In a world that hates and fears mutants, Professor Charles Xavier fights for peace and understanding. There are many obstacles in this struggle and his gifted team, the X-men, have overcome many. After confronting challenges on a cosmic level, Xavier and his X-men now face a crisis of a very different kind.
While the X-men were away fighting the Shi’ar, the mutant nation of Genosha descended into chaos. With Wanda Maximoff injured, Alex Summers gained new authority. With this authority, he closed Genosha’s boarders and stopped exporting the alien technology that had been key to maintaining peace. He believes humanity is plotting against them. He may end up being right because President Kelly is preparing an aggressive response.
In the midst of this escalating conflict, the Mutant Liberation Front has returned. Stryfe has taken over and launched a series of attacks. This has reignited old fears and inspired new ones, but this time there may be more to it.
Investigations by James Proudstar and Mystique have revealed a possible connection to the shadowy private military company known as White Cell. The nature of this connection isn’t clear, but Charles Xavier is determined to stop this threat before it escalates. He’s in a much better position now that he has the use of his legs. However, not everyone in the X-men is at full strength for this coming battle.
Xavier Institute – Danger Room
“Errr! Come on! I…can do this!” grunted a determined Jean Grey.
“Warning. Safety limits exceeded,” announced the Danger Room AI.
“Override all safety measures! Pass code 161016!” she yelled out.
Her mind was heavily strained. Sweat dripped down her face as her body and mind ached. It was the kind of training that would have broken a weaker mind by now. Jean Grey was intent on completing it no matter what the safety alerts told her.
This was a high level scenario tailored specifically for psychics. It involved her using her telekinesis to hold up a massive weight that looked like an oversized piston. She had to keep it up as long as possible in order to protect an image of unconscious civilians below. If she faltered, they would be crushed and the scenario would be over. It was a scenario she had run many times before with little incident. That was before the Phoenix Force went silent, leaving her without the cosmic presence that once aided her.
“Just…a little bit…longer!” she grunted as she fell to her knees.
The weight shook erratically as it continued to descend. Even with Jean’s full telekinetic might, she couldn’t hold it back. The strain was so bad that she started bleeding from her nose. More alarms sounded. She continued to ignore them. With each passing second, the weight kept inching lower. It was about to crush the target. Jean kept pushing harder, but it was no use.
She was about to give out completely when the doors to the Danger Room were literally slashed open and Logan came storming in.
“Emergency shut down! Code 823722!” he yelled.
“Code accepted. Program terminated.”
Within moments, the image of the massive weight faded. It disappeared just as the targets underneath were about to be crushed. Once it was gone, Jean Grey nearly passed out, her body going limp from exhaustion. Logan ran over and caught her just before she hit the floor. She looked like she just went ten rounds with a pissed off Juggernaut. It was the most defeated he had seen her in quite some time.
“Damn it, Logan! Why did you stop the program?” she groaned.
“I should be yelling at you for a change, Jeannie. What in the freakin’ hell were you doing?” yelled Logan as he tried to hold her up.
“I was…training,” she said breathlessly.
“Since when the hell did training involve throwing your brain into a goddamn blender?”
“You’re one to talk.”
“I got a healing factor. You don’t,” he reminded her, “For crying out loud, we got enough bullshit going on without you torturing yourself! Save the self-loathing to Summers. He’s better at it.”
Jean groaned under Logan’s harsh words. It was an odd role reversal. Usually she was the one to scold him for being reckless and foolish. She knew she was in a bad state when he was the reasonable one. It showed just how much losing the presence of the Phoenix Force had affected her.
Logan resisted the urge to scold her further and helped her back to her feet. She was still light-headed. Blood was still trickling down her nose. Logan tried to wipe it away, but she brushed off his grip. She didn’t care to be helped at the moment. The last thing she needed was to feel helpless.
“Come on, Jeannie. Don’t to that,” said Logan in a less abrasive tone, “I know you’re messed up after losing the Phoenix Force.”
“I didn’t lose her, Logan. She’s just…dormant,” said Jean strongly.
“Well if you’re trying to wake her up, this ain’t the way. You’re supposed to be the one who thinks shit through. You know you can’t rely on me of all people to do it for you.”
“I’m not asking you to, Logan. I’m supposed to be stronger. Just as I’m supposed to pass this scenario without feeling like truck ran over my brain. I used to be able to hold up that weight without overthinking. Now it’s like my mind has been downgraded.”
“In other words, you’re feeling weaker. No need to be coy about it. I know how much it sucks,” he said.
“Easy for you to say. As you love pointing out, you’re the one wit the healing factor. You don’t need to be stronger,” said Jean bitterly.
“That ain’t fair, Jeannie.”
“I know it isn’t! It’s a terrible thing to say, but I’m in a terrible mood in case you haven’t noticed!” she cried, “When the Phoenix Force went silent, I didn’t just lose the power. I lost a part of myself. It’s like there’s a limb missing and it’s making me feel crippled! You can’t understand it. Nobody can!”
Logan fell silent. He was tempted to console his former lover, but she continued resisting any form of comforts. It put him in an awkward position. He was not very good at counseling others when they were messed up. He was usually too messed up himself to offer any decent advice. This was an unusual case to say the least.
Jean Grey had grown a lot since he first met her and the Phoenix Force was a big part of that. Just as the adamantium in his bones had become part of him, this cosmic being was part of her. Not having it anymore affected her in so many ways.
He gave her a minute to breathe. He didn’t say anything, but he kept his worried gaze on her. Jean felt it and it pushed her to gather herself. She shouldn’t be taking her frustrations out on the people she cared about. This was her problem. She had to deal with it.
“I’m sorry, Logan. I…I’m not used to being a total bitch,” she said solemnly.
“Don’t apologize, Jeannie. You’re still a lightweight,” said Logan with a half-grin.
“I just feel like I’m putting everyone in danger by being so weak. It used to be my Phoenix powers were something we could rely on to get us out of tough spaces. Now that I can’t use them, it makes everyone around me more vulnerable.”
“We got along without it before. We can do it again,” he reasoned.
“I keep telling myself that. I still can’t bring myself to accept it,” said Jean with lingering frustration, “I’ve already let it hurt the people I care about. I’ve kept Scott at a distance even though he needs me right now. I haven’t trained with the others even though I know we have an emerging crisis with the Mutant Liberation Front. Hell, even my grades are slipping.”
“You make it sound as though you can’t get along without this thing. Like none of us are safe without it. You really think we’re that soft?”
“Damn it, Logan! I’m being serious!” she groaned.
“So am I,” he said in a less hostile tone, “I won’t say you shouldn’t worry about it. I’ll just say you don’t need no cosmic bird to kick ass. You’ll just have to learn to do things the hard way again. It’ll suck, but if you can handle an ex like me and a prick like Cyke, then you can manage.”
The idea of learning how to be weaker wasn’t appealing. After embracing the Phoenix Force so completely, it was hard to remember how she got along without it. However, she hadn’t forgotten that she was able to hold her own before it entered her life. It meant that she may be more vulnerable along with her friends. She had to trust them to be stronger while they trusted her to adjust.
Logan offered her another comforting gesture. This time she didn’t push him away. She allowed him to lead her out of the Danger Room. She had strained herself enough for one day.
