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Volume 6 -- Issue 141 -- Outer Limits Part 5

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Outer Limits Part 5
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The world is changing. Humans are evolving into mutants with extraordinary powers. Professor Charles Xavier taught his X-men to use these powers for the greater good. He believed that a new generation of mutants could bring peace to a chaotic world. He never could have imagined that they would be called upon to save an entire universe.

The tyrannical emperor of the Shi’ar Empire, D’ken Neramani, has unleashed untold horrors throughout the galaxy. In a maddened effort to end all conflicts for the present and future, he seeks to tap the power of the M’krann Crystal. With this power, he hopes to unleash a psychic onslaught that will overwhelm every sentient mind in the universe. Together with the Starjammers, Charles Xavier formulated a bold plan of attack that led them right into the heart of D’ken’s chamber. They arrived only to find out that the emperor had already tapped the power of the crystal.

Time has run out. With the M’krann Crystal at his disposal, D’ken was able to subdue the mighty Phoenix Force within Jean Grey. Now only Charles Xavier stands in his way. D’ken has successfully powered the crystal using two planet-sized antennas. Now he’s ready to launch his final attack.


Chandilar Moon – Crystal Chamber

It all happened so suddenly. One moment the X-men and the Imperial Guard were engaged in a desperate battle. Then a blinding flash that seemed to free time itself consumed the chamber. Iceman, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Shadowcat, Gambit, Psylocke, and Colossus fell to their knees in wake of this blast. Gladiator, Starbolt, Smasher, Hussar, Flashfire, Neutron, and Oracle were so startled they halted their attack. The disturbance in the core was so great that any lingering anger had to be put on hold.

“Hnn…what just happened?” said a dazed Colossus.

“Did D’ken just lose?” wondered Iceman.

“Is your mind still intact?” asked Shadowcat, “On second thought, don’t answer that question.”

“It doesn’t need answering. D’ken did not lose,” said Gladiator strongly.

“How the hell would you know, bub?” scoffed Wolverine, “We’re still in one piece. That means someone screwed up.”

“He’s right. I can sense it,” said Oracle, now clutching her head, “The crystal…it’s fully powered. There’s so much energy! I…I can’t make sense of it!”

“Me neither, luv. It’s giving me a new kind of migraine!” said Psylocke, who felt the strain as well.

“If the crystal is powered, shouldn’t that mean our Lord has succeeded?” wondered Starbolt, “This fight should be over.”

“Well it isn’t,” said Rogue as she and the others looked up at the crystal, “Ah’m guessing the Professor just took this game into overtime.”

The X-men and the Imperial Guard watched intently as more energy radiated from the crystal. Fighting each other was pointless now. This battle began and ended with the crystal, which was in the hands of D’ken and Charles Xavier.

Up on the central platform, the Shi’ar Emperor was in position to deliver the final blow to all conflict throughout the universe. He was in the process of delivering that blow. He placed his hand upon the crystal and felt the power of the cosmos surge through him.

In that moment he was capable of reaching every sentient mind in the universe. However, something was holding him back. He literally could not form the necessary thoughts to finish this. Professor Charles Xavier had caught up and grabbed his head from behind. With all his psychic might, he unleashed a special kind of telepathic attack.

“The power…so vast. I can feel it! Every mind in every place!” seethed D’ken, “But I…I cannot strike them.”

“You can’t reach every mind if you can’t project your thoughts!” grunted Xavier, using every bit of his telepathic might to hold the Shi’ar emperor back, “The crystal’s power may be great, but your mind is still a normal one. I don’t need to probe it. I need only prevent you from projecting it!”

“That’s clever, human. Even if it is pointless,” he scoffed, “You can’t keep that trick up forever! You can’t even keep it up for a micro-cycle!”

“I’ll do it as long as I have to!” said the powerful telepath.

“Need I remind you that I have the energy of an entire planet flowing into this chamber? With it, I was able to subdue the mighty Phoenix Force. She was the only one who had any hope of stopping me. Do you really think you can stave off defeat with your feeble telepathic tricks?”

“Maybe…I don’t have to.”

Had D’ken been looking Xavier face-to-face, he would have seen a sneaky grin. In addition to keeping the emperor’s mind in his head, he also sensed something else that promised to obstruct D’ken’s plan. Or more accurately, he sensed someone.

“Hey D’ken!” came a voice from behind, “Jean Grey isn’t the only one connected to the Phoenix Force.”

The Shi’ar emperor turned around just in time to see Cyclops emerge from the elevator platform. As soon as he was in range, he ripped off his visor and unleashed a concentrated optic blast unlike any he had ever used before. This one was so focused and so intense that it actually had small flames mixed in with the optic beams, hinting at the traces of the Phoenix Force that once brought him and Jean back from death. When it struck D’ken, it tore him away from the crystal.

“Arrrrrrrgghhhhhh!” exclaimed the emperor.

“Good shot, Cyclops!” said Xavier, who narrowly avoided the blast, “When did you learn to mix fire into your optic blasts?”

“That wasn’t me, sir. You have Jean to thank for that,” said the X-leader as he met up with his mentor.

While D’ken was down for the count, they turned towards Phoenix. As soon as D’ken was away from his source of power, the paralysis restraining her wore off. She fell to her knees, the white flames around her flaring erratically. The power radiating from the crystal was affecting her cosmic form in many ways.

“Ungh…that took more out of me than I thought,” she grunted, “He can paralyze most of my flames, but it helps to have a spare.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Cyclops as he rushed over with the professor, “You think you can manage a bit more? That shot won’t keep D’ken down for long.”

“He’s right. You’re the only one who can stop him, Phoenix,” said Xavier strongly, “Your power is linked to the crystal. Use it against him while you have the chance!”

Phoenix looked over at D’ken, who was already returning to his feet. He still had the power of the M’krann Crystal on his side. A battle between them would be a clash of cosmic powers on an incomprehensible scale. She was in a good position to engage him. Given the growth of her power, she had a good chance at stopping him. Then she looked back at the glowing crystal. As she watched it pulsate with increasing instability, something dawned on her.

“No! It’s happening again! The power…the corruption…everything!”

“Phoenix? Now is not the time to have a cosmic breakdown!” said Jean over the commotion of the cosmic entity.

“What’s happening?” asked Xavier, “I sense great instability in the Phoenix!”

“I’m not a telepath and even I can feel it,” said Cyclops nervously.

“I’ve learned so much from Jean Grey in her friends. I’ve experienced the most passionate of love, the deepest of sorrows, and the most strenuous of moments. Yet when faced with a relic of my past, I revert back to what made me so corrupt. I attempt to solve my problems with more power. There’s no question that I COULD stand against D’ken and the crystal. The question that baffles me now is SHOULD I do this?”

“When it comes to saving every mind in the universe, it may not be a question that needs asking,” Cyclops pointed out.

“Unless…there’s another way,” said Phoenix, now starting to understand.

It became painfully apparent. The Phoenix Force realized something that it hadn’t allowed itself to realize. She had been growing her power since this began. It seemed to be the only way to combat D’ken. She now questioned that assumption. Her chaotic white flames intensified as she approached the volatile M’krann Crystal. Professor Xavier and Cyclops approached with her, anxious about what this was leading to.

“Stranger was right. I’ve let the most basic of mortal sensations consume me…fear. I was so afraid of becoming Dark Phoenix again that I blinded myself to the truth. Like D’ken, I believe I can solve all my problems with more power. Yet it was absolute power and the corruption it brings that fueled my hunger. I will NOT let it consume me again.”

“I…I think I see where you’re going with this,” said Phoenix, still fixated on the crystal.

“As do I,” said Professor Xavier, “But how will this help us stop D’ken?”

“The only way to stem the corruption of absolute power is with sacrifice. You and Cyclops sacrificed your lives to end the cycle. Now I am prepared to return the favor.”

The notion of sacrifice with the Phoenix Force didn’t sit well with Cyclops or the Professor. D’ken didn’t like it either. Upon hearing the ramblings of the Phoenix Force, he had a sinking feeling that his plan was about to endure a serious complication.

“YOU’LL DO NO SUCH THING YOU WRETCHED BEAST!” he yelled, “I PARALYZED YOU BEFORE! I CAN DO IT AGAIN!”

D’ken was about to unleash another attack. Once again he was thwarted by an unforeseen presence. This time it was Mastermind, who had been lying motionless on the floor since the process began. He suddenly sprung to life again and grabbed the emperor by the legs. In addition, he used his powerful mind to do the same trick as Charles Xavier. He kept D’ken from issuing a telepathic command to the crystal.

