird. She brought a little welcoming crew to greet us.”
“I take it they ain’t rolling out the red carpet for us,” said Logan.
“For a bunch of humans? You’re lucky they don’t have a standing kill order,” scoffed Corsair, “I’ve been part of this war nearly two decades and they still hate my guts.”
“For some reason, I do not blame them,” said Piotr under his breath.
Corsair was nowhere near as relieved as the others to be away from the conflict. He kept grumbling as he helped Lilandra with the unconscious Charles Xavier. Hank emerged with him and helped Logan with Jean.
“Welcoming aside, has Deathbird prepared the medical quarters?” asked Lilandra as she gazed worriedly over Charles.
“She’s got doctors waiting for us outside. They’re probably armed too,” said Corsair, rolling his eyes, “They checked to make sure the air quality is healthy. The gravity shouldn’t be an issue either. With all these accommodations, I can’t imagine they’re too thrilled about treating humans.”
“They’ll get over it. I’ll make sure she’s not too hostile,” said Lilandra, “We’ve had enough conflict for one day.”
“I’ll say!” said Betsy with a groan, “If you guys have something resembling a shower around here, I would love to use it.”
“I’ll settle for a working toilet,” said an equally tired Bobby.
The exhausted X-men followed Corsair and Lilandra out of the passenger area. Bobby, Kitty, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr stayed close to Lilandra so they could keep an eye on the Professor. Hank, Ororo, and Logan lingered around Jean. She was still unconscious so they moved her carefully. Unlike Xavier, she looked as though she was in a deep sleep of sorts. Still in her Phoenix costume, there were many reasons to worry.
The only one who lingered a bit was Scott. He had been silent during the whole descent. He kept a close eye on Jean as she was moved out. Just as the others were on their way out, Scott stopped Corsair with a somewhat rough gesture.
“Hold on, Corsair. There’s something we need to finish,” said Scott flatly.
“Kid, you’re working on the last of what few nerves I have left,” he said angrily, “In case you didn’t notice, I deal with a lot of crap and it isn’t just from an inter-stellar war. Now I don’t know you and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know you. So if you’ve got a problem, deal with it! I don’t need some snot-nosed punk giving me any more crap!”
Scott stared at him with a cold glare, taking in Corsair’s hardened expression. He was a man clearly jaded from years of war. He lost an eye. Most of his hair was white. He had scars on his face from any number of battles. Beyond all that hostility, Scott saw the bitter truth. There was no more doubt. He might as well put it out there.
“Major Christopher Summers, United States Air Force,” he told him, “Chief pilot of the elite red-wing squadron and test pilot at Elmendorf Air Base. Married to Katherine Ann Summers, chief researcher of advanced avionics from White Sands New Mexico.”
Corsair was taken aback. He hadn’t heard that name in over a decade. To hear this kid say it hit harder than any blow D’ken could deliver.
“How did you…what the fuck is this? There’s no way you could know that!”
“So it’s true? That is your real name?” said Scott, not daunted by his tone.
“Be very careful what you say next! You’re tap-dancing on thin ice!” spat Corsair, who was on the verge of grabbing Scott by the neck.
“Funny, you used to tell me and Alex the same thing when we stayed up late playing with our model airplanes.”
Corsair was struck again, this time in a different way. His outrage turned to shock as he took a step back. A cold shiver ran down his spine as he looked closer at this young man. Suddenly, he noticed details that he hadn’t seen before.
This man’s face, hair, and demeanor were very familiar. By mentioning the name Alex, it offered a tantalizing possibility. It was so outrageous that he started shaking his head.
“No…you can’t know that. It’s impossible!” he exclaimed.
“Not as much as you think…dad,” said Scott, his flat tone giving way to hard emotion.
The X-leader didn’t say another word. There wasn’t much else to say. He thought this man was dead just as much as he seemed to think he and Alex were dead. Between this and Jean’s condition, it was a lot to take in. So as the silence grew more award, he tossed Corsair the necklace he grabbed from him.
“Here…you dropped this,” he said, “Now if you’ll excuse me, my friends and my girlfriend need me.”
With a strained voice and a stoic expression, Scott turned around to catch up with the others. Corsair stayed behind, frozen upon catching the locket. He watched until Scott disappeared from sight. Then he looked down at his necklace. His old dog tags displayed his name and rank from his Air Force days. He opened the locket to find an old picture of him, his wife, and two sons. This was how he knew. This confirmed what he said. His son was alive. For the first time in over a decade, the hardened pilot felt tears in his eyes.
