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Volume 7 -- Issue 157 -- Drug War Part 3

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Drug War Part 3
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Born with extraordinary powers, mutants live in a world that hates and fears them. Professor Charles Xavier formed the X-men to fight for peace and understanding. The fight escalated to a point where he forged a partnership with the government, which he dubbed the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. With it, he hopes to show that humans and mutants can work together for the common good.

So far, the partnership has had mixed results. Now, it needs to overcome a foe for whom the human/mutant conflict is a means of profit. Sebastian Shaw has used his vast resources to create Mutant Growth Hormone, a powerful drug that can enhance mutant abilities. They’ve already seen its effects on young mutants like Beak. Shaw seems intent on using it to control other mutants who are dissatisfied with Charles Xavier’s efforts.

Recently, the X-men uncovered his operation and organized an attack on his villa in Mexico. At the same time, X-Force learned of Shaw’s role and planned an attack of their own. Yet despite these dual threats, Shaw unleashed a terrifying assault that rendered both teams powerless.

Using a new batch of MGH, Shaw empowered six mutants, including Jubilee, to attack the X-men and X-Force. Not only were their powers enhanced, but their minds became part of a collective forged by Martinique and Regan Wyngarde. As one mind, they were compelled to serve the Inner Circle. However, as Shaw was preparing escape, he was surprised by a mysterious man named Daken Yashida. Now, more than just Shaw’s operation is at risk.


Villa Del Fuego – Elevators

Phoenix, Tessa, and Professor Xavier ascended through the elaborate villa in search of Sebastian Shaw. They were surprised to discover that most of his forces had cleared out. Aside from a few guards, they faced little resistance. It hinted that Shaw was preparing to escape and take his MGH operation elsewhere. They couldn’t let that happen. The X-men and the MSA had to bring him to justice.

Following Professor Charles Xavier’s psychic signal, Phoenix led them up through the sealed elevator shafts in a telekinetic bubble. Shaw had locked down most of the villa, but not enough to stop them. Phoenix, frustrated after being knocked out earlier, pushed harder by using her telekinesis to blow through the sealed doors and ascend to the roof where Shaw was making his escape.

“We’re almost there. I sense that Shaw hasn’t left yet,” said Tessa anxiously.

“I’ll take your word for it. My head is still killing me from blowing through these overpriced doors,” grunted Phoenix as they ascended faster.

“You’ll feel much better when we take that bastard down,” said Tessa strongly, “He always has an escape plan. He’s always prepared to run. We can’t let him slip away. He’ll only keep tormenting us!”

“It may be a bit more complicated than that, Tessa,” said Xavier, who was trying to concentrate over the commotion.

“Complicated…a word I love to hate,” groaned Phoenix.

“Please don’t tell me that Shaw is pulling another trick on us,” said Tessa grimly, “My telepathy is telling me he’s still here.”

“He is,” assured Professor Xavier, “But something or someone else has entered the picture. I suspect this might be one instance where Shaw is the one being tricked.”

Tessa looked at Professor Xavier curiously. She tried scanning herself to see what he was detecting. There was definitely psychic interference. She expected it to be one of Shaw’s many defenses. She couldn’t punch through it. Xavier, being a more skilled telepath, said saying something was different, but the idea of someone getting the better of Sebastian Shaw seemed too outrageous to be true.

“If someone is screwing Shaw over, then I want to be there to see it,” said Phoenix as she picked up speed, “Hold on! We’re almost there. If we’re lucky, he’s being tormented in a way that’s long overdue.”


Villa Del Fuego – Roof

“Errrrrrrrr! Treacherous bastard!” seethed the Black King while clutching his arm.

“Oh come now, Shaw. Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming,” grinned Daken, all too satisfied by the sight of Sebastian Shaw suffering.

“You and that mentor of yours will pay! I swear by the power of the Inner Circle, you will burn in a pit of Hellfire!”

Sebastian Shaw had lost control. Everything had gone so perfectly. Then with a single betrayal, it all came crashing down.

He was ready to make his escape. Then one of his business partners decided to betray him. It wasn’t subtle either. He sent a mysterious young man with adamantium claws to cut off his arm and take the new versions of MGH from him. It was so humiliating that it was sacrilege. He was the Black King. No one dared betray him.

While Shaw sat writhing on the roof clutching his bleeding arm, his two Black Queens came to his aid. Martinique and Regan knelt down to address his wound. The bleeding left Shaw dazed and weakened. It seemed as though all the luxury they had grown so fond of was in jeopardy.

“My king! Are you…” began Regan.

“Spare me your petty concern,” grunted Shaw, “Make yourselves useful and mind rape that man until he’s comatose!”

“It shall be done, my king,” said Regan as she stood up and gazed towards Daken.

“No sister…it shall not,” said Martinique in an oddly flat tone.

While her back was turned, Regan didn’t see her sister take out a small taser device from a pocket in her cape. With it, she jammed the device right into her younger sister’s back. It sent a paralyzing surge through her body, which was almost as painful as the reveal of another betrayal.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Regan cried out as she fell limply to the roof.

“You always were the gullible one,” grinned Martinique, “No wonder Grandpa loved me more.”

Her words reverberated painfully for both Regan and Shaw. Regan was in too much pain to express her outrage. Her expression seethed with an anger that even a powerful mind couldn’t process. Her own flesh and blood had just betrayed her. For Shaw, it was yet another act of treachery to undermine his power.

“Martinique…you dare defy the Inner Circle?” seethed Shaw, growing pale from his blood loss.

“How else could we pull this off so efficiently?” she said snidely as she stood over Shaw and her sister, “You relied on me and my sister to be your psychic guardians. Too bad my sister was the weaker one. Even she didn’t know I was feeding intelligence to an outside source.”

“That shouldn’t have been possible,” said the Black King, “Not after the MGH…”

“Yeah, about that…I never liked you having that kind of leverage. I wasn’t the only one either,” said Martinique, “That’s why I went to the source and got a blend that didn’t include your little mind-bending collective.”

“The rest was pure theatre. A performance worthy of Shakespeare himself,” said Daken as he stepped out of the jet to meet up with Martinique.

“Thank you, my darling. I’ll be sure to reward you with another performance later,” said Martinique with feline sass.

As if to further mock Shaw and Regan, Martinique slithered her arms around Daken and kissed him in an obscenely decadent manner. Daken matched her lustful ferocity, savoring every moment of this triumph. It was without a doubt the second-best experience that came about from this ploy.

“Sister…how could you?” groaned Regan, her body still tense from the shock.

“Sorry Regan, but some pleasures just aren’t meant to be shared,” said Martinique, not taking her eyes off Daken.

“Hnn…damn you!” she said as she tried unsuccessfully to lash out at her sister.

“Don’t be such a spoiled sport,” Martinique scoffed, “I’m tired of propping you up. The collective mind that we created was a joke. It was never going to serve our kind. It was only going to serve Shaw.”

“Speaking of which, that collective has served its purpose,” said Daken, “Thanks to a special ingredient my mentor added, your six test subjects should start feeling the effects within minutes. I imagine they’ll be quite upset with you.”

“You devious peasant!” roared Shaw.

Sebastian Shaw groaned through his pain and tried to attack the traitorous deviants before him. He could barely stand before Martinique kicked him with the heel of her stiletto boots, knocking him flat on his back.

“Unn…” the Black King groaned in defeat.

“Sorry, your highness,” said Martinique in a mocking tone, “This business of yours is officially bankrupt. Enjoy the wrath of your many enemies.”

“If possible, take comfort in the knowledge that your research will do some good in this world,” said Daken as he led Martinique back into the helicopter, “It’s not the kind of good a greedy businessman like you will appreciate, but some things are just more important than turning a profit.”

Daken cast Shaw and Regan one last sneer before closing the hatch to the helicopter. Moments later, it took off and ascended rapidly into the sky. The Black King could only watch as they escaped along with any hopes of a resurgent Inner Circle. He had been defeated and for once, it wasn’t because of the X-men. Someone far more twisted and cunning had bested him.

By now Shaw had lost so much blood that he was on the verge of passing out. He was in no condition to fight or flee. He and Regan were at the mercy of their enemies. As a result, they weren’t too surprised when the door to the roof burst open. Shaw didn’t even bother turning around to see Professor Xavier, Phoenix, and Tessa storm the roof.

“Whoa! Looks like we missed out on the fun,” said Phoenix as she took in Shaw’s condition.