“Don’t be so hasty, Emperor! You’ll miss a hell of a show!” said Jason Wynegarde, his voice sounding devoid of sanity.

Now you show your true colors, Wynegarde?” exclaimed D’ken, trying to shake the old man free, “You dare betray me in my moment of triumph?”

“I betray no one. I’m merely a spectator who wants to see how this grand performance ends,” he said, keeping an eye on Phoenix despite D’ken’s struggling.

The cosmic being seemed to know what she was doing. She stood inches from the crystal, ready to do what was necessary. Before she did so, Cyclops cupped her chin and turned her face towards his.

“All this talk of sacrifice is making me nervous,” he said in a strained tone, “I don’t want this to be one of those moments where one of us has to say goodbye.”

“It’s not a goodbye, Scott. It’s not a guarantee either,” said Jean lovingly, “This has to be done. So long as the Phoenix Force is part of me, I need to help her.”

“And in turn, I promise to honor what Jean Grey has taught me. She and her friends have so much love in a cosmos filled with conflict. I will see to it that this love survives past my final ember.”

“Does that promise mean she’ll be okay?” asked Cyclops intently.

“One of the first lessons I taught the Phoenix was to avoid making promises you couldn’t keep,” said Jean, “I can’t promise anything, but I can still offer assurance.”

Jean Grey’s assurance came in the form of a kiss. With the white flames still burning around them, Cyclops and Phoenix locked in a passionate embrace before the moment was upon them. This loving gesture symbolized the connection that allowed them to overcome cosmic threats before. The meaning was now that much greater as they prepared to confront this one.

“Are you ready, Jean?”

“Yes…I’m ready,” she said upon parting from Cyclops.

“Do what you have to do,” he told her, “I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

“As will I,” said Professor Xavier, “Now hurry! The crystal is destabilizing rapidly!”

Having made her fateful choice, Phoenix turned away from her lover and her mentor. She pushed aside all lingering fear as she approached the glowing crystal. Its energy kept radiating at an increasingly volatile pace. This energy soon mixed with her white flames, causing them to grow to a level that soon engulfed the shining structure. As her flames grew, she slowly rose up. In the process her body took on a new fiery form. Using this form, she entered the crystal. Within moments, it changed colors. It became bright orange, as if it was on fire.

The powerful relic was undergoing a great change. Cyclops and Xavier could feel it. The X-men and the Imperial Guard felt it as well. The massive conduits feeding into the crystal sparked erratically. Power lines were severed and lights flickered as the energy within the chamber swirled rapidly. It was as if the energy the crystal was radiating was turning around. The white flames of the Phoenix swirled with this energy, engulfing the M’krann Crystal in a column of cosmic grandeur. The only one not taken by this sight was D’ken.

“YOU ARROGANT HUMANS!” he exclaimed, “YOU’VE KILLED US ALL! SHE’S UPSET THE POWER FLOW! SHE’LL RIP THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE APART!”

“She knows what she’s doing,” said Cyclops, never taking his eyes off the crystal, “She’s cleaning up your mess whether you like it or not.”

“NO! I WON’T ALLOW IT!” seethed the Emperor.

D’ken finally wrestled free from Mastermind’s grip, kicking him the head shoving him off like the feeble old human he was. Now free, he set his sights on reclaiming what he worked so hard to attain.

“IMPERIAL GUARD, HEED MY CALL! COME TO ME! SLAY THESE HUMANS AND HELP ME EXTRACT THE PHOENIX FORCE!”

Down below on the lower levels, Gladiator heard this order. He along with Starbolt, Smasher, Hussar, Flashfire, Neutron, and Oracle were obligated to fulfill it. They turned back towards the X-men, who were prepared to fight again.

“Seriously? You’re going to listen to that psychotic nut job?” scoffed Rogue.

“You heard what the Phoenix said! You must let her do this!” urged Storm.

“What your friend says does not matter. We only heed the emperor,” said Hussar.

“No matter what we think, we must obey D’ken,” said Neutron.

“Even if it means risking the entire universe? If so that’s pretty bloody stupid,” said Psylocke.

“Our loyalty is absolute,” said Gladiator, clenching his fists in frustration, “We must listen to the emperor.”

“Guess that means it’s time for round two!” snarled Wolverine.

The X-men were prepared to fight the Imperial Guard once more. They had to keep them away from the crystal so Phoenix could work. Wolverine drew his claws and prepared to deliver the first blow. Then a new presence entered the chamber and stopped everything.

“Halt!” said the commanding voice of Lilandra Neramani, “By the order of the Shi’ar Imperium, you are to stand down immediately!”

“Whoa…Miss Neremani is cutting this close,” said Iceman.

“Does this mean what I think it means?” asked Colossus.

“What are you humans babbling about? Who dares mock the authority of our emperor?” said Smasher as he and the other guardsmen turned around.

“I dare! As is my right under the bylaws of the royal bloodline!” she said strongly, “Moreover, I have something that officially usurps the authority of D’ken.”

Lilandra boldly stepped into the chamber, walking with a poise worthy of an empress. Behind her emerged Beast and an army of Warlock drones, each heavily armed and ready for battle. However, they did not fire a single shot. Instead, Beast casually walked up behind Lilandra and handed her a decorative metal scepter. It had golden feathers at the top and a string of Shi’ar symbols lining the sides. When she held it up, the Imperial Guard immediately fell back.

“The Staff of the Majestrix!” gasped Oracle, “She wields it!”

That’s what it looks like? Remy’s seen fancier jewelry at Mardi Gras,” said Gambit.

“Be kind, X-men. This relic that we went to such lengths to retrieve is of great importance,” explained Beast, “Now that Lilandra wields it, the reign of D’ken is officially over.”

“It should not be possible!” said Starbolt, “The Staff is linked to the emperor! No one, even a blood relative, should be able to even lift it!”

“The Staff of the Majestrix is capable of processing much more than who wears the crown,” Beast went on, “Written in it are the bylaws of the Shi’ar Imperium. These laws are as old as the empire itself. It has noticed the actions D’ken has recently undertaken.”

“As such it made the decision long ago. It needed only a piece of the bloodline to make it official,” added Lilandra, “I am that piece. The Staff has accepted me. As such, I am now the rightful ruler of the Shi’ar Empire. You know what that entails.”

The Imperial Guard exchanged glances. This was an unforeseen move, yet it came as a relief in some ways. They too had seen D’ken’s tyranny inflict untold damage on their empire. Their loyalty prevented them from ever having any second thoughts. Now a new empress had ascended. This meant their obligations to D’ken were nullified.

“What is thy bidding, my empress?” said Gladiator as he loyally knelt before her.

“Damn! So much for round two,” said Wolverine as he withdrew his claws.

“You’ll pick another fight soon enough, Wolverine,” teased Storm.

“I think we’ve all had enough fighting. It stops today!” said Lilandra firmly, “You can begin the rebuilding process by standing aside and letting the Phoenix Force undo the damage wrought by my brother.”

“If that is your wish, then so be it,” said Oracle as she and the others knelt as well.

The X-men let out a sigh of relief. They would no longer have to oppose the Imperial Guard. It meant they could catch their breath, if only briefly. The end of D’ken’s madness was not yet complete.

“The antennas on both worlds are malfunctioning on every possible level,” said Beast as he joined up with the X-men, “May I assume D’ken’s efforts were thwarted?”

“Our brains out melting through our ears, so I guess that part has been stopped,” said Shadowcat, “But it’s not over yet! We’ve still got a cosmic-level problem on our hands.”

“And we can’t do anything to help at this point,” added Rogue, “It’s all on Jean’s shoulders now. Best we can do is watch and hope.”

“And without popcorn no less,” said Iceman.

Everyone turned their gaze back to the M’krann Crystal. Now that the Imperial Guard were under Lilandra’s rule, D’ken was utterly out of resources. His bold ambition to end all conflict was over. He saw Lilandra enter from below. When his Imperial Guard knelt to her it was like being punched in the gut. He had nothing with which to fight.

“My own blood…betraying me once again!” seethed D’ken, “DAMN YOU, LILANDRA! DAMN YOU ALL!”

“I’d behave if I were you. I don’t think your people will rally behind you after what you’ve put them through,” said Professor Xavier.

“If you’re lucky, they’ll still have a world to rebuild once the Phoenix Force is finished,” said Cyclops.

D’ken had been defeated. Now he could only watch along with the others as the M’krann Crystal continued to fluctuate. The fires of the Phoenix continued swirling with the energy radiating from the relic. It was building up rapidly. Something had to give. All anyone could do was brace themselves.


Inside the M’krann Crystal

“My god…it’s so powerful,” said Jean Grey in a dazed tone, “The very fires of the universe, touching every place at every time.”

