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Volume 6 -- Issue 139 -- Outer Limits Part 3

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Outer Limits Part 3
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Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men were born with extraordinary powers. Together, they use those powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. Challenges like Magneto, Sinister, and the Mutant Liberation Front constantly test their resolve. However, there are also challenges that go beyond their world.

The Shi’ar Empire has been a major force in the galaxy for millennia. Now it is under the tyrannical thumb of D’ken Neramani. Driven by a madness that not yet understood, he is sinking every last resource of his empire into a bold program on the Shi’ar home world of Chandilar.

This plan involves help from a human that the X-men have tangled with before, Jason Wynegarde. He provided D’ken with the M’krann Crystal, a relic of untold power that D’ken sees as a cosmic endgame. He’s completely tied down the Shi’ar rebel forces that oppose him. Now the X-men are their last hope.

In their effort to assist Lilandra Neramani and Corsair of the Starjammers, the X-men were transported across the cosmos and into the middle of this galactic war. They were guided by the Phoenix Force within Jean Grey, which has a connection with the M’krann Crystal. They also even reunited with Charles Xavier in the process, who had been recovering from an addiction to pain killers.

Now both he and Jean are key to stopping D’ken. While they heal, the X-men struggle to make sense of this cosmic conflict. With time running out, they know they need to figure it out soon.


Chandilar-13 Moon Base – Guest Dormitories

The X-men were beyond exhausted. Having been drawn into an alien civil war, there was a lot to process. On top of that Professor Xavier and Jean Grey were injured. Their status was uncertain, as was their next course of action. They received a cold welcome from the Shi’ar. Despite this, Lilandra made sure they were given comfortable quarter so they could rest. Even with a battle going on worlds away, they needed time to process everything.

Under Lilandra’s direction, a few bedrooms were set up. These bedrooms had to be modified to accommodate humans. Shi’ar beds consisted of hammock-like compartments, which most humans would not find comfortable. The bathrooms and food courts were modified as well, but only slightly. Some aspects of the Shi’ar dwellings weren’t terribly different. Yet for reasons still not known, the Shi’ar were very anxious around humans. The mere mention of Earth was enough to insight terror.

The X-men were content to rest in their dwellings. Most of the team retired to their makeshift quarters to rest and wash up. Professor Xavier and Jean Grey were closely monitored in the infirmary by Shi’ar doctors. Lilandra, Scott, and Logan stayed with them despite being very tired. Everyone was told beforehand that they wouldn’t be able to rest for long. As soon as they knew more about this threat, they were going to act.

Since their visit had been so unexpected, they didn’t get individual rooms. Instead, two larger suits were rearranged to accommodate them. One was set up for the men. Another was set up for the woman. The Shi’ar were someone keen on separating their quarters by gender. While some preferred the embrace of their lovers, they chose not to make a big deal of it. The rooms quickly fell quiet as they stripped out of their uniforms and slept in their underwear. Even though they were dead tired, sleep was hard to come by.

“Yo Drake. You asleep, homme?” asked Remy from his bed.

“Hnn…don’t wanna go to class today,” groaned Bobby as he drooled into his pillow.

The Cajun chuckled lightly. If only he could be so at peace at a time like this. He wasn’t the only one unable to rest under these circumstances.

“I take it you cannot sleep as well, comrade,” said Piotr, who was lying in the bed across from Remy’s.

“Remy’s been trying. I be counting every sheep, croc, and what not for the past two hours. This be as rested as Remy’s gonna get,” he sighed.

“Da, I never understood the American concept of being too tired to sleep until now,” said Piotr, “It almost feels wrong to sleep at a time like this.”

“Or a place like this,” added Remy, “We in an alien moon base. There ain’t any branch of philosophy that can make sense of this shit.”

It didn’t bode well when the X-men’s resident philosopher couldn’t make sense of a situation in his typical witty manner. Remy was clearly trying and failing at every turn. His frustration had boiled over. With little chance of sleep, he rose up from his bed.

“Where are you going, comrade?” asked Piotr.

“Remy needs some air,” said the Cajun, “But we in space so Remy’s gotta settle for less.”

“I suppose it is better than nothing.”

Piotr got up as well and joined Remy. They both put their pants back on, having slept in their boxers. Remy stretched his sore limbs as he opened the sliding door to the chamber. As soon as he stepped out, he discovered that the others were having difficulty sleeping as well. Kitty, Rogue, and Betsy were each sitting in the lounge area. They looked every bit as restless from this ordeal.

It didn’t help that the lounge wasn’t exactly tailored to humans. The furniture was oddly shaped. Everything had egg-like designs with feather-like patterns. It also wasn’t very spacious. It had the feel of a crammed studio apartment with alien architecture. The only feature that felt similar to Earth was the large window that displayed a star-filled sky.

“Hey, sugah,” greeted Rogue, “Is insomnia whipping your ass too?”

“I think we all lost that battle, cherè,” said Remy as he walked up to his lover and embraced her, “Remy will settle for the alternatives.”

“That makes two of us,” she grinned as she returned his embrace.

Piotr followed Remy’s example. He approached Kitty, who was sitting on one of the egg-shaped couches and slipped his powerful arms around her. She quickly sunk into his embrace, clearly tired on so many levels.

“God I’m tired. Think you can knock me out, Petey?” asked Kitty in a groggy voice.

“Sorry Katya, but even I am not that strong,” he said with a light grin.

“Some X-men we are. Scott and Lilandra basically demand that we rest while the Professor is getting treated. It’s the simplest order in the world and we can’t obey it.”

“It’s not as simple as it seems,” said Piotr as he held her closely.

“So these Shi’ar beds aren’t doing it for you either?” asked Kitty.

“Nyet, the beds are not the problem. Neither is the idea that we are trying to sleep in an alien world,” said the Russian.

“Ah don’t know. Ah would say that’s a pretty big part of it,” said Rogue as she lingered with Remy behind the couch.

“I’m not saying it isn’t. We are dealing with something that is much bigger than how humans perceive mutants. Miss Lilandra says an entire alien empire is on the brink. It could potentially reach Earth as well.”

“Ugh, I’d rather not be reminded how much the universe is relying on us,” groaned Kitty.

“It ain’t something we can ignore, petite,” said Remy, “Time was, Remy’s whole universe began and ended in New Orleans. It be hard to see the much further when there be so many distractions.”

“It is not just distractions, my friend,” said Piotr, “Back in Russia, I was never one to look up at the stars at night. I was too busy looking for a better life for my family. Now we are in a world far bigger than we’ve ever known. It is difficult to get used to.”

“Ah don’t think we really can get used to it,” said Rogue distantly, “Some minds ain’t built for a scale that includes whole galaxies.”

The team fell silent and gazed out the window into the starry heavens. They could overcome so much, but they couldn’t wrap their heads around something like this. They were in the midst of an alien civilization that was fighting a galactic civil war. For all the bizarre challenges they had faced, this left them reeling in an entirely new way.

One who didn’t offer any insight was Betsy, who had been leaning against the wall. She was ominously still, staring out into space. She appeared restless for an entirely different reason.

“You still with us, Betsy? You ain’t offered your witty British comments,” said Remy.

“Sod off, Remy. I’m not in the mood,” she grumbled.

“And the award for grumpiest insomniac goes to a new champion,” joked Kitty.

“That goes double for you, Kitty,” Betsy added, “I’m having a hard enough time with alien politics. It’s making everything else that pisses me off more potent.”

“Is one of those things Warren?” asked Rogue, “Ah hear you were visiting him before we got called to be astronauts.”

“Do you want to make it triple, Rogue?” retorted Betsy.

“Enough with the hostility, cherè. We all be messed up about this. Don’t be taking it out on us!” said Remy in a stronger tone.

The harsh words of her ex-lover got Betsy to pause. She kept grumbling to herself, trying not to look at the two couples sitting before her. The way they embraced reminded her too much of Warren, who she thought she was growing close to. Then he pushed her away and before she could pull him back, she got roped into this alien chaos.

“I’m sorry, guys. I wasn’t sleeping much before this bloody mess,” she muttered.

“Hey, no worries,” said Kitty with a light grin, “I’ve heard way worse from Logan.”

“The rate I’m going, I’ll catch up before this is over. It feels like every stroke of luck I’ve had lately has turned against me.”

“Since when are X-men supposed to be lucky in the first place?” scoffed Rogue.

“Spare me the cynicism, Rogue. You weren’t pulled into this while you were in the middle of a personal problem,” said Betsy with a sigh, “Warren is your friend. You guys worry about him on some levels. For me, it’s different. Something was very wrong with him. He’s trusted me to help him ever since he got sick. Now I can’t be there for him.”

Her sour mood started to make more sense. It was no secret that Warren had been in a vulnerable state since the Legacy Virus. Betsy was the only one who really got through to him. There was definitely more going on if Betsy’s demeanor was any indication, but that was secondary.

“I know what it’s like to feel helpless, Betsy. I’ve been in that position with my sister many times before,” said Piotr with a look of sympathy.