“That disturbance I sensed…it’s gone,” said Xavier as he frantically scanned the area.

“Professor Xavier and his X-men…you picked a horrible time to be late for once,” said Shaw bitterly.

“I’m tempted to call this is bittersweet, but I’ll stick with bitter,” said Tessa as she stood over Shaw’s form, “You’ve tormented me too much to care about circumstances, Shaw.”

“You should, Tessa,” said Shaw in a weaker tone, “The enemies of the Inner Circle will always fall. It’s only a matter of time.”

“Time is one thing you’ll have plenty of,” said Phoenix who couldn’t help but grin smugly, “Unlike last time, we have friends in high places. You won’t escape justice this time. We even have one of you underdressed associates to testify against you. Knowing you Inner Circle types, I’m sure she won’t want to share a cell with you.”

Phoenix and Tessa turned towards Regan, who was lying next to the Black King. She was still reeling from the shock her traitorous sister gave her. However, the idea of going down with Sebastian Shaw disgusted her almost as much as Martinique’s betrayal. Her sister’s treachery could not go unanswered and that meant avoiding time in prison.

“Like hell I will!” spat Regan, “Screw this Inner Circle shit. I’ve got my own enemies now.”

“I don’t think you’re in a position to escape, Miss Wyngarde,” said Tessa.

“If you know my name, then you also know I already have,” she said cryptically.

Then, to their chagrin, Regan Wyngarde disappeared. It was as if she had never been there in the first place. Phoenix and Tessa quickly scanned the area for her mind, but it was already long gone. Given who her grandfather was, it was hardly surprising.

“Illusions…of course,” grumbled Phoenix, “And my head is still too sore to find her.”

“Let her go, Phoenix,” said Tessa, not taking her gaze off Shaw, “We still have our big fish. Let’s make sure we reel him in so the world can see what he’s done. I can already sense the MSA closing in.”

“Hope they brought some news cameras. For once, a media frenzy will play to our advantage.”

Shaw had since passed out from blood loss. Phoenix and Tessa reluctantly tended to him so that he stayed alive for his long overdue appointment with justice. Death was too easy for him. He had to face justice. It would be good for the X-men, the MSA, and mutants everywhere.

While Shaw’s capture was a victory, Professor Xavier remained curious. He could already see helicopters and combat vehicles from the MSA closing in. He suspected it was Captain Freeman taking charge, exactly as he hoped. However, there he could see one other aircraft in the distance that had long since left.

He sensed a much more convoluted plot at work here. Shaw’s defeat couldn’t have happened this easily. There were other forces at work here and they may be every bit as dangerous.

“Professor? I assume you’re just holding back your excitement. We still have work to do,” said Phoenix, breaking Xavier from his daze.

“Indeed we do,” said Xavier distantly, “I’ll give General Grimshaw a call. I’m sure he’ll be eager to deliver this news to the President.”

“What about the others?” asked Tessa, “Shouldn’t we go back and help them?”

“With Shaw’s defeat, I sense they won’t need it.”


Villa Del Fuego Northside Perimeter

The battle against Jubilee, Laurie, Gabriel, Kenji, Teon, and Idie had taken an unexpected turn. The X-men were fighting a losing battle after the Professor left with Phoenix and Tessa. Their coordinated attacks had taken a toll.

Jubilee was able to throw Beast off her back and into Kenji’s clutches. He had since wrapped Storm and Rogue up in a cocoon-like structure, ensuring they couldn’t escape or use their powers. Gambit and Psylocke kept trying to disrupt Gabriel’s speed attacks. At one point, he knocked Psylocke out, leaving Gambit on his knees using his bow staff to remain upright.

At the same time Colossus, was driven back by Teon, who kept coordinating with Idie. Using her ice and fire powers, she disoriented the Russian mutant so Teon could get in a few devastating blows. At one point, Idie used her ice powers to create a thick layer of frost around his metal skin.

“So c-c-cold. Even for a R-R-Russian,” grunted Colossus as he tried to divert Idie’s ice blast.

“Go, Teon! Break him!” urged Idie.

“FIGHT!” roared Teon as he moved in and attacked with a punishing right cross.

Colossus went up to block the attack. This time when Teon struck his arm, he felt a distinct snap. Even through his metal skin, the bones and flesh beneath broke in a way that put him in a world of pain.

“ARRRRGGGHHHHH!” exclaimed the Russian.

“My heavens…she made his metal skin brittle,” gasped Beast, who was trying to escape Kenji’s tentacles, “Hang on, my friend! I will assist you!”

“You’ll watch him suffer and hate every moment of it,” seethed Kenji.

Beast had been using his agility to avoid being completely smothered like Rogue and Storm. Upon seeing Colossus’s injury, he attempted to leap out of his swarm of tentacle appendages completely. That ended up being a poor decision.

Before he was even a few feet off the ground, Kenji’s tentacles slithered around his feet and pulled him back. Beast ended up falling flat on his face, allowing Kenji to completely encase him. Beast could only watch as Colossus writhed under Teon and Idie’s menacing presence. He was then pulled up into the air so that he was suspended next to Rogue and Storm.

“Welcome to the club, Beast. Uncomfortable yet?” said Rogue dryly with only her face showing through the tentacles.

“It’s not the most awkward position I’ve been in, but it’s close,” grunted Beast as more of Kenji’s tentacles wrapped around him.

“Any chance you could lend a hand to myself or Colossus, Storm?” asked Beast, “I know you’re in a tight spot, but we could use some help from Mother Nature.”

“I’m…trying,” grunted Storm, who was very short of breath, “This boy…not letting me concentrate. Can’t-mmf!”

Storm was silenced by one of Kenji’s tentacles shoving itself right into her mouth. It rendered her even less inclined to summon any help from the weather. It was Kenji’s way of proving that he was in control.

“My collection is growing,” seethed Kenji from within his oversized humanoid form, “Once I have your friends, I shall make your deaths my greatest masterpiece!”

“Hnn…if this is your brand of art, you’re even sicker than you look,” grunted Rogue.

“Belittling our adversaries is only making it worse, Rogue,” said Beast as he felt the tentacles around him tighten.

“Errr! Got a better idea?” said Rogue, getting short of breath as well, “Where in the heck is Captain Freeman? Ah thought he-mmf!”

Rogue was silenced just as Storm had been. Kenji forced one of his tentacles into her mouth to shut her up, leaving her at his mercy.

“No ideas will save you now,” scoffed Kenji, “We are the Lights of the Inner Circle! We are linked by a power you cannot possibly understand! You can never hope to…”

“KENJI LOOK OUT!”

The Japanese mutant was cut off by an unexpected cry from above. Kenji was so focused on keeping Beast, Rogue, and Storm restrained that he didn’t notice an ominous shadow passing over him. When he looked up, he saw the large figure of Laurie spiraling out of control.

On her back was Captain Freeman, who was using the dragonfly-like wings she formed to direct her chaotic descent. He directed her right into the chest of the oversized creature Kenji had created. That was also the area where Kenji himself resided. From within this hulking monstrosity, his eyes widened as Laurie crashed into him head on.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” they both yelled out.

The impact that followed caused much of Kenji’s large form to scatter like wet mud. The humanoid figure he form dissolved as his amorphous form mixed with Laurie’s. As they tumbled roughly to the ground, the many tentacles Kenji formed dissolved. That freed Rogue, Storm, and Beast from their confines. As they fell to the ground, Captain Freeman was there to meet up with them. Having leapt off Laurie’s back before she and Kenji collided, he rushed to their aid.

“Sorry I’m late guys. That crazy fish girl was a fighter,” said Captain Freeman as he and Beast helped Storm stay upright.

“No worries, Captain. Your timing was impeccable,” said Beast.

“I would have preferred it to be a few moments earlier,” said Storm, still coughing up pieces of dissolved tentacle.

“I’ll work on that for future missions,” assured the Green Beret, “But first, I plan on ending this mission on a high note!”

The mutant soldier earned some much-needed credibility with this latest stunt. Storm and Beast were more inclined to believe him. However, these six mutants weren’t going to make it easy for him.

“The only thing you’ll end is your life!” seethed Jubilee,  now flying towards them at high speeds, “I’ll make you wish Kenji had crushed you!”

In her blind rage, Jubilee formed another glowing ball of energy in her hands. Without taking careful aim, she unleashed it right towards them. Captain Freeman prepared to shield Storm and Beast with his adaptive form. This time, though, he didn’t have to.