“It is powerful, Jean. As powerful as it is dangerous.”

It was an incredible feeling within an incredible place. The inner sanctum of the crystal was like being in a house of mirrors. In every direction there were these brilliant crystalline panes reflecting and radiating energy. Both Jean and the Phoenix Force could feel this energy. It was vast, chaotic, and hugely amplified. There was so much power as a result of D’ken’s tampering. This power had the potential to reach every corner of the universe. That was precisely why it had to be stopped.

The Phoenix Force sensed within this crystal all the corruptive forces that led it to an insatiable hunger. The power wasn’t just psionic. It was akin to the very substance of passion. Such passion was at the heart of all mortal sensations. These sensations were what confused the Phoenix so greatly. Jean Grey helped her realize what it meant to value them. Now she was taking what she learned and making a decision.

“It’s even worse than I thought. D’ken filled the crystal with so much power that to merely disable it would be meaningless. Its power would still be prone to corruption. Just as I am still prone to corruption.”

“So how do we fix it? You said it requires sacrifice. What kind of sacrifice are we talking about here?” asked Jean.

“A sacrifice that will alter the very laws of my essence. The power I wield and the power the crystal possesses…it simply cannot remain concentrated like this. No matter what I learn or who possess the crystal, in the long run corruption will follow. The only way to prevent absolute power from corrupting is to limit that power so it isn’t absolute. That’s where the sacrifice comes in. The crystal cannot make this decision so I must be the one to carry it out.”

“That part I understand. What still bugs me is where I fit into all this.”

“Jean, none of this would be possible without you. Beyond any doubt, you are the most important component. You are my greatest incentive to make sure I do this right. Unfortunately, doing it right means we will both feel the consequences. For this I am deeply sorry. I will miss your warm guidance through this chaotic world.”

“That sounds too much like a goodbye. I don’t like it!” said Jean, her words getting more emotional.

“I don’t like it either. But it isn’t a goodbye. Not entirely.”

“Phoenix, you’re scaring me! I can already feel you pulling away from me!”

“That’s because the process has already begun. You’ve done so much for me. Now I’m doing something for you. All I ask is that you be strong for me.”

It still sounded like a goodbye even if the Phoenix Force wouldn’t say it overtly. Jean looked around and saw the crystalline panes cracking under the power. The flames of the Phoenix Force expanded as if to stretch out across this glowing realm. It soon became clear to her what the cosmic being was about to do.

There was no time to question it or consider the ramifications. So with the determination worthy of a cosmic being, Jean Grey set aside all remaining fears. She summoned the strength that the Phoenix admired so much. With it, she closed her eyes and prepared to endure this painful process. It happened quickly. In an eruption of cosmic flames, the Phoenix Force shot out it’s white embers in every direction causing the panes of the crystal to shatter. As the structure fell apart, the power itself scattered as well.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” she cried out.

“It…it’s happening. My fires…spreading everywhere. Thank you, Jean. For now and until the end of your mortal existence…never lose sight of the strength that makes you so special. And always treasure the ones you love.”


Chandilar Moon – Crystal Chamber

“The crystal…it’s cracking!” exclaimed Cyclops.

“Of course!” said Xavier in a daze, “That’s the only way. To prevent the power from being corrupted, she’s shattering it again along with herself!”

“Does this mean she’s shattering Jean as well?”

“The Phoenix Force gave us her assurance. I’ll take her on her word,” said the Professor, “I’m also assured we should take a step back!”

Cyclops kept staring up at the crystal, worried for his lover’s safety. Professor Xavier had to pull him away so that he wouldn’t be caught up in the chaos. They ran away back towards the elevator platform where Cyclops arrived. Along the way they passed Mastermind, who was lying on the floor with a bloody face. The Professor stopped briefly to assist him. To his surprise, the old psychic just looked up at him and smiled.

“I knew she would make the right choice. You trained her and she trained the Phoenix,” he said with blood dripping from his lip, “It’s just as I envisioned.”

“I’m not sure if you’re concussed, Mr. Wynegarde, but I suggest you continue your musings from a safe distance!” said Professor Xavier.

“Ha! You speak as though I’m not already a world away from this madness,” grinned the old psychic, “D’ken was a fool and a useful fool at that. His tyranny has served my work dutifully. I look forward to reaping the benefits. You’ll see. So will countless others.”

Xavier was about question Mastermind further. Then to his astonishment, his wounded figure vanished as if he had never been present in the first place.

“An illusion?” gasped Xavier, “Did he know this was going to happen?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time he screwed someone over!” said Cyclops, now urging Xavier on.

Mastermind’s trickery was a secondary concern. The M’krann Crystal continued cracking like a giant chunk of ice ready to break off. As it cracked, the massive conduits sparked more violently. Many started snapping, causing tremors all throughout the facility. The massive amounts of power had reversed course.

Instead of flowing into the crystal, they were being pushed back from where they came. It was sure to cause instability within the structure here and the one on Chandilar. For D’ken, that didn’t matter. Seeing the crystal rupture was like seeing his entire empire crumble before him.

“No…so much conflict! I could have ended it all!” said the former emperor, holding his head low, “I cannot endure anymore! I won’t!”

Enraged by the prospect of endless conflict, D’ken Neramani clenched his fists. In a blind rage he ignored every last survival instinct a ruler was supposed to harbor and charged towards the crumbling crystal. He braved massive sparks from the severed conduits and a support structure that was losing stability by the moment. From below, his half-sister watched as he disappeared into the chaos.

“No, brother! Don’t do it!” she cried out.

“FOR THE STRENGTH OF MY PEOPLE! RRRAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!”

Just as D’ken reached the crystal, the final crack formed down the center. In a blinding blast of pinkish light, the ancient relic shattered into pieces smaller than dust. These tiny pieces quickly vanished into the very fabric of the universe, unleashing a wave of energy that shot up through the structure and the conduits.

Along with these pieces were tiny embers of the Phoenix Force. These embers were so small that some seemed to flicker right out of existence. Both the Phoenix and the crystal were now utterly scattered, their power dispersed in countless directions into the depths of the universe. The great power and the corruption they wrought was no more.

It was not like an explosion. The X-men and the Imperial Guard did not have to brace themselves for an explosion of cosmic proportions. It was as if the energy was spread out everywhere so that the only damage it caused was a slight tingle amongst anyone who could feel it.

This powerful flash of cosmic energy faded quickly if not gently. The chamber remained intact, but was now darkened as all the conduits had been cleansed of their energy. Only emergency lights illuminated the area. It left everyone puzzled as to what this meant.

“The crystal…it’s gone,” said Gladiator.

“That’s definitely a good thing. If not, it damn well ought to be,” said Gambit, “That thing was causing nothing but trouble.”

“You don’t understand. The crystal was much more than that,” said Oracle sadly.

“Sacred or not, it was the source of so many tribulations,” said Beast, “When a tradition becomes that destructive, the need for reform is paramount.”

“We’ll need more than reform, Beast. Without the crystal, the Shi’ar will have to start doing things the hard way,” said Lilandra distantly, still looking up at the empty space where the crystal was once housed.

“I’m all for a challenge, but what about Jeannie and that cosmic parrot?!” said Wolverine, looking around as the embers faded.

“I think that’s already working itself out, Wolverine. It seems the Shi’ar won’t be the only ones facing a new challenge,” said Psylocke, who was picking up on new thoughts with her telepathy.

Psylocke’s assessment offered mixed feelings. The M’krann Crystal and the Phoenix Force had literally faded before their eyes. They took with them the danger that once threatened every mind in the universe. At the same time, they left a new more complicated danger in their wake. Both the X-men and the Imperial Guard could sense it unfolding.

Up on the main platform, Cyclops and Professor Xavier emerged from their cover to assess the fallout. There were still light sparks coming out from the broken conduits. There were also some lingering flames of the Phoenix Force buzzing around like fireflies. As they gazed through the remains of this cosmic chaos, they noticed that D’ken was nowhere in sight. The only figure that remained was Jean Grey, her unmoving body surrounded by a small cloud of Phoenix fires.

“Jean!” exclaimed Cyclops as he ran over to his lover.

“The Phoenix Force…it actually went through with it,” mused Professor Xavier as he followed close behind.

Upon reaching her weakened form, she emerged from her unconscious state. Cyclops eagerly took her in his arms, cradling her lovingly and making sure she was okay. From the looks of it, she was perfectly fine. She went through this cosmic danger and survived. However, Cyclops sensed in her that something was still wrong.

“Scott…” she said in a saddened tone.

“I’m here, Jean. You’re going to be okay. It’s over now,” said Scott as he gently caressed her face.