“At least your sister doesn’t have a history of making lousy decisions for all the right reasons,” said Betsy distantly.

“Warren may be a little arrogant at times, but he’s not stupid,” said Kitty.

“Even if he is messed up, Ah can’t imagine Warren going too far with whatever he’s dealing with,” said Rogue.

“That was before. He’s different now,” said Betsy, “I have this really bad feeling that he’s done something foolish. And somehow me not being there has made it worse.”

“Try to worry about one crisis at a time, cherè. There ain’t but so much worry a mind can take,” said Remy.

“Yeah, I mean we’re all messed up here. We can’t fit the whole universe into our heads,” said Kitty, “Just look at this way…Warren’s bad decisions won’t matter if there’s no universe to screw him over.”

Her assessment was crude. Kitty Pryde’s knack for excessive bluntness evoked another groan from Betsy. She was right on some levels. If this threat with the Shi’ar was big enough, then she had to take care of it first before she took care of Warren. It was still frustrating. Even if they got out of this with everything intact, Warren may have already made his decision. She almost dreaded going back home to see what came of it.

Personal issues now went hand-in-hand with mission objectives. They had more than just the Earth at stake. The Shi’ar Empire offered a cosmic level challenge. It was not a conflict the X-men chose, but it was up to them to resolve it.


Meanwhile

While much of the team struggled with restlessness, some didn’t bother putting up a fight. Hank McCoy was too excited to rest. Rather than squeeze in whatever sleep he could manage, he busied himself with various Shi’ar reading materials. They came in the form of these spherical computers that projected holographic texts that could be translated into English. The promise of alien knowledge kept him up hours after the others had fallen asleep. When Ororo ventured into the food court for a snack, she wasn’t terribly surprised to find him awake.

“Have you gotten a minute of sleep since we arrived, Hank?” she said, rubbing her eyes tiredly as she walked by him.

“Good evening to you too, Ororo. And to answer your question, no. I haven’t slept since we arrived,” Hank replied.

“You almost sound chipper. Have you been drinking that strange blue fluid?” she asked, “I think the Shi’ar called it slime drink in English.”

“I’ve only consumed that which I recognize, namely water and grains. Their form of bread is actually quite good. It’s given me sufficient energy to go over these Shi’ar encyclopedia’s that Lilandra was kind enough to provide me with. An alien history of such a vast civilization is beyond amazing. How could I possibly sleep?”

“I was hoping you would at least try. I suppose that would be asking too much.”

Ororo sighed, choosing not to belittle her former lover for his unhealthy sleeping habits. She remembered how fruitless those efforts were when they were dating. That was before they found themselves on an alien moon base. It would have taken no fewer than ten severe blows to the head for him to resist feeding his curiosity.

Hank was sitting at a table with eight holographic books projecting text all around him. His mind was working at full capacity, reading over and soaking in the knowledge they had to offer. Ororo was content to get some water and bread from the oversized refrigerator that the Shi’ar called a cooling container. Hank was right about the Shi’ar version of bread. It was pretty filling. While she ate, Hank couldn’t resist sharing this new wealth of knowledge.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep for quite some time. The Shi’ar history is fascinating!” he said as he skillfully manipulated the projections, “They truly are alien, both in biology and conduct. From what I gather about their evolutionary history, they derive many of their traits from an avian-type lineage rather than a primate lineage.”

“Avian? You mean the Shi’ar evolved from birds?” surmised Ororo as she sat down at the table across from his.

“Well not the birds we know from Earth, but certainly something like them,” replied Hank, “While humans, as we know them, are a mere two million years old, the Shi’ar are at least ten million years old. They’ve had more time to evolve and develop a civilization more diverse than anything humans have reached thus far.”

“Yet they look so…”

“Human?” said Hank with a grin, “Yes, I noticed that too. However, when you look at their biology it makes sense. There are slight differences in their organs, DNA, and reproduction methods. Yet it still derives from a humanoid form. Humanoid beings appear to be the basil template for most intelligent life. The reason for this is the same reason as to why we eat soup with a spoon. It is simply the most efficient design.”

“I suppose that makes sense. I’m not sure if we should take comfort in such similarities,” said Ororo, looking down at her plate and glass of water.

“Well like on Earth, there’s plenty of room for variation. I’m not just referring to their feathered hair or skin complexion either. It is the Shi’ar society that sets them apart.”

Ororo kept eating while Hank brought up another book. An alien culture had many alien concepts. Understanding these concepts was key to understanding their enemy in D’ken.

“Like every other culture on Earth, the Shi’ar have their own mythology. The closest they have to a religion involves two gods, Sharra and K’ythri. Before there was life, these two primordial beings were forced into a marriage. From that marriage, they created the life that would become the Shi’ar. Through these forced actions, they found love and strength. That seems to be the general theme of Shi’ar culture. Love and strength are not mutually exclusive.”

“Love and strength through forced marriages? I guess that would explain why they were so hostile towards us when we first arrived,” said Ororo.

“Oh it goes deeper than that, dear Ororo. Much deeper,” said Hank as he switched to another book, “The Shi’ar don’t view conflict the same way as humans. They see it as a mechanism for society.”

“Does that mean we should be less cynical about humanity’s propensity for war?”

“Considering the many wars throughout Shi’ar history, I would say that humans are amateurs at best. Their societies rise and fall in a way akin to the old dynasties of China. An imperial power, be it autocratic or democratic, comes to power. They overthrow the old order, institute reforms, and peace follows. Then over time new conflict enters the system. The order becomes corrupt and gets overthrown by another system.”

“And how many times has this happened?” asked Ororo as she finished her bread.

“I’ve yet to tally each transition. To offer a little perspective, imagine every presidential election back in America as being decided by a civil war. Then imagine America being thousands of years older. That should give you some idea of Shi’ar politics.”

It was hard to imagine, a society so consumed with war. It couldn’t have been easy on the millions of beings who had to live through such carnage. Even though humanity did not shy away from wars, it was never on such a large scale.

“It sounds like a difficult way to run a society,” mused Ororo, “I knew of war-like tribes back in Africa. They rarely lasted because too much war burned them out.”

“The Shi’ar approach to war is simply different. They don’t see it as difficult,” said Hank, “In many ways, their warlike tendencies are what helped them become such a technological force throughout the galaxy. As we’ve seen back on Earth, war tends to spur innovation. Millennia of conflict allowed the Shi’ar to develop faster-than-light space-flight, anti-gravity technology, quantum communication, AI computers, holographic generators, advanced biotechnology, anti-matter reactors, and a fleet of other tools that utilize physics that humans haven’t begun to understand.”

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy catching up,” said Ororo, rolling her eyes a bit.

“I already am!” grinned Hank, “However, the Shi’ar technology tree is secondary to my interests at the moment. What worries me more is this latest dynastic struggle that has Lilandra caught in the middle.”

Now Ororo was growing curious as well. She rose up from the table and joined Hank with his array of holographic books. On them he brought up an image of D’ken and the Imperial Guard. His appearance alone was enough to send a shiver down her spine. He had the look of a man who was deeply troubled and deeply conflicted.

“Near as I can tell, the Neramani bloodline has dominated the Shi’ar Empire for the last nine hundred Earth years. It has been one of the most successful dynasties in Shi’ar history. It only started going wrong about one hundred and fifty years ago when the Neramani’s married into the Nerashran family. This family was the equivalent of Shi’ar aristocrats. Not content with having mere wealth, they sought greater power.”

“You’re going to say it’s more complicated than that, aren’t you?” said Ororo.

“Not this time, I’m afraid. It’s as basic as it sounds. A simple blood feud is what began this galactic war. Lilandra’s great-grandfather tried to reshape the hierarchy between the two families. The Nerashran wanted more than was offered. It caused a number of factions. Within a decade’s time, battle lines were being drawn. Sides were taken. War consumed the entire empire. It led to Lilandra’s father fleeing into exile, even after his Nerashran wife gave birth to their son, D’ken.”

This was the part of the story the X-men got involved. Ororo still remembered when they had to come to Lilandra’s aid. D’ken sent the Imperial Guard after her. He was intent on taking her out. That offered a grim clue as to how this conflict unfolded.

“How bad did it get?” asked Ororo.

“I don’t think there’s a word in any human language to describe it,” said Hank, “The war has been going on for longer than Lilandra, D’ken, or their parents have been a part of it. D’ken took it to another level when he had both families killed so he could seize power.”

“My heavens! D’ken murdered his entire family?” gasped Ororo.

“Under the circumstances, that’s not as terrifying as it sounds. His mother had been murdered in front of him. His cousins and other siblings were slaughtered by the Neramanis just as gruesomely as his family slaughtered theirs. He was among the youngest so I’m sure it left quite an impression. When he took power, he went further than any other leader before him. To solidify his rule, he escalated the war to such an extent that it stifled trade between alien races. It cut off progress on a scale unprecedented even to the Shi’ar. This actually explains why scientists were never able to make contact with alien races on Earth.”

“They were too busy fighting each other,” surmised Ororo, “And we had no idea such a conflict was unfolding around us.”

