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Volume 7 -- Issue 165 -- Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 4

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Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 4
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Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. The fight grew to such lengths that it led Professor Xavier to create the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. This program integrated the X-men with government forces led by General Grimshaw and the mutant soldier, Captain Jack Freeman. It was a bold move that has since complicated the conflict. A man named Romulus eventually exploited that conflict in a bold, world-wide attack.

While the X-men were bound by the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, X-Force sought out to confront Romulus. In doing so they were captured and used in Romulus’s plot to create the ultimate warriors. With these warriors, he hopes to wipe out every army and destroy all weapons so that mankind will no longer be able to wage war.

He also revealed that he had been the mysterious mentor that trained Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Mystique during Team X. He also played a part in X-23’s creation. On top of it all, he reveals that he is Wolverine’s biological father.

For a while, it seemed as though Romulus has X-Force at their mercy. Then a small group of X-men along with Deadpool and Fantomex defied the Mutant Monitoring Initiative and tracked Romulus to his White Cell base. However, in their efforts to defeat this man, Romulus proved resourceful. Even as he wages war on war itself, he prepares to destroy those that would oppose his ultimate vision.


Pentagon – MSA Command Center

“Somebody please talk to me! Army? Navy? Marines? Coast Guard? Hell, I’ll accept the Montana Militia at this point!” yelled an anxious female corporal into a damaged communication link.

“Give it a rest, corporal. Nobody’s answering,” said General Grimshaw, who took cover next to her.

“We’re under attack here, sir! We need backup!” said the officer.

“Something tells me that the rest of our forces need it too. And if everyone needs it, then that means no one is getting it.”

His logic was as grim, but valid. The armies that were supposed to defend the world needed defending themselves. Someone with obscene resources and equally obscene intent decided to wage war on the world. They bought that war right to the very heart of the United States military.

General Grimshaw pulled the corporal away from her communications terminal in order to avoid another optic blast. He and a number of other officers took cover in what was left of their central command center at the Pentagon. Most had already evacuated. Some tried to aid the other parts of the building that were under attack.

There seemed to be little anyone could do. These masked warriors were unstoppable. They were fast and agile in addition to being durable. They had firepower, telekinesis, and teleportation abilities that made it seem like they were coming from every direction. While they seemed to avoid killing too many soldiers, they showed no restraint at destroying their capabilities to fight back.

The whole MSA hub was in ruins. Four masked warriors laid waste to every computer terminal, communications uplink, and data server. Psylocke, Colossus, and Captain Freeman attempted to fight back alongside Charles Xavier. They had little luck in doing so. These warriors were too powerful and too organized.

“These men…are too…strong,” grunted Colossus, who was locked in a grapple with one of the warriors.

“They’re fast too,” groaned Psylocke as she missed one of the warriors with her psionic blades and got a heavy dose of telekinesis in the process.

“I get it, guys. You don’t need to keep reminding everyone!” said Captain Freeman while narrowly avoiding a claw slash.

“Argh! Well…I think…it bears…repeating, comrade,” said Colossus as he took an optic blast to the head, “What we are doing is clearly not working,”

“Even I need time to adapt!” grunted the Green Beret, “Any luck on your end, Xavier?”

“Not the kind I would prefer, Captain,” said Professor Xavier, who was concentrating while a couple of MSA agents defended him, “These men have telepathic abilities. They’re blocking me out and trying to attack with probes of their own. I can barely keep my own shields up.”

“Well, we better find another way soon!” said Psylocke as she narrowly avoided an optic blast, “Once these blokes run out of equipment to destroy, they’ll only have us left to target.”

Professor Xavier felt a thick sweat form over his head. His psychic attacks yielded no results. The minds of these warriors were built like Wolverine’s, except they had their own telepathy with which to fight back. They were like computers carrying out a program and with the destruction in the Pentagon, they were definitely succeeding.

Colossus, Psylocke, and Captain Freeman continued incurring injuries. Captain Freeman had adapted his body to become more durable. One of the warriors fought back by rapidly teleporting around him and striking him with head blows. Two more did the same with Colossus, utilizing more optic blasts to wear him down.

They even seemed to use his metal form as a means of destruction, blowing him back against any piece of heavy equipment that wasn’t easily destroyed. The warrior taking on Psylocke didn’t try to match her agility. While she attacked with her psionic blades, the warrior simply used telekinesis to keep her off her feet and slam her against nearby walls.

“Hnn…is it too late to swap powers, Colossus?” groaned Psylocke, now with a dislocated shoulder.

“I don’t think metal skin would fare much better,” grunted Colossus, falling to his needs after taking an optic blast to the head.

“We’ll have to fall back,” said Captain Freeman, “We can’t save this area, but the least we can do is-UNGH!”

The Green Beret was cut off when one of the warriors struck his legs with a wave of telekinesis, tripping him so that he fell flat on his face. The warrior made sure he stayed down by driving his claws into his upper shoulder, wounding the mutant soldier in a way that was difficult to adapt from.

With Captain Freeman and Psylocke injured, the mysterious warriors turned their attention towards Professor Xavier. He was still guarded by a couple of MSA agents who anxiously fired back with their weapons. None of their shots landed. The warriors didn’t even notice when they incurred a wound. With perfect coordination, they used their telekinesis to disarm the agents. This left both them and Xavier vulnerable.

“My rifle!” shouted one of the agents.

“Whoa! Looks like you’re on your own here, Xavier. This was not part of our training,” said the other.

“I need more time,” said the Professor intently, “Too much time to make sense of it all!”

The two warriors used their telekinesis again to shove the two MSA agents out of the way. Their eyes glowed red as they prepared to attack the Professor with an optic blast. Xavier was forced to stop his psychic probe. His only option at this point was to run, but he was unlikely to get far.

‘No…it can’t end like this. Is this going to be the legacy of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative? Failing to stop an attack that crippled the world?’

The warriors were about to attack. Then in an unexpected turn, their eyes stopped glowing and they froze where they stood. For a moment, they looked like computers processing a new set of commands.

“Emergency Protocol Omega initiated. Returning to core for Defense Strategy X,” they said in perfect unison.

Then as suddenly as they appeared, the four masked warriors teleported away. They left behind a decimated MSA control hub and many unanswered questions. Colossus, Psylocke, and Captain Freeman emerged injured and confused. General Grimshaw and several officers rose up, taking in the damage that they had just incurred.

“Talk to me, Xavier. What just happened?” asked General Grimshaw.

“I’m…not entirely sure, General,” said Xavier as he did a quick psychic scan, “I detected a brief psionic signal. It seemed to come from all directions. I disappeared too quickly before I could make sense of it.”

“I sensed it too, Professor…in addition to my shoulder popping back in place,” groaned Psylocke, who was helped up by Colossus.

“You’ll have to make sense of it later,” grunted Captain Freeman with blood dripping from his mouth, “We’ve got a hell of a mess on our hands.”

“Something tells me, it is much worse than we expect,” said Colossus.

It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. No one dared contest it as they struggled to process what just happened. Everyone was just beginning to catch their breath. Then General Grimshaw’s cell phone went off.

“I presume that’s the president,” said Professor Xavier.

“You really are the world’s greatest psychic, Xavier,” said Grimshaw as he recognized the number, “If he’s able to call, then something must have changed on his end as well. He’s going to want answers. For all our sake, someone better figure them out.”


White Cell Base – Lab Core

Romulus had multiple lifetimes of combat experience. In his long, illustrious career on the battlefield he understood a few key tenants of war that often went overlooked. Chief among them was the idea that there was no such thing as overkill when it came to overwhelming an enemy. In order to carry out his vision, he was prepared to do more than overwhelm the likes of X-Force, Deadpool, Fantomex, and even his own son.

One by one, every one of his warriors was returning to him. Since there were so many, he had some appearing outside the building and around the entrance. It ensured that there was no escape for his enemies.

Wolverine, Sabretooth, X-23, Deadpool, and Fantomex would not thwart him. Neither would Cyclops, Warpath, Domino, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Emma Frost, or the Scarlet Witch. They already had wounded with Phoenix, Angel, and Hellion. There was no way they stood a chance at escaping his full army of Weapon X warriors.

“Now this is just unfair,” said Deadpool as warriors continued to appear, “Seriously, are you going to give us a slight chance here?”

“We can take them!” said Sabretooth intently, “I’m so pissed right now I could rip the heads off every one of them!”

“You mean like you’ve always threatened with me, Creed?” grumbled Wolverine.

“Even you were never this annoying, Logan,” said Sabretooth.

“You’re welcome to try opposing my warriors,” said Romulus, “Your collective efforts may allow you to overcome one, but an army of them?”

“Even I’m not that lucky,” said Domino, “I didn’t bring enough bullets for this shit.”

“I can just teleport us out of here, you know? There’s no shame in running,” said Illyana.

