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Volume 7 -- Issue 167 -- Uncivil Disobedience

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Uncivil Disobedience
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It is a time of heightened tensions. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men have always been on the front lines of the human/mutant conflict. However, this time the tensions aren’t restricted to mutants.

When Romulus and his cohorts at White Cell used an army of Weapon X warriors to cripple global defenses, he created a state of anarchy. The governments of the world are scrambling to restore order. This has proved difficult in a way that has rendered mutant relations a secondary concern, which may end up causing more conflicts.

In the midst of White Cell’s destruction, certain elements within the organization tried to escape justice. Frenzy, along with Cordelia and Adrienne Frost, were on the run and in need of assistance. As a result, they turned to Black Tom Cassidy, who promised to unfreeze their accounts and provide them sanctuary. As is often the case, Black Tom took advantage of their desperation. He left the Frost sisters in the hands of his daughter, Siryn, while he led Frenzy to a yacht on route to Genosha.

Thanks to Domino, X-Force has a lead on Black Tom. Despite their weakened state, they are in a position to act while the X-men remain hindered by the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It’s a situation that Charles Xavier finds untenable and recently, he received an even greater reason to change it.


Washington DC – Chinatown

“Ain’t it ironic that we gotta go to Chinatown to get the best barbeque in DC, sugah?” said Rogue as she bit into a large pulled pork sandwich.

“Depends on the kind of irony you be referring to,” quipped Remy, who was finishing a steak, “Is it dramatic irony or Socratic irony?”

“If Ah ask what the difference is, will you use it as an excuse to go off on one of your philosophy rants?”

“Who says Remy needs an excuse? I know you love it when Remy goes on about the mysteries of life. You wouldn’t be having lunch with me on our day off if you didn’t.”

Rogue laughed as she finished off her sandwich. It was a nice dose of normalcy after a string of tedious missions that involved mostly glorified peacekeeping. At a simple restaurant in downtown DC, she was just a woman having lunch with her boyfriend. It helped remind her that she still had a personal life that was worth cherishing.

It was amazing they had the energy for something a lunch date. Rogue had been traveling all around the globe with Jean, Ororo, and Piotr. They encountered many incidents similar to what they faced in Los Angeles. The destruction of major defenses allowed riots of angry citizens to cause trouble.

In addition, Remy and Betsy were helping the UN and Interpol combat well-armed criminal organizations from filling the security void. That was made more difficult by Betsy constantly visiting Warren. She along with others like Jean and Ororo were unable to keep personal matters from affecting them.

In the midst of the security crisis and the debate over the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, very few constants remained in place. Rogue and Remy’s relationship was one of the few not affected by these profound changes in the way the X-men operate. Moments like this were surreal in many ways. It showed that they could make this work on a serious level.

“Since you’re in such a philosophizing mood, what do you make of you and meh through all this craziness?” she asked.

“Define you and me, cherè,” said the Cajun, “There be many ways to make sense of it and Remy just ain’t talking about what goes on in the bedroom.”

“Ah mean you and meh in terms of the big picture,” Rogue said in a more serious tone, “The Mutant Monitoring Initiative put a lot of strain on everybody else. Ororo and James Proudstar had to put their fling on hold. So did Betsy and Warren. Peter and Kitty are stuck trying to make a long-distance relationship work. Then there’s Scott and Jean, who literally died for one another at some point. They ain’t saying they broke up, but it’s pretty dang close.”

“You think it be fair to compare our relationship to everyone else? The circumstances be pretty damn different.”

“That’s kind of mah point. You and meh had to jump through so many hoops to get together. Even after it happened, it took some time to get serious. Now here we are, having a nice lunch date like a regular healthy couple. Ah guess the point Ah’m trying to make is…could this be a sign?”

Rogue reached across the table and captured Remy’s hand in hers. She squeezed it gently, conveying honest emotion that ran between them. Remy squeezed back as he took a moment to contemplate her questions. He had time to give his relationship with Rogue such serious thought. As he looked across the table into her wanting eyes, he found himself smiling.

“Remy’s played plenty of games with his life. In all those games, ain’t much luck involved. We make our own luck. We work to play the best hand we got,” he said, “That ain’t just a cute card pun either. That’s how Remy sees you and me. We worked to get to where we are. When stuff like the Mutant Monitoring Initiative comes along, we got the cards we need to play through it.”

“So how serious does that make us? Are we ready to start playing a different kind of game together?” she asked him.

“What kind of game?”

“Ah don’t know…the kind of games two people play when they move beyond the whole flirting and teasing phase,” said Rogue more distantly.

“What does that even entail?” questioned Remy.

“Ah don’t know! You’re the philosophy buff. That’s why Ah’m asking you,” she said in a half-teasing manner.

Remy paused for a moment. He set aside his food and grasped Rogue’s hand. He hesitated to give an answer. What she described was serious. He hadn’t been involved with anyone like this since Belladonna. Knowing how tragically that turned out, the Cajun chose his words and his emotions very carefully.

“Cherè, Remy don’t think either of us can answer those questions right now,” he said, “But the fact we be asking them is a telling sign.”

“What kind of a sign?” asked Rogue curiously.

“Don’t worry. It be a good sign,” said Remy with a light smile, “It means we’re thinking about playing new games with higher stakes. We may or may not be ready for them. We can’t know for certain right now. Hell, it probably ain’t the right time after White Cell dealt us a hell of a wild card.”

“That’s part of what worries meh. There’s always gonna be another crisis just around the corner. Will there ever even be a right time?”

“Remy thinks there will,” he said confidently, “Remy believes that what we got to be special. It ain’t luck or chance that I love you so much, Rogue. Games like love tend to play themselves out as they ought to. So Remy’s got confidence that it’ll play out in our favor…no matter what the next crisis turns out to be.”

The Cajun grasped her hand firmly. Even with her durability, Rogue felt herself weaken under his grip. Remy had genuine confidence in their relationship. Even in the midst of the recent crisis with White Cell, she shared that confidence. Having gone through so much to just get together, their love was that much more meaningful.

As Rogue and Remy cherished their quiet moment, both their cell phones started buzzing. The romantic ambience quickly gave way to the pragmatic aspect of their lives. They still shared an affectionate smile. As X-men, they were used to such interruptions.

“What are the odds that this is the next crisis calling?” said Rogue.

“Ain’t no philosophy needed for that, cherè,” said Remy with a light-hearted sigh as he signaled for the check, “This be another game we gotta play. Except the rules for this game ain’t nearly as fair.”


Xavier Institute – War Room.

“So Magneto is back?” groaned Rogue.

“In a manner of speaking,” sighed Professor Xavier.

“You don’t sound nearly as outraged as I was when I heard this news,” said Captain Jack Freeman in a more urgent tone.

“Well, given how vulnerable White Cell left the world, it makes way too much sense that he would strike at a time like this,” Rogue reasoned.

“It’s sickening, but distressingly logical,” said Hank.

The mood in the War Room was tense. Professor Xavier treated it very carefully. They didn’t need to cause another widespread panic, especially at a time when global defenses were weakened. After scrutinizing the letter and doing some psychic investigating, he summoned his X-men. Jean, Hank, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Piotr, and Betsy stopped whatever they were doing as Magneto always took precedent.

Since there were still many unknowns, Professor Xavier avoided telling too many people. The last thing he wanted was more obstruction from the authorities. The only ones within the government that knewe General Grimshaw and Captain Freeman. The General was in the field so he was present through an encrypted holographic communication link. While he maintained his stoic demeanor, he shared the Professor’s concern about the timing of this revelation.

“I suppose it was only a matter of time. Magneto has never been one to squander opportunities,” said General Grimshaw’s image over the link, “What concerns me most is whether or not logic even plays a role here. If memory serves me right, he was not in a stable mindset when he disappeared.”

“When has Magneto ever been in a stable mindset?” said Piotr dryly.

“Point taken, but I remember it too,” said Captain Freeman, “After the Cambrian mess, Magneto took his sanity into a dark room and beat it to death. Disappearing without a trace probably didn’t help.”

“That’s where I disagree, Captain,” said Professor Xavier, “I suspect that Magneto is not only sane. He’s more competent than he was before the Cambrian affair.”

“What makes you say that, Charles?” asked Ororo, “All he did was write you a letter.”

“It isn’t just any letter, Ororo. I’ve known Erik a long time. I knew him before he became Magneto. Yet in all that time, I can’t recall him ever saying the phrase ‘you were right’ so candidly. He’s not the kind of man who makes such of concessions.”

“Or maybe that’s just proof that he is that mental,” muttered Betsy.

“The man went through the trouble of writin’ a letter and made sure it was on Xavier’s desk without anybody noticing,” Remy pointed out, “That ain’t the sort of thing a crazy fella does.”

“Crazy or not, he has to have a reason to call you out, Professor. What could that reason entail?” asked General Grimshaw, “I hope he left some clues because we don’t have the resources to do a full-scale investigation.”

“He did indeed, General. Moreover, I believe they’re clues we can act on,” said Professor Xavier confidently.

