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Volume 7 -- Issue 155 -- Drug War Part 1

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Drug War Part 1
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Professor Charles Xavier formed the X-men to forge peace between humans and mutants. These threats have come in many forms. Some have been mutants like Magneto, driven by anger and bloodlust. Others have been humans like Graydon Creed, driven by hatred and greed. Now the X-men face a very different threat. It comes in the form of a small, reddish liquid called Mutant Growth Hormone, better known as Kick.

It came as a result of a growing divide within the mutant world. When Professor Xavier launched his Mutant Monitoring Initiative, a number of mutants grew concerned that they were losing control over their lives and the X-men were helping in that effort. Taking advantage of this situation, Sebastian Shaw enticed fearful mutants with lucrative jobs and a means of evading detection.

For months, he seemed to help mutants live their lives free of scrutiny. In reality, he was using them to develop Mutant Growth Hormone, a drug capable of enhancing the abilities of any mutant. With help from the granddaughters of Jason Wyngarde, Sebastian Shaw has distributed samples of MGH to mutants everywhere.

It already caused a major incident in Boston. Others like it could threaten the fragile peace that the X-men and the MSA struggle to maintain. Having had their share of missteps in recent times, the X-men must stop this threat before it escalates. To do so, they’ll have to overcome some lingering issues that strike at the very heart of the X-men.


Pentagon – Two Days Ago

Captain Jack Freeman was used to people not taking him seriously. He was a former lowlife who sold drugs for a living. Most of his limited credibility was essentially borrowed from General Grimshaw. At times, he didn’t make it easy for him, even with his mutant powers. His attitude, along with his less-than-charming personality, made it difficult for him to take charge. So it came as no surprise when his leadership efforts in Scranton failed. With the stakes this high, such failure was unacceptable.

Since that incident, Captain Freeman kept a low profile. He continued training with the X-men, but Professor Xavier and General Grimshaw didn’t send him out on another operation. However, it was only a matter of time before they needed to confront another threat. So when General Grimshaw called Captain Freeman for a private meeting, the Green Beret assumed the worst.

“What’s the situation, sir? How bad is it?” asked Captain Freeman upon entering the General’s office.

“Slow down, Captain. There’s no situation. Not yet anyways,” said General Grimshaw from behind his desk.

“Are you sure? Usually when I get a call after ten, it means something is about to blow up,” he replied.

“Don’t tempt karma. It always has a way of screwing you over. Before it does, I thought I’d pull you aside for a little chat.”

“If it involves the fallout from the Scranton incident, can we make it quick? I’ve already received enough lashings for that and my ass still hasn’t healed.”

“This isn’t about that. Not completely anyways. This is about you, Captain. Or more accurately, it’s about the role you’re bound to play.”

General Grimshaw got up from his seat and walked around to address the mutant soldier more directly. He didn’t carry himself with his usual demeanor. He didn’t look at Jack Freeman as his subordinate. He looked at him as a concerned father looked at a son. Having never known his real father, it put Jack in an awkward position.

“Captain, I know you’re a creature of habit,” the General told him, “Usually when change comes along, you have to be dragged into it kicking, cussing, and screaming. You didn’t want to be associated with mutants when you became a soldier. You didn’t want to work with the X-men when I formed the MSA. You didn’t even want to take a side in the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

“I know my limits, sir. I’m not smart enough to assess the bigger issues,” said Captain Freeman.

“You’re smarter than you give yourself credit for. I don’t care what your IQ test says,” retorted Grimshaw, “To your credit, you’ve done your part. You’ve obeyed every order, even if it means putting yourself in an uncomfortable position.”

“You’re about to bring up Scranton, aren’t you?”

“It’s still a relevant issue. That was your chance to prove that you were more than just blunt instrument. I gave you a chance to step up and lead. I wouldn’t have given it to you if I didn’t think you were capable of handling it.”

“Sorry I disappointed you,” sighed Captain Freeman.

“You didn’t disappoint, Captain. You underperformed,” said the General, “You had the opportunity, but you didn’t use it. You weren’t willing to take that extra step and trust that skewed judgment of yours. Now I’m not going to give you a lesson in self-confidence. I’m just going to say that you can do better and, for all our sake, you’re gonna have to.”

Captain Freeman held his head low for a moment. There was disappointment in General Grimshaw’s tone, but there was also encouragement. He always seemed to believe that he was more capable than he thought. The Green Beret never liked letting his superior officer down. Sometimes he didn’t have a choice. Yet it sounded like General Grimshaw was giving him one, even if he hadn’t earned it.

“Captain, we both agree that Scranton was unacceptable. I think we can also agree that we need to make some changes before the next major crisis,” said General Grimshaw.

“I won’t argue that, sir. But what kind of changes are we talking about?” asked Captain Freeman warily.

“I never said that I was going to make them. These are changes you have to make,” said Captain Freeman, “We’ve got another problem brewing with this MGH crap. I have a feeling that at some point, the X-men will have to step in. And I still want you to lead them.”

“Again? After what happened last time?” said the Green Beret in bewilderment.

“That was last time. Mistakes were made. I trust that you learned from them. Now I’m encouraging you to take something from that and do better. Prove to me that you can be the leader I know you can be. But more importantly, prove it to the X-men. Show them that you’re willing to do what’s necessary to earn their trust.”

“How do I even begin to go about that?”

“Nothing has blown up yet. You have time to figure it out. Consider that your next mission. I’m confident that you’ll do what you do best and adapt as needed. Dismissed.”

With a confident poise, General Grimshaw saluted his loyal subordinate. Captain Freeman instinctively did the same, regardless of his uncertainties.

The General didn’t stick around to give specifics. He left his office and Captain Freeman behind. This new mission would be daunting. However, he didn’t intend to let General Grimshaw down. He had to think of a way to earn the trust of the X-men and he had to think of it fast. If MGH was as bad as everyone claimed, then another Scranton-like incident would be the least of their worries.


Xavier Institute – Present

“Alright Jack, let’s get this over with,” said a restless Betsy Braddock, “We’re here, we’re in uniform, and we’re trying not to make a big deal out of this randomly announced training sessions.”

“Speak for yourself, Bets,” muttered Rogue with a tired yawn.

“I hope this doesn’t imply that something hasn’t gone horribly wrong,” said Ororo.

“Not yet, Ororo. Although you never know in this business,” said Captain Freeman, “Try and relax. I think you’ll like this.”

“Remy will believe that when crocs go vegan,” said Remy.

The bitterness surrounding the Scranton affair still hadn’t worn off. Remy, Ororo, Rogue, Betsy, and Piotr had plenty of reasons to resent the mutant soldier. Captain Freeman certainly couldn’t blame them. They had been training together since the incident, but lingering animosity was hard to overcome. General Grimshaw wanted him to do more and this was his way of delivering.

Everything was set up in the Danger Room. No scenario was running. Hank and Jean were supposed to be present, but they were caught up in other affairs. Hank had been visiting District X and Jean was still in Boston for reasons she didn’t disclose. Rogue returned the previous night saying they had some promising new leads on Sebastian Shaw. This meant the team could be called into action at any moment. It gave Jack all the more reason to get this out of the way.

“I know you guys are cynical when it comes to my brand of training. I can’t say I blame you. I haven’t given you a lot of reasons to enjoy my company,” he said as he started pacing in front of the five X-men.

“That’s an unusually polite way of putting it,” said Betsy dryly.

“We understand our situation, comrade Freeman. Please understand that we are trying our best,” said Piotr in a friendlier tone.

“I don’t doubt that you are. But your best isn’t enough,” said Jack, “Now before you roll your eyes, I’ll come out and take the blame. General Grimshaw tasked me with being your field leader and I think it’s safe to say that I’ve done a pretty lousy job so far.”

“That be a surefire bet if ever there was one,” commented Remy.

“Which is why I propose a different kind of training today,” he said as he stopped pacing, “I understand now that to get the job done, I need more than my authority as a Captain and a Green Beret. More than anything else, I need your respect. And I’m willing to do whatever it takes to earn it.”

The X-men grew more curious. They watched as Jack paused for a moment and removed part of his uniform. He took off his distinct Green Beret hat and removed the top part of his uniform. He casually threw it aside so that he stood before the X-men looking less like a soldier and more like a low-level grunt. He then cracked his neck a bit and took a deep breath before addressing them again.

“Today’s exercise in teamwork is simple. You guys are going to strike me with everything you’ve got,” he told them.

“Excuse meh? What do you mean by strike you?” said Rogue in confusion.