“You’re welcome to try. Bear in mind my warriors can teleport as well,” said Romulus, “There’s nowhere on this planet you can flee. They will find you. They will defeat you. They won’t be gentle either.”

Wolverine’s gaze narrowed on the old warrior. He was insulated by nearly a dozen Weapon X warriors. This man, his own father, was the source of so much torment in his life. He was behind Team X. He was behind Weapon X. There was no point in his life when he wasn’t being used by this man. Now as he confronted the truth head on, he was unable to do anything about.

“So what are you waiting for old man? What’s stopping you from finishing us off?” taunted Wolverine.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish Wolverine, but I suggest you quit while you’re behind,” said Emma Frost.

“Believe me, if I truly wanted to end you then I would have done it by now and used your corpses to fuel my vision,” said Romulus, “But I stopped taking pleasure in senseless slaughter long ago. I truly hoped that you would come to understand my vision. You of all people should be able to appreciate a world without war.”

“Just because someone takes all the guns away doesn’t mean war ain’t a problem,” retorted Wolverine.

“Makes it a lot less fun as well,” added Deadpool.

“You act like your age has made you wise, but you’re wrong,” added X-23, “It’s just made you insane. And we’ll never be insane enough to get behind your twisted vision!”

“If you truly believe that, then ending you here is an act of mercy,” said Romulus, “I’m through trying to reason with you. Now my warriors will end you and you’ll forever be denied a world without conflict!”

Wolverine, Sabretooth, X-23, Fantomex, and Deadpool braced themselves for the attack along with the rest of X-Force. His warriors had the power to end them in any number of ways. Romulus gave the order. However, the attack never came. The warriors simply froze where they stood, their eyes behind their masks flickering erratically.

“Uh…anyone else find this ridiculously anti-climactic?” said Deadpool.

“Guess these special warriors of yours aren’t so special,” said Mystique as she waved her hand in front of their faces.

“This…this isn’t possible,” said Romulus in confusion, “My warriors are conditioned to obey me with or without the core!”

“Oh poo, I knew I was forgetting something,” said Fantomex, “Some of our associates figured out how you were controlling these minions of yours. They’ve been hard at work tweaking it. Guess they succeeded.”

“Associates? Who the hell are you talking about?” demanded Sabretooth.

“The ones that are in the process of ending this debacle once and for all,” said Fantomex, “I won’t name names, but one of them has dark hair, a computer-like mind, and looks strikingly beautiful in skin-tight outfits.”


Meanwhile

“We’ve done it!” exclaimed Beast, “We’ve overridden the psionic signal.”

“Finally! That mean we can tell Storm to level this place?” said Rogue as she stood watch.

“Not yet,” said Sage, “I’m picking up some unusual signals. There’s a lot of data streaming in and it would be a shame to leave it behind.”

The wait within the psionic transmission terminal had been agonizing. Rogue, Gambit, Sage, and Beast traced the signal to one of the buildings as fast as they could. They did so knowing that Phoenix, Fantomex, and Deadpool would fight their way to the main building just as quickly. It was all but guaranteed that they would find trouble.

Many of the elite guards that were patrolling this base were paralyzed. Storm took care of any automated defenses with her lightening. The psionic transmission room was heavily secured. There were no fewer than five squads guarding it. Rogue and Gambit had to punch and blow their way through numerous barriers. It allowed Beast and Sage to get to work as soon as they arrived. After hooking Sage’s device into the system, they sat down at various terminals and proceeded to undo the damage that White Cell had done

“Hmm…this is odd,” said Sage as she looked over a new stream of data, “All these signals seem to be tied to individual frequencies. I suspect they represent those mysterious Weapon X knock-offs that are attacking all major military instillations.”

“What’s so odd about that? It makes sense that this is how they would be controlled,” said Beast.

“Yeah…for those of us with an extra dozen IQ points,” said Gambit.

“Keep it simple for us, Sage. We ain’t got time for a quantum physics lesson,” said Rogue impatiently.

“You don’t know how right you are, Rogue,” said Sage as she took in more data, “Before we overrode the signal, all those frequencies I mentioned abruptly disappeared and reappeared at a central location.”

“And where might that location be? If they’re coming in behind us, then we should probably skip the explanation and start running,” said Rogue.

“No, the location isn’t here. It’s in what I presume to be the central control building…as in the same building that Phoenix, Fantomex, and Deadpool ran towards. If X-Force is here, it stands to reason that they would be there as well.”

Gambit, Rogue, and Beast exchanged glances. It was as odd as it was disconcerting. If all this activity was being concentrated in once place, then both X-Force as well as the others could be in grave danger. Overriding the signal was just one step in this battle. Now came the most important part of their mission.

“I’ll add to your presumption that those three have managed to put themselves in undue danger,” said Beast, “We need to end this once and for all.”

“What would that entail? Is there any way to find out if our friends are still in one piece?” asked Rogue.

“It may be easier than you think, Rogue,” said Sage as she made some adjustments on her device, “Now that we’ve overridden the signal, we control how each frequency will self-destruct. I’ll contact the others to determine the most effective means of doing so.”

“Sounds like it’ll be quite a spectacle,” said Gambit with a grin, “Remy can only imagine how satisfying it must be.”


White Cell – Central Lab Core

Romulus’s vision was crumbling before his very eyes. Decades of pain-staking work was literally disintegrating to nothing. He sought to end all war and these narrow-minded fools so arrogantly opposed him.

By now, every one of his warriors had returned from their field of battle. They all continued to shift and contort erratically. The glowing eyes behind their masks sparked like a computer that was crashing. They couldn’t respond to Romulus’s orders. They couldn’t respond to any orders. Romulus was no longer in control and his stoic demeanor gave way to unparalleled outrage.

“Mission…new data…failure…overridden,” the warriors said in their mechanical tones.

“Pull yourselves together, my warriors! I command you!” roared Romulus.

“Doesn’t feel good, does it? Not being in control,” commented Cyclops, still hovering protectively over Phoenix.

“Give it a rest, old man. You’ve lost this war,” said Wolverine

“Silence! This isn’t over. Need I remind you that I still have the full resources of White Cell at my disposal? I can fix whatever you’ve done to my creations and still have plenty of energy left to end you!”

Romulus’s threat was soon followed by deep rumble that reverberated throughout the building. The lights flickered and the core sparked more erratically. Through the open doors outside the lab they could feel cold winds howling through the building, leaving little doubt to who was behind it.

“I think that weather anomaly you mentioned is getting worse,” said Warpath with a smug grin.

“Storm must be busting out zhe F6 tornadoes,” said Nightcrawler, “Zhat usually means it’s a good idea to leave.”

“No way! I ain’t leaving this asshole behind,” roared Sabretooth.

“I take no pleasure in agreeing with this Neanderthal, but he has a point. He must pay for what he’s done,” said Fantomex

Many shared that sentiment, but another round of more intense rumbles dissuaded any lingering desire to stick around. They had wounded with Phoenix, Hellion, and Angel. They couldn’t risk staying too long just to vent their anger on Romulus.

“If you guys wanna be buried with this asshole, be my guest. He’ll get what’s coming to him. Just not as much as he deserves,” said Wolverine as he stared down his father.

“You have something horribly cruel in mind that we can do quickly?” asked Mystique.

“And how can we be sure he won’t try something like this again?” asked X-23.

“I have a few ideas. I think you’ll like ‘em!” said Wolverine with a wolfish grin.

“INSOLENT CHILD!” roared Romulus, “YOU WILL NEVER ESCAPE YOUR PURPOSE!”

Shoving aside his malfunctioning warriors, the imposing man lunged towards his son with the murderous rage that carried him through countless battles. Wolverine matched that rage with a feral growl of his own. This time he was ready for him.

“X…Wanda…let’s shut him up!” he yelled.

“Gladly!” said X-23.

With Romulus focused on Wolverine, X-23 slipped in and ded a sweep-kick with her clawed foot. That tripped Romulus up while severing the tendons in his lower leg. As he lost his balance and fell forward, Wolverine drew his claws and lunged forward with an uppercut-like motion. Romulus ended up falling impaled by the neck.

The adamantium blades went clear through him, wounding him in a way he couldn’t brush off. He tried to use his strength to push away, but the Scarlet Witch hit him with a hex bolt. This rendered him paralyzed and weak, leaving him at the mercy of his son.

“Ack!” Romulus choked.

“Ooh! There goes your shot at American Idol,” said Deadpool.

“That hex field won’t hold him for long! And neither will this building!” said the Scarlet Witch, “If you’re going to do something, do it fast!”

“Don’t worry. This won’t take long,” said Wolverine as he stared down the old warrior, “Anyone who doesn’t have a nasty history with this asshole, get outta here.”

“After being trapped here for three days, I couldn’t be happier to leave,” said Emma.

“I haven’t been here for more than a few minutes and I am ready too,” said Illyana.