With the letter still in hand, the Professor brought up another holographic image. It depicted a regional map that included a location that the X-men were all too familiar with. As he zoomed in on it, he referred to the other part of the letter that was so telling.

“In his letter, Magneto referenced the place where his dream ended,” he went on as he worked the controls, “It wasn’t a very subtle clue, but I suspect he wants me to uncover what he’s planning. You all cited the state Magneto was in when we last encountered him. I’m sure you all remember where he was as well.”

“You don’t mean…” began Piotr, his words quickly trailing off.

“Where else could it be other than Genosha?” Xavier surmised.

A noticeable groan echoed throughout the team. So much conflict had come from this tiny island nation. When it was evacuated, there was a sliver of hope that they would never have to deal with it again. Once again, their hopes proved futile.

“Dang, as if that island ain’t cursed enough,” commented Rogue.

“Cursed and deserted,” said Jean as she and the others gazed at the holographic image of the island, “There’s nothing there anymore. Why would Magneto lead us there again?”

“Maybe he’s still crazy and wants us to die of radiation poisoning,” said Captain Freeman.

“Let’s assume for a moment that Magneto isn’t crazy and he knows what he’s doing,” said General Grimshaw in a more serious tone, “If he has any secrets, Genosha is a perfect place to hide them. The island has been designated a no-mans-land by the UN. The radiation the Brotherhood left behind rendered most of the land uninhabitable.”

“Almost being the operative word, General,” said Hank as he zeroed in on a few key areas of the island, “There are a few remaining pockets of radiation-free zones. If I recall, most of the major cities were evacuated before the mass exodus. This includes the capital city where Magneto concentrated much of his resources.”

“But if he did leave anything behind, wouldn’t we have found it while we were still combing through the remains?” asked Jean.

“Magneto guards his secrets well. I doubt we would have found anything he didn’t want us to find,” Xavier surmised, “Now that he wants us to find it, I think it’s in our best interests to do so.”

“That still assumes that he isn’t leading us into a trap,” said Piotr.

“Oui, we all know how much Magneto loves traps,” said Remy.

“Well I guess there’s only one way to find out,” sighed Captain Freeman.

“Ooh boy, does this mean what I think it means?” groaned Rogue.

“The captain is right. The only way we’ll answer these burning questions is to go to the source. That means going to Genosha and finding whatever it is Magneto wants us to find,” said the General.

More anxiety ensued. Any search that involved tracking Magneto usually ended in disaster. Even if it wasn’t a trap, it still had all the makings of a much greater plot. It was most likely a plot the X-men would have to confront and thwart. This at a time when the world didn’t have the stomach or the resources to deal with a global crisis.

“Well, I have to hand it to the old bloke,” sighed Betsy, “He sure knows how to make a bad situation worse.”

“Do we even know what we’re looking for, Professor?” asked Ororo.

“I wouldn’t have summoned you if I didn’t, X-men,” said Xavier, maintaining his poise despite the daunting prospect of facing Magneto, “Hank and I have been using SWORD’s satellites to do a thorough scan of Genosha. Thanks to their advanced hardware, we have been able to detect a new range of activity.”

“How recent is this activity?” asked Jean.

“Quite recent, actually. It began shortly before Charles received this letter and has been escalating since,” said Hank as he expanded the map so that it was focused on the capital city, “The activity is magnetic in nature and centered around the citadel.”

“Could that mean Magneto is there?” questioned Piotr.

“It’s possible, but not very probable,” said Hank, “The source of the magnetic activity is not from within the citadel. In fact, this activity doesn’t appear to have a source. At least not an earthly source.”

“Earthly? You mean it could be coming from space?” asked Rogue.

“We’re not sure, but that is not our primary concern at the moment,” said Professor Xavier as he zoomed in on the citadel, “The activity appears to be reacting to this source rather than generating it. Think of it as a radio picking up a new signal.”

“So what kind of radio are we talking about her?” asked Captain Freeman, “A weapon? A bomb? The key to Magneto’s secret stash of Viagra?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” said the Professor as he turned off the holographic projector, “Whatever it is, Magneto wants us to find it and we had best do so before someone else stumbles upon it.”

“Who would even be in a position to stumble across something like this in the first place?” said Betsy skeptically.

“Hell, who could?” questioned Rogue.

“The list is small, but not small enough to ignore,” said Jean, eager to get back into the field.

While the X-men took in the new information, Hank and the Professor printed out a sheet of data that included a map of the citadel.  Genosha was dangerous enough when it was a mutant nation. Now it was even more dangerous as a deserted wasteland with dark secrets that had yet to be uncovered.

Through the communication link, General Grimshaw pondered the daunting task that lay before him. In a world already weakened by White Cell’s attack, they couldn’t afford to let a new threat emerge on Genosha. Stopping Magneto’s plots were always difficult, but the logistics of this mission were already compounded.

“Let’s not begin to speculate who could or couldn’t take advantage of this,” said General Grimshaw through the link, “Right now, circumstances look to be our biggest challenge. Shortly after the Genosha exodus, the UN kept a small naval force around the island just in case. That force was damaged in the White Cell attack. Any undamaged ships were redeployed to other hot spots.”

“In other words, the island is unguarded,” Piotr surmised.

“Unguarded, but not unmonitored,” the General went on, “NATO and a host of other nations have agreed that Genosha is off limits. Even Somali pirates aren’t stupid enough to go near it. Between these treaties and the Chernobyl style environment, anyone that sets foot on the island is sure to spark more international tensions.”

“Haven’t they already blown up enough, General?” Rogue pointed out, “Ah mean seriously, who would notice if we took a quick trip there for old time sake?”

“More than enough to make everything worse,” he replied sternly, “Which is why I’ll be listing this as a black operation. The President will find out at some point, but I’ll work with my people at the Pentagon to ensure the news stays within a very tight circle. I’m currently in Germany right now talking with NATO. I’ll make sure no one has their guns pointed at Genosha while you’re there.”

“Guess that’ll make it somewhat easier,” sighed Betsy, still not feeling too good about this mission.

“But what if we do run into someone who detected this activity?” asked Ororo.

“Standard Mutant Monitoring Initiative protocols still apply. Arrest them where they stand, detain them if they don’t surrender, and make sure you leave no trace of your activities. I’m not foolish enough to believe that we can keep this a secret for long. Just do what you can to buy us some time. Whenever Magneto is involved, time is our most valuable asset.”

Having made his orders clear, General Grimshaw turned off the communication link. His holographic image faded, leaving the X-men with a mission that was as daunting as it was volatile. They could already feel time slipping away. For all they knew, Magneto was already several steps ahead of them.

“I suppose this means I must cancel my weekly Skype chat with Katya,” sighed Piotr.

“I’m sure she’ll understand once you tell her Magneto’s involved,” Ororo consoled.

“I hope Warren is just as understanding,” said Betsy, hugging her shoulders, “I feel bad just leaving him with only his father’s people to care for him.”

“Is that going to be a distraction, Betsy?” asked Captain Freeman in a serious tone.

“No…of course not,” she said, trying to collect herself.

“We’ll work on your lying skills later,” said the Green Beret, “If we’re going to run this operation, then we all need to remain focused. That’s why you’ll be tagging along, Xavier. I want McCoy here to stay behind and coordinate with the General to make sure this black up stays black.”

“Understood, Captain,” said Hank with a reaffirming nod, “Shall I get Sage involved as well? Her hacking skills would be most useful in a task such as this.”

“No,” said Captain Freeman sternly, “You heard the General. The number of people who know about this must remain small. That means you’ll have to practice lying to your girlfriend if she calls.”

“That…may be asking a bit much,” said Hank warily, “Sage has been a trusted ally on numerous operations. Surely, we can…”

“We can’t and we won’t,” said Captain Freeman strongly, which helped silence the team, “I know you’re all still burned from the White Cell debacle. We’re going to have to put it behind us at some point so it might as well be now. That means no going behind anyone’s back and sticking to protocol. Is that clear?”

A tense silence soon followed. Jean, Hank, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr all stared down the mutant soldier with suspicion. Captain Freeman already seemed to forget that sticking to protocol was part of what led to the White Cell debacle. It was the same problem all over again. Against Magneto, it was a recipe for disaster. While they could have spent plenty of time reinforcing this point, Professor Xavier stepped in.

“It’s clear, Captain. As clear as it needs to be,” said Xavier in a mixed tone.

“It better be,” said the Green Beret as he turned towards the exit, “Let’s suit up and prep the blackbird. Once the General slips us under the radar, we launch. If anyone or anything gets in our way, we’ll deal with it accordingly. But this time, let’s not step on each other’s toes. Let’s not give Magneto more of an advantage than he already has.”


Coast of Genosha – Black Tom’s Yacht

Black Tom Cassidy made a name for himself by taking huge risks. Dealing heavy arms was a hazardous trade to begin with. It forced aspiring businessmen to travel to exotic locales that no sane person would dare travel while dealing with people that no sane person would dare consort with. Black Tom considered himself plenty sane. He was just more ambitious than his competition. When confronted with an opportunity to take it, he never hesitated to take it. This was one that may be his biggest yet.