“That’s where it gets even more disconcerting, I’m afraid,” he said as he brought up another book, “While D’ken and the Shi’ar were unleashing untold havoc throughout the galaxy, they were very careful to avoid Earth even when it would have been advantageous for them to do otherwise.”

Hank brought up another book that depicted Earth. From the looks of it, the Shi’ar knew a lot about humanity. Ororo still remembered the fear in the eyes of every Shi’ar they passed when they arrived. It was a mystery with many major implications.

“This is what has me confused. We know they’ve visited Earth in the past. Lilandra’s own father was one of them,” stated Ororo, “So why is it that every Shi’ar that looks upon us is so utterly terrified?”

“The reason, it seems, is much older than this war. In fact, it’s even older than the Neramani bloodline. The history of the Shi’ar gets a little shrouded as it enters the time frame for when civilization on Earth started to develop. In fact, there’s a substantial gap between around 8,000 years ago and 4,000 years ago. It’s apparent they made contact with Earth at this time. However, something happened during that visit…something so terrifying that it made every Shi’ar that followed afraid of this tiny sector of the galaxy.”

“So we still don’t know,” Ororo surmised.

“Not the full story, I’m afraid. We only know it was something terrifying enough to leave a sizable scar on Shi’ar history,” said Hank as he reached a gap in the text, “They monitor us. They know our language, culture, and biology. Yet they don’t dare encounter us. It makes me wonder how advantageous our presence here really is.”

“You believe we may do more harm than good by being here?” she asked.

“Until we know the details of Lilandra’s recent conflict, I cannot make that assessment. I can only say that based on what I’ve read the reign of D’ken has brought the Shi’ar Empire to the brink. Every Shi’ar and alien race within their territory has suffered. Lilandra and her compatriots suspect he’s formulating a sort of endgame. I do not know what that entails. If Shi’ar history is any indication, it will be horrifying on an incomprehensible scale.”

Ororo felt a shiver run down her spine. Even Hank had to look away from the books depicting the recent developments in this war. This galactic conflict involved death on a scale the X-men had never dealt with.

She had just as hard a time digesting it as the others. Mere days ago, her concerns were much simpler. She taught class, carried out her X-men duties, and dealt with developing relationship with James Proudstar. Such concerns seemed so trivial. This was so much bigger than anything on Earth. Within this overwhelming scale, they had to find a new kind of strength. It was the only way they could be part of this war and stop D’ken.


Chandilar-13 Moon Base – Rebel Council Chamber

“My fellow Shi’ar, the hour of twilight is upon us! D’ken is getting desperate. He knows he’s close to victory and we’re stumbling around like hatchlings in the dark!” said Deathbird in a tone as dire as it was angry.

The Shi’ar commander was under greater scrutiny than usual. As word spread of Lilandra’s return with the humans, every level of the rebellion got involved. This development was reason enough to assemble an emergency meeting of the rebel council.

They accomplished this by linking their communications equipment with Deathbird’s on Chandilar-13. She and her various generals gathered in a large chamber that was more akin to a stadium. Since the other officials were spread across the empire, they attended via hologram. In the dozens of seats surrounding the chambers, there were special projectors that projected the figure of each military officer and administrative official. This gave the impression that they were all in the same chamber so they could address one another directly.

“You have a peculiar way of assessing things, Deathbird,” said General Iron Wing of the Shi’xin quadrant, “You always give us the same dire predicament. You say we’re losing the war. You’re in need of more resources. I’m never sure what to make of it.”

“I concur with the General. We’re well aware of D’ken’s recent moves. We’ve kept track of the progress or lack thereof on every front. What makes this assessment different from the others?” said Councilman Cal’Jon of the rebel council.

“The difference is in the details,” said Deathbird, “That raid on our home world that the Starjammers organized yielded unexpected results.”

“You mean failure?” commented one of Deathbird’s Colonels.

“It was not a failure,” said Deathbird strongly, “It wasn’t a success either. Empress Lilandra was able to confirm what our spies had already suspected. D’ken is sinking all his resources into some sort of doomsday weapon. I suspect his latest moves are an effort to buy more time. If this debate is any indication, I say he’s winning.”

“We’re not underpinning the intelligence from our spies, Deathbird. We simply lack details,” said General Talon of the Shi’zo quadrant, “Most of us agree that D’ken is clearly working on something. It is in our best interest to stop him before he finishes it. We simply can’t launch any countermeasure if we don’t know what we’re facing.”

“For the moment, our best bet is to turn back D’ken’s onslaught,” said Councilwoman Nyarin, who was in the Shi’zo quadrant as well, “D’ken seems to have abandoned all elements of strategy and cunning. He’s simply throwing his superior numbers at our forces and hoping for the best.”

“Which has worked to our advantage, mind you,” said Wing Commander Orando, who was present in the chamber and had served under Deathbird, “D’ken may have a bigger fleet and a limitless supply of conscripts, but we’re killing hundreds of his people for every casualty we take. At that rate, D’ken will run out of bodies to throw at us.”

“We’ve even turned back a few of his offensives,” said General Corona of the Shi’kin quadrant, “My gorilla forces on Chandilar-5 completely wiped out D’ken’s invasion force. Some are begging to surrender out of fear from D’ken’s wrath.”

“Those triumphs are few and far between,” retorted Deathbird, “We’re still being pushed back on most fronts. We’re still diverting all our resources to defense. D’ken is no fool, even if he is a monster. We should all assume that we’re doing just as he expects!”

“Please don’t think us arrogant, Deathbird. We are not assuming that we’re in a better position now than we were several cycles ago. We’re simply acting on what we know. We don’t have the luxury of following hunches,” said Councilman Cal’Jon.

“Which brings me to the humans that Empress Lilandra brought back with her,” said Councilwoman Nyarin, “Now you know our policy towards Earthlings. Even D’ken isn’t foolish enough to get involved with that cursed speck of a planet. Yet the Empress claimed that these humans have insight into D’ken’s plans.”

“Or they could bring yet another reign of unspeakable terror upon us,” argued Councilwoman Serena, who was physically present on the base, “We’ve all heard the stories as hatchlings. We may be risking a wrath worse than D’ken if we trust them.”

This sentiment sent waves of concern through every high councilmen and officer. Deathbird scowled at the Shi’ar high command being so timid of humans. She understood the reasons. That was not an excuse to lose their strength at such a critical moment. No one was willing to act without full knowledge of what they were up against. Unfortunately, their only insight came from a source that every Shi’ar dreaded.

“I’m as distressed by the humans as the rest of you. I’m also reminded that the last Neramani was able to survive with the humans. She is part human, as difficult that may be to accept,” said Deathbird bitterly, “She’s still a Neramani. I’m inclined to believe her about D’ken’s weapon. I’m not nearly as inclined to let her human friends aid us.”

“Human or not, if they can provide the intelligence we need then we would be weak-minded fools not to heed them,” said General Corona.

“I concur,” said General Starburst of the Shi’song quadrant, “If Lilandra Neramani trusts them then I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

“As is the majority of this council,” said Councilman Cal’Jon, “Which is why I propose that we give Miss Neramani time to coordinate with her human friends. Let us see what fruit they can bear.”

“With all due respect to this council, I think that’s a mistake,” said Deathbird strongly, “The bloodline has united us. Now we know that D’ken is making a final move. We must coordinate our forces on our home world and strike now!”

“I appreciate your concern, Commander. Indeed, I share your desire to strike D’ken before he completes any such project,” said General Talon, “The fact remains that we don’t have the intelligence to justify such an assault. D’ken’s resources are nearly limitless. Our policy has always been to focus on the battles we can win.”

“That policy will be the end of us all!” said Deathbird.

“Then prove us wrong. See what the humans uncover. Let us use that before we sink our efforts into hapless battle,” said High Councilwoman Zenara.

“Councilors please…”

Deathbird’s words trailed off. The generals and the high council were already chattering amongst themselves. Deathbird had to restrain herself from lashing out at them. She was not about to place this rebellion’s hope in the hands of humans. Given Lilandra’s status and the inherent fear that humans evoked, few were wiling to take such a chance.

After a bit more chatter, High Councilwoman Zenara projected a larger image of herself to the center of the forum. This usually meant a major decision was about to be made and Deathbird would have little say in it.

“In light of this new information, I propose a referendum,” High Councilwoman Zenara announced, “All ongoing military operations are to maintain a defensive position. Any counter-offensives shall be put on hold until we find out from the humans what D’ken is constructing. If they cannot provide us with any useful intelligence within the next two cycles, then we will reconvene and formulate a new strategy.”

“By rule, the approval of a general must be heard before we can vote,” said Councilwoman Nyarin.

“I approve,” said General Corona.

“I second,” said General Talon.

“All in favor?” asked High Councilwoman Zenara.

“AYE!”

“All opposed?”

There were nearly no opposing votes. The vast majority agreed with High Councilwoman Zenara. They were willing wait for the humans to come through. It was a tolerable risk in a potential turning point for the rebellion.