With Romulus subdued and his warriors no longer a threat, Illyana Rasputin opened up a sizable portal. Emma Frost led an exhausted Julian through while Cyclops took the still unconscious Phoenix in his arms and followed. Domino and Warpath rushed to retrieve the badly wounded Angel. He was still breathing, but would need some serious treatment back in Nova Roma. Nightcrawler joined the Scarlet Witch, who was already on her way out. Before he left, he turned back to his mother.

“Are you coming, mother? I assume you don’t vish to be in zhe same room vith Sabretooth for too long,” said Nightcrawler.

“I appreciate the concern, Kurt. But after three days of this shit, I can handle it,” said Mystique, “Besides, I’ve worked long and hard to witness this moment. I need closure.”

Nightcrawler nodded in an understanding gesture. His mother had gone through a lot since she learned about her true past. This was part of her confronting it. Confident that Romulus would face justice, he followed the Scarlet Witch through Illyana’s portal.

The only ones that remained were Wolverine, Sabretooth, X-23, Fantomex, Deadpool, and Mystique. They stood around the paralyzed Romulus as he sank to his knees, impaled by Wolverine’s claws. This man had done so much to hurt them. He was the true face behind Weapon X. He was the reason so many tried to turn them into weapons of war. Even as the lab continued to strain under Storm’s attack, they remained focused on ending this man’s madness.

“You know, there’s a lot of shit I wanna ask you,” said Wolverine, “You’re my father. You know everything about me. You could fill in all these gaps in my memory. You could end all the frustration that has been messing with me for so damn long.”

“Hrrrr…I could,” said Romulus, his voice highly strained, “But you…would never…understand.”

“Can we please kill him now? Even when he’s choking on his own blood, his voice pisses me off!” said Sabretooth.

“I second the big, scary cat-man!” said Deadpool, “If this guy put his stamp of approval on all things Weapon X, that’s all the reason I need to fill him with bullets.”

“That’s exactly my point,” said Wolverine, “Despite all the answers you could give me, I’m willing to throw them away along with your sorry ass. You say you’re so old, but I’ve still learned something you haven’t. I’ve learned to let go of the past.”

“You’ve learned…nothing,” said Romulus.

“Neither have you,” retorted Wolverine, “That’s exactly why killing you would be more trouble than it’s worth. Ain’t no way we’re gonna finish what one too many wars couldn’t. The only way you’ll ever learn dick is if you come face-to-face with the present rather than living in the past.”

Wolverine turned to Fantomex, who he assumed was vindictive enough to want to see Romulus face some form of justice.

“Hey Frenchie! Assuming that chick with the computer-like mind was Sage, does she take telepathic requests? I got an idea on how to deal with this schmuck and his army of meat puppets.”

“I’m sure she’s open to suggestions,” said Fantomex.

Utilizing his techno-organic material, Fantomex contacted Sage. Since he had such strong ties to her, she was inclined to listen even if it made her uncomfortable.

‘My dear, Sage. I have Wolverine with me and he has a few requests. I assume your0 elegant brilliance will more than suffice.’

‘Spare me the flattery, Fantomex. Stay out of my mind while you’re at it.’

‘If only that were possible. But that’s a debate for another time. Now will you heed my request or not?’

‘I’ll patch him through and anyone else that may be with him. I only ask that you keep your obscenely dirty thoughts to yourself.’

Fantomex did as she requested. Sage used her telepathy to link up with Wolverine. As he shared her instructions, they were broadcast for the others to hear. When they heard what Wolverine had in mind, they couldn’t help but grin. Even Sabretooth seemed to be in agreement. This was by far the most appropriate way to defeat Romulus once and for all.

“Ooh! That’s horrible! That’s sooo cruel! I love it! I love it as much as Bea Arthur in a pool full of chimichangas!” cooed Deadpool.

“If he’s not going to give us any answers, then I say it’s more than appropriate,” said Mystique with a coy grin.

“But how can we be sure that he won’t escape?” asked X-23.

“There ain’t a lot of guarantees with pricks like this,” said Wolverine, snarling at Romulus once more, “The best we can do is make sure it’s as unpleasant as possible.”

With approval from the rest of Weapon X, Wolverine roughly yanked his claws out from Romulus’s throat. The old warrior fell to his hands and knees, clutching his bleeding neck. The Scarlet Witch’s hex bolts made it so he couldn’t heal. While he was writhing in pain, he noticed a shift in his warriors. Their sparking eyes flickered as if they were receiving new commands. However, none of these commands came from him. That in and of itself was more infuriating.

Wolverine, Mystique, X-23, Sabretooth, Fantomex, and Deadpool stood back. As they did, the army of Weapon X warriors that had since crowded the lab turned their attention towards him. Their glowing eyes were now dark red and sparking at an unstable level.

Following Sage’s new command, they drew their claws and surrounded Romulus. In a last desperate gasp, he tried reaching out to grasp his son. Then the warriors all drove their claws into the old warrior’s flesh in an uncontrolled rage.

“Termination protocols initiated. Implementing new self-destruct sequence,” they all said at once.

“Arrrgghhh! No! My…my warriors,” howled Romulus.

“Relax, old man. You’ll live,” said Wolverine, “You love your army so damn much that you’re willing to turn your own son into a meat puppet? You can spend the rest of your unnatural life with them.”

“ERRRRRRRRRR! JAMES!” exclaimed Romulus, reaching out even as more claws were driven into him.

“You’ll always be part of my past, father,” Wolverine went on, “In another life I may have spent every waking moment pissed off at the fate you forced on me. But I got a new life now and I’m gonna make it work without you.”

Wolverine continued to watch as more Weapon X warriors surrounded the wounded Romulus. It got to a point where the hoards of mindless drones started piling on top of him. It created this massive mound of bodies that grew as more Weapon X warriors swarmed around their creator. Now assured of his father’s fate, Wolverine was ready to put this madness behind him.

“Let’s blow this joint. Storm will finish the rest,” said Wolverine.

“Probably the smartest thing you ever said, runt,” said Sabretooth with a grin, “You sure we can’t stay longer? I wouldn’t mine enjoying the show now that Mystique is here.”

“Keep it in your pants or we’ll leave you here, Creed,” said Mystique menacingly, who had to be held back by Wolverine.

“What about Daken?” asked X-23.

Wolverine paused for a moment and looked back towards Daken’s wounded form. He was still out cold, but his loyalty to Romulus was absolute. Meeting both his father and his son in the span of a few days was a lot to take in. Through his many experiences since joining the X-men, he realized that sometimes there was no way to work around the past.

“Romulus decided his fate too. Ain’t nothing I can do for him that won’t make it worse,” said Wolverine as he took X-23’s hand in his.

“That’s a relief. The idea of having him as a brother is just too disturbing,” she said.

“Aww, I knew we would have time for a family moment before we left this dump,” said Deadpool, “This would make such an awesome Christmas card. The Weapon X family all here sharing a moment!”

“You’re an idiot, Wade,” said Fantomex.

“Would you have me any other way?”

“Let’s get outta here and I’ll see if I have time to list them,” said Wolverine.

With X-23 and Mystique by his side, Wolverine made his way to Illyana’s portal. Sabretooth, Fantomex, and Deadpool followed him. Illyana was still standing by, keeping it open and watching closely as the lab continued to destabilize. The tremors throughout the lab became much louder. It sounded like Storm had destroyed much of the upper levels already. The pressure of the winds was causing the lower levels to collapse on themselves. It would effectively bury Romulus’s legacy once and for all.

Once everyone was through the portal, Illyana entered as well. Moments later, the portal faded. By now the entire lab was inundated with countless Weapon X warriors that Romulus went to such lengths to perfect. The army that was supposed to end all wars would be the end of his vision.

Even as the lab started to collapse, every warrior surrounded him. Then as the roof started to cave in, each warrior started glowing in preparations for one last teleportation. Underneath all this chaos, Romulus remained conscious.

“My son…your fate is sealed. You can never…escape. I shall see to it,” he uttered before succumbing to his fate.

With those final words, the army of Weapon X warriors each teleported simultaneously. They left in their wake a blinding flash. Unlike before, they did not have a destination. When they disappeared, they disappeared into the very fabric of space. They were now locked in between the dimensional gateway with their creator, never to fulfill his vision.

“Honorable Grandfather…no,” gasped a barely conscious Daken.

It was too late. The army that Romulus spent a lifetime creating had disappeared within the blink of an eye along with their creator. They left nothing behind but a decimated lab that was rapidly crumbling. Daken, still gravely wounded, turned over so that he was lying on his back. As he looked up, he saw the lights flicker out completely and the roof start to crack. For Daken, he lost more than just a lab and a mentor. He lost his purpose and his own father was to blame.

“I have…no father,” seethed Daken, “Wolverine…you can’t bury your past! You hear me? I swear by the blood of my grandfather I’ll…”

Daken didn’t get to finish. The lab core finally collapsed, burying him along with what was left of Romulus’s vision.