“I mean exactly what I said,” replied the Green Beret, “I want you guys to hit me with everything you’ve got. Use your powers. Use your fists. Don’t worry about hurting me. I can take it. My body can adapt.”

“And the point of this is…” said Ororo, still confused.

“It’s my way of showing you the kind of punishment I’m willing to take for the mission. I’m a soldier. You guys are X-men. There is a difference between us. I’m prepared to make those extra sacrifices because as a soldier and your field leader, the responsibility falls on my shoulders. So with that in mind, let me prove to you how far I’m willing to go. Strike me. Let me show you what I’m willing to endure.”

Rogue, Remy, Ororo, Betsy, and Piotr looked at this man strangely. He sounded dead serious. It sounded like an utterly ridiculous way to show leadership and earn trust. Yet on some twisted level, it said a lot about this man.

He wasn’t just willing to bark orders and expect the X-men to fall in line. He was serious about working with them and earning their trust as a field leader. Once again, they were hesitant to follow his orders, but for entirely new reasons.

“Okay, anyone else wanna list the many ways this is fucked up?” said Rogue.

“I’m not even going to try,” muttered Betsy, shaking her head in bemusement.

“Captain, I think we should talk about this,” said Ororo.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” said Captain Freeman, “You guys heard my proposal. Hit me.”

The five X-men exchanged glances, still not sure what to make of this. The only one who didn’t seem inclined to debate was Piotr. He studied the Green Beret’s face for a moment. It was not unlike the face of the men from Spetsnaz that trained him. It was tough, determined, and strong. In his eyes, that was as reasonable as it needed to be.

“If that is your order, Captain…so be it,” said Piotr as he shifted into his metal skin.

Then to the shock of the others, the Russian mutant stepped forth and laid out the Green Beret with a right cross that could have decapitated a sentinel. It struck Captain Freeman right on the jaw, sending him tumbling to the floor a good ten feet.

“Whoa! Seriously homme?” exclaimed Remy in disbelief.

“Peter, was that really necessary?” said Ororo with a harsh scold.

“He gave an order. I obeyed,” said Piotr unapologetically.

“That doesn’t make it any less foolish!” yelled Betsy.

While the others were chastising Piotr, Captain Freeman picked himself up from the floor. The Russian hit pretty hard, but he adapted his body just enough to take it. Even though it hurt like hell, it was still a good start.

“Ease up on him, guys. He did good,” said Captain Freeman, his voice slightly slurred from the blow.

“Captain, are you…” began Ororo as she rushed over towards him.

“Don’t come to my aid. I told you guys, I can take it!” he said in a more determined tone, “Follow Peter’s example. Take your best shot!”

“And if it doesn’t work?” said Rogue with a raised eyebrow.

“You still get to kick my ass. Just think of it as bonus,” shrugged the Green Beret.

Rogue, Remy, Ororo, and Betsy exchanged glances again. Captain Freeman wasn’t going to change his mind. For reasons that only made a partial bit of sense, he was prepared to let them vent their frustrations out on him. Rather than argue with him any further, they set aside their reservations and prepared their attack.

“Well, he did say he could take it,” shrugged Remy.

“For the record, it’s still bullocks,” said Betsy.

“Could be worse,” said Rogue as she clenched her firsts, “If this is our training for the morning, so be it.”

Rogue flew out ahead of Remy, Betsy, and Ororo at full speed. Narrowing her gaze on the mutant soldier, she struck him head on just as Colossus had. She hit him like a flying ram, striking him right in the chest. Captain Freeman braced himself and grunted as he took the blow. He wasn’t sent flying across the room this time. He just took it and all the discomfort that came with it. His body now adapted to that of a slab of iron, he prepared for more punishment.

Since Rogue set the tone, the others followed. Remy and Betsy were next. Betsy struck at him hard with two psionic blades, cutting him across the chest and face. She even stabbed into his leg at one point. Remy soon followed with a fresh deck of cards and a full-blown bombardment. He charged them so each card exploded around him, engulfing the mutant soldier in a series of penetrating shockwaves.

This caused him to fall to his knees. That was when Piotr came in and slugged him again with an uppercut. The pain was apparent, but the wounds were superficial thanks to his durable form.

“Ungh! Fuck, that sings!” grunted Captain Freeman.

“Perhaps we should stop?” suggested Piotr.

“Listen to him, Captain! You’re taking this too far!” said Ororo.

“Hell no! Come on, X-men! Picture that kid in Scranton if you have to! Let me show you I can handle it!” urged Captain Freeman.

Ororo remained the most reluctant, but hearing that burning intent in his tone was hard to argue with. He was like a warrior trying to prove his worth. Even though it made her very uncomfortable, she summoned a series of clouds above them. From these clouds, she unleashed a barrage of lighting that struck the mutant soldier head on. Even with his durable form, it left a punishing sting. Yet Captain Freeman endured it.

For the next five minutes or so, he took more punishment. He took everything Piotr, Betsy, Rogue, Remy, and Ororo could throw at him. He took psionic blades, lighting, hail stones, bow staffs to the groin, and any number of super-powered punches. It got to a point where the five X-men began feeling uncomfortable, striking their field leader like this.

Even though he kept urging them to do so, a certain level of guilt did emerge. Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps feeling this sort of thing was a way to show that this man mattered to them as a leader. At one point, they started to slow down. After Rogue decked him in a way that sent him flying ten feet into the air, they had to stop.

“Alright, that was fun and all, but this is goin’ too far,” said Rogue, now rubbing her fist.

“No! Keep going,” grunted Captain Freeman, who looked like he just walked through a mine-field.

“Enough with the macho gimmick already,” said Remy, “There be playing tough and playing stupid. Right now, you flirtin’ with both!”

“I’m your field leader! We keep going…until I tell you to stop,” he said, “Trust me. I’ll let you know when it goes too far.”

It was a dangerous kind of trust he was playing with. The five X-men exchanged glances. At this point, Ororo could barely keep the clouds above them formed. The idea of punishing this man any further just didn’t feel right. Yet he wanted them to keep going. Since he was their leader, they were supposed to oblige.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but it’s starting to creep me out,” said Betsy.

“He told us to trust him,” Piotr pointed out, “Why not give him a chance?”

Betsy shook her head as she formed a new psionic blade to attack. Rogue, Remy, and Ororo prepared as well. They were about to lay into the mutant soldier with another round of fury. Before they could reach him this time, a wall of telekinesis stopped them cold in their tracks. The X-men hadn’t noticed that the side entrance to the Danger Room had opened, allowing Jean and Hank to enter on this bizarre training routine.

“Uh…good morning, Jean,” said Piotr sheepishly.

“Do I even want to know what’s going on here?” said Jean in an exasperated tone.

“Would you believe us if we told you he ordered us to attack him?” said Rogue.

“She’s telling the truth,” said Captain Freeman, looking ragged from the attacks, “It was…part of a little teambuilding exercise.”

“How does ordering an attack on yourself qualify as teambuilding?” questioned Hank.

“Would you believe us if we said it worked?” said Remy with an innocent shrug.

Jean and Hank stared at their teammates oddly. Then they looked over towards Jack. His skin was charred from lightning strikes and wounded from punishing blows. His pants were so damaged that they were almost non-existent from the knees down. He even lost one of his boots in the process. He looked oddly serious when he said that it was a legitimate exercise. It led them to believe that it was crazy enough to be true.

“Guess that answers my question. I don’t want to know,” said Jean.

“Lucky for us, we come bearing an important matter that supersedes training of any kind,” said Hank, “It involves the unfolding crisis with Mutant Growth Hormone.”

“Oh I’m sure this will be equally disturbing,” said Betsy.

“What happened? Did you and Sunfire actually find something?” asked Rogue.

“Oh yes. We found plenty,” said Jean ominously, “It involves Sebastian Shaw, District X, innocent mutants, strip clubs, drug addicts, and Jason Wyngarde’s granddaughters.”

“Dang, that sounds like a horror movie or a bad porno,” commented Remy.

“The details are a bit less fanciful,” said Hank, “However, after some digging with this Mr. Vargas, whom Jean and Shiro had the pleasure of meeting, we think we know where MGH is coming from.”

“I take it this means Professor Xavier wants us to act, yes?” said Piotr.

“He’s already prepping the X-jet,” said Jean, “The Professor has a full briefing package on board. We’ll fill you in on all the logistics once we’re en route.”

“Do we have a battle plan this time? It sounds like another incident that will require the full team,” said Captain Freeman.

