Welcome, Guest

Volume 7 -- Issue 153 -- Revolting Youth

Download Issue
Read Comments ( 712 ) Issue #153
Revolting Youth
Write Comment

Professor Charles Xavier has watched his X-men become bitterly divided. The ideals of fighting for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them has been complicated by the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. Despite his belief that this initiative will help mutants, not everyone in his team shares that sentiment. Now there are the X-men and there is X-Force. They champion the same principles, but are opposed on methods.

The core of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative is built around a partnership between the X-men and the authorities. Together, they monitor mutant activity, seek it out when deemed appropriate, and follow strict guidelines towards managing it.

At the moment, the most common means of dealing with troubled mutants is to send them to Emma Frost’s Academy of Tomorrow. This solves some problems while creating others. Some mutants don’t enjoy having little choice in what they do with their powers and their lives. It has led some to take drastic measures.

Recently, X-Force successfully deceived the X-men into helping a mutant named Nitro escape the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. Shortly afterwards, another disgruntled mutant named Beak sought to escape with the help of the Brotherhood. He is attempting to do this under the nose of X-Factor, whose efforts have been tempered by the initiative. With so many disgruntled mutants in their school, they seek new ways of making a difference.


Boston – Amtrak Train Station

The past few days had not been kind to Piotr Rasputin. The X-men and the MSA were still reeling from the incident in Scranton, Pennsylvania. They left the old mining town demoralized and conflicted. It only got worse after word got out that Nitro had died from his wounds.

That mission demonstrated some lingering issues with the X-men. Piotr was among those anxious to improve. He was also anxious for a break so while Professor Xavier and General Grimshaw were hard at work addressing those issues, he sought to unwind.

“Petey! Over here, farm boy!” came a welcome voice.

Piotr smiled as he looked through the crowd of early morning commuters and saw his girlfriend running towards him. Having been on a train since early in the morning, seeing Kitty was a worthwhile sight. He watched as Kitty phased through a few confused passengers to get to him. When she reached him, she jumped up and threw her arms around him in a way that caught even the mighty Colossus off guard.

“You have a lot of nerve, Mr. Rasputin! Taking an early train and having your girlfriend meet you during rush hour,” said Kitty in a playful tone.

“No matter what excuse I give, you must really love me to meet me like this,” replied Piotr, matching her tone.

“Oh shut up and kiss me! You can make it up to me later tonight.”

Not one to argue with an excited Kitty Pryde, the Russian mutant happily obliged. Despite swarms of people getting off the train, they shared a passionate kiss for all to see. Moments like this had become more meaningful since the Mutant Monitoring Initiative was enacted.

With Piotr a mainstay on the X-men and Kitty finishing school at the Academy of Tomorrow, they didn’t get to see each other as much as they wanted. They maintained a long-distance relationship, but there was no substitute for these all too rare visits.

After embracing one another thoroughly, Kitty latched onto Piotr’s powerful arm and led him out of the station. He didn’t have much luggage, carrying only a large backpack. This was because his stay would probably be brief. With so much going on back in Washington, they had to make the most of this time together. That was why she put together an elaborate plan.

“I’m really glad you’re here, Petey. I’ve missed you,” said Kitty.

“I’ve missed you too, Katya,” he said, hugging her a bit closer, “As you can imagine, it has not been an easy week. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Scranton incident.”

“Me and everyone else with internet access, but I’d rather not dwell on that. I want this visit to lift your spirits in every possible way!”

“I already feel better just being with you. I am content to go along with whatever romantic activities you have planned. I assume they are world’s better than the meetings and training routines that Captain Freeman has the X-men doing.”

“I’m glad you feel that way because I do have plans. Some of which cannot be discussed in a crowded train station,” said Kitty coyly.

“I’m already looking forward to it.”

He spoke in that deep Russian accent that always got Kitty excited. However, she had to contain some of that excitement as they left the main platform. While holding onto her lover’s arm, she looked around to make sure there weren’t too many people listening. As much as she wanted to have fun with her boyfriend, there was still work to be done.

“Naughty subtext aside, some of those plans will be a little…well, I can’t tell you outright. But they are somewhat related to matters beginning with X,” said Kitty in a more careful tone.

“What do you mean?” asked Piotr curiously, “I thought the Academy of Tomorrow no longer condoned such activities.”

“Officially, they don’t. But that doesn’t make them less necessary,” she retorted, “Some of my fellow classmates have been working on something. It’s one of those somethings that may find it’s way to the X-men at some point.”

“Is it serious?” asked Piotr with more intrigue.

“Not yet, but it could get serious very soon. That’s why I need to know if you can mix business with romance for this visit. I know it may conflict with your current position, but I’m hoping we can be tactful about it.”

She was asking him to bend the rules a bit. It wouldn’t be the first time, but under the provisions of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative it was a lot riskier. As they kept walking, Piotr felt Kitty’s grip on him tighten. This was important to her. Given her experience with the X-men, she could assess potential problems better than most. Despite some reservations, the Russian mutant trusted his girlfriend.

“I understand, Katya,” he told her in a careful tone, “Please, tell me what are you and your friends at the Academy up to.”

“Glad we understand each other, babe,” said Kitty with another warm smile, “I’ll give you the cliff notes version first. Although I have to warn you…the smaller details are a little tricky.”


Academy of Tomorrow - Cafeteria

The many buildings that made up the Academy of Tomorrow were a lot more crowded in wake of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. The recent influx of mutants forced many areas to expand. When lunch period rolled around, the cafeteria and every area around it bustled with activity. It was the time of day where most of the students congregated in a small area. It was the ideal time for Bobby Drake and the rest of X-Factor to put their plan into action.

Bobby organized an impromptu get-together at one of the tables. Amara joined him along with Roberto, Sam, Noriko, Dani, and Tabitha. They still carried themselves as normal students, eating their lunch like nothing was amiss. Under this veil, they kept a careful watch on their fellow students. The next Scranton incident was probably in their midst. So far, they hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. However, that could change very quickly.

“You know, I never realized how crazy an all-mutant school could get,” commented Noriko, “Just waiting in line with a bunch of irritated, overstressed mutants has convinced me that someone will go nuts at some point.”

“That’s exactly why we have these little meetings. We’re supposed to let each other know when we see the signs,” said Bobby as he picked at his burger.

“Explain to me again how reminding ourselves that mutants are miserable is a productive use of our time?” said Tabitha while casually eating a batch of chili fries.

“Come on, Tabby! I thought you were going to take this seriously,” said Sam.

“I’m only as serious as I need to be,” she retorted, “I get the idea of sniffing out the big mutant screw-up. I just don’t get what the hell we’re looking for.”

She made a valid point even if she had an attitude about it. They hadn’t been doing this for very long. There wasn’t exactly a test to determine if a mutant was about to make a scene. It was a different challenge for X-Factor and for former X-men as well.

“I’m still working on the Official Handguide for Detecting Mutant Disasters,” said Bobby, “For now, sharing information is our best bet.”

“Well it’s not like there’s much to share. The Scranton incident is still a hot topic. Nobody seems inclined to make much of it,” Roberto pointed out.

“Give it time. Someone will snap,” said a restless Noriko.

“You sound like you’re expecting it to happen. Or are you just in a foul mood for getting detention with Dr. Nemesis?” said Dani.

“All points considered, I would rather have ten Scrantons than spend an extra hour with that guy,” she muttered.

“Then maybe you’ll be the one behind the next incident,” teased Tabitha.

“Watch it, Tabby. I’m not in the mood and those piercings in your face do conduct electricity!” quipped Noriko.

“Come on now, girls! Let’s not get paranoid here!” said Sam, stepping between them to keep this from escalating.

“Speak for yourself,” said Dani as she rolled her eyes, “Doesn’t this whole plan of ours require that we be paranoid?”

“Only within reason,” said Amara, “We may not see the signs, but I think we can agree that the potential for danger is there. We just need to utilize our resources better.”

Bobby and the others gave Noriko and Tabitha a moment to cool off. Even with their collective abilities, they were somewhat powerless in this endeavor. Looking out over the crowded cafeteria, they were trying to weed out that one mutant who was going to make a bad decision.

Some of these mutants had impressive powers. They watched a girl with water-manipulating powers mess up a drinking fountain. They saw an oversized guy with gray skin shove his way through the line at the buffet. There were many ways someone could do damage with their powers. The challenge was in predicting how it would unfold.

“I appreciate your concerns about paranoia, Dani. But we’ll have to walk a fine line here,” said Bobby.

“It sure would help if one of us was a telepath,” argued Roberto, “It would be nice to have a little insight into whose thoughts are more disturbing than others.”

“Weren’t we supposed to ask the Stepford Cuckoos for help? Last Ah checked, those girls are pretty dang powerful with their minds,” said Sam, “Ah still remember the time they paralyzed Julian to win a game of Guitar Hero.”

“Such a fond memory,” snickered Tabitha, “I still laugh at memories of how pissed he was.”

“It’s debatable how hard it is to mind-fuck Julian. It’s also debatable whether or not we should get the Cuckoos involved. If they start spying on students, that could raise some red flags with Emma,” said Bobby.

“Do you think she would make too big a deal about it?” asked Dani.

“Put it another way. Would you be willing to risk the wrath of Emma Frost?” retorted Amara.