“I wish it was as easy as it sounded,” sighed Jean.
“And I wish the clouds rained whiskey, but I know that ain’t happening,” said Logan with a wry grin, “At least you still got time to get your head together. You’re joining Chuck for all the bureaucratic shit with the MSA. I’m joining Ro’s team for our little visit to White Cell.”
“Is that the same team with Kurt and Mystique?” asked Jean.
“Yep,” he affirmed, “I’m stuck on a mission with the woman I’m sleeping with and her son. Plus, I gotta deal with James freakin’ Proudstar and that trigger-happy personality of his. So consider yourself lucky. At least as lucky as X-men can be.”
Logan was not an optimist to say the least, but he never lost perspective. He never shied away from a challenge either. The Professor was already implementing an ambitious plan to confront this crisis. Everyone was prepared to do their part. Even if she didn’t feel as powerful as she had with the Phoenix Force, Jean Grey had to be prepared as well. Cosmic entity or not, she was an X-man and the world needed the X-men.
‘It can’t be a good sign when my ex is making this much sense and I’m this big a wreck. The X-men go into space, six weeks go by, and the world finds new ways to go to hell. And I have to help drag it out of that hell…without the Phoenix Force. God, why does that sound so damn hard? Given my luck, it’ll probably get harder before the end of the day.’
Pentagon – Later That Day
It had been a while since Charles Xavier immersed himself in human/mutant politics. He quickly realized how little he missed it while recovering from his addiction. He and his X-men received a lukewarm welcome from the MSA. President Kelly refused to meet with him. Their apparent disappearance hurt their credibility. General Grimshaw was now the lone intermediary and even he didn’t express much confidence.
When he arrived with Bobby, Kitty, Piotr, Jean, and Scott, they were greeted by armed operatives. They were scrutinized as they went through the numerous security barriers. It was pretty uncomfortable. The MSA were supposed to be allies and now they were being treated as potential targets. It wasn’t just because of high tensions either. The mood throughout every branch of government had changed. It was like everyone was preparing for war.
When he finally got to General Grimshaw, he was led into a special conference room that was adjacent to the MSA control center. The rest of the X-men had to wait outside while the General gave Xavier a quick overview of what was going on. Using a series of three-dimensional projectors, he played over footage of several major terror attacks by the Mutant Liberation Front. He also showed a few reconnaissance images of the naval blockade over Genosha. Together, they painted a very grim picture.
“As you can see, the world got considerably closer to hell while you were off getting your legs healed,” explained General Grimshaw as he played over the footage all at once, “The Times Square attack in New York was just the beginning. Over the last few days they’ve hit downtown London, the Beijing financial district, the Burj Dubai, downtown Cairo, Red Square in Moscow, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They didn’t completely destroy these landmarks. They just scarred them.”
“And why would they do that? Why not go the extra distance and finish the job?” wondered Xavier.
“They don’t have to. They just need to show us they could. And unlike their old attacks, these ones actually hurt people. The death toll is already in the hundreds.”
“They’ve grown bolder and more ruthless. That much we can agree on,” said Professor Xavier as he looked over the disturbing images.
“We could’ve used a warning or two. I kept calling you X-men and every time I ended up on the phone with Emma Frost,” said the General sternly, “She always had the same excuse. You were sick and the others were in the Savage Land. The more I heard it, the less I believed it.”
“You can’t expect me to apologize for circumstances beyond our control, General,” retorted Xavier, “You know my team would have been there unless something incredibly dire was standing in our way.”
“Oh I have no doubt that you were dealing with something heavy. It may have even been something more dangerous than Genosha and the Mutant Liberation Front combined. What makes me upset to no end is that you’re blowing smoke in my face.”
“I’m not trying to deceive you, General,” coaxed Xavier.
“Yet you avoid telling me the truth,” he retorted, “You act as though I don’t notice things. Six weeks ago, we detected an alien anomaly that descended upon our planet, unleashed this bizarre energy burst over Genosha, and then disappeared. This all happened after I heard reports from Muir Island that someone hijacked a jet and flew it to Genosha. Now I have no way of proving that you or the X-men were involved. But the fact that you disappeared after is a hell of a coincidence. As you’re probably surmised by now, I don’t take kindly to coincidences.”
There was a threatening undertone to his voice. General Grimshaw was a smart man with unparalleled access. He was in a position to connect the clues they left behind. Xavier could sense it in his overly hostile thoughts. He knew the X-men were involved in the alien anomaly. He didn’t press as hard as he could have on the issue. He just made it clear that it bothered him.
“I’m sure we could spend all day debating about what happened six weeks ago. For the moment, we have more Earthly concerns,” said the General as he expanded the hologram depicting the attacks, “The attacks by the Mutant Liberation Front couldn’t have come at a worse time. That alien cluster-fuck derailed our rebuilding efforts with Genosha.”
“Yes, I would imagine such an incident would leave them quite shaken,” said Xavier, trying to focus on more relevant issues.
“It left them more than a little shaken. They closed their damn boarders and threatened to cut off the power they’ve been feeding to all over the world. Since a lot of areas are still trying to rebuild from the last round of attacks, they’re still dependant on that power.”
“So why haven’t they shut if off if they want a confrontation?”
“Leverage…plain and simple,” said the General, “They understand that if we attack them, they could shut down that power and hurt a lot of people in the process.”
“By they do you mean all of Genosha? Or just Alex Summers?” questioned Xavier.
“We’re still trying to figure that out. That kid may be a punk, but he’s smarter than anyone in President Kelly’s inner circle gives him credit for. He wants something. Somehow he’s convinced Wanda Maximoff that this is the best way to get it.”
“What do you think he wants?”
“I don’t know yet. That’s what I hope you and your X-men can figure out,” said Grimshaw, “The Mutant Liberation Front attacks are adding a lot of pressure. The two conflicts are feeding off one another. The more hostile everyone gets towards mutants, the more anxious everybody gets and I do mean everybody. Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, France, and Britain all want to launch a pre-emptive strike on Genosha. They’ve concluded that Genosha is somehow behind the Mutant Liberation Front.”
“I find that highly unlikely. It was the Mutant Liberation Front that killed Polaris,” Xavier pointed out.
“That’s what I told them. They aren’t convinced. The growing consensus is Genosha has been so frustrated by human/mutant clashes that they’re ready to make a bold move. They need answers to prove them otherwise or they’re going to strike. That could lead to the first shots of a war that neither side will win.”
Professor Xavier tensed at such a notion. In a way, he felt responsible. The incident with the Starjammer was what set this into motion. Genosha had no idea what happened with the Shi’ar. They reacted impulsively and aggressively. Then the Mutant Liberation Front came along and made everything worse. It came together in a perfect storm of conflict, one that threatened to overwhelm the entire world.
He gazed at the holographic images of the attacks. In one he saw Vertigo shutting down the streets of Beijing by making everyone gravely ill during rush hour. In another he saw Avalanche terrorizing Red Square in Moscow by destroying bridges and throwing cars into oncoming traffic. He saw Callisto and Caliban doing serious damage to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, causing large chunks of it to fall to the ground and hurt anyone who got in the way. Stryfe’s attacks in Red Square and Cairo were especially serious. He triggered riots that filled the streets with enraged protesters. Hundreds were hurt and many were left dazed. In every case, the Mutant Liberation Front made it clear that they were the ones responsible. They wanted to enrage the world and they were succeeding.