Rogue came rushing in from the side and stepped in front of the incoming blast. But instead of just absorbing it, she punched it with her enhanced strength. That caused the ball of energy to fly right back towards Jubilee. Since she was going so fast, she couldn’t avoid it. When it struck, it sent her flying in the other direction.

“What the-UNGH!” she exclaimed.

“Sorry Ah had to do that Jubes, but that pal of yours left a nasty taste in mah mouth. Ah had to take it out on someone,” said Rogue as she rubbed her fist.

“Thanks, Rogue. It’s good to know you’re still pissed off enough to fight,” said Captain Freeman with a grin.

“Ah don’t care if it is Jubilee and a bunch of kids. They’re playmates with Shaw. Someone’s gotta give them a timeout,” she said strongly.

Now more emboldened they turned their attention to Gabriel, Idie, and Teon. The sudden shift in the battle hadn’t gone unnoticed, either. The X-men weren’t as disorganized or inept as they expected. They continued undermining the Inner Circle. This could not stand. Their king and queen wouldn’t allow it.

“You’re starting to waste my time! And for me, that’s saying something!” said Gabriel, who briefly halted his attack on Gambit and Psylocke.

“You’re young. You got all the time in the world to get your ass kicked,” taunted Rogue as she approached the younger mutant.

“Ha! You speak to me as if I was a child.”

“Can you blame her? You sure hit like a child,” said Gambit, who was still leaning on his bow staff, “Gambit’s taken a worse beating from ex-girlfriend.”

With his impatience festering, Gabriel turned around and struck Gambit one last time to spite him. He moved in blur, running in and striking Gambit across the face with a left hook. He even grabbed Gambit’s bow staff from him as an additional taunt.

“Ha! How’s that for a child?” grinned Gabriel as he twirled the stolen bow staff, “Face it, X-men. I’m too fast. You can’t trick me!”

“Don’t need to, mon ami. I already have,” said Gambit, grinning ominously as he wiped some blood off his face.

Gabriel looked at the Cajun mutant strangely. Then he realized the bow staff he took from Gambit was glowing.

“Huh? Whoa shi-” he began, but he never finished.

For once, he wasn’t fast enough to react. The bow staff and the resulting force blew him a back nearly ten feet. Gambit made sure it didn’t explode with lethal force, but it was forceful enough to render the young man daze and moderately wounded.

Gambit kept smiling as Rogue walked over, stepping on the young man’s chest in the process before she helped him up. Despite Shaw’s power and influence, these young mutants were still just kids.

“Real smooth, sugah. Probably the most satisfying bang all day,” said Rogue.

“That remains to be seen,” said the Cajun wryly.

“Ugh…when you’re done with the bedroom humor, mind lending me a hand?” said Psylocke, who was a bit more battered than Gambit.

“What’s the matter, Bets? Take one too many punches from a freshman boy?” teased Rogue as she helped her up.

“Don’t start with me, Rogue. I think that little bugger groped me a few times,” muttered Psylocke.

The X-men continued to regain their composure. Now only Idie and Teon were left to fight. Leaving the ailing Colossus behind, they focused on more pressing targets. Despite being outnumbered and frustrated, they stood ready to attack. The Inner Circle would not allow defeat.

“Your loyalty only goes so far,” commented Colossus, still clutching his broken arm, “You’re inexperienced and deluded. Is the Inner Circle really worth fighting for?”

“You hear that, Teon? They think they have the upper hand now. Let’s prove them wrong!” said Idie in a determined tone.

“Grrrrrr! Fight!” barked Teon.

The two young mutants were about to launch their attack. Captain Freeman, Storm, Beast, Rogue, Colossus, Gambit, and Psylocke stood ready to confront them. However, the attack never came.

A strange feeling suddenly came over Idie and Teon. The feeling quickly spread to Jubilee, Laurie, Gabriel, and Kenji. Their eyes started glowing in a dark red hue. This glow flickered erratically as the six young mutants were overcome with a paralyzing nausea.

“Arrrrrggggghhhh! My stomach!” exclaimed Gabriel.

“It burns! Everything burns!” cried Idie.

“So much pain…can’t stand it!” gasped Kenji as his globular form shrank.

“What’s happening? Can’t think…” grunted Laurie.

“The power…fading,” said Jubilee weakly.

Within minutes they were all lying on the ground, writhing in distress. As their bodies contorted and withered, their physiology shifted.

Teon and Kenji shrank, returning to somewhat normal forms. Teon was still a bit bigger and Kenji still had tentacles for hands, but they looked a lot less monstrous. Laurie underwent a similar transformation. She returned to the form of a teenage girl, but her scaly blue skin remained. Gabriel kept vibrating in a blur for a few moments. At one point the blur got so extreme that he seemed to disappear. Then he settled again, except when all was said and done his final form looked older than before. Rather than a 15-year-old boy, he looked like he was at least 23 now. Jubilee was the last to settle and her changes were subtler.

As the X-men watched this scene unfold, they carefully approached the six young mutants. They hovered around Jubilee, whose glowing skin kept flickering. As it faded, her old flesh and blood form returned. However, the glowing didn’t stop in her eyes. Even as the dark red hue faded, a sparking yellowish glow lingered. It was as if the glow was now part of her.

“Hnn…” was all she got out.

“Go ahead and rest, Jubilee. It’s over now,” said Storm as she and Beast tended to her.

“Wait, what in the hell just happened? Did Shaw given them a bad batch of Kick or something?” asked Remy.

“Possible, but doubtful,” said Beast as he processed this new development, “I suspect Charles, Tessa, and Phoenix know more than we do.”

“Well whatever they did, remind me to thank them. I wasn’t up for another round,” said Psylocke, who was still very sore from the beating she took.

“Somehow, I don’t think this was something they did,” said Beast, “It almost seemed timed. As if this batch of MGH was supposed to wear off and cause its users to perish.”

“Well then that raises a new problem. We gotta get these kids some medical attention,” said Rogue as she rushed towards the other mutants.

“Don’t worry. The medical attention is coming to us,” said Captain Freeman.

“What do you mean?” asked Storm.

“Remember that message I had Psylocke send? The MSA brought more than just guns with them. I’ll make sure these kids get the care they need. There’s still a hell of a mess here and we’ll need help cleaning it up.”

As Captain Freeman announced this, they heard helicopters and armored vehicles in the distance. The MSA was arriving and this time it wasn’t too late. It came as a major relief. Battered and dazed, they were content to let the authorities take care of the rest. It was a benefit they hadn’t had a chance to appreciate lately. This was a good time for the Mutant Monitoring Initiative to start paying dividends. They all needed it.


Meanwhile

“KILL THEM! MAIM THEM! FOR THE HONOR OF OUR QUEENS!”

“I don’t know who your queens are, but I assume they’re both sadistic bitches,” grunted a frustrated Emma Frost.

“You’re not helping, Frost,” groaned an equally frustrated Warpath.

“Neither are you,” she retorted.

X-Force had been completely overwhelmed. Chimera injured Angel and Domino. Nightcrawler still hadn’t returned after teleporting them away to safety. Even though Wolverine had Chimera wounded, Shaw made sure they had little chance of obstructing his plans. He had opened his gates and unleashed dozens of deluded civilians. Their minds had been ravaged by a sadistic telepath and in their enraged state they tore into Cyclops, Warpath, and Emma Frost. It was a battle they had little chance of winning.

They were forced to retreat. Some tried to leap on top of Warpath and pin him down. Others tried to do the same with Emma Frost, who was back in her diamond form. Their respective durability protected them, but they were reluctant to strike back.

Cyclops tried to drive them back by using his optic blasts to carve ditches in the ground. This did little to slow them down. The mindless hoards showed no regard for their own bodies as they literally threw themselves at X-Force. These weren’t Hellfire guards or Shaw’s private goons. These were civilians. These were old men, teenage girls, and everything in between. They looked sick rather than blindly loyal.

“We have to fall back. There’s too many of them!” yelled Cyclops as several angry citizens lunged towards him.

“We’ve been doing that and it isn’t working!” barked Warpath as he shoved a few others aside, “Any chance we can hit them with a psychic attack?”

“What do you think I’ve been trying?” grunted Emma, who shifted out of her diamond form for a moment, “Their minds have been clouded. It’s like they’re drug addicts in withdraw.”