White Cell Base – Outside

“If Phoenix and the others are still in there, they better leave soon. I’m through holding back!” yelled a determined Storm as she hovered in a sea of swirling clouds.

It was a full-blown hurricane throughout much of the base. By now the elite units had regained control. Sage made sure their suits were powered down so that they couldn’t use their enhanced agilities. Storm had also destroyed most of their automated defenses, causing many to scatter for cover. Once the emergency protocols were announced throughout the base, they ceased trying to attack her and evacuated. That included the alpha unit, who had since recovered and were coordinating the withdrawal.

“I so want to knock that crazy bitch out of the sky right now,” grumbled Sasquatch as he looked up into the clouds.

“You heard the announcement, Sasquatch. We must evacuate!” said Vindicator, who urged him along with Puck by her side.

“We should be more worried about Zero and Typhoid Mary,” said Karma, who was helping Guardian load some units into a convoy jeep, “What happened to them? It looks like they just shut down or something.”

“With the mind-warping shit they’ve been through, that may not be too far off,” commented Guardian, “We can piece together what’s left of their minds later. Right now, we gotta get these convoys outta here!”

“Wait! What about Daken?” exclaimed Northstar, who was limping along with Aurora supporting him, “He hasn’t checked in! We must look for him!”

“There’s no time, Jean-Paul!” said Aurora, having to shove him into the jeep, “White Cell has been compromised. We must leave before we’re caught in a far worse storm!”

“Besides, your boyfriend’s tough,” Puck reminded him, “He’ll make it out…eventually.”

Northstar was still reluctant to leave, but he was in no condition look for Daken. His knee was in shambles and he could barely limp, let alone run. He slipped into the jeep with Aurora, Puck, Sasquatch, Karma, Guardian, and Vindicator following close behind. Agent Zero and Typhoid Mary were in the back, still conscious yet not moving.

As soon as they were in, Guardian signaled the other jeeps. Through the rain and high winds, the alpha unit led the elite units off the base. As they drove away from their base, they looked behind to see the complex they fought so hard to protect completely crumble.

Storm’s hurricane-force winds and punishing tornados finally finished the job. She had weakened the structure to a point where it started collapsing in on itself. It was like hitting the whole building with a giant hammer, causing the foundation and the supports to crumble. Judging by the wind flows, there was a lot of open space underground. This space eventually collapsed, causing it to collapse in a large sink hole.

As the structure collapsed, the rest of the team caught up with her. Rogue, Gambit, Sage, and Beast emerged from the psionic transmission building and braved her winds to reach her. Now that the building was crumbling, she decreased the intensity. She had clearly done her part. She trusted the others to come through.

“Stormy! Wanna tone it down to a Category 2 for us?” shouted Gambit over the winds.

“I believe you’ve made your point, dear Storm,” said Beast, having to cover his face from the winds.

“Gladly,” said Storm as she redirected her winds, “Please tell me you succeeded in ending these senseless attacks.”

“If the data I downloaded is accurate, there was nothing senseless about them,” said Sage, who had several computer disks in her hand.

“Senseless or not, you don’t have to worry about it Storm. We got the job done,” said Rogue proudly, “The rest of these hired guns are running away. Whoever was callin’ the shots ain’t calling them no more.”

“A recent text message from Professor Xavier confirms that the world-wide attack has stopped,” said Beast, “As for who was behind it, that’s another matter. I assume that was what Deadpool, Phoenix, and Fantomex were supposed to uncover.”

“It was. How else do you think Fantomex convinced me to direct my winds at the building they were infiltrating?” said Storm.

“They wanted you to attack a building they were inside?” exclaimed Rogue, “You sure you weren’t listening to Deadpool by mistake?”

“Relax Rogue, they’re okay,” assured Sage.

“They damn well better be! They best have some answers as well!” added Rogue.

Just as Rogue was starting to get anxious, three figures emerged from the rubble. Once they were within shouting distance, one of them made his presence known.

“Boy have we got a story for you, boys and girls,” exclaimed Deadpool, “We even found us a souvenir. Ain’t that right, Frenchie?”

“I wouldn’t call it a souvenir, Wade. More like a mess that we had to help clean up,” said Fantomex, who had the unconscious Jean Grey in his arms.

Beast, Storm, Rogue, and Gambit rushed towards the two former living weapons as soon as they saw their wounded friend. Phoenix looked like she had been in a pretty nasty fight. She didn’t have too many bruises, but it was clear she was exhausted.

“Jean! What happened to her?” exclaimed Storm.

“Relax. She’s fine,” assured Fantomex as he set her down on the ground.

“Hnn…so tired,” groaned Phoenix, “Cyclops…Wolverine…where are they? I sensed them here just a second ago.”

“So X-Force was here,” said Gambit, “How in the heck did they find out about this place before we did?”

“Didn’t you hear that remark I made about having an awesome story?” said Deadpool.

“Believe it or not, Deadpool may be underplaying the breadth of what we uncovered,” said Fantomex.

“Me? Not being outrageous enough? Surely you jest!” said Deadpool, pretending to be offended.

“Ah’d rather not hear Deadpool tell us the story. Hell, Ah’m not sure Ah wanna know. Last Ah checked we’re still on thin ice with the feds by just being here,” said Rogue.

“From what I’ve gathered, that may no longer be our most pressing issue,” said Sage.

“The lovely Tessa speaks the truth. We successfully halted further conflict and took care of the man behind it. However, he left quite a bit of destruction in his wake. It actually isn’t as bad as it could have been if you can believe that.”

Now that the X-men could catch their breath, they looked around to process the aftermath of the conflict. The base was moderately damaged and mostly deserted. Even if the attack was over, they had a lot of explaining to do. That would be in addition to all the damage those Weapon X drones did. There were sure to be major implications and the X-men would likely be on the front lines.

“In that case, perhaps this is a good time to part ways,” said Beast, still not comfortable with the way Fantomex leered at his girlfriend, “You’ve done your part. You helped us thwart another catastrophe and for that we thank you.”

“What? Your kicking us to the curb before we can tell our story? And I was going to start a camp fire and make smores!” said Deadpool.

“We have plenty of data to work with. I’m sure you two have your own unique affairs,” said Beast in a somewhat overt tone.

“I’m always willing to make time for others,” said Fantomex, not taking his eyes off Sage.

“Well, we’re not,” said Rogue, who helped Phoenix up while standing next to Beast, “Unlike you two, we got real-world jobs with real-world problems to work out.”

“We wouldn’t mind helping…for a price of course,” said Fantomex coyly.

“We appreciate the offer, but we can handle it,” said Beast as he stood protectively next to Sage.

“Oh I don’t doubt that you can,” quipped Fantomex, “I just doubt that some of you will be able to handle the many smaller problems. Sooner or later, those problems will catch up to you. We just learned that first hand and trust me…you would be wise to heed it.”

His tone came off as both a warning and a threat. Beast maintained his amicable appearance, but the animal within in growled at the way Fantomex continued taunting him and Sage. For reasons she hid behind turn-off emotions, Sage didn’t respond to Fantomex. There was nothing she could say that wouldn’t fuel Fantomex’s intrigue.

The mood was getting tense even as the skies cleared and the dust settled from this battle. Storm and Gambit stepped in to keep Beast from losing his cool. Even a man of his intelligence could be overwhelmed and they had faced enough overwhelming forces for one day.

“Easy there, teach. This ain’t a good time to let this sort of thing get to you,” coaxed Gambit.

“I’ll repeat what Henry said earlier and thank you for your assistance,” said Storm as she extended her gratitude to Deadpool and Fantomex, “We appreciate you saving our friend. We appreciate you lending a hand to X-Force as I’m sure you did.”

“Would you believe me if I told you they didn’t thank us quite as nicely?” said Fantomex.

“Wolverine said I’m crazy. For him, that’s like a hug, a kiss, and a cold beer,” said Deadpool.

“Well, we have. Now please…let us do what we must and we won’t stand in the way of whatever devious activities you have planned,” said Storm.

She kept her winds swirling to add a small measure of force to her request. Fantomex remained fixated on Sage for a moment longer. There was still an unmistakable connection with her.

He felt it within the techno-organic substance that flowed through his veins. He could tell she felt it too. She stayed close to Beast, as if he was shielding her from it. The look in her stoic eyes indicated that it was only doing so much. That convinced Fantomex that they would eventually confront this feeling. It just wasn’t going to happen today.

“Very well,” sighed Fantomex, “I suppose we’ve confronted enough demons from our past today.”

“It led to getting clawed, shot, and beaten half to death. Overall, I’d say it’s a pretty average Tuesday,” said Deadpool.

“But I’m certain our paths will cross again,” said Fantomex as he turned away and started walking towards the front gate, “When that day comes, I hope it’s under somewhat better circumstances.”

“Better…yeah right,” muttered Rogue.