“That’s still being developed, but believe it or not, time is on our side,” said Jean.

There’s a first,” commented Rogue.

“I’ll take it,” said the Green Beret, “It means we have a better chance at avoiding another Scranton fiasco.”

It sounded promising. For once the X-men were confronting a threat before it blew up in their face. Armed with the lessons learned from Scranton and their unorthodox training session, they were better equipped to handle another major threat.

This time, however, the team had to avoid bickering and fight together. It was the only way they stood a chance against a man like Sebastian Shaw.

“Follow us,” said Hank as he and Jean led the team out of the Danger Room, “We need to prepare ourselves for a very strenuous mission.”

“Do I have time to get a new pair of pants?” asked Captain Freeman.

“You want to say that out loud again, luv?” teased Betsy.

“I just let you beat me up. The least you can do is spare me the juvenile sense of humor,” retorted the Green Beret.

“Pack a sleeping bag and sunscreen while you’re at it,” added Hank, “Our mission has already begun. If recent indicators turn out to be accurate, this looks like on mission that will require a fair amount of overtime and an even greater amount of risk.”


Southern Mexico

Throughout her life, Jubilation Lee had willingly put herself in many uncomfortable positions. It came with her adventurous personality. It helped her survive the many unlucky breaks in her life. It also helped her being such a valued enforcer in District X. Yet few positions had ever been as risky as this.

“How much longer? Our overgrown pet here just peed himself again,” groaned an uncomfortable mutant girl with pale skin and hair with pinkish streaks.

“Go easy on Teon, Laurie,” coaxed a 14-year-old African with puffy hair and oddly colored eyes, “He’s not trying to gross you out. I think he’s marking his territory or something.”

“It’s still disgusting,” said Laurie, “I hope Mr. Shaw can potty train him. That way you don’t have to keep playing keeper, Idie.”

“Fight?” said Teon, a tall Ukrainian boy with a muscular demeanor.

“No Teon. No fight,” said Idie, who petted Teon’s head as if he were a dog.

“Mate?” he said.

“I don’t think that would be appropriate,” she said humored grin.

“Is that really all he can say?” said a young Mexican boy who was sitting next to Laurie, “Fight, flight, or mate? Or is he just being the most honest teenage boy in history?”

“He’s pure instinct, Gabriel. There’s nothing honest about it,” said Laurie, “And if you don’t stop looking down my dress, he won’t be the most insufferable brute on this bus.”

Gabriel shrugged innocently and grinned. He clearly wasn’t as uncomfortable as the others. This was his home country after all. That didn’t make being stuffed into a white bus for three hours any less stressful. There were only six mutants present, including Jubilee. They had reason enough to be anxious, but for Jubilee the stakes were higher.

It started back in District X. She told one of Sebastian Shaw’s representatives that she was ready to take the plunge. She had enough of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative and was ready to slip under the radar. What followed next was an elaborate procedure meant to prevent anyone from tracking Sebastian Shaw directly.

The man covered his tracks well. She had been blindfolded three times, gone on two chartered flights, and connected with five other mutants in the process. Now they were on a bus driving down an unoccupied road that wound around several old farms. It seemed a bit excessive, but it was all part of the deal. Jubilee kept reminding herself of that as she remembered her mission.

“You don’t seem as uncomfortable as the rest of us,” said a cloaked figure sitting across from Jubilee, “That or something else entirely is bothering you.”

“What makes you say that? You a therapist or something?” said Jubilee as she gazed out the window.

“I’m an artist actually. Art has a way of honing one’s perspective,” said the figure in a raspy voice.

“That would sound so much less creepy if you didn’t insist on wearing that hoodie, Kenji,” said Laurie from a few seats up.

“Cut the guy some slack, Laurie. It’s actually nice to know that someone is polite enough to give a damn,” said Jubilee.

“I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just saying that people scream when they see me too. We’re here to find a way to deal with it, aren’t we? I was expelled from school and blackmailed into leaving my own home,” said Laurie.

“You think your problems are bad, Laurie?” quipped Kenji, “If you’ve looked in the mirror as much as I have, then you know appearance is hardly our fifth worst problem.”

Kenji finally pulled back the hoodie on his sweatshirt, revealing a partially deformed face. His Japanese complexion was mired with bizarre veins and grayish streaks that ran down nearly half his face. It was one of the more exotic mutations that anyone had ever come across. Laurie, Gabriel, and Idie tensed at the sight. Even Teon looked spooked as Kenji stared at his fellow mutants stoically.

“Flight?” said Teon with a whimper.

“No Teon. There’s no need to run,” said Idie as she looked away, “Just pray for him. Pray for all of us.”

“I don’t care for prayers. I care only about building a new life while trying to forget my old life,” said Kenji as he put his hoodie back on, “We all went along with this for something more precious than our talents or our pride. We all want a second chance and right now, Mr. Shaw is the only one who can give us one.”

“Doesn’t that bother you, though?” questioned Jubilee, “That you’re relying on this guy you don’t even know to deliver?”

“What choice to we have?” said Gabriel, trying hard not to stare at Kenji anymore, “Since the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, our chances have been limited.”

“All the more reason not to screw this up,” said Laurie.

Jubilee was left feeling even more uncomfortable than before and it had nothing to do with Kenji’s deformed. These five mutants were desperate. They had all had their lives screwed up by their mutant powers and screwed up even more by the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They each had a rough story to tell. Jubilee had been listening to them share along the way, trying not to feel too sorry for them since she was working undercover.

‘Keep it together, Jubes. You’ll have to channel your inner sociopath and not feel guilt for what you’re doing. These guys don’t know the kind of bastard Shaw may be, but they’re placing a lot of faith in him. Laurie and Gabriel actually had a decent life before they became mutants. Laurie was an honor student in Canada. Gabriel went to prep school in Mexico City. Then, their powers manifest and suddenly, everything goes downhill. Laurie is blackmailed by a mutant-hating principal. Gabriel’s parents try to send him to a missionary in Columbia. He chose to run away to District X instead. I’ll bet the celibacy part didn’t help either.’

Jubilee looked over towards Gabriel and Laurie. She noticed Gabriel was still trying to look down her dress. It spoke volumes about the kind of man he was. She wanted to laugh, but their circumstances were too tragic. Yet she considered them the lucky ones. Looking towards Idie and Kenji, she saw plenty of pain and sorrow in their eyes.

‘Gabriel’s parents probably would have gotten along great with Idie’s. They thought Idie was a witch when her powers manifested and tried to burn her. Instead, she ended up burning down half her village. She was brought over by Isaac and Father Hansen with the Church of Humanity. I thought she was happy studying theology with Isaac. Guess I was wrong. I’ll bet Kenji could have used Isaac’s influence even more. Near as I can tell, he was messed up before he became a mutant. This kid was a world class art prodigy in Japan. Then his powers manifest, his father ends up dead, and Japan’s wing of the MSA wants his head. The strange thing is I’m not sure if he feels much guilt for his father’s death. There’s probably a story there that I’d rather not know.’

Jubilee tried looking down at her feet to avoid eye-contact with the other mutants. As she did, she noticed Teon on the floor sniffing her feet. When he looked up at her with confused eyes, Jubilee smiled. Even though Teon had an imposing stature, he wasn’t too threatening. He was like a stray dog and in some way, he was the luckiest among them.

‘If only we could all live in Teon’s blissful world. He doesn’t have to make these hard choices. He’s probably just following Idie. She did sort of take him in when he showed up in District X. I remember Tessa telling me about this kid. Back in the Ukraine, he was somewhat of a nerd. Then he became a full-blown animal and his parents tried to have him lobotomized. He escaped, hopped a plane, and landed in Africa where he crossed paths with Idie. Near as I can tell, he’s all instinct. He caused quite a problem with the Church of Humanity, but Idie always vouched for him. Too bad his people back home still want him lobotomized. Not sure how much that affected him, but Idie wants him by her side and he’s not inclined to leave it.’

Teon lingered around Jubilee’s feet a bit longer. At one point, he reached for her sunglasses and put them on. At this point, Idie waved him down. He was getting a bit too friendly in her eyes.

“Give them back, Teon,” she said with a light scold.

“Fight?” was all Teon said in response.

“No. Remember what I told you about thou shalt not steal?”

Teon whimpered a bit as if to show remorse. Then he put the sunglasses back on Jubilee’s head before returning to Idie’s side. Jubilee couldn’t help but green even as Idie expressed remorse.

“I apologize for that. He’s…curious at times,” said Idie.