“Can get around it if we cover you?” asked Cyclops as he fired a few light optic blasts at some civilians trying to attack Emma.

“If it was just a few minds, yes. But this many? That’s pushing it!” she said.

“Then what’s Plan C?” exclaimed Warpath.

Cyclops kept leading Warpath and Emma back towards where Wolverine was fighting Chimera. He understood and shared their frustration. None of what they had done was not working. They needed another plan and he couldn’t come up with one. Looking out over these mindless hoards, he saw a barrier they couldn’t get around. Shaw made sure of it. This whole operation was falling apart. For all they knew, Shaw had already escaped.

While Cyclops struggled to formulate a new plan, the battle between Wolverine and Chimera took an unexpected turn. Wolverine still had his claws buried in Chimera’s shoulder. She had been fighting to shove him off by unleashing hordes of green energy dragons on him. It wounded and scarred him, but he never let go. He kept wounding her further, twisting his claws and trying to subdue her. The MGH in her system made her resilient, but she had her limits and it was only a matter of who reached theirs first.

“Hnn…my dragons! Don’t abandon me now! Rip this creature’s flesh from his bones!” yelled Chimera through a strained voice.

“Errrrrrrrr! You ain’t lookin’ so hot…even in that dress!” grunted Wolverine as he twisted his claws even more, “Why don’t you do us both a favor and just quit?”

Wolverine reached through the dozens of small energy dragons biting away at his body and grasped Chimera by the neck. Now on one knee, she tried reaching for him as well. Something was straining her and it wasn’t just her wounds. It all culminated when eyes flashed dark red. As it happened, her body went ridged and her dragon hoards started flickering.

“No! My power…it’s starting to…AHHHHHHHHHHH!” she cried out.

“Guess that answers that,” said Wolverine, surprised by this sudden turn.

He finally pulled his claw out, allowing blood to flow from her wounds. As he stumbled back he met up with Cyclops, Warpath, and Emma. They still had dozens of enraged civilians coming at them, but Chimera’s outburst didn’t go unnoticed.

“What the hell did you do to her, Wolverine?” said Warpath.

“I have no idea. Guess all that stabbing was too much for her,” said the feral mutant, still half-charred.

“Somehow, I doubt that’s the case,” said Cyclops as he looked on curiously.

The green energy aura surrounding Chimera continued to flicker. As she clutched her wound, her body contorted in distress. It was as if something was attacking her from the inside. Within moments, she keeled over and all her green energy dragons disappeared. It was like someone pulled the plug on her power, leaving her weak and defeated.

“Hnn…Shaw,” she said weakly, “What have you done to me?”

“I’ve been asking that same question for years. Expect the answers to disgust you,” said Emma with little pity for the woman.

“Something ain’t right here. Shaw’s goons don’t go down that easy, no matter how trashy they look,” said Wolverine as he looked over Chimera’s unconscious body.

“Shaw’s plan must have hit a roadblock. It’s the only explanation,” said Cyclops, using his optic blast to carve a deeper ditch between X-Force and the civilians.

“I’m all for Shaw screwing up, but it makes no sense. He had the upper hand on all of us? What changed?” wondered Warpath.

“We can speculate mindlessly or we can focus on more pressing immediate concerns,” said Emma, still staring down the mindless civilian hoards, “I doubt these hapless souls will go down as easily as Chimera.”

There was still a battle to be fought. Wolverine, Cyclops, Emma, and Warpath were still surrounded by dozens of psychically ravaged people. They had since changed their tactics, encircling them so that they couldn’t keep backing away. They ignored Chimera’s failure. They were still wholly focused on throwing themselves at X-Force. These misguided people looked willing to sacrifice themselves for Shaw.

“WE HAVE THEM SURROUNDED! TEAR THEM APART!” yelled one of the deranged followers.

“Here we go again,” groaned Warpath.

Then as they were about to attack, a series of large canisters flew in from the south. These canisters landed in front of and to the right of where X-Force was standing. As soon as they hit the ground, they started unleashing a thick cloud of gas. Within seconds, the mindless hoards started coughing severely.

“ACK! WHAT IS THIS? HAVE OUR QUEENS ABANDONED US?”

“Ah hell, what now?” groaned Wolverine, expecting another major threat.

“Not what…who,” said Cyclops as he turned around and saw where the canisters had come from.

It was the MSA. They had arrived and they brought riot gear with them. Over a dozen armored vans and helicopters descended over the area. They surrounded the villa and closed in on the rioting hoards surrounding X-Force. As they drew closer, they launched more tear gas canisters into the crowd. This helped neutralize them in a way that X-Force could not. It also revealed that they were too late to make much difference in this battle against Sebastian Shaw.

“Looks like the cavalry has arrived. And for once they’re more equipped to deal with this than we are,” said Emma as she covered her mouth to shield herself from the gas.

“That’s lousy sarcasm, Frost,” said Warpath.

“It wasn’t sarcasm,” she retorted.

“Even if it was, you’d still be right,” said Cyclops as he took in this situation, “This battle is over. If the MSA is here, then we’ve missed our chance. We have to pull out!”

“Are you whiffing too much of this gas?” snarled Wolverine, “We ain’t leaving until we get our shot at Shaw!”

“It’s too late for that, Wolverine. We’ve missed our chance,” said the X-Force leader.

The pain of this realization was almost as painful as the gas. The mission was officially scratched. Their only remaining option was to escape before the MSA arrested them. Cyclops, Wolverine, Emma, and Warpath tried to avoid the gas as it spread. By now it had engulfed most of the attacking civilians. Luckily, Nightcrawler finally returned. He appeared behind them, startled to find the area surrounded by tear gas.

“Mien Gott? Vhat did I miss?” exclaimed Nightcrawler as he promptly covered his mouth.

“Kurt! Where the hell have you been? You make a pit stop in Tijuana or something?” barked Wolverine.

“My apologies, Wolverine. Angel started coughing up blood and I had to treat him,” said Nightcrawler as he fought his way to his friends.

“Yell at him later,” said Cyclops, “Just get us out of here, Kurt!”

With the MSA closing in, there was little time to fill Nightcrawler in on what had transpired. He didn’t ask questions. He just battled through the smoke and grabbed onto his teammates. Just as the first MSA van rolled in, they teleported away.

It was a disappointing if not sobering way to end this mission. They came in hoping to stop Shaw before the X-men and the MSA could potentially make it worse. Nothing went according to plan. For once, their limited resources were a liability. As a result, they wouldn’t get a chance to confront Sebastian Shaw.


Villa Del Fuego – Later

Some men spent much of their lives avoiding justice. Some are eventually caught. Some repeatedly escape. For those guilty of exceedingly egregious crimes, there was special satisfaction in seeing their luck run out.

Such was the sentiment shared by many as Sebastian Shaw was hauled away by the MSA. He was wounded, demoralized, and defeated. He no longer looked like a king. Now he was a common criminal facing serious charges that he could not escape. The area around his villa had been surrounded and locked down by the MSA and the Mexican military. Media personnel started gathering outside in anticipation for a story. There would be plenty to report and for once the X-men wouldn’t dread the response.

Outside of the villa, hospital tents were erected to treat the civilians that had been psychically manipulated by the Wyngarde sisters. Now that they were both gone, they were more docile. However, like anyone addicted to a powerful drug, they would have to undergo a detox procedure.

Inside the villa, Mexican Special Forces along with top MSA operatives made sure Sebastian Shaw was secured. Due to his severed arm, he was strapped to a medical gurney and wheeled into the back of an armored van. The MSA put a power inhibiting collar around his neck just in case. While he slipped in and out of consciousness, he remained defiant.

“You pitiful peasants…you dare arrest a king?” he said weakly over an oxygen mask that covered his face.

“Where you’re going, you’ll be lucky to be king of prison bitches,” said a Mexican MSA officer snidely.

“The way you dress, you’ll be somebody’s wife by the end of the week,” laughed a Mexican federal police officer.

“You’ll have plenty of time to think about it, Shaw. You’ve got a lot of crimes to answer for,” said Captain Freeman as he helped his associates load him into the van, “Not only did we find traces of MGH in your labs, but we also found a few hard drives you had laying around. If it contains even a fraction of your corporate shenanigans, you’ll be lucky to get out before the sun explodes.”

“You think you can keep me in a prison cell? Ha!” scoffed Shaw defiantly, “If you think I’m devious, wait till you meet my lawyers!”