“You know the stakes as well as I do, Professor Xavier,” said General Grimshaw as he turned off the projectors, “My question to you is this…do you really think your X-men can do something about it?”
“That’s why we’re here, General,” affirmed Xavier in a stronger tone, “I’ve already posed the gist of my plan. I will take a small contingent of my X-men and travel to Genosha.”
“If you think you can talk sense into Alex Summers, I’m all for it. But we’ll definitely need more than just a change of heart to defuse this situation.”
“That’s why I have the rest of my X-men conducting another investigation,” explained Xavier, “You and I are both in agreement on one thing, General. We don’t like coincidences. I’ve been thinking about this predicament every bit as much as you have. I suspect there’s a dark hand pulling the strings.”
“Sounds a bit too much like a conspiracy theory, Professor,” the General retorted, “Even if it does make a disturbing amount of sense.”
“We have every intention of finding the necessary proof. I suspect someone is using the situation on Genosha to further their agenda. That alien anomaly was just the trigger. A way for a cunning individual or group to cover their tracks. If we can uncover a deeper plot, we may be able to inject reason into both sides.”
“Reason may not be as valuable as dragging the Mutant Liberation Front kicking and screaming in front of a firing squad.”
“One step at a time, General,” said Xavier, “Now if my team is going to do this, I need to know that I have your support. That means convincing the President to give me time to figure this out.”
“That may be asking too much.”
“We’re both trying to stop a war. There’s no such thing as too much.”
The Professor sounded bold in his demeanor. He also came off bolder as he rose up from his seat and made his way out of the conference room. He carried himself different now that he could walk. General Grimshaw sensed it in a number of ways. On one hand it was refreshing to see Charles Xavier so strong after battling an addiction. On the other it was a little distressing to see him act so differently.
“This is a new trick, Professor. Getting up and walking out before I’ve agreed to your plan,” said General Grimshaw.
“Getting up and walking is something I’m still getting used to,” said Xavier as he stopped in front of the main door.
“I can see that. I can also see some changes to your approach. Not to make light of ditching a wheelchair, but be careful with your newfound strength. It can rub some people the wrong way.”
“Are you one of them, General? Is my new lease on life going to prevent you from giving my X-men a chance?”
“I never said that. I also won’t say I’m completely on board with it,” he retorted, “I still have some plans of my own.”
“Will they interfere at all with my efforts? I would like us to work with each other rather than against one another,” said Xavier.
“I would too. So don’t expect my plans to inersect with yours unless it’s absolutley necessary. I need you more than you need me at the moment. That essentially seals both our decisions.”
Professor Xavier grinned slightly. Even though General Grimshaw was still deeply suspicious, he hadn’t forgotten all the times the X-men came through for him. He understood better than anyone that the X-men were his best chance to resolve this. Even without his full confidence, the Professor walked out of the room where his anxious X-men were waiting for him.
It hadn’t been pleasant, standing outside the door while six armed MSA operatives surrounded them. They didn’t even fill them in on any operations. They wouldn’t even let them get a drink of water. Seeing the Professor was a relief in more than one way. It meant they could leave this place before anyone got too trigger-happy.
“What’s the word, Professor? Are we clear to go kick my little brother’s ass?” asked Scott intently.
“I won’t say he was overly enthused, but he gave us his blessing…albeit in his own tactful way,” said Professor Xavier.
“In other words, he doesn’t trust us any more than he could win an arm-wrestling match with Peter,” surmised Kitty.
“Were we even expecting him to trust us?” scoffed Bobby.
“We don’t need his trust to do this,” said the Professor, “We simply need him to keep the President from attacking Genosha and to give us clearance through the naval blockade.”
“Is that the only help we can rely on?” asked Piotr.
“We were gone for six weeks, Peter. We need to earn back the respect of our allies and enemies alike.”
“That sounds like the second most unfair thing in the world after the cancellation of Arrested Development,” said Bobby.
“Life is rarely fair, Bobby. Get over it,” said Jean flatly, “Let’s just get to Genosha and get on top of this crisis. Hopefully the others will find out where White Cell comes in before it blows up in our face.”
“Yeesh, no need to crack the whip, Jean!” said Kitty, “We all know the stakes. We’re not taking them lightly.”
“The others know as well. They’ll find something. I’m certain of it. Just as I’m certain we’ll make headway on Genosha,” said Xavier as he walked past the armed MSA operatives, ignoring their hostility.
“What makes you so confident, Professor?” asked Piotr.
“Because he must,” he said strongly.
There was a determined confidence in his tone. It was a confidence the X-men couldn’t help but admire. As Xavier barged past the suspicious MSA guards, they followed him closely. He knew what he was doing, asserting this new confidence with every step. It gave them hope that they could make up for the six weeks they lost.
The only one who seemed reluctant to share that confidence was Jean Grey. She was still somewhat distant. She was in a slightly better mood after the incident in the Danger Room. Scott, despite all the festering emotions surrounding his brother, stayed close to her. His presence helped her keep a level head through this difficult transition.
“If only we could both share in the Professor’s confidence,” commented Scott as he slipped an arm around her waist.
“Yes…if only,” she sighed.
“I wish I was in a better position to help you. It sucks that we’re both lugging all this personal baggage.”
“At least we’re lugging it together,” she said with a light smile, “If you prevent me from whining about not having a cosmic being at my disposal, I’ll prevent you from snapping completely when you confront Alex.”
“Deal!” affirmed Scott, “But I’m not the only one he has to worry about. There are plenty of others with a personal stake in this mess.”
Geneva, Switzerland – Worthington Industry European Office
Warren had to take deep breaths as he took in this situation. The time for feeling sorry for himself was over. He had to be an X-man again. When he left the institute, he believed he could do more good with his family company than he could as Angel. Since then, times have changed. The threats around them were changing as well. Even a multi-billion-dollar company couldn’t keep up so he had to take matters into his own hands.
It felt good to be working directly with the team again. It felt even better to be strong again. After nearly crippling himself from the failed Legacy Cure, he was back. His techno-organic wings made him feel like Angel again. In a sense he was even better than his previous form.
He was so focused and determined. There were so few doubts in his mind that he was practically seething when Professor Xavier announced his plan. For the first time since he left, he was set to play a major role and it didn’t involve throwing money at the problem.
“Are you guys in position?” said Warren from an encrypted communication line, “Hank and Tessa just confirmed our latest intel. The Mutant Liberation Front is in Milan.”
“We’re still tracking them. Logan tells me their scent keeps getting scrambled,” said Ororo Munroe through the line.
“How bad is it? If Logan has cursed more than six times, that probably means they’re long gone.”
“I’ve only heard four f-bombs thus far so I figure it’s not quite that bad. Mystique and Nightcrawler have been monitoring all outgoing communications. There’s no sign that the Mutant Liberation Front has left or made a move.”
“That doesn’t mean they won’t. For all we know they could have another teleporter with them,” reasoned Warren.
“I don’t think that’s the case. Warpath confirmed that Gateway is not part of this new Mutant Liberation Front. They’ve been traveling through more traditional means. It’s still very shady. We suspect that’s where White Cell comes in. Warpath and I have used some of your contacts to track down one of their secret offices. We’re getting close to some answers.”