“This is as close as we can get,” said the anxious captain of his yacht, “These waters are choppy and I don’t think our signal jammers will maintain our cover much longer.”

“Quit acting like you’re about to have a stroke. They’ll hold up. They better after what I paid for them,” said Black Tom, maintaining a calm demeanor, “We’re safer than you think. The naval blockade around this island is gone. Nearly every ship that was stationed here has been redeployed.”

“Then why are we dropping anchor at one of the most hazardous parts of the coast?” asked the captain.

“Are your ears not working? I said nearly every ship,” said Black Tom, rolling his eyes, “There are still a few UN boats patrolling the waters. They tend not to come to these choppy parts of the coast. They don’t get paid enough to take those kinds of risks.”

“I hope it’s more than you paid me for this.”

“I promise you’ll be very nicely compensated for your efforts. Your entire crew will once I’ve secured the merchandise.”

“By you don’t you mean me?” said Frenzy, who was standing right next to Black Tom.

“I like to think our efforts will complement one another,” said Black Tom, “They’ll have to if we’re to secure our reward.”

Black Tom shot the captain of the yacht a stern glare, ensuring that he wouldn’t defy orders. The captain nervously nodded and issued the command to drop the anchor. They were close to the coast and the waters were pretty rough due to large reefs in the area. The weather did little to put him or his crew at ease. Around an island like Genosha, the danger was always magnified.

Black Tom continued to ignore that danger as he led Frenzy out from the main deck and towards the starboard side of the vessel. The crew was already hard at work securing the ship, keeping an eye out for any disturbances. After the incident in Istanbul, everyone was on high alert.

It wasn’t lost on Black Tom either. He was still fuming about his daughter being left behind. Since they had to maintain radio silence during the five-day trip to Genosha, he couldn’t check in with her. He remained confident that she found a way to deal with the situation. If she managed to get into any trouble, he should be able to buy their way out of it once this deal was complete.

“Explain to me again what this merchandise actually is, Mr. Cassidy,” said Frenzy as she followed closely.

“Please, Frenzy…call me Black Tom. For what you’ve agreed to, we can afford to be a bit less formal,” he said in a friendly tone.

“Whatever I call you, I think I have a right to know what we’re stealing,” she said, maintaining a tough tone, “I’m assuming it’s rare and dangerous. It has to be if it can only be found on a wasteland like Genosha.”

“You’re right on every account…except the last one,” said Black Tom, “Genosha may have been abandoned, but it is hardly a wasteland. While it was still occupied, I did a lot of business smuggling Genosha technology from their ports. It was by far my most profitable venture. As such, I made a few friends on the island. They had some interesting stories about the kind of tools that Magneto developed, some of which weren’t for sale.”

“Sounds fancy,” commented Frenzy, “How do you know they’re still there?”

“Because unlike the governments of this world, I haven’t been that eager to forget about Genosha,” he replied, “Recently a few well-paid associates detected some new activity on the island. Based on past intelligence, I think I know the source. Magneto may have lost his mind, but he was competent enough to hide his secrets. That’s where your strength and durability comes in. Hardware like this is difficult to handle, but with the right strategy it will fetch a handsome profit.”

“How much of that profit can I expect to end up in my pockets?”

“More than the Frost sisters would have ever paid you. That, I’m sure of.”

Frenzy scoffed to herself. It wasn’t like the Frost sisters were going to pay her much to begin with. For all she knew, they were going to screw her over from the beginning. They were just too greedy. Black Tom wasn’t much of an improvement, but he had gone through a lot of trouble to enlist her services. For the kind of money he was offering, it was just too great an opportunity to pass up.

“Take comfort in the knowledge that I need you more than you need me,” added Black Tom as they reached the starboard side of the ship, “To locate this merchandise, we must traverse this radiation-soaked island and venture into the capital city. The source of the activity is within Magneto’s citadel, which we can assume will still have plenty of hazards.”

“Sounds like fun,” said Frenzy, rolling her eyes, “How long will it take us to get there? You’re not going to make me carry you, are you?”

“Oh come now, Frenzy. A man of my means prefers a more efficient means of travel,” said Black Tom wryly.

As they looked out towards the rugged coast, Black Tom signaled some nearby crewmen. They moved with urgency and retrieved two large metal cases from the stern area. Several men had to work together in order to move two refrigerator-sized containers. Once they were in place, they proceeded to open them. They revealed advanced jet-packs. They looked like something that could only be found on the black market.

“Jet packs,” said Frenzy with a grin, “I’m starting to like your style, Black Tom.”

“The black market is a beautiful thing, my dear,” said Black Tom with a confident grin, “Where logistics fail, ambition succeeds!”

Frenzy’s enthusiasm for this mission was heightened as she and Black Tom strapped on the jet-packs. If this was what Black Tom could afford just to transport them, she could only imagine what he could afford to pay her once she secured the mysterious merchandise. Having been a loyal soldier for White Cell with little to show for it, she was overdue for a reward and was prepared to tear through anything that stood in her way.


Meanwhile

“Looks like they’re on the move,” said Cyclops as he observed Black Tom’s yacht through a pair of binoculars, “Black Tom and Frenzy just took off in a couple of jet packs.”

“Jet packs? You sure you’re still not hung-over, Cyclops?” asked Warpath as he stood by him with the rest of X-Force.

“It’s Black Tom. Trust me vhen I say zhis isn’t the most surprising vay he’s traveled,” muttered Nightcrawler.

“See for yourself,” said Cyclops as he handed Warpath the binoculars, “As if it will stop you from making more hangover jokes.”

“Ain’t got anyone to blame but yourself, Cyke,” Wolverine pointed out.

Cyclops did his best to hide his disgruntled demeanor and his wounded credibility. The view from atop a ridge looking over the Genosha coastline was hardly comfortable. It was even more uncomfortable for the others to see that he was right.

Warpath, Domino, Wolverine, Emma Frost, and Nightcrawler watched as two small rocket trails shot up from the deck of the yacht. They carried Black Tom and Frenzy swiftly over the coastline and towards the heart of the island. After Domino’s mission in Istanbul, this situation was growing more volatile.

“Well I’ll be damned. It’s not first class, but it’s still practical,” commented Emma as she watched the two figures soar overhead.

“This steps up the time tables,” said Domino, “I was hoping we could track them a bit longer. I sure would like to know why Black Tom is doing business in this hell hole.”

“Assume he’s got a damn good reason and it involves shit that explodes,” said Wolverine.

“Vith Black Tom, it’s usually more elaborate,” said Nightcrawler, speaking from experience, “My mother is already following up on some leads in Istanbul. She has even more reasons to work with.”

“As many as you?” questioned Emma, “As soon as someone uttered the name Black Tom, you came running from your girlfriend’s bedside as if your tail was on fire.”

“Assume vhat you want, Emma. Ve can still assume zhat stopping Black Tom is in everybody’s best interest,” said Nightcrawler strongly.

“Does this guy always make you channel your inner Wolverine?” joked Warpath.

“More or less…mostly more,” said the German mutant, “Now let’s get moving. Zhe sooner we uncover zhis latest venture, zhe sooner ve can make sure he doesn’t profit from it.”

Nightcrawler was serious. Having played a large role in the destruction of the Azazel, Kurt never passed up an opportunity to play a part in Black Tom’s destruction. When Domino returned from Istanbul, the revelation about Genosha wasn’t half as disturbing as the revelation about Black Tom.

In a way, Nightcrawler’s determination was needed because it helped compensate for Cyclops’s recent problems. He was still not at full strength. Doubts and the lingering effects of numerous hangovers had hurt the X-Force leader in numerous ways. He hid his lingering reservations under his usual focus. While the rest of the team followed Nightcrawler off the ridge, Wolverine lingered with Cyclops.

“You sure you’re fully up to this, Summers?” he questioned, “Usually, you’re the one who motivates the team. Not that Elf ain’t doing a bad job, but you don’t look like you’re trying.”

“I’m fine, Logan. Your concern is duly noted,” said Cyclops dryly as he followed the others.

“Is it?” Wolverine questioned, “A few days ago, we had half the team helping you work off a hangover. I can still smell the puke on your breath. I can also see the doubt in your eyes, even if you think those shades of yours hides it.”

“I’m not trying to hide it. I know I’ve been inching my way towards rock bottom lately.”

“More like diving head first,” made the feral mutant.

“I’m trying to avoid sinking that far, but I’m still adjusting after what happened with Romulus.”

“Adjusting? You sounded like you were damn near ready to gave up on X-Force, the X-men, and life in general,” Wolverine reminded him.

“I was drunk. You don’t say coherent things when you’re drunk,” retorted Cyclops, “You of all people should know that.”

“Point taken, but I also know that a few nuggets of truth leak out when you’re hammered. I’m still wondering just how much truth there was to those drunken musings of yours. It’s worth beating you over the head with because you’re the whole damn reason X-Force exists. If you’re starting to doubt our mission, then how do you expect us to function?”