“Very well then. The motion carries. This meeting is adjourned,” said High Councilwoman Zenara, “May your strength be the wings that carry you.”

The holographic projectors were shut down and the communication links closed. Deathbird was left to digest this decision along with her compatriots. None were in a position to question it. She remained very skeptical on the matter. She scolded the council and the rebellion she dedicated her life to defending.

‘You weak-minded fools. You just placed our fate in the hands of humans. May the strength of Sharra and K’ythri save us all.’


Unknown

“Jean! Jean, wake up! It’s happening again!”

“Hnn…Phoenix? Please tell me this is a dream for once.”

Jean Grey emerged from a sleepy daze to find herself in familiar yet distressing surroundings. She was back within the mysterious realm of white light. She was still in her white Phoenix costume and still feeling a powerful psychic force bearing down on her. It seemed as though nothing had changed.

The last thing she remembered was being on Genosha, having no control and relying on Professor Xavier to help her escape. He claimed to know the source of this disturbing feeling. He mentioned the M’Krann Crystal and a great power that was quietly spanning the universe. They offered clues and without offering answers. Now she was confused again, rubbing her head and struggling to find her way in this realm once more.

“This is getting old,” she groaned, “Where is the Professor? He said he could help us.”

“He did. I remember being drawn by the call of the M’krann Crystal. I was poised to transport you and your friends into great danger. Charles Xavier blocked the crystal’s beckoning and I was able to transport your friends somewhere else.”

“I remember it vaguely. Any idea where they are or even if they’re safe?” asked Jean as she looked around.

“I know they’re safe. I’m not sure where they are. I merely followed the Starjammer’s original coordinates. Before I can make sense of it, I find myself here in this mysterious realm. Yet it doesn’t feel so mysterious anymore.”

“I’ll gladly exchange mystery for clarity. I can’t stand to go through this again! My friends need me! Is there any possible way we can skip these maddening visions for once?”

“If only everything was that easy,” said a deep voice.

Jean turned around quickly to see an imposing figure emerging through the white light. It was the same figure she saw in her dream, only this time his face wasn’t obscured. He looked like a jaded old man, his demeanor wrought with the scars of many conflicts. Bearing an old robe with a dark cape, he had the psychic presence of someone who was not human. He hovered towards her, appearing stoic yet desperate.

“You again!”

“Stranger, isn’t it? So the last time we met really wasn’t a dream,” said Jean.

“I wish it were. I hoped to reach you sooner. My telepathic message was obscured by the M’krann Crystal,” he explained, “Now that the one known as Charles Xavier has blocked it out, I can speak to you freely in this most sacred of realms.”

“I get that this is a realm of sorts, but what makes it so sacred?” asked Jean.

“And why do my flames burn differently here?”

“I hoped you would remember, Phoenix. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. You haven’t been in the White Hot Room for a very long time.”

“The White Hot Room? I can understand the white part, but hot? I’m feeling a lot of strange things in this place. Heat isn’t one of them,” said Jean.

“Heat need not burn to be hot. You are a vessel for the Phoenix Force. You cannot be burned by these flames anymore than a star can freeze water. It is only in this realm that the fires of the Phoenix can burn at their purest. Even as an ember of it’s former glory, its strength in this realm takes on new dimensions.”

“I do not understand. My fires burn brighter, but my power is not greater. Am I even physically here at the moment?”

“Being physically present in the White Hot Room is an oxymoron, as you humans call it. There is no depth to such a notion. Your body and your physical form are still with your friends. There’s a reason why you’ve returned to this realm and it’s not because I drew you here. The Phoenix Force and her vessel have come out of necessity. You need the added foresight of the White Hot Room in order to understand what’s happening.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about this place. Having a name like Stranger doesn’t help, especially if you want me to trust you,” said Jean suspiciously.

“I intend to earn that trust. Although I must warn you, the more I say the more you may be inclined to smite me,” said Stranger.

“Is that a threat?”

“It is an inevitability. I certainly wouldn’t avoid it should it come to that,” he said solemnly, “Now come. We have much to discuss.”

Stranger took her hand and guided her through the blaring white light. Jean hesitated at first. Something about this man who was clearly not human felt wrong. He carried himself with guilt and sorrow. He was desperate for her help. Even with a name like Stranger, she was compelled to follow him.

They floated through the mysterious realm like birds flying in the wind. The further they went, the more familiar it felt. The Phoenix Force had definitely been here before. She couldn’t remember how or when. The memories were so distant. As she followed Stranger, the light became more fluid. It was as if the light itself came to life. All around them, it started forming vivid shapes and images. It was not unlike the Danger Room, except this was much more vast.

“The light…”

“Are you doing this, Stranger?”

“No Phoenix. You are,” said Stranger, “What you’re seeing are the latent memories etched in the fires of the White Hot Room. They tell a story as old as creation itself.”

Jean watched in awe as the white light formed a series of graphic scenes around her. They were like recordings of events in the distant past. They depicted star systems and galaxies on a small scale, swirling about in a way that made it feel like she could hold them in the palm of her hand. In one of those galaxies, a lone star pulsated erratically. Then in a bright flash, it erupted in a way that illuminated the whole universe.

“You know how it began,” said the mysterious being, “Before the Phoenix Force was consumed by hunger, it was a benevolent creature. It neither hungered nor craved. It wandered the universe, creating and destroying by the strict whims of natural forces.”

“Yes…I remember those times. It was so long ago that I’ve forgotten what it feels like.”

“You almost sound nostalgic. I don’t blame you. It was simpler. Like any other force such as gravity or light, you were just another link in the universal chain. The difference and perhaps the flaw is that your force is tied to sentience. The very essence of creation requires sentience on some levels. So when life-forms became advanced enough to understand you, they were naturally drawn to you.”

“I think I know where this is going,” said Jean as she looked closer at the image of the galaxy, “This is when the Phoenix was corrupted. Some ancient race of psychics tried to control the Phoenix. They ended up destroying themselves and countless others who made the same mistake.”

“That’s the most basic part of the story. The details are far more unpleasant,” said Stranger solemnly.

The image of the galaxy shifted, dissolving around them and reforming into a more close-up view of the star that exploded. Around that star was a large planet with green clouds, reddish land masses, and elaborate lakes. All around it there were large space ships, satellites, and monuments. It had all the signs of an advanced civilization.

“What you are seeing before you is a record of one of the earliest civilizations. They were among the first to traverse the cosmos. They were among the first to unlock the secrets of nature. Before the Earth and its sun even existed, these creatures reached the very peak all sentient life. Yet that still wasn’t enough. On this planet that was home to a trillion souls, they sought to be more than just sentient. They sought the power of the cosmos.”

“They sought…me.”

“Yes, Phoenix,” said Stranger, “And they found you. They used you. They believed that they could take a force of nature and bend it to their will. It was arrogance of the highest degree. Through the vision of a powerful psychic, they sought to bring the Phoenix Force under their control. That psychic was so confident that he could handle the forces of creation and destruction that he convinced his people to join their minds with his. All their thoughts, emotions, and desires were channeled into one psychic burst. It was supposed to be a moment of ultimate triumph. Instead, it was a moment of great horror.”

Jean and Phoenix watched the scene play out. From the majestic planet, brilliant psychic aura shot out into the cosmos. The Phoenix Force was inexplicably drawn to it like a fish caught in a net. It cried out in agony, trying to get away. Eventually, it succumbed. It was channeled into the planet. Then in an instant, it all changed.

“So many minds…so many sensations…I could feel them all! It’s like a shadow now, but it still confuses me so.”

“You weren’t the only one, Phoenix. For a moment, it seemed as though this alien race succeeded. For a moment, they held the very essence of creation in the palm of their hand. With it, they could be gods in every sense of the word.”

“Guess delusions of grandeur aren’t strictly a human problem,” commented Jean, “At what point did they become corrupt?”

“A moment too late,” said Stranger sadly, “These arrogant fools didn’t understand. When you give the forces of nature will and desire, the traditional rules of sentience don’t apply. Life and death have no meaning. Right and wrong are completely obscured. The power of the Phoenix didn’t just corrupt them. They corrupted it as well. The great hunger that would drive the Phoenix Force from that day forward was a product of their collective ego. The price of such arrogance is as invaluable today as it was eons ago.”

Jean kept watching as the atmosphere around the planet burst into flames. She fell back slightly as she watched the entire planet, its moons, and its star burst into flames. From those flames the raging image of the Phoenix Force burst out into the cosmos. It let out an angry cry that echoed through the very fabric of reality itself. The cry was full of pain, sorrow, and a burning hunger. It was difficult to watch, even for a cosmic entity.

“My God…those poor souls,” gasped Jean.

“Enough of this! I do not care to relive this horror again!”

“If you recognize that it’s horrible, then you’re already farther along than I thought,” said Stranger, “It is terrible. Any being of any power should recognize the horror of feeling one trillion souls cry out in agony as they’re burned into nothingness.”

“You’re tempting my wrath, Stranger! Why must I experience this indignation?! How do you even know of such horrors?!”