“You’re putting an awful lot of trust in James Proudstar. I hope you’re only getting as close as you have to for the mission,” said the winged mutant.
“Let’s avoid THAT argument. I’ve heard it enough from Gambit and Logan.”
“Fair enough. I’m sure they’ve chided you enough,” he sighed, “Just keep an eye out for Stryfe and his goons. I’ve got my people here in Geneva tracking any shady business deals. If White Cell is involved, we’ll catch them red handed. Once we have the proof, we’ll expose them to the world!”
“That should make the Professor’s job on Genosha a lot easier. Over and out.”
Warren closed the encrypted line. From deep within his Swiss offices, he coordinated this secret effort from a modified financial hub. Most of Worthington Industry’s foreign business dealings went through Switzerland. Over the years his family developed strong relationships with various Swiss banks. He suspected from their recent investigations that White Cell had a similar deal. So with help from Tessa and Hank, they tapped into the encrypted lines feeding into the banks. If White Cell was dealing with the Mutant Liberation Front, this is where they would find their proof.
In what was once a Worthington Industries data center, Warren modified the systems to allow Hank and Tessa the access they needed. He even paid to fly them out here on a private jet. They were someone surprised by his initiative. They had in front of them some very advanced hardware that could only come from Worthington Industry’s most advanced divisions. It couldn’t have been attained legitimately, even if he was heir to the company. It left them somewhat cautious of his new attitude.
“You almost sound obsessive, Warren,” commented Hank from one of the panels.
“We’re dealing with the Mutant Liberation Front. If ever there was an appropriate subject to obsess over, it’s these guys,” said Warren as he made his way out of the room.
“It’s not about how appropriate such inclinations may be. I just seem to remember teaching you the value of a level head.”
“I’m not a student anymore, Mr. McCoy. I’ve learned my lessons in new ways,” he replied, “Our enemies are making friends in high places. The X-men must do the same. Seeing as how I’m the one with the billion-dollar bankroll, it might as well be me.”
Warren left the secure area, leaving Hank to worry about his former student. He carried himself so differently from the man he once knew. His new wings and renewed vigor left a very different man behind the billion-dollar name. There was no question they needed his resources to uncover White Cell’s deceit. This didn’t mean that Warren’s approach was valid.
“Those new wings of his are affecting him,” said Sage in a flat tone as she stayed focused on the monitors in front of her.
“So it would seem,” said Hank solemnly, “How bad to you think it is?”
“It could be worse,” she surmised, “Using techno-organic material to heal himself was a desperate move. He’s still a lot less arrogant than Fantomex, but it’ll still affect him. The best way to combat it is to make sure he’s surrounded by meaningful influences.”
It sounded overly pragmatic. It sounded way too easy to be valid. Hank dwelled on his former student for a moment after he left. He saw in him the potential for tragedy. Once this was crisis with the Mutant Liberation Front was over, someone would have to confront him. There was no telling where this new attitude of his could lead.
Milan, Italy – Buisness District
After checking in with Warren, the search for White Cell and the Mutant Liberation Front continued. Ororo, Rogue, Gambit, and Warpath followed Logan closely as he tracked a very tenacious scent. It was getting late in the day in this part of the world. Rush hour was setting in and it was getting even harder to keep up. They were all disguised as tourists, trying hard not to make it look as though they weren’t hunting someone.
“Quit it with the window shopping, Rogue. We gotta keep moving!” barked Wolverine, who was leading the search.
“Aw come on, Logan. We’re in Milan for crying out loud! You really expect meh to ignore this kind of merchandise?” said Rogue, who was enthralled by a window display of an exotic black dress.
“Since when did you adopt Kitty’s love of fashion, cherè?” teased Gambit.
“Don’t get too excited, sugah. Ah ain’t throwing away mah roguish title just yet,” she said, still unable to look away from the display, “But some of this stuff won’t show up on Amazon anytime soon. This stuff is edgy, outrageous, and a little disturbing even!”
“In other words, it’s just your style,” grinned Gambit.
“You can tap your inner metrosexual later. We’ve got a White Cell operative to track and right now she’s outsmarting us!” said Warpath as he urged the young couple along.
Rogue reluctantly turned away from the elaborate displays. For a situation that was supposed to be so grave, the Mutant Liberation Front sure picked an unusual locale. Milan was no anti-mutant hotbed. It didn’t have too many iconic targets either. They all reached the conclusion that they were not here for an attack. There was something more nefarious at work. It may be their best chance at uncovering the White Cell connection.
White Cell was the focal point, more so than the Mutant Liberation Front. Warren, Mystique, Warpath, and Nightcrawler were convinced that they were pulling the strings. It made sense. White Cell was very well connected. They were more than capable of re-assembling the Mutant Liberation Front and giving them the resources they needed to resume their attacks. The bigger mystery was why White Cell would make such a move in the first place.
The X-men knew about this organization from the deceased John Proudstar. They were a secretive organization known for hiring mutants, but not much else. They were taking a big risk by backing known mutant terrorists. They wouldn’t make such a move if they weren’t expecting big returns.
“Tell me what we know about this mutant we’re tracking,” said Ororo, who kept looking around for signs of trouble.
“There ain’t much to know. Her name’s Joanna Cargill. Calls herself Frenzy when she’s collecting a paycheck from White Cell,” said Wolverine as he kept sniffing the air around him, “Mystique and Elf pulled her name from some data they stole from Department H. Hank and his girl identified her as the Mutant Liberation Front’s newest member. They think she’s their main link to White Cell.”
“Do you think Stryfe agreed to that?” questioned Ororo.
“Not a snowball’s chance in a Louisiana heat wave,” scoffed Gambit, “Stryfe be the kind of homme that don’t share well. Ain’t no way he would pass up a chance at leading his own crew.”
“Not unless White Cell gave him a compelling reason,” said Warpath, “From what I’ve learned, these guys aren’t in the business of simply screwing people over. They’re not the IRS. Pretty much everything they do is for mutual benefit.”
“So what kind of benefit could a pack of strays like the Mutant Liberation Front offer?” asked Rogue.
“Don’t know yet. That’s something we’ll have to beat out of Miss Frenzy, among other things,” snarled Wolverine.
Wolverine walked faster, leading the others to a busy intersection between a high end boutique and an overpriced salon. On the other side of the streets there were a string of restaurants. All were pretty busy. The traffic across the intersection was pretty constant. A large volume of cars and trucks passed by and spewed diesel exhaust into the air. It obscured the scent, but not enough for Wolverine to use it. He stopped right at the crosswalk as the light on the adjacent side turned red.
“Don’t tell me you’ve lost her trail, Wolverine. I’ll smash you with one of these cars if you’ve lost it!” said Warpath impatiently.
“Like you could, bub,” quipped Wolverine, “And I ain’t lost the trail. She was definitely here. I just can’t figure which direction she was going.”
“Maybe someone gave her a chance to do a little shopping. That would make her the lucky one,” commented Rogue.