Wolverine put it in as harsh and as crass a manner he could. It helped get the message across to the beleaguered leader. Cyclops held his head low, recalling how horrible he felt after his hangover. He remembered all the doubts he expressed. They ran deep, stemming from the trauma of having lost control and hurt one of his best friends. They were more than just personal. They could potentially affect the whole team.

“The team is still my top concern, Wolverine. Doubts or no doubts, I’ll still lead us through this mission,” said Cyclops in a strong a tone as he could manage.

“I don’t doubt you will, but what about the next mission? Or the one after that? Or the one that will end up being worse than what my old man did?”

“We’ll take those missions as they come,” said Cyclops as he walked out ahead of the former living weapon.

“Keep telling yourself that, bub. Sooner or later, you’ll have to look at the big picture. And if those doubts of yours are still kicking your ass, then the rest of our asses are in big trouble.”


Nova Roma – Curia Medical Chamber

‘What am I doing to myself? I can control astronomical odds. I can make the impossible possible, but I can’t stop putting myself in these no-win situations. Am I doing this to punish myself? Or is this just a way for all those odds I defy to get back at me?’

Wanda Maximoff had mixed feelings every time she came into the Curia medical chamber. She had few reasons to be there in the first place. The primary reason was Kurt. He spent a lot of time in this area, especially after the White Cell mission. It was where his comatose girlfriend, Amanda Sefton, still resided.

Her condition hadn’t changed much. Her mind and spirit were still locked in some sort of mystical limbo. Neither Shaman nor Margali expressed much hope of ever waking her up. It put a lot of strain on Kurt, some of which Wanda had come to share.

Standing alone, Wanda paced around Amanda’s unconscious form. Margali and Shaman left moments ago, returning to their research in what little hope they had left for a treatment. It happened shortly before Kurt left for his mission on Genosha. It was a mission she was inclined to take part in, but X-Force convinced her to stay. In a wa,s she was glad. It allowed Wanda to confront this girl in a way that she had been avoiding.

“I know we’ve never met, Amanda. I assume you’ve had an internet connection at some point so I’m guessing you know a few things about me. Most of those things are probably related to my father,” she said bitterly, “I know that doesn’t make a good impression. I won’t use my father as an excuse, but I hope you can look past him to understand where I’m coming from.”

Wanda stopped pacing and glared towards the unconscious woman. There was no sign that she heard a single word. Wanda shook her head in frustration and sighed.

“Look at me…I’m talking to a girl in a coma,” she mused, “If there’s any chance that you can hear me, then I hope that proves how serious I am. I can’t keep hiding it. I’ve grown close to your boyfriend. I know he loves you and seeing you like this has been tearing him up inside, but…I can’t help it. It’s hard to not love a man like him! He did something that nobody ever done. He’s placed his faith in me. He stood up for me when I had no one around to trust me. He…held me when I was most vulnerable.”

Wanda felt her emotions welling up. Her voice became strained as she turned away from the unconscious girl, unable to look at her anymore. She fought off tears and bitterness as she continued to reflect on what led her here.

“I don’t know if he feels anything for me. For all I know, it’s just pity for having been left behind. It may even be the loneliness of not having you around. My powers allow me to do so much, but they can’t erase these feelings. I know at some point you’re going to wake up. By then, who knows what your condition will be? All I know is that Kurt loves you and it’s tormenting him in ways he doesn’t deserve. I can’t help but resent you for that, but part of what makes Kurt such a wonderful man is his willingness to endure that kind of heartache. So I guess all I’m asking for is a little understanding.”

The emotions continued to weigh on her as silence filled the room. It was foolish to expect a response. It was just as foolish to ask a comatose girl in the first place. However, Wanda needed to get this out. She had to confront Amanda regardless of her state.

Having said her peace, Wanda buried her face in her hands and sighed. She felt a little better after allowing herself to vent. Plenty of frustration still lingered. Sooner or later, she had to return to the conflict that her family created.

She couldn’t hide on Nova Roma forever. Being with Kurt and helping X-Force had been good for her, but getting caught up in this emotional tug-of-war with Amanda wasn’t helping. Whatever came of this was a matter of chance and for once it was the kind Wanda couldn’t control.

“I should be on Genosha right now, helping X-Force track down Black Tom,” she groaned, “I’m sorry if I’m making your coma worse, Amanda. If you’re going to spite me, I won’t blame you. I have enough problems without being in a coma. They’re going to catch up with me eventually so let’s not get caught in each other’s crossfire. Deal?”

Wanda started walking towards the main entrance to the chamber. She had no intention of turning around and facing this comatose girl again. Then just as she reached the door, a familiar flash engulfed the room. Wanda quickly recognized the flash as belonging to Blink. She instinctively turned around, her hands glowing with hex energy.

“No…not now! This better not be another abduction stunt, Pietro!” she shouted.

Remaining on her guard, Wanda carefully scanned the room. The flash had long since faded. There was no sign of Pietro, Alex, or anyone else from the Brotherhood. She made it painfully clear to Pietro during their last encounter that she wasn’t going to be dragged back into the Brotherhood.

As she was scanning the room, she noticed something near Amanda’s chamber. It was a small, metallic package of sorts. She kept looking around to make sure that Pietro wasn’t hiding somewhere. It looked like this was the only thing that came through the portal. It seemed a little excessive, having Blink form a portal just to send a package. Pietro was never one to waste time so she was very careful as she picked it up.

“What are you up to now, Pietro?” she said, “I just finished talking to a comatose girl. If you’re not here, I won’t keep talking to myself. I’ll go as crazy as father.”

Wanda carefully placed the package in the center of the room. On the likely chance that Pietro was foolish enough to attempt another abduction, she used her hex powers to open it. There was a special latch on the top. She slowly undid it before opening it. Nothing devious happened. Yet she remained cautious as she walked over and looked inside. As soon as she saw the contents, her eyes widened with shock.

“Oh my…could it be?” she gasped as she reached in and picked up the object, “Pietro, you uncanny fool. What have you done?”


Genosha – Ruins of Magneto’s Citadel

Like much of Genosha, Magneto’s citadel was a shadow of its former infamy. Having been abandoned before the exodus, it remained the most imposing structure on the island. However, there wasn’t much to impose on.

As Frenzy and Black Tom soared over the Genosha landscape, they watched large stretches of charred earth pass by. The areas where the Warlock bunkers had been looked like blackened creators. The area around these creators looked like it had been burned in a fire, cleansed of all life by the radiation. This deadly radiation soaked much of the island, but the area around the citadel remained safe. That didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of other dangers to contend with.

“So this is it? This is where Magneto ran the show,” said Frenzy as they landed at the front entrance, “I gotta say it’s not nearly as big as it looks on TV.”

“Magneto’s style was matched only by his ego,” commented Black Tom as he removed his jet back, “Lucky for us, what we’re after isn’t on the top floor. According to our latest scans, the source of the activity is in the lower levels.”

“Guess I’ll have to sight-see some other time,” shrugged Frenzy, “Doesn’t look like anyone is home, but do you want me to ring the bell anyways?”

“You’ve already been so generous. Allow me.”

With a sinister grin, Black Tom took out a specially-crafted cane that he had strapped to his jet pack. It was constructed of some exotic metals found only on the black market. With his powers, he unleashed a concentrated energy blast at the front door of the citadel. The blast packed a great deal of heat so it burned right through, leaving a nice smoldering opening for Frenzy to enter.

“Well if that doesn’t trigger an alarm, I think we’re in the clear,” said Frenzy as she approached the opening.

“Don’t get too comfortable. The merchandise will have more than alarms guarding it,” Black Tom warned.

“Already looking forward to it,” said Frenzy as she cracked her knuckles, “You going to tell me what I should look for or am I supposed to play it by ear?”

“Here…this will help,” said Black Tom as he tossed her a specially configured smart phone, “There’s a program loaded on it that tracks the activity. Follow it closely and you’ll recognize it when you see it.”

“Still sounds too easy,” said Frenzy as she caught the device, “Does this mean you won’t be following me?”

“Unlike you, I’m not quite as durable,” he replied, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll find plenty of ways to keep myself busy.”

“And how can I be sure some of those ways don’t involve screwing me over?”

Before Black Tom could answer, another voice chimed in from behind. In an all too familiar buff of sulfurous smoke, Nightcrawler and the rest of X-Force appeared.

“Allow me to answer, mind friend…you can’t,” said Nightcrawler, who immediately set his sights on Black Tom.

“You might be better off letting me shoot you,” said Domino with two high-caliber pistols drawn, “Bullet wounds are more reliable than Black Tom.”

“You again!” groaned Black Tom, “Don’t you X-types have less obtrusive ways of wasting my time.”

“Probably,” shrugged Wolverine as he drew his claws, “But they ain’t nearly as fun.”

Black Tom stepped back, holding his staff up in a defensive manner. This was once instance where he wished he could have brought along reinforcements. He had little chance of fending off Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Cyclops, Warpath, Domino, and Emma Frost on his own. His only hope was to buy time.

“Frenzy! I suggest you run ahead of me,” he called out, “Get to the basement and…”

“You think I was going to wait for you to tell me?” exclaimed Frenzy, already running full speed into the Citadel.