“Oh don’t be so bitter,” said Deadpool as he followed Fantomex, “Every time we show up, more shit blows up and that goes a long way with the readers. It’s senseless. It’s mindless. But hey! You gotta give the people what they want.”

Storm, Beast, Sage, Rogue, and Gambit tried tune out their twisted remarks. With a wounded Phoenix and a major mess back in Washington, they had to get back home. While this attack was over, the stage was set for a much tougher battle.

At some point someone was going to have to sift through this rubble. That could only come after the armies of the world recovered. The MSA and the governments of the world endured a severe blow. It was sure to spark a debate that would have grave implications.


Meanwhile

As the X-men left the base and many unanswered questions behind, they were closely watched in the distance by a conflicted gaze. Most of the residual forces had already fled. Most of X-Force had fled as well.

Angel and Hellion were wounded. Wolverine, Mystique, and X-23 were in a conflicted mood after everything they learned from Romulus. However, for them it was still possible to make sense of these revelations. For Cyclops, this experience revealed some far harsher truths.

“Are you ready, mien friend?” asked Nightcrawler, who lingered behind with his friend.

“Almost,” said Cyclops in a flat tone.

“I hope you’re not too worried about Jean. She appeared no vorse for wear after ve left,” he told him, “In fact, I’m surprised you didn’t stay behind to speak vith her. I don’t zhink she vould have mind.”

“I wouldn’t have either,” said the X-Force leader, “But I put her in enough danger for one day. I don’t deserve to talk to her.”

His voice was laced with a bitter sorrow. Being controlled by Romulus had affected him much more so than anyone else on the team. Even though his plot with Domino and Mystique had worked, being at the mercy of someone like Romulus for over three days took a heavy toll.

It was for that reason that he didn’t linger. He had Illyana transport everyone else back to Nova Roma while he stayed behind with Nightcrawler so they could return Jean to the others. Fantomex and Deadpool came with them. He didn’t give her any heartfelt goodbyes when he handed her off to them. He couldn’t even look at her after what happened in the lab. It was a difficult moment. Never before had he been so conflicted.

“I’m starting to think that maybe all those people that protest may actually have a point,” he said solemnly.

“Zhat’s just zhe exhaustion and emotional distress talking,” said Nightcrawler, “Ve’re all a little shaken after vhat Romulus put us through.”

“It’s not distress, Kurt. It’s more than that…much more. Romulus may have failed in realizing his vision, but he proved his point and we can’t ignore it.”

“Vhat point are you talking about? No offence, but you’re starting to scare me, Scott.”

“That makes two of us,” sighed the beleaguered X-Force leader, “And if I’m too scared to face the woman I love, then we’re in even more trouble than we thought.”

Nightcrawler was at a loss as Cyclops stared into the distance, watching as the X-men left the base with Jean. He could sense her mind reaching out to his. He wanted to reach back, but he decided to keep himself closed off. He had a lot of unpleasant demons to work on, both with himself and with X-Force. Jean didn’t deserve that burden. Nobody did.

Cyclops watched until the X-men were out of sight. The Velocity came flying in to pick them up. Before they soared off into the distance, Cyclops turned back towards Nightcrawler. His expression was still stoic and cold. Nightcrawler continued to show his concern, but there was nothing left for him to say.

“I’m ready now,” said Cyclops.

“Is zhere anything I can do to make you at least fake a smile before ve return?” asked Nightcrawler as he placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“I doubt it so save yourself the trouble,” said the X-Force leader.

“Fair enough,” sighed the German mutant, “But I hope you don’t let zhis dampen your faith, mien friend. Ve still believe in X-Force. Ve still believe ve’re in a good position.”

“I’m really not so sure about that anymore,” Cyclops sighed.

“Look at it zhis vay…no matter how bad you feel right now, you’re still in a better position zhan Sabretooth. I hear Wolverine had Illyana pull a little trick vith her portal. Let’s just say zhat he has far more reasons to be upset zhan any of us.”


Antarctica

“What the freakin’ hell?”

The angry roars of a very disgruntled Sabretooth echoed through a vast wasteland of snow and wind. He had just emerged from the yellowish light of Illyana’s portal. A moment ago he was walking right alongside X-Force. A moment later he felt himself separated. By the time he emerged, he was not at the White Cell base anymore. He was nowhere near civilization anymore.

He now found himself in a vast, barren arctic wasteland. In every direction there was nothing but snow and ice. As the brisk winds blew through his feral form, he quickly realized what had happened.

“LOGAN, YOU FUCKING TRICKED ME! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOUR KID! AND FUCK YOUR GODDAMN FATHER!” he cursed, “YOU THINK YOU CAN JUST THROW ME AWAY? JUST YOU WAIT! I’LL FIND YOU! IF I HAVE TO CLAW MY WAY ACROSS THE WORLD, I’LL HUNT YOU DOWN AND MAKE YOU SUFFER!”


Washington DC - Pentagon

For any leader of any country, the first priority was defense. Every society needed protection from enemies, foreign and domestic. Every civilization needed a military of some sort. Without it, there was no defense. Without defense, society was vulnerable and a vulnerable society could not survive.

As Commander-in-Chief, President Robert Kelly was obligated to watch over his nation’s military. All over the country, reports were coming in about military bases being crippled and expensive military hardware being damaged beyond repair. His wasn’t the only country either.

Every country that had a standing army and even non-governmental armed forces were devastated. The extent of that damage was epitomized in the ruins of the Pentagon’s inner-most areas. The attack didn’t waste time scarring the structure. It went right to the heart of America’s military network and as the dust settled from the attacks, President Kelly traveled with the Secret Service to survey the damage.

“The most powerful army in the world…crippled in the span of a day,” mused President Kelly as he walked through the rubble of the MSA control hub.

“I wouldn’t say we’re crippled, sir. We may be wounded, but it’s far from crippled,” said General Grimshaw with Captain Freeman by his side.

“Don’t you dare try to put a positive spin on this, General. We need to face the cold, hard truth here.”

“The truth is it could have been much worse. We’re lucky that it ended when it did.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it. If we were truly lucky, this never would have happened in the first place.”

President Kelly walked past what was left of the main monitor that oversaw the control room. It had been completely destroyed. Glass and plastic was scattered all over the floor. Terminals were shattered with exposed wires randomly sparking at times. The Secret Service surrounded him, but seeing all this damage made even them feel vulnerable. It was a feeling that many others now shared.

“Let’s go over the hard facts, General,” said President Kelly as he looked over the destruction, “Our naval forces have been cut in half. Our nuclear arsenal has been reduced to a fourth of it’s full capacity. Over eighty percent of our bases have been severely damaged. Dozens of uniformed men and women are dead. And these are just preliminary estimates. When the full figures are gathered, it’s bound to be devastating.”

“You don’t need to convince me of that, Mr. President. My people are already swamped with worried families wanting to check in on their loved ones,” said the General, “Thankfully, the attack focused mostly on hardware, not taking lives.”

“Didn’t I just tell you not to put a positive spin on this?” said President Kelly bitterly.

“I wasn’t trying to, sir.”

“Well try harder because I’m still struggling to make sense of it! We’re the most powerful military on the planet and we couldn’t stop this attack. Before I came here, I received reports from every ambassador on the payroll and their assistants. They conservatively estimate that the global military footprint has been reduced to sixty percent. Sixty percent…do you know what that entails, General?”

“I’m a military man from a family of military men. I know what it means, sir,” said the General, “Soldiers have no guns to fire. Planes have no bombs to drop. In some places, police don’t have anything more advanced than a night stick.”

“Then you should be able to connect the dots better than me! Not trying to console me with false hope!” said President Kelly, “There are countries in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa where the destruction of their militaries has caused massive uprisings. Some are already begging for assistance, but for once America can’t spare the resources. We even have cities where police are being overwhelmed by rioters. So I ask you, General…how do we paint a rosy picture here?”

General Grimshaw held his head low and sighed. He turned towards Captain Freeman, who was at a loss. They couldn’t deny the facts the President laid out for them. The devastation from this attack would take time to compile, but everyone could already sense its severity. They were all vulnerable now, both from outside forces and from their own people.

President Kelly finally turned away from the destruction and faced General Grimshaw. There was frustration in his eyes, but there was also a touch of guilt. The devastation of the attack was made all the more difficult by the revelation of who orchestrated it.

“You got the report from the X-men, didn’t you? You should know by now just how responsible we are for this madness,” said President Kelly.

“Indeed I did, sir,” said the General, “Hank McCoy sent us a file he said he hacked from White Cell. I’m sure there was more to it than that, but it paints a pretty clear. This attack came from White Cell.”

“The very organization that I told the X-men to avoid despite plenty of evidence to the contrary,” added the President, “Do you have any idea how bad that looks for us?”

“Hindsight is 20/20, sir. It would’ve have been impossible to probe White Cell in time to stop this. Their political connections and secrecy…”

“Don’t even try to make excuses, General!” barked the President, “We had every opportunity to counter this threat, but we didn’t. And for what?”