Dani and the rest of X-Factor tensed. Even though Emma Frost wasn’t a big fan of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, getting her daughters involved would probably not go over well.

“Dude, how can a hot teenage princess make so much sense?” asked Roberto under his breath.

“Maybe she’s just smarter than her bra size indicates,” quipped Noriko dryly.

Despite their remarks, the discussion continued. Lunch period was almost over and some were starting to file out.

“We should assume that Miss Frost and her entire staff are keeping a close eye student activities. They’re not going to rock the boat with the MSA. They’ll do just enough to make the academy look safe,” reasoned Bobby.

“So if they have so much reason to keep the peace, why are we still concerned?” asked Tabitha as she set aside her lunch.

“Because we’re on the front lines and she isn’t,” Noriko pointed out, “In case you haven’t noticed, Miss Frost has been pretty distant lately.”

“I think all the teachers have been that way since Warpath left to join X-Force,” said Roberto.

“I’ve noticed that too. I’ve even heard rumors that Miss Frost may be aiding X-Force. You think there’s any truth to that?” wondered Dani.

“That’s a debate I’d rather not have. I think it only reinforces the need to look deeper than they’re willing to look,” said Amara.

“Which leads me back to what I said about utilizing our resources,” said Bobby, “Kitty is met up with Peter earlier today. She says she convinced him to offer a little insight into what the X-men are worried about.”

“How the heck did she convince him to do that?” wondered Sam.

“She’s his girlfriend, Sam. Clearly you don’t know the power of a woman’s influence,” teased Tabitha.

“As Kitty’s ex, I can vouch for that,” sighed Bobby as he set his lunch aside and got up, “I plan on meeting up with her after class today and seeing what Piotr had to say. Based on her text messages, I think the X-men are aware of more activity than they’re letting on.”

“Do you know if they suspect this activity is coming from the academy?” asked Dani.

“Even if it was, do you think anyone in the MSA would let us know?” scoffed Noriko, “The old X-men might have dropped us a warning, but not the new X-men.”

Bobby hid the sting of those words as he threw his lunch tray away and led the team out of the cafeteria. The distinction between how the X-men once were and what they had become under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative was striking. For him, it was personal.

This new incarnation of X-men didn’t feel like the team to which he dedicated so much of his life. He still thought of himself as an X-man. For that reason, he was especially motivated to make a difference again.

“I’ll let you guys know if Peter can provide any insight. If something comes up in the meantime, don’t be afraid to sound the alarms,” said Bobby as the team prepared to return to class.

“Right, because something always has to blow up in our faces at the worst possible time,” sighed Tabitha.

“It’s really unsettling when I’m not sure if that’s sarcasm,” said Roberto.

“And if anyone gets a chance, pass the message on to Julian,” added Bobby, “He’s been more flaky than usual lately so don’t be afraid to corner him if you have to.”

“He’ll be in my biology class later today. I’ll be sure to let him know,” said Amara as she latched onto Bobby’s arm, “But you know Julian. He’s easily distracted.”


Academy of Tomorrow – Softball Field

“Laura! Hey Laura, wait up!” said a breathless Julian Keller.

“Turn around, Julian. I can’t talk right now,” said a stoic Laura as she tried walking faster.

“You’ve been saying that for months. I promise this is important. It may even be related.”

“There are many reasons for me to doubt that,” quipped the former living weapon.

“Then what’s the harm in hearing me out? At least give me a chance to convince you!”

Former Weapon X-23 rolled her eyes. Julian Keller was an unusual young man. Ever since she joined the Academy of Tomorrow, he took a special interest in her. It wasn’t like she hadn’t drawn interest from other boys, but his was particularly strong.

He frequently went out of his way to impress her, almost to the point of making a fool of himself. He took it upon himself to help her adjust to life at the Academy. She was still somewhat fuzzy on finer aspects of human interaction, but this boy seemed attracted to her. Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to understand such unfamiliar emotions. She had more pressing matters on her mind and since Julian wouldn’t drop this issue, she decided to hear him out.

Julian was relieved to see Laura finally stop. He tried catching up with her for lunch. She ended up skipping out as she had been doing quite frequently as of late. Being the mysterious girl she was, Laura always seemed to have her own personal missions. They became more frequent in recent months as the Mutant Monitoring Initiative took hold. Julian suspected they were linked to X-Factor’s latest endeavor so it made sense to get her involved.

When he finally reached her, they were standing just outside the fence just outside the third base line of the softball field. At the moment, some of the students were playing a game of softball with Sunfire acting as coach. There was a fair amount of commotion, but it didn’t bother Laura. She just stood impatiently with her arms folded, waiting for Julian to explain himself.

“You’ve got five minutes. Make them count because I’m meeting someone,” said Laura firmly.

“What’s the rush? You meeting a secret boyfriend or something?” questioned Julian.

“That’s none of your business and you would be wise to not make it your business,” she said, throwing a subtle threat into her tone.

“So much for lightening the mood. Guess I’ll skip right to it,” he sighed, “You’re still meeting with Wolverine, aren’t you?”

Laura’s vision narrowed. Julian was more observant than he looked. It was well known that Wolverine visited her regularly before the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. When he left the X-men, those visits became more difficult. Most assumed they weren’t happening anymore. Julian knew her better and that presented somewhat of a problem.

“Be very careful of where you’re taking this, Julian. You shouldn’t be involved,” she said in a less hostile tone.

“Well you’re involved so it’s only logical that I get involved,” he reasoned, “Seeing as how you didn’t say no, I think I can figure out the answer.”

“The answer is no!” she said firmly, “It’s the same answer I gave Emma Frost and Charles Xavier.”

“Now you’re just flat out lying,” quipped Julian, “Come on, Laura. You know you’re better than that. Stop trying to protect me for a moment and let me put my ass on the line for you. I may be able to help.”

The former living weapon remained irritated. Yet she didn’t lash out at Julian for thrusting himself into her affairs. He was tough, much more so than most of the other students. He was also somewhat arrogant so Laura had to be careful with how she handled this.

“I’ll set the Wolverine issue aside. We can pretend I never brought it up. I’d much rather talk about Xavier’s crazy Initiative and the effect we both know it’s having,” said Julian in a more serious tone, “I think we’re in agreement that this thing is causing more trouble than it’s preventing. You live here too. You’ve sensed it, haven’t you?”

“I’m fairly adept at detecting when people are agitated,” affirmed Laura.

“Then you must know that the influx of mutants we’ve had over the past few months is a ticking time bomb. For all we know, the fuse has been lit. The incidents in Oakland and Scranton show that some are opposing the initiative. Given all the agitated mutants you just mentioned, odds are the Academy of Tomorrow is an incident waiting to happen.”

“Your point is valid. I still don’t get how this applies to me.”

“Well some of us aren’t too keen on the Academy being ground zero for the next mutant fiasco,” Julian went on, “That’s why Bobby, Kitty, and the rest of X-Factor are putting together their own initiative.”

“I thought X-Factor was no longer active,” Laura pointed out.

“Officially, it isn’t. But if you think a bunch of teenagers are incapable of bending the rules, then maybe I haven’t taught you as well as hoped,” he said with a touch of humor.

Laura grew more curious. Julian’s idea described sounded like it had merit. It was something she wouldn’t have expected from a group of teenage mutants that hadn’t been trained assassins since they could walk. It actually might relate to what she was investigating after all.

“Okay, I’ll admit it. You’re bolder than I previously thought,” she conceded.

“Good to know that impresses you,” said Julian with a smirk.

“I didn’t say it impressed me.”

“You didn’t say it couldn’t,” he retorted, “That leads me to my main reason for chasing you down. I want you to help us with this.”

“Help you how? You think I can sniff out when some random mutant snaps?” said Laura.

“Seeing as how you can smell Bobby’s aftershave from a mile away, that’s not as impossible as it sounds,” he quipped, “You have the sense, the skill, and the know-how to win a fight before and after it begins. That’s something X-Factor doesn’t have and we sure as hell could use it.”

“Didn’t we already have this conversation, Julian? I gave you a long list of reasons why I didn’t want to be in X-Factor,” she reminded.

“That was before the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. The stakes have changed. You sense it. I sense it. The whole damn world senses it! I know you like flying solo and I’ve respected that. But sooner or later, you have to trust a few wingmen. So why not now when we’re just one incident away from another crisis?”

Julian moved in closer to her, much closer than she usually allowed. Aside from Logan, Laura was often inclined at pushing people away. She didn’t try to make friends. She didn’t let people get involved with her affairs. This boy dared her to open up. He was daring her to trust someone other than Logan. Even for a trained killer, it made her tense in ways she wasn’t used to.

“Julian, I don’t think…” she began.

“I’d rather you not think,” he said, cutting her off before she could go on, “You once told me that you had no control over your life. Everything was decided for you. You were smart enough to know it was bullshit in the long run. That’s how I know you’re smart enough to know this is right.”

“I’m not sure you should have that much confidence in my judgment.”

“Then prove it to me. I’m willing to take a few chances if I have to,” said Julian boldly, “Let me tell you what X-Factor is up to and you can tell me what you’ve been up to with you-know-who. At least then we’ll know if our goals are related. That way it’s not too awkward when our paths cross, not that I mind that either way.”