“Guess she’s smarter than she looks,” commented Warpath, “Should one of us go after her.”

“No! We focus on Black Tom,” said Cyclops with a hand on his visor.

“That will be your first mistake,” yelled Black Tom.

Taking aim with his staff, he fired a concentrated blast towards X-Force. It wasn’t meant to hit anyone. It was just meant to scramble them. In that split second, he turned around and started running after Frenzy. He didn’t even make it to the opening he created. Nightcrawler appeared right in his path and drop kicked him.

“Umf!” grunted Black Tom as he fell flat on his back, dropping his staff in the process.

“Consider zhat your last mistake, Black Tom,” said Nightcrawler angrily, “You’re lucky my mother isn’t here. She vouldn’t be nearly as gentle!”

“Don’t rough him up too much, Nightcrawler. We need that disgusting mind of his in one piece so we can extract some answers,” said Emma Frost as she and the rest of X-Force surrounded Black Tom.

“Make it quick, Frost,” barked Wolverine, “I’d like to leave a few marks on this dirt-bag before he pulls one of his fancy escape stunts.”

“Not before I’ve had my share, Wolverine,” said Nightcrawler eagerly.

“Nobody’s getting a share, X-Force!” came a voice from above, “If you’re serious about making this guy pay for his crimes, you’ll back away this instant.”

X-Force looked up to see that they weren’t the only ones looking to dish out some justice on Black Tom. Descending within a bubble of telekinesis was the last sight that X-Force wanted to see, short of Magneto showing up. It was the X-men and they arrived in full force. It was a confrontation they had both been avoiding since the onset of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. A clash was inevitable and the timing couldn’t have been worse.

The X-men landed right outside the entrance that Black Tom blew open earlier. Captain Freeman and Professor Xavier took the lead. Phoenix, Storm, Beast, Gambit, Rogue, Colossus, and Psylocke remained behind them. They did not show any aggressive gestures. While officially they were enemies under this mission, they were still their friends and former teammates.

“No need to be so forceful, Captain Freeman. I sense they’re here for similar reasons,” said Professor Xavier in a reasonable tone.

“Professor Xavier…I would say it’s nice to see you again, but now is not the time to deal with this,” said Cyclops in a conflicted tone.

“I agree completely, Cyclops. We’re not here to fight,” coaxed Professor Xavier.

“Although protocols dictate that we keep that option open, should it be necessary,” added Beast.

“Are these the same protocols that have you graveling to politicians and throwing innocent mutants into my school as if it were a prison?” quipped Emma, who looked ready to fight.

“We’d rather not argue politics, Emma. You’re already in a poor position. Officially, you should be in Boston running your school,” said Phoenix, who wounded a bit more aggressive.

“Officially, no one is supposed to be on Genosha as well. That hasn’t stopped you guys from showing up,” noted Warpath.

“Quit playing word games!” barked Captain Freeman, “This isn’t CSPAN. This is a black op. That means we’re all bending the rules here. We can make this much harder on us both so do everybody a favor and step back from the overly ambitious arms dealer!”

The air grew more tense as X-Force stared down the X-men. Plenty of conflicted feelings lingered on both sides. Cyclops avoided eye-contact with Phoenix, who kept gazing at him with worried eyes. Warpath and Storm exchanged glances, but resisted the urge to address one another. Even though Angel wasn’t present, his role with the team affected Psylocke. In the midst of all the emotions, Cyclops gestured towards his team so they took a few steps back from Black Tom.

Watching the scene unfold, Black Tom was still catching his breath. Nightcrawler hit him so hard that he knocked the wind out of him. The arrival of the X-men seemed to work in his favor. It sufficiently distracted everyone so he could make his move.

“You spineless fools…this is why I don’t mess with politics,” he said as he reached for his cane.

“You shouldn’t mess with Mother Nature as well, Mr. Cassidy,” said Storm menacingly.

Just as Black Tom was about to reach his cane, Storm summoned a flash of lightning from the thick clouds above. The bolt struck mere inches from his hand, forcing him to pull back and knocking the cane away in the process. It was enough to make Black Tom hold off pushing his luck any further.

“You can outrun justice, but I doubt you can outrun lightning,” said Colossus.

“Can’t say Ah was expecting Black Tom to show up,” commented Rogue, “Does it count as a bonus?”

“If so, it’s not a very good one,” muttered Psylocke.

“He wasn’t alone either,” said Professor Xavier, “I sensed his associate enter the citadel moment’s ago. Gambit, go in after her. Stop her before she exacerbates the activity we detected!”

“Guess we can’t be having that,” said Gambit, “Just don’t be blowing each other up in the meantime.”

The Cajun mutant ran full speed into the Citadel after Frenzy. Rogue and Psylocke covered him, taking a position near the entrance. As X-Force saw this, the mood between the teams quickly became more apprehensive.

“Ain’t we gonna send someone in as well?” asked Wolverine, “Assuming you guys ain’t gonna make us fight for it!”

“We’re not going to fight you for anything, Wolverine,” said Phoenix in a coaxing tone, “We’re clearly here for similar reasons. There’s no need to step on each other’s toes.”

“Yet here we are,” quipped Domino, who refused to lower her guns, “Did you guys track Black Tom here as well? Or was it because of that activity you mentioned?”

“You did not sense it as well?” asked Colossus.

“If we had, do you think we would have let Black Tom get this far?” said Warpath, “You guys clearly know something we don’t.”

“And you know something we don’t, so we’re even,” said Psylocke.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Captain Freeman pointed out as he stared down X-Force, “Keep in mind, only one of us has the authority to arrest the other.”

“There’s no need to exercise that authority, Captain,” said Professor Xavier as he tried to get the Green Beret to stand down.

“Bear in mind, time is a factor for this mission,” Beast reminded him, “It’s in all our interests if we avoid needless combat.”

“He’s right,” said Storm, “For something like this, we need to set the Mutant Monitoring Initiative aside. We can’t do Magneto any favors.”

“Magneto? Don’t tell me he’s involved!” exclaimed Wolverine.

“We’re at his old palace, Wolverine. What did you expect?” said Cyclops as he stepped forth on behalf of X-Force, “There’s clearly more at work here than another one of Black Tom’s shady deals.”

“Zhat vas a given,” said Nightcrawler, who didn’t take his eyes off Black Tom, “If Magneto is involved, zhen it’s vorse zhan shady.”

“All the more reason to avoid fighting each other,” Cyclops reasoned, “But in order to determine if that’s even possible, I have just one question.”

“Of course, Scott,” said Xavier in a reasonable tone, “What do we need to do to ensure that the X-men can work with X-Force?”

Cyclops approached Professor Xavier and Captain Freeman, maintaining the fragile confidence that he was still rebuilding. He kept ignoring Phoenix’s worried glance. It would only make him appear weaker. With only measured strength, he asked a question that would dictate his next move.

“Do you still believe you have control?” he asked, “Or at the very least, do you believe you can regain it?”

“What the hell kind of a question is that?” scoffed Captain Freeman.

“Captain please!” urged Beast, “Let’s keep this civil!”

Cyclops stared down the Professor, just as he had the day he quit the X-men. Professor Xavier looked back at him, not showing nearly the confidence he had on that day. White Cell had done much to damage that confidence, but it was still intact. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative was taking shapes he never imagined. That didn’t mean he was ready to give up on it.

“Yes…I still believe,” said the Professor in a sincere tone.

“I see,” said Cyclops flatly, “In that case, this can’t remain civil.”

In a move that shocked both X-Force and the X-men, Cyclops adjusted his visor and fired a lone optic blast at Captain Freeman. His adaptive form absorbed the blast, but it still sent him flying.

“Arrrrgghhhhh!” exclaimed Captain Freeman.

“By stars and-umf!” grunted Beast as the Green Beret crashed into him.

Captain Freeman was knocked back a good twenty feet, taking Beast along for much of the ride. They landed at the shock feet of Rogue, Storm, Phoenix, Colossus, and Psylocke. He barely missed Professor Xavier, who even with telepathy was too surprised to react.

“X-Force! Secure Black Tom and retreat,” yelled Cyclops as he rushed back to his team.

“Damn it, Cyke! What the hell are you doing?” exclaimed Wolverine.

“Belittle me later! Follow orders now!” barked the X-Force leader, “Emma, shield our minds. Nightcrawler, prepare to teleport.”

“It’s official, Scott. You’re still hung over,” groaned Emma, having no choice but to heed his order.

Everything happened so quickly. X-Force didn’t have time to question Cyclops’ decision-making. Wolverine, Warpath, Domino, Emma, and Nightcrawler moved as quickly as they could to surround Black Tom. The still wounded arms dealer was just as dazed as the X-men, but for very different reasons. His ambitious deal became secondary. Now he was fodder for this clash between the two teams.

The shock amongst the X-men quickly wore off. Much to their dismay, Cyclops made his decision. Now they had to make theirs. With a heavy heart, Professor Xavier gave a fateful order of his own.

“Damn it, Scott,” he said under his breath, “Phoenix, wall off Black Tom!”