“No, Frenzy is all business. I’m sure of it,” said Warpath strongly, “My brother mentioned this woman a lot in his journal. He singled her out as being deeply involved in some special wing of White Cell. He would’ve tracked her down himself if he hadn’t…”
“Calm down, James,” coaxed Ororo, sensing he was getting worked up, “We know this is personal for you. We’re trying to help you. It doesn’t help any of us if you let your emotions get the better of you.”
“If he did that, he would’ve felt up Miss Munroe back at the airport,” said Rogue under her breath.
“That ain’t funny, cherè,” grumbled Gambit, who still didn’t like the idea of Warpath being attraced to Ororo.
“All of you, shut up!” barked Wolverine as he sniffed deeper, “I’m smelling something new. The trail gets…messed up at some point. First it went down one street. Then it turned at another. Then it started moving faster.”
“Faster? Is it possible she was attacked?” asked Ororo.
“Nah, if that were the case there would be a lot more screaming. This is deliberate. It’s almost as if she stopped and…”
Wolverine paused as he followed the direction of the scent across the street. It took a moment for him to process. When his nose finally caught up with his brain, his eyes widened. At this same moment, the light across the street turned green.
From behind several cars, a large pick-up truck carrying farm equipment sped across at high speeds. Startled pedestrians got out of the way as fast they could. About halfway across the intersection, it swerved so that it was in a direct collision course with the X-men.
“Ah hell!” grunted the feral mutant.
“LOOK OUT!” exclaimed Rogue.
Just as the others realized what was happening, the truck drove right into them. Rogue and Warpath instinctively shoved Gambit, Wolverine, and Ororo out of the way. They used their durable bodies as a buffer to absorb the impact. However, it was going so fast that they couldn’t get their friends out of the way completely. They were all thrown back, crashing through the window of the high end boutique and through piles of clothes. Brick and concrete ruptured. Glass shattered. Confused cries in Italian echoed from outside as many watched in horror as the chaos unfolded.
“Good Lord, was someone THAT drunk?!”
“Call an ambulance! Someone definitely got hurt in that mess!”
Inside the mangled boutique, there were fresh injuries to go around. Gambit had been thrown right into a corner where some large shards of glass cut right into his torso. Ororo was a bit luckier. She managed to land in a pile of undergarments. Wolverine tumbled right into a display of manikins, landing awkwardly so that his shoulder was out of place. The only ones left standing were Rogue and Warpath, who left major indents in the front of the truck with their durable bodies.
“Ugh! Thanks for the warning, Wolverine!” grunted Warpath.
“Fuck you,” snarled Wolverine as he popped his shoulder back into place.
“What the hell just happened? Ain’t no way our luck is that bad!” said Rogue.
Wolverine didn’t have to explain himself. The reason emerged from the now mangled truck. It didn’t just casually walk out either. It literally punched through the warped door, using superhuman strength to tear through the deformed interior. An imposing figure emerged and stood over the dazed X-men with an annoyed glare.
“So my boss was right. The famous X-men are on our trail,” said the figure.
“May I assume your name is Joanna Cargill?” said Ororo as she helped Wolverine up.
“Assume you’re fucking with the wrong people!” barked Frenzy, “You have no idea what you’re up against! You don’t want to be part of this X-men!”
“You saying that because my brother was onto White Cell’s dirty tricks?” yelled Warpath.
“Your brother wasn’t even a moderate concern. Trust me when I say this is one instance where you should just back off!”
“And overlook little details like you teaming up with the Mutant Liberation Front?” scoffed Rogue, “Who the hell do you think you are, missy?”
Joanna sneered at their attitude. She had been warned about the X-men. They were bound to be a factor at some point. That’s why she took a number of precautions. They couldn’t afford any mishaps at this critical stage.
With a growing commotion going on outside, the imposing mutant reached into a small bag and pulled out two unmarked canisters. With a stone cold glare, she tossed them both into the center of the store. As soon as they hit, they erupted in a large flare. Within seconds, swarming fire broke out and ignited everything surrounding it.
“I’m the kind of woman who throws grenades filled with napalm into a crowded store,” she answered, “I’m also the kind of woman who can beat obstruction like you to a pulp!”
“If you think fire is enough to scare us away, you didn’t deserve my brother’s scrutiny!” yelled Warpath, who pretty much ignored the fire.
“Your brother was dumb enough to get himself killed. He couldn’t have been too skilled,” Joanna scoffed.
Warpath face twitched with burning rage. Even as the fires quickly spread, he never took his eyes off Frenzy. She had the audacity to insult his brother’s memory after trying to run them over with a truck. Even if she was just a pawn in a much larger mystery, she was going to pay.
“Ooh boy, now you’ve done it,” groaned Rogue.
“YOU THINK MY BROTHER COULDN’T KICK YOUR ASS?” roared Warpath, “WELL SINCE HE’S NOT HERE I’LL JUST HAVE TO KICK IT TWICE OVER!”
“James don’t!” urged Ororo as the fires quickly engulfed the whole store.
“It’s too late, darlin’. She hit him where it hurts and she hit hard,” groaned Wolverine, now back on his feet.
“We’ll have to subdue them both!” said the African woman as she looked anxiously at Warpath’s demeanor.
“Hnn…forgetting something?” groaned a voice from the corner.
Ororo, Wolverine, and Rogue looked to the side and saw Gambit still lying in the corner covered in glass. He was clutching an area just blow his chest. Blood was pouring down his torso and face. The impact along with the glass left him very hurt.
“Remy!” cried Rogue as she rushed to his aid.
“If he’s too hurt to make a dirty joke, he must really be hurt!” said Ororo, “We need to get him to a hospital!”
“That’s gonna waste time we don’t have and she knows it! We need answers now or kicking her ass ain’t gonna mean much!”
They were facing multiple crisises at once and everything was becoming disorganized. Ignoring the fire, Warpath lunged towards Frenzy in an enraged attack. She met him with her military training, using her own strength to block his first blow. As he tried to strike her, the fires fully surrounded them. Rogue was able to endure with her durable form, braving the flames and rushing to Gambit’s aid. Ororo lingered with Wolverine, watching as Warpath lashed out at their best chance for catching White Cell.
“You White Cell assholes made the worst possible mistake! You screwed my family and my people!” yelled Warpath as he laid into Frenzy with a devastating right cross.
“We gave your brother what we promised,” retorted Frenzy as she blocked the punch, backing stumbling back in the process, “If it wasn’t enough, that’s his problem!”
“Don’t bullshit me! He uncovered more than you think!”
“Yet he was too late to stop us! And so are you!”
Frenzy avoided another one one of the Native American’s attacks, ducking low and slipping behind him as he tried to pin her back against the mangled truck. Once she saw her window, she took full advantage of it. Using the full force of her enhanced strength, she drop-kicked Warpath right in the back. It sent him flying right back into the flames where he got a faceful of smoke.
“Ack!” he choked, quickly losing his focus.
“I don’t need to beat you guys. I just need you off White Cell’s back for a little bit longer,” she said.
“That’s two minutes longer than you have, bub! Hrrrrrrrahhhhhh!” snarled Wolverine, who moved in for an attack of his own.
With Warpath reeling, Wolverine lunged through the flames and attacked with his claws. Frenzy narrowly avoided it, causing Wolverine’s claws to plunge right into the mangled truck. Frenzy tried to get past him, but he didn’t let her. Despite second degree burns on his upper body, he forced her back on the defensive.