Laura remained tense under Julian’s close presence. Even though he was being serious and this was a legitimate issue, there was still a flirtatious undertone to his voice. It was a tone that made Laura feel uncomfortably vulnerable. She couldn’t tell if he was trying to get her to go along or if he was being genuine. It put her in a difficult position that required her to rely on emotions she didn’t understand.

While she was debating with herself, Laura’s train of thought was completely derailed when a strange commotion erupted from the softball field. Two angry figures, Rockslide and Beak, clashed near home plate and more than just words were being exchanged.

“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT, SANTO? DID YOUR BRAIN JUST TURN TO ROCK OR SOMETHING?!” yelled a very pissed off Beak.

“Cool your jets, Chicken Little! You’re lucky your feathers are still intact,” retorted Rockslide, who was wearing a catcher’s outfit.

“YOU DIDN’T EVEN HAVE THE BALL! YOU CAN’T BLOCK MY PATH WHEN I’M ABOUT TO SCORE!” roared Beak, the veins on his face bulging in a way that looked unhealthy even for him.

“It’s mutant ball! We’re supposed to twist the rules. That’s the fun of it.”

“TO HELL WITH FUN! YOU JUST THOUGHT YOU COULD GET AWAY WITH IT BECAUSE I’M A FUCKING BIRD AND YOU’RE A WALKING HUNK OF GRANITE!”

“Don’t make this personal, Beak. You act like I just spit on your grandmother’s grave!” said Rockslide.

“QUIT TALKING DOWN TO ME!” he yelled, “YOU’RE NOT AS TOUGH AS YOU THINK! AND I’M MUCH TOUGHER THAN MY FEATHERS WOULD HAVE YOU BELIEVE!”

Then to the surprise of Rockslide and every other mutant who had gathered around, Beak slugged the durable mutant with punishing uppercut. What made it even more surprising was how effective it was. Beak was not known for his strength, let alone his toughness. Between his unexpected outburst and the bulging veins in his head, he seemed like a different person than the reserved mutant they knew.

“Whoa! Where the hell did that come from?” exclaimed a mutant girl.

“Are birds supposed to be that strong?” wondered a mutant boy with blueish skin.

“I don’t know, but Beak looks pissed among other things!” said an older mutant girl, who was backing away along with a few others.

While Rockslide rubbed his face, Beak continued to fume. The veins in his head and arms throbbed with greater intensity. They throbbed so much that his slender limbs started growing. It didn’t look natural. It couldn’t just be pure rage. By now, every mutant on the field had gathered around Beak and Rockslide.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Beak! But I’ll be happy to beat it out of you!” seethed Rockslide as he shook off the blow.

“Ungh! My chest! Feels like it’s on fire!” groaned Beak.

More onlookers stood back as Rockslide prepared to attack Beak. Before he could, Sunfire ran in from the dugout and got between the two young mutants. He flashed some of his fire powers to move them back a bit further.

“That’s enough, you two! Save the poor sportsmanship for Red Sox games,” said Sunfire assertively.

“Don’t yell at me, teach. He threw the first punch!” barked Rockslide, who was still glaring angrily at Beak.

“Then that will be the only punch. Do I need to explain any further?”

Rockslide grumbled angrily, his jaw still sore from Beak’s cheap shot. He reluctantly backed away, preferring not to pick a fight at a time when mutants were scrutinized enough. He let Sunfire deal with Beak, who was still breathing heavily.

Sunfire carefully approached the young mutant, sensing both distress and frustration. Beak was one of the quieter mutants at the Academy. This was the first time he had acted up since he first arrived. He had been teaching long enough to know that such outbursts don’t happen randomly.

“Mr. Bohusk, I think we should have a little talk. This is not like you,” said Sunfire in a calm yet assertive tone.

“I…I’m fine. I’ll apologize to Rockslide later,” said Beak while still panting heavily.

“I’m not as concerned with your apology as I am with your health,” he said, “I’m tempted to say you look sick, but that peculiar show of strength leaves me confused.”

“It’s nothing. I’ve…been working out,” he said as he pulled away further.

“Have you now? What type of exercise allows you to strike solid rock in such a damaging way?”

“The kind that ain’t your business!” shot Beak, “Quit busting my balls already.”

“I’m sorry, but when one of my students starts lashing out at his classmates I’m obligated to be concerned,” said Sunfire as he tried to approach the young man again.

“Well that’s your problem. Now leave me alone!”

Beak didn’t give Sunfire a chance to reach him. Despite his distress, he took unfolded his wings and flew off. He wasn’t very graceful about it either. He tumbled through the air a bit, remaining low to the ground as he soared back towards the dormitory buildings. Sunfire could have gone after him, but he chose not to.

Sunfire wasn’t the only one watching. As Beak flew off, he passed over Julian and Laura. Having watched this bizarre scene unfold, they shared Sunfire’s suspicion. It could be the sign that X-Factor had been looking for. They had an unstable mutant that few would suspect of any trouble. At a time when mutants everywhere felt like targets, it felt like something much bigger was brewing and it didn’t take enhanced senses to notice.

“You sense something, don’t you?” said Julian, noticing the shift in Laura’s demeanor.

“You saw it too, Julian. I trust you’re not that blind,” said Laura with a snarl.

“Last I checked, my senses were fine. But yours are better. You wouldn’t be this pissed if you didn’t smell something that stunk.”

Laura watched Beak fly clumsily through the air, her vision narrowed on the young mutant. This was something Logan had warned her about. It was manifesting a lot sooner than expected. If it escalated in all the wrong ways, she may not be able to handle it on her own. Perhaps this was as good a time as any to start trusting her fellow classmates.

“Come! We should notify X-Factor,” said Laura as she started running back towards the campus.

“Wait up! Does this mean what I think it means?” asked Julian as he tried to keep up.

“You said our problems may be related. Well guess what? They are! And we’ll need some extra firepower to solve them.”


Academy of Tomorrow – Dormitories

Being an X-man had changed a great deal in recent times. From heroes to official partners of the MSA, change had been vast and overwhelming. Piotr Rasputin didn’t realize just how drastic these changes were until he described them out loud.

His reunion with Kitty had been more eventful than expected. After spending the morning together, they met up with Bobby and Amara while they were in between classes. Once secluded in Kitty’s room, he started talking about the ever-sensitive issues of X-men/MSA affairs.

Some of what he described wasn’t supposed to leave the Xavier Institute. Yet he found himself going into great detail, listing the major concerns they faced. Along with these details, he listened as Kitty laid out X-Factor’s clandestine efforts within the Academy of Tomorrow. The more they talked, the more convinced they were that something sinister was brewing.

“So it sounds to me like the Professor was pretty spooked by the Scranton debacle,” said Kitty upon hearing Piotr’s insights.

“Spooked may not be the right word. Frustrated sounds more accurate,” argued Bobby.

“I suspect it may be both,” sighed Piotr, “He was really upset with how the X-men performed. After finding out that poor mutant perished under our watch, he urged us to refocus our efforts.”

“Which probably means more training with Captain Freeman,” surmised Kitty, “For that, you have my sympathy. That guy is a loose canon, a bad attitude, and piss poor people skills all rolled into one.”

“His heart is in the right place. That is something we’ve all tried to maintain through this initiative, although it’s becoming increasingly difficult,” said Piotr.

Piotr sounded restless. He still clearly believed in what the X-men were doing, but it was wearing on him in a way he didn’t expect. Kitty offered consolation, slipping her arms around his neck from behind while he sat on the side of her bed. He accepted the gesture, lightly grasping her hand with his.

While he took comfort in her presence, Bobby paced back and forth pondering these new details. Amara was sitting on the chair next to Kitty’s desk, pondering these issues as well in her own way.

“Difficulty aside, I think we should backtrack for a moment,” said Amara, “You mentioned something about the X-men refocusing on the Genosha exiles.”

“Da, General Grimshaw thinks it would be best if the X-men focus on larger issues for a while,” affirmed Piotr.

“Is that the only reason?” she questioned.

“I doubt it,” said the Russian, “I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but Professor Xavier has detected an increase in incursions from Genosha colonies. They’re fast, random, and difficult to track.”

“So it isn’t just mutants jumping ship on the Brotherhood like they were for the first few months,” said Bobby.

“It seems that what’s left of Genosha has become more organized. Those are General Grimshaw’s words, not mine,” said Piotr.

“If they’re organized and they’re making routine trips, they must be up to something,” said Kitty strongly.

“Perhaps they’re looking for something or even someone,” Amara speculated, “If they’ve managed to stay hidden, they would need sufficient incentive to venture out regularly.”

“Any specifics on where they’ve been popping up, Peter?” asked Bobby.

“Nyet. That has yet to be determined. Or perhaps the Professor is keeping it from us,” said the Russian.

“Why would he keep something this important from you?” asked Amara.

“It’s not as outlandish as it sounds. He’s done it before,” muttered Kitty, “For all we know, he’s falling into the trap of every government stooge. He doesn’t let people know until it’s convenient.”

Her cynical words were harsh, as was to be expected from Kitty Pryde. That didn’t mean they were wrong. Piotr didn’t rush to defend Xavier. Even if he still believed in his vision, he couldn’t help but question his shifting motivations.