“Don’t worry about it. He’s only slightly more ill-mannered than my ex-boyfriend,” said Jubilee, giving Teon a playful look.

“Friend?” said Teon.

“If those are the kinds of guys you’re into, no wonder he likes you,” said Laurie, rolling her eyes.

Jubilee laughed again. She wished she hadn’t though. She was getting a bit too friendly with these mutants. That was a dangerous position to be in. She put her whole mission in jeopardy.

‘So much for keeping it together. These guys have all had the kind of rotten luck. They think Shaw will give them a better life. I’m here to undermine him because we know he’s behind that MGH crap. It’s not like I can have second thoughts. Tessa had me swallow this special transmission beacon before I left District X. For all I know, it’s beaming my location to the X-men and the MSA. I just hope that when shit starts exploding, these guys aren’t caught in the crossfire.’

Jubilee turned back towards the passing view outside. The desolate countryside finally started showing signs of civilization. They just entered what appeared to be a large plantation of sorts. It was entirely walled off, guarded by what looked like Mexican soldiers.

When the bus approached, the driver who hadn’t said a word to them since they got on signaled something through a radio. The soldiers simply nodded and opened the gates for the bus.

Passing through the gates, it was like entering another universe. Jubilee and the five young mutants found themselves in an opulent villa. The landscaping alone bore the markings of a very rich and powerful man, but it was the mansion itself that had them all in awe.

It stood a good four stories high and looked big enough to be its own neighborhood. It had a large fountain in the front and two smaller fountains on the side. They were part of a large circular driveway, which was manned by armed men who looked nothing like Mexican soldiers. As the bus approached, the true impact of their decision started sinking in.

“Wow…I didn’t know they made houses this big in Mexico!” exclaimed Gabriel.

“I didn’t know they made houses this big period!” said Laurie.

“It seems…excessive,” said Idie.

“House?” said Teon.

“That would be a profound insult to such an architectural marvel,” said Kenji.

While the five mutants admired the structure, Jubilee swallowed a touch of nervousness. If Sebastian Shaw was able to live in a place like this yet still evade people like Tessa and the X-men, then he was more resourceful than they thought. She maintained a confident poise as the bus pulled up to the front door. Once the doors to the bus opened and they made their way out, they were greeted by Shaw’s loyal associate, Warhawk.

“Welcome to the Villa del Fuego,” said Warhawk, “Mr. Shaw welcomes you to his humble facility.”

“I would say there is nothing humble about it,” said Kenji, “The architecture reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright mixed with a late Victorian layout. Very elaborate and very pricy, I imagine.”

“I’d just settle for calling it rich,” chuckled Gabriel.

“Mr. Shaw feels it’s important to present a powerful image,” explained Warhawk, “As beings of powers ourselves, it’s only fitting that we carry ourselves as such.”

“Sounds a little egotistical,” commented Jubilee.

“Hey! We’re guests here,” scolded Laurie, “Don’t make light of his hospitality.”

“Indeed,” said Idie in a daze, “I doubt we’ll ever enjoy it again.”

“I wouldn’t presume too much,” said Warhawk, “Once you see what Mr. Shaw can do for talented mutants like yourself, you’ll have every opportunity to experience the finer pleasures of life.”

“Mate?” said Teon.

“Not sure if that’s his way of voicing his approval, but I think he likes it,” grinned Gabriel.

The five mutants were understandably excited. They were being welcomed into this rich, secure world after having endured such rotten luck in their previous lives. Jubilee certainly couldn’t blame them for being enthusiastic. She struggled to keep up with them as they followed Warhawk to the front doors of the massive facility. Once inside, the real danger of this mission could begin.

“You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the sights later,” said Warhawk as he opened the main doors, “The six of you have arrived at a very exciting time. Mr. Shaw’s efforts to break the chains that bind mutants like yourselves has enjoyed moderate success. Now he plans on taking a much bolder step. With Mr. Shaw’s resources, you’ll become the shining lights of a new generation of mutants!”


Meanwhile

The harsh tropical sun and miles of rugged terrain were a solid deterrent for most would-be intruders to Sebastian Shaw’s compound. For X-Force, it provided a telling clue as to the extent of Shaw’s operations.

After the Legacy Virus and the death of Shanobi Shaw devastated his company, it looked as though the former Black King would be limited in his ability to cause trouble. They clearly underestimated him. If this opulent villa was any indication, he was more cunning then they expected.

X-Force had been tracking Jubilee since she left District X. Thanks to the information provided by Isaac, they were able to follow her. It had been tedious at times. Unlike the X-men, they didn’t have the luxury of the MSA picking up the slack. Now that Jubilee had led them to their destination, the next part of the mission could begin. Scott, Logan, Domino, Emma, Kurt, Warren, and James watched the bus enter the estate from atop a large hill in the distance. From here, they could see what they were up against.

“That is a damn nice base for an elaborate drug operation,” commented Domino as she scoped out the landscape through a pair of binoculars.

“It’s not the biggest I’ve seen, but it’s close,” said Emma, “I’m sure Miss Lee will be more comfortable inside than we’ll be out here.”

“Hey, nobody forced you to wear a uniform from a goddamn Playboy shoot,” quipped Logan, “For all we know, Shaw can smell the gallon of sunscreen you dumped on yourself from here.”

“He may have known before that,” said Domino as she maintained her gaze on the compound, “A man doesn’t spend this much money protecting himself unless he expects someone to attack him.”

“He’s Sebastian Shaw. He has a long list of people who want him slowly tortured to death,” said Warren.

“And I’m near the top of that list,” said Emma.

“Doesn’t mean I’m wrong,” she quipped, “We’ve been following his people since District X. And yet at no point did anyone try to stop us. Not to underestimate our stealth capabilities, but it may indicate that he wants us to attack him.”

Domino’s assessment sounded a little paranoid, but there were plenty of reasons to take it seriously. Sebastian Shaw was no fool. He went to elaborate lengths to ensure that his enemies couldn’t find him. For X-Force to locate him without having to fight anybody was a bit telling.

This wasn’t lost on Scott as he mused over this mission. It was already tense with Jubilee in play. As was the case in Scranton, X-Force had to proceed with a very small margin for error.

“Vhat do you zhink, Cyclops?” asked Kurt, “Should ve assume we’ve lost zhe element of surprise?”

“With Shaw, it’s practically a given,” said Scott.

“So then why are we still out here?” asked James, “If he knows we’re after him, why don’t we just teleport in that fancy home of his and beat the answers out of him.”

“Ignoring the fact that beating up on Shaw tends to make things worse, we don’t know what he’ll throw at us,” said Scott as he gazed out over the compound, “Jubilee and those other mutants we saw her with could be caught in the crossfire.”

“They may not be the only ones, darling,” said Emma, “I’ve been psychically scanning the compound since we arrived. Even though it’s as secure as the White House, a few stray thoughts have escaped.”

“They Shaw’s new hired muscle?” asked Logan, “He’s probably on a first-name basis with every shady mercenary group in the western hemisphere.”

“It’s worse than that, I’m afraid,” mused Emma as he clutched her temples, “I think these thoughts are from civilians. And by civilians, I mean runaways, mothers, teenagers, old men, old women, and everyone in between.”

“Vhy vould Shaw have people like zhat in his arsenal?” wondered Kurt.

“I’m not sure. But from what I can sense, they’re not in a clear state of mind. It’s like they’re intoxicated or in some sort of painful withdraw. And by painful, I mean it’s far worse than Logan when he hasn’t had his morning beer.”

Logan scowled Emma for her remark. For the rest of the team, it helped highlight just how dangerous this situation was. Taking on an army of Shaw’s hired goons was one thing. Taking on civilians that may be under his influence definitely complicated matters. Any attack risked collateral damage that they could not afford.

“If that weren’t disturbing enough, I’ve been detecting psychic traces of a different sort,” said Emma.

“What is it this time? Nuclear weapons?” asked James.

“Close,” replied the powerful psychic, “More like two other telepaths. How else could Shaw protect himself from my vengeful mind or that Charles Xavier’s?”

“Any chance of breaking through to their shielding?” asked Scott.

“I’m just one mind in a fabulously hot body. I could certainly get through with sufficient time and preparation, but I’m assuming those are luxuries we can’t afford right now.”

Emma Frost never shied away from grim assessments. Scott was inclined to trust her telepathic judgment. She knew Shaw better than the rest of them. She had more reasons than anyone to see him vanquished.