“My God…Scott. My boys,” said Corsair, collapsing into a nearby seat, “They’re alive!”
While Corsair stayed behind to process this life-changing information, Scott rejoined the others. He caught up with them in the cargo bay, which Lilandra was just about to open. He hid his emotion within his usual stoic demeanor. He didn’t hide it very well because some noticed it.
“You okay, sugah?” asked Rogue, “You look like someone ran over your foot.”
“I’m fine,” was all he said.
“I’m won’t even begin to point out how many problems there are with that response,” scoffed Kitty.
“Save it, Kit. Now ain’t the time to make a scene,” warned Rogue, stopping her before she blurted out something foolish, “If Scott’s gonna be difficult, let him. We’ll bust his chops later. For now, let’s try and make a good impression on our alien friends here.”
No one else commented on Scott’s disposition as the cargo bay opened. As it lowered, it revealed a vast space port full of alien ships and countless alien figures. Most were Shi’ar. Some looked like they belonged to another race. Their arrival seemed to trigger a panic of sorts. As they stepped out from the Starjammer, they were greeted with a less than homely sight.
“All elite guard, keep your plasma rifles at the ready. Do not dare aim at the Empress, but don’t hesitate to subdue these hostile humans,” said an angry-looking female figure.
“Aye, Commander Deathbird!” said several dozen heavily armed figures behind her.
It was a distressing sight, even if the X-men couldn’t understand what they were saying. The female figure giving the orders was wearing what looked like an officer’s uniform. It consisted of a purplish body suit with alien symbols stitched into the sleeve. She was also wearing a strange hat of sorts that looked more like a mask. It covered her eyes and had wing-like extensions on the sides. She also wore a cape-like garment that seemed to signal her status and if her demeanor was any indication, she was took pride in that status.
The other figures around her were more plainly dressed. They wore black body suits with these small white packs on their backs. They were all humanoid in appearance with fairly human limbs and faces. What made them stand out was their hair. It looked less like traditional hair and more like feathers. They also had a slightly tan skin tone, not unlike Lilandra’s. Their appearance was complimented with a fairly hostile poise. At the same time, they almost looked nervous. It left the X-men confused and uncomfortable.
“What were you saying about impressions, Rogue?” asked Kitty warily.
“Dang it, how do you say we come in peace to these people?” groaned Rogue.
“Might not be in their vocabulary, Stripes,” snarled Logan, already preparing to draw his claws.
“I’ll handle this, X-men,” said Lilandra, waving Logan down and passing the unconscious Charles off to Piotr and Hank.
Matching the hostile demeanor, Lilandra boldly approached the hostile Shi’ar. She confronted the female figure, who recognized all too well.
“Tell them to stand down, Deathbird,” she said strongly, “And speak the human language while you’re at it. These people are guests.”
“I’ve hated this language ever since you taught it to me,” groaned Deathbird, “I’m sorry, but you know the high command’s policy towards humans. We’re to treat them with extreme caution during any unsanctioned encounter.”
“Well this one is sanctioned,” she said firmly, “Under my authority as a Neramani, I sanction it myself.”
“Just because you are half-human doesn’t mean we have to re-write our protocols at your luxury,” retorted Deathbird.
“I’m not asking you to rewrite them. I’m telling you to make an exception. I’m sure you’ve seen the battle unfolding only a world away. D’ken is making his move. These humans are the key to stopping it.”
Deathbird scolded Lilandra almost as much as she scolded her human companions. Dealing with Corsair was bad enough. Having an entire team of them was another headache she couldn’t afford. However, being a Neramani still carried a great deal of authority. As a commander in the Shi’ar rebellion, she was obligated to honor it.
“Lower your weapons,” she said to the elite guard in her native language, “Prepare to escort the Empress and her companions to the royal quarters.”
“What about the high command’s standing orders?” asked one of the Shi’ar elite guards.
“I’ll deal with them. You have your orders. Now obey them. Get the medical team over here while you’re at it.”
The dozens of armed Shi’ar hesitated to comply. Usually and order from Deathbird was an order no one dared question. When humans were involved, orders were greatly complicated. Eventually, they did lower their weapons. That didn’t stop them from looking at the X-men with a mix of hostility and fear.
“They almost seem afraid of us,” said Piotr.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” said Logan.