“Let’s try and stay focused here, guys,” argued Bobby, “Piotr tells us that the Professor is tracking the Brotherhood. We just told him that X-Factor is keeping tabs on the tensions here at the Academy. So I guess the big question is will one effect the other?”

“I think the question answers itself,” said Amara, “We’ll be affected in spite of or because of whatever the Brotherhood has planned.”

“Is it really that bad here at the Academy?” questioned Piotr.

“Don’t be fooled by the cushy life of a heavily regulated private school,” said Kitty dryly, “There’s a difference between the mutants who are here by choice and those who were just dumped here by the authorities.”

“We’ve seen first hand how this school has become overly crowded, overly scrutinized, and overly tense,” said Amara, “It reminds me of an old saying in Nova Roma. If you force too many lions in a cage, sooner or later they’ll start mauling one another.”

“Except the lions here have mutant powers,” said Kitty, “That’s why we need to avoid it.”

“I agree. And I want to help you avoid it,” said Piotr, “I’m just not sure how useful I can be in these matters.”

“You’ve already helped in a big way, Peter. You’ve given us a potential trigger,” said Bobby, who finally stopped pacing, “We all know how talented the Brotherhood are at causing a crisis.”

“Do you really think they’ll target the Academy of Tomorrow?” asked Amara.

“They’ll target any place that has a large collection of disgruntle mutants,” he replied, “For all we know, they’ve already made a move.”

“If this is at all possible, then perhaps I should call the institute,” said Piotr, “It might be a good idea to watch this area closely.”

“Hold your horses, Peter. The X-men are still licking their wounds from Scranton. This is X-Factor’s battle. Not theirs,” said Kitty, hugging him as if to prevent him from making that fateful call.

“But according to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, I am obligated to voice these concerns. And I’ve grown somewhat fond of following the law,” he stated.

“We’re not saying you shouldn’t, Peter. We’re just asking that you give us a little leeway,” said Bobby, choosing his words carefully, “Let us prevent a crisis before it starts for once. Let us be X-men again!”

There was desperation in his tone. It was matched by a desperate look in Kitty’s eyes. It put Piotr in a difficult position.

Being X-men was still very important for Bobby and Kitty. Being forced to leave and attend school at the Academy of Tomorrow was one of the many controversies incurred by the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They all agreed to give it a chance. Now his girlfriend and former teammate were asking him to bend the rules so they could make a difference again.

Kitty kept embracing him, as if to urge him into making his decision. Piotr wrestled with this dilemma, considering all the possibilities and pitfalls. While Bobby and Kitty were still waiting for his response, there was a frantic knock on Kitty’s bedroom door.

“Hey Kitty! You and your boyfriend better be decent because we have a problem,” said Julian’s frantic voice.

“Skip the warnings! Time’s a factor,” said an equally intent Laura.

Ignoring all manners and tact the former living weapon roughly kicked open the bedroom door, breaking the lock and hinges in the process. She then barged in with Julian following close behind, meeting up with a shocked and outraged Kitty Pryde.

“Damn it, guys! It wasn’t even locked,” she exclaimed.

“I’ll fix it for you later. Right now, we need to get moving,” said Laura, “Julian has already called the rest of X-Factor. They’re going to meet up with us in less than five minutes and you guys need to be there?”

“Why? Please tell me something hasn’t blown up yet,” said Bobby, ignoring the damage to Kitty’s door.

“It hasn’t, but it could,” said Julian, “We’ll fill you guys in along the way, but let’s just say dumb luck is working in our favor.”

Bobby, Amara, and Kitty exchanged glances. This could be exactly what they were looking for, a mutant incident poised to leave a nasty mark on mutant affairs. Their old X-men mentality soon kicked in and Kitty forgot about the damage to her door as well.

“We can finish this discussion later,” she told him, “You may not have to make any tough decisions after all.”

“That is a relief,” said Piotr, “I have a feeling I would have regretted my decision no matter what I chose.”

“That appears to be an ongoing theme with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative,” said Amara, “If you’re going to help us, it would be best to keep things simple.”

“Just wait till you hear what we’re up against,” said Julian as he led the others out of the room with Laura, “Simple doesn’t even begin to describe it.”


Academy of Tomorrow - Beak’s Room

‘Gotta hurry! Damn heart won’t slow down! You really screwed yourself this time, Barnell. What could possibly lead you to believe that trying this Kick shit was a good idea? I must have gotten a bad batch or something because it feels like my skin is being peeled off. I need to get this shit to Quicksilver before Frost or Sunfire find me!’

Beak was fighting a losing battle against time and his own body. He tried to pack everything he could as quickly as he could. He had officially overstayed his welcome at the Academy of Tomorrow. He was going to have to drop out sooner than he expected. He would have to rely on Quicksilver and the Brotherhood to bail him out. He had little reason to believe they would do so, but he didn’t have a choice. He had to get out of here.

With the veins in his arms and neck still throbbing, he worked feverishly to stuff as much as he could into a lone suitcase. He would have to leave most of his clothes and gear. At this point, it would just slow him down. The most important items at his disposal were eight vials of red fluid. These small containers of Mutant Growth Hormone were his only leverage. There were originally nine vials, but he was foolish enough to use one of them. With every stab of pain through his body, he regretted that decision more and more.

“Augh! Damn you, Quicksilver!” groaned Beak as he felt a painful cramp in his stomach, “This goop better be worth it. I have a feeling I got the watered-down shit.”

The pained mutant pushed through the agony as he stuffed the vials into his suitcase. With every passing second, he felt weaker. Having barely made it back to his room, he was in for a rough flight to meet up with Quicksilver. Before he could even close his suitcase, he felt a sharp burning sensation in his veins. It was like his muscles were trying to jump out of his skin. It was so bad he fell to his knees.

“Can’t escape like this. I won’t outrun a mosquito, let alone the MSA,” he groaned.

Beak panted heavily, hoping that the discomfort would pass. As it lingered, time was ticking by. For all he knew, Sunfire had informed Emma Frost and Dr. Nemesis. They in turn would inform the MSA. He couldn’t afford to be caught. The only way he stood a chance was if he took another outrageous risk. Looking at the vials of Kick in his suitcase, he could think of only one option.

“Fuck it! Watered down or not, I need a boost,” said the ailing mutant.

With shaky hands, Beak retrieved one of the vials. Through labored breaths, he reached for a syringe that he kept under his bed. Without checking the needle or cleaning it, he drew a full dose. He was prepared to inject it, but he hesitated for a moment.

He remembered what this stuff did to him against Rockslide. He originally took a dose just to make sure it was real. It gave him the strength to lay out a mutant that was bigger, stronger, and tougher than he was. He would need that kind of strength to escape.

“Here goes nothing,” Beak groaned.

He was about to stick the needle in his arm when he heard an ominous snikt behind his door. The next thing he knew, his bedroom door was sliced open and kicked in. It started him so much that he nearly dropped the needle. As he clutched it firmly, he turned to see a very unnerving sight outside his bedroom.

“See how much time we save when we skip knocking?” growled X-23 as she entered the room.

“Point taken. I’ll save it for bathrooms and Emma Frost’s office only,” said Hellion as he followed her.

“I think we got the message across,” said Iceman, his body now covered in an ice shell, “Barnell Bohusk, we need to talk.”

“By talk he means drop the needle be smart,” said Shadowcat, who wore a new variation of her X-men uniform.

In an instant, the Beak’s discomfort was overshadowed by dread. His outburst on the softball field wasn’t exactly subtle. In a school with two former X-men, this made him a target in more ways than he expected.

There was nothing subtle about this intrusion. The team arrived in full force. X-23 led Hellion, Iceman, Magma, Shadowcat, and Colossus right to Beak’s room. Along the way, they linked up with Sunspot, Cannonball, Surge, Mirage, and Metldown. They were all in their old X-Factor uniforms, including their masks. If this was as volatile as they were led to believe, then they were going to confront it as a team. Such a strong show of force put Beak in an even more desperate position.

“Don’t let the costumes fool you, Beak. We’re not here to fight,” said Cannonball as he emerged from behind.

“Listen to him,” urged Iceman, “You’ll save us all a world of trouble.”

“Trust me, you want that,” said X-23 in a threatening tone, “I can already smell what’s in that syringe! It’s Mutant Growth Hormone, isn’t it?”

“How…how do you know about that?” demanded Beak.

“That’s for me to know and you to forget,” she barked, “Now do your limbs a favor and drop the damn needle!”

Her commands were harsh, more so than X-Factor would have liked. Iceman, Shadowcat, and Colossus couldn’t help but cringe. It was exactly the kind of provocation they didn’t need.

“It’s just like working with Wolverine again,” commented Colossus.

“Oye, this won’t end well,” groaned Shadowcat.

“Ten bucks says he doesn’t give up the needle,” said Meltdown.

“No deal. I can see where this is going,” said Sunspot.

X-23 wasn’t about to wait for an answer and Beak wasn’t given much time to consider it. As she clenched her fists in anticipation, Beak closed his eyes and jammed the needle into his arm, injecting the drug in the process. As soon as the reddish fluid entered his system, it had an immediate affect.

“Oh no you don’t!” growled X-23 as she lunged for Beak.

“No Laura! Don’t!” exclaimed Hellion.