“Because Phoenix…that arrogant psychic that instigated your hunger all those eons ago did not perish with his people,” said Stranger ominously, “That lone psychic who is in turn responsible for the countless deaths your hunger inflicted is still alive.”

“You mean…” said Jean, who pieced together the horrible truth.

“Yes,” he said sadly, “That psychic was me.”


Chandilar-13 Moon Base – Infirmary

‘Destruction…pain…sorrow…it won’t end. Every mind sharing the same agony. It’s…too much.’

The swirling thoughts of Charles Xavier plagued him even in his unconscious state. From the moment he confronted the Phoenix, his mind was awash with nightmares. The power of the M’krann Crystal kept crying out to him. It practically yelled into his ear, showing images of it’s the destructive potential. Then a new voice rang out over the crystal.

‘Charles…it’s time to wake up. You must hurry. Time is running out for all of us.’

Charles Xavier’s head throbbed as he was jolted from his nightmares. He opened his eyes to find that he was in a special bed of sorts. It was shaped like an egg and had a series of soft padding lined with special wires. Above him were several figures. There were three Shi’ar doctors. Scott Summers was standing next to them. The one that lingered closest was Lilandra, her angelic face looking down on him with tears of happiness and concern.

“Lilandra?” he said in a daze, “Did…did we make it?”

“Yes…in a manner of speaking,” she said distantly.

“We’re at a Shi’ar rebel base, sir,” said Scott in a more assertive tone, “Jean got us out of Genosha. She ended up transporting us into the midst of an alien civil war.”

“The danger hasn’t passed though,” said Lilandra, “We arrived safely, but my half-brother is stepping up his efforts. I know you’ve felt it and now I’m feeling it too. We must act.”

“D’ken…Jean…I remember now,” he said, “I must speak to her!”

“Charles wait…” began Lilandra.

Professor Xavier didn’t heed her warning. He rose up swiftly from the bed. It was at this moment he made a startling discovery.

“My legs!” he gasped, “I…I can feel them.”

“That’s what I was about to warn you about. I suppose it’s not necessary now,” she said.

“Guess it never hurts to thrust some good news into a crisis,” said Scott, his tone still strangely flat, “While you were out, the doctors demonstrated the wonders of Shi’ar medicine. Talk to Hank later. He’ll fill you in on all the details.”

Xavier’s excitement nearly overshadowed his anxiety. It had been so long since he had felt his legs fully. His cancer rendered them weak and useless. Now he was feeling them the same way he felt them when he was a younger less sickly man. It was awkward at first. He needed to hold onto Lilandra to maneuver his legs up from the bed. He kept leaning to her as she helped him off, allowing him to stand for the first time in years.

As he felt his legs under him once more, he made another discovery. The pain from his addiction wasn’t plaguing him anymore. His head and his body felt stronger than he could remember. It was like he was in his twenties again. Everything had been healed. When Lilandra stepped away and he stood fully, he smiled for the first time in what felt like a new life.

“This is incredible! I…I can walk again!” said Xavier, beaming with energy.

“You can do more than that, Charles Xavier,” said one of the Shi’ar doctors, who was wearing an elaborate white robe, “By order of Empress Lilandra, we were instructed to treat your maladies. It’s been a while since we treated a human, but the Shi’ar have extensive understanding of human biology.”

“We also have access to some of the best medical tools in empire,” said the other doctor, who looked older and more seasoned, “You had severe damage to your nervous system. You had muscles that had atrophied. We even detected erratic imbalances in your brain, especially in your pain center. The Empress told us you had been ailing from the effects of the disease known as cancer. We understand that the Starjammers gave you treatment before when it returned.”

“Yes…they sent it back into remission. They saved my life,” said Xavier, moving his legs around a bit so he could get a feel for them.

“They had very limited tools. We simply finished what they started,” said the older doctor, “The cocoon chamber we placed you in is the basis of all Shi’ar medicine. It works just as well on humans too with a few minor tweaks.”

“It puts you back into a state similar to a hatchling. Or in a human’s case, the womb as you call it,” said the other doctor, “In this state we administered a series of treatments that reversed the damage and rebuilt what your condition so deeply ravaged. For a while, we were not sure it would be enough.”

“It’s plenty effective,” said Xavier with a smile, “I cannot put into words my gratitude. I don’t think I could even project them with my telepathy.”

“You’re a healthy man now, Charles. That won’t stop me from scolding you about what you did to yourself with those pain killers,” said Lilandra, bringing him back into a serious state, “I know you want to enjoy this moment. Unfortunately, you’ll have to put it off. We have other concerns at the moment.”

Lilandra quickly brought Charles down from his euphoria. Her tone was a little harsh. She was still reeling from the revelation about his addiction. Xavier had to temper his excitement in the face of his love’s anguish. She reminded him that they still had a crisis on their hands. He could still sense it even if the pain from his detox was gone.

“I’m sorry, Lilandara. I’ve much to answer for,” he said in a more serious tone.

“We’ll discuss it later. I imagine it’s more difficult than I understand,” said Lilandra, her voice becoming less harsh, “For now, your students need you. Every soul in the Shi’ar Empire needs you.”

“Jean being one of them,” added Scott.

It started coming back to him, everything he felt when he clashed with the Phoenix Force. Now that his mind and body were healed, he understood it with greater clarity. He needed that added clarity in order to fully grasp what they were up against.

“Of course! Jean and the Phoenix!” he said, “Where is she now?”

“Over there,” said Scott, pointing across the room, “They’ve treated her as well, but they can’t wake her up.”

“I wouldn’t expect them to. Not in her current state,” said Xavier as he started walking over towards her bed.

“What state?” asked Lilandra, “If you’re sensing something I’m not, please tell me!”

For once, everyone had to catch up Charles Xavier. He ran across the area, passing a few other Shi’ar doctors along the way. He arrived to find Jean in a similar egg-shaped bed. One of the older Shi’ar doctors was looking over her vitals. Logan was there as well, keeping a close eye on her. When he saw Xavier actually walking over, he managed only a slight grin.

“Nice to see you kicking again, Chuck,” said Logan, “Hope you can use those legs to kick Jeannie out of this rut she’s in.”

“It’s the most peculiar thing, even for a human,” said the Shi’ar doctor, “We treated her body with the same scrutiny as we treated you. All our scans indicate she’s as healthy as any human female can be. Yet when we try to treat her mind, our medical technology offers no answers.”

“That’s because her mind isn’t ill. Neither is her body,” said the Professor as he looked over her, “Both she and the Phoenix are sensing the same disturbance. With her, it’s simply taking another form.”

“What kind of disturbance are we talking about, Professor?” asked Scott as he arrived with Lilandra, “Is Jean going to be okay?”

“It’s not just her well-being we should be concerned about,” he said, “This disturbance goes beyond the Shi’ar Empire. It goes beyond the Earth as well. It’s psychic in nature so only a select few can sense it.”

“I suspected as such,” said Lilandra, “I’ve only felt it in my mind, some kind of energy blaring out across the cosmos. It started shortly after we uncovered D’ken’s latest plot.”

“There’s a good reason for that. He could only begin after he had the M’krann Crystal,” said Xavier.

“You mean that glowing hunk of rock that made Jeannie go Dark Phoenix on us? Now I can officially say we’re fucked,” said Logan.

“For once I agree with your assessment, Logan,” grumbled Scott, “But if this was psychic in nature, how come other telepaths didn’t sense it? Wouldn’t we have heard something from Betsy or Emma Frost?”

“Only a select few are attuned to the crystal’s energy. As such, only a few can sense it,” Xavier clarified, “I suspect my mind became attuned to it when I used it to summon the Phoenix when it was out of control. Now D’ken is using it to perform a feat far worse than anything the Phoenix Force could conjure. He seeks to end this war in the most devastating of ways!”

“So why ain’t these pissed off rebels sending their fancy space toys right up Emperor dirt-bag’s ass?” scoffed Logan.

“Even if they weren’t tied down fighting off D’ken’s offensive, it wouldn’t do them much good,” said the Professor, “The key to stopping D’ken and the M’krann Crystal lies with Jean. Every remaining answer with her.”

Professor Xavier proceeded to remove the sensors and wires from Jean’s body. There was no use treating her. The cosmic power that was part of her was also closely tied to the crystal, more so than any telepath. The energy he and Lilandra were sensing did something to the Phoenix. He had to find out what it was in order to stop this madness.

“Stand back,” he told everyone, “I’m going into Jean’s mind. I sense she’s in some sort of psychic dream.”

“Do what you have to do, Professor,” said Scott, stepping back with the others, “Just bring her back to us so we can finish this quickly.”

“You’re in an awful hurry to meet this crazy alien emperor. You’re also a lot less pissed than you ought to be,” commented Logan, “You feeling okay, Cyke?”

“I’m fine,” said Scott in a firm yet unconvincing tone, “Annoy the hell out of me later, Logan. I’d rather not get too comfortable here.”