“Politics tend to get in the way of many things, sir. It can’t be avoided. You know that better than anyone.”

“That doesn’t make it right, damn it! After everything we’ve done with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, how could we let something like this happen? Did we fail? Or did the system fail?!

“If I had to make any sort of guess, I’d say they both failed. But what do I know?” said Captain Freeman.

President Kelly scolded the mutant soldier. Captain Freeman bit his lip, immediately regretting what he said. General Grimshaw offered a reassuring glance. Even if his remarks were harsh, they were plenty accurate.

It led the President to turn away and throw his hands up in frustration. It was a difficult notion to contemplate. The very initiative they thought would reduce conflict had only led to a more serious crisis. If both the people and the system failed, then what hope was there for the initiative?

“I’m sorry, gentlemen. But I’m at a loss here,” said the President as he struggled to catch his breath, “Can someone just tell me what I can expect so I can plan my next move?”

“You still want me to keep avoiding optimism? Because it sounds like you could use it, sir,” said General Grimshaw.

“Just start talking and if I smell bullshit, I’ll hold my nose,” said the President.

General Grimshaw took a deep breath as assembled his thoughts. He had to choose his words carefully because this was a sensitive time for a president that had enough to worry about.

“First and foremost, you can expect some serious outcry when word gets out that White Cell was involved,” said General Grimshaw, “Now at the risk of sounding too upbeat, we won’t be able to hold the entire organization responsible. Based on what Hank McCoy told me, this attack was orchestrated by one man. Most everyone else in White Cell had no idea he was doing this. The only problem is that same man was White Cell’s founder.”

“I don’t suppose the X-men that so boldly defied my orders were able to arrest the bastard,” grumbled President Kelly.

“That’s a more complicated story that I’d rather not get into,” said the General, “All we know is that both him and his army are gone. White Cell is a pretty big organization and most of their operations have been frozen. Our phones are already ringing off the hook with high-ranking officials claiming they didn’t know anything about this.”

“Is there any way to prove otherwise?”

“I doubt it. In fact, they’re probably telling the truth. That’s why it may be a good idea to put White Cell to work for us. Since their fingerprints are on this, it looks like they’ll agree to use their resources to aid decimated military forces all over the world. It’s not going to come close to filling the void, but it’s better than nothing.”

“That won’t stop people from demonizing this company as the new Enron. I can already hear the protests about using private armies that employ mutants breaking out all over the world,” mused President Kelly.

“I bet even those people would agree that simply disbanding the whole thing would be a bad idea. It would put a lot of disgruntled soldiers and mutants on the streets with no job and too many reasons to hold a grudge.”

“That’s a creative way of saying we’re screwed no matter what we do.”

“Not entirely,” argued General Grimshaw, “We can use the Justice Department to try White Cell’s top brass for negligence. We can break them up, reorganize them, and give the impression that some form of justice has been delivered.”

“After what we’ve lost, it wouldn’t be enough,” said the President.

“I never said it would. I never even said it was our greatest problem. This whole operation exposed serious shortcomings in the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. The X-men had to go behind our backs to stop this. By the letter of the law we should put them on trial too.”

“Can I assume you advised against that?” muttered President Kelly.

“I know you don’t really care for Charles Xavier, but he’s still our strongest ally. It would reflect horribly on you and the initiative if you tried him. I don’t even want to begin to speculate how this would tie our hands at a time when we need all the allies we can get.”

President Kelly began pacing as he tried to wrap his head around all the political implications. It was a painful irony since politics was part of what started this mess. While he had never been particularly fond of the X-men, he had become dependant on their roles in the government. At a time like this, he had to limit how many problems he had on his plate.

“I’ll just silently pardon them…provided, of course, that Xavier doesn’t rub this in my face,” grumbled President Kelly.

“That’s not his style. Although he will voice plenty of concerns,” said General Grimshaw, “This whole incident could undermine the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. We’ll need to do a lot of damage control just to keep the world as we know it intact.”

“I know we are, General. I just don’t want damage control to become our primary activity with this initiative,” said President Kelly, “I’ll have to meet with Xavier, work out some plans, and hopefully find some way of putting this behind us.”

“Putting the past behind us is the easy part, sir. We should be more concerned about what this means for the bigger picture,” the General went on.

“We’re a nation with a decimated military, General. We’re only equipped to fight the small battles at this point.”

“But the larger battle is always nearby,” Grimshaw reminded him, “Which brings me to my next point.”

But before he could continue, the President turned around and waved him down. He was a beleaguered leader in the midst of a global crisis. There was only so much bad news he could take.

“That’s okay, General. I’ve heard enough,” said the President strongly.

“But sir, I thought you wanted me to tell you what to expect.”

“I said I’ve heard enough! The big picture in my mind is simple. We screwed ourselves when we didn’t have to. We have to unscrew ourselves by holding our noses and feeding the necessary bullshit to the rest of the world. It’s the only way we’ll save the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.”

“And if it can’t be saved in it’s current form?” questioned the General.

“Then we can officially send the human/mutant conflict back to square fucking one, which I would like to avoid at all costs. Understood?”

Grimshaw had to hold himself back. There was a lot wrong with the President’s mindset, but he wasn’t open to criticism at the moment. The President was overwhelmed. He had every right to be and there were many world leaders out there that probably felt the same way. No matter how pressing the bigger picture may be, he was the President of the United States. He was only equipped to fight so many battles.

“I understand, sir,” said Grimshaw stoically.

“Then we’re done, General,” said President Kelly as he turned back to his Secret Service agents, “I’m going to survey the rest of the building. I expect you and your people to help me pick up the pieces.”

“We will, sir,” said the General.

“Does that mean you’ll stick to the battles I assign? Because I need to know I can still trust you.”

“You can, sir. That’s one issue you need not concern yourself with.”

President Kelly took some comfort in those words. He took a moment to catch his breath before following the Secret Service out of the decimated area. General Grimshaw and Captain Freeman remained behind, offering their Commander-in-Chief a salute. He simply nodded in response, showing all the signs of a leader that had already charted the path he wanted to take. For the General, that meant no one was left to confront the bigger picture.

“I swear you have the best poker face on the planet, sir,” commented Captain Freeman once the President left, “Even in the face of a pissed off president, you never let them call your bluff.”

“You make it sound like I’m being dishonest, Captain,” said the General, “The man said he didn’t want to deal with the weightier issues.”

“But you’re not going to ignore them, are you? In fact, I’m pretty sure you’ve already started making arrangements.”

General Grimshaw grinned slightly. Captain Freeman may not be the sharpest soldier he ever met, but he had a talent for reading a situation. It’s part of what made him a great soldier and an important ally.

“I trust you’ll know when to keep your mouth shut on these issues. We do have our own duties and we’re obligated to fulfill them,” said the General.

“Don’t worry, sir. My lips are sealed,” assured the Green Beret, “So exactly how much bluffing are we going to have to do here?”

“Not as much as you think,” he replied as he led the captain through the rubble, “I’ve already made a few calls to James and Heather Hudson. They promise to be important allies in the event things go bad. If President Kelly is too dense to formulate a contingency plan, then we will and pray we don’t have to use it.”


Academy of Tomorrow – Dormitories

‘You’re a complete and utter mess, Julian Keller. What did you do to yourself? You’re supposed to be tough. You’re supposed to be strong. How could you just break under pressure like that? You’re pathetic! No wonder Miss Frost didn’t trust you.’

Julian Keller wasn’t used to beating himself up. He had always been X-Factor’s fearless fighter. Where others would hesitate, he would dive in ready to fight. This time he didn’t even get a chance to fight. He was rendered weak, vulnerable, and completely inept. Even when he regained control, he was too stricken to make a difference. It stripped away that fearlessness that made him such a strong presence at the Academy of Tomorrow.

He returned to the academy quietly with Emma Frost. They had Dr. Nemesis treat him for some lingering muscle aches and cramps. She didn’t tell Nemesis what had happened and he didn’t ask. That way Emma didn’t have to wipe his memory when he was finished. During the treatment, Emma tried consoling him. She even offered to wipe his mind of the memories, but Julian refused. This was something he needed to remember.

Once Emma Frost left, Julian returned to his room. She assured him that she would arrange a cover for why he was missing for the past three days. Everybody would think he was on a recruiting mission for new mutants or something. He was given all the details so that he could back up his story, but that didn’t really concern him at the moment. Lying back on his bed, Julian recalled that terrible feeling he felt when he was under Romulus’s control.

‘He used me…every part of me. I was completely powerless…a tool for someone else’s plot. It’s over now, but I still feel so trapped and I don’t know why! It makes me so angry I just want to…’

Julian’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door. He was so startled that he was prepared to unleash a full blown telekinetic attack. He managed to restrain himself. Taking a deep breath, he got up from his bed and opened the door. He was surprised if not taken aback to see Laura standing in front of him.