Shaw probably knew that as well. Why else would he hire two telepaths powerful enough to keep someone like Emma Frost or Charles Xavier out? The particulars of this mission continued to escalate. Between Jubilee being in the line of fire and Shaw producing MGH, the potential for an explosive situation was all too apparent.

“So how we gonna do this, Cyke?” asked Logan, “This time even I ain’t crazy enough to go in there guns and claws a blazing.”

“I’m glad I don’t have explain to you why that’s a bad idea this time. I think we can all infer that Shaw is ready for a full-blown assault,” said the X-Force leader.

“So how can we expect to defeat him?” asked Warren, “Even my father’s company lost track of him after the Legacy Virus affair. If we give him too much time, he’ll make his move and leave us behind.”

“Which is why we need to force him into acting before he’s ready,” said Scott, “We can’t attack him head on, but we can apply pressure.”

“What kind of pressure are we talking about?” asked Domino, setting aside her binoculars and picking up her gun.

“I’m talking a classic hit-and-run. Let’s harass some of his guards. Short out some of his security. Make him believe he’s run out of time and then have him overreact.”

“An overreaction from Sebastian Shaw tends to have a high body count,” Emma pointed out, “We’re playing with fire by forcing Shaw’s hand.”

“It also utterly ignores how X-men and the MSA may screw everything up,” said James, “They’re the ones who put Jubilee in the line of fire. They’re probably preparing a much larger attack as we speak.”

“I haven’t forgotten, James. I fully expect the X-men to show up. The best we can do is make sure Shaw makes himself vulnerable before that happens. If they’re attack is bigger, then we can use it to our advantage. We can fight around the commotion and get to the heart of Shaw’s operations while he’s occupied!”

“That’s relying on a fair amount of luck, Scott. Even I might not be able to provide it when the time comes,” said Domino.

There were clearly mixed feelings about this plan. Scott had to hide his own share of uncertainties as he mused over the details, but at the moment it was their best and only option. Working in the shadows had served X-Force well. As threats like Sebastian Shaw emerged, they may not be as big an advantage anymore. They got lucky in Scranton. They would need to be even luckier against Sebastian Shaw.

“We can’t expect everything to fall into place, X-Force. Shaw is a control-freak. He’s trying to impose his own rules in this conflict,” he said, “We’re not the X-men. We’re not the MSA. We can’t play by those rules. We need to impose our own.”

“I thought ve veren’t supposed to be outlaws, Scott. How far are you villing to take zhis?” questioned Kurt.

“There are always limits. We’ll always have to get uncomfortably close to them, but we won’t cross them,” said Scott as he took Domino’s binoculars and started scanning the villa.

“We better not, bub,” growled Logan.

With the conflict now literally in front of them, X-Force prepared to make set off the first round of sparks. They were playing a dangerous game and Shaw currently had all the advantages. Between their role and whatever role the X-men planned to play, the crisis was bound to reveal a few unpleasant surprises.


Mexico City – MSA Base

“A mission in Mexico and we don’t even get to stop by Cancun. So much for finding any bright side in this MGH mess,” sighed Rogue as she and the X-men waited restlessly.

“It could be worse. Shaw could have set up shop in in some God-forsaken wasteland in the Middle East or some arctic tundra in Siberia. No offence, Peter,” said Betsy.

“None taken,” said Piotr, who shared in the overall uncertainty surrounding the mission.

The X-men were clamoring for details on this risky operation with Jubilee. Professor Xavier could hardly blame them. He was anxious for new developments as well.

He joined up with Hank, Jean, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Tessa from District X after getting word of her plan. Captain Freeman traveled with them in the X-jet while General Grimshaw stayed at the Pentagon. From there, he coordinated with the Mexico division of the MSA to assist with this situation. Against a man like Sebastian Shaw, they would likely require the extra manpower.

The Mexican base for the MSA wasn’t as well-equipped as their facilities in Washington, but Tessa provided some additional hardware of her own to do the job. The team arrived quietly upon learning that Jubilee’s destination was at a villa in Southern Mexico. They assumed that Shaw had spies in the area and didn’t wish to tip him off.

On the lower levels in the most secure wing, Tessa set up a few of her computers so she could track the signal Jubilee was transmitting. The Mexican MSA officers waited outside while they worked out the details. Hank was helping her stay a step ahead of Sebastian Shaw’s counter-measures. Despite his elaborate way of bringing mutants into his operation, Jubilee’s infiltration had already yielded significant information.

“Locality aside, I believe Shaw has chosen a fitting location,” said Professor Charles Xavier as he looked over a print out, “Mexico has been mired with instability since the Legacy Virus caused the ruling party to collapse. Much of their efforts have been dedicated to combat rampant drug-trafficking drugs along the border. By placing his operations deep within the country, he’s effectively insulated himself from scrutiny.”

“Even from psychic detection?” said Captain Freeman.

“That’s a given after finding out the Wyngarde family was involved,” said Jean, who was looking over some information of her own.

“Guess Remy was hoping for too much in never wanting to see that ugly homme again,” muttered Remy.

“Well if it makes you feel better, we’re probably not dealing him directly. We’re dealing with his granddaughters. According to the records Tessa hacked, Wyngarde wasn’t married to his work on psychic research. He had time for a few mistresses along the way.”

“For a bloke that creepy, I can’t say I’m surprised,” said Betsy, “I’m sure the circumstances are as disturbing any psychic could imagine.”

“What about for us non-psychics?” asked Ororo, “What exactly are we dealing with here?”

“I’d rather not get into the dirty details, but apparently Wyngarde sired his share of psychic deviants,” said Jean as she flipped through a few random pages, “The latest of which are Regan and Martinique, two imaginative young women that embody everything you love to hate about their grandfather.”

Upon finding the page she was looking for, Jean tossed a couple of pictures on the table. The first two depicted two ordinary-looking women, one with light blond hair and another one with dark hair. It looked like it had been taken a few years ago because they looked pretty young. Another couple of pictures seemed more recent and they looked very different. They weren’t just older. It looked like they had an extensive amount of plastic surgery, making them look attractive to the point of it being distracting.

“Are those pictures supposed to depict the same women?” asked Piotr in astonishment.

“They look like the before and after photos on those terrible beauty product infomercials,” commented Rogue.

“You actually watch those?” teased Betsy.

“I assure you they’re the same girls. Those pictures aren’t Photoshopped either,” said Jean, “You know how Sebastian Shaw is with his women. He likes to mold them into his personal Barbie dolls.”

“Remy don’t remember Barbie lookin’ this good,” said Remy as he picked up one of the pictures.

“If you start droolin’, you ain’t ever seeing meh naked again,” scolded Rogue, which was enough to make Remy drop the picture.

“How they look is secondary. What they do is what’s vital to this mission,” said Professor Xavier as he picked up the picture, “As Jean mentioned, Jason Wyngarde is their grandfather. As a result, they’ve inherited his abilities. This includes illusions and mid-level telepathy.”

“If they were only mid-level, then shouldn’t we have been able to detect them?” asked Ororo.

“That’s where the details become clouded,” Xavier responded, “Shortly before MGH first emerged, Cerebrum did have a record of these two using their powers. They never committed any crimes or got involved in any sordid affairs. Furthermore, I can see no indication that they’re grandfather was part of their lives.”

“That’s assuming they didn’t keep secrets,” added Hank who wasn’t taking his eyes off Tessa’s computer screen.

“Which is reason enough to doubt their credibility,” said Jean, “Sunfire and I dug further. We found out that in their spare time, they were using their telepathic powers to conduct a shady little business that would surely get Shaw’s approval. They were taking ordinary people and using telepathy to induce an addictive high in peoples’ minds.”

“Wait…since when can telepathy get people high?” asked Piotr.

“And why the heck didn’t you share this when we was datin’, Betsy?” asked Remy.

“That’s it. You’re sleeping on the couch tonight,” muttered Rogue.

“Relax Remy. We haven’t been holding out on you,” said Jean, “What Regan and Martinique do is pretty advanced. It would be reckless for any psychic to attempt, unless their okay with causing irreparable brain damage.”

“I doubt these two are just that reckless,” commented Captain Freeman.

“It goes beyond that, I’m afraid,” said Professor Xavier grimly, “What they were doing was small. They could successfully intoxicate weaker minds to a limited point. Then a few months ago, Cerebrum lost track of them. Shortly afterwards, a new addiction started spreading around the Northeast, turning men like Vargas into the worst kind of addicts. Based on what Jean told me, the addiction is a result of the Wyngarde sisters gaining new power. These addicts only started appearing after MGH appeared.”