“The Phoenix…I can’t hear her anymore!” she cried, “Her flame…so weak and scattered.”

“I know. I think that’s how she wants it to be,” said Professor Xavier as he knelt down to comfort her student, “That was the sacrifice she made.”

“No…I can still feel her! She’s still trying to tell me something! I need to help her!” said the young psychic as she looked around at the hovering embers.

“You have, Jean,” said Scott strongly, “This is what she chose. That was the only this was going to be resolved. She was a cosmic being and you taught her to do the right thing. You gave her a chance to live as a passionate, loving woman after wielding absolute power. I’d say you’re even now.”

Jean remained fixated on the lingering embers of the Phoenix Force. One-by-one, they faded. There was little left of the being to which she was so deeply connected. She could still feel an ember inside her, but this ember was silent. Such silence was deeply sobering. Under the strain of her exhaustion, Jean turned back towards her lover and embraced him firmly. She wept softly into his shoulder, her tears mixed with loss and relief.

The crisis was over. Professor Charles Xavier offered a weak smile to his students as they held one another in a loving embrace. He then turned back towards Lilandra and the rest of the team. They were all exhausted as well. It had been a difficult and traumatic struggle. Now that it was over, the dust from D’ken’s tyranny could settle. Outside this complex, he could already sense a new hope emerging for millions of restless souls.


Starjammer – Skies Over Chandilar

“BY THE STRENGTH OF CHANDILAR, D’KEN IS DEAD!”

“BY OUR GLORY, THE TYRANT IS DEAD!”

“FREEDOM! BY THE LOVE OF SHARRA AND K’YTHRI, WE ARE FREE!”

It was a spectacle that evoked cheers from an entire planet. Just when it seemed that D’ken could not be stopped, the two massive antennas started crumbling. They started off glowing with ominous power, sending bright bolts of energy up from the planet and into the moon. Billions braced themselves for D’ken’s wrath, but that wrath never came.

It started when the energy between the antennas was reversed. Sparks started flying and the enormous machines began crumbling under the strain. At first many weren’t sure if this was by design or if something had gone wrong. Then the prisoners that had been freed from the palace started broadcasting messages on all quantum channels.

They revealed that Lilandra Neramani had usurped D’ken’s authority. She and her human allies had successfully thwarted the deranged emperor. Then came the pinkish flash from the moon as the M’krann Crystal. At that moment it became clear. D’ken had failed.

It was a glorious moment. The tired, oppressed population of Chandilar broke out in celebration. All over the planet, there were cheers and chants celebrating the end of this tyranny. The ascension of Lilandra meant the Imperial defense force effectively stood down. The fighting could now stop on all fronts. The war was over. The sheer breadth of this jubilation could be seen from the Starjammer as it flew over the crumbling ruins of the antenna.

“We did it! We actually did it!” cheered Hepzibah as she looked out through the cockpit with Corsair, Ch’od, and Raza.

“All my systems once thought it impossible. Yet here we are,” said Raza, “I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong.”

“Lilandra and those filthy humans actually pulled it off!” said Ch’od, “D’ken is gone and we can finally stop shooting each other! I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready for a little peace!”

The mood was cheerful for many. They all had good reason to be happy. D’ken did a lot of damage to their people and the galaxy as a whole. The end of this civil war meant the Shi’ar Empire could regain the strength it so deeply valued.

For Corsair, the end of this conflict was bittersweet. Hearing all these happy cheers was almost uncomfortable. He was so consumed with this conflict that it was hard to process the idea of it being over. It also reminded him of everything he lost as a result of this war. Defeating D’ken wouldn’t bring back his wife. It wouldn’t make the pain he endured under his madness go away either. Yet recently, he discovered that he hadn’t lost as much as he thought. The end of this war meant the beginning of something very different.

“What say you, Corsair? Are you going to make me take back all the bad things I ever said about humans?” said Ch’od as he waved to the prisoners they freed below.

“I don’t care if you do. It’s not like I’ll stop disgusting the average Shi’ar,” he said in an oddly flat tone.

“You almost sound sad. Surely you’re not going to miss fighting this war,” said Hepzibah in a more compassionate tone.

“Hell no. Far as I’m concerned, D’ken can rot in whatever the Shi’ar call Hell,” scoffed Corsair, “It’s just that I’ve been fighting this war a long time. I was ready for it when it began. I don’t think I’m as ready now that it’s over.”

“Why do you say that? What’s there to be ready for?” asked Raza.

“More than I thought, that’s for sure,” he sighed as he turned away from the jubilant scenes below, “For most of my life, I’ve always been about the next mission. There’s never any time to dwell on the past, be they victories or defeats. Now I need to make time. I don’t know where to begin.”

“It’s a new galaxy in a new era, Corsair. You’re in good company,” said Hepzibah with a comforting gesture.

The grizzled pilot remained stoic even as he accepted the support of his crew. The end of this war meant so much to a lot of beleaguered beings. For him, it was deeply personal.

There was so much uncertainty. He had yet to talk to Scott. He owed him an explanation of the past and a plan for the future. Wars came and went. Battles were won or lost. His family and loved ones were the constants. The rest of the Shi’ar Empire would also have to remember that as they planned for the future as well.


One Week Later

The Shi’ar Empire had a long tradition of rebuilding. Wars had shaped their society for generations so they were used to picking up the pieces. Never before had a war devastated their society like the one waged by D’ken. His tyranny left even the most hardened Shi’ar tired and ready for a new approach.

Word about D’ken’s defeat spread quickly throughout the empire. The jubilation on Chandilar was shared by many other worlds that suffered under his tyrannical rule. With Lilandra now on the throne, every imperial attack force was ordered to stand down. Rebel forces throughout the galaxy cheered as they were allowed to declare victory. All over the empire the fighting ceased. The many officers and councilors that made up the rebellion were welcomed back to Chandilar. They arrived in time to see the complete disassembly of the two antennas that plundered so many resources from the Shi’ar. It was a powerful gesture that showed a new era had arisen.

Through the jubilation, the sheer scale of the mess they had on their hands was overwhelming. The Shi’ar Empire had many wounds to heal. Many rebel forces were inclined to declare independence from the Shi’ar. Empress Lilandra stressed unity and unlike her predecessors, was willing to compromise.

She did this by lifting all the trade restrictions that D’ken imposed for the war. All the star gates and quantum communication channels were reactivated with help from the Warlock drones that the X-men brought with them. She also formed a new coalition government with the rebel council, which had been renamed as the High Council. They spent days reorganizing the imperial authority. They planned for it to take the shape of a constitutional monarchy, one that maintained the unifying force of the emperor while maintaining a more balanced power structure for the people.

There was still a lot of work to be done. The new Empress stood ready and willing to undo the damage done by her brother. But before her people were consumed with logistics of these great endeavors, there was one last formality. At the Imperial Palace, Empress Lilandra organized a ceremony with the High Council that would officially establish this new peace. In addition the Shi’ar Imperium would honor Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men, who made this peace possible.

“It’s time! The ceremony is ready to begin!” Empress Lilandra announced.

“Please be seated and prepare to receive translations of the proceedings. The honors bestowed today will be broadcast all over the empire,” said Gladiator, who stood by the empress with the rest of the Imperial Guard, “This is a moment all must witness.”

It was truly regal setting. The grand hall of the Imperial Palace was hastily cleaned and reorganized to accommodate a wealth of esteemed guest. The entire High Council was present, sitting behind the imperial throne where Lilandra would preside over the affair. In front of them were hundreds of rows of seats where representatives from all over the Shi’ar Empire gathered to witness this. They represented various star systems and races. They all had a special translator so they could understand what was being said. This event would be conducted in the human language of English. It was a break from tradition, but one that was quite fitting.

There wasn’t an unoccupied seat in the Grand Hall as a vast audience of aliens watched the festivities begin. Standing beside Lilandra’s throne were the X-men. They were still in their X-men uniforms, but they also wore a special band around their upper arms. This band had on it the seal of the Shi’ar Imperium. Only those with the highest of honors were fit to wear it. Professor Charles Xavier stood proudly with Scott, Jean, Bobby, Hank, Ororo, Logan, Rogue, Remy, Kitty, Piotr, and Betsy. It was a bit unnerving to be honored by an alien empire, but it was still every bit as rewarding.

“Dude, this is amazing! I feel like Luke Skywalker!” mused Bobby.

“We can’t get humanity to respect us so I guess an alien empire be the next best thing,” said Remy.

“In the presence of so many alien civilizations, the troubles we have with humanity almost seem trivial,” said Hank.

“I bet you’ll change your mind two days after we get back to Earth,” said Betsy.