“I’m sure that’s just the blood loss talking,” said one of the Mexican doctors watching over him, “I’ll make sure he’s nice and quiet for the ride back to the base.”

“See that you do,” said Captain Freeman, “And if you have to rough him up along the way, don’t feel obligated to report it.”

The Mexican officers along with the MSA operatives nodded. They understood that he was a dangerous man who had done some horrendous things. The people outside suffering from their psychic addiction were proof enough of that. Some actually applauded as they watched the operatives close the door on the armored van and ride off. Even the X-men joined in. They understood that this was an important victory for them.

“Dang…that’s a hell of a sight. A homme like that gettin’ busted so badly,” said Remy as he was being treated for his wounds.

“You gonna put another philosophical spin on this, sugah?” who was sitting next to him smoking a cigarette.

“Not this time. Shaw is a bad man with a lot of bad mojo,” said the Cajun, “Him goin’ to jail is good for this world.”

“Agreed,” said Betsy, “Bringing him to justice is almost worth all these bruise. Which by the way still stings like hell!”

“My apologies, senorita. I’m almost finished,” said a female Mexican nurse who was applying bandages to her foot.

“Discomfort or not, we needed this,” said Captain Freeman as he sat down next to Piotr, “We needed to stop the spread of MGH and bring a man like Shaw to justice.”

“Da. I come from a world where criminals almost never pay for their crimes. It is not a world we should emulate,” said Piotr, whose arm was in a sling.

“I think the media will agree with you, Peter,” said Betsy, “This is the kind of good news that President Kelly will swoon over.”

“Yeah, our little initiative actually comes off as competent,” said Remy, “Quite an upgrade compared to Scranton, non?”

“To which we owe you your dues, Captain Freeman,” said Piotr, “You really stepped up for us. I’m proud to have fought by your side.”

“Ah was skeptical mahself, but Ah’m officially convinced now. You’re alright, sugah!” said Rogue.

“If you guys are trying to make me blush, knock it off. It was a team effort. I’m glad we could act like one this time around,” said Captain Freeman, unable to keep himself from smiling, “This will go a long way with President Kelly and General Grimshaw. They now know they can rely on us to get the job done.”

“You think that means they’ll go easier on us in the future?” said Rogue half-jokingly.

“It’s doubtful, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Betsy, laughing despite her wounds.

Their spirits were high as they enjoyed this moment, watching the armored van drive off with a heavy escort. They lingered on the front steps of the vast villa where nurses and EMTs helped them with their injuries. They had taken their share of hits in this battle, but it was worth it this time. They succeeded in all their major objectives.

With Shaw now in custody, the team could turn their attention towards the more minor details. Inside the villa, there was a special area where a number of EMTs treated Jubilee and the five young mutants that were unlucky enough to be caught up in this mess. These EMTs had been trained by the MSA to treat mutants. The MGH that Shaw had given them seemed to have some permanent effects. Hank and Tessa helped every step of the way, providing medical and moral support to these young mutants.

“Ugh…I still feel like I drank a liter of spoiled milk,” groaned Kenji, now lying on a medical gurney next to Gabriel and Laurie.

“That’s to be expected,” said one of the doctors, “The drug you were given put significant strain on your mutant physiology.”

“I don’t know what physiology means, but my head is still spinning,” said Gabriel, “Somehow I went from being 15 to 23 and I don’t even remember it?”

“Quit complaining. At least you don’t look like an alien fish girl,” said Laurie, who struggled to keep an IV in her arm.

“Would it help if I said I think it’s a good look for you?” said Kenji, “It’s world’s better than looking like an Akira knock-off.”

“What the hell is Akira and how is it worse than missing half your teen years?” asked Gabriel, still overwhelmed by his change in appearance.

“You’re not a monster. You’re just older. How can I possibly create art with these hands anymore?” said Kenji as he looked down at his arms, which were replaced by tentacles.

“None of you are monsters. You’re still you. You’re just a different incarnation of you in wake of the effects of MGH,” said Hank as he checked each of their vitals.

Hank offered an overly simplistic yet hardly comforting assessment. It was hard for Laurie, Kenji, Teon, Gabriel, and Idie to look at themselves the same way ever again. Not only had their bodies changed. Their entire mindset had changed as well. The MGH that Shaw forced on them affected their minds almost as much as their bodies. They remembered what they did under Shaw’s whim. Such memories were harsh and had a lasting effect.

Idie was among those still shuttering at the things she tried to do to the X-men. Physically, she hadn’t been changed much. Her eyes were very different now. One eye was red while the other was blue. Her once thin physical form seemed to be more developed by the MGH. Teon, who stuck by her like a loyal pet, had similar change. He was somewhat bigger and more developed than before. Yet even his basic mind had been deeply impacted by what they experienced.

“Flight?” said Teon as he looked up at Idie with sad eyes.

“No Teon. We can’t run from this,” said Idie, who was sitting upright on her gurney with an IV still in her arm, “We can never forget what happened. For a moment, we truly were monsters. If not in our bodies, then definitely in our souls.”

“Is it wrong to envy Teon’s overly simplistic mind right now?” asked Kenji.

“There’s nothing to envy. He remembers as well,” said Idie as she affectionately petted his head, “We all remember. It was like a demon had possessed us. We had thoughts in our heads that weren’t ours. We said things and did things that we did not choose to say. It was as if something else was thinking our thoughts for us.”

“Can we please not talk about it? My head is still hurting!” groaned Gabriel.

“That’s another side-effect of psychic intrusion. Any of our resident psychics will tell you how troublesome it can be,” said Hank as he passed by Teon to remove his IV.

“Will this sick feeling pass?” asked Gabriel, “It still feels like something is in my head.”

“Can your psychics do something about it?” Idie intently, “I don’t know if my soul has the strength to endure it.”

“You five are stronger than you think,” said Hank with a reassuring smile, “What you experienced was unique. Those two women you encountered, the Wyngarde sisters, are very adept at forging psychic experiences. Their powers along with the MGH formed a collective psyche. It’s what allowed you to operate with blind loyalty and utter unity.”

“But that collective should be gone, right?” reasoned Laurie, “Now that the stuff is out of our system, it shouldn’t be there anymore.”

“It isn’t. Well, at least not completely,” said Hank.

“You’re being overly esoteric, Mr. McCoy. Is that supposed to be reassuring?” said Kenji.

“All new sensations are overwhelming and disorienting. I know this from experience,” said Hank, citing his own appearance as proof, “But this collective, while no longer dominant, is still present. You think of it as a burden now, just as you do with your other transformation. However, that doesn’t change who and what you are. It only changes what you must deal with now. If you’re willing to try, there are those willing to help and not in the same way Shaw promised.”

Laurie, Teon, Kenji, Gabriel, and Idie exchanged glances. Many feelings were still sinking in. They came to Sebastian Shaw in hopes of a new life. They ended up getting way more than they bargained for. They could have been mindless drones to this collective mind that Hank mentioned. Now they were in control again, yet their lives were even more complicated. It left them uncertain as to where they would go from here.

Another part of this inescapable collective was Jubilee. She was sitting up on a gurney across from Idie and Teon. She hadn’t said much after waking from her nightmare. Tessa was there to greet her, but Jubilee was almost ashamed to look at her. She made a big mess of this whole affair. Many had been skeptical of her playing such a dangerous role in this operation. Now those concerns seemed vindicated.

“I still can’t believe I could screw up this badly. If this isn’t a new record, it damn well should be,” said Jubilee with her head held low.

“This wasn’t your failure, Jubilee. We’re all responsible. We underestimated Shaw’s cunning. It wouldn’t be the first time either,” said Tessa, who kept her emotions turned off while she treated the young mutant, “And technically, it wasn’t a failure. We did bring him in.”

“Through blind, freakin’ luck!” quipped Jubilee, “I may be doped up from the meds, but I can still hear. Professor Xavier said Shaw just screwed up before he could slip away.”

“It’s probably not that simple. With Sebastian Shaw, it rarely is.”

“Even if it isn’t, it doesn’t change a thing. I mean look at me! Look at what I let him do to me!”

Jubilee looked up and to reveal her still glowing eyes. Even though the MGH was out of her system, it had lasting effects on her. Her firework-like powers had turned into more destructive ion blasts. She was still adjusting to them. When she woke up her skin briefly flashed in a yellowish glow. She was able to suppress that, but she couldn’t stop her eyes from glowing. This effect appeared to be permanent. It was a distinct battle scar that would never heal.