While Wolverine kept Frenzy busy, Ororo went to work combating the flames. While making her way over to Warpath, her eyes flashed white as she summoned a powerful gust of wind mixed with rain thorugh the decimated boutique. These winds help stem the spread of the flames, but since they were fueled by napalm they didn’t go out easily. With both Warpath and Gambit injured, they were still vulnerable.
“Ah appreciate the shower, but Ah could use some help over here, Storm!” said Rogue as she protected her lover from the flames with her durable body.
“I’m a little busy, Rogue! These fires are tricky!” said Ororo as she helped Warpath up, whose face was still blackened with smoke.
“Well get unbusy fast! We’re messing up in way too many ways here!”
It seemed like their plan was falling apart. The others were relying on them to uncover White Cell’s secrets and they were failing. Rogue kept struggling to keep the flames from Gambit. The heat was getting to her, making it difficult to breathe or concentrate. Then through the smoke, she heard a familiar ‘bamf’ sound.
“Hello, mien sister. I see you’ve left your mark on Milan,” said Nightcrawler as he appeared right over Rogue and Gambit.
“You need to work on your timing, little brother! What took you so dang long? An Italian buffet?!” exclaimed Rogue.
“As much as I love Italian cuisine, I’ll settle for getting you and Gambit out of harm’s way,” he said as he grasped their shoulders.
“Good to know you ain’t thinkin’ with your stomach for once,” she said as she clung firmly to Gambit, “What about Mystique? Where the hell is she?”
“Exactly vhere needs to be,” he grinned, “Ve’re not as lost as you zhink.”
While Nightcrawler teleported Rogue and Gambit out of the fire, the fires continued to die down as a result of Ororo’s winds. Wolverine was keeping Frenzy from making a break for it. He managed to get in a few good slashes, but Frenzy’s durable form left only minor scratches. When he got too aggressive with one of his stab attacks, she grabbed him by the arm and threw him right back into the mangled truck. This left Wolverine stunned and unable to attack again.
“Errrr! Is that all you got?” he grunted.
“Not remotely,” scoffed Frenzy, “Lucky for you, I’ve got an appointment that I’m already late for. Feel free to stick around and save terrified civilians from the fire, but I’m outta here!”
Frenzy turned around and made a break for the large opening left by the truck. Wolverine was still down so he had no chance of catching her. For a moment, it looked like she would run free. Then a figure emerged from behind the truck and kneed her right in the gut, causing her to keel right over.
“Umf!” grunted Frenzy as she fell flat on her face.
“You’re an insult to women everywhere, Miss Cargill. Running away from a sale in Milan,” taunted Mystique.
“Hnn...you!” she groaned.
“Oh don’t look so shocked. I’m not fond of the X-men, but they’re great at attracting trouble. Like you,” said the shape-shifter.
“I know who you are and how you operate, Raven Darkholme. You more than anyone should back away. There’s nothing for you to gain from this!”
“On the contrary. I’ve already gained something quite valuable.”
Frenzy looked at the shape shifter strangely. Then she saw her hold up a small electronic device. Frenzy quickly recognized it as the device she used to signal White Cell. This cunning bitch was smart enough to swipe it from her when she caught her by surprise. It was a critical mistake that she couldn’t afford to make.
“No! Give that back! You have no idea what you’re doing!” she exclaimed.
“I know more than you think,” said Mystique, “James’s brother took some detailed notes on White Cell’s hardware. If they’re accurate, this glorified cell phone is a special encryption device. You must have sent a very important message with it. Were you having phone sex with Stryfe?”
“You touch that and you’ll only make it worse for yourself!”
“I’ll risk it.”
Frenzy moved in for another attack. She never made it to Mystique because Wolverine had recovered and caught up just in time to drop kick her in the same way she drop-kicked Warpath earlier. She was sent flying back towards the entrance, landing right in a small pile of flames. They burned her face badly, causing part of her curly black hair to catch fire. It left her enraged and disoriented. She had no choice but to fall back.
“ERRRR! YOU’RE GOING TO REGRET THIS! WHEN MY BOSSES CATCH UP WITH YOU, YOU’LL BE IN A WORLD OF HURT! THAT’S ONLY AFTER I’M THROUGH WITH YOU!”
Frenzy’s enraged warning was muffled as part of the structure collapsed near her. She quickly disappeared in the smoke and debris. Wolverine was inclined to go after her, but Mystique held him back.
“Let her go. We have what we need,” said Mystique.
“Even so, I’d sure like to know more about these bosses of hers!” seethed Wolverine.
“That’s a battle for another day. We have a lead and we need to follow it while it’s still fresh.”
Wolverine looked back towards where Joanna Cargill ran off towards and snarled. That wasn’t just mindless vengance. She knew something. The mention of her bosses didn’t sit well with him. If she was right, he would find out eventually. For now, he had more immediate concerns.
By now the flames had tapered off thanks to Ororo’s efforts. Warpath had also recovered from the shot he took earlier. He was lucky that his overreaction hadn’t completely backfired. What his brother started could yet be finished.
“I hope you scarred that woman good. I’m gonna be tasting soot for weeks,” groaned the Native American.
“You’re lucky that’s all you’re tasing, bub. We almost lost her!” shot Wolverine.
“But we didn’t. So let’s not yell at each other and find out what Frenzy was up to,” said Ororo, still helping Warpath wipe the debris from his face.
Sharing Ororo’s urgency, Mystique was already analyzing the device. The late John Proudstar’s notes proved accurate. White Cell had some pretty advanced hardware. If there was a connection to the Mutant Liberation Front, this would surely point them in the right direction.
“Frenzy was overconfident, but she’s still a professional,” said Mystique, “She knew we were on her trail. She knew were were going to catch her. So she already finished what she came here to do.”
“Figures,” muttered Wolverine.
“Can that gizmo tell us more about those bosses she mentioned?” asked Warpath, “I’m sure they would know where to find the Mutant Liberation Front.”
“I doubt she would be that careless,” scoffed Mystique, “But if I’m reading this right, she definitely made contact with someone. It must have been somewhere very secure because the encryption is pretty thick.”
“How much time do we need?” asked Ororo.
“That depends how fast your resident computer gurus can decode it. That’s not factoring in the time we’ll need to deal with the mess Frenzy left us,” said Mystique as she looked around the mangled boutique, “I have a feeling we’re already behind.”
“When are we not?” muttered Wolverine.
“That may be okay with the Mutant Liberation Front or the Brotherhood, but not with White Cell,” said Warpath strongly, “My brother once told me they think big while staying in the shadows. If you thought the Mutant Liberation Front was bad before, I don’t think you want to be behind when they make their move with these guys!”
Worthington Industry European Office – Penthouse
‘When I was a kid, my mother read me stories from this old children’s bible. It left out a lot of the hellfire and brimstone, but she always spent extra time on the parts about angels. Those were always my favorite, even before I had my wings. I looked into it more later on in life. I was actually surprised to find out that the bible doesn’t contain what most people consider angels. There are creatures with wings. Some have six wings and no body. Some have four heads. The angels everybody knows are products of creative liberties. If they knew anything about real angels, they would call them monsters. But it wasn’t how they looked that made them angellic.’