“Days? Hours might be a safer bet, seeing as how we left in such a hurry,” said Kitty.

“Quit it with the pessimism, you guys,” said Rogue, “We’re being honored here. Let’s enjoy it while we can!”

Any lingering concerns about the conflict back on Earth were set aside for the moment. The X-men had accomplished something special in this Shi’ar conflict. They helped save every mind in the universe. For this, they earned this chance to be honored as heroes. Lilandra rose from her throne and stood besides Charles Xavier as she addressed the audience. The lingering sentiment about humans aside, Lilandra used her authority to make sure that others honored their gallantry.

“Thank you all for gathering during this time or rebuilding and reflection. I understand many of you have worlds to build, wounds to heal, and societies to nurture. But before we move forward into the future, it is important those who made it possible,” said Lilandra, her voice being projected throughout the Grand Hall, “Transitions are never easy. I did not learn of my lineage until very recently. I had no idea that I was royalty so I grew up with the perspective that I am as capable as any other being. This is an important perspective that is easy to lose when any power or authority becomes too great. This is also a perspective that Charles Xavier and his X-men champion. We would all be wise to heed such lessons as we move forward.”

Professor Xavier couldn’t stop smiling. He could sense Lilandra blush under his gaze, even as she was trying to maintain a regal demeanor. She was still the savvy woman he fell so deeply for back on Earth. Even as Empress of an alien civilization, she was a very genuine soul. That made her praise all the more meaningful.

“I know there are some out there who would look down on humans. There are others who look down on any race deemed inferior or unworthy. Growing up as I did taught me that all life is worthy. As living things, we come to value it because it is so precious and finite. We all struggle to find our place in our respective worlds. Sometimes that leads us into conflict with one another. Sometimes it leads us into great wars. For my misguided brother, it sent him into madness. He was in a position to propagate that madness. Had we only learned to extend a hand rather than clench a fist, we may have stopped the tyranny that followed. It’s impossible to know, which is why we must be so careful. It takes strength of astonishing caliber to do the right thing even when it’s so much harder. These brave humans stood by their principles, even as conflict threatened to pull them away. They were able to defeat D’ken and preserve the sanctity of not just the Shi’ar, but all sentient life. For that, they deserve our respect. That is why it gives me great pleasure to bestow upon them the Emblem of Sharra, the Imperium’s highest honor.”

A series of trepid applause broke out as these words were translated into various languages and dialects. The applause grew as Gladiator and Oracle stepped forth with a ceremonial collection of metals that looked like golden feathers. Lilandra then took each feather and presented them to each X-man, placing it on their upper arm as was custom. As they received this honor, the X-men smiled and bowed.

Even with all the nervous looks, many respected this seal of the Shi’ar Imperium. It spoke volumes for their ability to gain respect in an alien world such as this. As Lilandra went along the row of proud X-man, she took some time to single a few of them out. Jean Grey was one of them, having played an integral part with the Phoenix.

“I wish I could add something else to this honor, Jean. You underwent considerably more strain than anyone else,” said Lilandra upon placing the emblem on her arm.

“I don’t need anything extra, Miss Neramani. Or should I say Empress?” she said, sounding a bit overwhelmed by it all.

“For the one who wielded the Phoenix Force through a cosmic crisis, call me anything you deem appropriate,” she smiled.

“I’d rather not make too big a deal of it. Still feeling the Phoenix without sensing her presence has been…difficult to say the least.”

“After what we just went through, I’m confident we’ll figure it out,” said Scott, who had been holding Jean’s hand since the ceremony began, “You don’t need a cosmic force to be the Phoenix.”

“That remains to be seen, babe,” said Jean, squeezing his hand back, “I’ll just have to be content with being Jean Grey again.”

“Although you’ll also have to heating popcorn with a microwave again,” added Logan.

Despite her mixed emotions, she managed a slight laugh. Logan and Scott both had a way of maintaining that perspective that Lilandra deemed so important. What happened to the Phoenix Force was sure to have consequences. With the support and honors bestowed upon her, she was prepared to face them.

Lilandra continued giving out the emblems, going past Storm and Beast. When she reached Charles Xavier she paused. She took extra time in giving him his emblem. He set aside certain formalities and took her hand in his. Even as Empress of the Shi’ar, he still looked at her with that same special glint that she saw the day they met.

“Not to sound too obvious, but I know what you’re thinking,” said Xavier, “Your thoughts of kissing me passionately in front of your people doesn’t seem very regal.”

“Just because I’m an Empress doesn’t mean my thoughts are any purer. I hope my thoughts aren’t sending the wrong message,” she said, trying not to project.

“You’re telling me everything that needs to be said without saying it. I understand. It saves us the difficult conversation of explaining why you must stay with the Shi’ar while I return to Earth with the X-men.”

“Is I wrong for me to think that it isn’t fair? Is it wrong for me to wish I could be with a man I love and cherish? Especially after what he did to himself?”

“I acknowledge and accept every bit of scorn. I also acknowledge that neither addiction nor light-years of distance can stop me from loving you. We each have our battles. We must do what is right, even if it’s difficult.”

“You embody the Shi’ar spirit more than most Shi’ar, Charles. I can think of no one more worthy of this metal or my heart,” she said softly.

There was a gentle silence between them. She lingered in front of Xavier a bit longer than she was supposed to. It was hard to pull away from his presence. There was so much emotion between them, but so many circumstances keeping them apart. It didn’t make their love any less meaningful.

For a moment, Lilandra seriously considered kissing this man in front of the Imperial Guard and every other citizen of her empire. She had to hold off for now. Being a newly anointed empress, she had to maintain a sense of propriety. Before she pulled away, she offered Charles Xavier a warm smile and a powerful stream of telepathic affection. He smiled back, watching with his X-men as she took the main stand again.

“Congratulations, my friend. You now have the affections of an alien Empress,” commented Beast.

“What are the odds? And Hank, before you calculate anything please note it was a rhetorical question,” added Ororo.

“I’ll crunch the numbers later,” he joked, “But it is quite a development. Having had my share of long-distance relationships, I can attest to the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder.”

“I don’t doubt you, Hank. I prefer to think of this as an opportunity for us both,” said Xavier, still smiling, “We have a chance to do so much good with our abilities and privileges. Love, no matter the distance, only gives us greater incentive to succeed.”

The Professor had a pretty rosy outlook for someone who underwent so many changes in such a short span of time. Not long ago, he was writhing in agony inside a psychic isolation chamber. Now he was as healthy as he had ever been, standing beside his X-men upon one of their greatest triumphs. He hadn’t been this strong in years. With this strength, there were so many possibilities for the future.

After the final emblem was presented, the alien audience ceased their applause so the Empress could deliver her final statement. She had to temper her emotions. Looking back at Charles and the X-men, she saw inspiration that an entire galaxy could learn from.

“Thank you, X-men. On behalf of the Shi’ar Empire and the billions of souls that reside in it, we honor your heroism. You’ve given us a chance at peace. As we celebrate this new peace, I humbly ask my people to reflect on what we’ve survived. We’ve always valued strength. We’ve never shied away from conflict. And we shouldn’t. Conflict is a part of who we are as living things. In the future, we need to be wiser in addressing it. Being brave enough is only part of the battle. Making the right decisions is by far the most important aspect of the challenges that lay before us. Let us not drown in our anger and sorrow. Let us learn from our mistakes and always strive to be better. So for the strength and dignity of the Imperium, may glory bless us all!”

A new applause erupted throughout the Grand Hall. Everyone stood up and cheered, chanting their praise in various languages. The High Council stood up as well to applaud. It was an amazing scene, so many alien races standing as one to honor what the X-men accomplished. They understood how close they came to annihilation. After the tyranny of D’ken, they were ready for a bold new era.

For the X-men, they had to trust that Lilandra would be carry the Shi’ar forward. They still had many challenges waiting for them back on Earth. Looking out at all these aliens standing together, they couldn’t help but feel a renewed sense of hope.

“This is truly amazing! This is so much bigger than Earth. I almost feel small,” said Piotr.

“Coming from you, Colossus, that’s saying something,” snickered Kitty, “It will definitely make everything back home feel smaller. We’ll be wrapping our heads around this for months.”

“I don’t know Kitty. I think our experiences here have been very beneficial,” said Ororo.

“How do you figure, Stormy?” asked Remy.

“Just look at all these alien races standing together, thankful to be alive in this new era,” she said, gesturing out towards the audience, “If they can come together like this, then maybe there’s plenty of hope for humans and mutants.”