“I’ve been hearing it since I woke up. Yeah, it could have been a lot worse. I could still be a walking nightlight that blew a hole in the wall every time I sneezed,” muttered Jubilee, “That doesn’t make it any less annoying. Now every time I look in the mirror, I’m reminded of what I did. I let Shaw use me.”

“I know the feeling,” said Tessa with a comforting gesture, “That’s what Shaw does. Unfortunately, he’s very good at it.”

“He damn well better rot for it!” she said bitterly, “Worst of all, I almost completely lost myself with that freaky mind control thingy. I almost hurt my friends because of it. Maybe Bishop was right. Maybe I’m too young to be throwing myself into shit like this.”

Tessa gazed into her glowing eyes with a solemn empathy. She knew that look well. It was a look she had seen in herself one time too many. She had to keep her emotions turned off to stay focused on her duties. Now those duties had changed.

She turned them back on again and allowed herself to feel sorrow for this young girl. She then arose and sat down next to her. Together, they looked back towards the five other mutants who were still processing everything that had transpired. As Tessa watched, she made a fateful decision that she should have made long ago.

“Sage,” she said.

“What?” said a confused Jubilee.

“Sage…my name is Sage,” she said, her voice choked with fresh emotion, “Tessa is a fake name that I’ve been going by for years.”

“You’re kidding, right?” said Jubilee skeptically, “If so, it’s not very funny.”

“Jubilee, when have you ever known me to have a sense of humor?” said Sage as she looked over at Jubilee, her eyes leaving little room for doubt.

“Point taken, but still…”

“There’s a reason why I’ve avoided that name. It’s because as Sage, I used to work for Sebastian Shaw. I was once his top researcher. I was also once his part-time plaything,” she went on, not hiding the shame in her voice.

“No way!” said Jubilee in astonishment, “That’s…”

“Impossible? Jubilee, where else would I get the resources and know-how to organize District X?” Sage argued, “I’m not proud of it. In fact, I’m disgusted with myself. What I almost did for Shaw was many times worse than what you and your friends almost did. So I know what it’s like. I know how bad it feels.”

Jubilee’s was too stunned to respond. She just kept looking at this woman in disbelief. For so long she had been the most respected person in District X. Everyone looked up to her. She was like a mentor in that she helped her become a part of District X’s police force. No one really asked about her past, but seeing that look of disgust in her eyes left little room for doubt. She was telling the truth.

“The woman you see now was very different before Sebastian Shaw entered the picture,” Sage went on, “Both physically and mentally, I was changed by his influence. I saw what I was becoming. I was disgusted that I could be so mindlessly amoral. That’s why I spent so many years running from it. District X was a way for me to atone, but it didn’t change anything. I continued running and that’s a mistake that I don’t want you to make.”

“Tess…I mean Sage,” said Jubilee, having to correct herself, “What am I supposed to do then? If District X wasn’t enough and going by another name wasn’t enough, then what is?”

“That’s one conundrum that even I’m not smart enough to understand,” she said sadly, “However, I can safely surmise that you’re in a better position than you think.”

“How do you figure? Bearing in mind that I’ve been a C-student all my life.”

“For one, you’re not alone,” she said, gesturing to the five other mutants in front of them, “There are others who have similar scars…others that need guidance just as much as you. Secondly, you’re in a position to do something positive with this experience. District X still needs you. Young mutants like you can set an example.”

“You think I can be a leader of sorts? Considering I got kicked out of the girl scouts years ago, I think that’s a pretty tall order,” said Jubilee.

“That’s only if you decide to run like I did. And trust me, that only makes everything worse. You can be an inspiration to the many other mutants who feel scarred and abused. In a way, that’s the best possible way to spit in the face of Sebastian Shaw. Prove to him that he’s not powerful enough to destroy you. But more importantly, prove it to yourself.”

Jubilee contemplated her encouraging words for a moment. This woman she so deeply respected turned out to be more complicated than her computer-like persona would indicate. She was practically daring her to do what she never had the strength to do.

It seemed daunting, especially with the sickening feeling of Shaw’s influence still fresh in her mind. However, she saw a real opportunity as she looked out towards Kenji, Laurie, Gabriel, Idie, and Teon. It was an opportunity that wasn’t easy to run from.

Jubilee had always been a fighter and an independent spirit. It was part of why Bishop allowed her to join District X’s police force despite her tender age. It was also why so many of her relationships including her former boyfriend, Bobby Drake, didn’t work out. Now she had a chance to take it a step further. She had a chance to inspire these scarred young mutants. Since they still had a trace of the collective psyche between them, it seemed like a fitting role.

“You know, before we even got here, I felt kind of guilty,” said Jubilee distantly, “These five didn’t ask for this. They just wanted a new life.”

“Well to be fair, Shaw would have destroyed their lives regardless of your presence,” Sage pointed out.

“Even so, someone needs to help them build a new life. Someone who won’t screw them over,” said Jubilee with new confidence in her tone, “Since we already crossed minds, it might as well be me.”

Sage smiled at Jubilee’s renewed strength. It was the kind of strength she sure could have used after her encounter with Sebastian Shaw. Jubilee was tougher than anyone gave her credit for. As she watched the young mutant get up and make her way to the five young mutants in front of her, Sage felt strangely reassured.

Not only was Jubilee avoiding the mistake she once made, she had also come clean. She was able to confront her as Sage rather than Tessa. Moving forward, it would be nice to have an honest identity. A look of approval from Hank finally brought a smile to her face.

‘You did the right thing, my love. Take comfort in the knowledge that your dual identity is no longer our little secret.’

‘I appreciate that, Hank. And don’t worry. I promise we’ll have plenty more dirty secrets between us.’

Hank smiled at the thought as he stepped back to give Jubilee some space. Laurie, Gabriel, Teon, Idie, and Kenji were all healed physically. Now the emotional healing could begin.

While Hank rejoined Sage, Professor Xavier worked with the MSA and Mexican police to thoroughly investigate the villa. They were aided by Ororo and Jean, who led investigators throughout the opulent manor.

Capturing Shaw was just one part of the process. They needed to gather sufficient evidence to ensure that he would stay in prison for a very long time. Luckily, much of Shaw’s operation remained intact. The lab in the lower levels was a treasure trove of evidence. It had all the components and procedures for making MGH. Since this was an illegal substance, he could be easily prosecuted under international drug laws. In other parts of the villa they uncovered more disturbing traces of Shaw’s deviant enterprise.

“I think we’ve got enough to put Shaw away for a long time,” said Ororo as she and Jean returned with boxes of hard drives from the lower levels.

“Is this all you found?” asked Professor Xavier.

“Not remotely. As you can see, Shaw was a meticulous psychopath in every endeavor,” said Jean, pointing behind her to show MSA operatives carrying more boxes.

“That should bode well for the prosecution in his case,” said Professor Xavier as he watched more agents load boxes of evidence into a van, “I just got off the phone with General Grimshaw. He and a few friends in the Justice Department are already assembling a case. They’re saying Sebastian Shaw’s defeat will be a very public affair.”

“That will be good for all parties involved,” said Ororo as she set her box down, “We needed something like this. It never would have happened without the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.”

“Indeed,” said Xavier proudly, “Now we have a solid example of what can be accomplished when the X-men and the authorities work together. We didn’t just prevent a deadly new drug from being unleashed. We brought a dangerous criminal to justice. For this, we should be proud.”

It was a satisfying moment for the X-men and the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. This was exactly the kind of cooperation that Professor Xavier hoped would come from this partnership. Taking down a man like Sebastian Shaw proved that they could make this arrangement work.

As he watched more agents and police officers haul various hardware from around the villa, Professor Xavier shifted his focus to one of the more vital components that was too large to load into a van. It was a biological synthesizer of sorts. It was nearly twice the size of an average refrigerator and it was by far the most compelling piece of evidence against Shaw. This was the machine that allowed him to concoct MGH. Beyond the crimes Shaw committed with it, there was great potential with this power.

“Beyond our pride, we must be careful with how we move forward,” said Xavier went on, “Shaw has done something that cannot be undone. He created MGH and demonstrated its devastating potential.”

“If you’re worried about it reaching the streets again, you can rest easy, Charles,” said Jean strongly, “The Mexican military scrutinized every inch of the lab. We’ve recovered and contained all remaining traces of MGH.”