“Oh…Laura,” he said awkwardly, “I uh…thought you were still with Wolverine.”

“I just got back. Frost told me you treated for your wounds and Dr. Nemesis gave you a clean bill of health. I didn’t believe that for a second,” said Laura.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because if you were okay, you wouldn’t have the look in your eyes that you do now,” she replied.

“Uh…what look?”

“You know what I’m talking about, Julian. Now are you going to make me beat it out of you or are you going to let me in?”

Julian shifted uncomfortably. Laura saw right through his distress. She probably didn’t even need to use those keen senses of hers. He looked so pathetic that anyone could have seen it. So without hesitation, he let Laura in.

As he closed the door behind him, Julian tried to gather himself. In many ways his predicament was tied to this girl. His feelings for her led him into the crossfire with Romulus. Those same feelings took on a different context now. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of them.

“So how are you really holding up?” asked Laura, “Don’t be afraid to mince words if you have to. I won’t blame you.”

“There’s nothing to mince,” grumbled Julian, “It sucks! I feel like shit. For three days I was completely at the mercy of some sicko who thought waging global war was a nice way to spend a weekend. I almost prefer torture because at least that’s easy to understand. I just…I can’t wrap my head around what I’m feeling now.”

“Yeah, that’s to be expected,” she said in a sympathetic tone.

“I’ve never felt so…used,” he said in a calmer tone, “Everything about myself just seemed to fade. I felt like just a slab of meat that hadn’t been slaughtered yet.”

“If it makes you feel better, we made sure Romulus is feeling something far worse right now.”

“I want to take comfort in that. I really do. I just…I’ve never felt this frustrated before. I want to lash out at the whole world. I want to destroy everything that could possibly make me experience that feeling again.”

“That’s also to be expected,” she said as she moved in closer to him, “But even if you could, it wouldn’t change a damn thing. Trust me. It took me years to realize that. Spare yourself that kind of anguish.”

Laura placed a gentle hand on Julian’s shoulder. Usually, he was the one to comfort her when she was experiencing emotions she didn’t understand. This was one instance where she understood something that he couldn’t. It was more than a profound role reversal. It took all the emotions that had been simmering between them into a new context.

“I’m sorry, Laura. I…I owe you at least a billion apologies,” said Julian in a low tone.

“Why would you apologize to me?” she asked in confusion, “The reason I came to check up on you was to say how sorry I was that you got caught up in this. If it wasn’t for me, Romulus never would have used you.”

“It’s not your fault, Laura. You have nothing to apologize for,” he told her, “Nothing would have stopped me from going after you because that’s how much I care about you.”

“I…I figured as such,” said Laura, now feeling a bit awkward herself, “I still don’t see why that means you should apologize.”

“There are so many reasons I don’t know where to begin. I guess I could start for saying I’m sorry for being so pig-headed to think I understood what you were going through. I now know that I didn’t have the slightest clue.”

He paused for a moment, feeling short of breath and overwhelmed. His heart raced under Laura’s penetrating gaze, but not for the usual reasons. Between his feelings for her and the fresh memories of what he just endured, everything took on a much clearer, much more painful context.

“What you went through…being a living weapon and having no identity of your own,” he said distantly, “I could never hope to wrap my head around that. Not until now anyways. Because now I do understand. I do know what you’re going through and I’m sure it’s even worse because you’re so much stronger than I’ll ever be. So I guess if you can accept my apology, we’ll be as even as we can hope to be.”

There was an unmistakable emotion in his tone. For once, it was an emotion that Laura understood. It was surreal because she never experienced such emotion with anyone besides Logan before. Now this boy with whom she had forged a special bond with had experienced something that so few people understood.

In many ways it made that bond much stronger. This boy now looked at her with an understanding that made all those other emotions that she didn’t understand much stronger. In the midst of these emotions, Laura found herself drawn closer to Julian. As she got closer, instincts took over. Guided by those instincts, they met in a soft kiss.

It didn’t catch Julian as off guard as it should have. Laura had always been one to let her actions speak louder than words. This simple gesture said more than any words ever could have. It triggered within them a new wave of emotions. This time they were the right emotions.

“Laura…is that your way of accepting my apology?” said Julian, now with a slight grin.

“It can if you want it to be,” said Laura, grinning as well.

“Works for me,” he said with a simple shrug, “Sorry you had to hear me vent like that.”

“That’s okay, Julian. For once, we don’t have to be confused. I know what you’re going through. And now you have a small idea of what I went through. I honestly can’t say that those sick feelings you have will ever go away. But Logan has taught me that we can make those old feelings better by adding new feelings on top of them. Maybe now that we’ve been through all this, we can experience those new feelings together.”

“New feelings…yeah, I think that would help.”

Following his own instincts, Julian kissed Laura again. This time the feeling was more direct. These instincts and emotions led them both to Julian’s bed. Clothes were shed along the way. In a heated mesh of new feelings, Julian and Laura made love.

The experience with Romulus had been traumatic in a great many ways, yet in the end it connected them. That connection promised to be a new source of strength as they moved forward through a world decimated with a new source of uncertainty.


Xavier Institute – Infirmary

The attacks by White Cell left so many reeling. It was a battle that could’ve ended much worse than it did, but still it happened and there was no avoiding the scars. Few had done more to avoid those scars than Jean Grey.

She had been one of the vocal few who sought to confront this threat when others tried to avoid it. That determination put her at odds with her own team. While she endured her share of injuries, in the end she was vindicated.

Shortly after returning to the institute, she went to the infirmary for treatment. Along the way Hank gave her a sedative so she could relax. When she arrived, she met up with Betsy and Piotr, who had also sustained injuries during the attacks. They were also out cold, resting after enduring such a devastating conflict. They were lucky in many ways. They didn’t have to fight the source of these attacks. In her blind determination, she went to extremes that she normally tried to avoid.

“Hnn…next time I’ll leave the crazy risks to someone else,” groaned a tired and sore Jean Grey, “I am not good at them.”

“You’re better at them then you give yourself credit for,” came a voice.

Jean Grey emerged from her unconscious daze with a mix of blurred memories. She recalled the attack on White Cell. She recalled going into the main building in seek of Cyclops and X-Force. She even recalled her nasty encounter with a man calling himself Daken. It was after that encounter where everything got blurry. Now in a clear state of mind, she arose to see Charles Xavier sitting next to her bed looking very conflicted.

“Professor? Ugh, how long was I out?” she asked as she rubbed her sore head.

“Long enough to miss the worst of it,” said Xavier solemnly, “Hank and Sage have filled me in on the details. I know now what you’ve done and how far you went to stop this attack.”

“Does that mean I’m in trouble?” asked Jean warily, “I know you were kind of coy about it, but I still defied the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.”

“Don’t worry about that, Jean. If anyone should be concerned about the initiative, it’s me. You and X-Force exposed a glaring weakness…one that cannot go overlooked moving forward.”

“Me and X-Force?” said Jean, still rubbing her head.

More memories came rushing back to her. She recalled getting roughed up by Daken in the course of the attack. Then she remembered being in some lab with Cyclops and the rest of X-Force. The rest of the details were sketchy, but she distinctly remembered being in Cyclops’s arms again. Then at some point she woke up with Fantomex, Deadpool, and the others.

“Scott…do you know if they’re okay?” asked Jean warily.

“I’ve been assured that they left the scene intact,” said Xavier, “As you can see, we weren’t as lucky. We faced the brunt end of this assault and had those mysterious attackers not disappeared, we would have incurred far greater losses.”

Jean looked to her right to see Betsy and Piotr lying in beds as well. They were resting comfortably, but looked pretty beat up. It was nothing they couldn’t heal from. That didn’t mean there wouldn’t be scars of a different kind.

“Guess that means I can skip saying I told you so,” she sighed, “I never imagined it being this bad. Guess we all underestimated White Cell.”

“Indeed we did,” Xavier conceded, “Nobody could have known that they were preparing an attack on this level. Yet still, you did something that I didn’t have the strength to do. You defied the Mutant Monitoring Initiative to do what was right.”

“It sure didn’t feel like it was right,” said Jean, “I’m not usually the one that takes such a militant stance. Seeing as how I ended up here, it’s pretty clear that I was in over my head.”

“That didn’t prevent you from making your point painfully apparent.”

“I wasn’t trying to make a point, Professor. I just knew that doing nothing was going to come back to bite us. And if we didn’t do something, X-Force would and possibly get themselves killed in the process.”

“Intentionally or not, you still proved something important…something that we cannot avoid any longer.”

The Professor rose up out of his chair and turned away. He turned towards Betsy and Piotr, who looked as though they would sleep through the night. Their injuries and the damage he witnessed at the Pentagon left him with many difficult issues to contemplate. His vision for the Mutant Monitoring Initiative seemed tainted now. Somewhere within the logistics, the world they sought to protect was left more vulnerable.