Palace Space Port – The Next Day

The festivities surrounding the ceremony were a wonderful experience for the X-men. As they were honored by the Shi’ar Empire, they took part in what the High Council declared the Great End. They spent the rest of the night celebrating, partaking in specially crafted foods to match delicacies on Earth. They got to meet with some of the councilors and a few other major races. They had earned the respect of many alien civilizations. Some offered them a chance to stick around a bit longer. As nice as the idea sounded, the X-men had work to do back home.

Once the festivities ended and the team got a nice night of rest, they were ready to head back to Earth. Lilandra commissioned a special Imperial Shuttle for the trip. Humans were still taboo for reasons no one would divulge so any trip to Earth had to be discreet. The X-men were content to uncover such mysteries later.

Now rested, cleaned up, and refreshed they gathered out near the mid-sized ship. Many were eager to return home. Others were going to miss the trappings of an advanced alien civilization.

“Dang, Ah can’t remember sleeping so well. Ah almost forgot what being rested feels like,” said Rogue, stretching her limbs as they stood outside the ship’s loading bay.

“I hear you, Rogue,” said Bobby, “I think it says something when we have to go to an alien civilization to get a good night sleep.”

“It’s still totally worth it!” said Kitty.

“Amen, petite,” said Remy, “Hope we can be coming back for a visit some time. This place be a great way to get away from all the bad mojo back on Earth.”

“We’d need a hell of a lot of frequent flier miles, that’s for sure,” joked Bobby.

“I’d rather not plan another vacation at this point. There’s probably plenty of work waiting for us back home,” said Betsy, who was the only one that seemed a bit restless.

“Do you really have to remind us when we’re in such a good mood, Betsy?” said Kitty.

“Sorry luv, but some of us are eager to get back home. Some of us left behind a lot of unfinished business,” said Betsy, her thoughts drifting back to Warren.

“And some of us miss cold, Earth-made beer,” added Logan, “I tried what these aliens pass for booze last night. It’s piss compared to a fresh bottle of whiskey.”

“Really Logan? That’s what you miss most about Earth?” laughed Rogue.

“You are surprised, Rogue?” chuckled Piotr.

More laughter followed. The team’s spirits were high. It was a great way to return home, having accomplished so much with the Shi’ar. Whatever was waiting for them back home, they were confident they were ready to face it.

While the team lingered, the royal technicians finished some final tweaks on the shuttle. Hank emerged from the interior with Professor Xavier. They looked every bit as hopeful, especially the Professor. He had come the furthest through this affair. He had his health back and he had his legs back. Returning home was sure to bring many exciting changes.

“We’re finished with the final check,” said Hank, “The engineers have given us the go-ahead to launch. You’re all ready to depart, I hope.”

“Oh we’re ready to make the jump to light speed, Cheewy!” said Bobby, “How long a ride is this going to be?”

“No longer than a trip from Westchester to Manhattan,” said Professor Xavier, “Between the warp drive and the star gate, Lilandra has ensured that we’ll return in a timely manner.”

“Probably a good idea. Who knows how fucked up the world has gotten since we left,” said Logan.

“If it’s still in one piece, that’s more than enough for meh,” said Rogue.

Having already said their goodbyes to their various Shi’ar friends, the team eagerly made their way into the shuttle through the main ramp. Betsy, Rogue, Remy, Kitty, Piotr, and Bobby followed Hank inside. This ship was a bit nicer than the Starjammer. It promised to make the ride back a bit less bumpy.

While the team made their way to the passenger area, Professor Xavier lingered. Near the front part of the shuttle, Lilandra was still conversing with Scott, Jean, and Ororo. He wasn’t looking forward to parting from this woman again. This whole conflict made him realize just how precious she was to him. So with a heavy heart, he approached his love for what promised to be the last time for a while.

“Thank you for letting us part with some of the Warlock components, Lilandra. They’re sure to come in handy,” said Scott, “I’m sure Hank has already thanked you enough for letting him part with a few Shi’ar encyclopedias.”

“Oh yes, he was exceedingly gracious last night,” said Lilandra.

“We’ll also be sure to deliver the message you gave us to your company,” said Ororo, “Rest assure, your family secrets will remain safe.”

“So long as you X-men are keeping an eye on them, I’m not going to worry about it,” said Lilandra, “That message also contains some data that will help accelerate our tech development. Just make sure they don’t get too ambitious.”

“Oh believe me, we’ll keep them in line,” said Jean, “We’ve proved beyond all doubt how dangerous absolute power is. We manage as best we can, even if it takes some adjusting.”

She was probably the only one who was still restless. Losing so much of the Phoenix Force wore heavily on her. She still couldn’t hear the Phoenix in her mind even if she could feel her power. Scott stayed by her side for much of the festivities, helping to keep her spirit up. He needed her support too since he had his own issues looming over him.

Having squared away the smaller details, there wasn’t much more to discuss. When Professor Xavier approached, that was their cue to join the others. They offered Lilandra one last friendly gesture.

“It’s been a pleasure, Lilandra,” said Ororo graciously, “We’ll continue to miss your presence back on Earth.”

“Although the Professor is definitely going to miss you more,” said Jean.

“I know. I’ll miss him too,” she said sadly.

“Then we’ll give you plenty of space,” said Scott, “The universe isn’t in danger anymore. So feel free to take all the time you need.”

The X-leader then slipped his arm around his girlfriend and followed Ororo towards the shuttle. They passed Professor Xavier along the way, smiling in a show of support. In his strong new state, he owed a great deal to this woman. He also owed her plenty of apologies.

When he approached the newly anointed Empress, they were silent at first. There was plenty of sadness over having to part ways. There were also lingering issues surrounding the addiction that caused him so much pain. There wasn’t much to say. Being telepaths, most of the emotions were effectively conveyed through thoughts.

“Charles…” said Lilandra, finally breaking the silence.

“I’m not under the illusion that a simple goodbye will cut it, my dear,” said Xavier, “I can’t describe how difficult it is with you being light-years away.”

“We have our duties, Charles. That we both understand,” she said in a low tone, “What I still don’t understand is why you did so much harm to yourself in my absence. More then the separation, this revelation was very troubling.”

“I have no excuses. It was not your fault. It was mine,” he told her.

“Even so, I can’t help but worry. What you went through was painfully human of you. It’s…sobering in a sense to know someone I love went through something so horrible.”

“Horrible it may be, it’s over now. I’m better. I won’t walk that path again.”

“I’ve no doubt you can keep your promises. What concerns me more is that these very human flaws bind us both. You’re leading a vision for humans and mutants. I’m not leading an entire alien race. For us to succeed, we have to be more than human in our resolve. We have to go further.”

“And we will,” said Xavier as he slipped his arms around her waist, “We can worry all we want. We’re still going to make mistakes. That’s what it means to be human. I’m not afraid of that and neither should you. I can’t promise you I’ll stop making human flaws, but I can promise you that I’ll cherish the strength we share.”

“Strength and love, through and through,” said Lilandra, smiling at his words, “You’re starting to think like a real Shi’ar, Charles.”

“Since the woman I love is now the Shi’ar Empress, why shouldn’t I?”

The combination of love and strength was so apparent in his embrace. She could feel his loving thoughts wash over her like a warm blanket. In this tender moment, she pulled him into a deep kiss. For a moment, Lilandra forgot that she was now royalty in an alien civilization. She was just a woman sharing a special moment with the man she loved. Even though they were parting ways, the bond they now shared could span the universe.

As Lilandra and the Professor shared their moment, Scott and Jean reached the top of the main ramp. They paused to look back at their mentor as he enjoyed this special moment. He definitely deserved it. They were about to follow Ororo inside when another figure emerged from the palace. It was Corsair. He had been avoiding Scott since the end of the mission. He had a look on his face that was difficult to turn away from.

Now he decides to show up? Just as we’re leaving?” said Scott bitterly, “I think that says enough.”

“Go talk to him, Scott,” said Jean, ignoring his tone, “He’s your father.”

“What would I even say? He’s not coming with us. He’s too comfortable being a space pirate.”

“Talk to him anyways,” she said strongly, “At least one of us should leave here with some closure. You’ve always been so good at improvising on missions. So it might as well be you.”

Jean’s strong urgings left the X-leader with little option. Her pleading look indicated that she would telekinetically shove him towards his father if she had to. Since her mind had been strained enough through this affair, he walked back down the ramp and met up with the man he thought had been dead for nearly 15 years.

When the two men reached one another, there was mostly stoic silence. They were both of the Summers tradition of military discipline and emotional reservations. There were so many mixed feelings. Scott wasn’t sure where to start. Corsair looked just as lost. Since they may not get another chance to clear the air, Corsair took it upon himself to make this moment count.

“Son…is it too early to call you that again?” he said.