“You’re really going to play this game, Professor?” she questioned.

“It’s our mission. We must!”

While Phoenix had her doubts about that mission, she did as the Professor ordered. Before X-Force could reach Black Tom, she put up a wall of telekinesis. That stopped X-Force cold in their tracks just as they were within a few feet of Black Tom.

“Oh hell! Jean, I hope you don’t hate me for this,” groaned Cyclops as he turned towards his right, “Warpath, get us through.”

“She may not be the only one who hates you,” said the Native American mutant.

The Apache warrior clenched his fists and slammed them against the telekinetic barrier as hard as he could. The resulting force caused Phoenix to groan in pain. With no Phoenix Force backing her up, it proved to be more strenuous than it should have.

“Ungh! He’s been…working out,” grunted Phoenix as she clutched her temples.

“So have Ah,” said Rogue as she took to the air and flew right towards Warpath, “Hang in there, sugah. Ah got this!”

“Wait Rogue! Don’t hurt him!” urged Storm.

“Don’t worry, Storm. Ah’ll be gentle.”

Warpath was about to lay another blow into Phoenix’s telekinetic shell. He was thwarted in mid-stride by Rogue as she struck him with the force of a flying battering ram. Warpath avoided being knocked on his back by grasping onto Rogue’s arms and holding her in a tight grip. They avoided exchanging blows, but it was still a clear struggle.

“Ungh! This is you being gentle?” grunted Warpath.

“If only Ah had a nickel for every time mah boyfriend said that,” said Rogue as she wrestled under his grip.

“Hold onto her, Warpath! I’ll take care of the barrier,” said Cyclops as he adjusted his visor.

“No Scott!” yelled Xavier, “This has gone far enough!”

“He’s not going to listen. Believe me, I know,” grunted Phoenix as she reinforced her barrier.

“So do I,” said Colossus, “Hold on, Jean. I will stop this.”

Cyclops continued to defy his former teammates, ignoring the pleading looks of Phoenix and the urges of Professor Xavier. With little hesitation, he unleashed a forceful optic blast. Colossus managed to jump out in front of it and use his metal form to block it. He braced himself for the impact, digging his feet into the hard terrain. He was able to deflect the force, buying more time for the team to reason with their former leader.

“Listen to your friends, comrade,” urged Colossus as he fought the punishing force, “We need not fight each other like this.”

“I’m trying not to!” said Cyclops strongly, “You’re leaving us with few choices.”

“So are you,” retorted the Russian, “We face a common threat. We can still work together!”

“If you guys really believe that, then I guess don’t have to feel as guilty when I do this,” said Domino as she stepped forth.

This time, without any orders from Cyclops, Domino raised her guns and fired a single bullet right at Colossus’s face. It hit him right in eye. Even though he managed to close his eyelids in time, the impact still hurt the Russian mutant in a very disorienting way.

“Ahhhhhhhh!” exclaimed Colossus.

“Domino! What the fuck?” yelled Wolverine, forcing Domino to lower her guns before she got off another shot.

“What? It got him out of the way, didn’t it?” she shrugged.

“You’re going to wish it hadn’t,” grunted Psylocke as she formed two psionic blades.

“Betsy…” began the Professor.

“Don’t bother, Charles. I think they’ve made their point,” said Storm as she rushed to Colossus’s aid.

Xavier could only watch as Psylocke attempted to match Cyclops’s recklessness. She went right for Domino, who still had her guns drawn. She ended up slashing at them. Wolverine took the brunt of the attack, taking a nasty gash along his neck and shoulder. When Psylocke went in for another stab, the feral mutant drew his claws and deflected the attack. Domino was prepared to shoot again, but Wolverine got in her way.

“Enough with the shooting, Domino! You ain’t helping!” grunted Wolverine.

“Since Warren isn’t here to talk me down, I won’t go easy on you,” shouted Psylocke as she stabbed him right in the gut.

“Argh! That goes double for you, Bets,” grunted Wolverine, who resisted the urge to slash her with his claws.

“I can still throw in a flesh wound or two!” said Domino as she raised her guns again.

“Save your bullets. Let’s just get Black Tom!” said Cyclops as he set his sights back on the telekinetic barrier.

The X-leader was prepared to fire another optic blast. He placed his hand on his visor and was about to fire. Once again, he was thwarted. This time, it was by his own mentor. Professor Xavier didn’t bother urging him with words anymore. Using his telepathy, he made sure Cyclops’s arm was paralyzed so that he couldn’t fire his blast. It was an uncomfortable feeling that Xavier took no pleasure in inducing.

“I know you’ll hate me for this, Scott. I truly am sorry for this,” said the Professor as he lightly clutched his temple.

“No! Not again!” grunted Cyclops, this feeling reminding him all too much of Romulus’s control, “Emma, what’s happening?”

“I’m trying to block the world’s most powerful telepath. What did you expect?” exclaimed Emma as she clutched her head in discomfort.

“Errrr! Nightcrawler, see if you can…” the X-Force leader began.

“I can’t, mien friend,” said Nightcrawler in equal discomfort, “My brain is telling my body to move, but none of zhe signals are getting through.”

“That’s because I don’t want either of us to run,” said Xavier, who was steadily pushing back Emma’s barriers, “Please Scott, don’t make me do this.”

Professor Xavier’s psychic attacks quickly brought the battle to a halt. Warpath and Rogue broke their grapple. Wolverine and Psylocke reluctantly separated. Phoenix even let down her barrier surrounding Black Tom, who remained silent as he watched the ordeal play out. She rejoined Storm and Colossus, who was still clutching his eye. They stood next to Professor Xavier, remaining defensive while urging their former teammates to not make this any worse.

While the tension escalated, Captain Freeman and Beast arose from the blow they took earlier. Beast was still woozy, but the mutant soldier had adapted his body enough to absorb the most punishing parts of the blast. He was not quite as eager to be reasonable.

“Shake it off, McCoy. We need to end this,” said Captain Freeman as he helped Beast back to his feet.

“That may not be an option, Captain. I doubt my ribs can’t endure much shaking,” groaned Beast as he clutched his lower torso.

“Keep them on a short leash, Xavier,” said the Green Beret, ignoring Beast’s complaints, “If they insist on pushing what little luck they have left, go ahead and knock them out.”

“No Captain…I won’t go that far,” said Xavier strongly, “I’ve already crossed a line by telepathically attacking my former students. Don’t make me cross another.”

“Why not? I thought you would be used to crossing lines by now!” shouted Cyclops as he fought Xavier’s telepathy.

“And you haven’t?” questioned Phoenix, “You’re not thinking clearly, Cyclops!”

“You may be half-right, Jeannie. But you’re also half-wrong, by default,” Wolverine pointed out, who kept his claws drawn.

“You’re the ones making it necessary, X-Force. You’re the ones that insist on being part of the problem rather than working on a solution,” said Captain Freeman sternly.

“Your tone isn’t helping, Captain,” said Professor Xavier impatiently, “I would rather not hold my students like this.”

“These aren’t your students anymore, Professor. These are thick-headed punks who act like they’re above the law. As far as I’m concerned, they’re not much better than Black Tom,” said the Green Beret as he approached Cyclops.

“Are such insults really necessary?” said Black Tom dryly, which earned him a telekinetic shove back to the ground.

“Shut up!” barked Phoenix, “And Captain, I don’t like where you’re going with this.”

“Neither do I,” said Storm, “What line do you expect us to cross now?”

“I’m not expecting you to cross any. I’m expecting you to maintain the ones you drew when you agreed to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative,” said Captain Freeman as he now stood face-to-face with Cyclops, “Someone needs to be held accountable. Someone needs to step aside and let the right people handle this mission.”

Cyclops scolded the mutant soldier just as he scolded Professor Xavier. He was a man he once trusted. That trust had been overshadowed by the divisions imposed by the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. While he remained paralyzed, the rest of X-Force came to his aid.

Warpath, Wolverine, Domino, and Emma stood by their leader while Phoenix, Storm, Beast, Rogue, Psylocke, and Colossus stood by theirs. All eyes were on Captain Freeman, who was prepared to abandon any hope of peaceful cooperation.

“It’s time we settle this,” the Green Beret went on, “No more excuses. No more stunts. So how do you want to do this, X-Force? How is this going to end?”


Meanwhile – Citadel Basement

Frenzy ran as fast as her legs would take her through the darkened labyrinth. Magneto’s citadel was much more elaborate on the inside than it was on the outside. With little light and only Black Tom’s tracker to go by, Frenzy used a flashlight to navigate lower levels.

She followed several flights of stairs and punched through two heavy doors to make her way to the source of the activity. Along the way she noticed a thick collection of cables running along the ceiling. Wherever she was heading, it clearly involved a lot of power.

“Where the hell is this thing?” groaned Frenzy impatiently as she looked at the tracker, “This thing says I’m close. I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.”

She was now on what she figured to be the fourth sub-level. The cables got even thicker, leading to a series of circular hallways not unlike a small sports arena. Using her strength, she kicked through more heavy doors. Some were slightly rusted so they went down easily. Once she kicked down the final door, she confronted an ominous sight that answered most of her concerns.