There was no stopping her. The former living weapon followed her battle-hardened instincts, lunging towards Beak in an all-out attack. She had every intention of subduing him regardless of the wounds it would incur. However, she wasn’t the only one acting on instinct.

Just as X-23’s claws were within inches of Beak, he got up and revealed that the extra dose of Kick had a more profound effect. He made this effect painfully appearance as he took a deep breath and let out an ear-splitting screech that was coupled with a concussive wave of force.

“GO AWWWWAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!” he roared through the sonic assault.

“Arrgghhh!” X-23 cried out as she was blown back by the force.

“My ears!” exclaimed Surge.

That’s a new trick,” groaned Mirage.

“Just like old times indeed,” groaned Iceman.

The powerful noise was incapacitated X-Factor. They were all forced to cover their ears and fall back. In addition, they had to get out of the way of the concussive blast. Beak’s roar was so loud that it blew a ten-foot hole in the wall, breaking lights and shattering his own desk in the process.

Hellion tried to divert some of the shrapnel with telekinesis while catching X-23. This didn’t prevent some from incurring some light wounds in addition to the assault on their ears. It was an impressive show of force from a mutant who wasn’t known for it.

“Damn! That’s more like it,” said Beak upon halting his assault, “No way that shit was watered down.”

“What? Is he saying something?” exclaimed Cannonball, still rubbing his ears.

“I think he just told us to piss off, but I’m not sure,” said Shadowcat, whose ears were bleeding.

Shadowcat, Iceman, and Colossus struggled to reorient themselves along with the rest of X-Factor. Their ears were reeling, but they didn’t need to hear in order to understand what was going on. They could see what was happening with Beak.

In addition to a new skill, the drug he just injected was giving him a new appearance. The veins in his neck and arms weren’t just throbbing. They were growing. His muscle mass increased three-fold, going from a somewhat scrawny teenager to a heavily muscled young man. In addition to his muscles his skin changed in a profound way, forming a thick layer gray feathers. This layer of feathers extending to his face, making it so he looked like a perfect half-man/half-bird.

The once obscure mutant was seething with a new rush of energy. This change in his body and his powers quickly filled him with a new mentality. He was no longer the feeble freak that his parents threw away. He was his own creature and nobody was going to push him around any more. With X-Factor still dazed, he secured the remaining doses of Kick and closed his suitcase.

“I didn’t want to make a scene, but I’m glad you guys made it necessary,” Beak taunted, “You have no idea how hard it was to get this shit.”

“Whatever you’re planning, I’m pretty sure it’s a mistake,” said Iceman.

“Says you!” scoffed Beak, “This stupid initiative gives you guys plenty to look forward to. But for guys like me, I got nothing! I don’t give a damn if it is breaking the law. I’m making my own law from here on out!”

“That’s the drug talking, Barnell. This isn’t you,” said Magma as Iceman helped her back to her feet.

“Well it is now! And I’m taking the new me for a spin,” he retorted, “If you want to avoid that world of trouble you mentioned, you won’t follow me.”

“Beak wait!” urged Cannonball.

It was no use. The young mutant was beyond reason at this point. Upon grabbing his suitcase, Beak turned around and unleashed another sonic yell. This blew a gaping hole through the wall and windows right next to his bed, leaving a nice opening for him to escape to the open skies. Armed with his new strength and powers, he took to the air at high speeds with the intention of never looking back.

He left behind a dazed X-Factor, who had to recover quickly if they were to have any hopes of keeping up. Their ears were still ringing, but nobody was seriously wounded. Canonball and Magma helped Meltdown, Surge, and Sunspot back to their feet. They caught up with Iceman, Shadowcat, Colossus, and Magma as they gathered around the newly created hole in the wall. Hellion and X-23 were a little slower to catch up. Having taken the brunt end of Beak’s attack, X-23 needed a moment to heal.

“Quit trying to assist me, Julian. I can heal,” grunted the former living weapon.

“If my ears weren’t still ringing, I would point out that healing isn’t your biggest problem,” he said, “You know I am telekinetic. I could have ripped the needle out of his hand.”

“But you didn’t,” she quipped.

“That’s because you provoked him,” said Sunspot, “I say you do need assistance in some respects.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” snarled X-23.

Former Weapon X-23 flashed her claws towards Sunspot and Hellion. They were looking at her as if she was responsible for this. She prepared to confront them, but Colossus pulled her back.

“That’s enough,” said the Russian, “I know you’re staying true to your heritage with Wolverine, but even he understood when he made a mistake.”

“Don’t tell me you’re taking their side!” spat X-23 as she shook off his grip.

“We don’t have time to take sides. We need to go after Beak!” said Iceman as he looked out into the midday sky.

“He’s moving pretty fast. You think we can catch up him?” asked Surge.

“Well not all of us can fly so we’ll have to get creative,” said Mirage.

“We have three X-men, X-Factor, and Wolverine’s daughter. I think we have plenty to work with,” said Iceman confidently.

This wasn’t over yet. Beak thought he had escaped, but they had everything they needed to prove him wrong. This desperate mutant was more than capable of causing another dangerous incident. That mysterious drug he injected had plenty of potential to do great harm. It also had the potential to uncover a much deeper conflict.


Meanwhile – Massachusetts Turnpike

Traveling had become a lot more complicated for X-Force. While Kurt could teleport them anywhere in the world, they couldn’t always appear at the exact location they wanted. Now that the authorities were keeping an eye out for them, they needed to keep a lower profile. Randomly appearing in crowded areas tended to draw undue attention so sometimes they had to employ traditional means of transportation.

This didn’t bother Logan. He was more than willing to take the longer route to his destination if it meant he could ride his motorcycle. Since he joined X-Force, he hadn’t had a chance to do much riding. So when Kurt offered to drop him off in Boston for his regular visit with Laura, he had him arrive at a special storage depot where he kept his motorcycle.

From there, he weaved through the midday traffic en route to the Academy of Tomorrow. Meeting up with Laura was still important to him. She needed him and he needed her. But now that they were semi-fugitives, some were concerned about the trouble this could cause. As usual, Cyclops saw fit to be a dick about it.

“I can appreciate your desire to see your clone/daughter, but I really think we should’ve talked about this beforehand,” said Cyclops through an encrypted communication link that Wolverine had built into his helmet.

“She’s my daughter, bub. Don’t call her a freakin’ clone!” he barked as he picked up speed along the turnpike.

“Duly noted, but we need to weight the risks here. These aren’t just fishing trips. You’ve been talking to Laura about our operations, haven’t you?”

“Well what else are we gonna talk about? Boy bands and hair conditioner?” retorted Logan.

“I’m just saying that you’re putting her and X-Force at risk. The dust hasn’t settled from Scranton yet. The X-men and the MSA have been getting more aggressive. Emma has already picked up on increased activity from the Brotherhood.”

“The way I see it, we’re better off if someone as tough as Laura knows what to stab if she sees it. Since she’s in a school where so many mutants are getting dumped, I’d say she’s in just the right position.”

“Be that as it may, you shouldn’t have told her about those rumors of mutant-enhancing drugs. If Laura is even a tenth as impulsive as you, she could put herself in a dangerous situation and I know you don’t want that.”

Logan growled in frustration, angrily passing a nearby car at over ninety miles-per-hour in the process. Scott Summers was an especially annoying when he made a valid point.

Part of his reason for sending Laura to the Academy of Tomorrow was so she would have a chance to get away from all the fighting. She deserved to be a normal kid or as least as normal as a clone of his could be. By meeting with her and filling her in on what X-Force was up to, he did put her at risk. It left him wondering if she deserved to be dragged into his problems again.

He was prepared to argue with Cyclops for the rest of the ride in if he had to. Then as he was passing over a bridge, he noticed a strange series of lights in the distance over Fenway Park. They weren’t the kind of lights that indicated something explosive like they experienced in Scranton, but it had the mark of mutant activity. If that was the case, then there was a good chance that Laura would be involved.

“Ah hell, so much for a quiet afternoon with my daughter,” groaned Logan as he revved his motorcycle in preparation for a much rougher ride.

“What was that? Damn it, did he hang up on me again? I swear I’ll…”

“I’m still listening, Cyke. You better watch what you say behind my back or I’ll have another reason to stab it!” barked the former living weapon, “While you’re at it, pull Frost away from the vineyards and have her check Fenway Park. Something’s goin’ down and it ain’t a freakin’ ball game!”


Boston – Fenway Park

Beak was thoroughly enjoying the power boost he got from Kick. He was stronger, faster, and more focused than he had ever been. No longer an isolated freak, he felt like he could do anything. The double dose of Kick in his system had his heart and his mind racing in ways he had never experienced.

‘Never flown this fast before. Never felt this strong before. I could fly down and rip up every building in this city with my bear hands. Fuck, I love this drug! Will have to save some for myself later. For now, gotta stay focused. Gotta get to Quicksilver so he can get me out of here.’

Beak was soaring over Boston, watching the buildings pass by in a blur. He would have to land at some point, make a call to Quicksilver, and arrange a transport. With so much Kick in his system, no one could stand in his way. He was just passing over Fenway Park, which was vacant at the moment. He was right over center field when something strange came over him.

Out of nowhere, the open sky in front of him turned into a massive brick wall. Above him, black clouds descended out of nowhere and started flashing with lightning. All around him, more walls formed. His entire sense of direction was completely thrown off. He had to stop in mid air and fly down to the surface.