“Maybe a little,” said the X-leader as he awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck.

“Whatever I call you, I couldn’t let you leave without telling you the truth.”

“What’s there to tell?” said Scott flatly, “Our plane crashed. We got separated. You never came back for us.”

“Do you really think I’m that big an asshole? That I would walk away from my family if I knew they were still alive?”

“I don’t know what to think. Help me out, dad. Tell me what I need to know.”

Corsair took a deep breath. This was going to be even harder than he thought. He had years of pain and sorrow bearing down on him. It helped make him into the battle hardened space rebel that he was now. He couldn’t be that man anymore. He had to be Christopher Summers again.

“It was all so wrong. Your mother and I never wanted you to get caught up in this,” he said sadly, “It all came back to duty. I was testing out the most advanced planes in the Air Force. Your mother was an engineer with every possible clearance the government had to offer. It was so exciting. We shouldn’t have been too shocked to find out that the technology we were using was from recovered Shi’ar space crafts.”

“Wait…the government had access to Shi’ar technology?” said Scott.

“Don’t look so surprised. To be fair, they didn’t have access to much. That’s what made testing it so dangerous. We had no idea what we were working with. At one point your mother thought she was on the verge of a breakthrough, but it was the kind of breakthrough that rubbed some very powerful people the wrong way. That’s why we were in such a hurry to fly out that day of the crash.”

It started coming back to Scott. He had been so young, but he still remembered it vividly. His parents said they were going on an impromptu vacation. They never gave an explanation. He and Alex didn’t ask for one. Now his father was telling him it was so much more.

“Apparently, the military wasn’t the only one that knew about the breakthrough. On the way, a Shi’ar interceptor found us. Apparently, we activated something in a crashed ship that triggered alarms throughout the empire. So D’ken sent someone to investigate.”

“By investigate you mean they shot down our plane,” Scott surmised, “That’s why the plane crashed.”

“You’re as smart as your mother,” said Corsair, now holding his head low, “Before it exploded, we were…abducted. We saw every moment of it. We never saw your parachutes open. As far as we knew, you boys were dead.”

He had to pause for a moment, his words choked with a thick sorrow. His expression remained stoic, much like Scott’s did whenever he got worked up. He didn’t hide the pain. It was merely a prelude to something much worse.

“From there it got worse,” he said, “D’ken thought humanity was trying to unleash some powerful threat or some shit I can’t remember. His rule had just started at the time so he was pretty damn paranoid. Even though we had no idea what he was talking about, he didn’t take any chances. He subjected me and your mother to torture that I can’t even begin to describe. He was especially interested in what your mother knew. He seemed to think she had secrets that would destroy him.”

“And did she?” asked Scott, now getting worked up himself.

“If she did, she never told him,” said Corsair, swallowing a hard lump in his throat, “D’ken killed her. He did it right in front of me. I watched him kill the woman I love. This on top of losing my sons…hell, I didn’t mind when he sent me into the slave pits. That’s when the Starjammers showed up. They rescued me. They even offered to take me back to Earth, but I chose not to return. There was nothing left for me. So I dedicated what was left of my miserable life to making D’ken pay for his crimes.”

“So it never crossed your mind to at least check up on us?” Scott questioned.

“I had no reason to believe you and Alex were alive! If I had known, I would have clawed my way across the universe myself to get to you. I drowned my sorrows in combating D’ken. You can bust my chops all you want for never going back. What drove me never changed. I loved your mother. I loved my boys. I don’t care if you don’t believe anything else I say. At least believe that.”

Scott’s demeanor shifted. There were deep wounds in his every word. He looked like a man embittered by years of battle, but he still had in him the dedication of a husband and father. For this, he couldn’t keep scorning this man. Not after everything he lost.

“I believe you,” said Scott, “I just…what are we supposed to do now? I’ve already been told you’re not coming back with us.”

“I spent nearly fifteen years building a new life with the Starjammers. It’s not a life I can easily walk away from,” said Corsair, “That doesn’t mean I’ll keep negating my old life. I want to be involved with my sons again. You haven’t even told me about what happened to Alex.”

“That’s a story that would take way too long to tell. Same with Gabriel.”

“Gabriel? Who’s Gabriel?”

Scott looked at his father strangely. He seemed genuinely perplexed. He didn’t know about Gabriel. That opened the door to many more questions that were even harder to contemplate. Rather than further complicate this moment, he decided to table that issue.

“That’s another story that would take even longer,” said the X-leader, “I would like to tell you all about it at one point. I’d even like you to confront it with me when the time is right.”

“I’d like that too,” said Corsair with a light smile, “I’m sure a lot has happened over the past decade.”

“You have no idea,” sighed Scott, “And it keeps getting more hectic by the day.”

“Then why don’t we try this…I’ll have Lilandra set up a special quantum channel for us to receive messages. We can keep in touch like pen pals for a bit. Then when the time comes, I’ll return to Earth. You can tell me all these stories. You can tell me about how you became this proud, determined hero.”

“Sounds like the galactic equivalent of being Facebook friends.”

“What the hell is a Facebook?”

Scott chuckled a bit. There was definitely a lot to catch up on. His father was willing to make the effort. Even though there were many unresolved conflicts with Alex and Gabriel, having him back in their lives had a lot of appeal.

“We’ll skip that part. I’m willing to take the first step if you are,” said Scott, “I can’t promise we’ll be the same family we once were.”

“I wouldn’t expect us to. I’m content to have some of my family back,” said Corsair, “I may not have a right at this point, but I’m very proud of you. Even without me and your mother, you became a great man. I believe you’re destined for great things.”

“Uh…thanks dad,” said Scott, now feeling awkward in a good way.

“We’ll have our time. I promise. Until then, I want you to leave remembering one of your mother’s favorite little sayings. She said good men do the right thing. Great men lead others into doing the right thing. I can’t see your eyes through that nifty headgear of yours, but in your eyes I can still see a great man.”

His inspiring rhetoric struck Scott on a deep level. Where his family was once so decimated, he recaptured something special. Smiling back at his father, he pulled him into a light hug. It was a rare show of emotion for both of them. It conveyed all those other feelings they couldn’t yet express. There would be plenty of time to explore those feelings later. For now, they had other battles many worlds apart.

Having tied up the final loose end, Scott parted from his father and caught up with the others. At around the same time, Professor Xavier reluctantly pulled away from Lilandra. The time had finally come to depart. There was plenty of work ahead of them back home. So after waving goodbye one last time, Scott and Professor Xavier boarded the shuttle. The main seals closed behind them. Lilandra and Corsair joined the flight the technicians behind the safety barrier. From here, they stood by and watched as the shuttle took off.

“Goodbye, Charles. Goodbye, X-men,” said Lilandra sadly, “Thank you for saving us. The universe is a better place with hearts such as yours.”


Chandilar Moon – Inner Chamber

The shuttle carrying the X-men had departed unceremoniously from the palace. Now that they were gone and the celebrations had ended, the arduous work could begin. There was a cleanup effort on a planetary scale underway. The massive antennas that D’ken constructed on the backs of slavers were being stripped down piece-by-piece. Large parts of it were destroyed. The antenna on Chandilar’s moon was especially in ruin. It was a significant headache while still being a sensitive operation.

Deathbird had never been big on grunt work. After fighting a war for so long, the notion of peace hadn’t set in. There was still plenty of conflict in the universe. When she saw the X-men’s shuttle pass by from a monitor deep within the antenna complex, she scorned them. Even if they did save the universe, those humans didn’t deserve to be praised.

“Those humans will be the end of us all,” she mused, “Freeing us from a tyrant only creates a larger void to be filled. Someone or something will come along to fill it. For all we know, it’ll be worse than D’ken.”

While Deathbird watched over the monitors overlooking the cleanup process, one of her lieutenants came storming into the command center. He was out of breath and looked like he had just seen a ghost.

“Commander Deathbird! Come quick!” he urged, “I think we found it!”

“Already?” she questioned, “Are you absolutely sure?”

“I’m sure! The energy readings are exactly as you predicted.”

“Show me.”

Deathbird followed the lieutenant out of the command center and into one of the freight elevators they managed to get working again. It led them down to the lower levels of the chamber where the M’krann Crystal was once housed. This was an area deemed too dangerous for normal workers. Only drones were allowed. In addition, Deathbird had them programmed to seek out specific energy signatures during their cleanup efforts. As someone well-versed in Shi’ar traditions, she understood the value of taking a chance.