He was a terrible liar. It added to a long list of reasons why Logan didn’t get along with this man. Despite the obvious signs that he was upset about something, Logan didn’t dig any deeper. His main concern was Jeannie and how she was going to help them defeat whatever this alien tyrant was set to unleash.

Lilandra gestured towards the doctors, signaling them to step back. They all complied with the Empress. Having sensed this danger herself, she was just as eager for answers.

“Tell me we’re not too late, Charles,” she said to him, “Tell me the failed raid with the Starjammers wasn’t our last chance.”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I find out, my dear,” said Xavier as he placed his hands on Jean Grey’s temples, “As we speak, Jean and the Phoenix are experiencing the full extent of this threat.”

Now physically strong and mentally focused, Professor Charles Xavier entered the psyche of his unfortunate student. Jean had the burden of wielding the very being that this threat affected most. As he probed through the psychic chaff surrounding her mind, he dreaded the emotional strain that she must be enduring.


White Hot Room

“YOU SICK, DEMENTED, FOOLISH EXCUSE FOR A MORTAL! YOU DESERVE TO BURN WITH THE FIRES OF A TRILLION SUPERNOVAS!”

“That’s…more merciful than I expected,” said the mysterious Stranger as he guarded himself from the Phoenix Force’s wrath.

The entire realm trembled at the burning anger of the Phoenix Force. All the pain, confusion, and suffering now had a cause. This being who called himself Stranger revealed himself to be the mind behind her madness. It was because of him she became consumed with such an insatiable hunger. It was because of him that countless souls died in her wake. For this, he deserved the worst a cosmic entity could offer.

The entire image of Stranger’s world faded as waves of cosmic flames shot out from the Phoenix. They came at Stranger in a punishing wave of force. The old psychic had to fly out of the way, slipping back into the haze of white light. The Phoenix quickly pursed him, her eyes glowing red with cosmic rage. She unleashed more massive flares, causing more disruptions in the White Hot Room. Stranger flew faster and further, showing little concern for such an outburst.

“DO NOT RUN FROM YOUR PUNISHMENT, STRANGER! FACE ME AND ACCEPT MY WRATH!”

“Nothing would be more satisfying than to utterly nullify what’s left of my being,” Stranger called out, “I run because I do not deserve such mercy.”

“I OFFER NO MERCY! ONLY RIGHTEOUS FURY!”

“I’ve spent eons, observing and sensing the fruits of my labor. For every psychic the Phoenix Force sought out, every mind that became corrupted, and ever world that was left destroyed as you fed your hunger…I felt it all. The pain of so many deaths has tormented me longer than I care to remember. And I deserve every bit of it. Because of that, I do not wish for it to end. It wouldn’t be just.”

The Phoenix Force was so angry that barely listened to Stranger’s response. It unleashed more waves of unrelenting flame. Within this anger, Jean Grey could hear Stranger’s guilt-ridden musings. While he may have been a despicable being for unleashing this wrath with the Phoenix Force, he accepted his fate. It wasn’t right for them to change it.

“Stop it, Phoenix! That’s enough,” said Jean, taking over before the Phoenix Force could unleash another onslaught.

“YOU DARE FEEL COMPASSION FOR THIS MONSTER? HE DESERVES NO SUCH THING!”

“I don’t feel sorry for him. I think he’s an asshole on a cosmic scale. I also think he’s already suffering. There’s nothing we can do to make it worse.”

“YOU’RE WRONG! I CAN BURN HIM TO A CINDER AT THE SUB-ATOMIC LEVEL! I CAN FILL EVERY BIT OF HIS MIND WITH THE AGONY OF THOSE HE DESTROYED!”

“And what would that change, Phoenix?” argued Jean strongly, “It wouldn’t bring those people back. It wouldn’t undo what he did. He’s already experienced crippling guilt all this time.”

“YOU THINK SUCH GUILT IS PAINFUL ENOUGH?”

“It is,” she said without reservation, “You’ve learned many aspects of mortal sensation, but you still don’t understand guilt. It’s the darker side of passion that’s hard to grasp. It’s painful in a way that’s beyond physical. Stranger isn’t running from it. So who are we to deny him his rightful guilt?”

The Phoenix Force kept flaring with white hot flames. The whole realm seemed to fuel her. She could burn it all away with Stranger inside it, filling him with the agony he so rightly deserves. Yet Jean spoke of something that the Phoenix never fully grasped. This concept of guilt was another alien sensation to her. Jean understood it. She seemed to sense it within this being. While her anger for Stranger was great, she trusted Jean’s judgment.

For a moment the cosmic being continued to seethe. She didn’t release any more cosmic attacks. With Jean’s help, she steadily calmed herself. Eventually, the White Hot Room stabilized. It allowed Stranger to emerge from the haze. His expression was still solemn, the guilt apparent in his every gesture.

“You’re a very special woman, Jean Grey. You’re one of the few vessels of the Phoenix compassionate enough to understand the breadth of mortal sensation,” said Stranger.

“Skip the flattery, Stranger. I didn’t do it for you,” said Jean begrudgingly.

“I wouldn’t expect you to,” he said as he hovered back towards her, “I bring it up because it leads me to the reason why I showed you this horrific recollection. You’re not the first wielder of the Phoenix I’ve encountered. However, you are the most intriguing.”

“There were others? I…do not remember such encounters.”

“That’s because the experiences were lost every time you were reborn. There wasn’t much to remember either. The cycle was always the same. A desperate mind would seek help, the Phoenix Force would come along offering it power, and the mind would embrace it. With such power comes corruption. On countless occasions, I tried in vain to reach those poor minds. Sometimes they would not hear me. Even when they did, they never listened. They all failed to break this horrific cycle. Then you came along, Jean Grey. You did what countless other could not. You ended the carnage, allowing the Phoenix to be reborn anew.”

As Stranger neared her, he ran his hands through the white flames surrounding her. He captured some in the palm of his hand and shaped it into a series of elegant patterns. Through his sorrow, he marveled at the gentle strength of these flames. They held within them the key to their salvation.

“I already know that, Stranger. For this, I am eternally grateful to Jean Grey. I sacrificed much of my power to repay her. What does this have to do with our current predicament?”

“It is the most important aspect of this crisis. It will determine whether you’re strong enough to deal with what’s before you,” Stranger went on.

“And what exactly are we facing?” asked Jean intently.

“You already know part of the answer, Jean. The Phoenix knows as well,” said Stranger as he kept shaping the flames in his hands, “This crisis is tied to the same force that began the horrible cycle that you broke.”

From the flames in his hand, Stranger formed a perfect mock-up of the M’krann Crystal. The white flamed burned even hotter in this shape. Jean and Phoenix gasped at the image. It was one of the few relics in the universe that could cause a cosmic being to tremble.

“The M’krann Crystal…yes, I remember sensing it!”

“So that’s why it felt so familiar!” said Jean, “It was crying out to us or something. It wanted us to come find it.”

“Had you heeded that call, we would not be speaking as we are now,” said Stranger, “The M’krann Crystal and the Phoenix Force are intrinsically linked. I know this because it was my people that built the crystal. It was under my guidance that we constructed one of the most powerful objects in the universe.”

“Why would anyone want to make something like that? Sounds like way more trouble than it’s worth,” said Jean.

“The thirst for ultimate power is strong. That’s why we organized voyages across the cosmos, gathering the rarest of materials. An object of such power requires elements with unique psionic properties. It took a total of fifty Earth years to gather them all. It took another ten Earth years to assemble it. Once complete, it was only a matter of making the equivalent of a human phone call. It’s cosmic energy signature was tuned to the Phoenix Force, allowing us to draw it in and contain it.”

“Except you couldn’t contain it. The crystal failed.”

“Indeed it did,” affirmed Stranger, “When the Phoenix became corrupted, the M’krann Crystal shattered. Trillions of pieces flew out in every direction. Yet the power they contained did not falter. A number of shards found their way to distant worlds. Sometimes they lured the Phoenix to it. Other times it merely became another powerful source of energy that other beings couldn’t understand. Jean Grey encountered such beings during her experience. A fairly sizable shard struck Earth during the early years of human civilization. That very shard is what has instigated this crisis.”

Stranger gathered more of the white flames from the Phoenix Force. He allowed the image of the crystal to dissolve and formed another array of shapes with his hands. This time the flames took the form of a familiar figure that she hoped to never see again.

“Jason Wynegarde!” gasped Jean.

“Yes…I remember this human. He’s a deceptive, pestilent, sniveling excuse for a mortal!”

“I’m not a cosmic force, but even I agree with that,” said Jean.

“He’s more than that, I’m afraid. He’s the one that took the shard Selene tried to use against you. He’s the one that brought it to the Shi’ar Emperor, D’ken.”

“How did he manage that?” said Jean skeptically, “Does this thing have a hot-line to alien races or something?”

“D’ken was already interested in the M’krann Crystal. Another shard found its way to the Shi’ar home world millennia ago. It is the reason why the royal bloodline contains many psychics.”

“That would explain how Lilandra could go mind-to-mind with the Professor,” mused Jean, “Probably in ways I’d rather not imagine.”