“It’s not the substance itself that worries me. It’s the knowledge behind it,” said Xavier as he ran his hands over the machine, “Shaw proved to the world that MGH was possible. He proved that it could not only enhance mutant powers. It could control them through a linked psychic collective. That kind of power is too great to be forgotten.”

“You think others will try to duplicate it?” asked Ororo.

“I thought these machines were one-of-a-kind,” said Jean, “Where would some other aspiring psychopath even begin?”

“It isn’t just others who may duplicate. Shaw is a devious man, but he’s no scientist. I can’t help but wonder where this knowledge originated. Did he come up with it himself? Or did merely supply the resources to make it reality?”

“It could be a little of both,” said Jean.

“Or it could be deeper than that,” said Xavier distantly, “We still don’t know what led Shaw to lose an arm and miss out on his chance to escape. All we know is that someone betrayed Shaw.”

“Well we know it wasn’t that Chimera woman they found out by the south gate,” said Jean, “She’s in a coma last I checked and on her way to a holding cell in Mexico City. Could it be that Warhawk guy? We never found him and we know he was here.”

“It’s possible, but I doubt it. Shaw wouldn’t let someone that close to him betray him,” said Xavier, “It had to be someone else…someone Shaw didn’t have sufficient leverage over. It may be the same source of the knowledge behind MGH.”

“Well now that he’s in custody, we can extract the necessary answers,” said Ororo, “He has no reason to keep secrets if he wants to mitigate his punishment.”

“As if that will make a difference given all the crap he’s guilty of,” said Jean dryly.

“He may not even know. He may actually be another pawn,” Xavier reasoned, “If he is then we have an obligation to study MGH carefully. We need to know more about it. We may even be able to do some good with it.”

Ororo shifted uncomfortably at this notion. Looking over towards Jubilee and the five mutants that had first-hand experience with MGH, she didn’t see much merit in utilizing MGH. But the way Professor Xavier was admiring Shaw’s machine indicated that he was intrigued by what could be done with MGH.

“I hope you’re not too enthusiastic about developing this monstrosity, Charles,” said Ororo, “We’ve seen MGH do plenty of damage. I don’t think we should risk incurring any more.”

“We may not have the luxury of ignoring it, Ororo,” said Xavier as he continued admiring the machine, “Even if MGH is no longer a street drug for mutants, its potential has already been unleashed. If we don’t unlock the secrets within, then someone worse will.”

“I hate to repeat a question that Cyclops once asked, but do you think we could control it if we did? Power like this tends to cause a lot of problems, Charles,” said Ororo as she stood next to the Professor.

“I haven’t forgotten Cyclops’s sentiment. I expect others to share it,” conceded Professor Xavier, “All progress comes with risk. Sometimes the risk is necessary. Sometimes it’s excessive. In this case it’s a little of both.”

“You still haven’t answered the question, Charles,” said Ororo.

“That’s because I can’t answer it at this point. We don’t know enough to make any judgments. We can take comfort in the knowledge that we’re a step ahead for once. In order to keep it that way, we must remain strong. In doing so, the answer to that question becomes unnecessary.”

Ororo wasn’t completely reassured, but was satisfied for now. The Professor had a point. They couldn’t ignore MGH. If the knowledge was out there, then they had to be ready to confront it. The issue of control was sure to linger. It remained to be seen if Xavier could deliver, but for now his X-men had renewed confidence in their mentor.

While Ororo and the others took comfort in that confidence, Jean Grey wasn’t nearly as certain. While Ororo and Professor Xavier discussed the merits of utilizing MGH, she slipped away for a moment. She made sure none of the MSA operatives or Mexican police were looking. Then with shaking hands, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small vial of MGH.

She had to hold back her inner disgust. She lied to the Professor when she told him they had gathered all remaining traces of MGH. When no one was looking, she swiped a small dose for herself. It was a selfish, dishonest act. Unfortunately, this mission proved that it was necessary.

‘I can’t believe I’m doing this. But Professor Xavier is right. We need to remain strong. Ever since the Phoenix Force went silent and Scott left, strength has been at a premium. I put my friends in danger again. I passed out landing the X-jet. I almost passed out getting us to Shaw. Sooner or later we’ll face something big. When that time comes, I can’t afford to be weak!’


Hills Overlooking Villa Del Fuego

“How much longer are we gonna stay here, Cyke?” said a deeply disgruntled Logan, “We get it. We lost. Do we have to stick around and remind ourselves?”

“I would argue we should. If for no other reason, to motivate us to do better,” retorted Scott, “But that’s not why we’re still here. We need to know what happened and what it could mean for us moving forward.”

“You mean besides us failing miserably and the X-men succeeding on almost every meaningful level?” said James Proudstar dryly.

Almost being the key word,” quipped the X-Force leader.

If Scott was dismayed by X-Force’s failure, he was doing a good job of hiding it. Shortly after Nightcrawler teleported them a good two miles away from the villa, he insisted they find a ridge where they could observe what was going on from afar. After getting roughed up by Chimera and an army of mindless civilians, the idea of lingering didn’t sit well. Unfortunately, Scott insisted and nobody had the energy to make a scene.

From atop a large hill overlooking the villa, X-Force watched much of the cleanup effort unfold. Scott observed the activity through a pair of binoculars while Emma Frost use her telepathy to gather information. Logan, James, and Kurt were left to muse bitterly over how they failed with this mission.

Even though the X-men thwarted Shaw, they certainly didn’t help matters. If anything, they made it worse. It was the first time where their approach to a mission was clearly wrong and Professor Xavier’s approach with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative was clearly right. It was demoralizing and frustrating.

“If you’re holding out hope for Xavier to miss something, save yourself the trouble,” said Emma as she concentrated her telepathy, “Everything I’m sensing just cries of an unmitigated success. Not only did they seize the primary means of production for MGH, they actually arrested Shaw.”

“You almost sound disappointed, Emma. I thought you of all people vould enjoy seeing Shaw face justice,” said Nightcrawler.

“It would be far more satisfying if I had a shot at him,” she said bitterly, “I didn’t even get a chance to break his balls or short out half his brain!”

“Knowing Shaw, you may still get your chance,” said James.

“Even if that’s the case, it may be a while,” said Scott, “They’ve got Shaw locked down pretty good. From what I’ve seen, someone betrayed him.”

“Near as I can tell, everyone else is wondering the same thing,” said Emma, “Warhawk is unaccounted for and so are the Wyngarde sisters. I would have loved to scan Chimera’s mind, but there’s only so much you can get from someone in a coma.”

“You’re welcome, by the way,” said Logan snidely.

“All in all, I’d say they did everything we tried and they did it better,” said Emma, “They have all of Shaw’s data on MGH. They have the media swarming around the villa, ready to hear all about how efficient they are. It’s a public spectacle they’re sure to build on. Professor Xavier is emboldened. At the very least, it’s going to make X-Force’s efforts look like renegades for a while.”

“Like that would bother you,” scoffed Logan, “You still ain’t even linked to us thanks to that shape-shifter you got back at your school.”

“You think I don’t care when we fail?” retorted Emma.

Nobody enjoys failure. That much we should agree on,” said Scott, stepping between Emma and Logan before things could escalate, “This doesn’t undermine X-Force, but it does make our jobs harder. Let’s not lose sight of that.”

It was remarkable that Scott could sound so confident. The X-men and the MSA just proved did something that the old X-men could not have done. However, Scott was not dissuaded. He remained focused on the bigger picture.

While today was a failure for X-Force, it set the stage for future missions. They couldn’t waste time making up for past mistakes. They had to keep looking forward and some of what they observed already hinted at what they were facing.

“This is what’s going to happen,” said Scott assertively, “We’re going to take a moment to remember all the mistakes we made today. Then we’re going to suck it up, look to the future, and plan on not making them again.”

“Zhat’s a lot to remember, mein friend,” said Kurt.

“I know, but it’s necessary. Failure or no failure, this affair with Shaw and MGH will have consequences. We can’t expect the X-men and the MSA to be successful in dealing with those consequences.”

“Even if they’re embolden and more confident?” questioned Warpath.

“As long as they’re still human, we can expect mistakes from each side. It’s just a matter of being on the side that makes the fewest,” said the X-Force leader assertively, “We still have questions that need answering. First and foremost, we need to know who betrayed Shaw and why.”

“The man has a long list of enemies. I’m not sure answering that question would mean anything,” said Emma dryly.