“I’m not sure it’s a good thing either,” said Ororo as she watched the elite guard curiously back away, “These creatures are technologically advanced and clearly adept at fighting wars. For what reason could they possibly fear humans?”
“Maybe we just smell funny to them,” shrugged Bobby.
“I’m certain it’s more complicated than that,” said Hank, already pondering this new mystery, “I recall from our previous encounter that the Shi’ar go to great lengths to avoid Earth. There must be a reason behind such trepidation. To be an advanced civilization yet still fear our underdeveloped planet hints at complications with quite a history.”
“I’m not sure I want to know that history. We get enough fear back on Earth,” said Kitty.
“Not like this, we don’t. This is different and I worry that it may be an issue in helping one another,” said Ororo as she looked into the terrified eyes of these creatures.
The X-men remained cautious, keeping a close eye on the Shi’ar guards in case one got too scared for his own good. Logan stayed out in front, sniffing for any trace of hostility. His glare alone was enough to make the Shi’ar guards take another step back.
While the X-men were taking in their new surroundings, Lilandra coordinated with Deathbird to bring the Shi’ar doctors into the area. The column of guards moved out of the way so several Shi’ar dressed in white suits rolled a couple of strange-looking beds into the area. They looked more like incubation chambers with lines of wires running through the glass. It was certainly more advanced than anything back on Earth.
“Please place the humans inside the cocoons,” said one of the doctors.
“Cocoons? The hell you trying to do with them? Turn them into spiders?” said Logan, who hesitated to put Jean inside.
“I think you mean butterflies, Logan,” said Betsy.
“I…I apologize. Your language is still new to me. A cocoon as you call it is the best way to describe what these devices do,” said the doctor, clearly frightened at being in the presence of humans.
“It’ll be okay, X-men,” Lilandra assured them, “I’ve seen these things work before. We need them to work for Charles and Jean. They need to heal as quickly as possible so we can make our next move.”
“What sort of move do you expect us to make?” asked Scott, now hovering over Jean with Logan.
“We won’t know for sure until Charles is healed. I’ve sensed what he’s sensed. I suspect he has the answers we’re looking for.”
She was serious about aiding Professor Xavier. The way she stayed by his side showed that in a great many ways. It assured the X-men that they could trust her word. So with help from the Shi’ar doctors, they placed Charles and Jean in the cocoons. Once they were inside, the doctors sealed it. Then under heavy scrutiny from the Shi’ar rebel guard, they started wheeling them towards the far end of the port. The X-men followed with Lilandra, still getting used to the idea of being on an alien world.
Scott, Bobby, Hank, Ororo, Logan, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, Kitty, and Piotr were facing all sorts of unknowns. They had dealt with cosmic threats before, but it never required them to leave Earth like this. The whole human/mutant conflict didn’t really apply here. This was an alien world with an alien threat. It still wasn’t clear how any of this connected to them. The only ones who had any clue were Jean and the Professor. At this point all they could do was wait and see what challenges lay ahead for them.
“So we’re on an alien spaceport fighting an alien war with cosmic forces,” mused Bobby, “I feel like I should change my last name to Skywalker or something.”
“Remy ain’t into sci-fi. Since when do X-men fit aliens into the long list of folks who want us dead?” wondered Remy.
“Why not?” quipped Betsy, “These aliens have affected us. Now we’re affecting them. Don’t tell me you’re not the least be curious about the reasons.”
“Curiosity can be dangerous. Remy gets the feeling that these Shi’ar know that,” commented the Cajun as he saw more aliens tremble when they passed by, “I think we ought to be more curious as to how this shit be effecting things back home. After that light show on Genosha, others are gonna be curious as well.”
Earlier – Pentagon
It had been a tense day for General Grimshaw and every other official with an above top-secret clearance. Just when they had their hands full with the Mutant Liberation Front, a new alien threat emerged. It had many high-ranking officials in NORAD scrambling for answers. It also had General Grimshaw working overtime. He usually distanced himself from alien affairs. Now that Abigail Brand was involved, he didn’t have the luxury of ignoring it.
“I need an update, people!” barked Brand, “The President is demanding more information so he can leave that damn bunker!”
“We’re working on it, ma’am. Every radar, infrared, and microwave detection station is on full alert. So far, we haven’t found a trace of the anomaly,” said one of the female captains.
“NORAD is saying it may have already left the planet,” said a communications officer.
“No, we would have detected something,” said Brand, “These things may be stealthy, but they always leave a trail!”