“Augh! What the hell? This better not be some fucked up side-effect of the drug!” exclaimed Beak.

“It’s not, but you’re going to wish it was,” came a voice.

As Beak landed in center field, a figure emerged from the massive brick wall in front of him. It was Mirage. Her eyes were glowing, indicating that she was using her powers. It would explain this bizarre change in scenery.

You again? Guess that means this is an illusion,” scoffed Beak, “You know, I can fly right through this shit.”

“My illusions aren’t just smoke and mirrors, Beak. And even if they were, how would you know which direction to go?” she told him, “I could make it so you fly head first into building.”

“That’s assuming I won’t sniff you out and beat you to a pulp first.”

“That’s even less likely,” she retorted.

“How do you figure?”

“Because you’re going to have your hands full,” said Mirage with a coy grin as she gestured to the sky behind him.

Beak turned around and saw what she was referring to. From the stormy illusions, he saw X-Factor descend towards him. Iceman, Magma, Cannonball, Surge, Meltdown, Sunspot, and X-23 were all riding a telekinetic bubble from Hellion. They came in at high speeds, breaking off so that they completely surrounded him. They each took an aggressive stance. Beak clenched his talons, the Kick in his system flowing with greater ferocity.

“You’re not going to ditch us that easily, Beak,” said Iceman, “X-Factor has a strict ‘no coward way out’ policy!”

“Mirage can make it even more unpleasant if you don’t cooperate,” said Cannonball, “So do yourself a favor and stand down!”

“Stand down? After a power upgrade and plenty of leverage?” scoffed Beak as he held up his suitcase, “You guys must be confusing me with the old Barnell Bohusk!”

“You are Barnell Bohusk,” said Amara, “That’s the drug talking! Not you!”

Please don’t turn this into a drugs-are-bad announcement. Don’t we get that enough in school?” said Meltdown.

“You’re not going to talk me out of this,” he exclaimed, “I’ve made my decision. There’s no going back!”

“Guess that means we’re doing this the hard way,” sighed Surge.

“Fine by me!” growled X-23, “HRRRAAAHHHHH!”

The former living weapon made the first move, drawing her claws and lunging towards Beak. The feathered mutant avoided it by taking to the air, flying just above X-23’s claw slashes and not losing any feathers in the process.

“Errrrr! Get back down here!” roared X-23.

“Sorry, but if we’re going to do this, we’re doing it in my domain,” said Beak, “Illusion or not, I’ve got the advantage in the air!”

X-23 snarled in frustration. Beak sneered as he tried to fly higher. He was only about twenty feet in the air when he hit what felt like a slab of bedrock.

“What is this? Another illusion?” groaned Beak.

“Nope! Just good old fashioned telekinesis,” said Hellion, having formed a powerful barrier right above him, “Let’s keep a level playing field, shall we?”

“Besides, you ain’t the only one with wings,” said Cannonball from below.

“And we don’t even need feathers,” said Iceman.

While Hellion kept Beak from flying higher, Cannonball took off in a high-speed blast with Iceman following closely on an ice slide. Beak went on the evasive, flying lower towards the third-base line to avoid the attack.

Cannonball ended up soaring above him, leaving Iceman to come in lower and fire ice beams towards him. These beams were complimented with electric blasts from Surge, fire blasts from Magma, and solar blasts from Sunspot from below. Beak was under fire, but remained undaunted. Still clutching the suitcase, he flew in lower to the ground and prepared to counter.

“You guys want to corner me? Be my guest!” taunted Beak, “Your ears will hate you.”

Once he was on the ground, he took a deep breath and unleashed another powerful sonic screech. This time, X-Factor wasn’t caught off guard. X-23, Surge, Meltdown, Magma, and Sunspot avoidedit. Iceman and Cannonball also went on the evasive, moving in higher so they could come in for another attack.

“That trick ain’t gonna work this time,” said Cannonball.

“Yeah! That isn’t even the loudest Fenway’s ever been,” taunted Iceman.

“Then I guess I’ll have to try a new trick,” grinned Beak.

As the two mutants came in for an attack, Beak allowed the Kick in his system to work. Flexing his wings, he began spinning at high speeds. Within seconds, a powerful tornado was formed. A cloud of dirt from the baseball field was kicked up, creating a choking dust storm that overwhelmed Iceman and Cannonball. It also engulfed Hellion, who was able to divert it but couldn’t see through it.

“Ack! I liked the yelling more,” groaned Iceman.

“Can’t see where Ah’m…” began Cannonball.

The young mutant was unable to finish. Due to his high speeds, Cannonball couldn’t change directions when he saw the wall along the third baseline in front of him. He pulled up just in time to crash into a series of seats. His blasting protected him, but he tumbled through at high speeds and had the wind knocked out of him to ensure he couldn’t take to the air again. Iceman fell right off his ice slide, tumbling right onto the grassy field. He couldn’t see through the dust to locate Beak. He had to cover his face to prevent from breathing in the dirt.

“Now that’s just fighting dirty…literally,” grunted Iceman.

“When you’re low on options it’s the only way to fight,” yelled Beak from within the dust cloud.

Iceman coughed through the swirling dirt while Hellion struggled to navigate through it from above. X-23, Surge, Magma, Sunspot, and Meltdown all rushed towards Iceman. They had to cover their mouths and guard their faces as well. Beak was trying to choke them out and they couldn’t let him.

“He’s more resourceful than we thought,” said Sunspot as he helped Iceman fall back.

“So is that drug,” grunted Iceman, “That can’t be healthy for him.”

“Neither are these,” grinned Meltdown as she formed dozens of small bombs in her hand, “Stand back, guys!”

“Fire in the hole, Hellion!” announced Surge.

“I hear you, Surge,” said Hellion from above.

Braving the blinding dust clouds, Meltdown threw the tiny balls of energy into the swirling storm. They were quickly sucked up into the blast. As they got closer to Beak, they started going off in rapid succession. It was like showers of firecrackers were going off around him. Hellion used his telekinesis to protect X-Factor from the bursts, but Beak had no such protection.

“Ouch! Ow! Arrghh!” he exclaimed from within the dust storm.

As the mini-bombs kept going off, Beak had to slow down his wind storm. The dust from the baseball field was still thick, but the winds died down and he had to stumble away in order to escape the painful bursts. Still clutching his suitcase, X-Factor saw their chance to launch their final attack.

“Hurry! Take him down before he pulls another trick!” roared X-23.

“I was going to only lightly shock him, but I’ve changed my mind,” said Surge with sparks forming around her body.

“With that drug in his system, we’ll need more than a few jolts to knock some sense into him,” said Sunspot.

While Beak was still stumbling, X-Factor surrounded him. Magma, Meltdown, X-23, Sunspot, and Surge got into position. Iceman stayed behind, still coughing up dirt. Hellion kept a telekinetic ceiling over the area, making sure that Beak couldn’t escape. Magma also made sure he couldn’t use the whirlwind trick again. Using her fire powers, she formed a hot ring of fire around him to help add to his anxiety.

“I would advise against generating too much wind. Feathers aren’t flame proof last I checked,” warned Magma.

“They’re not bomb proof either,” said Meltdown as she rushed in for another attack.

Forming a series of much larger bombs in her hands, Meltdown threw a half-dozen or so bombs right towards Beak. This time he was ready for them. Using his wings, he kicked up a powerful wind sheer and blew them right back towards her and Magma.

“You might want to rethink that,” grunted Beak.

“Whoa! I stand corrected,” exclaimed, Meltdown as she and Magma fell back.

Beak barely had a chance to catch his breath. As the flames swirled around him, Sunspot and X-23 emerged through them. They both moved in for a quick attack. Sunspot fired a solar blast towards Beak, which he was able to avoid by jumping out of the way. However, he was unable to avoid X-23’s claw slashes. She landed a good cut right on his lower leg. It went in pretty deep, resulting in a wound that spewed blood.

“Ahhhhhhhhh!” he screeched in a mix of pain and anger.

“Sounds like it’s getting to you,” taunted X-23, “I can hear it in your voice.”

“LEAVE…ME…ALONE!” Beak screamed.

“Whoa! Sounds like he’s losing it,” said Sunspot.

“All the more reason to shut him up,” said Surge.

Surge clenched her fists and fired a burst of concentrated sparks. Despite his wound, Beak went on the evasive. He was grazed by a few sparks, but didn’t slow down. Sunspot moved in and landed a punishing solar powered uppercut while X-23 came in for another slash.

This only stunned Beak for a moment before he responded with a talon swipe. Sunspot avoided it, but X-23 did not. She ended up getting cut deeply right across the back. This stunned her, but only for a split second. She and Sunspot had to keep up the attack. Beak was getting desperate and the Kick in his system wasn’t helping.

They could see it in his eyes. The veins in his neck and arms were throbbing with more intensity. It looked like his system was being overwhelmed. He was becoming irrational, enraged, and unfocused. X-23 had experienced such a state before and used it to her advantage, maneuvering closer and slicing another couple of gashes along Beak’s leg and torso. That only enraged him even more. At one point, he threw his suitcase at X-23, hitting right over the head with it and cracking her skull in the process. When Sunspot saw this he tried to strike him again.