“Whoa…guess that answers that,” she said with widened eyes.

In the center of the circular area was an elaborate display that only Magneto could appreciate. It consisted of several rotating metal disks that were enclosed in a clear plastic globe. All the cables from the ceilings fed into a series of high tech components that lined the walls.

They all bore the distinct marks of Warlock technology yet they didn’t appear to be active. These rotating disks seemed to be moving under their own power as if guided by another source. As Frenzy moved in closer, she saw that source in the center.

Looking down at her device, her suspicions were confirmed. The source of so much activity was in an area no larger than a beach ball. It was egg-shaped with a circular glass gap in the center. Within the center, she noticed it emitting a soft bluish light. It appeared to be gyrating erratically as if something from outside this chamber was influencing it.

“So that’s what Black Tom wants,” she said as she put the tracker away, “Can’t say he has good tastes, but who am I to argue?”

“You really wanna be that disappointed, cherè?” came a voice from behind.

Frenzy turned around to see Gambit standing in front of her. He his bow staff drawn along with a couple of playing cards, each of which was already charged. He seemed to think he could stop her. She shook her head and scoffed at such a notion.

“Wow…you followed me all the way down here? Are you that eager to get yourself killed?” questioned Frenzy.

“Are you this eager to help a fella like Black Tom?” quipped Gambit, “You be playing with house money if you be playing with him.”

“I’ve already been cheated by one employer. I’m okay with cheating another,” she said with a wry grin.

“Ain’t no cheating in a game like this. You be doing yourself a favor if you fold now.”

“I can take the hit. Question is…can you?”

Frenzy ignored Gambit’s warnings and went right for the core. The Cajun mutant tried to stop her by throwing three charged guards into her path. She displayed both agility and durability as she avoided the first two and covered her face with her arms to power through the third. Gambit reached for more cards and went after her. In the process she punched through the plastic barrier, tearing an opening for her to enter. Gambit widened that opening by hitting it with another charged card.

As soon as he entered, Frenzy began scaling the rotating disks and making her way to the core. Showing off more acrobatics, she leapt from disk to disk. As she drew closer, she found herself partially levitated. It was as if the gravity weakened the closer she got to the device. It allowed her to jump higher and move in closer to the egg-shaped object.

“Don’t do it, cherè! Magneto’s old toys ain’t something you wanna be playing with!” urged Gambit as he leapt atop one of the rotating disks.

“Says the man whose only toys are playing cards and sticks,” quipped Frenzy.

“I can make them all go boom in a much bigger way if you ain’t gonna listen. And in a place like this, Gambit would rather make that bet,” said the Cajun as he charged up a full deck in preparation for another attack.

“Then allow me to save you the trouble.”

Now on the last rotating disk, Frenzy used the low gravity to her advantage. Using the disk as a spring board, she pulled off another acrobatic flip so she could kick the disk off its axis while launching herself right at the core.

The disk quickly tumbled out from its stable rotation, flying right towards Gambit like an oversized coin. The Cajun had no choice but to put away his cards and leap to another disk, narrowly avoiding the impact and tumbling back towards the entrance. He tried to regain his composure. However, it was too late. Frenzy had reached the device.

“Alright you fancy gizmo,” she said as she reached out for it, “I went through a lot of trouble just to get you so you better be…”

As soon as Frenzy placed her hands on it, she was silenced. Before she could even try to remove it, the clear area in the center erupted in a brilliant burst of bluish light. It quickly filled the whole chamber, causing the disks to spin more erratically. It also powered up the Warlock components along the walls.

“Whoa…this doesn’t feel right,” said Frenzy.

“Remy would love to say he told you so, but he would rather stay in one piece,” said the Cajun as he sprinted for the exit.

While Gambit ran to escape the activity, the whole chamber began to shake. It was as if the device was just waiting for someone to touch it before it erupted with a life of its own. It surrounded Frenzy with a strange, exotic energy from which she couldn’t escape. It was like a cocoon of pure light. As this cocoon solidified, the device started to move on its own. As it moved, it seemed to take the whole Citadel with it.

“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS THING! BLACK TOM, IF THIS IS YOU SCREWING ME OVER I SWEAR!”

Frenzy’s angry outbursts were quickly muffled by the pulsating shell of light. She could do nothing but hold on at this point. Within seconds, the device didn’t just move. It launched.


Outside The Citadel

Captain Freeman continued to stare down Cyclops and the rest of X-Force. Wolverine, Domino, Nightcrawler, Warpath, and Emma Frost stood by their leader. Even though his recent actions called his mentality into question, he still maintained the same stubborn strength. They had to rely on that strength now more than ever.

Professor Xavier kept Cyclops from using his powers again to incur another fight. None of the X-men cared to endure any further clashes with their friends and former teammates. Captain Freeman wasn’t going to let them back down. The tension escalated with every second that Cyclops delayed his answer.

“Is this what you’re resorting to? The silent treatment?” scoffed Captain Freeman, “You’re using soldier tricks against a soldier, Cyclops. It’s not going to work!”

“Why not? There’s nothing I can tell you that you’ll accept,” said Cyclops.

“Bullshit! I trusted you at a time when I could care less about the X-men. Now I’m part of their mission,” the Green Beret pointed out, “What’s so wrong with trusting us for a change? You don’t have to keep breaking the damn law just to get back at your teacher.”

“This has nothing to do with the law,” retorted the X-Force leader.

“Then tell me how you think this is going to work out in your favor!” the mutant soldier demanded, “I can order Xavier right now to knock you and your team out with that mind of his. And under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, he’s obligated to comply.”

“Which is why I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that,” added the Professor as he stepped forth as well, “I don’t mean to interrupt Captain Freeman’s argument, but I implore you to make the right decision here, Cyclops. What do you expect us to do here?”

Cyclops went silent again. Captain Freeman was on the verge of telling Professor Xavier to knock all of X-Force out so they could arrest them. It was a move no one wanted to make at a time like this, but according to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative it had to be done. He was prepared to give the order when Cyclops’s demeanor unexpectedly shifted along with the rest of X-Force. He then provided an unexpected answer.

“Right now, I expect you guys to turn around right now,” said Cyclops in a very different tone.

“First the silent treatment now this? Seriously, you’re running out of tricks, Cyclops,” scoffed Captain Freeman.

“Uh…actually, it’s not a trick,” said Nightcrawler, who saw it as well.

“You know I don’t agree with Cyke on much, but for once his sorry ass is right,” barked Wolverine, “Turn the hell around already and you’ll see what I…”

His point was made before he could even finish. While everyone was so focused on Cyclops and Captain Freeman, they didn’t notice a glowing blue light emanating from the citadel. That light quickly grew and now the whole Citadel was shaking. It was so violent that it shook the ground around them. From the entrance made by Black Tom, Gambit came running out with an urgent warning.

“Back up, everybody!” he shouted, “Start running and don’t look back!”

“What the bloody hell happened in there, Gambit?” exclaimed Psylocke.

“Black Tom’s buddy pushed the wrong button. Another one of Magneto’s gizmos is goin’ haywire!” said the Cajun as the rest of the X-men started running.

“As if his gizmos do anything else,” groaned Phoenix.

The debate between the X-men and X-Force was once again set aside. As the X-men started running, Professor Xavier released his hold on Cyclops. He, Wolverine, Domino, Warpath, Nightcrawler, and Emma Frost were already running full speed away from the Citadel.

As the blue light accelerated through the citadel, large chunks of the metal structure broke off. The large chunks fell to the ground as deadly debris. One particularly large chunks truck right where the X-men had been standing. More soon chunks were on their way, prompting both teams to move faster.

In the midst of this chaos, Black Tom arose. He was still sore from earlier, but now both teams were distracted. That meant he could make his escape. Upon retrieving his cane, he quickly grabbed his jet back and strapped it on.

“That must be the merchandise. Doesn’t look like Frenzy will be able to share it,” he muttered in disappointment, “Oh well, there will be other deals.”

As the blue light reached the mid-point of the citadel, a much larger collection of chunks broke off. Black Tom managed to take off just before they struck. He quickly flew up over the X-men and X-Force while they were still running.

“Black Tom’s getting away again!” shouted Nightcrawler.

“I knew we forgot something,” groaned Emma Frost.

“At least one team ain’t leaving empty handed,” said Rogue as she took to the air, “Don’t worry, little brother! Ah promise to rough him up for you!”

“Promises are meant to be broken,” sneered Black Tom.

Rogue flew out ahead of the others, accelerating towards Black Tom. However, the long-time criminal had no intention of going with either team. Grasping his cane, Black Tom pulled off a daring spin-maneuver in mid-air. Just as Rogue closed in, he fired an energy blast from his cane. The blast was more intense than Rogue expected. Even with her durable form, it hit her so hard that she fell out of the air in a wounded heap.

“Ahhhhhhhhh!” she cried out.

“Rogue!” exclaimed Gambit as he saw this.