“A coincidence beyond astronomical, if ever there was one,” said Hank.

“Coincidences and Sebastian Shaw rarely go together,” Xavier went on, “Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the Wyngarde sisters are a vital part of Shaw’s operations. They may actually be the key to understanding what Shaw is trying to do.”

The Professor turned towards Tessa, who had been silently focused on tracking Jubilee. Sensing his scrutiny, she brought up a number of images on one of her many computer screens. They depicted the villa that Jubilee had arrived at. The images weren’t the best possible quality, but they showed an elaborate facility that Sebastian Shaw was keen on defending. Tessa’s focus intensified as she turned around to address the X-men.

“Based on what we’ve uncovered, Shaw is in the process of centralizing his operation,” said Tessa, “He’s focusing his entire MGH efforts on this one complex.”

“How do you know that?” questioned Captain Freeman.

“Because I know Shaw,” she replied, “After an incident like Boston, this is how he does business. He pools his resources together for a final push.”

“That works to our advantage, does it not?” said Piotr, “We need only attack one area and end this Kick in one blow.”

“If were that simple, I would have encouraged the MSA to nuke everything within a ten-mile radius of the compound,” said Tessa.

“I doubt the President would go for it, but if it’s really that bad, he still might consider it,” said Captain Freeman.

“I wouldn’t want him to. After what Jean uncovered about Wyngarde, I hypothesize that Shaw has the Wyngarde sister creating addicts that serve him. This means he has reliable network of human agents with which to deal Kick.”

“I suppose that would explain why we never tracked mutants dealing the drug,” surmised Ororo, “Using regular humans would allow them to evade Cerebrum.”

“Add Shaw’s vast resources on top of it and they might as well be invisible. They’re just the kind of people he needs. They’re loyal, paranoid, and well-compensated thanks to the Wyngarde’s sisters’ knowledge of the mind. Given the level of addiction that Professor Xavier just described, this network is quite large. It also means he has a vast human shield to hide behind.”

Tessa painted a bleak picture, but her tone never changed. She was trying very hard to keep a level demeanor. It was almost too hard because everyone noticed.

“That’s the kind of femme Hank dumped you for, Stormy?” said Remy under his breath.

“I doubt she’s this mechanical all the time,” replied Ororo.

“It actually wouldn’t surprise me if she was,” added Betsy.

Tessa sensed their remarks and deleted them from her memory banks as if she was a computer cleaning out viruses. She wasn’t being nearly as subtle as she needed to be. She couldn’t when it involved Sebastian Shaw. Even with Hank’s calming presence, the personal stake she had in this crisis couldn’t be blocked out.

“Shaw knows we’re not sociopaths. He knows we’ll hesitate when we see innocent people sick with addiction standing in our way,” said Tessa, “That is why our best hope lies with Jubilee.”

“You mean the civilian you sent directly into Shaw’s fortress?” said Captain Freeman dryly.

“We didn’t send her. She volunteered,” Hank clarified, “And my love speaks the truth. The information that Jubilee is providing us is vital to stopping Shaw.”

Hank took over from here, sensing it was getting too difficult for his lover to suppress her emotions. He brought up the live-video from Jubilee as she was being led into Shaw’s villa. As she entered, the screen was consumed with static. Jubilee was playing a very dangerous game with Shaw. Her being the key to this operation didn’t sit well with some.

“Why is the signal fading?” asked Ororo anxiously.

“That’s to be expected,” assured Hank, “Shaw’s villa is most certainly robust enough to obscure most electronic equipment. However, the special beacon that she swallowed before she left is still active. She’s still capturing everything that is said.”

“Sounds like a glorified sting operation,” said Betsy, “Any chance Shaw will pick up on it?”

“No. I’ve made sure of it,” said Tessa strongly.

“I hope you’re right, Tessa. Because incriminating Shaw is the easy part,” said Professor Xavier, “The challenge is locating the source of MGH. If we’re right and his operation is centralized within this location, we need only confirm where we need to strike. The President has made clear that we’re to destroy this drug outright.”

“Not that I disagree with such decisive action, but is that really feasible?” questioned Piotr, “As someone who used to work in the Russian Mafia, I can say with confidence that once a drug is made, it is difficult to unmake.”

“Besides, can’t a drug that enhances mutant powers do some good?” asked Rogue.

They were both valid questions. Hank and the Professor had to hide the fact that they agreed with them on some levels. This operation was a product of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It was the government that wanted MGH wiped out. They were not in a position to argue otherwise.

Luckily, they didn’t have to argue. Before this briefing could continue, a new round of activity emerged on Tessa’s computer screens. The video feed was still shrouded in static. However, the transmitter inside her was still broadcasting. From it, they heard jumbled streams of an ominous voice.

“Welcome to Villa del Fuego. Please…make yourselves comfortable so we can begin.”

“That’s him! That’s Sebastian Shaw!” said Tessa, finally showing a burst of emotion, “Jubilee has made contact.”

“Don’t know why you sound surprised. Ain’t this what we’ve been hoping for?” said Remy.

“It’s happening faster than I thought. Shaw is skipping his usual interrogation, which probably means he knows we’re onto him,” she said grimly as she made a few adjustments on the signal.

“Sounds a little paranoid,” commented Rogue.

“And it’s probably true,” said Jean.

“Then that means we should skip the rest of this boring briefing and get in!” said Betsy.

“Agreed,” said Professor Xavier, “I’ve already sent a telepathic signal to prep the X-jet. We need to be in the air and over that villa in less than fifteen minutes. As soon as we detect the slightest trace of MGH, we will strike.”

“Preferably with overwhelming force,” said Captain Freeman, “I’ll get in touch with General Grimshaw. He’ll mobilize our MSA forces and get them in position. This time, we’re not going to lone wolf it. We’re either going to take Shaw in or give him the Pablo Escobar treatment.”

“Fine by me,” said Jean, “We need this partnership to pay dividends and now is a damn good time to start.”

The X-men were eager to get out into the field. Professor Xavier led Jean, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr out of the secure area and towards the roof where the X-jet was waiting for them. Captain Freeman followed closely, signaling some nearby officers to assist him in contacting the General. Hank was prepared to go with them, but lingered for a bit with Tessa. He noticed that she was packing up some of her equipment.

“I hope you’re just doing a spyware sweep of your systems, my dear,” he told her, “I don’t think it would be prudent for you to come along on this mission if you were at all compromised.”

“This mission involves Sebastian Shaw. I’m coming no matter how much it sickens me,” said Tessa strongly, “If you want to try and stop me, feel free. Just know that sleeping with you has made me keen on all your weaknesses.”

“I prefer we not test that hypothesis. I also prefer we not let our emotions cloud our judgment on such a vital mission,” he said as he tried to console his lover.

Tessa fought hard to keep her emotions stable. Her computer-like mind was overwhelmed with the prospect of confronting this man again. She always thought so rationally when confronting a problem. This was one instance were rationality took a back seat to personal vendettas. Even with Hank’s gentle coaxing, she placed her hand over his and looked at him with eyes wrought with emotion. She tried to convey as much strength as she could. She understood that it would be at a premium in any battle against Sebastian Shaw.

“Hank…I need to do this,” she told him, “I need to confront this ugly part of my past once and for all. I can’t keep being Tessa and Sage. One needs to become the other or both will die.”

“I understand the personal stake you have in this affair. I also understand the desire to confront a part of yourself that you despise,” said Hank.

“Does this mean you’re going to step aside?”

“It means I’m going to stay by your side and potentially infuriate you when I keep you from going too far,” he replied as he gently cupped her chin, “I love you whether you’re Tessa or Sage. So please…heed my concerns and don’t despise me too much when I stand in your way.”

Her computerized mind was finally able to process what was unfolding. Hank McCoy knew how to push her buttons. More importantly, he knew when they needed to be pushed. This was one instance where she could not simply rely on her brilliant mind. She would have to rely on him instead. As illogical as it sounded, she still took comfort in it.

Sensing his lover was in a clearer state of mind, Hank assisted her in packing up the rest of her equipment. She would only bring her laptop for this mission. There was only so much she could do with hacking this time. She would have to fight with the X-men for the rest of her gains.

“Hey! You two coming or not?” shouted Betsy from outside the door, “Save the pillow talk for later because we will leave without you.”

Upon hearing Betsy’s lively threat, Tessa took a deep breath and prepared to follow Hank and the X-men into the chaos.