Warren Worthington III groaned as he sat down on his penthouse bed, rubbing his sore neck and back. His techno-organic wings were tensing up. The veins around his back and neck became discolored with this bluish, purple hue. Around these areas, it felt like his blood turned to lava. It was so bad he had to leave Hank and Tessa while they were entering a critical phase with their White Cell investigation.
In this pained state, he couldn’t do much. His techno-organic wings ensured that he maintained the appearance of Angel. In order to do the deeds that made him angellic, he needed something else. So through the seething pain, he reached under his bed and pulled out a special medical case. Inside were a series of special syringes that looked like large pens. They contained the crucial balance he needed between Warren and Angel.
‘My family’s company is like those real angels in a sense. It can be monstrous on the outside, but it can do so many great things. I used to believe that I had to choose between one or the other. I had to be an X-man or an heir to the Worthington fortune. The resources of my family company can give me a strategic edge. My wings give me the literal edge. Now as the Mutant Liberation Front and White Cell threaten the world, I need to be both to succeed.’
The winged mutant looked at the syringe for a moment, taking deep breaths through the blistering pain in his back. Once he settled himself to a point, he clenched it firmly and jammed it into his neck. As he pressed down on the pump, it injected the contents directly into his blood-stream. The effect was almost immediate.
The discoloration around his back and neck faded. The techno-organic material surrounding his wings shifted slightly while the muscles around his upper body bulged. Warren gritted his teeth as he felt a powerful rush coarse thorugh his body. It was a far cry from the terrible feeling he had during his treatment for the failed Legacy Virus cure. He felt like Angel again if not stronger.
“Now this is what you do behind closed doors now,” came a strong voice, “I already miss the days when dirty magazines were a man’s only dirty secret.”
Warren looked up form his dazed state to see a disappointed Betsy Braddock standing in the doorway. He was so focused on his treatment he hadn’t even heard the door open. When he saw the look in her eyes, he tensed. She clearly did not like what she saw.
“Betsy…I thought you were coordinating with your friends at Interpol in Milan,” said Warren incredulously.
“I finished that an hour ago. When Mr. McCoy told me you stormed out in one of your moods, I got another sinking feeling. I wish I were used to them, but you’re making it very difficult.”
Warren looked away from her harsh gaze, putting away his syringes in the process. It was easy to be arrogant around others. With his renewed vigor, it was a lot harder to act weak. Before Betsy left for the Shi’ar mission, he had been so vulnerable. His illness was hurting him in so many ways. A lot had chanced since she returned. He thought they were for the better. She wasn’t nearly as convinced.
“So this is why you left that message for me six weeks ago,” said Betsy as she approached the winged mutant, “You knew I wouldn’t approve of you using techno-organic material again to treat yourself.”
“It wasn’t just your disapproval that worried me, Betsy. This stuff is like Satan’s blood since the Legacy Virus,” said Warren as he rose up from his bed, “It has so much potential to do good, but no one was willing to do research.”
“And for good reason,” Betsy pointed out, “You saw what it did to Fantomex. This shit has a way of messing people up. From what I just saw, you’re making quite a mess of yourself.”
“Call it what you want. It saved my life!” Warren retorted, “You think I wouldn’t have used this gunk if I didn’t think it was necessary?”
“Don’t make excuses for me. You had a choice and you damn well know it!”
“No Betsy. I didn’t,” he said strongly.
Warren turned around and approached Betsy’s critical poise. She was clearly upset with him. There was also a clear sign of concern in her eyes. She cared about him. She didn’t even try to hide it. He made it clear that he cared about her as well, showing a seriousness that he couldn’t show while he was sick.
“You may be psychic, but you can’t begin to understand what it felt like…being so sick. I was as strong as I could possibly be, but it still wasn’t enough! All my doctors kept telling I was going to lose my wings. Others were telling me I was going to lose my life. There’s only so much sheer will can accomplish. What was I suppoesd to do? Just hope I would get better while I kept whithering away?”
“That’s not what I asked of you, Warren,” said Betsy, softening her tone under his presence.
“Then why are you scolding me for using a treatment that makes me better and allows me to contribute to the X-men again?” he asked strongly.
“I’m not scolding you. I’m just worried, damn it! You carry yourself differently now. It reminds me too much of what happened to the Professor when he was dealing with his addiction.”
“This is different, Betsy.”
“Is it? You’re using a drug to keep yourself functioning. Explain to me what’s so radically different?”
Her tone was still harsh, but there was more worry in her eyes. Warren shifted under her gaze. Even when he was strong, a scold from this woman made him so vulnerable. He couldn’t convince her that this was the only choice he had. He could still convince her that it was right.
“There are always risks, Betsy. I don’t deny that this treatment has affected me. I’m still learning how to manage it,” Warren conceded.
“You talk as though it can be managed,” she retorted.
“It was either manage it or whither away at a time when my friends needed me,” he responded, “You’ve seen what the Mutant Liberation Front is capable of. I need to be part of this. I couldn’t call myself an X-man if I wasn’t.”
“You are an X-man. No illness can take that away from you.”
“But it can hurt me and hurt everyone I care about. That’s why I need to manage this treatment. I know I can do it! But I can’t do it fully without everyone’s support. Most importantly yours.”
Warren moved in closer and gently cupped Betsy’s chin. His touch was so much warmer and stronger than it was when he was sick. There was no denying that this treatment had changed him. Not all those changes were for the worse. He understood this and his desperate eyes pleaded with her for understanding. It was impossible for her to turn away.
“I’m not asking you to overlook my flaws, Betsy,” he said in a deepr tone, “I’m asking you for a chance to prove myself.”
“You don’t need to prove that you’re strong. I already believed that,” she said, her voice strained with an array of emotions.
“Well I can be stronger. I can be better. But I can only be the best if I have someone like you pushing me in all the right ways. I’ve come to trust you in ways I can’t put into words. Let me show you that I can make this work.”
His powerful gaze turned to equally powerful gestures. As more emotions flowed between them, Warren pulled her into a closer embrace. Betsy found herself returning the gesture, wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning into his warmth. Then with strength he never could have shown while he was sick, Warren pressed his lips against hers in a powerful kiss. It was a bold, almost reckless move. This was his way of showing her that this could work and she was giving it a chance.
“Hmm…is that supposed to be your most compelling argument?” said Betsy as they parted.
“No…second best,” said Warren in a deeper tone, “I was just getting to the first.”
His techo-organic wings spread out for a moment as he pulled her back into a deep kiss. This time he took it a step further. His hands trailed up along her toned body. When it reached the top part of her X-men uniform, he slowly slid it off. When Betsy felt this, she sank further into his embrace. He was intent on proving that he could be the man he needed to be for her and the X-men as a whole. As they fell back on his bed in a heated embrace, she decided that Warren Worthington III was worth taking a chance on.
Stryfe had always been an ambitious man. His power to induce mass hysteria required him to think big. When he was under Toad’s thumb, he often rolled his eyes at the limited scale of his vision. He was too patient. He gave his enemies too much time to adapt and fight back. That was his downfall. Stryfe refused to make that same mistake so he made the necessary preparations.