“The Shi’ar spent centuries trying to utilize the crystal. Their success was always limited,” Stranger went on, “Then Wyngarde used his crystal shard to contact D’ken. He not only offered him another shard of the relic. He offered him a new way to tap the crystal’s vast power.”

“How could he possibly know? He’s a human! No offence, Jean Grey.”

“None taken,” said Jean, “Tell me he’s bluffing.”

“I wish that were the case. Mr. Wynegarde is far more knowledgably than you give him credit for,” said Stranger, “With his in depth knowledge of psychic phenomenon, he was able to unlock a very unique aspect to the crystal. In the same way the crystal can link to the Phoenix, it can also link minds.”

“By link you mean control?” asked Jean.

“Not necessarily,” said Stranger in an ominous tone, “With a sufficient input in power, and by sufficient I mean the power on a galactic level, the crystal allows a lone psychic to probe the minds of trillions. If a mind is sadistic enough, it can allow usurp the mind of every sentient being in the entire universe. Wynegarde may not be that bold in his old age. However, Emperor D’ken is more than capable.”

Stranger scattered the white flames with a gesture. This time he used the very light from the White Hot Room. With it, he conjured an image of D’ken and the Shi’ar home planet of Chandilar. A simple mock-up wouldn’t do justice to the horror of what this being was trying to do. Jean and Phoenix let out another gasp as they took in this sinister figure. What was almost as disturbing was the barren wasteland of a planet that he had turned into a massive machine array.

“Once every mind is forcibly probed, a single mind can use the M’krann Crystal to reshape their psyche into whatever form desired,” Stranger went on, “D’ken wants to be that mind. As you can see, he’s sunk every last resource of his empire into making this happen. His turned his whole planet into a work camp, creating the device that would infuse the crystal with the power it requires.”

“He’s forcing everybody under his thumb to build a machine? One that will allow him to mind rape the universe?” Jean summarized, “No wonder the rebellion is so determined!”

“Are you sure D’ken can even generate the necessary power?”

“Yes. I’m painfully certain. D’ken has built two massive cosmic antennas capable of channeling vast cosmic energy,” Stranger explained, forming a more detailed image of the device, “He’s going to use Chandilar’s own sun as a spark to an advanced dimensional energy reactor. This reactor can generate power on a galactic scale. More than enough to sufficiently energize the M’krann Crystal.”

“Then why don’t we just cut the power off?!” said Jean, already feeling the gravity of this situation.

“D’ken finished the preliminary stages before you even arrived. To shut them down at this point would release a lot of energy and destroy countless lives,” said Stranger, “I’ve sensed this. It is only in this gravest of stages that I was able to reach you. Right now, the only hope of stopping D’ken is to destroy the M’krann Crystal before he utilizes it.”

“You make it sound so easy, arrogant mortal! Because of you, my fate is tied to that crystal! Destroying it would mean destroying part of myself!”

“I understand your dilemma, Phoenix. This brings me back to you and your experience with Jean Grey. You are not the same entity you were before she broke the cycle. We both know the how. The more important question for this endeavor is why.”

Stranger clenched his hands, dissolving the images before him. He was done with theatrics and visions. Now he spoke to the Phoenix Force face-to-face. This being for which he had done so much harm was now the key to his penance. He had done much to ravage this universe. Now he was in a position to save it.

“Think back to that moment you consumed Jean Grey. Recall, if you can, the feelings you experienced while she was tempted by the power to which so many others succumbed,” said Stranger in a darker tone, “Her sensations fed your hunger. Your power tempted her to embrace the cosmos, leaving behind everything she loved. Then she rejected you. She had the chance to embrace absolute power and she threw it away, sacrificing her own life in the process.”

“I know all this! Why must I recall such painful memories?”

“Listen to him, Phoenix. They’re painful for a reason,” said Jean, who was starting to see where Stranger was coming from, “I remember it every day. I can’t tell you how hard it was, having all that power and sacrificing it for my friends.”

“Jean is right. She can’t tell you in a way you can understand, Phoenix,” Stranger went on, “She understands her sacrifice. I’m not sure you understand yours.”

“What’s there to understand? I allowed myself to be reborn a small ember so I could revive Jean and be nurtured by her spirit. I had been consumed by my hunger for so long. I needed to learn a new way.”

“Is that the only reason?” he questioned, “The way I see it, you had two options. Either you truly wanted to learn from a mortal spirit or you didn’t want to become a monster again. I don’t think you know which reason is your own.”

“What does it matter? I’m with Jean. My power has grown. I have learned the value of the mortal spirit in the process.”

“You may learn, but you can only understand so much if your reasons aren’t pure,” said Stranger, “Whether you genuinely embrace the mortal spirit or simply fear becoming another monster, your motivation will determine your ability to stop D’ken. So before you seek to stop this madness, you must decide. If it isn’t correct, then all is lost.”

The Phoenix Force was still confused. It was a lot of pressure to put on anybody, even if they were a cosmic entity. Stranger seemed to understand her a lot more than she understood herself. This decision he spoke of made little sense.

“Do I enjoy learning from mortals or do I fear being a monster? Is this a decision or just another feeling I don’t understand?”

“It’s a little of both, Phoenix,” said Jean in a consoling tone, “I wish I had some answers for you. This time, you’re on your own.”

It didn’t sit well for the cosmic entity. In her current state, she couldn’t rely on near absolute power of the cosmos. She had to rely on her experiences with Jean Grey and the mortal world she once looked down on. It was a very human decision to make for a being that wasn’t human. Even with the fires of creation fueling her being, the Phoenix Force was utterly powerless.

It was a lot to process. More than just humanity was at stake here. The universe itself was relying on her and the mortals she cared about. As Jean and the Phoenix were processing this burden, the White Hot Room started flickering erratically. Then through the pulsing white light, a familiar voice rang out.

‘Jean! Can you hear me? Please come back to us. We need your help!’

“Professor? Where are you?” yelled Jean as she looked around.

“What is happening to this realm?”

“It would seem your time here is up,” said Stranger.

“Wait! I have more questions!”

“I’ve told you everything you need to know. It is now up to you to make the necessary choices.”

Stranger’s ominous figure disappeared into the white light. Phoenix tried to go after him, but the White Hot Room itself was fading. The psychic presence of Charles Xavier was pulling them out of this realm and back to the real world. Ready or not, she would confront her fate with D’ken and the M’krann Crystal.


Chandilar-13 Moon Base – Infirmary

“Stand back, Professor!” yelled Scott.

Charles Xavier was still deep in thought, probing the mind of the unconscious Jean Grey. At some point the Phoenix Force was roused from its slumber. While he was still concentrating, a burst of cosmic flames filled the infirmary. It broke machinery, flung stray objects across the area, and unleashed a rough wave of force that would have sent the Professor back to his bed if he hadn’t been pulled back at the last moment.

Scott and Logan pulled him away by the shoulder just as Jean’s eyes shot open. They revealed a gaze of burning focus, the memories of the White Hot Room now fresh in her mind. While more white flames shot out from her being, she rose up from the bed in a brilliant display of cosmic power.

“You’re gonna have to get used to jumping outta the way again, Chuck!” barked Logan as he and Scott helped him up.

“I’ll have to re-learn a lot of reflexes it seems,” said Xavier, rubbing his back.

“You’ll catch up later,” said Scott, who never took his eyes off Jean, “Is she okay? Can we finally get some answers?”

“I’m okay, Scott. No need to get hostile,” said Jean, her tone not mixed with any Phoenix disturbances, “I’m sorry for the theatrics. Phoenix and I had to take a brief excursion.”

“Well it looks like you came back with some sun, Jeannie,” grinned Logan.

“That’s not all we gained. We know what D’ken is planning. His madness is far worse than anything we could have imagined.”

Upon hearing this, Lilandra tensed. She already suspected that her half-brother was up to something horrific. Hearing it from a cosmic entity affirmed it in the worst possible way.

“I’d rather be spared the details, Phoenix,” she said as she stepped forward, “I know the extent of my brother’s madness. I’m more concerned with how we’re going to stop him.”

“That’s where it gets a little complicated,” said Jean awkwardly.

“Indeed, for we are dealing with forces beyond my own cosmic scale. Even with my great power, I cannot conjure a plan for confronting this heinous evil.”

“You won’t have to, Phoenix. I already have one in mind,” said Xavier.

“You do?” questioned Logan, “Just because you got your legs back doesn’t mean you can get ahead of yourself, Chuck.”

“We’ll have to jump the gun at some point if what I sensed wasn’t an illusion,” said the Professor as he walked closer to the hovering Phoenix, “When I first entered your mind, I sensed the power of the M’krann Crystal. When I entered it again, I got a clearer understanding of how it’s working. That crystal is the key. We can use it to confront D’ken in a way that will catch him completely off-guard. It may be our only chance to end this conflict before it’s too late.”

There was an energy in Charles Xavier’s voice that hadn’t been heard in years. This man had more than just his legs back. He had back the spirit that made him visionary for the X-men. For once he wasn’t just the mind behind these ideals. For Scott, Jean, and Logan it was jarring. Given their grim situation, it was also very appropriate.