“I won’t make any promises, Hank. But you’ve earned my trust as much as you’ve earned my love. So I’ll trust in your judgment,” she told him, “If I become too much of a bitch, I’ll try and make it up to you later.”

“Fair enough,” said Hank as they ran off after the others, “Now let us take part in Sebastian Shaw’s downfall! Lord knows it’s long overdue.”


Earlier

Hedonism had gotten a bad rap throughout history. It seemed whenever someone needed to denigrate another, they would label them as reckless hedonists concerned only with indulging in the pleasures of the world. Somewhere along the way, seeking pleasure became a bad thing. Regan and Martinique Wyngarde could never understand it. In their experience, hedonism was a fine way of life.

“Do you ever stop and think that our grandfather would disapprove of what we do, Martinique?” asked Regan as she lounged next to her older sister.

“I try not to,” shrugged Martinique callously, “That old coot never stuck around long enough to make me care what he thinks.”

“I wouldn’t judge him that harshly,” argued Regan, “He did teach us to use our powers in many creative ways.”

“That he did, but knowing him, it was just part of his never-ending research. He could care less that we use our powers to induce ecstasy in its purest form. That’s why I could care less what he thinks of our chosen lifestyle. And what a lifestyle it is!”

“On that, I most certainly agree,” said Regan with a wry grin.

Their lifestyle was a testament to the hedonism they embraced. As nice as their little dwelling was at the Hellfire Club, their home here in Mexico was much more preferable. While Sebastian Shaw owned this villa, it was run their grandfather while he was still working for the Inner Circle. So when he disappeared, Regan and Martinique decided to set up shop in their own special way.

One of the largest areas of the villa was the bath house. It was larger than most peoples’ homes and set up with hedonism in mind. It was enclosed in a large room with a domed ceiling. Up along the dome were elaborate designs of clouds, stars, and various nude figures. It covered a massive pool area that was heated and surrounded by pristine marble figures.

Within the pools were elaborate fountains chiseled out of ivory and the finest of stone. All along the walls were rows of candles and lights, which helped give the area a very luxurious and sensuous feel. Along the pools were plush futons and small beds, covered in velvet with fine linens. While the grandeur of the facility was without question, it was the people that occupied it that gave the bath house it’s hedonistic feel.

Just like the Hellfire Club, Regan and Martinique were surrounded by the dazed addicts that they enticed with their powers. They were all lofting about the bath house, awash in the euphoria that the two sisters induced. Some swam around naked. Others danced about without any music playing. There were over a hundred of them, representing a good chunk of the workforce that distributed Kick.

Under Sebastian Shaw’s order, Regan and Martinique transported their stronger and more robust followers while leaving others behind to deal what was left of their MGH stash. They were told that such manpower would be necessary for what he had planned.

None of this worried the two sisters. They were content to let Shaw do the work while they lounged around with their followers. Sitting upon a pair of plush futons, the two psychics laid back in bikinis just waiting for Shaw’s tedious affair to end.

“Skipping from one dirty old man to another, what do you think Sebastian Shaw will have us do?” wondered Regan, “I doubt he had is gather all our followers like this for one decadent party.”

“Knowing him, it is a possibility,” teased Martinique.

“I’m not saying it isn’t, but he almost looked anxious when he told us to move our operations to Mexico.”

“Sebastian Shaw? Anxious?” joked Martinique.

“I’m as shocked as you,” her younger sister quipped, “But he’s nothing if not paranoid. He seems intent on refining MGH and I don’t think it’s just to make more money.”

“I thought there wasn’t much money in MGH to begin with. Aside from allowing talented mutants like us to carve a comfortable living for ourselves out of weak minds.”

“Well you can’t tell me with a straight face that it works perfectly. We have to take it four times a day in order to keep up this comfortable living. Not being a fan of needles, it would be nice if only one dose was needed.”

“If Shaw isn’t overly concerned with keeping other mutants addicted, I’m sure he’s working on it as we speak.”

“I’ve heard rumors that he is,” said Regan.

“Since when do you pay attention to rumors?” scoffed Martinique.

“If they have a potential to affect us, then I say they’re worth taking seriously.”

“Well if it’s true, I wouldn’t be surprised. Hell, I would welcome a new version of MGH that makes us stronger for longer,” the older Wyngarde sister grinned.

“Me too. Which is why I hope none of Shaw’s many enemies screw it up.”

“We won’t let that happen,” said Martinique, “We won’t allow it.”

“You had better not,” came a familiar voice.

Regan and Martinique rose from their comfortable positions to see Sebastian Shaw standing over them. His stern demeanor clashed with the opulent hedonism that so defined their bathhouse, but seeing as how they needed him as much as he needed them they had to listen.

“My dear King, I hope you’re here to join us in our relaxing den of debauchery,” said Martinique playfully.

“I wish I could, but I cannot relax until this operation is complete,” said the Black King, “As we speak, my people are just about finished with a special batch of MGH.”

“By special, do you mean untested?” questioned Regan, “Because you know my sister and I are always looking to expand our ecstasy-inducing capabilities.”

“This isn’t for you, I’m afraid. It’s for six very special guests of ours. They just arrived moments ago and we’re to greet them as any royalty should.”

“I suppose it’s only proper,” sighed Martinique, incensed at the prospect of having to do some real work, “What sort of guests are they? More mutants looking to escape the voyeuristic eye of the MSA?”

“That’s what they think. But for these special mutants, I have something else in mind. In order for it to work, I’ll need you to make them feel comfortable.”

“Comfortable for us is a pretty broad scale, my King,” Regan pointed out, “What kind of comfortable are we talking here?”

“The kind that won’t make them think twice about doing us a few favors,” Shaw replied.

Regan and Martinique grinned at the prospect. They understood the subtext. Sebastian Shaw loved control and thanks to their skilled use of telepathy, control was their specialty. With renewed enthusiasm for work, the two young women got up from their comfortable lounges and retrieved their robes.

“I suppose we could show our guests some hospitality,” said Martinique, “We can all relax a bit more once this elaborate endeavor of yours is complete.”

“When you see what my people have been working on, you’ll be too excited to relax,” said Shaw.

“You know who are grandfather is, my King. So you should know we’re not easily impressed,” said Regan.

“As your grandfather himself once told me, all perceptions can be molded with the right resources,” said the Black King, “With this in mind, we have to proceed quickly. I suspect some old enemies of mine are looking to disrupt this process.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” shrugged Regan casually, “It just wouldn’t be interesting if someone didn’t try to mess up our fun.”

“Perhaps we should dispatch them before proceeding? I’m sure my sister and I can handle them,” said Martinique.

“Nonsense,” said Shaw, “I’ve already prepared a distraction for them. She’s an old friend of Warhawk’s. I think you’ll like her.”

Shaw directed their attention to their right where a series of curtains led into the dressing rooms. From behind these curtains, an attractive figure emerged.

It was a woman who looked older than Regan and Martinique. She had dark greenish hair, dark green eyes, and a voluptuous figure that was befitting of the Inner Circle. Covering this figure was a unique outfit. It resembled their Black Queen outfit, but it had no cape and consisted of a snake-skin embroiders. While it had more of a dress-like feel, it was still plenty revealing. As she approached Shaw and the Wyngarde sisters, her eyes flashed ominously in a way reminiscent of a snake.

“My queens, allow me to introduce Chimera,” said Sebastian Shaw proudly, “She’s currently auditioning for a role as Black Knight. Like you, she’s a mutant. Her abilities are derived from psychic forces, but they pack a bit more firepower.”

“That’s being generous, my king. I think you’ll find I’m equal parts style and substance!” said Chimera.

To prove her point, she did a little demonstration for Regan and Martinique. Her eyes flashed again, this time in a brighter shade of green. Behind her, an ominous green light emerged and from it a couple of dragon-like creatures formed. They weren’t illusions by any measure. The Wyngarde sisters could tell. They let out ominous roars that show that they were powerful. While it instilled fear in some of their intoxicated followers, Regan and Martinique grinned at such a display.

“You’re right, my King. I do like her!” said Regan.

“As do I,” said Martinique, “But are you sure she alone can handle any obstructions?”

“Under normal circumstances, of course not,” said Shaw, “Which is why I’ve already made sure there’s nothing normal about it.”

“Indeed,” said Chimera ominously, “That’s where this comes in.”

From a small pocket in her dress, Chimera took out a small vial and showed it to the Wyngarde sisters. It looked like a regular dose of MGH, but this one had an unusual glow to it. This seemed to confirm what Regan had suspected earlier. MGH was poised for an upgrade and so were their powers.