“Zhat son-of-a-bitch!” seethed Nightcrawler as he stopped for a moment, “Zhere’s no vay ve’re letting him…”

“No Kurt! We need to keep moving!” urged Cyclops as he urged him along.

“But…”

“Rogue will be fine, Elf! I’ve seen her take worse,” snarled Wolverine as he lingered back with Cyclops, “We gotta make a run for this one. Trust me! That dirt-bag will give you plenty of chances.”

Nightcrawler groaned in frustration, but didn’t stop running. Black Tom was a very personal enemy for his family. The thought of letting him go made him sick to his stomach. However, there was nothing he could do at this point. He was moving too fast and too high to teleport into his path. He would have to wait for another chance to avenge the damage this man had done to his family.

While X-Force was starting to break off from the X-men, others weren’t as willing to let Black Tom get away. Even as smaller chunks of debris were starting to catch up with them, they saw plenty of non-personal reasons to not let Black Tom escape.

“There goes another lead, Professor. Are we going to let him get away?” said Captain Freeman angrily.

“He hasn’t escaped yet, Captain,” said Xavier as he turned back towards his X-men, “Gambit, you and Beast get to Rogue. Storm, try and bring him down gently. We need him unscathed!”

“No promises, Charles. But I’ll do my best,” said Storm, panting hard as she summoned her powers while running.

The gloomy clouds above them started to rumble with thunder and lightning. Black Tom sensed it. He was almost out of range. These X-teams weren’t making it easy for him. In another daring maneuver, he turned around and flew in lower towards the X-men. He took aim with his cane again, this time aiming towards Storm.

“You flashed your lightning. Let me show you mine!” yelled Black Tom.

He prepared to fire another energy blast. Due to the approaching dust cloud from the crumbling citadel, it was hard to see him hovering above them. The X-men were mostly focused on the wounded Rogue. None were able to aid Storm as she stood in Black Tom’s hairs. However, Warpath noticed it from up ahead. Despite Cyclops’s clear orders, he found himself making a fateful decision.

“Storm…NOOO!” he yelled as he turned around and broke off from X-Force.

“Damn it, Warpath! Now is not the time to impress your ex,” exclaimed Emma.

The Native American mutant didn’t listen. With little regard for himself or his team, he ran back towards Storm at full speed. Just as Black Tom fired his energy blast, he jumped out in front of her so that he took the full force of the blast. It started Storm while causing the X-men to stop just before they reached Rogue.

“Arrrrggghhhh!” Warpath exclaimed.

“James!” cried Storm, quickly halting her attack.

With Storm now sufficiently distracted, Black Tom was free to escape. It wasn’t the target he was aiming for, but it did the trick.

“Not what I was hoping for, but I’ll take it,” he grinned as he accelerated towards the horizon.

As Black Tom disappeared into the distance, the X-men stopped running and prepared to take cover. Debris from the Citadel was still landing close buy and each impact was kicking up a large cloud of dust. Beast and Gambit covered Rogue while Professor Xavier and Captain Freeman rushed to Storm’s aid. Psylocke, Phoenix, and Colossus followed closely with Phoenix using her telekinesis to guard them from the debris.

While the X-men prepared to endure the destruction, X-Force kept running. They eventually made it to an old intersection where they could still see the X-men. They could also see more chunks of the Citadel shooting out as the blue light ascended.

“Are we just going to leave him?” asked Domino anxiously.

“We don’t have time to go back for him,” said Cyclops, “Nightcrawler, get us out of here!”

“But ve’ll come back for Warpath, right?” said the German mutant.

“That’s assuming he wants us to,” said Wolverine as he gazed back at Storm and Warpath, “Now quit wasting your breath and port us already!”

With the blue light nearly to the top of the Citadel, X-Force made their reluctant escape. Nightcrawler took a deep breath and teleported himself along with Cyclops, Emma, Wolverine, and Domino back to Nova Roma. The mission proved disastrous in way too many ways. They didn’t just lose Black Tom and leave Warpath to the X-men. They may have lost their best chance to reconcile with the X-men.

Shortly after X-Force disappeared, the blue light reached the top of the citadel. From there, it shot off into the sky like a rocket. In doing so, it sent a shockwave through the structure that caused it to collapse.

As it crumbled in spectacular fashion, it sent out a wave of dust and debris. It quickly engulfed the area where the X-men had stopped. Phoenix managed to deflect most of it with her telekinesis. A few large chunks made it somewhat strenuous, but they remained relatively unscathed.

“Ungh! I hope that’s the worst of it,” groaned Phoenix, “How’s Rogue? Is she alright?”

“She a bit medium-rare, if that’s the proper term,” said Beast as he and Gambit knelt beside Rogue, “But her durable physiology has once again done its job.”

“Hnn…some job,” groaned Rogue, her clothes and hair smoldering from the blast, “Ah’m gonna be sore tomorrow.”

“You’ll be okay, mon amour. You should be used to being sore by now,” said Gambit with a light tease.

Rogue was too weak to swat her lover for such a remark so she managed a light smile. As the dust and debris settled around them, the attention turned to the citadel. Professor Xavier and Captain Freeman watched as the blue light soared high into the sky. It was clearly the source of the activity they detected. Now it escaped along with all the answers it might have held.

“This is not going to go over well with the General. I imagine he and President Kelly will have a long list of reasons to crucify us,” mused Captain Freeman.

“You don’t need to remind me, Captain. I suspect this isn’t how Magneto wanted this to pan out,” Xavier speculated.

“Is that a good or bad thing?” asked the Green Beret.

“I’m not sure, but I doubt this will be the last message he sends,” said the Professor, “I used to play chess with Magneto. I know how he operates. He likes to put all his pieces in just the right position before he makes his move.”

“I’m guessing that’s a pretty important piece we’re leaving behind.”

“It may not be as important as we think. If nothing else, it’s a clear sign that Magneto is ready for something big. We must be ready as well, no matter how upset the General or the President may be with us.”

Captain Freeman let out a disgruntled sigh. Once again, they were falling behind. Magneto was putting his pieces together at a time when the world was extremely vulnerable. It was hard to imagine the damage he could do and equally difficult to surmise a way to stop it.

Once the blue light disappeared from view, the Green Beret turned back towards Storm. By now, Psylocke and Colossus had reached her. They were both standing over the unconscious form of James Proudstar. Despite the many ways this mission went wrong, there was still some success to build from.

“At least they won’t be able to say we left empty handed,” said Captain Freeman, “This is a worse blow to X-Force than it is to us. We have one of their own in custody. Even if he can’t give us any answers, he’s sure to put more pressure on his teammates.”

“I hope you’re not suggesting we use Warpath to extort my former students, Captain,” said Professor Xavier apprehensively.

“Get used to the idea, Professor. When Magneto is involved, we’ll probably end up crossing more lines. We’ll have to if we’re to get through this in one piece.”


Unknown Location

Everything was a blur for Frenzy. The moment she laid her hands on the egg-shaped object in the Citadel, the world around her turned into a roller coaster ride from Hell. She knew she was moving. Time itself seemed to slow down around her. In every direction she saw nothing but blinding blue light. She couldn’t see anything or even figure out which direction was up. All she could do was cling to the device.

“UGH! WHERE ARE THE BREAKS ON THIS DAMN THING?” she exclaimed.

Frenzy kept clinging to the device, searching in vain for anything that would stop it. The light from the center of the object pulsated more erratically, as if someone else was reaching out to it. Along with the light came higher speeds and more disorientation. It pushed Frenzy to her limits. She was on the verge of passing out when it finally stopped.

In an instant, she felt herself land on a hard surface. It took a moment for the feeling to sink in. Her head was still spinning, but she was back in a world of normal physics. As she opened her eyes, she saw that she was in a cave of sorts. She felt a cold wind sweep through, indicating she was in the mountains. She also noticed a shadow looming over her. That shadow revealed an imposing figure that every mutant knew all too well.

“Hmm…this is unexpected. I was hoping Charles Xavier would be the one to arrive with my magneto-gravitational core in hand,” said Magneto in a flat tone.

“You…you’re Magneto!” exclaimed Frenzy.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Miss…” said the Master of Magnetism as he extended his hand.

“Sorry, but I don’t give my name to known psychopaths,” she said, refusing his gesture.

“I assure you my bout with psychosis is over,” he told her, “I admit the Cambrian did a number on me. Now I see the world with much clearer eyes.”

“Is that supposed to reassure me?”

“Give me a chance and I would be happy to explain everything,” said Magneto.

Frenzy remained skeptical. She kept clinging to the object until Magneto used his powers to rip it from her grasp. She rose to her feet, maintaining a defensive posture.

She was under no illusions. Magneto was one of the most powerful mutants in the world. He could kill her in any number of ways. Yet he remained calm and stoic. It heightened Frenzy’s curiosity. It wasn’t like she had anywhere else to go either. Given her lack of options, she decided to hear what he man had to say.

“You’re actually quite fortunate,” he said, “I was just about to contact my son with the good news. You see, you held in your hand not just the key to a new age for our kind…you experienced first-hand the genesis of a new world.”

Up next: Open Heart Perjury

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