“ERRRRRRRRRR!” was all Beak could get out at this point.

“You need to calm the fuck down amigo,” yelled Sunspot as he charged his arms for another solar powered punch.

This time, Beak was ready for him. As he swiped in for an attack, Beak caught his arm with both talons. Sunspot instinctively began to struggle. Then Surge moved in closer for another attack.

“Hold on, Sunspot. I’ve got this!” said Surge.

“No wait!” he exclaimed.

Without heeding his warning, Surge unleashed another devastating electrical attack. Before it struck, Beak turned around and used Sunspot as a human shield. He ended up taking the full force of the attack. Even though his solar powers ensured it wouldn’t be lethal, it was pretty devastating.

“AUUUGGHHHHH!” Sunspot cried out.

“Oops,” said Surge sheepishly.

Sunspot lost most of his solar charge and he fell weekly to the dirt. He had light burns on his skin and was barely conscious, ensuring he would stay out of this fight. Beak now set his enraged sights on Surge, who was more reluctant to strike back after what happened to Sunspot. Beak, despite his wounds, looked at her with enraged eyes.

“The power…it burns! Now you’ll all…burn with me!” he roared.

“Uh…is that supposed to mean something?” said Surge.

“It does,” said X-23 as she emerged behind him, “It means this ends now.”

Before Beak could attack surge, X-23 pounced on him from behind. She leapt onto his back and drove her claws right into the areas around his shoulder and neck. Once she had a firm grip on his body, she went to work cutting into his bird-like flesh. Beak let out a pained screech and stumbled back, but she didn’t let go. She just kept attacking, wounding him further. From a distance, it looked like she would kill him.

“Laura, what are you doing? You’re killing him!” exclaimed Hellion from above.

“I know what I’m doing. Trust me,” she replied as she cut him again.

“But…”

“Listen to her, Hellion! I think I know what her plan is,” said Magma, who ran with Meltdown to Sunspot’s aid.

Hellion was still hesitant, but he decided to trust X-23. He had to believe that she had learned enough from him and the others to understand what she was doing. Whatever it was, it had better work.

With the rest of X-Factor watching, X-23 kept stabbing Beak with her claws. She didn’t go for vital organs or anything. She made sure she cut him at very specific locations. She cut him around the neck and arms, severing arteries and causing thick gushes of blood to pour out. It got so messy that both Beak and X-23 were covered with bloody streaks, their respective growls echoing with a primal rage.

“Hrrrrrrr! Must…get…more. Kick…the power…need it,” seethed Beak, becoming more incoherent by the second.

“No…you don’t,” snarled X-23, “Nobody needs or deserves that kind of power.”

She spoke from painful experience, growling with intense focus as she cut Beak around the neck one last time. By now, he had lost so much blood that it was pooling up around him. His legs shook and he started losing balance.

At the same time, his hulking figure began to shrink steadily. In addition, the excess feathers he gained fell off. He was returning to normal. The Kick was wearing off. It didn’t take long for some to realize what X-23 had done.

“Clever girl,” said Iceman as he met up with Sunspot and Surge.

“Clever or just messy?” questioned Surge.

“She bled him out to get the Kick out of his system,” explained Magma, “If it’s not in his veins, it can’t have an effect.”

“You sure she’s not going to kill him?” wondered Meltdown.

“She won’t,” said Hellion confidently as he landed next to them.

“You sure about that? Or are you just that eager to get into her pants?” teased Meltdown.

“I’m sure,” said Hellion flatly.

Hellion and the others watched as X-23 finished the job. She was as careful as she was efficient, making sure that once Beak reverted back to his old self that he was carefully laid out onto the grass. He was barely conscious now after having lost so much blood. She was still covered in it and short on breath. At one point she looked back up at Hellion and the rest of X-Factor. They gave her a look of approval.

It was different from the approval she got from her creators she subdued a foe. It left her feeling strange inside, but in a good way. She hid those conflicted feelings within her stoic demeanor. The mission wasn’t over yet. Only the hard part was complete.

“I think we’re done with this illusion,” said Mirage from behind the others, “And just in time as well. The cavalry just arrived.”

Within moments, the stormy skies and large brick walls faded. The midday sun and the now scarred field of Fenway Park returned. In addition, the large gate near center field opened to reveal a line of emergency vehicles. They included two MSA vans, a fire truck, and an ambulance. Riding in front of the fire truck were Colossus and Shadowcat. They got off before the MSA and EMTs could even get out of their vehicles. With dirt still lingering in the air from Beak’s dust storm, it was clear there had been quite a battle.

“Look who showed up after the seventh inning stretch,” commented Iceman.

“We still showed up, did we not?” said Colossus as he and Shadowcat ran over, “I made a few calls to the Institute and we were able to coordinate a swift response.”

“To bad it wasn’t swift enough,” said Meltdown, “You missed all the action.”

“There will be others. There always are,” sighed Shadowcat as she met up with the others, picking up Beak’s suitcase along the way, “In the meantime, I think we’ve succeeded in our little mission while starting a new one. I think Professor Xavier will be very interested in learning more about this Kick stuff that Beak was so eager to steal.”


Later

The end of every mission was always a spectacle. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative ensured that very public conflicts were carefully managed. In this sense X-Factor was lucky to have the initiative on their side.

Thanks to Piotr coordinating with the MSA, they were able to clean up Beak’s mess. The wounded mutant was taken in and treated for blood loss by EMTs. Roberto, Amara, Sam, and Tabitha received treatment for some minor injuries as well. All the while, the area around Fenway Park was closed off so they had time to process everything.

Piotr, Kitty, Bobby, and Amara worked closely with the MSA agents as they took Beak into custody. At the moment, he was receiving medical treatment. It looked as though he would heal from his wounds. Laura’s attacks were purely superficial. The MSA operatives stayed on their guard, making sure Beak had no means of escape. After having pieced together his plot, this unfortunate mutant had a lot to answer for.

“Load him up! Be careful with the IVs,” ordered the lead EMT as Piotr moved the gurney carrying Beak into the back of a van.

“According to HQ, we’re to have three operatives around this kid at all times,” said one of the MSA officers.

“That shouldn’t be necessary,” said Piotr, “The drug is out of his system.”

“It isn’t just him we’re worried about,” said another officer, “You heard the report from Xavier and Emma Frost. This kid was coordinating with the Brotherhood. Who knows what kind of crap they’re cooking up?”

“I’m just as eager to find out, but try and go easy on him,” said Bobby, “Beak isn’t the bad guy. He just trusted the wrong people for the right reasons.”

“I don’t know if General Grimshaw will see it that way so I can’t make any promises,” said the driver of the van.

Bobby, Kitty, and Amara shifted somewhat as they watched the officers close the back of the van. One of the other officers in front of them signaled them to drive off along with a police escort. On the surface, this mission was successful. They stopped Beak from meeting up with the Brotherhood. However, there were some reservations.

Beak wanted to leave for a reason and it wasn’t a bad reason either. He didn’t like the Academy of Tomorrow. He didn’t like being thrown away by his family and left to do whatever the Mutant Monitoring Initiative dictated. On some level, they couldn’t blame him for trusting the Brotherhood.

“I will see to it that those promises are made,” assured Piotr, sensing his friends’ reservations, “I agree with you. Desperation brings out the worst in people. I would know.”

“So would I,” sighed Amara, remembering the many questionable actions of her own people, “That still doesn’t justify his actions.”

“That’s not what worries me,” said Kitty distantly.

“You think the Brotherhood is going to dump a fresh batch of napalm on the fire too?” said Bobby.

“That’s a given,” she said, rolling her eyes, “I’m not convinced that Grimshaw, the Professor, and everyone else in the MSA won’t make it worse. Beak had enough reasons to mess up his life. If we keep giving people like him more, then what’s the point of doing what we do?”

“The Professor won’t allow it to get that bad, Katya. He’s too smart a man to allow it,” said Piotr as he slipped his powerful arm around his girlfriend.

“If he doesn’t, would you please hit him upside the head to knock some sense into him?” asked Kitty in only a partially serious tone.

“I think he has sufficient incentives to do the right thing,” said Piotr in a humored tone, “The X-men have made sure of it.”

“One more couldn’t hurt,” said Amara as she slipped her arms around Bobby, “In my experience, people in power need the most reminders about what is just.”

“You think we gave a big enough reminder today?” said Bobby, smiling at her touch.

“I think it’s a start,” said Amara, smiling back.

Mixed feelings continued to linger as Beak rode off with the MSA. However, the positives substantially outweighed the negatives.

Bobby and Kitty got to be X-men again. X-Factor got to be heroes again. By working together, they exposed a new threat. Mutant Growth Hormone and the Brotherhood were dangerous enough on their own. If there was a connection, then the problems for Professor Xavier and the X-men extend far beyond the walls of the Academy.

These mixed feelings were shared by the rest of X-Factor, who lingered behind with the EMTs and officers. The MSA had collected their statements and agreed to be careful with the details. Under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, they were technically forbidden from doing this sort of thing. Due to the circumstances of the conflict, they were willing to make an exception.

“We got to be heroes again,” mused Dani, “I forgot how great it feels.”

“Speak for yourself. You’re not the one that got burned,” muttered Robert, winching as an EMT treated him for electrical burns.