“It could end up meaning everything,” said Scott, “Even if the X-men answer it, they may not be in a position to do anything about it. That’s why we need to dig deeper. Something like MGH doesn’t come from directly from Shaw’s twisted imagination.”

“That’s debatable, bub,” said Logan.

“But who else could benefit from something like MGH?” wondered Kurt, “Maybe I’m overthinking zhis, but it seems like a bad business decision to betray Shaw. If he vas making MGH in large quantities, vhy vould anyone risk zhat?”

“Perhaps Shaw’s plan wasn’t in line with someone else’s. Perhaps it wasn’t a business decision at all,” Scott speculated.

“We’re making a lot of assumptions here, Scott. How is this going to help X-Force’s cause?” asked James.

“Well, we won’t know until we find out, will we?” he replied, “So that’s what we’re going to do. Anybody who has the audacity to betray Sebastian Shaw is worth investigating.”

Scott’s assertive tone was reassuring. He didn’t belabor the mistakes they made today. It was as logical a strategy they could hope for at this point. Not every detail of Shaw’s operation was completely resolved. The only way they were going to know for sure is if they uncovered his secrets.

Leaving Villa Del Fuego behind, X-Force prepared to teleport back to Nova Roma. Scott put away his binoculars and Emma Frost ended her telepathic scan. They joined James and Kurt, who were more than ready to depart. Logan was about to join them as well. Then the winds shifted and a sharp gust blew over the hills. Along with this gust came a scent that caused Logan to freeze where he stood. It was a scent he didn’t recognize, but it felt familiar in a very disturbing way.

‘That scent. It smells like…nah, it can’t be. I must need a drink or something. I got enough shit on my plate and I ain’t gonna eat it all at once.’

The feral mutant lingered for a moment, trying to shake off this cold feeling that came with such a scent. It wasn’t Sabretooth. It wasn’t Sinister. It was no one he ever smelled before yet it triggered in him the kind of emotions that made his berserker rage fester.

“What is it, Logan? Is the urge to go on another bender that strong?” said Emma dryly.

“Fuck off, Frost. As if you need anyone to tell you,” quipped Logan.

Logan set the scent aside. Very little good had ever come from him following a scent. He neither had the time nor the patience for another emotionally draining conflict. If there were going to be consequences to Shaw’s downfall, then X-Force needed to be more prepared than the X-men. Sometimes great success made certain details easy to overlook.


Mexico City – Basilica de Guadalupe

“Where is he? He’s late!” groaned a pacing young man.

“Will you give it a rest, Vargas? I thought your detox from the Wyngarde sisters was finished,” said Warhawk, growing increasingly annoyed with his associate’s paranoia.

“It was,” affirmed Vargas, “That doesn’t mean I can’t worry.”

“There’s worry and there’s being annoyingly impatient. Guess which one you are?” quipped Warhawk, “At least try and settle down. We’re in a church. It’s supposed to be soothing. I imagine that’s why our friend chose it.”

“I wouldn’t call him a friend just yet. We both took a big risk here. We’re betraying more than just Sebastian Shaw. Seeing as how we’re in a church, I would like to get this over with before our sins catch up to us.”

Warhawk rolled his eyes, fighting to urge to shut Vargas up with his fist. For a human still recovering from addiction, he was very annoying. They were waiting just in front of the main pew. The church was empty, yet Vargas was pacing like God himself was looking over his shoulder. He was right about one thing. They were taking a substantial risk.

Betraying Sebastian Shaw was the easy part. He may have been a mercenary, but some people just weren’t worth the frustration. He grew tired of Shaw’s egomania when his son was still running things. No amount of money was worth giving him control over mutants with MGH. It made his decision to betray his employer easy.

The hard part was working with Vargas. After he fell out of favor with the Wyngarde sisters, he became a desperate and convenient partner. He wasn’t at Villa Del Fuego when the attack unfolded. He had been tasked with securing an escape for Warhawk once he had what got what he needed.

As an addict, Vargas had some old criminal contacts that were able to secure an unmarked car and some forged passports. When he slipped out of the lab back at the villa, Vargas was waiting for him. It was as clean an escape as they could have hoped for. Now there was one last step to complete.

Their best leverage was in a small medical bin that Warhawk took from Shaw’s lab. When he handed Shaw the new batch of MGH, he didn’t hand them all the doses that had been synthesized. He saved a few for himself and made sure no one noticed. As far as he knew, the authorities believed they had every last drop of MGH. They were wrong. Now he was the only remaining source of MGH and he intended to take full advantage of it.

“Take it from a former soldier, Vargas. The only sins that come back to haunt us are those we fail to outrun,” said Warhawk as he looked at the case with MGH, “When you’re not able to pick your battles, you tend to be unreasonably shackled.”

“Is that why you betrayed Shaw? He held you back from past transgressions?” said Vargas dryly.

“In addition to his insufferable sense of entitlement, he never allowed me to fight the battles I wanted. I had to take matters into my own hand. I would have lost my mind if I stayed under that phony tyrant’s thumb. It’s pure coincidence that the battles I seek are in line with the ones you seem intent on joining, even if you have no place doing so.”

“You have your choices. I have mine,” said Vargas strongly, “It’s easy when you’re a mutant with powers. You don’t have to worry about being too frail to make a difference.”

“Will you quit it with the jealousy?” said Warhawk dryly, “You don’t like being weak. I get it. If our associate delivers, then neither of us will have to worry about that again.”

It was an appealing thought, one that made all this festering anxiety worth it. Vargas kept pacing, the dense air of the vast church doing little to ease his mindset. He was already sweating nervously while Warhawk looked calm. Nausea was setting in. That weakness that Vargas mentioned continued to torment him. He was determined to escape it. He didn’t care who he had to trust or who he had to betray. He refused to be weak.

His nausea subsided when a familiar pink portal opened. He and Warhawk watched intently as two figures emerged from the glowing light. One was Blink, the source of the portal. The other was the man they had placed so much trust in, Pietro Maximoff.

“Sorry I’m late. Had a run-in with a T-Rex,” said the speedster casually.

“Is that supposed to be a joke?” questioned Warhawk.

“Not as much as you think,” chuckled Blink.

“You guys are lucky I’m in a good mood. I’d like it to get even better,” said Pietro as he approached Warhawk, “So don’t just tell me you succeeded. Show me!”

“Since we’re in a bit of a hurry, I’ll skip asking for a please,” said Warhawk.

Without hesitation, he opened the small medical case to reveal several doses of the refined MGH. Pietro reached in and took one. He held it up in the dim light of the church, making sure it was the real deal. The added glow of the substance assured him that this was exactly what he was hoping for.

“Perfect!” proclaimed the speedster, “This is exactly what we need to finish our little science experiment. Maybe now our resident science guru will stop busting my balls.”

“If only it wasn’t so much fun,” said Blink under her breath.

“This is likely the last batch you’ll come by,” said Warhawk, ignoring Blink’s comment, “It’s all yours if you give me the sanctuary I requested.”

“And I will,” said Pietro as he clutched the vial, “You did well, Warhawk. Way better than that Beak kid that utterly failed. Havok was right about the value of spies. But don’t tell him I said that. He’ll rub it in my face for the rest of the week.”

“You’ll have my utter silence if you also deliver what was promised to me,” said Vargas as he stepped forwards, “Warhawk told me about the research you were doing. I want to be first in line to taste its fruits!”

“Whatever pal,” said Pietro, rolling his eyes, “I’m usually dubious of humans, but it’s not every day someone risks their life just so they can be a guinea pig.”

“There’s more to it than that…more than I could possibly put into words,” said Vargas, unable to hide his insecurity, “What you’re doing is big. It’s going to change the world. I want to be part of that, no matter the risk!”

Pietro looked at the frail man strangely. Vargas sounded desperate, even for a human. He didn’t intend to get this guy involved. Warhawk was the one that introduced them. What he asked for was nothing short of bizarre. It called his sanity into question. Even so, he promised to serve a necessary role. One that would pave the way for something much bigger.

“If that’s what you want, who am I to argue?” shrugged Pietro, “Saves us the trouble of finding some gullible volunteer.”

“Thank you, Mr. Maximoff,” said Vargas graciously, “I promise you won’t regret it.”

“Spare me the graveling. It’s annoying, even for a human,” said Pietro as he led them back into Blink’s portal, “Follow me and try to keep up. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and I’m looking forward to showing up the X-men!”

Up next: Power Brokers

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