“We failed today, Jean. And I’m not just talking about the damage we sustained. We failed to maintain our commitment we made as X-men,” mused the Professor, “The Mutant Monitoring Initiative was supposed to strengthen that commitment. With this attack, it’s been completely undermined.”

“It could have been much worse, Professor. From what I can recall while getting my butt kicked, I can definitely attest to that,” said Jean.

“It also could have been much better,” retorted Xavier, “I’ve been contemplating how this would have happened if it took place before the initiative. In nearly every scenario, the outcome was better. I wouldn’t have left you on your own to track that signal that Sage uncovered. We would have been able to attack White Cell in a more coordinated manner. There would have been less injuries and perhaps less damage overall.”

“We can’t know that for sure,” she argued.

“But we can be certain that the very initiative we hoped would help us only complicated this conflict. In that respect, I’m left wondering if this is an anomaly or a sign.”

“I’d say we all learned plenty of lessons. Struggle is only meaningful if we learn from it. You taught us that.”

“I try to live by all those lessons,” sighed Xavier, “Then, the harsher realities of this world remind me that negotiating reforms here in Washington are a painfully slow process.”

“But they’re worth doing,” said Jean, “I may be a little jaded after resorting to open defiance, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.”

“I’m not giving up on it either, Jean,” he assured her, “I’m just worried that whatever reforms we make, it may not come in time for the next great threat.”

It was a daunting thought, having to go to such lengths just to be the heroes that the X-men were committed to being. Global defenses had already been weakened. The public backlash was sure to be vocal. This was bigger than the human/mutant conflict. This was about preserving the order that was vital to everyone’s survival.

“You should rest, Jean. You’ve more than earned it,” said Professor Xavier as he prepared to make his leave.

“What’s going to happen now, Professor? How are we going to fix all these problems you’ve just described?” asked Jean.

Professor Xavier stopped near the door where he hid a solemn expression from his student. His X-men still relied on him along with so many others. It led him to make a very painful admission.

“I don’t know, Jean. I honestly don’t know.”


Nova Roma – X-Force Base

“INSOLENT CHILD! YOU WILL NOT ESCAPE YOUR PURPOSE!”

There were many ominous revelations from the past few days that suck with Logan. They all seemed to stem from these angry words from Romulus. His entire life was built around a purpose that was imposed by others. He was nothing but a tool, a means to an end as dictated by his father.

It was bad enough having been a living weapon and a monster on Team X. Finding out that there was a connecting link between all this madness made it worse. At the same time, it added a new context to it. It also gave him reasons for hope moving forward.

“You’re wrong, old man…dead wrong,” he mused, “If I end up living as long as you, I’ll spend every waking hour proving it.”

The former living weapon felt a strange sense of comfort as he said those words into the clear Nova Roman night sky. Sitting on the roof of the base with a bottle of hard liquor in hand, he finally allowed himself to unwind. The rest of the team had turned in, tired and wounded from their ordeal. They sent Warren to a hospital back in the United States where he could get treatment. Emma stuck around Boston to make sure things with her Academy still ran smoothly. Everyone else was just working on how to move forward.

“Up on a roof drinking at an hour like this,” came a familiar voice from behind, “For anyone else, it would be a bad sign. For you, it’s as comforting a sight as I’ve ever seen.”

Logan turned around and grinned to see Mystique standing in the doorway.

“Heya darlin’,” greeted Logan, “You done tucking Kurt in?”

“We had a good long talk. He fell asleep halfway into it,” she sighed as she walked over and sat down next to him, “I figure if he’s too tired so I might as well try my luck with you.”

“So you finally wanna talk serious? About Romulus? About us?” he asked her.

“Pass me that bottle of Jack and I just might.”

Logan chuckled lightly and did as she requested. The bottle was already half-empty and he had another one beside him waiting. He watched as the shape shifter took a good chug from the bottle, as if to prepare herself for this conversation.

They hadn’t been avoiding each other since this affair began. However, they still avoided certain topics. Now seemed like as good a time as any to confront them.

“I put a lot of time and energy into uncovering the truth,” said Mystique distantly, “I completely changed my priorities because I couldn’t move forward unless I filled in every gap from my past. I guess I’ve succeeded. I remember my life as Rose. I remember my life as Raven Darkholme. I even remember the time in between where I became who I am now under Romulus’s training.”

“Let me guess…it still doesn’t feel complete, does it?” said Logan.

“Not in the slightest, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” said the shape-shifter, “For so long I was a bitter, vindictive woman who was only capable of making the wrong decisions for the right reasons.”

“You still sound bitter,” Logan pointed out.

“What can I say? I’m a bitter person by nature, but it helps to have fewer reasons,” she shrugged, “Not having an identity to call my own made it too easy to be angry at the rest of the world. I was tired of being so angry so I sought the truth instead. Now even that’s not enough. So I guess I’m back to where I started.”

“That really a bad thing? Sometimes it helps to start over again with a clearer mind.”

“In this case I can safely say I’m much better equipped than before. I still have missions. I still have a promise to keep to Kurt’s father. I have two children that I’ve hurt in too many ways. I also have a rape child out there that will surely be a problem at some point.”

“That’s a long list of problems, Misty. You sure you can handle them all on your own?”

“Misty? What kind of a pet name is that?’ chuckled Mystique as she took another gulp of the Jack Daniels.

“Well you ain’t comfortable with me calling you Rose. You don’t seem to care for Raven either. Figure I gotta call you something in between,” shrugged Logan, “What? You don’t like it?”

“Actually, I think it works,” she said with a slight smile.

Logan smiled back as he retrieved the extra bottle of Jack Daniels he had next to him. As he opened it, Mystique moved in a little closer to him. Their smiles gave way to a certain awkwardness that had been lingering between them since they learned of their passionate history together.

The bond they formed in the past could not be easily forgotten. It was a bond that neither one of them wished to forget. The only issue was what to do with it at this point.

“What about you, Logan? Or would you prefer I call you James?” she asked him.

“Doesn’t matter what you call me. I’d still be as fucked up as any guy who found out he has an asshole father who imparted those traits to my asshole son.”

“Yet you’re not as enraged as I expected,” the shape shifter pointed out.

“Oh I’m plenty pissed. Don’t doubt that for a second. It’s bad enough I was Weapon X’s guinea pig. Finding out that Romulus had pulled the strings just pours acid into the wound. The man fucked with my life from the moment I was born. Hell, I still have gaps in my memory that he’s probably responsible for.”

“Are you going to try and uncover those gaps?”

“I could, but I already spend enough time dwelling on the past. I’m okay with making sure that Romulus’s bullshit never amounts to anything. Destroying the man’s vision destroyed the worst part of his influence. It’s part of what I learned from being an X-man…moving forward while not forgetting the past.”

“Guess that’s a lesson that still hasn’t sunk in for me,” said Mystique as she swirled her bottle of liquor.

“I’m glad it did for me because it keeps me looking forward without being more fucked up than I need to be. I still got a job to do with X-Force. I got a job to do with Laura. And if you’re interested, I got a job to do with you…and that ain’t a dirty joke.”

A brief silence fell over them as old emotions mixed with old memories. Mystique turned to face him, her eyes not laced with deception of any kind. Logan reached for her hand and grasped it within his. This time she wasn’t avoiding this moment and neither was he.

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told you back when we were in Team X. I ain’t good with words, but I still got a lot to say,” he told her, “We can’t avoid the past. We can’t let it dictate our future either. We can never go back to the way things were. But if you want, we can try to build something new…something that’ll do us both some good.”

“Are you referring to a traditional relationship or something more twisted?” asked Mystique, “Because given our respective lives, I foresee many unreasonable complications.”

“It doesn’t have to be traditional and it doesn’t have to be twisted. It just has to be real,” he told her, “You got your issues. I got mine. There’s a lot we can handle on our own. But I think it would be better for both of us if we handled them together.”

Mystique diverted her gaze for a moment. The notion of her being this close to anyone triggered all sorts of powerful emotions. Then as she turned back to face him, she shifted her form. Now she was Rose again, the only other identity that felt like it belonged to her. Her appearance brought another smile to Logan’s face.

“Together…I think that could be good for us,” she mused.

“It could be very good,” said Logan, sneaking in a wry undertone, “We all need some way of keeping ourselves from going crazy. Sometimes the best way is to have someone.”

“If you think you can handle me, you’re more than welcome to try, Wolverine,” said the shape-shifter coyly.

“Help me finish this bottle of Jack and I’ll do a lot more than try, darlin’!”

The emotions settled in as they raised their bottles of liquor and moved in closer to one another. Together they took another round of hard gulps. Then under the Nova Roman night sky, the past and the present collided as Mystique and Logan met in a deep kiss.

These new feelings were many years in the making. Now as the influence of Romulus and the destruction he wrought settled in, they could use those feelings to build a more promising future.

Up next: Trial By Fire

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