“Hey, I said I was sorry,” groaned Surge, “Besides, the doctor said it was nothing serious.”

“It still stings like hell. Every time I put peroxide on these burns, you owe me a lunch.”

“Now you’re just being unfair,” said Noriko.

“Come on, Sunshine. Ah got a minor concussion and Ah’m still willing to forgive,” said Sam, who had an ice pack on his head.

“Besides, you don’t want to punish her by making her go out with you. That would just be cruel,” teased Tabitha.

“Says the girl who leaves cherry bombs in my dresser whenever I drink one of her sodas,” grumbled Roberto.

“Quit being so petty, you guys,” said Dani as she stepped between Roberto and Sam, “Wounds will heal. Grudges will fade. We did something special today…something we all missed doing and could have easily paid dearly for. We proved today that X-Factor doesn’t have to end. We’re in a position to make a difference. We should embrace that because after what we learned today, we know there’s more than the Mutant Monitoring Initiative can handle.”

The mood amongst the team grew more serious. Injuries and soreness faded as their recent exploits were put into perspective. It was easy to forget how much they missed X-Factor once it was taken away from them. They rediscovered how much the world needed it. The X-men and the MSA were not powerful enough to confront every threat. There was still a place for X-Factor and they had a responsibility to keep fighting.

While X-Factor’s spirits were heightened, some remained conflicted. X-23 didn’t say much to anybody after the battle ended. She kept her distance from the authorities, which was understandable given her history. For her, being part of X-Factor and playing hero was secondary. She had her own missions. Given how poorly she handled herself, she realized just how far she had to go.

‘They all cope so well. They weren’t even trained and they can still smile after a mission like this. I don’t know what they’re feeling, but I think I understand it better. Maybe one day I can learn to smile as well. At the rate I’m going, it might be a while.”

Former Weapon X-23 slipped away from X-Factor and the rest of the authorities, retreating to one of the dugouts. She made sure no one was following her. She was still in a mission-centered mentality. She never lost focus as she carefully opened the door that lead into the locker room. It revealed Logan standing on the other side, who was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses.

“Hey, darlin’. Sorry I’m late,” he told her.

“Don’t be,” said Laura solemnly, “I would have…disappointed you. I came way too close to slipping back into old habits.”

“But you didn’t,” Logan said, “Otherwise, you would be covered in a lot more blood.”

“I made everything much harder. I attacked without thinking. I almost killed that poor boy. I didn’t even feel anything when I made him bleed. I find that…troubling.”

“That’s gonna take a while to wear off. Hell, I’m still struggling with it so don’t beat yourself up,” he said as he affectionately cupped her chin, “You did good, Laura. Now I can tell Cyke he was wrong for busting my balls. He was against me telling you about that Kick shit.”

“I know how much you enjoy saying I told you so. Give him this and I’m sure it’ll be more satisfying.”

Reaching into her pocket, Laura pulled out one of the vials of Kick. She stole it from Beak’s suitcase, which had since been confiscated by the MSA. It was the original reason why she hoped to meet up with Logan today. They were going to work on a way to retrieve a sample. In the end, they got what they needed, thanks to the inadvertent help of X-Factor.

When Logan took the vial, he held it up and stared at it. This exotic substance was the key to X-Force’s next round of operations. The X-men would more than likely feel the same way. After seeing what it did to Beak, it was sure to cause plenty of trouble.

“This shit’s gonna bring plenty of headaches. I can smell it,” snarled Logan.

“I never found out where Beak bought it, but the Brotherhood was interested in it. They’ll probably keep looking for a source,” surmised Laura.

“So will we,” said Logan as he clutched the vial.

“And I’ll continue to help,” said Laura strongly, “Tell me my next mission. Where do we go from here?”

Logan looked back at Laura and then back at the vial. He was silent for a moment. Laura was still in that intense mission mindset. Everything was either a mission or pure survival. There was nothing in between. It robbed her of a childhood and the scars were deep. That didn’t mean she had to make them deeper. Upon pocketing the vial, he gave her a new task.

“Go back to your friends,” he told her, “Go to class, take time for yourself, and be a kid.”

Laura was surprised and confused. She looked at him strangely as he turned around and walked away.

“What kind of mission is that? I can still help, Logan!” she said strongly.

“I know you can. That doesn’t mean you should,” he retorted, “Trust me, Laura. You need this. If you’re dead set on avoiding past mistakes, you’ll give it a shot. You’ll understand why the next time you’re in a tough fight.”

Laura was inclined to run after the only family she had in this world. She was prepared to fight him for another mission. It didn’t make sense. This was all she knew. If she didn’t have a mission to focus on, what would stop her from questioning her place again?

She continued to debate going after Logan. Then she detected a familiar scent behind her. Someone had been listening in. Instinctively, she turned around and flashed a claw. She was met with the presence of a calm Julian Keller. At first she was suspicious. Then as she took in his demeanor, she settled.

“How long have you been standing there?” she demanded.

“I’ve been keeping my eye on you since you stormed off covered in blood,” he told her, “Kind of hard not to look away from that.”

“How much did you hear?”

“Absolutely nothing,” said Julian with a wry grin, “That’s exactly what I’ll tell everyone, no matter how much they torture me.”

Laura was taken aback once again. This boy intrigued her more with everything he did. He clearly saw her meeting with Logan. He probably saw her steal that one vial of kick. But as far as she could tell, he was serious. He wasn’t going to tell anyone. He cared about her that much and it left her deeply confused.

Logan was long gone by now. Laura continued to linger so Julian approached her and offered a friendly smile. It was difficult for her to return the gesture, but he didn’t need her to. Just allowing him to be this close to her spoke volumes.

“Why do you do this, Julian? Why do you care about me?” asked Laura intently.

“Because…” he said as he slipped his arm around her waist, “You’re worth it, Laura. Even if it means repeated stab wounds, I’m willing to prove it to you.”


SWORD Labs

Hank McCoy had been staring at his computer screen for the last four hours. That was after he stared at it for a good eight hours or so before the news from Boston filtered in. Sleep, rest, and everything associated with such activities had been expunged from his mentality. After the incident in Scranton, he refocused his efforts with a new vigor. He would not allow past failures hurt the X-men or Professor Xavier’s initiative any further.

As soon as the samples of Kick were secured, they were flown discretely to SWORD for analysis. Hank was among the first to study it. Rumors of a drug that could enhance mutant abilities had been circulating lately. That was in addition to the Brotherhood’s increased activity. The MSA were instructed not to mention Kick in their public report about the incident in Boston. If these preliminary scans were any indications, the world would come to know this drug soon enough.

“What are we looking at, McCoy? Feel free to be as paranoid as you want,” said an impatient Abigail Brand, who was looking over Hank’s shoulder.

“I rarely jump to conclusions, Agent Brand. However, I will say copious paranoia would be justified for a substance such as this,” said Hank.

“Copious entailing…” said Agent Brand, urging Hank to elaborate.

“It does exactly what we thought. It enhances mutant abilities. Moreover, mix of light mutagens, artificial proteins, and a retro-viral interface has the potential to manifest secondary or even tertiary mutations that would not have otherwise emerged.”

“I’m sorry. You must be mistaking me for someone who misplaced her PHD in biology,” said Agent Brand dryly.

“Simply put, it allows additional mutant abilities to manifest. Couple this with the amphetamines that send the user into an empowered state of mind, it is not difficult to imagine the kind of horrors it could incur.”

Agent Brand’s gaze narrowed on Hank’s computer screen. She was no expert in mutation, but she understood the danger such a drug could pose.

Beak wasn’t the only mutant not satisfied with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. There were plenty of mutants out there with sufficient reason to find a drug like this. On top of that, the Brotherhood would be a greater threat than it already was with this power at their disposal.

“I’ve got a pretty twisted imagination so I won’t begin to speculate,” said Agent Brand, “I also imagine that something like this can’t be cooked up in someone’s basement.”

“You would be correct,” affirmed Hank, “This complex mix of biological material cannot be synthesized easily. Whoever concocted it had to have obscene resources in addition to a blatant disregard for global security.”

“That’s still a pretty long list. Longer than anything the President would be comfortable with,” she said, “Any clue on who decided to channel their inner Pablo Escobar?”

“Not at the moment, but I have a few hunches.”

“Well follow up on them and don’t stop until you find something,” said Agent Brand firmly, “I’ll need to report this to General Grimshaw and the DEA. I have a feeling none of us will be sleeping soundly for the foreseeable future.”

“Sleep, I find, is overrated for all the wrong reasons.”

Abigail Brand stormed out of the lab, barging past any unfortunate worker that got in her path. She understood the threat Kick posed. It would make mutants more difficult to deal with than they already were. If they couldn’t handle Scranton effectively, what hope would they have against mutants armed with Kick? Such a threat was sure to dominate both the MSA and the X-men for the foreseeable future.

Hank waited until Agent Brand had left the lab. He shared many of her concerns, but for an entirely different reason. Kick was a threat. There was no denying that. However, the forces behind this mysterious drug may be even more menacing. With a grim expression, he reached for his cell phone and made an encrypted call.

“Sage, my dear…it’s me. I think I just discovered what Sebastian Shaw has been up to lately.”

Up next: Reaching Out

Write Comment
Read Comments ( 712 )

Share |