‘Empress Lilandra has her heart in the right place. The problem is her heart is part human. She does not understand what it means to be Shi’ar. The methods that worked on Earth cannot work on this scale. D’ken caused many wounds amongst the many races that the Shi’ar control. None would be condemned for wanting to fight back. It leaves the Shi’ar Imperium very vulnerable. Seeing as how I vowed to protect the Imperium at all costs, I must make sure the Empress not a liability. That means having a failsafe.”

The fright elevator stopped at a certain level. Deathbird and the Lieutenant stepped off and weaved through a crowd of worker drones. They were all busy clearing debris from a certain area near the bottom of the chamber. From this area, a mysterious yellow light shined up through the rubble. The lieutenant led Deathbird atop a nearby ledge so she could see down into it. What she saw brought a rare smile to her face.

“Well I’ll be an overgrown hatchling,” she said.

“The machines have done all the measurements. The Phoenix Egg is definitely active,” said the Lieutenant.

“That means it’s incubating. We’ll have to start making arrangements.”

Deathbird ventured down further into the rubble and approached the source of the yellow light. It wasn’t a shard of crystal or a fiery ember. It was a very large egg. It wasn’t a normal egg by any stretch. This egg was surrounded by a glowing shell radiating with energy not unlike the Phoenix Force. Deathbird recognized it from the stories she heard about the Phoenix. If this egg matched her predictions, it would be instrumental in her future plans.

“Should we contact the Empress and inform her of this find?” asked the Lieutenant.

“No…not yet,” said Deathbird as she ran her hand over the egg, “Contact only the defense council. Tell them I’ve confirmed our initial suspicions. Also tell them to prepare the secret Hound Lair on Chandilar-4. We have a bold new project for them.”


Skies Over Xavier Institute

“Home sweet home,” mused a beleaguered Jean Grey, “I never thought that would sound so underwhelming.”

This was the first thing anyone said when the Earth came into view through the Shi’ar shuttle. The ride felt a lot shorter than it truly was. Once they made it to the star gate and passed through, they arrived right back in their solar system. From there took just a few hours to reach Earth. The pilot of the shuttle, Raza of the Starjammers, was careful in his approach. He kept the cloaking device on the whole time. Like the rest of the Shi’ar, he did not want to attract the attention of Earth.

They re-entered the atmosphere slowly and subtly, staying invisible to detection every step of the way. When they arrived at the Xavier Institute, the Professor used his cell phone to open the secret hanger from where the X-jet took off. Raza kept the engines running as the ship settled within the hanger.

“It’s been a privilege fighting by your side, X-men,” said Raza, “Good luck on this cursed world you call Earth.”

“Thank you, Raza. We’ll certainly need it,” said Professor Xavier.

“No kidding,” sighed Kitty, “We don’t even know how much time has passed since we left.”

“By mah count we’ve only been gone a few days,” shrugged Rogue.

“You need to read up on Einstein, Rogue. After traveling through space beyond the speed of light, who knows how much time has passed on Earth.”

“It’s still in one piece,” Ororo pointed out, “Satellites seem to be working. My cell phone is working.”

“Speaking of which, I have 39 unanswered messages!” said an exasperated Betsy.

“Damn! Better check my DVR! Who knows how much wrestling I missed!” said Bobby.

Once given the go-ahead, the team exited the ship. As soon as they were off, Raza turned the shuttle around and flew out. He didn’t care to be on Earth any longer than he had to. No one could blame him. There was probably a lot they had to catch up on.

The X-men had a tedious road ahead of them. They left a lot of loose ends before they parted with the Shi’ar. No one looked forward to dealing with the inevitable complications. Kitty, Piotr, Bobby, Remy, and Rogue immediately broke off to return to their rooms. Betsy stood back to look over her phone messages. Ororo was inclined to do the same, but she stuck with Logan, Hank, Jean and Scott as they made their way to the War Room. They had to go through some major de-briefing before they got back to some semblance of normalcy. Charles Xavier remained the most upbeat.

“Let’s get close the book on this alien shit quickly, Chuck. I need to call Laura and I’ve got a date with several bottles of whiskey,” said Logan.

“We’ll be thorough, Logan. I’m just as eager to get back to more Earthly concerns,” said the Professor.

“And this time you have two valuable new resources in your legs,” grinned Hank.

“Yes, that’s certain to change a number of things,” said Xavier, still smiling.

“I figured as such,” said Scott, “Does this mean you’re officially back and I’m demoted from my role?”

“Don’t tell me you’re worried about your job security, Scott,” teased Jean, “Even without the fancy Operations Commander role, you’re still our field leader.”

“Jean is correct,” said the Professor, “From what I’ve been told, you did a commendable job in my absence, Scott.”

“He was still a dick,” added Logan.

“Oh come now, Logan. Even you have to admit the X-men did okay while he was in charge,” said Ororo.

“I think that’s beyond debate,” said Xavier, “That being said, we’ll have to do a bit of reshuffling once we clear this matter up. We probably have a lot to catch up on. We need to organize ourselves for new conflict before that conflict finds us.”

No one could argue with his logic. There were sure to be plenty of contentions. Xavier now had to explain to everybody why he could walk again. Scott also had reason to worry. He wasn’t just having his role reshaped. His girlfriend was still in a vulnerable state with the Phoenix Force being powered down. They had more than their share of cosmic chaos. It was time to address more personal battles.

The Professor activated the door that lead into the War Room. Everything seemed to be running smoothly so he wasn’t too worried. Then when the doors opened, he and his students were met with an unexpected sight that promised to thrust new conflict upon them. The War Room was already occupied.

“Professor Xavier?” said an equally surprised James Proudstar.

“James?” exclaimed Ororo.

“It’s about time you showed up,” said an annoyed looking Mystique, “Especially you, Logan. We’re definitely going to have to have a chat.”

“Ah hell,” groaned Logan, “Now I’m gonna need even more whiskey.”

Scott, Jean, Ororo, Logan, Hank, and Professor Xavier were taken aback. Sitting right at the computer were James Proudstar and Mystique, looking as though they had been working on something. It left them confused as well as anxious.

“So much for a quiet homecoming,” sighed Scott.

“Wish I could say I’m surprised,” groaned Jean.

“What are you doing here? And how did you even get in?” asked Professor Xavier strongly.

Mystique was about to answer. Then that answer literally appeared next to her in the form of Kurt Wagner. He had just teleported from the kitchen with a tub of ice cream.

“Sorry mother, zhe milk and leftovers vent bad,” said the German mutant, “But zhe ice cream is still good. Vant me to get you a…”

Kurt stopped himself, his mouth half-full of ice cream when he realized they had company. When he saw Professor Xavier and the others he nearly dropped his meal.

“Oh uh…guten tag, mien friends. Velcome back from vherever you’ve been for zhe past six veeks.”

“Six weeks?” exclaimed Scott, “We’ve been away for six weeks?”

“Apparently Shi’ar warp technology isn’t immune from the laws of relativity,” said Hank, groaning at the prospect of explaining this to Sage.

“I’m not even going to ask what that means because I’m pretty sure it’s a story we don’t have time for,” said James.

“Although I am interested in why your wheelchair is gone, Xavier,” said Mystique.

“Unfortunately, James is right about it being a long story,” said the Professor, “I hope it will be quicker for you to explain what this is about.”

“I’m guessin’ you ain’t using the War Room to download movies,” said Logan.

“You would be right on both counts. That’s not necessarily a good thing,” came a new voice.

Scott, Jean, Hank, Ororo, Logan, and the Professor turned to their right for the source of the voice. Once again, they were surprised by a new presence. It was Warren. He had been working on one of the secondary systems when they came in. He seemed more anxious than he was glad to see them. For the others, it was jarring for another reason. Warren’s wings were gone.

“Warren? Was it you who allowed them in?” asked Hank.

“And where are you wings? Are you okay?” asked Jean nervously.

“You didn’t block my access code. So I used it,” he shrugged, “As for my wings, that’s another long story.”

To demonstrate this, Warren removed his shirt to reveal that his wings were still there. They were just in a very different form. From his back, a set of wings folded out. However, they weren’t made of the feathers anymore. They were made of metal. It had the distinct luster of techno-organic material, something that didn’t sit well in the slightest. Before they could ask any more questions, Warren finished his explanation.

“I’m sorry I let these guys in without invitations. I needed their help,” he said, “We’ve all been caught up in the same battle recently. While you were gone we’ve been trying to fight it and not making much progress either.”

“What kind of fight are we talking about here? Who’s trying to fuck the world up this time?” asked Wolverine.

“It’s not as simple as you think, Logan,” said Warren grimly, “It’s actually a combination between Genosha going to hell and the Mutant Liberation Front staging a major comeback. Needless to say, they’ve made a real mess of things.”

Up next: Paranoid Paradigm

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