“That assumes they will leave,” said General Grimshaw, who remained fixated on the main screen, “The craft took off from the moon and came right towards us before going silent. Whoever they are, they clearly don’t want to be seen. So we have to speculate where they would likely turn up.”
“We’re already focusing on every target of value in the US and NATO countries. So far, we haven’t detected the slightest disruption,” said a high ranking colonel.
“Those targets are valuable to us, Colonel. They may not be valuable to the aliens,” reasoned Grimshaw, “It’s not a full scale invasion so it wouldn’t make sense to attack military targets.”
“That assumes these aliens are thinking rationally,” said Agent Brand, “For all we know, this could be the alien equivalent of a joyride. Our best bet is to protect all our sensitive targets until we can verify the ship is gone or neutralized.”
“You don’t go through the trouble of cloaking yourself for a joyride, Brand,” argued Grimshaw, “Even if these creatures aren’t rational, they can’t be very foolish if they’re capable of evading our defenses. That’s why we need to be proactive. We need to find somewhere that would interest an alien visitor.”
His logic was sound. Agent Brand was used to playing defense with her SWORD initiative. If this anomaly was intent on attacking them, it would have done something by now. This was something different. It had the potential to be something serious. That gave them all the more incentive to find this anomaly before it made a move.
General Grimshaw kept looking over the holographic map display. Most were focused on the trail left by the anomaly around the moon. He was more focused on the large map of the Earth. Every major base and tracking station was identified with a blue dot. It was assumed that one of these areas may be a target. He tried to look deeper and identify locations of great value. There were a lot of choices for any extraterrestrial visitor. Some had to stand out over others.
While he was going over the possibilities, there was a flash on the map. For a moment, the image was scrambled. Then a series of bizarre readings flashed on the screen.
“Holy…um, we just picked up a new reading!” said a signal analyst sitting at a station near the General.
“What is it? Did you locate the ship?” asked Agent Brand intently.
“I’m uh…not sure,” said the analyst as he went over the data, “It has the same signature, but now it’s amped up.”
“I don’t do slang, soldier. And neither should you!” said Brand strongly, “Paint me a picture if you have to. What are you seeing?”
“Well picture a lit match. Then blow up a ton of C4 next to it. That should give you an idea of how much stronger the signature is.”
“I’m also picking up some heavy psychic activity in the area,” said another analyst sitting nearby, “The psy readings are off the charts!”
“I’m even getting word from NATO of an unauthorized jet heading towards it,” said a female officer who was listening on an earpiece, “Looks like someone was aware of it before we were.”
“Can you trace it? Let’s get a fix on it so we can make our next move!” said General Grimshaw.
The analysts worked feverishly to make sense of the data. On the holographic map, the systems narrowed out patches of land to zero in on the source. The next few minutes were agonizing as satellite systems coordinated with ground relays. General Grimshaw and Agent Brand watched the screen intently. When they finally locked in on the target area, a wave of tension filled the room. The location of the anomaly was the last place anyone wanted it to be.
“It…it’s coming from, Genosha!” said the chief signal analyst.
“Why am I not surprised?” groaned Brand, “That country’s chief export has always been headaches!”
“I’m as jaded as you, Agent Brand. But what could this mean? Why is this happening now?” wondered Grimshaw.
Just as they began to ponder this question, there was another flash on the screen. This time it was so intense it shorted out the holographic map. A number of computer screens flashed as well, adding another ominous twist to this volatile situation. It left many of the analysts confused while General Grimshaw and Agent Brand were left in a difficult position.
“Tell me that was a system error,” said Agent Brand.
“I’m afraid not, ma’am,” said one of her SWORD analysts, “A satellite just detected another flash. The anomaly took off and shot out beyond our atmosphere. It’s gone.”
“But it left a hell of a mark,” said another communications officer, “I’m getting a surge of messages from the naval blockade around Genosha. They’re saying it’s the forth of July and someone forgot the barbeque.”
General Grimshaw and Agent Brand exchanged glances. This was getting more disturbing by the moment. An alien threat was bad enough. Mixed with Genosha it was more serious than they imagined. It was a true nightmare scenario. Many details remained unknown, but if it involved Genosha then it couldn’t be good.
“Open a secure line to Genosha. Get the President on the line as well,” ordered General Grimshaw, “Wanda and her cronies have some explaining to do. If they don’t give us a decent explanation, there will be hell to pay!”
Up next: Outer Limits Part 3
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