“Don’t bother asking questions about it. You’ll get a full explanation soon enough,” said Chimera, “Just know that whatever our enemies throw at us, rest assure we’ll always have the advantage.”


Villa Del Fuego Main Lab – Present Time

“This place is amazing!” exclaimed Gabriel as he and his fellow mutants made their way through the opulent estate.

“This is the first time I actually feel lost inside a house,” said Idie.

“Where are we now? It doesn’t look as fancy as the other rooms,” said Laurie as she took in their surroundings.

“There’s a reason for that, my dear,” said Warhawk, “You’ve seen the style of Mr. Shaw’s endeavor. Now prepare to witness the substance!”

Having made their way through many elaborate halls, Jubilee and the five mutants that joined her arrived at their destination. This latest room was in the sub-levels of the villa. It looked like a cross between a throne room and a laboratory. There was an elaborate array of computers, pumps, bio-tanks, and chemical vats. These machines were all manned by an army of men in dark uniforms with white masks. What stood out, though, was that they seemed oblivious to their entrance.

It looked as though they were preparing for something major. All this activity surrounded another highly-decorated area where there were three fancy-looking chairs that were more like thrones. On these thrones were three figures, each of whom looked eager to greet them.

At this point, Jubilee was starting to get nervous. She was in pretty deep and given how vast this facility was, she would have hard time escaping if the situation got heated. She also recognized one of the figures on the throne as Sebastian Shaw. He was still as imposing as ever. His presence sent shivers down her spine. She tried to hide it as Warhawk led her and her excited associates into this man’s commanding presence.

“So these are our latest recruits,” said Shaw as he stood up to greet them, “Well done, Warhawk. They look like a promising bunch.”

“Promising indeed,” said Regan wryly as she remained seated with Martinique.

“Mate?” said Teon with an intrigued look.

“Took the words right out of my mouth, Teon,” said Gabriel, grinning under the gaze of the two attractive women.

“What’s that say about you?” chided Laurie.

Warhawk stepped back to help the rest of Shaw’s workers while the Black King got acquainted with these awe-struck young mutants. They all tensed in this man’s presence. He looked like the kind of guy who could defy the Mutant Monitoring Initiative and get away with it. That didn’t make him any less intimidating.

“I’ll skip much of the formalities,” said Shaw, “I’m sure you’ve already heard my pitch. I don’t need to repeat it. I’m assuming you’re like the dozens of other mutants who have come to me for help. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative has left you with no control over your lives. You have nowhere to go and you don’t trust the authorities to help you.”

“That should be a given, right?” said Jubilee, pretending it wasn’t a big deal.

“I’ve always had problems with regular authorities. Just ask my father…what’s left of him anyways,” said Kenji.

“I understand how you feel. More than you think actually,” said Shaw, “That’s part of why I’m doing this. I’m prepared to give you new lives with new purpose, free from the scrutiny of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.”

“I’m told those new lives include things like better schooling, a decent job, and a stable income,” said Laurie, often the pragmatist.

“And I hope the girls are bonus,” said Gabriel, who couldn’t stop staring at the Wyngarde sisters.

“Oh you’ll have that and much more,” assured Shaw, “My company has taken mutants such as yourselves and gotten them involved in many profitable ventures. From mining and construction to art and research, there’s no shortage of opportunities.”

“Food?” said Teon.

“Yes, that too,” laughed Shaw, “But the six of you are special. You’re arriving at an exciting moment for Shaw Industries. And I’m looking forward to your participation. I think you’ll appreciate what I’m doing for our kind.”

He made a compelling pitch. Even Jubilee was impressed. It was so enticing that it almost made her forget that this man came off as honest as a hungry wolf. Laurie, Gabriel, Teon, Idie, and Kenji were already convinced. They exchanged hopeful glances, eager to see Shaw deliver on these lofty promises. Jubilee pretended to share their enthusiasm. So in hopes of not coming off as suspicious, she stepped forth.

“Mr. Shaw, I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re totally interested,” said Jubilee, “If you can give us better lives and keep the MSA off our back, I say we’re ready to begin.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, Miss Lee. I’m more than ready to begin,” said Shaw with a smile, “There’s just one little formality we must take care of first.”

“And what might that be?” asked Kenji.

“It’s nothing serious, I assure you. We just need to weed out the spy that was sent to infiltrate my operation.”

He said these words so casually, as if they were a minor inconvenience. Laurie, Kenji, Gabriel, Teon, and Idie were taken aback while Jubilee was left with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Had Shaw really sniffed her out? Had he been leading her along the whole time?

“Spy? Why…why would you think one of us is a spy?” asked Gabriel nervously.

“Relax, my boy. I know it isn’t you,” assured Shaw, “I expected my enemies to track me down. I didn’t think they were foolish enough to send one of their own into my midst. They must be getting desperate.”

“Enemies? What kind of enemies?” asked Idie nervously.

“The kind that thoroughly underestimate my resources,” he said with a slight laugh, “If they were at all competent, they would have realized by now that my two lovely queens were already in the process of exposing her in the most uncomfortable manner possible.”

Now Jubilee was getting really nervous. She tried her best to maintain her composure. She had survived on the streets of District X for years. She should be able to handle this. However, as she looked towards Regan and Martinique Wyngarde, she knew something was wrong. Then in a very painful moment, it struck her.

Suddenly, Jubilee was overcome with paralyzing headache. It was as if someone jammed a red-hot dagger into the core of her brain. This stabbing pain was coupled with a crippling nausea. She tried to shut it out with the mental shielding techniques that Tessa taught her, but it was no use. Clutching her stomach in agony, she fell to her knees.

“Augh! My…my stomach!” she groaned.

“What’s the matter, Miss Lee? Is your tummy hurting?” taunted Shaw as he stood over her.

“Whoa…is she the spy?” said Laurie.

“Fight?” said Teon as he and the others looked on.

“Wait and you’ll see,” said Shaw in an amused tone.

While Jubilee was writhing in pain, Regan and Martinique got up from their thrones. Looking every bit as amused as Shaw, they approached the ailing young woman. Jubilee was now on all fours, coughing up dry-heaves as if she had food poisoning. The five other mutants stepped back, anxious about what would happen next.

“It comes with the skills our grandfather taught us,” mused Martinique.

“In addition to inducing great pleasure, we can also induce great pain,” said Regan, “In fact, did you know that it was possible to induce vomiting by simply stimulating a certain area of the brain stem?”

As if on cue, Jubilee felt it. In an instant, she felt her stomach turn against her and eject everything inside up through her throat.

“HUUAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” she heaved, spewing greenish pink chunks all over the floor.

It was an unpleasant and disgusting sensation. It was so violent that Jubilee nearly passed out from the bodily strain. She stayed conscious, but only long enough to find out that the device that Tessa had her swallow was expelled along with the rest of her stomach contents. When Shaw saw this he casually walked over to her, took out a handkerchief, and retrieved it along with her sunglasses.

“My sweet Tessa,” said Shaw, shaking his head in bemusement, “I thought you were smarter than this. A camera built into sunglasses and an ingested transmitter? You’ve not only lost you’re touch. You’ve seen one too many James Bond movies.”

“Can you tell if it’s still transmitting?” asked Martinique.

“Oh I know it is. I want my darling assistant and her friends to know what I’m about to do,” grinned the Black King, “Miss Lee here become a fitting example to all those who oppose the Inner Circle.”

As Sebastian Shaw stood over Jubilee with his two queens, Warhawk rejoined them. This time he had with him a large metal case. Inside were the fruits of this elaborate operation. Many of the workers who had been operating the equipment were already leaving. They knew what was coming and knew it was not wise to be around when it happened.

“What are you going to do to her?” asked Idie nervously as she looked on with Laurie, Kenji, Teon, and Gabriel.

“Rest assure, she will be punished. We can’t in good conscious allow her to disrupt this operation that has served so many mutants,” said Shaw, “So she’ll provide a worthy test subject for our latest breakthrough in mutant research.”

Shaw signaled to Warhawk, who nodded and opened the metal case. Inside were six special vials of MGH. They looked similar to the vial that Chimera had taken earlier, except these exhibited a very different kind of glow. Looking up from her pained state, Jubilee watched as Shaw grabbed one of the vials and filled a syringe with the contents.

“Before we proceed, I have but one request, Miss Lee,” said Shaw as he held the syringe over her, “When you see Tessa again, tell her she could have been my queen. Now she will fall like every other pawn that opposes the Inner Circle!”

Up next: Drug War Part 2

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