Lilandra was a bit more reserved. She was still upset with Charles for what he did to himself with his pain killer addiction. There was still no denying that new strength in his poise. He had more than just a vision. He had a plan. Her half-brother had been ravaging the Shi’ar for too long. If there was any chance to stop him, she had to take it.

“Charles, I hope you know what you’re doing,” said Lilandra as she approached him from behind.

“That makes two of us,” said Xavier with a light smile.

“Don’t give me that look. Not yet anyways,” she said in a more serious tone, “My trust in you has been shaken, but my people need this to work. That is why I’ll order the rebel forces to help you in any possible way.”

Her support was very encouraging to Xavier. However, the Shi’ar doctors and her assorted bodyguards were not quite as enthused.

“Empress Lilandra, I would caution you not to act hastily,” said one of the doctors.

“I agree,” said one of her body guards, “This is a matter that should be discussed with Commander Deathbird.”

“Time is not on our side. Commander Deathbird will have to adapt. So will the rest of the rebellion,” said Lilandra.

“But…” one of the guards protested.

“You heard the lady, bub! Quit wasting time we don’t have!” barked Logan.

Logan’s harsh tone caused even the taller body guards to tremble. It was enough to silence all remaining dissent among the Shi’ar. Empress Lilandra was going along with Charles Xavier’s plan. In the face of D’ken’s tyranny, they were inclined to oblige.

“Thank you, Logan…I think,” said Lilandra as she turned back to Charles, “Now tell me how you propose we stop D’ken.”

“First, tell my X-men to suit up and gather outside the Starjammer. We’ve much to discuss,” said the Professor, “In addition, I need someone to look into getting an X-men uniform in my size as well.”

“Your size?” questioned Scott, “Sir, you don’t mean…”

“Indeed I do,” said Charles Xavier proudly, “I’m suiting up for this mission. For once, I’m going to fight alongside my X-men in a battle to save our world.”


Chandilar Moon – Inner Core

The imperial shuttle arrived at a lunar docking station amidst heavy guard. D’ken was taking no chances. An entire squadron of his best interceptors protected him during the short trip between his place and Chandilar’s lone moon. In addition, he had the entire Imperial Guard escort him to the staging area for his ultimate triumph.

Gladiator led the operation as was custom. Starbolt, Smasher, Hussar, Flashfire, Neutron, and Oracle each followed. Jason Wynegarde came along as well, but Gladiator kept an eye on him. They were all responsible for the well-being of their emperor while an army of armed robotic drones guarded this most important part of the operation.

Every drone stood bowed as D’ken stepped out from the shuttle and onto an elaborate landscape of Shi’ar industry. This was the deepest, most secure area of the entire project. It was buried deep inside the moon, so much so that the heat of the core had to be regulated. It had to be deep in order to support the massive antenna that extended for miles above the moon’s surface. It also had to be secure because it was in this core area that the most important component of the array was housed. Even as he was confronted by his chief engineer, he could feel the powerful presence of the M’krann Crystal.

“Lord D’ken, we are deeply humbled by your presence,” greeted the chief engineer.

“Spare me the formalities,” said D’ken sternly, “What is the current status of the crystal?”

“It is in place and hooked up to the array as you requested,” said the lone Shi’ar, his voice trembling with every word, “The fragmented shards will be fully fused during the preliminary stages. Once the reactors on Chandilar have reached full capacity, you’ll be able to initiate the final phase.”

“How long before the process begins?” asked D’ken.

“Our initial timeline was five cycles. I understand you asked to complete it in three, but…”

The engineer was abruptly silenced when the emperor grabbed him by the throat and roughly squeezed his neck. His eyes were awash with fear as the emperor scolded him with a gaze that had become so greatly feared throughout the galaxy.

“Were you about to say my orders could not be obeyed?” said D’ken angrily, “Did I not make myself clear that your current progress is unacceptable?”

“Ack! My lord…please!” gasped the hapless engineer.

“As we speak, my half-sister has mobilized her human allies. One of them bears the power of the Phoenix Force. I will not be denied as we stand on the brink of ending every last conflict within my empire! You and your people will finish or I will personally feed you to the Phoenix Force herself! Do you understand?”

“Augh…” groaned the figure, blood now seeping from his mouth.

“For your sake and mine, that had better be a yes!”

D’ken roughly shoved the engineer back as he released him from his choking grip. The engineer did not require any further motivation. While he was still coughing for air, he ran full speed towards the maintenance quarters. Every worker he crossed along the way started running as well. The emperor’s patience was waning. He would accept no excuse. They had to finish.

Having to his message across, D’ken led his Imperial Guard through the loading bay and into a large elevator. From there, they descended deeper into the complex. They stopped the lowest possible level where the doors opened to reveal a series of heavy blast doors. An army of robot drones worked feverishly to complete the wiring and various connections from throughout the moon. No other workers were allowed in this area. This is where the most vital components were stored. Only the emperor and his most trusted associates could be present when the moment came.

“Your knack for motivation never ceases to amaze me,” commented Wynegarde.

“I find human sarcasm infuriating. Do not test me, Wynegarde,” said D’ken strongly.

“It wasn’t sarcasm. It was a simple observation,” said the old psychic as he looked around at all the drone, “Normally, I would advise against rushing an operation this big. However, I’ve been sensing more disturbances from the crystal. We may have more outside forces working against us.”

“Are you referring to the Phoenix Force?”

“She’s not the only one,” said Wynegarde, “The crystal still keeps her share of secrets. What we’re about to do to her does not sit well.”

“Quit acting as though it’s a living creature,” scoffed D’ken, “It is merely a means to an end. I need that end to come now while my armies have the rebels occupied.”

“Would they be so brazen as to attack us here at this late hour?” questioned Gladiator.

“Given the sheer breadth of this war, I refuse to take chances,” said the emperor.

D’ken impatiently led his Imperial Guard through a series of massive blast doors. These doors were so large and heavy that they could withstand a small anti-matter bomb. They had to be reinforced to contain the massive amounts of energy that they would be dealing with. The various worker drones got out of the way while D’ken passed through each one, moving from the less polished areas of the vast complex and into the nearly completed inner core.

Once they passed through the final door, they arrived in a large spherical chamber. Within this chamber there were four levels of circular platforms, each of which connected to a vast array of conduits. These conduits fed to a central area where a brilliant relic illuminated the entire chamber. These were the fragments of the M’krann Crystal. Even though they hadn’t initiated the generators, it was still pulsating with vast energy.

“I’ve come so far and lost so much,” he mused, “The endless cycle of war has ravaged my empire just as it ravaged my ancestors. For all our accomplishments, we’ve little to show for it aside from more conflict. It must end here! No matter what the cost!”

D’ken summoned a special hover-platform from one of the service droids. It appeared in front of him within moments. He stepped onto it along with Jason Wynegarde. Gladiator was about to join them only to be waved off by D’ken.

“This is as far as you go, my loyal guardsmen,” he said, “I can take it from here.”

“My lord, the Imperial Guard is obligated to remain by your side,” Gladiator protested.

“You’re also obligated to obey me and so you will. From here on out, your only orders are to protect against intrusion. This is my battle. As emperor, it is my duty to finish it.”

Gladiator and the rest of the Imperial Guard were hesitant. They complied none-the-less. It was not their duty to understand their lord’s reasons. It was simply their duty to obey.

“I sense you’re not comfortable with our lord’s judgment,” said Oracle as the platform carried D’ken and Wynegarde away.

“My comfort is immaterial. While I dare not question the emperor, I am compelled to despise the human known as Mastermind,” said Gladiator strongly, “That accursed creature may be the end of us all.”

Gladiator’s mistrust of humans was well-shared throughout the Imperial Guard. Having faced them on Earth, they were less than pleased to see their Emperor trusting one so implicitly. While they guarded the area, they kept an eye on Wynegarde.

D’ken didn’t hide his mistrust of this human either. However, Wynegarde was vital for this next step. He rode with him on the platform until they reached the crystal. Being so close, they could both feel the energy radiating from the relic. It was clearly unstable. It seemed to sense what it was about to go through.

“So beautiful,” said D’ken as he reached out and touched it, “It’s only fitting that this ancient relic would be the salvation of the Shi’ar Empire.”

“In more ways than one,” grinned Mastermind, grinning ominously at the glowing object.

“The time has come!” said the emperor, “You know what to do. Be sure you do it well.”

“No need to threaten me, D’ken. I want this just as much as you!”

The Shi’ar Emperor stepped back and the old psychic stepped forward. With seething anticipation, Jason Wynegarde placed his hands on the fragmented crystal. As soon as he touched it, the glowing pink energy aura surrounding it turned dark red. The pulsating intensified and the whole area shook. Within this chaos, the shards of the M’krann Crystal started fusing together. As a single relic, it would lead the Shi’ar Empire and every other soul in this conflicted universe to their ultimate destiny.

Up next: Outer Limits Part 4

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