They had already struck terror into a rebuilding world. Their assault on major population centers perfectly complimented the recent tensions on Genosha. It wasn’t as much a coincidence as it was an opportunity. That same opportunity was what brought them to the middle of the Persian Gulf aboard a yacht from Dubai, courtesy of White Cell. Stryfe, Callisto, Caliban, Avalanche, Vertigo, Arclight, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead were enjoying a quiet moment before they made their next move.
“How much longer, Stryfe? I’m enjoying the mediterrainian cruise here, but my skin is starting to burn,” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
“You’re pale a marshmellow. If anyone needs some sun, it’s you,” said Arclight, who was lounging around with Vertigo.
“Don’t get too comfortable. According to our friends at White Cell, our ride will be here any moment,” assured Stryfe.
“That’s assuming they won’t screw us over,” said Callisto, still highly cyncial of Stryfe’s plan.
“They have every bit as much to lose as we do,” said Stryfe, “This isn’t just for our liberation. This is business.”
“Somehow, that makes it sound less noble,” said Caliban.
“Do you want idealism? Or do you want something that works?”
No one was in the mood to argue ideals. After seeing their ideals collapse under Toad, the Mutant Liberation Front was hungry for a second chance. This time there was no grand vision. Their goal was direct confrontation with their mutant oppressors. They could only do so much as a team. With the resources of White Cell, they could deliver the crushing blow they craved.
Stryfe was most determined to deliver that blow. He was the one that set up the deal with Cordillia Frost of White Cell. So far they delivered more than expected. They would not have been able to launch their recent attacks without them. It still wasn’t clear how their success served their operations and for some this didn’t sit well.
“This stunt of yours is pretty big, Stryfe. I hope you know what you’re doing,” said Avalanche, who tood next to Stryfe along the stern of the ship.
“I like to think big and act bigger. It’s the only way we’ll attain the change we desire,” said Stryfe.
“Is that ambition or just impatience?” he asked.
“You’re still young, Lance. You haven’t seen the progress or lack thereof that I have. Ever since my powers manifested, I’ve tried to evoke change by rallying the people against their oppressors. More often than not, such change fizzles. It’s only when the change is big enough that it leads to true progress.”
“Funny, Magneto thought the same way and he ended up going crazy,” quipped Avalanche, “I don’t like the glacial progress of mutant relations either, but in my experience big moves lead to big failures.”
“That’s because you’ve taken the wrong approach. There are real-life examples if you look through the lens of history. In World War II, the biggest change came from the atomic bomb. In that one major moment, the course of history was altered. Most would argue for the better. Go back even further. The massive wars of Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan were big in both scale and ambition. They helped change the world when it needed to be changed.”
“So we’re conquerors now? I thought we were suppoesd to be liberating our kind.”
“And we will,” said Stryfe confidently, “To do so we need something just as big. For most of human history, wars and conquerors were the most powerful force. Today we have more tools at our disposal. Mutant powers are all well and good, but they have their limits. To make a truly major impact, we need a little help from mankind.”
“By mankind, you mean White Cell,” said Avalanche cyncially.
“Don’t tell me you share Callisto’s cynicism,” said Stryfe.
“Let’s just say I’m wary of private armies that make deals with guys like you.”
“Believe it or not, they came to me,” grinned Stryfe, “White Cell are opportunists. When they see a way to further their agenda in a big way, they jump at the chance.”
“I’m still not sure how this crazy plan of yours helps them.”
“Then you need to stop looking at it as a human/mutant issue and think of it more as a business arrangement,” said Stryfe. “We both want something. We’re willing to exchange goods and services for mutual benefit. In the end, we both win. It always involves risk, but I say the liberation of our people is more than worth it.”
He made a compelling argument. Lance wasn’t in a position to avoid risk. He betrayed his friends on Genosha. He was a wanted criminal in every major country. They were all in a difficult position after Toad’s plan failed. They needed this to work even if it meant benefiting some mysterious organization like White Cell.
As Stryfe and Avalanche looked out over the choppy, they noticed something emerging from the deep. It was close, so much so that as it neared the surface it kicked up some waves that rocked the yacht. As the waterline broke and a massive structure emerged, the rest of the Mutant Liberation Front rushed to the stern.
“Is that what I think it is?” asked Vertigo.
“Indeed it is. And right on time!” grinned Stryfe.
“Explain again how Frenzy was able to find this information?” said Callisto.
“She knows the right people and she’s not afraid to break their bones when she has to,” he replied, “She’ll be meeting up with us soon. You’ll be able to ask her when the time comes!”
Stryfe kept grinning as he watched massive waves fan out, revealing a large sumbarine that dwarfed their yacht in size. It wasn’t just any subarine either. It was an Ohio Class boomer sumbarine, one of the most advanced and destructive weapons mankind had ever created. It was the perfect tool to exact the sort of change they needed.
“I can sense their minds inside,” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead, “It’s just as that Frost chick said.”
“Then you know exactly how to respond to proceed from here,” said Stryfe.
The young psychic nodded. She signaled up to Arclight, who redirected the yacht so that it went straight for the submarine. Even though the waters around the vessel were still choppy, they braved them until they reached the main hatch on the top. As soon as they arrived, the top chamber opened and two sailors climbed out. The moment they saw the yacht they responded.
“Ahoy there!” one of them yelled out, “By order of the United States Navy, you are to turn your vessel around this instant! We’ve surfaced due to a major malfunction! For your own safety, please turn back!”
“I’m sorry, but did you say this beautiful convoy of nuclear armageddon is for sale? If so, do you take a check?” replied Stryfe jokingly.
“This is your second and final warning!” yelled the other sailor, “Leave this area immediately or we will exercise our authority to use lethal force!”
“Lethal force? You must be seasick,” said Styfe, “What’s your diagnosis, Vertigo?”
“I think they should have skipped lunch,” said Vertigo.
Arclight manuvered the yacht even closer. Once they were in range, Vertigo unleashed her powers. Waves of her neasuea inducing vertigo beam bombarded the two sailors. Even from a distance, they were soon crippled by a paralyzing illness.
“Ugh! My head!” groaned the sailor.
“I think I’m gonna-huuaagghhhhh!” said the other as he vomited heavily.
The two sailors were paralyzed. This gave them the window they needed. Stryfe and Avanache joined up with Callisto and Caliban. Totgether they gathered the necessary supplies that Frenzy gave them before they left. Arclight met up with them along the way. The yacht was now close enough so they could board the ship.
“It would seem they’ve rolled out the red carpet for us,” said Arclight.
“Since when did puke entrails become a red carpet?” scoffed Callisto.
“They kindly left the hatch open. That’s all we need,” said Stryfe, “Negasonic Teenage Warhead will take care of the rest of the crew. Make sure they’re all perfectly sedated. Take any useful information from their minds along the way.”
“Oh this will be fun. I get to channel my inner Jack Sparrow!” grinned Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
“I doubt any pirate would appreciate what we’re about to do,” said Stryfe ominously, “We’re after more than just treasure! Our liberation awaits us!”
With no one else standing in their way, the Mutant Liberation Front boarded the submarine using grappling hooks. Once they climbed up, they swiftly entered the vessel. Along the way Negasonic Teenage Warhead was already attacking the minds of the crew, who were all still panicked from having to resurface. They had no idea they were caught up in this grand plan of theirs. The failures of the past were behind them. The Mutant Liberation Front was ready to seize the future.
Up next: Proactive Regression Part 2
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